The Rest Of 2008 (or, There Aren’t Enough Hours In A Day, Nor Days In A Year)

So, it’s almost 2009 and I’m feeling a little burnt out. The general holiday pressures notwithstanding, trying to squeeze the rest of my 2008 “talkabouts” out this month, hoping to further shape my much “anticipated” Best Of list, was a bit tiring. I’m not Mick Jagger: Time is NOT on my side.

So, in the interest of making sure my unfortunate stragglers get SOME due, here’s a list of what I failed to cover. My apologies to the following:

Man Man
Rabbit Habits
Released: 4.8.08

Rating: 9.25 out of 10

“You think you’re so slick/I seen her lipstick ‘cross your dillsnick…”

Juvenilia definitely penetrates the otherwise vibratory rush of xylophone that pushes through Man Man’s “The Ballad Of Butter Beans.” But the Philadelphia-bred outfit’s tripping sailor music, a pop-ilicious combo of Waits-ian oceanic travelogue and Zappa lampooned avant-progression, is the work of musicians that take what they do very seriously. Rabbit Habits, their third album, crosses manic aggression (“Hurly/Burly”) with inebriated piracy (“Big Trouble”), piano balladry (“Doo Right,” “Rabbit Habits”) with gypsy gospel (“Poor Jackie”), making for an eclectic mix that stays its course and, somehow, makes sense.

Probably one of the year’s best albums.

Video for “Mister Jung Stuffed”

Bad Dudes
Eat Drugs
Retard Disco
Released: 4.22.08

Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Eat Drugs, an amusingly titled album from badly named Bad Dudes, sounds like a mix tape. Not a bad one, but far from unified.

Bad Dudes, evolution of So-Cal band, Miracle Chosuke, is a talented, but very ambitious, progressive act with well-honed math rock mechanics. Ping-ponging between space age instrumentalist Devo explorations like “Mjölner” or almost-metallically intro’d rock progressions like “Secret Protector,” at times Bad Dudes seems like it doesn’t understand what it wants to be, or what it’s aiming for.

It’s unfortunate, because the songs are good, the skills are indisputable: They know how to incorporate time signatures into otherwise British-invasion garage rockers like “Heterosaucer” and pull some slick stringed jazz fusion moments into post-punk songs like the album’s title track. Even the very So-Cal bubblegum pop punk of “Suez” goes above and beyond the ease of filling in its paint-by-numbers template. Closer, “Preteen Wolf,” erupts from its tightly wound opening into a loud and fast percussive attack.

Sort of killing the momentum, they experiment with unnecessary electro-dance beats (“Better Than Nature”) and lackluster late 90s filler (“Cabana Boyzz, B.C.).

Some focus would do these guys a lot of good.

Video for “Eat Drugs”

The Roots
Rising Down
Def Jam
Released: 4.29.08

Rating: 8.25 out of 10

Possibly the only hip-hop group in the mainstream that really WANTS to make a difference? Nah, maybe not, but I don’t think that’s too broad a generalization.

Continuing from where they left off with 2006’s Game Theory, The Roots’ eighth album, Rising Down, further exhibits the band in editorial mode, keyboardist Kamal Grey acting as the thickening agent for an otherwise minimalist presentation.

Having almost completely forsaken the jazzy mix that established them as a breakthrough act in the late 90s, Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson and Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter continue to find ways to remain relevant and fresh, possibly sacrificing some of their charm for the sake of sounding “hard” but at least maintaining a level of intellect that puts The Roots ahead of their radio-friendly cookie cutter contemporaries. And, while my lips are still fastened to their asses, the record’s pretty good.

Singles “Get Busy” and “75 Bars (Black’s Reconstruction)” illustrate Grey’s low-end static, darkening the tonality of otherwise headknocking couple songs. Emotional territory is breached with “Criminal,” a song about racial profiling, and the slow and atmospheric “Singing Man,” which is as haunting as you can get.

Talib Kweli lends his distinguished voice for “I Will Not Apologize” and the electric and intense “Lost Desire,” while rappers Mos Def and Common help out with the album’s eerie title track and the victory march of “The Show.”

The Roots lighten the mood just in time for closing track, “Rising Up,” really the only party you will find herein.

Video for “Get Busy”

Released: 6.3.08

Rating: 9.75 out of 10

I admit to being late in the game with Opeth, and too ignorant of their catalogue to really offer any “expert” opinion on how this album measures up. But whether or not that’s the case, I can’t ignore the fact that Watershed, the band’s ninth album, is a remarkably constructed masterpiece of sublime horrors and impassioned and moving beauty.

From the second I hit PLAY I was awestruck, engaged by the heavily involved and theatrical mix of demonic intensity (“Heir Apparent”) and the powerfully rendered (“Burden”), not to mention its progressive elements, which really do catch you by surprise (“The Lotus Eater”).

Maybe not as rhythmically aggressive as Mastadon, but Watershed is an impressive 7 song feat.

Video for “Porcelain Heart”

Sigur Rós
Með Suð Í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust
XL Recordings
Released: 6.24.08

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Með Suð Í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust, fifth album by Icelandic melody makers Sigur Rós, translates to “With a Buzz in Our Ears We Play Endlessly.” It definitely has that kind of playful vibe, an “I’m so happy to be alive” whimsy coursing through the tribal percussion of opener, “Gobbledigook” and the celebratory trumpet of the following, “Inní Mér Syngur Vitleysingur” (Within Me A Lunatic Sings).

Their characteristically angelic and ethereal waves of stringed atmosphere are largely absent this time around, though they still manifest slow and poignant odes to aural bliss (“Góðan Daginn” (Good Day)) and layered piano balladry (“Með Suð Í Eyrum” (With A Buzz In Our Ears)). The album is no less beautiful, nor is it less illustrative of the Sigur Rós sound. They just concentrate on different instruments this time around, using less and somehow creating more.

My only complaint with the album is that it’s uneven, the entire second half of the album devoted to balladry. It’s as if the band got cold feet, committing only some of their experimental departure to the first half in the hopes that an abundance of “slow and touching” would make up for it. A guilty conscience for trying something new or different? Not to say that in some instances that isn’t warranted, but Með Suð Í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust isn’t such a vast change of direction and if experimentation was the goal, they probably could’ve gone further.

The almost ten minute epic, “Festival,” begins as a somber organ-driven school boy solo and then launches into a pounding and explosive mass of sonic beauty. Another beautiful song, another gorgeous album.

Video for “Við Spilum Endalaust”

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