Monday, January 14, 2008
I won't get into much fanfare about the following list because despite the embarrassing amount of time and thought I put into it over the past twelve months, we're at the mid-point of January 2008 and nobody cares anymore. So just to ensure we leave 2007 sealed in the books, I present my Top Twenty Albums of last year.
Note: Fast on its heels will be my colleague Zangief's Top Albums list, so keep an eye out for that.
20. Untrue - Burial
Nearly too isolating for a winter release, Burial’s second record is all dense, archaic beats, vinyl rasps and pitch-shifted, distant R&B voices. Repeated listening will open the thrills this album is capable of, and is ultimately responsible for its last minute inclusion on my annual Top Twenty. Sorry, Do Make Say Think… off to the Honourable Mention list you go.
Download: Ghost Hardware
19. Goodbye – Ulrich Schnauss
As with ‘Untrue’, Ulrich’s third record seems destined to be an audio companion to late night traveling. Hand in hand with the cover art’s ominous night-scene, countless layers of synth (over one hundred at certain points, Ulrich claims) cast heavy shadows over his always ear-friendly electronic compositions. ‘Goodbye’s’ three years in production is evident in both positive changes and the occasional disappointment, where the layers of sound overwhelm the song itself, rendering some ideas virtual sonic wallpaper.
18. Pocket Symphony - Air
17. Stars on the Wall – The Go Find
Not unlike Death Cab for Cutie or Fleetwood Mac (two of their biggest influences), The Go Find have made a comfort record; the kind you put on when you can’t be bothered to stand in front of your collection and debate. Fragile acoustics and subtle electronics.
Download: Everything Is Low
16. Sky Blue Sky - Wilco
It’s a record so charmingly quaint that critiquing its weak spots makes one feel like they’re throwing rocks at a younger sibling. It’s sweet and harmless, so just play nice.
Download: You Are My Face
15. Night Falls Over Kortedala – Jens Lekman
By his own admission, Jens only completed his second album because after infamously stating that he was quitting album-making altogether, decided that he didn’t want to be known as “the guy who only put out one album”. So he completed his three years of recording, delivered 25 songs to his friends, and let them decide the 12 pop songs that comprise ‘Night Falls Over Kortedala’. Despite lyrics full of wit and an undeniable croon, the record lacks the emotional vulnerability that balanced his sample-happy humour on earlier work. Still an at-times breathtaking work, which focuses its sonic template on Motown instead of earnest folk.
Download: A Postcard for Nina
14. Prism of Eternal Now – White Rainbow
Through its unhinged ambient codas and soft electronics, Prism of Eternal Now pretty much encompasses what I was hoping Fridge’s new record would be: playful but withdrawn, at peace with its melodies but always shifting focus. Its tracks run together so smoothly, you’d find it easy to ignore what a mixed bag it really is; touches of afro-beat, post-rock and electronica bridged together in a cloud of shimmering ambience that makes Christmas shopping feel calming.
Download: Warm Clicked Fruit
13. Spirit If… - Broken Social Scene Presents: Kevin Drew
The principle songwriter and co-founder of Broken Social Scene displays a collection of songs ranging from 2004 through 2007, and covering just about every highlight from those break-out years with a self-described “emotional mixtape”. It’s entirely too long; excessive to the point of a vanity project, yet the presence of the entire Toronto collective backing him up provides several brilliant moments worthy of the Broken Social Scene trademark.
Download: Bodhi Sappy Weekend
12. Let’s Stay Friends – Les Savy Fav
I heard about a minute of one song and forgot all about it. Two weeks later, in a state of flippancy, I bought it with the daydream that my overall “good feeling” about it would become a great story to tell my friends and family about.
“Seriously, I didn’t even know what it would sound like… and it’s the best record ever!!” I would say.
I took it home and struggled to like it for hours, but its guitars were too angular, too punk-influenced. The vocals were too loud, too abrasive.
“Well, I’ve learned a valuable lesson..,” I said to myself and turned it off.
But then there were two good songs. By the next week, I had half the record’s angular riffs pounding my skull while I was trying to work. And without further warning, Tim Harrington’s vocals were pitch-perfect; alternating from screams to snarls at a moment’s notice. By the time I’m finalizing my top twenty, it’s a shoe-in… not to mention the record I was willing to turn my stereo’s volume dial to unmarked levels for.
Download: Scotchguard the Credit Card
11. Memory Man - Aqualung
A year ago, Matt Hales (AKA Aqualung) meant nothing to me. He was like a Jack Johnson without the schtick, Justin Timberlake without the sex; another starry-eyed, effeminate songwriter who couldn’t earn a male fanbase. I saw him on televisions in Target, squinting his sensitivity through the camera, oozing ‘tortured artist’. His first album had sold platinum; my girlfriend loved him. I didn’t.
And that’s why I bought the album – for her. It sat in my luggage for a week before I returned from Halifax and nearly forgot to give it to her. And as if his second record re-wrote itself inside my suitcase, I found myself interrupting my girlfriend while we were catching up from my two weeks out East to say “Wow, did you hear that?” Suddenly Matt Hales is a one man rock band, measuring his sincerity with melody and a pulse you can believe in. Lush and darkly seductive, Memory Man is a beautiful, fully realized journey… and ready for this? Nobody gave it the time of day.
Download: Pressure Suit
10. A Weekend in the City – Bloc Party
9. Cassadaga – Bright Eyes
Download: Lime Tree
8. Cryptograms/Fluorescent Grey - Deerhunter
The best experimental rock album courtesy of the best electronic ambient label in the world equals: the most exciting new band of the year, in my eyes.
Download: Lake Somerset
7. Boxer – The National
The love affair continues with ‘Boxer’ and finds The National pensively pulling heartstrings instead of swinging for them. At first a bit homogenous, repeated listens open each of these twelve songs into distinct chapters of love, loss and a band hitting their masterstroke.
Download: Squalor Victoria
6. The Reminder - Feist
Download: I Feel It All
5. Easy Tiger – Ryan Adams
Download: Oh My God, Whatever, Etc.
4. Hospital Music – Matthew Good
I had a tough time deciding between ‘Easy Tiger’ and ‘Hospital Music’. Punch for punch, it’s clear that Ryan Adams can write a record as disarming as ‘Easy Tiger’ every other week. The fate of this record was never in his hands, and despite the wise sequencing and great songs, you can occasionally hear Ryan spinning his wheels. Luckily, Ryan spinning his wheels sounds amazing. On the other hand, there’s ‘Hospital Music’… a record not even Matthew Good will ever have the gall to re-write. Bleak but inspiring, depressing but strangely uplifting, I’m in Matt’s corner this time out.
It doesn’t help that both album covers are brutal either.
Download: The Boy Come Home
3. Sound of Silver – LCD Soundsystem
Download: Someone Great
2. In Rainbows - Radiohead
Download: All I Need
1. Neon Bible – Arcade Fire
Within mere days of owning ‘Neon Bible’, I couldn’t help but feel a slight undertow of melancholy between my waves of record-on-repeat hysteria when I could actually admit to myself that, while it was only March at the time, no record in the following nine months would be as richly detailed, well-planned, sonically thunderous or downright gorgeous as Arcade Fire’s second album is.
Download: (Antichrist Television Blues)
Thursday, January 10, 2008
About Skeleton Crew Quarterly
2007 to Present. There used to be a naive mission statement here, outlining how SCQ aims to honourably blog about the best new music without accepting the pitfalls of slandering bands or judging personal tastes. The write-up also went on at length about the power music-bloggers can attain from the hands of magazines like Rolling Stone and Spin, now crippled by the internet’s democratization of music and criticism. I still believe every word but none of it is really worth sharing, save this one sentence: Skeleton Crew Quarterly is in it for the love.
At no point will SCQ waste time tearing a record to pieces because it isn’t our particular glass of sangria. Yes we’ll hold an artist or band accountable if they deliver something that we find demeaning to their talents and you can count on SCQ for occasionally venting some disappointment or confusion. That’s all part of the journey. But we’re not into targeting a release for the sake of raining out its parade or jumping on its corpse. Go read an Amazon customer review if you need that fix.
Albums will be reviewed within the confines of each respective artist’s catalogue. If Band A receives a 78% on their release, while Band B gets a 60%, that in no way means that Band A’s effort is better than Band B’s. Instead, those grades are given by considering the album-in-question’s merits next to those that its artist released previously. That said, the only failing grades SCQ will ever deliver are in the event of a trusted and wonderful band releasing a record of breathtaking carelessness. The majority of reviews fit into these categories:
50% - 59% are troubled albums that show enough potential to warrant mentioning.
60% - 69% are serviceable albums, with engaging material to warrant repeat listens and being reviewed.
70% - 79% are recommended albums; ones which SCQ might fall over for months at a time despite recognizable imperfections.
80% - 89% are, in some cases, albums worthy of topping year-end lists; the kind that end up encompassing entire seasons of your life.
90% - 95% are the albums that you welcome into your life like a friend, lover or family member, in that once you know it inside out, you truly don’t know how you ever got by without it. Its songs, mood, cover-art and impressions are deeply rooted in your heart.
96% - 100% are the albums you want people to hear at your funeral.
Frequently Asked Questions
What does SCQ prioritize when it comes to reviewing?
First and foremost, I’m reviewing new and old studio albums released by artists I love. That said, for the fifty or so albums a year I look forward to, there are usually four times as many new artists and albums I unexpectedly run into. Trying to spread the word on these new artists is just as important. Albums released in the current year are reviewed on the homepage. Records from years passed go directly to SCQ Review (unless involved in a homepage feature).
Band and Label Press/Promotions?
The Skeleton Crew Quarterly is always interested in new music. While the majority of content revolves around rock, electronica, jazz, folk and country, SCQ enjoys being worked over and proven wrong by new albums. Physical copies rule and our mailing address is available upon request. MP3 downloads are also cool; just be sure to give us an idea who you are (e.g. a single Mediafire link with no context won’t arouse our curiosity).
Unsolicited CDs that pop up in my mailbox are always welcome but we cannot promise coverage. It's always safer to contact us first.
Any questions, complaints or press kits and promotions can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will do our best to get back to you.