2007 Roundup: Greg’s Favorite Nine of the Year

Best Music of 2007

My top nine albums/music of the year. I would have picked ten, but most everything else was background noise and singles to me in comparison to the following. Any year that Radiohead puts out an album is a great year in music, in my opinion, but there was a ton of great music to flesh out the year. And we also saw the cracks appear in the RIAA, with the demise of DRM coming our way. Cheers to 2007!

1/2/3:
Radiohead, In Rainbows: Despite all the business shiite surrounding this album, there is no denying that the music is absolutely supurb with several moments of perfection. Lots and lots and lots of Thom Yorke falsetto on display here, with plenty of the classic Radiohead organic electro pulses and textures that we love. If you haven’t checked them out, take a peek at the webcast concerts Radiohead did from their studio shortly after the album was released. Not only are the performances great, but the videos have a strange way of humanizing the band and contributing to their mystery at the same time.

Andrew Bird, Armchair Apocrypha: Listenable, fun, completely unique, and with perhaps the best lyrics of anyone right now. Is he a gimmick? No more so than any other indie artist out there these days, in my opinion. And unlike mosts of the artists even on this list (with the exception of FOC), his lyrics are inventive and memorable. His live show was a lush mashing solo just-in-time loops that I loved every second of. He’s the hardest working artist that I saw the entire year

Arcade Fire, Neon Bible: Intense album full of rich, lush layers that kept me entertained all year long. Energetic beyond belief live. When I first heard the leaked track containing a powerful organ WAY to high in the mix, I was concerned this was going to be a bad effort, but I loved this album more than Funeral. The show at Starlight was quite possibly the loudest concert I have ever been to, mostly due to LCD Soundsystem, but it was incredible!

4: Flight of the Conchords, music from the show: Reliving lyrics and moments from this show proviided an endless source of good times for me this year. I still randomly get “Brown Paper, White Paper, Stick it together with the tape, the tape of love….” stuck in my head on a weekly basis. Part time Model, Business Time. Not only is it fucking hilarious, but also made me realize how truly strange David Bowie and Serge Gainsbourg were. Not to mention Mel.

5: Peter Bjorn & John, Writer’s Block: Already sounding a bit tired, and used in too many adverts, but it was one of my favorites. Objects of My Affection, Start to Melt, Young Folks, Amsterdam, Roll the Credits, were all on my most played list all year.

6: The Frames, The Cost: I think this is technically a 2006 album, but I discovered it this year with everyone else who saw Once. Nothing really groundbreaking, but great songs with an incredibly powerful, if not sometimes too powerful, lead singer. Occasionally I wince with sentimentality, but this album is perfect when I’m in the mood for it.

7: Shins, Wincing the Night Away: A few great songs on this album, and the album that really got me hooked on the Shins. I never quite understood why everyone loved these guys so much, but after seeing live at a two night stint in Lawrence, listening to the new album over and over, I came to appreciate the older albums as well. An acquired taste for me, but one of best bands out there right now.

8: Jose Gonzalez, In Our Nature: I discovered this great singer-songwriter through the All-Songs live show podcast and was sucked in by his nylon guitar layers and ultra-mellow voice. This is great late night music, and his cover of Teardrop made me rediscover my high school love of Massive Attack.

9: Dan Deacon, music from his MySpace page and Youtube: I never managed to listen to his full album, despite it residing on his ipod, but there were a few weeks where I returned daily to his Youtube and MySpace content. I’m not sure what to think of this guy, but his songs are incredibly strange and enjoyable.

Are There Any Albums for 2008?

records.Now that this great year in music has nearly come and gone, sufficed to say 2007 will be hard to top. But what new music releases are worth looking forward to in 2008? Here are a few artists and\or bands on my radar:

The Magnetic Fields, Thao Nguyen, Cat Power, Vampire Weekend, Chris Walla, Dirty On Purpose, Jason Collett, Hello Blue Roses, Nada Surf, Mountain Goats, Beach House, Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks, Devotchka, R.E.M., Colin Meloy, Man Man, Flight of the Conchords, Death Cab for Cutie, Shearwater

There will probably be plenty of new stuff still undiscovered on the horizon as well, so, as always, it will be interesting to see what will be talked about in the year to come.

Happy New Years peeps.

2007 Roundup: Mike’s Best Albums of the Year

Best Music of 2007

Like many a music fan, I too love to put together these end of year lists. I love scouring the magazines, websites, blogs and newspapers for their favorite albums and songs of the year. While the last few years have been great, I have to say, 2007 is by far one of the best years of music I can remember in a long time.

As a friend and co-worker (and sometime Hello Come In collaborator) and I have discussed, nearly everyone we would’ve wanted a new album from put out something. But more than that, it seems that artists and bands that have been putting in the their dues for years have all put in some of their best work yet. There were plenty of new discoveries, much rediscovery of old bands, and perhaps even a few disappointments. (Note: You can read our mid-year favourites here.)

The one downside I can think of right now about such a stellar year is that I am now wondering what the hell is left to put out in 2008?

My yearly disclaimer: My lists will never be as unintelligible or insider-flaunting as some out there. I certainly do not operate on the notion of showing off my tastes in music by filling lists with ridiculously unapproachable obscura or pick things that flex my hipster cred. I am always drawn to music that moves me, makes me think, and provides an emotional release…and that is all I can provide: a list of my favorites that frequented my life for the last year.

This list will be ever-changing depending on the weather, the time of day and perhaps even by what I had for lunch. So lets dig in…

Top Albums of 2007:

1) Andrew Bird — Armchair Apocrypha :

Andrew Bird -- Armchair ApocryphaWhat else can I say about this album that I haven’t already rambled about in the past? While there were certainly some better albums that made more of a dent influentially, Bird’s witty and melancholy sense of lyrical depth and instrumental prowess was challenging and yet familiar. As the year went on this collection of songs continued to be a go-to source for inspiration and influence. Over time, I think this will assert itself as an all-time favorite and a creative peak for such an already fantastic body of work.

2) Radiohead — In Rainbows :

Radiohead -- In RainbowsFor one day in October almost everyone I knew and thousands of people I don’t were all talking about music; perhaps in the same way fans feverishly discussed a new Beatles release. As the day wore on, everyone had asserted their opinions of the “pay what you feel it’s worth” distribution, the music industry implications and hopefully, (and most importantly) the music contained within. When you strip away all of the hype and the forward looking business plans and all that, what you have is a stunningly exposed and beautiful album. In many ways this is the most relaxed and honest I have ever heard Radiohead, especially when singing of love (“House of Cards”) or of our lingering legacy after we’re gone (“Videotape”). Radiohead feel loose and at ease with their songwriting, and have created an album that highlights just how much they do everything right. (Plus that diskbox is a work of sheer inspired beauty). What else can you ask for?

3) Arcade Fire — Neon Bible :

Arcade Fire -- Neon BibleHow do you follow up an album so beloved and explosively expressive as Funeral? By not imitating or trying to follow it up at all. Win Butler and company expand the scope and soundscape on Neon Bible discussing the ‘big issues’ without feeling like an overwrought soapboxing. Songs like “Ocean of Noise” and “Keep the Car Running” explore the depths of life and death and relationships and war and everything in between in such a dark and poetic way. I wonder how they will attempt follow up this one.

4) The Besnard Lakes — The Besnard Lakes Are The Dark Horse :

The Besnard Lakes -- The Besnard Lakes Are the Dark HorseWhen I saw this six piece Montreal-based band this summer, they had already outgrown the tiny stage they were jampacked on. You could easily envision them playing in larger concert halls filling the space with their gorgeous mixture of Beach Boys’ harmonies, epic 70s rock and dark shoegazer walls of sound. I was pushing for this band to get more attention this year, but I think this second album has at least put them on people’s radars. Can’t wait to hear what they have in store next.

5) The National — Boxer

The National -- BoxerSure this one’s dark and inward as well, but the introversion The National bring to their music is expressive and universal, making songs about very mundane things such as day jobs and relationships seem grand and hauntingly lovely. Songs like “Fake Empire” (with its polyrhythmic piano) and “Green Gloves” (with its house stalker storyline) have so much going on that they surely will seep under your skin.

6) Okkervil River — The Stage Names :

Okkervil River -- The Stage NamesWith 2005’s incredible Black Sheep Boy, frontman Will Sheff said was finally able to make as much money as he did when he worked at a video store early in his career. This notion certainly made me realize that these bands we love aren’t always living the highlife ala Def Leppard. So it’s always encouraging to see a group that has been consistently under the radar finally get the credit they are due: Okkervil River’s latest, The Stage Names, a highly literary concept album, is the best work of their career. Making a song cycle that ambitiously exposed insight and references to popular culture it could’ve been huge catastrophe. But the songs reach great heights and rocked harder than most this year.

7) Feist — The Reminder :

Feist -- The ReminderBy now we’ve heard the anthemic “1234” about one thousand two hundred and thirty-four times thanks to the iPod commercial and the many television appearances on Letterman and the Today Show. But Leslie Feist’s huge success is highly deserved as came into her own on this amazingly personal album. It’s brimming with lilting yet moody, powerful yet delicate songs of love and pain, musically being both diverse and cohesive. And that voice. Nuff said.

8) Le Loup — Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations’ Millennium General Assembly :

Le Loup -- Throne of the Third Heaven...A late entry onto my list, this emerging DC band made the interblogs swoon in mid summer when Sam Simkoff spun his solo work into a band by posting music on the internet and ads on craigslist. While they are still learning to play together as a group on stage, this album is a dark take on failed relationships, war and the end of the world as filtered and inspired by Dante’s Inferno. The songs, driven by the same banjo motif played throughout, are about as catchy and densely layered as one can expect from a home-crafted laptop work; personal and impassioned.

9) Panda Bear — Person Pitch :

Panda Bear -- Person PitchWhen you normally hear bands that are labeled as ‘experimental,’ it can instantly conjure expectations of scraping metal and angular, hard to listen to melodies full of disjunct dystopian themes. But Panda Bear is far from that often unfair stereotype. Noah Lennox (of Animal Collective) created an album that pushes boundaries yet is still accessibly easy to listen to. With a patchwork tapestry of overlapping harmonies and soaring Brian Wilson-esque melodies, you could listen to this album a hundred times and still discover surprising nuance and layers every time.

10) Bowerbirds — Hymns For A Dark Horse :

Bowerbirds -- Hymns For a Dark HorseBowerbirds are one of a few “little engine that could” bands I have tried to champion this year. So while very few heard this neo-folk trio’s ‘back to nature’ album or heard that they all live on in one of those ’50s streamline trailers in the South Carolina countryside, they are certainly worth a listen. The music is stripped down and earnest but definitely not just typical strummy folk music. This album was a grower for me all year, as I often went back to it in times when I wanted a soundtrack to those quieter and more intimate moments, something Bowerbirds’ songs explore.

11) Wilco — Sky Blue Sky

12) Broken Social Scene presents: Kevin Drew — Spirit If…

13) Spoon — Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

14) Band of Horses — Cease To Begin

15) M.I.A. — Kala

Seven Runners Up:

1) The Shins — Wincing the Night Away

2) Blonde Redhead — 23

3) The New Pornographers — Challengers

4) Stars — In Our Bedroom After the War

5) Jens Lekman — Night Falls Over Kortedala

6) Josh Ritter — Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter

I’m Not There soundtrack

Six Honorable Mentions (or things I liked but not amazing):

1) Low — Drums and Guns

2) Modest Mouse — We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank

3) The White Stripes — Icky Thump

4) Dan Deacon — Spiderman of the Rings

5) Animal Collective — Strawberry Jam

6) Small Sins — Mood Swings

Five Debuts That Show Great Promise:

1) St. Vincent — Marry Me

2) Vampire Weekend — s\t EP

3) The Cave Singers — Invitation Songs

4) Yeasayer — All Hour Cymbals

5) Bon Iver — For Emma, Forever Ago

Four Complete Disapointments (based on my enjoyment of previous albums):

1) Bloc Party — A Weekend In the City

2) Air — Pocket Symphony

3) Clap Your Hands Say Yeah — Some Loud Thunder : Some good songs shockingly ruined by overproduction by Flaming Lips producer Dave Fridmann.

4) Ryan Adams — Easy Tiger : The album that most said brought Adams his comeback, but I found it utterly bland compared to the one-two punch of Cold Roses and Jacksonville City Nights. Band sounds as good as ever though.

Three Jazz Releases Worth Hearing:

1) Floratone — s\t (Bill Frisell, Matt Chamberlain, Tucker Martine, Lee Townsend)

2) Groundtruther — Altitude (Charlie Hunter, Bobby Previte, John Medeski)

3) Charles Mingus Sextet with Eric Dolphy — Cornell 1964 : Technically a reissue, but WOW…this puts most ‘jazz’ efforts to shame this year. Seriously, 2007 was yet another disappointing year for jazz. Where are those genre defining records that seemed to be coming out all the time not so long ago.

Two Bands That I Still Just Don’t Get The Appeal:

1) Architecture In Helsinki

2) Sunset Rubdown : Just wrote a review for this album (coming soon) and at times its good, but man I just don’t get it.

One Album I Just Never Got Into (But think I will like once I spend some more time with them):

1) LCD Soundsystem — Sound of Silver

And lastly those that slipped through the cracks but worth a heads up:

Rilo Kiley, Loney Dear, Of Montreal, Apples in Stereo, The Frames, Thurston Moore, The Good The Bad and the Queen, Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter, Beirut, Devandra Banhart, Shout Out Louds and one of my favourites all year but one that technically came out in 2006, Peter Bjorn & John’s Writer’s Block…great album!

Well thats it for now. Let us know here what you think. If you have a favourite or feel we’ve left something off…write to us at bestmusic2007@hellocomein.com or right here in the blog comments.

Oscar Peterson and the State of Jazz in 2007

Oscar Peterson

We have lost yet another jazz great today, as master pianist Oscar Peterson died due to kidney failure. Peterson, in his day along with bassist Ray Brown, led a fiercely solid and grounded trio that defined the sound of the standard piano-bass-drum jazz combo for years to come.

Peterson literally wrote the book on jazz seeped in the swing tradition of Count Basie and Duke Ellington but spun it a tightly woven, self-contained sound. While it was certainly stripped down, they were far from simplistic, finding nuance in highly contrapuntal call-and-response playing that still lingers in the vernacular today.

In a year that has also seen both Max Roach and Joe Zawinul die, it is becoming more and more apparent that there is a lack of new upcoming jazz greats to replace those from previous generations. The last few years have been relatively weak for jazz releases, and the genre becoming increasingly fringe and safely placid.

It’s a shame the only time people discuss these days is in the context of the passing of a jazz legend or when they make a entirely bland duet album (see Herbie Hancock’s Joni Mitchell album). One would think the crumbling music industry and an ever-maturing and music-hungry audience (those looking to fill their new shiney iPods) would provide a healthy environment for emerging jazz musicians to expose their music in ways the major labels have failed. But where indie rock and underground music have thrived with fan blogs, word of mouth internet exposure and creative radio programming, there has hardly been a dent when it comes to jazz.

This is especially strange considering the obsessive fandom and niche nature that jazz easily lends itself to. It surely could inspire the same types of internet over-analysis and discussion that music blogs can offer. Has jazz become the unobtrusive background at our cocktail parties when we try to act ‘classy’ or ‘adult’ or a cliche of cheesey piano lounges and elevator schlock? Could it be that the ways in which jazz is introduced to us now is as this hollowed intangible and archaic form of music and not as a living breathing entity?

Sure there are guys like Joshua Redman, Brad Mehldau, Bill Frisell, Christian McBride, Charlie Hunter, Dave Douglas, Robert Glasper, Nels Cline, Chris Potter or Jason Moran, it is unclear where the next generation is hiding.

So do we spend too much time focusing on the roots of jazz, while glossing over the countless musicians who are creating music in our own lifetimes? Or do we just lack the perspective yet to judge which musicians in the present are worthy of our praise in the same way we turned Coltrane or Miles into artistic deities?

So while a great like Peterson is now gone, I am not so much saddened by his passing (he was 82 and lived a full and robust life, playing with most of the all time greats and contributed heavily to the jazz canon), but more because it’s difficult to see where jazz is headed. Jazz is certainly not dead, but it certainly could learn new ways of exposing itself to those who long ago mourned and moved on.

hello.music — End of Year House Cleaning part one

hello.musicWell its the time of year that I am trying to wrap up millions of things…including song snippets and ideas I left behind throughout our year of EPs. Now that our project is nearly complete with phase one, I am going through my computer looking for ideas long forgotten.

One idea, is a song I am hoping to track with Greg next week in Kansas City so I’ll leave that for part two in this fascinating series…(STAY TUNED) but its a song I’ve sat on since roughly July because I never figured out the right way to approach it. Hopefully our proximity will help develop this one.

So for today though, while looking around for other ideas, I came across this really really rough motif I tracked many months ago. This is a sloppy (both my playing, just to get the idea down before I forgot it, and the mood itself) guitar rocker.

While the whole thing is pretty much a 4 minute A section with not much development at all, I think the theme has potential to be turned into something with some more segments and fuller idea of what I want. Not sure if I should just leave it to the wolves, or bring it inside for some TLC (tacos, linguine and chocolate).

Thought I’d put it up and see what people think (that is if people read this blog).

Here it is: Coppertop.

[audio:https://secureservercdn.net/198.71.233.179/wvv.338.myftpupload.com/soundbox/hellomusic_mike/Coppertop_v1.mp3]

hello.music – The Last Duel

hello.musicHey Ya! Here is probably what will be my last contribution to the hello come in EP 2007 series… it was a good run I must say. I’ll do a few more revisions to this baby along with some additions from the other two and get it done by next week.. Anyway until then listen and let me know what you think.

The Last Duel

[audio:https://secureservercdn.net/198.71.233.179/wvv.338.myftpupload.com/soundbox/hellomusic_aryn/thelastduel.mp3]

Sticks and Stones and Weed and Bones…

Getting ready to post my best of 2007 list later this week. But in the meantime…

One of the best songs I’ve heard this year is M.I.A.‘s “Paper Planes” from her second album Kala. The record, which I think is easily one of the best albums of the year, is an amazing clash of early hip hop, Baltimore electronic music, world music from all over and amazing appropriated sounds etc etc… And this song in particular has a crazy catchy hook and chorus. Great use of sound samples here.

Check out the just-released “not edited by MTV” version of the video. (Sorta a crappy video, but certainly shows signs that the 90s — at least in fashion — are creeping back.)

[youtube]7sei-eEjy4g[/youtube]

November 2007 EP: Hello Come In, ‘We Are Full Of Useful Noise’

Hello Come In's Nov 2007 EP, We Are Full Of Useful Noise

Month eleven is officially over, and we’re back with the second to last mini-EP: We Are Full Of Useful Noise. We’re particularly happy with how the first track, “Wars Keep Going On,” turned out. Due to some obscure November holiday, we all managed to be in the same place at the same time one weekend and spent a few hours hammering out the song framework in person. From there, we went back to our corners of the globe and added parts in our typical virtual manner. It was nice to finally finish a song we all actually worked on!

Take a listen for yourself here. Or right click here to DOWNLOAD the entire album.

You can always take us with you via the podcast. And of course there is MySpace and our brand new Facebook Group.

And most important… leave comments on the blog or via email at novemberEP@hellocomein.com. Enjoy!!

Tracklist:

1. Wars Keep Going On (Katzif/Crowley/Johnson)
2. 12th Century Russian Literature Makes for Good Bedtime Stories (Crowley)
3. We Are Abandoned In The Towns Our Fathers Built (Katzif)

—-

It was around this time two years ago that Aryn and I began hunkering down to come up with a website to feature our music. Initially it was just going to be a typical band website to archive all this stuff we had done in years past. Then we realized that we didn’t live in the same city, so our output dried up. Year one of Hello Come In was sort of ambiguous and undefined, filled with failed collaborative experiments (Hello.Column etc.). However, sporadic as it was at that point, Aryn, Greg and I had begun tinkering with making music on our computers, creating home recordings and such.

So it was around this time last year that the three of us started laying the ground work for our year long EP project. Looking back, it was ambitious to strive for 12 months of straight music creation, especially when all three of us lived in three different cities. It took a bit of time to logistically and technically figure things out (thank god for high speed internet and kick ass music software). But once we knew we were able to artistically develop new material and eventually hit those deadlines a few months in a row, we then began to think “Okay, now what?”

In the back of our heads though, I know we really were hoping for full group collaboration. Often working in a bubble, left to our own devices, our music did not always sound unified or really as one voice, let alone complete. But month by month, this open piloting and exposure of unfinished material — both to the other two of us, or to the few people following along at home (dozens I’m told…dozens!) — became easier; the criticism, suggestions and contributions more constructive.

So I am not exaggerating in the slightest when I say that the highlight for me this month is Wars Keep Going On, a song that all three of us had near-equal input on. Gathering for about ninety minutes one afternoon over Thanksgiving with only a simple chord progression chicken scratched out a few hours ahead of time on the back of a grocery list, we got to work. I think we hit on something good.

In many cases we found the proximity this time around extremely helpful in crafting a song that I by myself would’ve labored over a lot longer, just by playing it out for Greg and Aryn and talking about it. You sort of catch onto the momentum and creativity of the others and just run with it. This is certainly not the first time we’ve had that experience..hell we played countless amounts of gigs together dating back to highschool, so familiarity here is also key.

But the end results I think might be our most complete work. While it’s not the most complex, experimental or even all that original in the larger historical scheme of music (given a paltry 6.8 by Pitchfork), but it might be the most representative of what the three of us can do at this time. It’s also perhaps a tiny glimpse of what we could do if we were able to play in person on a regular basis.

We still have one last month left in our year of EPs, plus a few upcoming ideas for future projects in 2008, but I have to say, it’s rewarding to finally hit a creative goal that we set and know that this is just another new beginning. It only took us 11 damn months to do it.

— Mike, Nov. 2007

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Past EP’s

Temporary Setback :: January 2007
Clouded Spaces, Falling Skies :: February 2007
First Pull Up, Second Pull Down, Third Take Away :: March 2007
Ancient Telephones :: April 2007
The Cavalry Arrived Again :: May 2007
Designed In Anticipation Of His Centennial Years :: June 2007
The Rundown :: July 2007
The Ninth Great Fire :: August 2007
Empty Bottles And Dog-Eared Books :: September 2007
I Can Fix Things In The Morning :: October 2007
We Are Full Of Useful Noise :: November 2007
The Last Duel :: December 2007

NPR Song Of The Day: Viva Voce, ‘Wrecking Ball’

Viva Voce's Lovers Lead the Way! / Heat Can Melt Your Brain is out now.
Viva Voce’s Lovers Lead the Way!/Heat Can Melt Your Brain is out now.

Here’s a short thing on Viva Voce’s song “Wrecking Ball” from its reissued Lovers Lead the Way! / Heat Can Melt Your Brain for NPR’s Song of the Day essay. To read the full review and hear the song go here.

Continue reading NPR Song Of The Day: Viva Voce, ‘Wrecking Ball’

Old Things That Are New To Me — Cooking With Rockstars

I don’t know how I came across this website, or really how long its been around to be honest, but Cooking With Rockstars is great. It’s one of the more original music-related features I have seen in awhile.

The premise is pretty durn simple… talk to musicians or indie bands about what they like to eat or cook. Why go through the motions, asking the same tired questions to artists who’ve long grown bored waxing on about their influences or defending stylistic changes, when you can ask Jenny Lewis about her near-vegan dietary restrictions and what cities you can get great ‘fake meat?’ Or Jack Black about his famous ‘Dorito Burrito.’

Despite the lacking video quality — seemingly shot handheld with a cellphone or shitty digital camcorder (do we still call them camcorders? I’m out of touch) — it scores some points in having a great line up of interviews with the likes of Ben Gibbard, John Vanderslice, and Sam Beam of Iron & Wine (among quite a few more).

These days, since I’ve been co-producing a food show for NPR (Kitchen Window), I am becoming more drawn to food, food journalism and how and what people like to eat… So combining that with my love and obsession with music, this is a great little concept… I hope they keep it up.

Check out a past interview with Jack Black

[youtube]NqyPdWsjM34[/youtube]