*You Set the Scene's Best Albums of 2008
1) Fleet Foxes: Fleet Foxes / Sun Giant EP (Sub Pop) – 2008 was a very good year for Fleet Foxes. In six months, they went from opening up for Blitzen Trapper at the Troubadour to selling out a couple of nights at El Rey. Robin Pecknold’s still a kid, but appears to have the whole package – musicianship, songwriting (including good lyrics) and a great voice. A few of the songs on the LP kind of just sit there – but if you factor in the EP and cherry pick the best 11 or 12 – you’ve got an amazing album. Standout tracks: MP3: “White Winter Hymnal” and “Myknos”
2) Everest: Ghost Notes (Vapor Records) – They were number one on my local list. As I said, the songs sound effortlessly timeless; the product of talented musicians who have absorbed rock ‘n’ roll history (Neil Young, the Beatles, the Byrds, etc.). Throw in Mike Terry’s warm ass production and you’ve got a fantastic debut. It’s a really consistent album. Standout tracks: “Rebels in the Roses” and “Into Your Soft Heart”
3) Bon Iver: For Emma, Forever Ago (Jagjaguwar) – Originally self-released in 2007, most of us didn’t hear it until Jagjaguwar gave it widespread distribution in 2008. It’s really overdubbed and layered, but he pulls it off pretty well live. Great heartbroken, winter album. Standout tracks: MP3: “Skinny Love” and “Blindsided”
4) The Raconteurs: Consolers of the Lonely (Warner Bros. / Third Man) – You could pluck pretty much any song off this record and it would fit right in on a classic rock station’s play list. Great production and fantastic musicianship. It was a huge improvement over their debut album. Standout tracks: “Salute Your Solution” and “The Switch and the Spur”
5) TV on the Radio: Dear Science (Interscope) – If you’re not Radiohead, this is about as critic proof as you can get with a record; it’s political and arty but accessible. For me, the Tunde Adebimpe songs are where it’s at. Standout tracks: “Family Tree” and “Halfway Home”
6) Le Switch: And Now…Le Switch (Autumn Tone) – This record was number two on my top local releases. Without being overtly retro, it’s a modern take on the music I love from the early 1970s. Standout tracks: “Smile Away” and “Simple Gifts”
7) Spiritualized: Songs in A&E (Fontana) – I’ve been a huge Spiritualized fan since the last 1990s. Kinda lost interest over the past seven years, but this is a return to form. I just wish the vinyl had come with a download. Bastards. Standout tracks: “Death Take Your Fiddle” and “You Lie You Cheat”
8) Neil Young: Live at Canterbury House 1968 (Reprise) – Recorded on the heels of leaving Buffalo Springfield and right before his debut solo record came out, this is another important live release from the Neil Young archives. Great anecdotes, fantastic song selection and a compelling performance make for a worthwhile purchase. Standout tracks: “The Loner” and “Birds”
9) David Vandervelde: Waiting for the Sunrise (Secretly Canadian) – This one was not well received by the critics, but the more I listen to it, the more I love it. There are Neil Young moments, soft rock moments and even an Elliott Smith moment. In an alternate universe somewhere, Vandervelde is appreciated. Standout tracks: MP3: “Someone Like You” and “Need for Now”
10) Radar Bros.: Auditorium (Merge) – Number three on my local list, it took a rainy December day to remind me how much I love this record. These 12 songs are perfectly layered and warm, and if you listen closely, you’ll still hear some occasionally depraved lyrics. Standout tracks: MP3:“Warm Rising Son” and “Morning Bird”
2008's Top Ten LA Records
2008 was a year where a number of LA bands/scenes (deservedly) got national attention. No Age and Abe Vigoda are showing up on a lot of top 10 lists and I’ve even seen The Mae Shi on a few.
The Airborne Toxic Event got panned by the American snobs, but connected with fans, sold more records than anybody else, got airplay and will make their third national TV appearance in January on Letterman.
Very recently the Laurel Canyon (Jenny Lewis, Johnathan Rice, Whispertown 2000) scene is getting some press. I first wrote about Jonathan Wilson’s weekly jams back in June 2007, and Rolling Stone finally picked up on it last week.
And I’ve seen a helluva lot about Flying Lotus (he even named his record Los Angeles) and Crystal Antlers too. All those bands help make LA one of the best places in the world to be a music fan, but none of them quite made my list.
*You Set the Scene’s Top Ten Local Records for 2008:
1) Everest: Ghost Notes (Vapor Records) – These guys had barely played any LA shows before they were touring Europe opening for My Morning Jacket and (more recently) playing arenas with Neil Young and Wilco. The songs sound effortlessly timeless; the product of talented musicians who have absorbed rock ‘n’ roll history (Neil Young, the Beatles, the Byrds, etc.). Throw in Mike Terry’s warm ass production and you’ve got a fantastic debut. You can catch them at Spaceland on December 29th (at the Movies residency).
2) Le Switch: And Now…Le Switch (Autumn Tone) – Guitarist/singer Aaron Kyle might not have a traditionally pretty voice, but it’s distinctive and he sings with heart. Backing him up are four extremely talented musicians (including a piano/keyboard player and a viola/trumpet player). I saw Le Switch more than any other band this year, so I was familiar with many of these songs before they recorded them and I’ve heard some of them evolve since. As I’ve watched the band evolve over the past few years, I know they’re only going to get better. I can’t wait for their February residency at Spaceland.
3) Radar Bros.: Auditorium (Merge) – It took a rainy December day to remind me how much I love this record. In the Pitchfork / blog bullshit world of hype, it’s tough for a veteran indie musician to get his proper due. More than a dozen years in, Jim Putnam’s still growing as an artist and producer. These 12 songs are perfectly layered and warm, and if you listen closely, you’ll still hear some occasionally depraved lyrics.
MP3: Warm Rising Sun
4) The Movies: Based on a True Story (Self-Released) – When you boil it all down, there’s a deep sense of longing and loss on this record; but this ain’t Hank Williams, it’s the Movies. When Timothy James sings about heartbreak he quotes Pedro Martinez, uses obtuse Vietnam metaphors and accuses the one who got away of going to Rio and sucking a million -----. The fusion of humor and heart makes the Movies one of my favorite bands. It accomplishes so much in only songs (and under thirty minutes. They’re always entertaining live; catch them throughout December at their Monday night Spaceland residency.
5) The Broken West: Now or Heaven (Merge) – These guys had my favorite local release last year and are high on the list a year later. The record kicks off with a drum machine, which, for some critics, seemed to signal a totally new direction. But if you were a fan of the debut, it’s still the same great band. Put a little studio experimentation aside and the heart of the band is still great songwriting. The trio of songs starting with track four (“Ambuscade,” “Perfect Games,” and “House of Lies”) might be my favorite section of an album all year.
MP3: Perfect Games
6) The Henry Clay People: For Cheap or For Free (Autumn Tone) – While their debut made my top ten local list, I’m still stunned at how much they progressed on this record. Between seeing their live shows and this record, I might have gotten the most joy out of these guys in 2008. There are five jams on this record that stand up to any indie rock tunes from the past year. If you still haven’t seen them live, do yourself a favor and head to Spaceland on New Year’s Eve. If you live out of town, they’ll be taking it out on the road in February and March. As the youngest band on the list, the sky’s the limit for these guys.
MP3: Something in the Water
7) Earlimart: Hymn and Her (Majordomo) – 2008 was the year that Aaron Espinoza really opened up as a songwriter. Coming less than a year after Mentor Tormentor, it’s another very solid collection of songs.
8) Les Blanks: Shoot the Horse (Self-Released) – They’ve received heaps of praise from the likes of the Aquarium Drunkard, Rock Insider and Surfing on Steam, but this trio is still criminally under appreciated. I love the Wurlitzer-driven songs the best, but the whole record has a 1970’s blues-rock vibe that I completely dig.
MP3: La Reina
9) Amnion: AmenNAmO (Self-Released) – Aaron Embry’s such an undeniably talented musician. Their sound is indefinable, but one second you’re thinking classic Stevie Wonder and moments later you hear a touch of Radiohead. I’m a pretty cynical bastard, but their positivity and joy in playing is totally contagious. The song “aTONn” is my favorite.
Album is free HERE (but send them money if you like it, they have a baby on its way)
10) The Little Ones: Morning Tide (Chop Shop) – Their debut EP topped my local list in 2006. Two years later, their first full length is full of catchy indie pop. “Rise and Shine” is my favorite track.
Honorable Mentions: Mt. Wilson Repeater, The Parson Red Heads EP, Dengue Fever, Darker My Love
Local records I’m Looking Forward to in 2009:
Le Switch EP, Frankel, The Minor Canon, Silversun Pickups