Thursday, February 7, 2008

Good Time Music for 2007

I've been a baaaaaaaad boy.

I haven't updated in quite some time.

And the worst part...I have content. I really do. Here's something now:

Finally. Dante's Infernal Racket is proud to present:


Like the saying goes, better late than your mama's a whore.

10) Panda Bear-Person Pitch (Paw Tracks)


After holding up this list just to make sure that I got the full potential out of this album, I decided that it wasn’t good enough to make the cut. I enjoyed it, there was no question on that. I just didn’t think it had anything that I hadn’t heard before on one of Animal Collectives more accessible albums. For a day straight I listened to the album, trying to pull something out of it that I hadn’t heard the first time around. I kept playing through my head what everyone else was saying about it. Beach Boys. Beach Boys. Yeah, I hear where they’re getting Beach Boys from. Noah Lennox’s voice is a dead on Brian Wilson impression. The back up harmonies have that late-sixties sunshine pop feel. But that wasn’t a selling point to me anymore. Since before SMiLE came out, every other band is trying to sound like the Beach Boys. As a huge Wilson brothers fan, it pains me to say…stop it! Don’t try to emulate one of the best bands to ever make music. Be original. Be creative. Don’t try to be Brian Wilson.

I was fine with it when The Thrills first appeared because they were the first to wholesale rip the Boys off…but even they got tired of their sound and changed. Other sometimes-sunshine-poppy bands like Belle and Sebastian and Supergrass have so much else going for them, and so many other sounds, that their echoing didn’t annoy me much either. But now Panda Bear, which can best be described as a combination of the Beach Boys and Animal Collective…they’re just trying to remake Pet Sounds. Yes, it’s interesting, and yes, “Comfy in Nautica” and “Bros” were almost spot on. But can’t I get the same enjoyment (and possibly even better) from actually listening to The Beach Boys? Can’t I get the same (if not better) experimentation from putting Animal Collective’s Sung Tongs into my CD Player?

At first I said yes. Things changed. On Saturday I was having an AIM conversation with my former editor and the mind behind the T-Sides blog, Taylor Long. After being scolded for taking so long on this list, the topic of overrated albums came up…and I mentioned this one. “Billy! You, a huge Beach Boys fan don’t realize the greatness of this album!” “I’m sorry Taylor, I just thought it was overrated and not as amazing as everyone said it was.” “It’s more accessible than everything Animal Collective has ever done! Who cares if everyone else is doing the same thing! They’re doing it better! Listen to it again you mugwump!” *

So, I went back to my CD player and put the album in again. But this time I switched things up. I played the songs out of order. I paused the CD in between tracks. I made sure that the residue from the previous track was not still in my mind when I heard the next one. The result: success. (aside from a few snarky comments in my mind about the song titles “I get it, Carrots=Vegi-tables! Bros? The Wilson Brothers!”). Ok Taylor, I concede. It works as an album…when I’m not thinking about how much I hate the current crop of Beach Boy rip offs.

*Note, Taylor was not actually this excited/mean, nor did she use the word ‘mugwump’.

9) TIE: Nellie McKay- Obligatory Villagers, Patrick Cleandenim-Baby Come Home (Hungry Mouse, Broken Horse)


At certain points I feel like I’m the only fan Nellie McKay’s got. From her first album Get Away From Me, I fell in love with her song writing, her humor and her jazzy leanings. As one reviewer put it, “She’s like Frank Sinatra mixed with Eminem. A punk Norah Jones.” She was new, different, yet embodied in an older sound. If Debbie Harry came of age now, she’d be Nellie McKay. Her second album, Pretty Little Head, was a step in a different direction, but still an amazing piece of work, and maybe her best album. Now, her third full length album, Obligatory Villagers, is another reinvention of her sound…and though not as strong as Pretty Little Head, it is her most interesting album.

The password is ‘Broadway’. The album is full of showtune influence, and yet, the same energy and punky attitude that her former works had. “Identity Theft” sounds like it could have been the show-stopper in Wicked, and at the same time reminds me of Patti Smith (and even references Johnny Cash). “Galleon” would fit in fine with RENT, yet after the first minute would be mistaken for a Donna’s song. “Testify” is meant to portray a 1930’s prohibition revival meeting sound, another element of the old New York that McKay seems to be so fascinated with. It’s clear with this album, McKay is a New Yorker. She loves New York, and she wishes her life was just like the Great White Way.

Ironically, my favorite song on the album is not a Broadway style piece at all. It’s the opener, “Mother of Pearl”, a jokey Randy Newman-like ditty about feminists.

Now, Patrick Cleandenim. I had to put these two albums on the same number because of their similarities. Also because of how I got to find out of Mr Cleandenim’s work. It goes back to that same AIM conversation I was having with Ms. Taylor Long about Panda Bear (see above). At one point, I was trying to give her some Nellie McKay selections, and she mentioned that if I liked Nellie McKay that much, I should take a look at Patrick Cleandenim’s album. I also noticed that on her own top ten albums list, Baby Come Home made her number one rank. That’s pretty good for an album that I had never heard of before.

So I tracked down a copy of it (thank you iTunes!) and gave it a listen. Wow. Cleandenim is just as infatuated with early 20th century American music as McKay (and myself) are. I haven’t given it enough listens to write a full comprehensive review of the album, but I can promote this album as being one of the forgotten bests of the previous year. If you like Nellie McKay, or even the more poppyer work of Nick Cave and Tom Waits, give this a listen.

8)Rilo Kiley- Under The Blacklight (Warner Brothers)


Rabbit Fur Coat, Jenny Lewis’ 2006 solo effort, was one of my favorite albums of that year. The country sound that Lewis adapted for her solo release was far enough away from her work with Rilo Kiley, that it gave it the feeling of almost another band entirely. With the first Rilo Kiley album since Lewis’ solo experiment, Under the Blacklight, it seems that the rest of the band has adapted those same country influences (to an extent).

My only probably with the album is that the opening track “Silver Lining” has a guitar riff that at first seems like a George Harrison rip off (which is funny because the song in question, “My Sweet Lord” was deemed to be a rip off of the Chiffons' hit “He’s So Fine”.) Once you get past that, you realize how amazing the song actually is, but it seems a little odd to be that outright of a rip.

Almost all the songs on Blacklight seem to revolve around sex. Might it be to easy to jump to conclusions that some of these songs were inspired by the former relationships of the songwriters? If it weren’t for the fact that Jenny Lewis and her bandmate/ex-lover Blake Sennett had broken up some time ago, I’d say we must be hearing their breakup unfold, and would be drawing comparisons to Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors. Hell, those comparison’s are still somewhat valid, since some of the songs seem to be about Lewis’s relationship with Sennett. The only problem with this is that unlike Lindsey Buckingham, Sennett doesn’t get a chance to respond. His only song written without Lewis at all, “Dreamworld”, cartainly seems to take a few shots at a female figure, but it’s no “Go Your Own Way.”

7)The White Stripes-Icky Thump (Warner Brothers)


I’m not sure what I could say about Icky Thump that hasn’t already been said by everyone else. The mix of styles is excellently done, the Patti Page cover (“Conquest”) is a highlight of the album, and the title track is full on Stripes goodness. I guess I could mention that there is a slight Velvet Underground influence in “St. Andrew’s (The Battle Is In The Air)”…think “The Black Angel’s Death Song”. And I guess I’ll say that all the problems of Get Behind Me Satan are gone with this album. It’s just great. Give it a listen.

6)Spoon-Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (Merge)


Contrary to the song’s name, Spoon was not “The Underdog” in indie circles this year. Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga was one of the most looked forward to albums of 2007, and ended up being one of the best reviewed as well. The bouncy pop of the aforementioned “The Underdog”, or the undeniable catchiness of “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb”, the introspectiveness in the lyrics of “Black Like Me”…everything here was a winner.

But, in the mainstream, Spoon are still nowhere. Even though the music is more catchy and more poppy than anything Avril Lavigne or even Gwen Stefani put out this year, the mainstream are still hesitant to latch onto Britt Daniel and crew. I guess that’s a good thing, but it’s also truly a shame that more people aren’t getting into this band. Do they sound too 70s to be accepted? Are they too minimalist? Will no one understand the spooky excellence of “My Little Japanese Cigarette Case”?

Well, it sucks for them, cause they’re the ones missing out.

5)Beirut- The Flying Club Cup (Ba Da Bing!)


The amazingness of Beirut's French jazz meets yeh-yeh pop hit me the first time I heard them. I guess I have a weakness for well done world music. Beirut is basically everything that you don’t hear in the mainstream, yet somehow still sounding familiar enough that the melodies are instantly recognizable, and the song sounds like a piece of imaginary nostalgia.

Zach Condon’s got a hell of a voice. It’s deep like Morrissey, and expressive like Billie Holiday and Jeff Buckley. His crooning alone could convey the whole emotion of the song. His music creates images of smokey French cafes where people like Jean-Paul Sartre sit and discuss existentialism or why Charles De Gaulle is a douche bag.

4)Jens Lekman- Night Falls Over Kortadala (Secretly Canadian)


Jens Lekman sounds like a happier Morrissey.

"When Shirin cuts my hair/It's like a love affair" Out of getting a haircut, Jens Lekman finds love. In "Your Arms Around Me", a song about accidentally cutting off the tip of your index finger, Jens Lekman sings about love. In "A Postcard To Nina", where our hero pretends to be his friend's boyfriend so that her parents won't know she's a lesbian, you guessed it, Jens Lekman says he'll do anything for love. Boy, Jens Lekman loves to sing about love, doesn't he?

The music can’t be seen as anything but happy, even when his lyrics are telling a tale of sadness. His chamber pop orchestration never slows down enough for the sugar high of the album to wear out. Like many perfect albums, it’s hard to write about, since there are no faults to point out. Just give it a listen yourself...Unless you hate being happy.

3)Radiohead- In Rainbows (self-released)


Radiohead’s come to a point where you either like them already or you don’t. They’re not going to be gaining any new fans they don’t have already, so my promotion of them isn’t going to mean squat. Let’s talk about how this album was given to the Radiohead friendly masses though.

As I’m sure you’ve heard already, Radiohead offered In Rainbows as a “choose your own price” type of deal. You went to the In Rainbows website, and typed in how much you were willing to pay for the album, and it was instantly downloaded to your computer. It’s quite a marketing concept, and as we all know it worked out in their favor.

Even if you’re not a fan of Radiohead’s music, you gotta appreciate what they did for the music business and the internet.

2)Kayne West- Graduation (Roc-A-Fella)


With the exception of the #1 album on this list, I don’t think I’ve ever played an album more times in a row than I have Kayne West’s Graduation. It was non-stop in my car for around two months. I couldn’t get enough of it. Every song was fantastic. The opening seconds of “Good Morning”, the Steely Dan sample in “Champion”, the use of Daft Punk in “Stronger”, the personal introspection in “Homecoming” and “Big Brother”. Every song. Perfect.

Except “Drunk And Hot Girls”. I could have done without that one.

1)Feist- The Reminder (Cherry Tree)


When Leslie Feist’s cover of the Bee Gee’s “Inside And Out” came out a few years ago, I remember thinking to myself that I wanted to hear more of that singer.

If I had to compare, I’d say that Feist sounds very similar to Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon, with the songwriting sensibility of Cat Stevens. She’s able to master every style, from pop to blues to soul. Her music is poppy and poignant at the same time. This lady’s got a future.

No matter what mood you start in, The Reminder leaves you in a happy mood. There’s just no escaping the contagiousness of this album.

Well. Now that that's done I can get to work on the top singles of 2007 list. Yeah, I'm going there. Let's hope I get that out before 2008 is over.

I also have a bunch more posts planned on a wide variety of topics, so fear not...there will be content!


  1. the list would be better if you had included Kala!

  2. Kala was number 11. It just missed the cut. Blame Taylor Long and her convincing me that Panda Bear deserved a spot.

  3. I'm not surprised at all. I knew you'd warm up to Panda Bear, just like I knew that you'd love Patrick Cleandenim. T-Sides is all seeing, all knowing ;)