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December 16, 2008 |

By TK Burton | Music | December 16, 2008 |

Here we are with day two of our favorites of the year. I think you’ll enjoy these, another wide variety of artists that all bring something new and exciting to the table. Read, listen, enjoy.

Atmospherelemonsa.jpgAtmosphere: When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold
[Rhymesayer Records]

Atmosphere, the Minneapolis, MN-based duo consisting of Slug (aka Sean Daley) and DJ/producer Ant (aka Anthony Davis) is one of hip hops’s gems. Consistently pumping out intelligent, interesting and cutting-edge hip hop since their first album, Overcast!, they’ve evolved and adapted with each successive album. 2008’s When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold is perhaps their most brilliant, mature, complex and entertaining album yet — and with a discography that already featured some of my favorite hip hop albums, that is saying something. It’s one of those albums that is truly able to make you hear something you’ve never heard before, both with Slug’s smooth rhymes that run from soothing and soulful to harsh, staccato ryhthms. Ant’s production is top-notch — some of the best I’ve ever heard, in fact.

“Shoulda Known”

These two forces combine to make a true rarity — a wholly unique hip hop album. Ant leaves no musical idea untapped… you’re not likely to hear too many rap acts effectively use the lap steel guitar; and even better, it’s not a sample, it’s actually played by Minneapolis music instructor Dustin Kiel. The track it appears on, “Painting,” is a gorgeous, fluid piece that laments past indiscretions and life decisions (“No inspiration left to do your best when / nobody hates you more than your reflection / Suffer the shame until it stuffs the drain / He’s got two hands and a bucket of paint”). At the same time, Atmosphere is able to find beauty in simplicity — the second track, “Puppets,” starts out with Slug accompanied by a few simple yet elegant repeated piano bars and clapping hands. When it kicks in midway through, adding drumbeats and a soulful female background singer, the track elevates itself from toe-tappingly fun to a lovely, forlorn ode to fleeting fame.

Perhaps the most affecting track is “Yesterday,” a jaunty, piano-accompanied piece about Slug thinking he saw someone the other day. It’s a charming track that channels bittersweet reminiscences, and I found myself smiling slightly the first time I heard it. And then, in the final verse, they pull the rug out completely, and the song’s true meaning reveals itself. It’s a shocking moment that literally almost brought me to tears. Similarly, “The Waitress” is simply about a homeless man going to a diner every day, despite the harsh words and actions of the waitress that works there — he returns each day simply because she’s the only one who notices him (“Look lady, I’m homeless, I’m crazy / I’m so hopeless I’m suicidal daily / If you and I can’t coexist, let’s fake it / ‘Cause I ain’t got the energy it takes for this relationship”). It’s an intricate track, layered with Tull-like flutes and bouncing basslines and it’s… just simply amazing.

Therein lies the thing that makes the album make the leap from great to transcendent. While most of their albums have drawn on their personal experiences, this one is actually something of a concept album, unified by simple themes of loss and love and betrayal. Instead of the tired ball-grabbing and guns’n’bitches bullshit that so infects the genre, they draw you in by designing complicated songs about the everyday hardness that each will have to deal with or encounter. Atmosphere pulls no punches in their hard-knock tales of lives gone wrong, of regrets, hopes, dreams and sadness. It’s not just one of the best albums of 2008 — it’s easily one of the best hip hop albums of the last few years.

Sigur Rós: Með Suð Í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust
[XL Recordings]

I first heard of the Icelandic band Sigur Rós almost ten years ago when Chris Martin named them one of his favorite bands. This was when I was unhealthily obsessed with Coldplay, so I checked them out. I mean, if the almighty Chris Martin said he liked them then I damn well would too. Unfortunately Sigur Rós was too experimental for my poor taste back then. Now that I have half a brain, they appear here on my favorites of 2008.

“Við Spilum Endalaust”

Með Suð Í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust, which translated to English means “with a buzz in our ears we play endlessly,” is hard for me to put into words. First of all, the album is not in English. Even though I can’t understand what the lyrics mean, the music evokes deep feelings from me me such as pure joy and extreme sadness. I almost don’t want to know the translation of these songs. I would be worried that it would be like that boy in high school you had a crush on for 10 years. Then one day he finally talks to you but says, “Wow, I’ve had a crush on your best friend forever. She is so hot!” I’d like to just keep everything in that safe part of my brain where everything is flowers, cookies and unicorns.

Standouts on the album include “Gobbledigook,” “Inní Mér Syngur Vitleysingur,” and “Við Spilum Endalaust.” The combination of their use of strings, lead singer Jónsi Birgisson’s voice and beats creates a dreamlike experience on these songs.

Soft_Airplane-Chad_VanGaalen_480.jpgChad VanGaalen: Soft Airplane
[Sub Pop]
This is the kind of lo-fi album critics love to lose their shit over. “Ooooh, he recorded the album himself in his basement, look at his outsider artist style album cover, he has such a naïve voice, kersplooie” (that is the sound of a bunch of music critics jerking off in case you were wondering). Just ignore the kersplooie and take Soft Airplane for what it is: a beautiful album that will make you happier for having heard it. Well, it will make you happier until you realize you’re singing along to a song that wonders if a weird noise is “your neighbour beating his dog in the basement.”

Soft Airplane is the aural equivalent of a sunny Saturday afternoon sitting a little too close to a hornet’s nest, a glass of lemonade with human teeth floating in it, a freshly-mowed lawn that is covering up a dead body buried below. In other words it’s seemingly perfect beauty with darkness just under the surface.

A lot of indie rock finds its niche and sticks to it, whether it be whispery sad-sackedness, or “I’m a wacky lady who loves stupid hats and ProTools” (j’accuse, Imogene Heap). VanGaalen stands apart from the majority of his peers. This album goes from the pretty banjo and accordion accompanied “Willow Tree” to the lyricless sci-fi sound effect sounding “Frozen Energon”.

Soft Airplane also flows together in a wonderful way. I hate it when people whine about the fact that people should listen to an album from beginning “as the artist intended”. What a pretentious, douchey argument. Its all “Oooh, look at me I know better than you. I’m covering up years of insecurity by coming up with some ridiculous crap to bother you about at parties.” Well, I have officially become that douche.(I, however, cover up my insecurities in much more fun ways).

“Molten Light”

All the songs on Soft Airplane are wonderful on their own (which is quite an accomplishment — how often does that happen?). However, if you listen to them to all in one session, it’s like taking a little adventure. I take public transit everywhere, and this album is my favorite companion on these trips. It keeps changing styles so you’re never bored, the lyrics are lovely and each song paints a vivid picture. Each individual song seems like a part of a bigger puzzle that fits together to create an image of the amazing alternative universe that exists inside VanGaalen’s brain. It’s a world where immortal women shoot fireballs at cruel men, where disembodied heads sing to you about their regrets and where your body may or may not be filled with ants. It’s an album full of beautiful creepy images that deftly avoids being “whimsical” (shudder).

Pajiba Music

The Year In Review, Day 2
/ Pajiba Music Writers & The Eloquents

Music | December 16, 2008 |

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

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