Tuesday, December 25, 2007

20. Bright Eyes - Cassadaga

Conor Oberst is either a precocious genius or a pretentious asshole, depending on whose opinion you're soliciting. I would've thought myself to be in the latter camp until I heard I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning in 2005. Maybe asshole is a little strong, but emo- followed by a very unflattering and non-PC term questioning his sexuality is probably more accurate. However, Wide Awake was an absolute indie-pop meets roots-rock masterpiece, and Cassadaga proves to be a worthy followup. I can understand how his overly emotional, sometimes quivering voice and occasionally self-important lyrics can grate on people, but both of these albums have simply got better and better with each successive listen.

I've often remarked about albums that are anchored by a few outstanding tracks that keep me coming back to it, and eventually the rest of the material grows on me and proves to be almost as good. I would consider this to be the case with Wide Awake, but in this instance that momentum carried right on through to the next album. Cassadaga's standouts, "Four Winds", "If the Brakeman Turns My Way", "Soul Singer in a Session Band" and "Classic Cars", while not as overwhelming as those from its predecessor, certainly served that purpose as well. I'm even a big fan of some of the somewhat overdone stuff here, particularly "I Must Belong Somewhere", making this album truly worthy of top 20 status.

19. Kanye West - Graduation

I would have to say that Kanye West now qualifies as my favorite modern hip-hop artist, with two year-end list appearances in the last three years...although falling a bit short of the #18 ranking of last year's Ghostface Killah album, Fishscale, and of the distinction as my highest ranked hip-hop album ever.

Late Registration made my top 50 in 2005, but didn't rank nearly as high as this. I don't have access to all of my files right now, so I'm not exactly sure, but I think it came in at #43. I'm not sure if Graduation is that much better, or if it's just a matter of Late Registration being the album that set this one up for me. I do think, however, that this is a more consistent effort, as the latter contained a few songs that I loved, but definitely some moments that I could do without as well. In this case, Graduation's highlights, "Champion", "Good Life", "Can't Tell Me Nothing" and "Big Brother", are only offset by brief dropoffs like "Barry Bonds".

18. Ryan Adams - Easy Tiger

A sober Ryan Adams returns after a string of disappointing albums, or should I say from a spell of emphasizing quantity over quality in the past few years. Following the short-lived existence of Whiskeytown, Ryan's first solo album, 2000's Heartbreaker, was an absolute desert island disc, and it's followup, Gold, was quite good as well. Since then, it's been all downhill, with a few strong moments here and there, but with Easy Tiger, I'm ready to say he's returned to form and put out the second best solo album of his career.

Just about all of his talents are on display here, from the countrified "Goodnight Rose" and "Tears of Gold" to the rocking "Halloweenhead", but most of all on the tracks that are most reminiscent of his best work, "Oh My God, Whatever, Etc." and "I Taught Myself How to Grow Old". I'm sure Ryan isn't finished with his attempts to reinvent himself, but hopefully the increased focus he seems to have achieved here will continue. I'm fairly optimistic that it will.

17. Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

Spoon's 2005 album, Gimme Fiction, was where I jumped on the bandwagon. It was a solid effort, but only scratched the surface in helping me to understand what the fuss was all about. This was another case of a record that loyalists considered a minor disappointment, so it might not have been the best starting point. Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, despite its weak title, does a better job of putting all of this band's talents on display.

While probably not considered to be quite as good as Girls Can Tell, this album shows off the band's versatility, with songs like the brassy "The Underdog" and the exotic "My Little Japanese Cigarette Case" breaking some new ground, while "Don't Make Me a Target", "You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb" and "Finer Feelings" deliver the band's standard formula to near perfection.

16. Arcade Fire - Neon Bible

All the hype that preceded the release of the Arcade Fire's 2004 debut, Funeral, was probably what ruined it for me. I'm sure, as has been the case with many of the artists billed as indie-rock's "next big thing", there were Neutral Milk Hotel comparisons a plenty. To me, their ambitious, emotionally charged sound simply failed to deliver.

Sometimes lowered expectations can prove to be a blessing in disguise, as Neon Bible is everything that Funeral was supposed to be, despite not receiving quite the attention and critical acclaim. "Keep the Car Running" is almost perfect, and easily one of my favorite songs of the year. The rest of the album simply flows where Funeral seemed to meander, making it easily the superior album...in my opinion.


  1. Chas-

    Once was a time when I could hang in a music conversation. Now - I look at this list and scratch my head - lotta artists whose names I know. Having two teenage daughters I have heard some if not most of the performers, but not enough to comment, except for maybe Kanye.

    Interesting to note that Kanye and Gagne rhyme. Gagne brought in as a set-up man - to keep the ship afloat between the starter and Papelbon. Yes, we know what happened with that.

    Then there's Kanye who took the stage with the Police this summer. Stewart, Andy, and Sting rockin' out one of the greatest rock 'n' roll tunes ever, 'Message In A Bottle.' Kanye's task: get on the stage and just not screw up. To think - I was actually intrigued when Sting introduced him. By the end I was thinking: what is he doing?

    We've missed your input on the Clipboard.