“The Click” and the Omissions

November 30, 2008

I’ve probably worked harder on my “Best Music of 2008” piece than any thing I’ve ever put up on my blog before, at least in terms of length of time spent working on it. My top 5 has pretty much been sealed in for awhile, though there were some shifts in their order and the album at 5 ended up knocking the album previously in that spot down a bit. I’ve listened to each album and thought about why I liked them, and the best answer I could come up with was the “click.” Certain albums simply “click,” they work. When they click, I look forward to listening to them, their songs get stuck in my head (and not in an annoying way), I ponder their lyrics and their meaning and they become a sort of soundtrack to my life over the course of the year. For every favorite album I have, I can usually pinpoint the time in my life in which that album was most relevant. When I bought it, when I listened to it most, and what I was doing or going through when I most heavily listened to it. Of course, there are those albums that become transcendent and make it to the top of the top. An album like, say, “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen is one that I listen to quite regularly at every point in my life, so although I can remember when I first bought a copy and also pretty much when it became my favorite, it’s hard to place it into one certain time period of personal importance because it’s always there in some sense or another. But the typical favorite albums I have from any given year I can generally remember when they were at the top of my play list and what made them click. So obviously when an album clicks it’s got a lot to do with personal taste and opinion. My top choice for album of the year may be so far outside of any genre you normally listen to that you just wouldn’t get it. But I also try to evaluate my choices without bias, as much as that‘s possible when dealing with such a thing as music. If I’m looking at something and I realize it’s more of a guilty pleasure than a classic album I generally won’t include it.
Then there are those albums I want to be able to include. I want them to be good, I want them to click but I can’t force it. So, here comes the omissions. The first set of omissions I’m going to mention come with the preface that I’m not a staff music critic. I say this because, well, I do not receive free copies or free downloads of albums. Sure, friends may throw me copies of things they urge me to hear because they enjoy them and I may get a free album here and there for whatever reason. I also check out quite a large amount of CDs from my local library, but brand new and small label indie’s don’t wind up there in a large abundance (sometimes I’m surprised at what I do find, though). What I’m getting at is that a critic or group of critics for Paste, Mojo, or Rolling Stone can hear all important releases of the year before making their decisions. Since most brand new albums I get by paying the bucks for an I-Tunes download, stumbling across a well priced vinyl copy or picking up the CD at the shop, I can’t possibly afford to hear every notable release. So, this first group of omissions consists of albums I only heard portions of  and do not own in any form so I can’t fairly evaluate them:

*  Ryan Adams and the Cardinals: Cardinology —I used to love Adams, ’Heartbreaker” is a classic and “Demolition” has my vote for being his best and most underrated album. Most of his catalogue his good, and then over the past couple of years his prolific release schedule began to run together and I lost interest for much of it. Then I heard pieces of this album and really dug it, I think it will probably be an album I enjoy thoroughly.
* Jenny Lewis: Acid Tongue — Jenny has been a part of my favorite new music for the past few years. Last year with her band Rilo Kiley’s release “Under the Blacklight,” and the year before that with the Watson Twins doing backups for her own album, “Rabbit Fur Coat.” I haven’t heard enough of “Acid Tongue” to include it in any form but have read nothing but good things about it.
*Conor Oberst: Conor Oberst — Oberst decided to release his new album without using the Bright Eyes moniker. I loved “Casadaga” and “I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning” so I’m sure this one would suit me as well.
*My Morning Jacket: Evil Urges — I love the lead-off single, “I’m Amazed,” and think I’d really enjoy the new direction.

Then there are the albums I wanted to include, I wanted to click for whatever reason, but ultimately just didn’t do it for me. “Death Magnetic” by Metallica was raved about in the press and although I could hear the excellent craftsmanship coming though with every instrument and Hetfield’s lyrics didn’t cheese me out, it just didn’t do it for me the way the fan ignored “St. Anger” album did. “Viva La Vida” by Coldplay was what I hoped would be their big creative and artistic step forward, but I enjoy their first album from years ago much more. The Knux got a lot of press for “Remind Me in 3 Days,” and on first listen I thought it would make the list. It feels like a mash-up of Run DMC and early Outkast combined with Prodigy like dance beats and rock riffs, but ultimately a few factors knocked it off the list for me; Krispie kept announcing in the background before his every verse, “it’s Krispie, check it out now,” which began to increasingly annoy me. Then “Parking Lot” and “Hush” veered too close to Too Short lyrical content, and for some reason I didn’t give The Knux  a pass on such issues as I do a lot of rappers, maybe because their potential and indie cred tells me they can do better. I do highly suggest you check out “Roxanne,” “Fire,” and several other cuts, but it’s not cohesive enough to make the list but it is somewhat of a runner up.  Maybe next time they‘ll get it fully right.

So those are all of the runner ups and omissions I can think of at the time. I’ve held out the back two spots on my list for awhile, awaiting the mad rush of new albums that seems to hit every year before the Christmas season. There’s still hints that a few artists may or may not release last minute albums, I’m waiting to hear about that. Luckily for me the new Bruce Springsteen album is slated for January not December so I don’t have to worry about that throwing me for a loop. It’s also worth mentioning that although I never thought I’d use I-Tunes for complete albums, they’ve been a blessing this year considering the shrinking aisle space music retailers are giving to anything other than top 40 releases. So I hope you enjoy reading the articles to come, this often mentioned music recap should be posted by the end of December along with my other year end articles. I generally read reviews before purchasing albums, but I didn’t go back and read what most critics have said about the albums that made my list until after I had written what I had to say about them. My two most often trusted sources for music reviews are Rolling Stone and All Music Guide, and for more indie fare Paste magazine. It’s odd, because some of the albums on my list received top billing on AMG and mediocre ranking from Rolling Stone, while for others it was just the opposite; apparently AMG and RS rarely agree. There was at least one album that made my list that received top ranking from both RS and AMG but a lot of internet and fan complaints. There is one high ranking album on my list I’ve yet to find a full album review of from any online or print source that I regularly read, and there are a few that were generally praised by most sources but outranked by their own pet picks. Suffice it to say, I think my recap will differ greatly from many you could read and I hope you find it interesting.

More of my “Overlooked and Under-rated” blogs will arrive soon as well, and I still have a few religious and philosophy pieces to wrap up before year’s end. Thanks for reading.

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