5 : Brad Mehldau Trio - House on Hill.
there's no one playing piano today who is in the same building as Mr. Melhdau. both of his hands have well-developed frontal lobes all their own. he's our generation's answer to Art Tatum. but one would suspect with such virtuosity that we'd have to accept some counter-balancing lack of soul, that he'd hit us with so many speedily-delivered notes we'd long for the stripped-down melodies of pop. you only need listen to the final phrases of 'Embers' to hear this isn't so. here we learn to appreciate how Melhdau can distill his polyphonic cacophonies down to an uncluttered theme that was hiding in the background and, once revealed, hangs in the air for long afterward. despite the glorious excess of his improvization, it's his subtlety that most strikes us, how the slightest of shifts can alter the entire edifice of a song. with this method he can spell-bound you (as in 'August Ending'), he can send you meandering through the synaptic latticework of your brain (as in 'House on Hill'), or he can tie you up in knots (as in 'Backyard'). for the jazz-haters out there, listen to what Mehldau does with the addictive beat laid down by Jorge Rossy on 'Bealtine' which also includes an edgy solo from bassist Larry Grenadier that ever-seems on the verge of flying off the handle. one can tell Rossy, Grenadier, and Mehldau have been going at it for a long time by the immediacy of their responsiveness to one another - they exemplify the tight trio. and all these songs, even those that get lost wandering off nowhere, add complex layers upon one another, not for complexity's sake, but to demonstrate that when the journey is the destination, the sky's the limit (...or is it?).
4 : Regina Spektor - Begin to Hope
when it comes to beautiful distinctive female vocalists, Ms. Spektor is rarely mentioned in the same sentence as Bjork or Joanna Newsom, but we began to hope this album would change all that. if you need a demonstration, try for a moment to hit the faultless falsetto of "heart-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-art" in her song 'Fidelity', then ask yourself, who else's voice can be as simultaneously quirky and porcelain? whether she's hollering or whispering, Spetkor knows exactly how you need to be kissed. and in spite of the fact that she's only recently come into her own in the studio (finally), she continues to flaunt a mastery of the piano unrivaled by the contemporaries of her genre (Emily Haines, for example), as the song 'Edit' is guilty of on both counts - clean production featuring a gal who really knows how to play her instrument. Fiona Apple wishes she'd written a song as bluesy and tearful as 'Lady' (or thought to work with a saxophonist as sultry as Ralph Williams). and Ms. Apple could never pull off a lyric as funny as 'summer in the city means... cleavage, cleavage, cleavage', nor infuse the same line with heady nostalgia two minutes later. our favorite, however, remains 'Field Below', which plows as deep into the emotion of our time and place as 'Like a Bridge over Troubled Waters' did for its. gives us chills every time.
3 : Nas - Hiphop is Dead
after seeing Pitchfork rank Clipse's rap-kitsch as 7, we'd have to agree with the title of Mr. Nasir Bin Olu Dara Jones's fantastic contribution to the discussion of the state of hiphop. (but we suppose most people knew Pitchfork lost its mind when it left Gnarls Barkley, Pharrell, the Roots, Jurassic 5, and Hi-Tek outside the club while Clipse got v.i.p. treatment.) even though this is the message we desperately need to hear right now, and Nas shares with us a deep reverence for the history of his craft and his people, it's also a superbly sampled and syncopated ride, as the flow on 'Hope' smacks us awake with its breath-taking display of raw talent (and an excellent vocal accompaniment to boot). whoever takes Nas's point in a solely negativistic way obviously hasn't listened to the inspirational 'Let there be Light'. what's wrong with not aiming for the club? what's wrong with not bragging about pimping and purchasing shiny expensive consumer goods? it's not as if Nas speaks any less highly of illicit drugs (see 'Blunt Ashes'); he simply uses them for creative meditation instead of recreational anesthesia. if you're worried things might get too serious, then listen to this stand-out (our vote for best hiphop track of the year) - 'Can't Forget about You'. and please don't discard this unforgettable album because it samples Nat King Cole (who, we're sure you know, often demeaned womyn by pouring champagne on their tits).
2 : Daedelus - Daedelus Denies the Day's Demise
of all the solid electronica to choose from - from the Knife to Nathan Fake to Eliot Lipp to Tiga (not to mention all the new releases from old heavyweights like Prefuse 73, Cut Chemist, DJ Shadow, and Squarepusher) - this one's exquisite timing and texture sets it apart. from the first to the last, Mr. Alfred Wiesberg Roberts has the uncanny capacity to make our head and skin feel light. needless to say Daedelus is a genius when it comes to incorporating horns, strings, and drums, but what other sounds aren't made listenable here? annoying screams? yep. wind chimes? got 'em. television narrator circa 1955? sure. even noise never sounded so good. we go from skipping along on a sunny afternoon ('At My Heels') to the depths of ominous pits ('Never None the Wiser') and back, from the hiphop-inspired ('Lights Out') to the techno-inspired ('Sawtooth E.K.G.'), from music for dancing ('Sundown') to music for melting into your living room furniture ('Sunrise'), everything flows and fits together seamlessly with a firecracker sense of surprise. plus, the musical heritages in practically every region of the world are represented, from Cuban to African to Brazilian to Indian and so on. still the trip feels like it's over before it begins. it's dense yet effervescent. contemplative yet funky. and no track this year has given us a warmer smile than 'Viva Vida'. it's a dreamy breeze that's not only enough to make you deny the day's demise, but forget what day it is as well.
1 : Thom Yorke - The Eraser
if some big Mr. Fancy Pants (Logan Keese, for instance) was so stupid as to give us authority over some music awards ceremony this year, it'd go something like this... best album art : Stanley Donwood. best producer : Nigel Godrich. best male vocalist : Thom Yorke. best song : Black Swan... yet having said that, this record took a while to grow on us. first we only dug the mathematical precision of Godrich's ambient soundscapes, which go from subliminal to explosive during the last minute or so of every song. so we put off fully listening to the album for a month or so. then randomly 'The Clock' struck our fancy, then 'Black Swan' hooked us, then 'Analyze' and 'Atoms for Peace', or maybe it was the other way around. in any case, by the end of the avalanche, we could even savor every tiny morsel of organized chaos on 'Skipped Divided' and 'Cymbal Rush' without feeling sick, and 'Harrowdown Hill' became our favorite cut: 'i'm coming home, i'm coming home to make it alright, so dry your eyes' is enough to make a manatee wilt (and be sure to listen for the trance-inducing instrumental break at three minutes and twenty-five seconds). it wasn't Mr. Yorke's effortless vocal calisthenics, clinging to high-pitched notes in his non-chalant way which ultimately put this work over the top for us, but its lyrical content. it's an indictment of conformity and greed and all the other evil shit we're forced to passively witness yet seem unable to stop. the personal is political is personal, alluded to best when Yorke tells the story of David Kelly (see below). the real question is, how can we absorb the superficiality of the way we live today and turn it into an authentic cool? this entails having the courage to be terrified, and the self-confidence to be fractured. it means going from a paralyzing cynicism to wit, from a depressing isolation to open rage. it means cultivating a stoicism that keeps some tender core of yourself from being cheapened and poisoned like everything else. it's about holding on to a sense of the sublime amidst seas of pollution, and learning to let something gentle and pure shine forth amidst the grime of unjust and unethical sociopolitical complexes... there are those who say 'fuck it' who are completely ignorant of all that's wrong, and then there are those who can honestly face all that's wrong and still say 'fuck it'. speaking for the Dark Manatees, Thom Yorke is the reason sentient beings like us can continue to live in a world which killed John Lennon.
Harrowdown Hill in Oxfordshire is notable for being the place where the body of Dr David Kelly was found in 2003. His evidence had raised questions about Saddam Hussein's possession of Weapons of Mass Destruction — the official justification for the UK government's decision to invade Iraq. In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Yorke said, "The government and the Ministry of Defence... were directly responsible for outing him and that put him in a position of unbearable pressure that he couldn't deal with, and they knew they were doing it and what it would do to him... I've been feeling really uncomfortable about that song lately, because it was a personal tragedy, and Dr Kelly has a family who are still grieving. But I also felt that not to write it would perhaps have been worse." In another interview, Yorke said that "Harrowdown Hill" is "the most angry song I've ever written in my life...".
- ► 2014 (9)
- ► 2013 (12)
- ► 2012 (12)
- ► 2011 (10)
- ► 2010 (8)
- ▼ 2007 (8)
- ► 2006 (10)