The countdown of the Best Albums of 2008 continues…
15. The Tripwires: Makes You Look Around
I was a big fan of the Model Rockets so I took a flyer on this one, since John Ramberg usually delivers. Glad to tell you his track record remains intact. Hooking up with a few Seattle luminaries including Ramberg’s Minus 5 buddies Scott McCaughey and Kurt Bloch, this is a huge-sounding yet warm record, whether it’s rocking and/or rolling. Or pickin’and grinnin’, for that matter – “Sold Yer Guitar Blues” shows me that these guys are cool enough to think that it’s never too late to pay props to The Lovin’ Spoonful.
There’s a variety of styles (all with tremendous guitar playing), but to my ears there are two main musical statements in the Tripwire sound. “Big Electric Light” and “I Don’t Care Who You Are” absolutely bleed that Big Star cum Posies vibe, and songs like “Monument” expose an obvious debt to pub rock, Rockpile specifically (the guitar on the intro is textbook Dave Edmunds…who probably copped it from Scotty Moore…ahh, never mind). Hope they make another one, and hope they hit the East Coast; if their cover of “Tulane” is any indication, they sound like they could really rip it up live.
14. The Respectables: Sibley Gardens
Who would have thought that a band could blend the pop appeal of The Small Faces and the bombast of 90s hair metal into something completely irresistible? I really liked their first record, but Sibley Gardens sounds arena-size! The first four songs are a primer on how to get someone’s attention from the first note and hold it like a vice grip; had they ended there as an EP I would have crawled to their house like a jonesing junkie begging for more. Thankfully they included seven more songs for me to enjoy.
Guitarist Joey Gaydos is stellar…he’s got the power chords down to a science, of course, but his leads are tasteful and he never overplays. Drummer Donn Deniston isn’t flashy either, but he snaps that snare like a Swiss watch, and when you’re playing air guitar you need to depend on a guy like that. Nick Piunti has one of those great powerpop voices; a classic range but just the right touch of raspy to give it an edge. It’s why Ian Lloyd used to knock me out, and beyond the killer hooks all over this album, it’s the biggest reason I’m having a hard time getting this disc out of the player.
13. Three Hour Tour: B Side Oblivion
Ten years ago Three Hour Tour issued 1969, a collection of singles recorded for Parasol, and then they were gone. Now out of nowhere, this gem popped up to serve ten new tracks from this collection of (now) powerpop legends? Darren Cooper, where the hell have you been? The roots of the band go way back to the Champaign Illinois days, where they evolved into powerpop icons…Adam Schmitt as producer and solo artist, Paul Chastain and Ric Menck with Velvet Crush, Brad Steakley (a/k/a Brad Elvis). Cooper formed Copper Records (was it really just a typo, Darren?) and had he done nothing else but release Cotton Mather’s Kon Tiki, he’d still be a pop hero.
And speaking of Kon Tiki, that’s the first thing I thought of when hearing “Easter Basket Grass”, one of those instantly hummable songs you find yourself singing long before you even care what the words are about. This is really Cooper’s show, and his love of Badfinger and The Byrds is pretty evident when you add up the chiming guitar chords, soaring vocals and irresistible hooks. “Lonely Place” is reminiscent of Myracle Brah (if they had George Harrison playing slide guitar) and “What Made You Change” is a marriage of John Lennon and Cheap Trick. Cooper’s vocals might sound eerily like Matthew Sweet, but this is a far, far better record than Sunshine Lies. Please don’t make me wait another ten years, guys.
12. Taylor Hollingsworth: Bad Little Kitty
This is raw as steak tartare, and really puts the lo in lo-fi…but damned if there are many records from 2008 that rock harder than this one. Taylor Hollinsgworth has picked up the baton from Something/Anything era Todd Rundgren, figuring the best thing to do when radio is dead is burn it down and start over. (Or maybe it’s Keef and Exile On Main Street. Whatever…) For Hollingsworth, that means sounding like Tommy Womack stealing guitar licks in “Damn Boy, What’s Wrong With You” (“Bang A Gong”, anyone?), Dylan fronting The Stooges (“Assassinate The President”), Ryan Adams and Paul Westerberg shaking off a hangover (“In The Dark”), The Dandy Warhols with a hit record (“Imaginary People”) or even The Cramps covering “Something Else” (“TNT & Dynamite”). It’s like stumbling into a roadhouse and finding the strangest jukebox you’ve ever seen (and most of my quarters would go for “!0 Good Reasons”).
Unfortunately he included two obnoxious snippets that had to be intended for stoners on headphones; the 30 second intro and 44 seconds of “I’m Dead” that unfortunately leads into the manic reprise of “Assassinate” segueing into “TNT and Dynamite”. Hell, even that is four minutes of Crazy Horse on acid, with Neil Young playing the shit out of the one guitar string he has left through an amp he kicked the shit out of just moments before. And two minutes later, after a Blue Cheer infected ramble he’s taking the piss out of Hank Williams with “You Don’t Know What You Do To Me”. Whether you think he’s a slyly paying tribute to some of the building blocks of American music or just a snotty but versatile show-off (my bet is the former), Bad Little Kitty is fascinating.
11. The Meadows: First Nervous Breakdown
Cross pollinate the grandeur of Oasis arrangements and the beautiful delicacy of The Jayhawks, and your Petrie dish will likely have the DNA that generated the brilliance of First Nervous Breakdown. The Meadows are principally a two man band; Todd Herfindal and Kevin Houlihan handle the songwriting, production, vocals and most of the guitar/bass duties. The result is a collection of infectious songs that will appeal to fans of The Byrds, Gin Blossoms, Big Star as well as the aforementioned cornerstone bands…hell, even early Eagles fans will lap this up.
As impressed as I am with the vocals and the great musicianship on this album (there are several guests adding flavor), it’s the songwriting that slays me; there are ten songs on this album and every one could be a single. How does a band – or in this case, two guys – hit the mother lode like this without the whole world catching on? I don’t know either…but if you’re reading this, that’s one less person to notify.
Check back daily this week for more of the countdown. We’re down to the Top Ten…
(The full list will be updated each day on the MUSIC tab.)