Sunday, December 14, 2008

SCQ's Top 20 Albums of 2008

Let this be the sum of all expectations, hype, endurance and talent: SCQ's second (official) annual Top 20 Albums of the Year. 2008 has been a year of surprises, beginning under the humble guise of what I deemed a "hangover year" (due to the nonstop barrage of great 07 releases) but flourishing thanks to some intentionally sudden album drops and several new artists who hijacked my stereo when I wasn't paying attention.

To illustrate just how difficult accumulating this Top Albums list was, the final spot, my #20, was the last to be chosen from a shortlist of eleven records I couldn't settle between. That isn't to say that 2008 presented me with the best music I've ever heard, nor that this list was by far the most difficult to concrete (that honour goes to SCQ's Top 50 Songs of 2008). Simply, 2008 was a year of endless discoveries, a few of which have found their way into the SCQ Palace of Acclaim... a place so much cooler than any Hall of Fame.

Although the past few months have delivered albums that made this list especially fun and agonizing to manage, I'm happy to be through with it. With Christmas around the corner and several real-time responsibilities to meet, I can't deny how wonderful it'll be to return to SCQ in the untouched new year when I've nothing to consider but an empty chasm to clutter and decorate with the best that 2009 has in store. I might toss a few new posts in between now and then, but man, is it ever great to end the year where you want to be...

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!!

Love SCQ.

#20 Album of 2008: Lie Down in the Light - Bonnie "Prince" Billy

Lie Down in the Light

Bonnie “Prince” Billy
Drag City Records.

Everyone knows it: becoming lovingly obsessed with any album boils down to more than the album itself. It’s a matter of time; the timing that sees people and seasons come and go, moods rise and fall, priorities accumulate or decompose. Timing played a definitive role in my introduction to Lie Down in the Light, the latest from the prolific Will Oldham that struck deep in my travel-weary bones.

I’d landed in Boston, stripped of an Asian summer’s humidity and longing for subtlety or English street-names. I found myself wide awake on cold farmhouse floorboards in the twilight hours, hearing silence and recalling ghosts fulfilling their workdays on the other side of the globe. Despite the jetlag, my head was clearer than ever and once-scattered priorities now seemed simple and clear. Such quaint notions of friends and family became revelatory; themes that link the buoyant and beautiful Lie Down in the Light. It’s Oldham at his metaphysical best, weaving between the sunlight and shadows of rural existence, and thanks to some perfect timing, among my favourite albums of 2008.

#19 Album of 2008: Cardinology - Ryan Adams & the Cardinals


Ryan Adams & the Cardinals
Lost Highway Records.

Linking Ryan Adams records is like playing catalog-hopscotch; Love is Hell is a ghostly companion to Heartbreaker, Jacksonville City Nights is a return to former-Whiskeytown-glories, 29 is the ghostlier companion to Love is Hell, etc., etc. Well, save the overreaching this time around. Cardinology sounds like it could’ve been recorded the same day as Follow the Lights EP; the album’s production is right off the floor, the compositions streamlined and economic in length. It’s to the credit of Adams catalog that our expectations are so high, and while Cardinology won’t be competing with his best work, it’s an addictive classic-rock record, with enough country-hues and melancholic tinges to keep fans happy.

#18 Album of 2008: Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust - Sigur Ros

Með suð í Eyrum við Spilum Endalaust

Sigur Ros
XL Records.

Each time I hear the latest from this Icelandic sensation, I’m reminded of two undeniable truths: how good this album really is, and how much I take them for granted. That an album of this caliber was met with only pleasant reactions (from myself and critics at large) is appalling. Although With a Buzz in Our Ear… certainly bares a transitional sound, it’s caught between two great sonic strongholds; the clattering, heart-pounding idealism of ‘Gobbledigook’ and the delicate richness of ‘Illgresi’. Yes, the band have traveled these paths before, but it’s as stunning a journey as ever.

#17 Album of 2008: In Ghost Colours - Cut/Copy

In Ghost Colours

Modular Records.

For a band that have self-assembled to be a modern, indie-hybrid of 80s new-wave and French house, it’s suspiciously humble that they’d name themselves Cut/Copy. Yet for all their formulaic tendencies toward uber-coolness, I tip my hat to these Melbourne lads, who’ve managed to find originality amid such telling piracy; turning the hard-earned tricks of New Order, Depeche Mode, and Daft Punk into something too enjoyable to throw accusations at, too honest with their influences to really spite over.

After all, Cut/Copy are far from the only dancefloor-borrowers to strike gold off old sounds this year. Where acts like M83 got locked in time capsules, however, Cut/Copy have surgically kept the fun and discarded the cheese that often accompanies retro-activation. In Ghost Colours will soundtrack many summer nights to come.

#16 Album of 2008: 4:13 Dream - The Cure

4:13 Dream

The Cure
Fiction Records.

“With elements audible from a half dozen previous Cure albums, from the anthemic qualities of Head On the Door to the twisted hooks of Wish, 4:13 Dream is an accurate summary of The Cure’s maximal period (roughly 85 – present); occasionally spotty, commonly exciting and always enjoyable. There’s an intangible emotion to The Cure, somewhere indefinable between lovelorn and suicidal, that Smith routinely defies then embraces, yet after thirty years and thirteen albums, it’s an emotion that not only outlives globe-trotting trends and once-loved music genres, but a sound as timeless and significant to culture as Elvis Presley or The Beatles. 4:13 Dream may not aspire to such lofty (and arguable) statements, but it’s the latest achievement in a sound that only The Cure can own and operate. Lucky for us, it’s a sound that’s as potent as ever.”

#15 Album of 2008: My Bloody Underground - Brian Jonestown Massacre

My Bloody Underground

Brian Jonestown Massacre
A Records.

This record came out at the perfect time. Its moaning, drugged-out guitars seemed to melt the last of snow from downtown sidewalks, its slapdash waves of distortion beckoning an early summer sun from April’s uncertain skies. Most of all, there’s a freedom to My Bloody Underground that fits well to the strip-down, wake from hibernation essence of Spring; it’s free of expectation or burden, free of self-doubt, and sometimes suspiciously free of ingenuity and songcraft. It’s free-falling, it’s unpredictable and it’s downright insulting but it’s never malnourished; while BJM’s songs may occupy more noise than organization these days, Anton Newcombe always has an angle in mind. Euphoria, rage and obsession; this is the closest we’ll ever hear to his idea of perfection.

#14 Album of 2008: Seeing Things - Jakob Dylan

Seeing Things

Jakob Dylan
Columbia Records.

God was I bored at work… surfing the undercurrents of music criticism, sampling forgettable records and staring out windows when I caught a review for Jakob Dylan’s rumoured solo album. After the dreadfulness of the Wallflower’s last offering, the loathsome Rebel, Sweetheart, I cannot in hindsight pretend Seeing Things was on my to-buy radar at all. Forty minutes through his Myspace stream and it was clear: in traveling the folk troubadour route, Dylan has made the best decision of his career since getting T-Bone Burnett to produce their breakthrough twelve years ago. It’s delicately unfurling but hard-fought in its blue-collar approach to living off the land, far from the limelight and trimmings of California, and as detailed in ‘Something Good This Way Comes’, finding home on the backwoods horizon of Americana.

#13 Album of 2008: We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed - Los Campesinos!

We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed

Los Campesinos!
Arts & Crafts Records.

Because I wasn’t so hot on Los Campesinos! when their full-length debut landed in April of this year, I judged my initial listens of We are Beautiful, We Are Doomed on some strange, year-end weakness. Was I just desperate for a record? Was my need for upbeat indie-pop the result of my seasonal depression starting early? I’ve since buried those excuses and recognized that Los Campesinos! have assembled one of my favourite records this year (one that likely would’ve placed higher had I more time with it). It’s a half-hour mess that offers so much more than the band would give off on first-impression. Compulsively self-abusive and romantically explicit, this follow-up portrays the young Welsh band as far more restless, far more art-rock, than adorable and twee.

#12 Album of 2008: Narrow Stairs - Death Cab for Cutie

Narrow Stairs

Death Cab For Cutie
Atlantic Records.

Several months ago, you could’ve knocked me over with a feather if you informed me that a Death Cab for Cutie record would be featured prominently on my year’s end list. I’ve never disliked them, but after my casual interest expired within a week of hearing 2005’s Plans, I assumed the band had dropped every ace in their deck. Happily proven wrong, I’ve turned to Narrow Stairs countless times as an enema to cleanse my ears of the more ostentatious records I find myself contemplating on a daily basis. As revelatory and incredible as this year in music has been, Death Cab for Cutie have proven themselves an excellent band, bold enough to play straight without any gimmick-cards in sleeve.

#11 Album of 2008: Silent Movie - Quiet Village

Silent Movie

Quiet Village
!K7 Records.

Although this record might not top my year-end list, Silent Movie has almost surpassed that mark; earning a special place in my heart that only goes to the most enticing records. Get this: I have the whole night ahead of me, my girlfriend is working midnights, and instead of returning calls or being productive, I’d lie over my bed and spin Quiet Village. This occurred several times in the summer. From the sun-kissed waves in ‘Victoria’s Secret’ to ‘Utopia’s exotic ravines, Silent Movie had me enraptured, immobilized, to a carefully sampled mix of forgotten history. These replications were not simply from B-movies; they were slices of culture, as poorly recorded in books as in our memories, which are dusted off, reinvented, and integral in composing this fine debut.

#10 Album of 2008: District Line - Bob Mould

District Line

Bob Mould
Anti- Records.

Seldom does an artist I’ve never heard leap so prominently onto my regular rotation, but Bob Mould finally caught my ear in a used record store. It’s funny to look back and recall that I decided to sample the disc because its cover-art, to me, hinted at an electronic record. Little did I know of Mould’s decades of success fronting notable rock bands, or the extra income he earns DJing for Washington’s biggest clubs. He’s a man of many talents, all of which are handily displayed on District Line. His ability to create vibrantly fresh pop songs out of old alt-rock staples prove his extensive knowledge on the genre, and combined with his electronic sensibilities, make up this consistently awesome and eclectic ten-song cycle. The used copy I heard was $4.99 while an unused, new disc was selling for $13.99… so I bought both. I know a lot of people who won’t put it to waste.

#9 Album of 2008: Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel - Atlas Sound

Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel

Atlas Sound
Kranky Records.

Bradford Cox’s debut as Atlas Sound has likely occupied each of my top ten’s positions since its late February release. In fact, Let the Blind Heal… spent the majority of 2008 hovering between the #2 and #3 positions until a glance at my I-Tunes history one day revealed how seldom I actually listen to it. What the hell? If I love Atlas Sound so much, how come I never listen to his music?!?

Although Let the Blind Heal… is my only true document of Cox’s passionate bedroom drones, much of my listening was spent hopscotch-jumping from various free EPs and downloads from his blog. Had Atlas Sound’s debut been compiled of the best from both this record and his independent, digital releases, I can swear without hesitation that such an album would sit miles above all others on this list. As it stands, however, Let the Blind Heal… is merely wonderful; an isolated excursion caught between bitter-cold trauma and cozy remission. While Cox’s lack of patience makes his debut less brilliant than it could’ve been, his overall output is more than enough to make him SCQ’s Artist of the Year.

#8 Album of 2008: April - Sun Kil Moon


Sun Kil Moon
Caldo Verde Records.

What a dense record to get into… and my first Mark Kozelek experience to boot, Lord help me! April has been one of the strongest growers of 2008; with each month and every listen arrives new subtleties and patches of acoustic loveliness. Even his voice, which at first felt passable for a man of such rustic, folky intentions, has blossomed with his songs, admitting a mournful tenor that initially came off as bland. Few records balance the lilting acoustic with Crazyhorse-era, full-band electric as well as Sun Kil Moon, and April is one of those wise and understanding records to grow old with.

#7 Album of 2008: You & Me - The Walkmen

You & Me

The Walkmen
Gigantic Records.

You & Me is a telling and personal record, and it’s this parallel dividing formality from primal nature (which even graces this record’s artwork - what are those well-dressed ladies whispering about?) that deepens the dangerous impulses and emotions within. Hands down, no other record in 2008 will rival You & Me’s flawless hybrid of being a liberating depressant and drinking album at the same time. An immense and staggering achievement.”

#6 Album of 2008: Intimacy - Bloc Party


Bloc Party
Wichita Records.

Split between two producers, released months-in-advance online, sporting several different tracklistings and featuring a hit single that wasn’t recorded upon the disc’s release, Intimacy shouldn’t be half as cohesive, nor successful, as it is. Bouncing between the tried-and-true post-punk of Silent Alarm while cultivating their electronic ambitions, Bloc Party have crafted a delicate soundtrack for indie parties everywhere, conscientiously including room for teenage melodrama and the occasional lull for needless, casual sex. This quartet has never been about lyrical subtlety, so why hide the spoilers: Intimacy proves that Kele is among the best frontmen in modern rock, that their finicky direction displays their vast talents, and that Bloc Party has become more essential with each release.

#5 Album of 2008: Wagonwheel Blues - The War On Drugs

Wagonwheel Blues

The War On Drugs
Secretly Canadian Records.

No record fell as unexpectedly into my lap as Wagonwheel Blues; I’d never heard of or read about them until one late July day at Soundscapes where I stood with store-loaned headphones, staring bewilderedly through the album’s tracklist. While I’m unsure how my radar missed this new Secretly Canadian signing, I’m positive their debut belongs among the best this year had to offer. Sometimes serene, often times rocky, Wagonwheel Blues is a folk album swallowed by deafening drones – one that gets stronger with each listen.

#4 Album of 2008: Crystal Castles - Crystal Castles

Crystal Castles

Crystal Castles
Last Gang Records.

I consider myself lucky that my first listen to Crystal Castles was their music, not their press. Had I gone into ‘Alice Practice’ expecting Atari sound-effects and fanatical vocals, this Toronto duo might’ve struck me as a novelty band, using video game sounds as their schtick for recognition. And maybe that’s the way Crystal Castles was supposed to play out. What this fully-loaded debut proves is quite the opposite, displaying a range of new-wave dancefloor cuts, thrash batterings and deranged pop that is too infectious and accomplished to be a mere fad.

Most exciting of all is that, like their own twisted Meet the Beatles, Crystal Castles hint at several anticipated avenues they could travel next. After this album’s buffet of varied styles, will their sophomore effort focus on the instrumental zen of ‘Magic Spells’, the club-chic sweat of ‘Vanished’ or something as eloquent as ‘Tell Me What To Swallow’, its reverb and whispers lost in late-night guitar strums. The future is theirs, however they choose it.

#3 Album of 2008: The Devil, You + Me - The Notwist

The Devil, You + Me

The Notwist
Domino Records.

“Probably the best-layered record of 2008, The Devil You + Me finds The Notwist at their cerebral peak, morphing the glitch-rock tricks they learned on Neon Golden into swelling symphonies of mood and anxiety (fortified by the 21 member-strong Andromeda Mega Express Orchestra). It wasn’t until a trip out East that I finally explored this record on headphones, and the experience leaves no doubt that I underscored its importance and ambition.”

#2 Album of 2008: Microcastle/Weird Era Cont. - Deerhunter


Kranky Records.

“As exciting as Microcastle is (and there’s really no other word for it), a sliver of me feels bittersweet that Deerhunter have certainly moved toward the mainstream, instead of bringing the mainstream to them.”

That’s what I wrote last month in my review of Microcastle, a record that is as accomplished as most indie-rock acts dare dream of. Yet its towering SCQ Rating and accolade as my #2 Album of the Year is due as much to Microcastle’s bonus companion disc, Weird Era Cont., as the main ticket itself. Those Deerhunter traits, which at first seemed marginalized by a push toward accessibility, are healthily at home here. Sporting the free-jazz fall-apart of ‘Cicadas’, the tightly-wound jamming of ‘Operation’, some girl-group session-playing for ‘Vox Humana’ or ‘Focus Group’s reckless hooks, Weird Era Cont. is a gloriously muddled extension of Cryptograms. A strange period, indeed that combined with Microcastle’s meticulousness, makes for an endlessly re-spinnable double-album.

#1 Album of 2008: Sleep Well - Electric President

Sleep Well

Electric President
Morr Music Records.

With all the caution I exercised to avoid overinflating album reviews this year, I can’t help but marvel that my #1 Album of 2008, Sleep Well, is also the highest graded album of the year. A fluke, perhaps, although I recall knowing within the first few listens that Sleep Well was unlike any record I’d heard before. There were resemblances of OK Computer-era Radiohead (‘All the Bones’), the odd Beach Boys’ harmony (‘It’s An Ugly Life’), and Kranky-caliber instrumentals (‘It’s Like a Heartbeat, Only It Isn’t’), yet these twelve tracks bound together represented something far smarter and scarier than those brief sonic affiliations.

Crafted over thirteen months in Cooper’s backyard shed (unbelievably), Sleep Well is a perfect album, comprised of multi-tempered pop-odysseys and unpredictable chills that are too catchy and symphonic to ignore. Their synths flourish and dissipate like morning fog, Ben Cooper’s voice flexes between gruff, whispered or angelic as if possessed by several nocturnal mouths; Sleep Well documents a young band surpassing their own intentions, crafting a nighttime record that makes every daylight hour seem somehow wasteful. Beyond a doubt the year’s most underrated recording.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

SCQ's TOP 50 SONGS OF 2008 #50-41

In February, the idea of compiling the year’s individual tracks came to me. It began as a simple exercise for someone who had only worked with full albums in the past, and by May, I was foolishly polishing my song pyramid as if the next seven months wouldn’t change a thing. In September, I considered expanding the feature to covering the top 100 songs… if only to spread due credit. By yesterday evening, I’d given up. Truth is, 2008 turned out to be an exciting year in music and I doubt 100 songs would’ve provided any more closure than I have now.

For some albums, I've included a small write-up or quote from the album's original SCQ review. For the remainder of cases, I've written nothing... which means you should really just listen to it here, here, or here. Stay tuned for SCQ's Top 20 Albums of the year, coming your way Saturday December 13th, but for now, enjoy
SCQ’s Top 50 Songs of 2008.

50. Why Can’t You Be (Live) – Third Eye Blind

Live documents are rarely discussed at SCQ, mostly because they’re a sad grey area between the perfected studio version and actually standing at their show. That said, ‘Why Can’t You Be’ offers several hints at what to expect on Third Eye Blind’s upcoming 2009 record. Writing a song about an ex-girlfriend’s true love – a shower-massager – might seem trite, but like Jenkins’ best lyrics, these raw accounts of failing romance get under our skin. Ursa Major can’t come soon enough.

49. Planet – Kyte

With their all-encompassing whirls of echoed guitar and purposeful snare-hits, Kyte earn naming this song after the enormity of a planet. Where this cut walks circles around some of its neighbours on their self-titled debut is its crawling urgency, and a structure at once impenetrable yet indecisive; determined post-rock occasionally flooding in its own reverb.

48. You Remind Me of Something – Bonnie “Prince” Billy

47. Into the Stream – The Tallest Man on Earth

46. Leave This Town – Butcher the Bar

It was quarter to midnight. I sat watching an English movie with Chinese subtitles, the usual array of rice dishes and chopsticks hollowed out and resting on someone else’s desk, in someone else’s apartment. The desk sporting nothing but polish and the floors spotless, I kept eyeing two suitcases, zipped up and loitering by the doorway. My flight wasn’t till sunrise but with foreign time and money to spend, I lugged my appendages down three narrow stories, hailed a cab, and took my last tour of the city. Catching all those strange but familiar intersections from the backseat one last time, I put my headphones on and pressed play.

45. Hercules Theme – Hercules and Love Affair

44. Unforgettable Season/Midnight Runner – Cut/Copy

OK, so I cheated. Two songs, back-to-back from In Ghost Colours, share one ranking on SCQ’s Top Fifty Songs. I find it just about impossible to separate these two highlights, with ‘Midnight Runner’ providing the neon afterglow to ‘Unforgettable Season’s summer anthem. If you’ve heard them together or apart, you’ll understand.

43. Tall Trees – Matt Mays & El Torpedo

42. Slapped Actress – The Hold Steady

“The Hold Steady still rock though, sometimes heavier than we remembered like on the cutting riff of [...] ‘Slapped Actress’s kick-ass climax where the band surrenders to a sole piano, as Finn reflects “sometimes actresses get slapped, sometimes fake fights turn out bad”, before the guitars snap back into action and a vocal choir carries the album to sleep.”

41. Sundays – Counting Crows

SCQ's TOP 50 SONGS OF 2008 #40-31

40. Fljotavik – Sigur Ros

39. Taking the Farm – The War On Drugs

With what closely resembles the drum-machine tactics of Springsteen’s 80s, post-E-Street sound, ‘Taking the Farm’ springs to life in one of 2008’s best open road songs, building on waves of distortion and chugging along like an antique freight-train.

38. The Hungry Ghost – The Cure

37. Sink Ships – Ryan Adams & the Cardinals

36. Song to Bobby – Cat Power

“As my last witness, I call upon ‘Song To Bobby’, the only new Cat Power original on Jukebox, to stand and be recognized as the obvious stand-out on this disc. Its sentimentality and arrangement is more memorable than any rendition of Joni, Bob, or Hank. It’s simply the best song on this record, even if I’d never heard any incarnation of the covers featured here.

35. From Stardust to Sentience – High Places

As if the High Places’ debut suddenly shifts from grainy, TV antenna fuzz to smooth plasma quality, 'From Stardust to Sentience' closes the disc with a crystal-clear appropriation of their varied sounds. Its cluttering soundbites and jarring percussion become residents of a far sleeker tone, with an underlying keyboard turning their flippant ways into an awe-inspired finale.

34. Heretic Pride – The Mountain Goats

33. Hunter – Portishead

Ain’t no song on Third that captures the trio’s updated take on triphop better than, well, ‘Machine Gun’… but ‘Hunter’ is equally spellbinding and simply better in SCQ’s eyes. The ghosts of their old strengths haunt this song in its dark melodic corridors, creaking guitar strums and Gibbon’s echoed register, which are crudely interrupted by ancient electro codas. Unsettling yet obsessive, ‘Hunter’ makes up the best Third has to offer.

32. Spiders, Snakes – A Weather

31. The Rose March – The Smashing Pumpkins

As the story goes, it was Pete Townsend, guitar-windmillin’ Who legend, who convinced Corgan that 'The Rose March' needed to see the light of day. Shelved during the recording of Zeitgeist but wisely front and center on this year’s American Gothic EP, Townsend’s unexpected praise is spot-on. This is how the Pumpkins should be in 2008, missing half their original organs and operating on a ‘the-past-ten-years-never-happened’ whim. Billy should be playing his older, wiser self, Jimmy should be executing rapid-fire subtleties like the unprovoked military he is, and the result should feel this accomplished, this fresh, and confident enough to ignore what Smashing Pumpkins revivalists prefer to mosh to.

SCQ's TOP 50 SONGS OF 2008 #30-21

30. Couleurs – M83

29. Street Flash – Animal Collective

“‘Street Flash’ is undoubtedly the EP’s most important [song]; an impressive mood-piece that is comforting but never resting long, assuming gradual transformations that betray its continuous key melody. Its beauty finally proves itself insurmountable as Avey Tare’s platinum screams over a bed of noise only increase our sense of solace.”

28. Fix It – Ryan Adams & the Cardinals

27. Lovers in Japan/Reign of Love - Coldplay

Say what you will about where Coldplay has taken Britrock; all their peers and shadows might give their national scene a better rep if they could write a song like this. True, few songs from Viva La Vida that sound as indelible to the Coldplay template as ‘Lovers in Japan’, but for all their desperate yearning for importance, this is what they do best. Giant, open-ended piano melodies, swoon-worthy vocals - and then, with addendum ‘Reign of Love’ – soft gleams of subtle instruments, and dewy production courtesy of dew-God Brian Eno; that’s Coldplay, the emotional highs and lows, in under seven minutes, leaving little doubt that they’re the best at what they do.

26. We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed – Los Campesinos!

25. On the Water – The Walkmen

“‘On the Water’ establishes the first apex; a rumbling bass and drumline that rotates like well-oiled gears while Leithauser and guitars surge like waves to a cathartic crest."

24. Ether – Electric President

23. Never Stops – Deerhunter

22. Cath… - Death Cab for Cutie

21. Underneath the Stars – The Cure

An archaic drum-machine steps off into Disintegration-era windchimes and opens 4:13 Dream with its only Cure-styled epic; a misleading first impression, no doubt, but mesmerizing on two fronts. A. It’s downright gorgeous, with painstakingly patient Smith-arrangements and sumptuous vocals – often buried in effects but sporadically eruptive like shifting tectonic plates – that confirm the frontman’s ageless pipes. B. ‘Underneath the Stars’ is the bravest statement here, proving that the Cure don’t need keyboards (as Smith boasted following the departure of keyboardist Roger O’Donnell in 2005) to craft emotionally damaged, blown-out classics like this one.