THE HOLIDAY WEEKEND STARTS HERE:
with FAVES 2008! I occasionally hear from folks who want to know what -- from among all of the posts I do here -- I recommend. To some degree, I recommend all of it, unless I expressly write otherwise (e.g., it's not my thing, but it might be yours). With the holiday shopping season upon us, I have tried to make a list of reasonable size. It's an unordered list. I likely will have overlooked something that I really dig. And some of these are grouped together, because that's the way they occurred to me at the moment. And note these are my faves; I'm not purporting to list the "Best" albums of the year. This year, I start with a few man-woman duos.
SHE & HIM: She is actress-turned indie popster Zooey Deschanel, Him is singer-songwriter M. Ward; they're detectives! Okay, not really, but Zooey carries off the singing and songwriting better than any other in recent memory. M. Ward gets to focus on his guitar playing and the resulting mix is just charming. "Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?" was the single, but this live take on Smokey's "You Really Got a Hold on Me" is sweet also, even if Zooey was still a bit shy on stage (Here's the studio version for comparison).
ISOBEL CAMPBELL & MARK LANEGAN: Another man-woman duo, but far more moody, in the vein of inspirations like Lee Greenwood & Nancy Sinatra, or Bobby Gentry with Glen Campbell. In a modern twist, it's former Belle & Sebastianist Campbell writing the songs for former Screaming Tree Lanegan to sing.
MATES OF STATE: Actual mates, if their two daughters are any indication. This year's Re-Arrange Us album was the duo's biggest and most accessible to date.
THE TING TINGS: This duo's debut was a bit too hit-and-miss for a full recommendation, but the hits really hit.
VAMPIRE WEEKEND: Was the blog buzz for this collegiate quartet overripe? Sure. Was the hipster backlash disproportionate? Probably. After all, their self-titled debut has plenty of snappy indie rock, with just enough afro-pop influence that they keep getting those Graceland references hung 'round their collective neck.
FLEET FOXES: Pastoral folk-rock with lush harmonies made 2008 a big year for the Seattle-based quintet. Perfect music for this time of year, too. I still dig them serenading a herd of goats in "He Doesn't Know Why," though others might prefer "White Winter Hymnal."
BON IVER: The backstory of recording an album for three months in a remote cabin in Wisconsin helped Justin Vernon's For Emma, Forever Ago get all sorts of buzz, but largely deserved (though Robert Christgau would disagree). Bon Iver's bleak and plaintive music certainly sounds like the product of a winter wilderness, and thus another good fit for this time of year.
LUCINDA WILLIAMS: I think that some of her fanbase -- much like that of Eric Clapton -- prefer her to be miserable all the time. But the turn for the better in her personal life seems to have produced a wider variety of moods and textures on Little Honey that rewards repeated listens. In a similar vein, Asking For Flowers, the latest from Kathleen Edwards, may be her best album yet.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ: I have long been a sucker for the sound of classic soul and R&B; he's doing it as well as anyone this year. (as is James Hunter, again). Duffy may be suffering some hipster backlash at this point, but she took good advice from Jeanette Lee (ex-PiL) to get together with Bernard Butler (ex-Suede) to take a neo-soul approach before Amy Winehouse made it fashionable again. And it's not like Lulu is still making records. Adele is also deserving of mention in this vein.
NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS: Obviously no newcomer, but Dig, Lazarus Dig! served as a reminder that Cave has made a career of it for very good reason.
PALE YOUNG GENTLEMEN: Those of you wishing there had been more new stuff from The Decemberists or Beruit this year should take note of this baroque outfit from Madison, WI. Black Forest (Tra La La), which is even more ambitious than their last outing, is a bit of a grower too, rewarding repeat listens.
CALEXICO: As much as I respected them for trying some new things on Garden Ruin, it's nice to have the former Giant Sandmen re-emphasizing their Southwestern influences on this year's Carried To Dust. "Two Silver Trees" was the single, but I'll use any excuse to re-link the band's killer cover of Love's "Alone Again Or."
THE FELICE BROTHERS hail from upstate New York, so perhaps it's not surprising that their debut record carries a bit of the spirit of Big Pink. That the vocals carry a Dylan-esque twang doesn't hurt, either.
THE HOLD STEADY: Stay Positive may not have been this band's best album, but it is at least the third in a string of strong ones. The inevitable (and likely irritating to them by now) comparisons to Springsteen or Thin Lizzy (and I'll toss in Led Zep for Tad Kubler) may stem as much now from their power-packed live show as from Craig Finn's overstuffed (in a good way) storytelling. And it's passing strange that people don't mention The Replacements, Husker Du and Soul Asylum as influences more often, especially as the guys grew up in Mpls during that era. Ken King aptly called the show we saw "an orgy of shouting and finger-pointing."
OKKERVIL RIVER: Not unlike the Hold Steady, I'm not sure that The Stand-Ins is quite as good as Black Sheep Boy or The Stage Names -- but Will Scheff & Co get points for delivering consistently compelling material.
SHEARWATER: Given how good Okkervil River is, Jason Meiberg might have been thought to be taking a gamble in focusing on Shearwater instead. But 2008's Rook is a safe bet for indie music lovers.
A CHARLIE BROWN THANKSGIVING: Tubed for your seasonal enjoyment (Part One, Part Two, Part Three).
THANKSGIVING has a lot of myths, both traditional and the new "Pilgrims were evil" ones taught in some public schools. Not to mention the fights over kindergarteners dressing as Native Americans. However, if you read the journal of William Bradford -- who served some 35 years as governor of the Pilgims' colony -- you quickly discover that the Pilgrims' relationship with the natives was complex and that the colony was ultimately saved when Bradford started doing away with collectivism and granting property rights.
TURKEY TRACKER: Watch the bird.
CUTOUT BIN: Belle & Sebastian covering Thin Lizzy (and rawking it), Drive-By Truckers covering Blue Oyster Cult, the Mamas & Papas covering the Beatles, Okkervil River covering John Lennon, Conor Oberst covering Paul Simon, Tom Tom Club covering Hot Chocolate, Sondre Lerche covering Pete Townshend and the Beach Boys covering Terry Jacks not enough for you? Then there's the Monkees, James Brown, Larry Graham, Buffalo Springfield, Eddie Kendricks, REM, Queen and more -- this Friday's fortuitous finds can be jukeboxed or streamed separately via the Pate page at the ol' HM.