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December 15, 2008 |

By TK Burton | Music | December 15, 2008 |

As the year comes to a close, you’re inevitably deluged with lists. “Best of” lists, “Worst of” lists. The most beautiful, the ugliest, the stupidest, the smartest. We’re just as guilty as anyone else, but this time around we’re going to try something a little different. Over the next several days, we’ll be publishing a series of pieces by our regular writers, as well as from readers/Eloquents who contributed their own ideas and articles. Instead of telling you what the best albums or bands of the year are, we’ll instead concentrate on two things: Our favorite releases of the year, and our favorite discoveries of the year. The former consists of albums released in 2008, the latter simply of bands or albums that, while perhaps not from this year, are ones we first learned about this year. It’s an eclectic mix of mainstream and the obscure, of metal, soul, hip hop, punk, pop, you name it. Each day we’ll feature a new selection from various writers. I hope you enjoy.

noahwhale.jpgNoah & The Whale: Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down
[CherryTree Records]

It is very seldom that I’ve ever listened to one song and instantly fallen in love with the band responsible for said song. But that is exactly what happened when listening to British band Noah & The Whale’s track “Five Years Time.” It is a non-threatening, poppy, super fun song to get inside your head and make you smile. A ukulele plays over sing song lyrics and its repetitive chorus makes for a delightful child-like sing-a-long. Even the song’s”true-love” story is adorable.

Noah and the Whale take their name and influence from Noah Baumbach and his fantastic Wes Anderson-style (and produced) film “The Squid and The Whale.” Their admiration for the two directors is evident in the costumes and set design for their “Five Years Time” video. But just as The Squid and the Whale is not always a happy, feet up and relax atmosphere, the rest of their album, Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down, carries with it a trickle of sadness and darkness flowing underneath the shiny veneer. The song messages and topics revolve around unrequited love and the trials and tribulations of defining love. At the forefront of this effort is singer Charlie Fink’s deep and emotional crooning. The ageless and truthful vocals give Fink’s lyrics credibility and sincerity as they shift from topics like loving a girl who’s got a boyfriend in “Second Lover” to having a dishonest girl use him in “Mary” to the fear of showing love in “Give a Little Love.” The album is light on production, wafting by on clouds of violin strings and xylophone bridges. But at the same time, it is the sparseness of these orchestral elements that create the emotional holes that listeners can fill in with their own melancholy experiences. This is not a bad or depressing thing, as the listener commiserates with the album, confiding in their own emotions, which is exactly what Fink is looking for. Fink wants you to relate to his gloom and frustration as he honestly sings “If there’s any love in me, don’t let it show. If there’s any love in me, don’t let it grow” in the urgent and marching “Shape of My Heart.”

“Five Years Time”

Although this, their first album, was released in the US in September, and in August for the UK, they have already settled down in the studio and are in the process of recording a second album. So committed are they to this new batch of songs, that they canceled their December US tour. They promise to make up for the cancellation by coming back to the US in March. One can only hope that they don’t discover the mysteries of love before then, in order to put out another strong set of songs like Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down.

saadiq.jpgRaphael Saadiq: The Way I See It
[Sony Records]

You may have overlooked Raphael Saadiq this year, but you most likely have heard him; he had guest spots as the featured crooner on several Hip Hop albums including tracks by Lil’ Wayne and Q-Tip. His third album, The Way I See It, is a skillful soul album that should not be missed. Though he mines the same valleys that were explored by Motown and the Funk Brothers, he has a new perspective to add with his golden vocal chords.

Saadiq is a masterful craftsman, writing most of the songs, playing most of the instruments, singing a majority of the background vocals, and producing the album. His guitar and singing talents stem from his time with the 80’s and 90’s R&B group Tony, Toni, TonĂ© that some of you might remember as Charlie Ray Wiggins (Saadiq), his brother D’Wayne, and cousin Timothy Riley. His production credits include a wide array of artists from Ludacris, and Snoop Dogg to Whitney Houston and Stevie Wonder (who appears with a harmonica on the track “Never Give You Up”). These experiences combined with his natural ability produce a brilliantly constructed, emotional album. The experience of Motown has never sounded so crisp and delineated. It feels as if you are right there in the recording studio with him, every “oh, oh” hitting you in a place of longing that is oh so very common in the human condition.

Raphael Saadiq - Love That Girl (New)
Uploaded by foxysoul

Like any good rhythm & blues album, or any pop album for that matter, Saadiq sings about love throughout the album. There are all kinds, and he gives a modern perspective to the classic themes of longing, reverence, lust, and joy. Some might say this has already been done, and masterfully, by the likes of Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, and the Four Tops, but that view is narrow and archaic. He brings the modernity, immediacy, and bluntness of today into sounds of the past with lines like “I need some sex, some sex with you” and “Falling in love is easy, staying in love is tricky.” There is also poignancy in tracks like “Big Easy” a story of losing someone to the flooding of New Orleans during Katrina, and “Sometimes” a tribute to his mother’s, and his own perseverance. His heartfelt renditions may not surpass the greats of the 60’s and 70’s, but they do rival them, and bring a new angle to the standard soulful themes. The driving bass line and splashy cymbals of “Staying in Love”, while pure homage, are as good as any you’ll hear, while “100 Yard Dash” plays with tempo, lyrics, and words to create the best track I’ve heard this year about running to love and from commitment. It is that layering that makes this album one of the years brightest and easiest listen to.

Though the economy and forests are burning down all about us this holiday season, there is a comforting feeling about the timelessness of the pain, and hope of loving one another. Put this little gem on the old jukebox, take the little lady (or fella) for a whirl around the living room, and see if you don’t keep on spinning right into the bedroom.
—Mike Reding

Bon Iver : For Emma, Forever Ago

This album is probably best known for being recorded over a three month span in a Wisconsin cabin in the middle of winter. For any of you who haven’t experienced an Upper Midwestern winter, listening to this album will give you a good idea of what it can be like. Like this album, it can be joyful for some, but mainly depressing and lonely for most. Then the cabin fever hits, and everyone just turns into a lunatic.

Sometimes it’s questionable if I really have a heart or a soul. I laugh at inappropriate things, I wish death upon my enemies and I hate children. When I’m feeling particularly empty, For Emma, Forever Ago is the perfect reminder that I’m not a soulless creature since it moves me to tears. Especially the real heart-tugging songs like, “Flume” and “Skinny Love.” Bon Iver captured the perfect presence of wintertime combined with heartbreak. Curl up with a good tater tot hotdish and For Emma, Forever Ago and have yourself a good sobfest.



Pajiba Music

The Year In Review, Day 1
/ Pajiba Music Writers & The Eloquents

Music | December 15, 2008 |

TK Burton is the Editorial Director. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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