Sunday, September 7, 2008

My Records of the Summer

Tomorrow I leave for my second year of college. I'm taking a two-day train across the country to Chicago, and most likely will be without internet access. In my final hours at home for the summer, I'm going to write a bit about the albums I spun the most this summer. As with most of the lists I do, they don't represent what I think are the "best" albums, just the ones I personally favored the most.

Ratatat - LP3

Ever since their first album (which I loved immediately), it's taken a while for their newest material to grow on me. There have been a lot of times where I just wanted some instrumental to fill in the silence, and that's given me a lot of time to absorb this album, and I've come to find a place for this album just as I have for their other two. "Mirando" always packs a twittering punch, and "Dura" got a lot of spins as well. From the sound of the album and the song titles, this somehow has tinges of Spanish and Eastern influences, which is experimentation enough on the great electronic formula Ratatat have for me. I remember a lot of critics wondering if the "gimmick" of their first album could spawn others, and I really admire their ability to keep finding new ways to make electronic instrumentals interesting.

Girl Talk - Feed the Animals

I was really not impressed when I saw Girl Talk perform at Northwestern in the winter, so this album really came out of left field for me. I didn't pay anything for it, as Gregg Gillis offered it up for free (you can kind of see why, considering all the songs he samples freely and with complete reckless abandon). For some reason this album rang differently to me. Where on other albums I'd feel frustrated by how fast the samples were burned up to move through a song, I felt that they lingered just long enough to capture our attention, and then moved onto something else at the right time. I danced many times to this entire record at parties and in the car over the course of the summer, and I was really taken aback at how much I like what he did on this record. I love being able to laugh at what he's sampling (the moment "Steal My Sunshine" comes on for 10 seconds is the best shout out on the entire CD to me, though "In A Big Country" is a close second). I had so much fun listening to this album in the past couple months; it'll always be linked to anything I remember from this summer, and that's the best praise I can give it.

The Hold Steady - Stay Positive

I remembering reading about The Hold Steady for the first time the summer before my senior year of high school when a RollingStone writer called them the best band of the decade. Since I'd never heard of them I picked up their debut and have been hooked ever since. Boys and Girls in America is a really hard album to top, but Stay Positive is another in a line of very consistent, very strong records for the band. They deserve all the critical praise they get, and while there's no song here to match my favorite from the last "Hot Soft Light" there are some great barn burners. "Constructive Summer" was an early song of the summer favorite for me, and "Sequestered in Memphis" was played many a time as I drove the highways with my windows down. I really dig the earthy feel of the album art and how it fits the Americana storytelling of the record. I just really like seeing a good band put out something deserving of their name.

Black Kids - Partie Traumatic

I never did get around to commenting on the ridiculousness surrounding the debut album of the much-buzzed about Jacksonville, FL band, so I guess now comes my compressed and delayed reaction. Pitchfork gave their debut EP an 8.4, and then inexplicably gave their full-length debut a non-review of 3.3 just nine short months later. I've seen a lot of internet reviewers trying to build and break down hype with their writing alone, but this case got out of hand quickly. The review smelled terribly of Pitchfork drumming up an audience for itself rather than making good on its intended purpose of reviewing and reacting to music in a helpful and informative fashion. It was more in tune with this Onion article than any well-written review they've ever posted.

Buzz and backlash aside, they did release four tracks from their debut EP re-recorded along with only six other tracks, but I still really like the album. I think the best four tracks close out the record, beginning with their awesome single "I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You" and continuing through "Love Me Already", "I Want To Be Your Limosine", and "Look At Me (When I Rock Wichoo)." It's some nice dance-rock, and if people could focus on the music instead of the cloud of internet whining trying to grab at people's attention, everyone could see the strong record underneath it all.

Conor Oberst - Conor Oberst

A song that overstays its welcome and lasts too long for its own good is painfully bad. Conversely, a fantastic song that ends too soon is a masterful achievement. Clocking in at just 1:12, "NYC - Gone,Gone" was my favorite song of the summer, and ever since first hearing songs from the record I've been absolutely hooked on it. Aside from the fifty second interlude that is "Valley Mistico (Ruben's Song)", there is not a single weak song on this record. Somehow Oberst found himself using his own name and freeing himself of his longtime producer down in Mexico. From the opening notes of "Cape Canaveral" to the closing of "Milk Thistle" I was stunned. I've liked a lot from his past three records, but this album rang out a "return to form" vibe, and never gave it up. "Eagle On a Pole" is a standout, as are "Danny Callahan" and "Moab." Like I said, it's hard to pick a bad song from the bunch, and it's one of those rare albums that I can listen straight through without skipping a single track.

Bloc Party - Intimacy

It's taken a couple weeks, but just like I thought, the new Bloc Party album is already growing on me. I spin "Halo" a couple times a day, and "Trojan Horse", first single "Mercury" and "Biko" get frequent plays as well. I didn't like the places Bloc Party was growing towards, but now I've accepted the direction and enjoy the sounds. There's less angular, typical guitar work here and much more of Okereke's ideas at play here, but the other members do fill in the bits in fantastic ways. The bells in "Signs" shimmer nicely, and there are still a few walls to be broken down in "One Month Off." They do sound a bit like they didn't their ideas air out to a public reaction before settling on a final draft, but it's still a really enjoyable record, especially for a rabid Bloc Party fan like myself.

There you have it, my records of the summer. Hopefully some of the big profile fall releases will prove to be worth their salt, and maybe this year I'll actually get around to posting a list of my favorite records of the entire year.


El_SupaKat said...

what? No

Michael said...

Completely unrelated, but...

I'm not sure if you're a fan of this sort of stuff:

But I saw a mention of Northwestern on the first page (I'm not finished with the article yet) and thought I'd pass it your way. You might enjoy.