what i'm listening to: top 7 of 2008

Saturday, December 27, 2008

For the inauguration of this very exciting, newest feature of Say Parcheezie (okay, okay, it's not that exciting. Or very new. Although some planned features for the coming year include: Haiku for You, What I'm Cooking, and What I'm Watching. Just kidding about the first one. Or am I?!)
Anyway, I know that Kat agrees (by the way, I thought you might enjoy this interesting, unconventional review of Hot Chip concert), but I'm completely puzzled by this year's "Top Albums" lists. A sampling:
Jon Pareles of the New York Times liked: TV on the Radio and Porishead
Jon Caramanica of NY Times liked: Jamey Johnson (so did Jon P.) and Bon Iver, but seeing as Taylor Swift and The Academy Is... made his top ten list, I'm a little skeptical of his reviews.
Pitchfork liked: the standard (meaning, Vampire Weekend, Fleet Foxes, Lil Wayne, Portishead
Stereogum (or rather, their readers) liked: the standard, but did anyone else find it ironic that Fleet Foxes made the top of Best Album and Most Overrated Album of '08?
Rolling Stone put Taylor Swift and Jonas Brothers above Of Montreal, Hot Chip, and No Age (I can't say I'm a fan of No Age, though) and right below Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and The Hold Steady, which gave me a good chuckle.
NPR listeners liked: the standard
The Village Voice liked: Vampire Weekend and some other pretentious bands
Spin liked.. the standard, in addition to Oasis and My Morning Jacket (yikes!)
and dear Paste, you win for oddest list of the year, putting She and Him's debut at number one.

And now that I am finished pondering (or letting you ponder, perhaps) the oddity of the critics' top choices of 2008, here's a list of my 7 favorites (why 7? why not?), not any more normal or predictable as what you see above:

7. Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes
Pitchfork, Village Voice, Paste - if you're going to be pretentious, please be consistent. It's terribly difficult to keep track what is cool and what is not when half of you love these guys and when the other half thinks they're completely overrated poo. At the rate you're going, Coldplay's going to be cool again next year. Perhaps the Britney Spears analogy is inevitable, but I totally won't go there. Instead, I'll make the blasphemous comparison of lead-singer Robin Pecknold to Jeff Mangum (I'm sorry, I know.) Some other [more legit] comparisons I've seen include ones to the Beach Boys, My Morning Jacket (pre-Evil Urges, please), Simon and Garfunkel. I'm indulging in some pretentiousness of my own, and I apologize. I'll leave it at this: a nice, folky, neo-baroque (what?!) album and a strong debut effort. Favorite tracks: "Tiger Mountain Peasant Song" and "Quiet Houses"

6. John Legend - Evolver
Piece of evidence #84876 that I'm turning into my mother - I like neo-jazz. A little too much for someone my age. I admit that the majority of these songs are about love interests and getting in someone's pants, but like Emile from Ratatouille says, "You know, if you can sorta' muscle your way past the gagging reflex, all kinds of food possibilities open up." Favorite tracks: "Green Light" and "Take Me Away"

5. Adele - 19
Hey, speaking of neo-jazz... this girl has quite the set of pipes. To be nominated for a "Best New Artist" Grammy alongside the Jonas Brothers is an extreme embarrassment, but I'm sure she'll come out on top. Favorite tracks: "Right as Rain" and the cover of Bob Dylan's "Make You Feel My Love"

4. Ray Lamontagne - Gossip in the Grain
Underrated, yes? I'm not entirely sure what happened with this album, with 2008 pretty much being a year for folk, but this is nevertheless one of my favorites from this year. A happier, more upbeat (70's flashback, anyone?) Lamontagne? Or maybe not. Favorite tracks: "Let it Be Me" and "You are the Best Thing"

3. Sigur Ros - Med Sud I Eryum Vid Spilum Endalaust (With a Buzz in our Ears we play Endlessly)
My only complaint about this one is the title. I can never remember it. With their documentary, Heima, now released, it is a good year for these Icelanders! Though they still haven't topped my favorite track of theirs ("Andvari" off of Takk...), I like the new direction that they took. Favorite track: "Gobbledigook"

2. Edgar Meyer and Chris Thile - Edgar Meyer and Chris Thile
So...I suppose it's cool to like folk now, but bluegrass is still a no? Okay, all immaturity aside, I think the only way Meyer and Thile could have topped this album was if they had Bela Fleck on some of the songs. Then, it really would have been THE bluegrass super-group (to address some biases, I do believe that Edgar Meyer is the greatest living double bassist and Chris Thile is an absolute baller mandolin player/vocalist/songwriter) But then again...perhaps no. Favorite track: "Ham and Cheese"

1. Punch Brothers - Punch
Chris Thile is certainly no obscure musician in the bluegrass world, so I really don't understand why this album hasn't gotten much more recognition. Thile is a smart composer; not only do I respect his work, but I enjoy listening to it as well. The majority of this album is a four-part work titled "The Blind Leaving the Blind," which debuted in Carnegie Hall (if I'm not mistaken) and is about Thile's recent divorce. Interesting tidbit: "The use of the figure (and the figure itself) introduced by the fiddle at 7:40 in the second movement is a timid tip of the hat to the second time through the main theme of the first movement of Brahms' Fourth Symphony." I also got a kick out of the album art. Favorite track: "It'll Happen"

Honorable mention:
Kings of Leon - Only By the Night (I really shouldn't like this album, but oh, I do.)
Yo-Yo Ma (and friends) - Songs of Joy and Peace (Renee Fleming, Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer, and Chris Thile all together on one song!)
Joshua Bell - Vivaldi: The Four Seasons (The Four Seasons is perhaps my least favorite classical piece, but for some strange reason I liked this CD. Probably because J. Bell is still a complete fox. I hope you don't think any less of me because I just wrote that.)



Thursday, December 11, 2008

*Disclaimer: Excessive parenthetical remarks ahead! Sorry if it seems a little rough, but I wrote this pretty much as my thoughts came.
My dad got tickets to see Itzhak Perlman a year in advance. Perlman had to cancel the original scheduled date. But then, by the grace of the merciful music gods, he rescheduled. Compound that with the fact (yes, fact) that Perlman is the greatest living musician on Earth (arguably in the universe). Let’s just say that my eagerness to see this concert was rivaled only by my anticipation to meet Jeff Corwin the month before (note: Jeff Corwin : Me as Mr. Rogers or Big Bird or the Power Rangers : Any normal kid, i.e., Jeff Corwin was my childhood hero, I wanted to meet Jeff Corwin, I wanted to be Jeff Corwin, etc. But I digress.). Good things supposedly come to those who wait. Sometimes, the world is a kind and just place where life follows a path laid out by proverbs. October 6 was such a date.
Is it possible to play with wisdom? How was it that I, restricted to my puke-orange chair, could feel the undulation of the piano counterpart in the Beethoven sonata? Can C minor sound agitated? How does one express ferocity with limited mobility? Has the loss of one sense heightened another? In the Le Clair Sonata, how was Perlman able to convey musicality solely with the nuisances provided by phrasing? When I finally got my brain to stop yammering, I saw colors (and no, this wasn’t a crazy acid trip!) – green in the second movement, and a fluctuation between hunter and yellow as it progressed. At one point, I remember thinking of blue and navy. The Stravinsky Serenade was an enormous surprise, mostly because I’ve only heard Rite of Spring, but a very pleasant one. In the middle of the Tarentella, my mom wrote in my notebook, “The page got turned over by accident. He moved on,” to which I could only reply, “Because he’s that amazing!!!” But all drooling aside, perhaps this is what the standard should be for professional performers – to create a multi-sensory experience, and to be, at the end of the concert, the best possible vehicle to convey the music itself. Because, as much as I hated to admit it, the concert wasn’t about Perlman, it was all about Beethoven, Stravinsky, and all the other composers and their work. In other words, it was amazing.
I couldn’t catch much of what he was saying during the encore, but from what I could gather, he played a lot of Krisler, which was, for lack of better word, nice. “Dance of the Goblins” was also quite a treat (the person sitting behind me got REALLY excited because he figured out what the song was going to be while Perlman was describing it). But I admit, I was an absolute sucker for the theme from Schindler’s List. Perlman must have played that piece upwards of 50 times for people, but he played it with such intensity as if it were one of his first times playing it. Seeing someone connect to a piece like that – it was an extraordinarily beautiful thing to watch. When he finished, there was a pause of complete silence before the audience began to creep their applause in. Even the obnoxious people sitting behind me (Goblin Guy and company) finally shut up.
Now, to tie Itzhak Perlman to Jeff Corwin (why? Because I can. And I will!). Itzhak Perlman was awesome. Jeff Corwin was awesome. By corollary, they must be somehow related. Seriously, I actually thought about this when I left the concert. I’ve scorned mindless idolatry of celebrities (okay, okay, I admit I idolize Anderson Cooper…), and perhaps out of mere hubris, I had to reason that I had not simply settled for basking in the glory of my heroes. I did not go to only personally ask Jeff Corwin a question (I mean, I probably could have looked it up online or e-mailed his PR person) or to physically see Itzhak Perlman play (if I just wanted to watch his playing, I could have just looked up videos on You Tube). There is a difference between watching someone live, someone stripped of production glow and editing software, and a recording of someone. Perlman’s performance had flaws. He crunched. He played a wrong note (okay, so it was one or two in the Beethoven sonata, but a mistake nevertheless!). Who am I to judge, but yes, I came to the sad realization that he’s mortal. Or was it a sad revelation? By watching these two very human people (giving me hope that perhaps, one day, I may become 1/10 of the person they are!), I wasn’t told how to promote wildlife conservation or how the intricacies of counterpoint work, I watched people who were fully immersed in their passions. I can't even begin to describe what that was like.


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