of Maine

The Best Albums of 2008 (top 25)

snail1The suspense has been excrutiating, I know.

A note or two on the list: if there were a #1 in my brain here, it’d either be Bon Iver or Erykah Badu; #1 in my heart, maybe Women. Been kind of “not liking music” lately (this is the reason for the delay), but we’ll try to get things back on track here at of Maine HQ. I’ll either talk about things I do like right now (basically Hauschka and the two other things I’ve listened to in 2009), whine about things I don’t really like that everyone else does (buzz kids of the week The Pains of Being Pure at Heart), or talk about how underwhelming this year’s Best Picture nominees are.

Here I thought I liked winter… Anyway.

Arthur Russell, Love Is Overtaking Me
Beach House, Devotion
Bon Iver, For Emma, Forever Ago
Chad VanGaalen, Soft Airplane
Cut Copy, In Ghost Colours
Dan Friel, Ghost Town
Deerhunter, Microcastle/Weird Era Cont.
Erykah Badu, New Amerykah Part One (4th World War)
Fuck Buttons, Street Horrsing
Gang Gang Dance, Saint Dymphna
Grouper, Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill
Hercules & Love Affair, s/t
Los Campesinos!, Hold On Now, Youngster
M83, Saturdays = Youth
Max Tundra, Parallax Error Beheads You
Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson, s/t
No Age, Nouns
Sam Amidon, All is Well
The Tallest Man on Earth, Shallow Graves
The Walkmen, You & Me
The War on Drugs, Wagonwheel Blues
White Denim, Exposion
Why?, Alopecia
Wolf Parade, At Mount Zoomer
Women, s/t


The Best Albums of 2008 (Honorable Mentions, L-Z)

Little Joy,  s/t
The Mae Shi, HLLLYH
The Magnetic Fields, Distortion
Marnie Stern, This Is It and I Am It and You Are It and So Is That and He Is It and She Is It and It Is That and That Is That
Mount Eerie, Lost Wisdom
The Mountain Goats, Heretic Pride
Nat Baldwin, Most Valuable Player
Nico Muhly, Mothertongue
Oneida, Preteen Weaponry
Paavoharju, Laulu Laakson Kukista
Parts & Labor, Receivers
Portishead, Third
School of Language, Sea From Shore
Shearwater, Rook
Subtle, ExitingARM
Sun Kil Moon, April
Thomas Function, Celebration
TV on the Radio, Dear Science
Vampire Weekend, s/t
Vetiver, Thing of the Past
Vivian Girls, s/t
The Week That Was, s/t

Sam Amidon and Nat Baldwin in Portland
December 18, 2008, 2:42 pm
Filed under: Hasty Music Reviews, Work | Tags: ,

samamidonHello all. Be alerted that end-of-year listmaking activities are in progress, and will be posted here…next week? Requiring more effort and self-criticism than expected…

But on that note – and to violate a tenet of this blog – I feel a need to urge my local readers to attend a couple of concerts this weekend, featuring a couple of my favorite artists of 2008.

First up, on Friday night, Sam Amidon’s at One Longfellow Square with my dear friend Cerf-Volantes. I’ve written at length about Amidon’s album here, and written more about a song he sang on another album here, but long story short: his latest album, All is Well – a set of revinvented traditional folk songs – is one of the most beautiful and accomplished albums of 2008. You’d be well served to check this bright young talent out Friday.

Best of all, I just found that the old office auction site is selling “buy it now” tickets at half price right now. Bidding ends at 5 pm on Friday, where you’ll have to get by with the also-worthwhile $10 price.

A couple other fine articles on Sam Amidon’s album, from Stylus and Pitchfork.

On Saturday, upright bassist Nat Baldwin – who served time gigging with Department of Eagles this year – is in town for the winter and playing at Field, on India St. That’s an early one – 6:30 pm – and a cozy evening of string music. I’m sort of co-hosting the show, so we’ll be whipping up some hot chocolate or toddies or something for you, and we ask you donate some cash ($5, ideally) for Mr. Baldwin and the other artists. Baldwin’s 2008 album, Most Valuable Player, has also been getting some Best of 2008 love. Read a nice entry (with 5 mp3s) here at the #4 slot, and here‘s my article about the album.

Hope you can make it to one or both. You’ll be glad you did.

Sorry dude.: LCD Soundsystem, Sound of Silver
December 9, 2008, 5:22 pm
Filed under: Hasty Music Reviews | Tags: , , ,


Sorry dude. is (potentially) an occasional column where I apologize for publicly or privately criticizing art that turns out to be pretty good.

I guess I have Kermit the Frog to thank for making me finally appreciate Sound of Silver. Kermie’s video lip synching along to album closer “New York I Love You” (it’s not on YouTube anymore, presumably you can find it elsewhere) was pretty great, but had the consequence of making me appreciate that song a little more and finally giving Sound of Silver a front-to-back listen.

My embarrassing (and, it seems, legendary) reaction to the video, by the way: “…nothing makes me feel as warm inside as a wide-open muppet mouth.”

The consensus pick for the Best Album of 2007, Silver‘s first single, “North American Scum,” remains irksomely self-conscious; James Murphy’s lazy drawl is, one supposes, actually intended to sound like the ultimate example of the hipster cliche, but that doesn’t make the schtick funny. Or tolerable. The loud, vaguely unenthusiastic girl harmony backup sends me over the edge every time.

Elsewhere, things are pretty good, and surprisingly consistent and digestible for a longish album made up of nine longish songs. “Time to Get Away” has proven its utility on the dance floor, “Someone Great” and “All My Friends” are legitimately excellent and intelligent pop songs (the latter won me over late last year – not that I told anyone – after I heard this cover by the Main Drag). Ditto the title track and “Kermit I Love You.” “Us v Them” is still annoying though. Anyway, keeping this abbreviated, sorry dude.

p.s. Fingers still crossed that, in ten years, everyone will realize that this was actually the album of ’07.

Arthur Russell, Love is Overtaking Me
December 5, 2008, 4:47 pm
Filed under: Hasty Music Reviews | Tags: , , ,


“Old music” and I have settled our disputes, and had a pretty nice year. Maybe I just found my niche. (More likely: the illusion of “discovery” weighs heavily on my likes.) Love’s Forever Changes is a new, perhaps permanent addition to my Best Albums Ever list. There’s more I can’t recall offhand, but discovering Arthur Russell has impeded any progress I hoped to make getting through the canon of notable 2008 releases. Fortunately, the deceased songwriter-composer actually has one, and it’s a beaut.

I’ll spare the career-summary for a while (writing at length about him in a couple of months), but two good places to start are (I assume) this New Yorker profile I haven’t read yet and the documentary Wild Combination – an excellent counterpoint to the largely nauseating hero-worship doc genre –  released this year and just out on DVD. (More on that when I write the other stuff; it’ll be screening at SPACE early next year, so locals are advised to wait until that event to see it. It’ll be worth it.)

Long story short, Russell was a songwriter/composer far ahead of his time, best known for his cello music and disco-pop songs (an obvious inspiration to Antony and the Johnsons, Kelly Polar, and others). Love is Overtaking Me, surprisingly, is a collection of mostly folk songs. Upon further research, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn there are some traditionals here, but Russell owns them well. His voice and his composition is warmer here than his most famous material, and he mixes sadness and catchiness really well. Love is Overtaking Me is almost unabashedly MOR, Sunday-morning folk. From an email I wrote earlier today: It’s like my semi-cheesy semi-awesome cozy Sunday morning album dream come true.

You half-expect Russell to begin most of the songs with an achy, spoken-word plea: “Baby, you know I’ve been missing you and I hope you’ve been missing me, but there’s just one more thing I needed to say.” (On “What It’s Like,” he actually sort of does.) “Hey! How Does Everybody Know,” scratched-up and fuzzy with age, has winning backup harmonies, and stuff like “I Forget and I Can’t Tell” stinks of ’70s Dylan in a wonderful way. There are some more expected (read: experimental) pop and cello tracks thrown around, like the moaning, urgent “Eli,” but Love is Overtaking Me adds a welcome dimension to the work of a legend long overdue, and my favorite find of the year.

TV on the Radio, Babar, Sam Amidon, and more!
September 22, 2008, 9:43 am
Filed under: Hasty Music Reviews, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , ,

– Seriously folks, seeing illustrations of Babar in the Times and the New Yorker these past couple weeks has warmed my pretending-to-be-cynical heart many, many times. Gush. And, as an aside, all of this coverage makes me wish my memories of Babar were not simply being bored by the HBO cartoon as a child.

– Anyway, today’s main topic of discussion was to be TV on the Radio’s new album, Dear Science, (important question the internet hasn’t answered yet: do you put a comma after an album with a comma in the title?), but fortunately for all of us, Chris Dahlen wrote the Pitchfork review, and as usual he nails an extremely complicated album. It’s worth noting that the 9.2 grade seems slightly at odds with Dahlen’s review, but I understand the sentiment: in moments the album is more interesting (and easier) to think about than to just enjoy, but this seems a case where an album’s Symbolic Importance (as genuinely progressive rock music) outweighs its mere likability. And that said, I’m liking it more every time I listen to it. Popmatters also does a better job with it than they usually do.

– Also worth a look is Chris Dahlen’s blog, Save the Robot. (He is, it turns out, a Portsmouth NH resident.) His blog most often focuses on video games, with occasional sidetracks into movies and music, and he’s an immensely levelheaded and appealing writer. (Heed his notice on Max Tundra. And Shugo Tokumaru.)

– Cokemachineglow’s Eric Sams manages to address most of my beef with the new Okkervil River (the sensation, not the album necessarily) and still come out liking it. Here’s hoping.

– At Shake Your Fist, there’s a nice song by Sam Amidon from Awake My Soul, the Sacred Harp documentary mentioned a few weeks back. We mention this mainly because it was recently announced that Amidon’s coming to One Longfellow Square in Portland in December, which has quickly become my second-most anticipated concert of the year (after Andrew Bird, coming up quickly). I will be promoting the shit out of Amidon’s performance in the coming months. Look back to my Nico Muhly post for a little more on him.

– What would the White House look like if it were designed today?

– From the Department of Hilarious Lack of Imagination, The Shawshank Redemption is to be reissued on DVD, and the cover could scarcely look more like that of a Star Wars film.

Nurture Through Nature Fall News

This is the first edition of “post titles from actual subject lines of emails I receive at work.”

– From the shocking coincidence department, I got around to watching Old Joy last night (which I wrote about yesterday… accurately, it turns out), and discovered that a clip of dialogue from the film is included in Why?’s album Alopecia, which I spent the bulk of Sunday writing about (link to come Thursday). The one unfortunate aspect of this coincidence is that one line of my review is about how all of Why?’s pop-culture references are too weird/specific/on-the-nose to get people to cheer along with them. I would totally cheer for an Old Joy dialogue clip at a show.

– The new album by Megafaun, which is kind of sort of a band that Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon used to be in, sounds great.

– Slate is publishing excerpts from the forthcoming collection State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America (out next week). In it, fifty writers tackle the fifty states (there’s an afterword on Washington, D.C.). Just some of the writers involved: the New Yorker‘s George Packer, William T. Vollmann, Benjamin Kunkel, Rick Moody, current literary heartthrob Joshua Ferris (Then We Came to the End), Dave Eggers, Alexander Payne (director of Election, Sideways, etc.), Susan Orlean, Jhumpa Lahiri. There are other familiar names too. Awesome. The volume is co-edited by Sean Wilsey, who wrote the pretty good memoir Oh the Glory of It All and this excellent essay/diary, which I highly recommend printing out (he also slept in the window of SPACE Gallery for a week the summer I moved to Portland).

– I hereby predict that by the time the next Okkervil River album comes out, the band is going to get even more popular and most of their torch-bearing critics are going to turn on him. They are getting seriously overheated, and these reviews read like old Decemberists praise. Remember liking them? Sure you do. The Stand Ins isn’t bad, though.

– And, bummer of bummers, one of the better music crit sites on the web has shuttered. Visit Paper Thin Walls for their preemptive singles and album of the year, complete with streams.

– I’m taking a week off from the election. Everyone’s talking and thinking crazy and, worse, talking to me about it.