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Feature : Feature : 12.18.2008

 

The Procrastinators’ Gift Guide

Hot Potatoes Gifts for those glued to the boob tube

A Gift That Could Land You a New Sweater

Music Picks

Homegrown Holiday Sounds Give a bit of Oregon

 

Music Picks

As the year winds down, CDs pile up. Since we generally only cover artists who are coming through Eugene, we all wind up with things we’ve not had an occasion to include in EW — and, OK, a few things we want to talk about again. This year, we asked our frequent music contributors to list their three most-played iTunes songs (for context), three or four great CDs from 2008 and one local release that deserves a last bit of highlighting before the calendar flips over and we’re once again obsessed with the new. 

 

Chuck Adams

Most-Played iTunes Songs:

1. Portishead, “Silence”

2. Girl Talk, “Shut the Club Down”

3. Los Campesinos!, “My Year in Lists”

Selected Outstanding Albums 

Atlas Sound, Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel (Kranky)

Sure, Bradford Cox and his Deerhunter cohorts released the fine, fuzzy Microcastle this fall, but back in early spring Cox (as Atlas Sound) released the more personally engaging Feel, a dark, singular, cerebral vision of childhood trauma and aural growth. Listen to this in the dark with headphones while you try to fall asleep and your dreams just might come true. 

El Guincho, Alegranza! (Beggars XL)

If M.I.A. brought London-via-Sri Lanka worldbeat to the foreground with last year’s Kala, El Guincho’s Alegranza! should prove to be 2008’s introduction to Barcelona-via-Brazil tropical bacchanal. It’s like one-man-band Pablo Díaz-Reixa toured the world’s sweatiest backpacker nightclubs in Latin America and bottled it up, releasing that energy in track after track of trance-dub bliss. 

Los Campesinos!, Hold On Now, Youngster… and We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed (Arts & Crafts)

So many British pop-rock and punk bands sound the same to me. Then I listened to Los Campesinos!, a septet of collegiates barely breaking age 22, and found something both familiar and explosively new. Buried within Youngster and its “extended EP” Doomed (both released this year) is a creative fire that touches on, yes, youthful transgressions, but also, in its lyrical screeds and all-hands-on-deck musicianship, sober conclusions: Our time is short. Let’s enjoy it. 

Of Montreal, Skeletal Lamping (Polyvinyl)

I was going to plug Girl Talk’s brilliant Feed the Animals in this space, but then Of Montreal went and made an album using GT’s schizophrenic arrangements but with all-original music. Skeletal Lamping takes over 20 repeated listens to get acquainted, but once it clicks the album erupts into flaming balls of gooey, poppy goodness. Identity crises don’t get any sexier. (And as far as album packaging goes, you can’t beat the visual feasts available for this disc.)

LOCAL LOVE: The Electronic

Muke, Shutterspeed Lullabies

Sure, there are more layers on these iBook-produced electro-pop morsels than Muke has fingers. But somehow, against the digital current, the local duo of Maddie Liebowitz and Luke Kazava manage to pull off a low-key, often humorous album. Liebowitz’s tinny, chirpy voice delivers breathy choruses while Kazava’s subtle guitar work blends well in the production. 

 

Sara Brickner

Most-Played iTunes Songs:

1. Saltlick, “Cimmaron” (Seriously. Not fibbing.)

2. Gillian Welch, “Wrecking Ball”

3. Common, “The Food”

Selected Outstanding Albums 

Common Market, Tobacco Road (Massline Media)

Hip hop concept albums are not exactly common. And they’re not always successful. But RA Scion is one of Seattle’s best MCs, and DJ Sabzi, the producer behind the Blue Scholars (probably the hottest hip hop group of this year), is a beat-making genius. Unfortunately, Common Market hasn’t received as much national attention this year as the Scholars, but that might well change once the rest of the world catches on to the duo’s sharp rhymes about the long, arduous road from the tobacco plantation to 40 acres and what once passed for freedom. 

The Saturday Knights, Mingle (Light in the Attic)

If they’d just gone on tour this year, The Saturday Knights’ debut LP, Mingle, would be on every last one of those pointless Best Records of 2008 lists everyone loves to hate (but reads anyway). Why? Because The Saturday Knights are the only band to successfully combine hip hop and rock and roll music. Mingle’s witty, tongue-in-cheek rhymes and infectious beats succeed where the juvenile Gym Class Heroes, whose sound is a little too close to hip hop New Found Glory for my comfort, failed. Alas, you’ll just have to hock your GCH record and buy Mingle instead. You can thank me later.

Why?, Alopecia (Anticon)

I’ve always thought Why?’s screwy electro hip hop was great, but it hasn’t always been very accessible, what with the muddled, shoegazer moments and Yoni Wolf’s occasional mumbling problems. With Alopecia, that all changed. It’s poppier without being formulaic; fun, but still witty. And yeah, you’ll come for the catchy electronics, but it’s rhymes like “blowing kisses to disinterested bitches” that make Why? so damn great. 

LOCAL LOVE: The Underrated

Animal Farm, The Unknown (Focused Noise Productions)

I can’t say for sure that this album’s been underrated, but I do know it’s a great record that deserves as much attention as I can give it. Animal Farm, a hip hop group whose members are divided among Eugene, Portland and San Francisco, makes clever club jams so hot they’re steaming. The Pacific Northwest’s hip hop scene is still developing — what we’ve got is good, but when it comes to Cali or the Midwest, we’ve got nothing — but whatever happens to the scene in the next few years, rest assured Animal Farm, with its fresh twist on true school hip hop, will be part of it. Just as long as the members don’t let their geographic limitations get the better of them.

 

Jeremy Ohmes

Most-Played iTunes Songs:

1. Wreckless Eric, “Whole Wide World”

2. New Order, “Ceremony”

3. The Futureheads, “Hounds of Love”

Selected Outstanding Albums 

Deerhunter, Microcastle (Kranky)

I realize this album is on a lot of people’s year-end, best-of lists, and I wish I could be more original. But this record is just that good. Gone is the experimental-for-experiment’s-sake, art punk attitude that distanced many from this Atlanta group’s last record. And in its place is a hallucinatory guitar pop haze that feels like a daydream you never want to end. Yes, Microcastle is the most accessible Deerhunter album to date, but it’s a warped accessibility — laced with surf guitars and bittersweet psychedelia — that I would love to hear blasting out of every car window on a scorching hot summer’s day.   

M83, Saturdays = Youth (Mute)

My buddy says this album sounds like Vangelis. Like that’s a bad thing. Sure, with its tsunami-sized keyboard swells and lush, hyper-stylized aesthetics, M83’s latest soundscape could serve as a film score to the ’80s, but let’s be certain we’re talking about the right ’80s. Saturdays = Youth is more airy coming-of-age than isolated angst. It is more jubilant, ultra-romantic highs than melancholy wallpaper lows. It is more Sixteen Candles than Blade Runner. And honestly, the ’80s never sounded so good.

Spiritualized, Songs in A&E (Fontana Int’l)

Spiritualized has always been about the overblown orchestration and grandiose gospel choruses but, because Jason Pierce’s music is so minimal to begin with, the ostentation works. So it’s refreshing to hear him peel away some of the trademark bombast and let his sonic panoramas stretch out on their own. Don’t get me wrong — the album is still signature Spiritualized with soulful motifs, shoegaze moments and Pierce’s late night, slumped-in-the-corner desperation. But the willful restraint on this record imbues all those “Baby, baby”s with a new sense of urgency and emotional power.       

LOCAL LOVE: The Nostalgic

Richard Swift, Ground Trouble Jaw EP (Secretly Canadian)

Whodathunk that some of the best doo-wop and soul I’ve heard in a long time would be coming out of Cottage Grove? Moreover, whodathunk that it’d be coming from a curly-mopped, mustachioed white guy with a penchant for lo-fi production? Since 2005, Richard Swift has been steadily turning heads with little more than a four-track, a killer falsetto and a nostalgic ’50s doo-wop/’60s soul sound. Swift might be Cottage Grove’s best-kept secret (or vice versa), but download this free EP and start spreading the word.     

 

Vanessa Salvia

Most-Played iTunes Songs:

1. A bhangra version of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man,” from the tribute to Black Sabbath album Bhangra Bloody Bhangra 

2. Beirut, “Nantes” 

3. Dean Martin, “Sway”

Selected Outstanding Albums 

Okkervil River, The Stand Ins (Jagjaguwar)

When I visited my friend who lives in Austin, Texas, where Okkervil River is from, I received an immersion course in what’s to love about the band. I heard them played continuously and saw them perform twice within a 12-hour period. After that much exposure, I got it about the music. It’s charming and tattered, clever, but not too. An absorbing mixture of melodrama and a literate dissection of life’s many follies, set to Motown horns and indie-rock melodies.

The Sea and Cake, Car Alarm (Thrill Jockey)

This isn’t my favorite Sea and Cake record, but there’s no way I could not include this. After multitudinous listens to each of their 10 releases over the past 10 years, Sam Prekop’s voice has become an inescapable part of my existence. Their catalog is perfect for picking up on the breezy Caribbean melodies via gin and tonics in the summer sun, or mellow late night listenings when it’s 2 am and everything else is too harsh.  

Jesu, Why Are We Not Perfect? (Hydra Head)

I’ve followed the thread of Justin Broadrick’s career beginning with Napalm Death and through his many side projects, and his music reveals to me an intimacy and sense of longing that I don’t find anywhere else. Jesu perfectly crystallizes despair and loneliness, though there’s a joy between all the gauzy layers that becomes more apparent as he moves further away from crushing heaviness of his early days. 

LOCAL LOVE: The Monumental

Rye Wolves, Oceans of Delicate Rain (Aurora Borealis)

The geographical comparisons come almost too easily — this is a monumental sound, angular guitars threaten to shred anything in their path, cavernous swaths of tension build up into an earthquake of release. It’s mostly instrumental, but when frontman Abram Hurd does sing it’s epic. The songs on this CD are a balanced equation of math rock and discordant turbulance, mastered as it was by James Plotkin, whose credits include Khanate, Black Sun, Isis, Pelican, Melvins and related others. 

 

Molly Templeton

Most-Played iTunes Songs:

1. Band of Horses, “Our Swords”

2. Frightened Rabbit, “The Modern Leper” 

3. Azure Ray, “If You Fall”

Selected Outstanding Albums 

Frightened Rabbit, The Midnight Organ Fight (Fat Cat)

I’ve already written two long blog posts this year about the awesomesauce of seeing Frightened Rabbit live. I suspect that this may be a band you have to see live to fall thoroughly for, but that doesn’t mean The Midnight Organ Fight isn’t fantastic — and just as hard to explain as it was the first time. It’s not that the Rabbit boys are doing something shockingly new, but that they’re doing heartbroken, misbegotten, half self-destructive, half hopeful love songs as well as they can be done.

Amanda Palmer, Who Killed Amanda Palmer (Roadrunner)

I’ve barely heard Palmer’s other band, the Dresden Dolls; I’ve had this CD for less than 24 hours. It doesn’t matter. I’ve followed the story of Who Killed Amanda Palmer through the blogs of two of Palmer’s collaborators, writer Neil Gaiman and photographer Kyle Cassidy, who worked with her on an accompanying book, and their posts piqued my interest; the video for the throaty, dirty cabaret singalong “Leeds United” cemented it. Who Killed begins with the desperate, lonely “Astronaut: A Short History of Nearly Nothing.” Palmer’s piano marches through the song, giving and taking the reins from her ferocious voice. It’s an auspicious start.

TV on the Radio, Dear Science (Interscope)

Well, somebody had to include it. The critics’ darling continues to dominate year-end lists, though Dear Science doesn’t feel quite as inescapable as 2006’s Return to Cookie Mountain. Science has its off moments (“Crying”), but it also has the sweetness of “Family Tree,” the retro joy of “Golden Age” and the antsy anticipation of “Halfway Home,” which, like TVOTR’s best songs, sounds like a distillation of everything the band finds interesting, all swirled into a genre-twisting, swoonworthy whole. It takes four and a half minutes to fully build, but the fuzzy, loopy payoff is completely worth it.

Several other things I will surely love once I’ve listened to them more, in no particular order: Mates of State, Re-arrange Us; Horse Feathers, House With No Home; Ra Ra Riot, The Rhumb Line; Alkaline Trio, Agony & Irony; Deerhunter, Microcastle; Meursault, Pissing on Bonfires/Kissing With Tongues.

LOCAL LOVE: The Ghoulish

The Sawyer Family, The Burning Times

Are you sure you and your loved ones got your fill of psychobilly murder ballads and werewolves’ laments this year? Really? I think you could all use a few more. Don’t you? If you’re still unsure, perhaps you should trot over to YouTube and watch the video for “Say Goodbye,” then ask yourself that question one last time.