It's approaching that time of the year when nerds, dweebs, hipsters, bohemians, cranks and charlatans decree the greatness of some nerd, dweeb, hipster, bohemian, crank or charlatan musician. The End (of the year list) Is Nigh!
So in honor of the aforementioned NDHBCCs (you may decide on your own to which category or categories I belong), here are some things that will appear on many of those lists but not on mine. In alphabetical order:
Arctic Monkeys - Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not & Art Brut - Bang Bang Rock & Roll. Art Brut and the Arctic Monkeys do nothing for me. I can't slag them off because they can't hold my attention long enough for me to hear if they're doing anything interesting with the post-punk fashions of the day. I guess I should turn in my Anglophile membership card or something before I get gobbed on by some blighter.
Neko Case - Fox Confessor Brings The Flood. I feel kind of bad listing Neko with some of these dogbottoms like The Knife and Nellie McKay, but hear me out. I actually like her voice, and this album is just fine. Unfortunately, its not any better than that. To me, Neko Case falls into Emmylou Harris territory - I really like her voice, but I find I enjoy her most when she is collaborating with other artists. Emmylou with Gram Parsons or Neil Young or Willie Nelson - sublime. On her own - mainly solid, sometimes uninspired. Neko with The New Pornographers is fun, and is in fact the only part of that band's sound that I like. Neko with The Sadies or The Pine Valley Cosmonauts (her best work, in my opinion) is even greater. Even her small guest roles with M. Ward or Giant Sand or John Doe are highlights of those artists vast recorded work. I hope in 20 years we get an album comparable to Emmylou's Wrecking Ball; until then I'll enjoy her supporting role for other artists.
The Decembrists - The Crane Wife. Colin Meloy - The Dan Bejar for people who who wish there was an album called Pirate Tales From Topographic Oceans.
Destroyer - Destroyer's Rubies. Dan Bejar - the Colin Meloy for people who pretend to dislike prog or the 1660s.
Bob Dylan - Modern Times. You know the variety of songs on Love & Theft, from Forties shuffle to barn-burning blues to old-fashioned ballads? Well, forget what you know, because this band only plays variations on "Summer Days" and "Mississippi", and we get an hour of that. Now, stay awake and listen to an entirely different Dylan - the emerging snarl of Love & Theft is now a carefully crafted (as in, he reportedly recorded a line or two at a time because he can't actually sing. Based on recordings from shows this year, I would say this is correct) croon, a dime-store version of a pre-Hank Williams Grand Ole Oprey star. One thing going for it - no Daniel Lanois, so it doesn't have the leaden reverb of Time Out Of Mind. Woo-hoo.
The Hold Steady - Boys And Girls In America. I already castigated these poor fellows for their derivative sound and lyrical subject matter. Others may enjoy them, especially if they can't get enough of THE RAWK but are ashamed to listen to Foghat or the Goo Goo Dolls, who were The Hold Steady of the Nineties.
The Knife - Silent Shout. I liked "Heartbeats" a few years ago. Good minimalist beat, solid Siouxsie Sioux vocal impression. I listened to this a few times and I realized I really don't like Depeche Mode enough for this to work. Enjoy The Silent Scream would be a more appropriate title, as they in no way transcend either of the aforementioned influences. Plus they appear in Venetian carnival bird masks. I like Matthew Barney and Peter Greenaway too, but come on.
Mastodon - Blood Mountain. I can't help but think Tarkus - from the silly Wild Hunt inspired cover to titles like "Cicle of Cysquatch" and "Pendulous Skin." Mastodon is so overly serious in their metalosity that they come across like Emerson, Lake and Pestilence (borrowed from THE super group, the Four Horseman of the Progocalypse). I can accept the technical virtuosity of their thundering , but I like a little absurdity and self-awareness in my stentorian attack. Give me Dragonforce. That is pure cheese virtuosity.
Nellie McKay - Pretty Little Head. I can't believe Columbia dumped her! I mean, don't they know the marketing potential of this? I mean, how could anyone, in the year of High School Musical, not market this as "Liberal Arts College Drama Department Musical (The One Woman Show version)"? What is wrong with you people? Oh, by the way, she now has two double albums of variations on three songs.
Joanna Newsom - Ys. The pedigree gets her a B+ starting grade in indie circles - idiosyncratic harpist/vocalist lays down tracks with "don't call him a producer even though he fulfills the producer role" Steve Albini, then has Smile collaborator Van Dyke Parks write and record orchestration, and turns to tastemeister/nob twiddler du jour Jim O'Rourke to mix the resulting cornucopia of plenty into spun gold. Unfortunately, it amounts to gilding a turd. The praise for her lyrical complexity is admirable if somewhat off target; alliterative couplets and archaic verb forms are lost amidst the rhythmic repetition and mangled metaphors. There was some line about monkeys and spelunking that made me laugh out loud at how incredibly silly it all is and how deathly serious she portrays it. Because of her vocal limitations and the songs she writes, Parks is crippled from the outset; limited tremendously in the range and character of what he can do, he can only repeat trills and flourishes to no great effect. Speaking of her voice, it is said you either love it or hate it. I quite agree. She sounds like Judy Tenuta.
Yo La Tengo - I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass. One of my all-time favorite bands records a greatest hits album without any hits. It is the most Tengo-by-numbers thing they've ever done. A mad-lib version, with "guitar freakout", "farfisa garage rock song," "Georgia sung ballad," "falsetto James' song that belongs on a Dump album," "song from Ira to Georgia," and "another guitar freakout." Plus filler.