My Favorite Records of 2008

I’m a nerd, so by default I love Year End lists. And I’m nerdy enough to make my own (although, in my defense, I had to do this already for Grimey’s…)

So the year in summary?  First, I was so busy this year I feel like I missed a lot of stuff. I didn’t find myself with the time this year to dig much beyond the perpetually-growing list of artists I already have interest in. I scaled back this year, too — whereas 2007 saw me buying something like 200 records, this year I bought about half as many.

Secondly, I found myself disappointed by a lot of records this year (precisely why I have a list of “Disappointments” below).  It’s funny to look at 2008 in contrast to 2007 — in retrospect, I felt like every record that come out in 2007 was vying for best record of the year, while I found myself feeling very “meh” about a lot of the 2008 lineup.

Third, I spent a lot of my musical energy in 2008 digging backward and discovering music I had missed. Some of the musical highlights of ’08 for me included finally getting around to Sun Kil Moon, digesting all of the Beulah back-catalog (and falling deep in love with it), digging into Fela Kuti, afrobeat, and Ethiopian jazz, and an awful lot of post-punk.

Anyhow, on to the lists: Continue reading My Favorite Records of 2008

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HOLY SH*T I JUST MET ELVIS COSTELLO.

This was the text message I sent my wife and few other folks yesterday at about 12:13. I’m still sort of accepting the fact that this happened at all.

But first, the night before: Costello played an outstanding show at the Ryman. I dare to say you won’t find a more vital artist of his age than Costello — he still performs with more drive and focus than I see in some folks half his age. The setlist was fantastic: EVERY SONG from his new (very urgent, very immediate) album Momofuku, plus a smattering of gems from the back catalog. The highlights:

  • new tune “Flutter and Wow”, which could very well be among his finest songs ever
  • a jaw-dropping solo rendition of “Alison”
  • a very solid and fluid four-piece take on the slick production of “Everyday I Write the Book”
  • truly amazing vocal performance on “Either Side of the Same Town” from The Delivery Man
  • “Man Out of Time”
  • “Beyond Belief,” “Accidents Will Happen,” and “The Impostor”
  • A totally breakneck-paced version of “Radio, Radio”

My gripe: the crowd. Here’s this amazing, energetic set delivered by an absolute master who’s charming and talkative and generous enough to deliver 4 stellar encores, and the jaded mostly middle-age Nashville audience just sits there like they’re waiting for a Hot Pocket to come out of the microwave. I really hate when the Ryman audience sits through a rock show (you just can’t feel it the same way sitting down), but c’mon Alice — the least you can do is bob your head from time to time. I saw numerous people refuse to stand during the ovations, and about an eighth of the balcony left immediately before or after the first set. There was even a mad dash for the door after the first chorus of the closing rendition of “Peace, Love, and Understanding.” Look, I know you’re going to have to wait 5 more minutes to get your Yukon out of the parking lot if you leave with everybody else when the final note has been played, but what’s five minutes in exchange for showing an artist a little respect. I saw the same thing at R.E.M. three years ago, and even at the Tom Waits show a few years back. Bottom line: most of the time, I think Nashville doesn’t even deserve the moniker of “Music City”, because some of the quote-unquote music-lovers in this town are jaded idiots.

But put that aside. Elvis came to Grimey’s on Thursday.

Elvis Costello and the Grimey\'s StaffHonestly, I felt like a 10 year old girl. I was completely nervous in the hours before his arrival, all sweaty and listless, wandering the store aimlessly. When he arrived, we were ushered quickly to the side for group photos (sadly, no solo pic of Elvis and I in a bromancely embrace). During all of this, Elvis was looking around the store, making comments about the inventory. He made a great (and reverential) Prince joke, although I can’t remember what it was about. I felt like he was sort of shopping the whole time he was there, just looking around, connecting all this vast musical knowledge in his head.

We pretty quickly opened the door to let people in, so I stepped aside and helped keep the line in order. I stood about 12 feet or so away from Elvis while he talked to folks, and he was really charming, very witty, and very friendly to everyone. He told Grimey’s regular (and supreme vinyl collector) Joe Crook that he liked his Son House t-shirt, and I thought Joe’s head was going to explode. While there was a little lull in the line, Larry and I jumped over and introduced ourselves, shook his hand, and thanked him for being there, and it was pretry surreal and a little hazy, even in the moment it was happening.

When the line evaporated we closed the doors so Elvis could shop, and he spent a good 30 minutes going through the store, asking for recommendations from Doyle, and making requests. There were a few straggler customers still around, and he made some recommendations to them in passing, which was pretty much the coolest thing ever. He bought a box worth of stuff, said goodbye, and then took off in his bus.

So yeah, yesterday was one of the coolest and most surreal days ever.

Sidenote: if you haven’t heard Momofuku yet, go hear it. It benefits from a very immediate, almost tossed off vibe. Great songs played almost effortlessly from a very friendly genius of staggering proportions who wears a nice hat and a scarf in April.

April: Cruelest Month? Hardly.

April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

– “The Wasteland”
T.S. Eliot

So, yeah, it’s been kind of stale here on the blog for a few days. Life trumps blogging, and life has been a little, well, larger than life the past few weeks.

First off, April started off cruel. Two weeks ago, after 5 solid days of rain, ye olde Briggs family home basement flooded for the first time in a few years. It’s a helpless feeling to walk into your house and find half of your carpet soaked with mud water, seeping up through a crack that conveniently runs through the middle of your foundation. While we took the step to proactively put indoor/outdoor carpet in the basement a few years ago, we had yet to test it’s effectiveness, so we spent essentially an entire weekend second guessing ourselves and deconstructing the sub-level of our house, spreading baking soda, renting a carpet cleaner, rolling wet carpet back, buying mops, and later buying stiff brushes and getting on our hands and knees to scrape up the aforementioned (now-crusted) baking soda. Honestly, the weekend was a bit spirit breaking — we found ourselves in a swampy house, more ready than ever to move, but still unsure of my career situation. And I ended the weekend angrier than ever about the 18 months I’ve seemingly wasted with an employer I have no interest in working for.

Things changed, though. If I were to make a top ten list, April 2008 is probably the second best month of my life–putting it just behind September 2006, and just ahead of June 1999 (wich is incidentally also the last time I vomited).

I must have banked some serious karma, because the week of my birthday was a complete 180 from the weeks before. On Monday, I was contacted for an interview. On Tuesday at 3:30, I want to that interview. And at 4:45, I walked out of that interview with a job offer. I checked on my other options, and on Wednesday I accepted, Thursday I turned in my notice, and Friday I left work at 2:30 to go drink Woodchuck and eat a weekend’s worth of junk food in celebration of my birthday.

My new job is almost exactly what I was hoping to find, and I can’t wait to start. First day is a week from Monday.

But that’s not the only reason that April 2008 is keeping it real.

  1. On Thursday of last week, after turning in my notice and putting our basement back together I get an e-mail that alerts me to the fact that ELVIS COSTELLO WILL BE AT GRIMEY’S ON APRIL 24 TO SIGN RECORDS. Which means that in a week from today, I’ll meet one of my favorite artists of all time.
  2. Grimey’s Record Store Day celebration is this Saturday, which I’ve been looking forward to for quite some time. (Come buy records from us!)
  3. The aforementioned new R.E.M. album, which, after living with it for a few weeks, I can say with confidence is at least 90.9% good, and more like 45.4% great / 45.5% good.
  4. Going to see the New Pornographers and Okkervil River tomorrow, which means that I’ll be seeing Okkervil for the first time, and (hopefully) having the opportunity to pine over my Indie Rock Girlfriend once again.
  5. New Elvis record and the Elvis show next week.
  6. An end of month backpacking trip.
  7. Preparation for the big Left Coast Vacation next month, which I can’t wait for.

So yeah, full respect to the genius of T.S. Eliot, but the first line of “The Wasteland” definitely does not apply to me right now. Life is good. Great moments are moving through me, and I’m taking hold of some of them.

The New R.E.M. Record

First, a bit of history:

R.E.M. is, and has always been, my favorite band. It sounds completely ridiculous but it’s no exaggeration to say that R.E.M. changed my life. My teenage years were spent basically studying rock music with R.E.M. as the jumping-off point, and I still go through a reliable annual period of complete obsession with their back catalog. During college, I actively contributed and lurked at Murmurs.com, the finest R.E.M.-related messageboard on the internets. I once wrote a terrible, non-sensical short story on a bulletin during a church service by stringing together R.E.M. lyrics. Later, I wrote a 10-page essay applying deconstructionist critical theory to Murmur for a 300-level college english class. My wife and I have done the “R.E.M. Walking Tour” of Athens, GA (a small town wander session that passes you by unmarked landmarks such as Bill Berry’s former apartment, and a pile of rubble that used to be their rehearsal space) — and I thought it was farking awesome. I’ve seriously discussed the idea of starting an R.E.M. cover band.

All that said, I hated their last two records. Actually, I thought I hated their 2001 album Reveal. Then they put out Around the Sun in 2004, and Reveal suddenly had highlights. The live album they put out last year was mostly abysmal. I know it’s not the general concensus among all R.E.M. fans, and I know it makes me sound all “NoOrganicWebShooters.com“, but in my opinion, it’s been hard to be an R.E.M. fanboy in the last eight years.

Even with the positive pre-release buzz on the new record, I’ve been diluting my anticipation with a healthy dose of “meh”.

So, we received a promo copy of Accelerate last week at Grimey’s, and my crew had it queued it up for me as I walked in the door on Saturday morning.

And I loved it.

Sure, I’ll admit it’s probably the geek in me, but I haven’t felt that way listening to an album since I was in high school… maybe since the first time I heard ‘”E-Bow the Letter” sitting in the driveway, listening to the radio on my mother’s car. Accelerate is a propuslive record — one that crackles with life that this band hasn’t really had since Monster or even Document. It’s not exactly a settling back into the jangly IRS-records sound that most longtime fans secretly (or not-so secretly) clamor for… it’s more an ackowledgement of the past tempered with strong forward motion. On Accelerate, R.E.M. sounds both mature and eager, and it’s a sound that they sound very comfortable in, which suddenly seems to be the root element that was sorely missing from the last two records.

It’s not perfect — “Hollow Man” kind of blows, “Song for the Submarine” seems like it may be a grower — but I’ve always argued that R.E.M. haven’t ever really made a “perfect” singular album. All’s I know is that once the record was over, I immediately wanted to listen to it again, and I’ve been jonesing to hear it since.

You can stream the album for free on Facebook with all the cool kids on 3/24. I will.