Seven reasons to listen to music in 2008 (Part One - Albums)

We here at Grand National Championships don't believe in being negative just for the sake of being negative. There is too much good music out there to waste any time slaggin something off for not being up to your standards. If it doesn't work for you, it will work for someone. More power to you if it's you. You just might not be allowed to ride in my car.

That being said, I felt like making a roundup of the albums that I've been loving the most so far this year. If it came out near the end of last year, it can still qualify. I'm not too picky about that kind of stuff. Next week we'll have a list of some of my favorite individual songs this year. That one could take a while........lotta songs around.

School of Language - Sea From Shore
David Brewis from Field music made this album by himself for the most part. You can definitely sense parallels between this music and the work of his other band, but these songs strike out with a sharper edge than most Field Music tunes. His brother Peter Brewis' band, The Week That Was, also has an album coming out later this year that will doubtless spend more than it's fair share of time playing on my player, playa.

Dr. Dog - Fate
Dr. Dog is blessed. They're blessed with competent musicianship. With a wonderful sense of harmony and rhythm. They're blessed with two distinctly talented vocalists, one who sings with timid precision, the other usually belting in the style of Paul McCartney on "Oh! Darling". They're blessed with the ability to inject life into music that sounds instantly familiar, no easy task. Don't be misled by overly self-conscious music reviewing corporations, this album is the best thing to come out of Philly since Willy Smith shouted "Smell ya later." Plus, over at iTunes, Fate is cheap and comes with 2 non-album bonus tracks and a great video of the band performing "From" live in studio. Do yourself a favor.

We Versus the Shark - Dirty Versions
My friend Corin and I traveled to Athens, GA on November 20th, 2004, to see the fellows from Faraquet playing at the 40 Watt in their brand new band, Medications. It was the first time they had come so far south, and though we had gone to Washington to see them earlier in the year, we were unsure of how long this party would be going on, and wanted to soak in as many of their live performances as possible.

Two local bands played with Medications, We Versus the Shark, and Cinemechanica. I bought the Sharks' first CD, Ruin Everything!, that night. It was full of twitchy, funky guitar work, and super tight rhythm that was very cognizant of open space and completely incapable of spending more than 8 measures in 4/4 time, very much in my wheelhouse at the time, and still today it sounds fresh. Repeated listenings have not dulled it's impact very much, because there's so much damned stuff in there to learn with every go round.

I've only spent a couple of weeks with Dirty Versions so far. The reason this album is on this list is that I can already tell from the limited time I've invested that I'm excited about learning all it's dark recesses and wrong turns the same way I did last time.

Sigur Ros - Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust
The opening song on Sigur Ros latest release is an amazing listen. It's called "Gobbledigook" and it contains more joy and kinetic energy than anything I've heard from them since Agætis Byrjun. This band, known for composing the empty spaces between the notes more so than the notes, has traded in, briefly, their life-affirming bombast for what sounds like actual life.

Don't get me wrong, I love Sigur Ros' life-affirming bombast, too. That certainly hasn't gone away. Hearing it next to this earthier, more immediate side of the band makes it all the better.

Pattern is Movement - All Together
This is the best album of modern Royal Court Music I've heard in some time.

The Mae Shi - Hlllyh
These guys like to yell. It often coincides well with their noisy-ass music.

The Oaks - Songs for Waiting
Unfortunately, Orlando's The Oaks have been saddled with the tag of Message Band. Because of founding members Ryan Costello and Matt Antolick's social activism and their pledge to donate to Afghan refugees half the sales of their first album, Our Fathers and the Things They Left Behind, they were, from the start, perceived as putting the betterment of all mankind ahead of the sound coming out of your speakers. Songs for Waiting shows an incredible maturation not only in their songwriting, but also in their production. After learning to record as a duo while working on Our Fathers..., this collection shows that time was well spent, as Songs for Waiting closely details the interactions of an incredibly talented 6-piece band, all of whom play multiple instruments. It's a study in acoustics, rhythm, and texture, and it's perfectly beautiful.