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Archive for the ‘Year-End List’ Category

Friday, December 12th, 2008

2008

Chromewaves' favourite albums of 2008

Art By Erin NicholsonErin Nicholson

2008 has been a curious year. In assembling this obligatory list of my favourite records of the year, I found it a much more difficult task than past years. This was partly because the list of “no-brainer” records that were gimmes for year-end accolades seemed much slimmer than usual, and as such I had to do a lot more thinking about what would make the cut. Not to take anything away from those records who are listed below – all are excellent records that have soundtracked the past twelve months quite nicely – I just usually don’t have to think about things this much.

The other interesting thing is how the records that seem to be topping most everyone else’s lists are conspicuously absent from mine. Your Fleet Foxes, your Bon Ivers, your Vampire Weekends. I spent a goodly amount of time with most of these albums and mostly agree they’re fine albums (Vampire Weekend excepted, that one just bugs me), but they just didn’t move me the way they obviously have others. Curious.

Instead, what I find is a heavy representation from the UK, which doesn’t really surprise me considering this was the year I fully indulged my innate Anglophilia and actually visited London for the first time. I’m surprised there’s only three artists represented that I’d have called myself a fan of prior to this year – hell, six of them I’d never even heard of when 2008 began. The Canadian content is made up of records that were released wholly independently. There’s also a strong folk/roots representation which I should be used to by now, seeing as how it crops up most every year. Maybe my musical tastes aren’t quite as broad as I’d like to think. It really is a bit of a strange list, all things considered, but even though it was assembled a bit hesitantly, I’m very comfortable with how the chips have fallen. So let’s have a look.

And great thanks to Vancouver-based artist and web designer Erin Nicholson, who took my half-assed idea for an artwork meme and turned it into something completely awesome – please do click on all the images to see larger versions. Though I really have no idea how I’m going to top this next year.

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Tuesday, December 11th, 2007

Class Of 2007

So I was going to be all clever and iconoclastic this year and not do a year-end list. Year-end post, yes, but itemized list – perhaps taking advantage of HTML’s <ul> and <li> tags for quick and easy formatting? No. I was just going to write and write and be done with it.

But then I realized that as long as I talked about any specific albums – be it one or ten or a million – then that’s what I’d be doing. Making a list. Just less easy to scan. And so I relented and now we have a list. A list of ten albums that I would put down as my favourites of the year. I found 2007 to be a very good year for music, both in terms of solid to excellent releases from old favourites and new discoveries. Few out and out disappointments. After my top three picks – no, once again I’ve elected not to rank them but that doesn’t mean I haven’t done so in my head – it was a pretty wide open field with cases to be made for a lot of records but in the end, I whittled it down to those that spoke to me the most, that kept me coming back for more and acted as musical anchors in the barrage of new music that has become my existence. Ten records that soundtracked, reflected and defined my 2007 and will hopefully remain staples of my musical diet well into the future.

Observations – sometimes people worry that records released early in the year will be forgotten by list season, but in my case it seems the opposite. The older records are the ones I’ve had the most time to listen to and fall for and have also proven their shelf life whereas I regard my affection for more recent releases with a bit of distrust. More than half the releases are from acts that I’d essentially never heard before this year, which I find comforting in affirming that I’m still doing alright in seeking out new music. Sure, stylistically they all dwell fairly closely to my established musical tastes but that’s why they’re my tastes, right? I also find the comparison with last year’s list interesting. Whereas 2006 was dominated with American acts, mostly of the rootsier and/or downbeat variety, this year’s list is much more Commonwealth-friendly with most of the releases being either Canadian or British. I know I’ve made a conscious effort to explore more homegrown music this year as well as reconnect with my Anglophile roots so I guess we can call that a success. And, I suppose it means I’ve stopped moping quite so much.

Anyways, if you’ve been a regular visitor over the past year then there’s probably not too much in the way of surprises here, so we may as well get to it.
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Monday, December 4th, 2006

2006

And so we have it, another year come and gone. Was it a good year? A bad year? It was a year. That’s all. And with years come lists and so here’s mine.

General procedure is usually that the year-end list is supposed to tally up the “best” records of the year – well if anyone can tell me what the hell that means, I’d appreciate it. Rankings like that are inherently meaningless (as the uproar whenever someone publishes any sort of list that makes claims of definitiveness will attest) so instead, I’ve chosen to list off the ten records that meant the most to me in 2006 – the ones that soundtracked my life, so to speak. The ones that engaged, empathized, moved, mesmerized or just connected with me and that I listened to the most. And most importantly (or perhaps disappointingly), unassailable. I don’t doubt for a minute that there’s great stuff that isn’t on this list or that I’ve not even heard, but from what I did hear, these are the standouts.

Thankfully, all are also excellent records and would stand up quite well to any proposed criteria for what defines “best”, though I know for a fact that there’s many far-better reviewed and critically acclaimed records out there that are not represented here. That’s not what this list is about. You want science, go here. You want to know my favourite records of the year? Read on.

Points you may notice that I’m already aware of – 9 of 10 artists on this list are American, none are from outside North America and most could broadly be categorized as roots or Americana. I have no real explanation for that, though it also makes perfect sense. Take that as you will. This was a year in which I became more conscious of my personal tastes, what I do and do not like in music, and this year? I liked the rootsy, lyric-y stuff. Maybe 2007 will be about the Euro-rock. We’ll see. And they’re listed alphabetically so don’t read anything into the order (like some did last year even though I stated quite clearly that there was no ranking. Though it does raise the question – who put the alphabet in the order it’s in? Someone with a prejudice against x, y and z no doubt.

I hadn’t intended to run this list for another week while I fussed and fretted over what to include, but after opting to keep things ultra-focused this year, I was done before I knew it. I thought about doing some honourable mentions or special categories, but you know what? That just opens up the floodgates and eventually I’d want every record I liked this year – and there’s many – in here and that’s just too much to deal with. So here’s ten and ten only. After the jump, of course.

And I’m particularly pleased with myself for the visual treatment of the selections – most certainly the most fun I had with assembling this post. Probably doesn’t mean anything to most of you, but the 1986-87 Topps/O-Pee-Chee NHL set will always be very special to me. You’ve no idea how long I spent looking for number 251 – Brent Peterson, then of the Vancouver Canucks – to complete the set. And I still have it.
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Monday, December 12th, 2005

This Year

So here we are, another year-end list in the cacaphony of December retrospectives. Still, if there’s one thing lists do, it allows writers to be lazy and rehash what they’ve already no doubt covered in the past although this has turned out to be one of the most time-consuming posts of the year for me, maybe ever. You’d think that writing short blurbs on the records that one enjoyed the most in the past year would be easy, but really, not so much. I can’t say that 2005 was a watershed year for music, but there was certainly enough great stuff to keep me happy as a pig in a blanket for the past twelve months.

I made a decision at the start of the year to actively seek out more new music outside of my usual comfort zone, and while I must confess I wasn’t as dilligent about that as I’d intended, the fact that four of my top ten albums came from acts I’d never heard (or in many cases even heard of) before this year ain’t too bad. I’ll be endeavouring to carry this trend forward into ’06, mainly by actually listening to more of the CDs, compilations and mp3s that I’m sent. While this will no doubt increase my exposure to bad music, no pain no gain, n’est pas? Though I have to say that looking at the release schedule for 2006, stacked as it is with many new albums from long-time favourites, I wonder if any dark horses will manage to eke their way onto next year’s edition? To do so, some very reliable veteran acts would have to drop the ball… Oh well, time will tell.

Curiously, the Top 5 of The First Half Of 2005 list I posted back in July just preceded my exposure to most of the albums that made the final cut, but a few managed to carry over and the others just barely got bumped down to honourable mention status. The final ten are listed alphabetically – I had considered actually ranking them this year, but after the clear-cut top three positions, things kind of just fell into a constantly-shifting mass that changed from moment to moment. I found it interesting that eight of the ten albums came from American acts, and two from Canadians. No British or European artists at all, though if I expanded the list out to twenty or so, the Old World would be quite well represented. What can I say? The colonies rocked the mic in ’05, yo.

And many thanks to Toronto illustrator Renée Nault for the beautiful frontispiece in this year-end retrospective. For a full-size version of the art (500K), click here – it looks even better biggie-sized. Do check her portfolio out.

So without further ado, my top 10 albums of 2005 (and ancillary lists and commentary)… after the jump.
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Monday, December 13th, 2004

At Least That’s What You Said

So here we are at yet another year-end list. I think the results are pretty predictable – I mean come on, what am I going to do? Surprise you? Silly rabbits, tricks are for kids. These ten albums amount to pretty much my most-listened to and most-enjoyed records of 2004. There’s no ranking this time as doing so would be almost completely arbitrary and meaningless – on any given day, depending on my mood or frame of mind, any of these could be the greatest thing I’ve ever heard in my life. So we’ll just leave them alphabetical-like and be done with it, shall we?

As always, I’ve included a sample mp3 of maybe my favourite tracks on each album, eschewing the singles or whatnot that you’ve probably already heard. If you like, go buy. None of these artists are rich, not by a long shot. Well, Wilco and Steve Earle are probably doing okay, but that’s not really the point. I’ll leave the tracks up probably till the end of the month or so. So without further ado…

American Music Club
Love Songs For Patriots
Merge

“Another Morning”

It may have been one of the most low-profile of the indie rock reunions to take place this year, but I’ll wager almost none of the others was more focused on being artistically vital in the present rather than just cashing in on the past. Even after a decade-long break, Mark Eitzel and his compatriots managed to craft an album that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with their best work, and that’s saying something.

The Arcade Fire
Funeral
Merge

“Rebellion (Lies)”

In just a few short months, this Montreal collective went from well-kept local secret to kings (and queens) of the indie scene. Yes, the hype can be overwhelming but if you get past all that and just focus on the music, you’ll find that Funeral is a stunning record, bristling with energy and emotion. And it’s also true that as good as the recorded product is, the live show puts it to shame.

Drive By Truckers
The Dirty South
New West

“Carl Perkins’ Cadillac”

Another slice of Southern gothic mythology served up by Alabama’s finest. With three top-notch songwriters and guitarists leading the assault, the Drive By Truckers manage to turn all stereotypes about Southern rock on their heads while being just as ass-kicking as you’d expect and want Southern rock to be.

Steve Earle
The Revolution Starts… Now
E2/Artemis

“The Seeker”

Written largely off the cuff and in the studio to meet an election day deadline, this record could have turned out to be a half-baked rhetoric pastiche – instead, it’s as passionate and incisive a piece of social commentary as you were going to find in 2005. It also rocks, hard. The world has provided Earle with lots of reasons to be pissed and he tackles them all head-on with humour, hope and his razor-sharp pen. Defiance never sounded so good.

Feist
Let It Die
Arts & Crafts

“Let It Die”

Americans reeling from the ongoing invasion of excellent Canadian music be warned – the best may still be to come. Leslie Feist radiates star power and this record, with its lush, European feel and jazzy, sexy vocals only begins to scratch the surface of what this girl could do. Expect big things from this Calgarian ex-pat. Hell, even The OC has caught on.

Ted Leo & The Pharmacists
Shake The Sheets
Lookout!

“Walking To Do”

If I had decided to rank albums this year, this one would have been damn near the top. Impassioned, literate, stripped-down, urgent, fun and balls-out rocking, Ted Leo is rock personified.

Luna
Rendezvous
Jetset

“Malibu Love Nest”

Bidding the indie rock merry-go-round a farewell, Luna’s swansong is their finest in years. Recorded very much live off the floor, Rendezvous is warmer, more cohesive and more intimate-sounding than their last few records, and it suits them well. Plus there’s more guitar solos! Ah, Luna. We will miss you.

Rilo Kiley
More Adventurous
Beaute/Brute

“Does He Love You?”

A textbook definition of a breakout record, Rilo Kiley’s third album and sorta-major label debut brims with sass and confidence while jumping from style to style, anchored by Jenny Lewis’ marvelous voice. Addictive from the first listen and it only gets better from there.

Saturday Looks Good To Me
Every Night
Polyvinyl

“Lift Me Up”

This probably qualifies as the dark horse of the list, but what can I say – this record just makes me happy. For whatever reason, it took seeing the live show to really make it click for me, but when it did I couldn’t get it out of my CD player. These Spector/Motown-worshipping pop tunes make me wanna dance, and that’s no mean feat.

Wilco
A Ghost Is Born
Nonesuch

“Muzzle Of Bees”

Possibly the very definition of “a grower”, it’s hard to separate the record from everything that made up the year in Wilco. It may be a bit of a cop-out to say that it makes more sense if you’ve read the press about Jeff Tweedy’s rehab, seen the live show or read The Wilco Book, and I’ve obviously done all of the above, but it’s true. It may take a while, but when A Ghost Is Born finally reveals itself, it’s worth the effort.

You know, this list was a hell of a lot harder to write than I’d expected. Now I remember why I didn’t bother with writeups last year. I also forgot what a pain in the ass HTML in Nucleus is… but I’m done today’s post before 8AM, and that’s a good thing (and rare thing). Aaah.