Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The Twelve Days of Listmas: Day Twelve

3 Spoon, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

Spoon can’t lose.

After Gimme Fiction, you might have expected a letdown. Instead, Britt Daniel and company delivered a lean collection, an efficient machine with its manifold parts in plain view; the inner workings and gears of sturdy independent rock & roll open and visible.

Spoon’s masterplan involves craftsmanship, bringing a tradesman’s mindset to bear on these songs. The payoff is as diverse as it is finely honed: “The Ghost of You Lingers” is probably the best rock song ever inspired by John Cage; powerpop throwdowns “You Got Yr Cherry Bomb” (which incorporates Big Star’s soul stew) and “The Underdog” (to which guest producer Jon Brion brings a wealth of mariachi horns) brim with big sound; the frayed-wire prickle of opener “Don’t Make Me a Target” (which could be directed at either President Bush or a recalcitrant lover) sounds like the minute vibration of rebar and concrete in the seconds before collapse.

This is an incredible streak we’re witnessing: from A Series of Sneaks on up to Ga5 , Spoon haven’t produced a weak album in nearly a decade, a five record run that may well go down as indie rock’s defining artistic achievement, once the tallying’s done. That’s a matter for the historians and musicologists, of course, but for the time being we can remain happy in the knowledge that Spoon aren’t done yet.

2 His Name is Alive, Sweet Earth Flower: A Tribute to Marion Brown

I have already effused praise all over this record, and I’m not sure I have anything to add, except this: it is a warm, generous, genuinely appreciative nod by one artist to another, and I think that’s what comes across in the sound of it, makes it such a joy to listen to. Way to go, Warren Defever.

1 The National, Boxer

Boxer opener “Fake Empire” starts as the sound of predawn coffee making, standing at the sink and filling the carafe while staring at the horizon where a line of light cracks the pitch. By the time the skittering drums have ushered in the horn section, full on day has arrived and you find yourself in the midst of it, heat prickling the back of your neck. Welcome to Boxer, twelve stately admissions of resignation, weariness, desperation, and the need for hope. Music for introverts, new fathers, and tired lovers.

No other collection of songs held together so well as an album this year, and no other album made me feel as much an adult, from its evocation of suffocating isolation to its fleeting joys to its acknowledgement of the myriad disappointments and compromises that constitute the mantle of maturity.

The twin pillars of Bryan Devendorf’s drumming and singer Matt Berninger’s smoke and leather purr prop Boxer up, but the foundation is hewn of heartbreaking songwriting. Peel back the music and these stories hold up. Read them when you’re done soaking up everything Raymond Carver ever put to paper.

Probably these songs hit me squarely in the solar plexus because of their vantage. The National are no longer young and they haven’t set the world on fire. They, like me, are looking back at carelessness; at guilelessness. We’re prodigies no more; we’re adults, and it isn’t always pretty. But with enough albums like this, we’ll be alright.

* * *

So there it is: 2007, all wrapped up and topped with a bow. Now I’m sitting on the couch, watching the season’s umpteenth snowstorm rage outside, keeping half an eye on the Winter Classic, and I’m moved to consider how enjoyable a year in music it was. I’ll ruminate further on it, of course, both on the air (with four of my fellow IMC members, this Thursday night), and here when I run down my favourite songs of the year now passed (which will be about as anticlimactic as Scorsese’s Oscar for those who have already received the CD). If you’ve held in and read all twelve of these posts, I thank you for your patience. Please drop a comment and let me know what you agree with or what you vehemently oppose. Then we’ll sit back and wait for 2008 to unfold.

Happy New Year.

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