We'd like to write about the neat-o Mountain Goats cartoon we got from Brianna or speculate about the fact that the Innocence Mission just posted on their Web site that "Right now we are recording some new songs. We hope to have a record finished later this year" - but we really would be remiss if we didn't get a word or two up about the two records that have been wearing out our stylus and/or sucking the last bit of juice out of out six-year-old iPod as it makes its way toward retirement (it's eligible for a full pension on July 11), starting with:
SHEARWATER- ROOKSo if you've received an email from us anytime in the last year-plus, you've noticed the phrase "There's something singing in the ice" at the bottom. That's a Shearwater line, from their last album, Palo Santo, which has been praised to the skies on this blog.
Well, if you've gotten an email from us in the past two days, you might have noticed that our signature has changed. The new line - "Look with century eyes till they make you go blind" - is from Shearwater's new one, Rook. Jonathan Meiburg, the lead singer/songwriter, formed the band with Will Sheff, as a side project to Okkervil River. For their first couple albums, Sheff and Meiburg were co-leads - until Palo Santo, when Meiburg was given the reins and the band soared. So much, in fact, that Meiburg left Okkervil to devote himself fully to Shearwater.
We're glad he did.
Okkervil River is a good band (the Stage Names was one of our favorite records last year), but Shearwater is a great band, and they prove Palo Santo was no fluke by releasing a record that somehow is even more beautiful. We're not gonna say it's better or worse overall, just that it is a worthy follow-up. Rooks and Century Eyes grab you on first listen, but slower songs like The Hunter's Star, The Snow Leopard and I Was a Cloud keep you coming back. The first track, On the Death of the Waters, is about a shipwreck and, just before reaching a dramatic climax musically, Meiburg sings, "Turn your bow to the biggest wave/but your angel's on holiday/and that wave rises slowly/and breaks!" and his voice obscures the words enough throughout to make you want to print the lyrics and read along. Doing so proves our bird-lovin' friends are now firmly established as one of the best bands of this decade.
BONNIE "PRINCE" BILLY - LIE DOWN IN THE LIGHTSpeaking of the decade's best, it's going to take quite a lot in the next year and a half to unseat Will Oldham as this decade's best songwriter. The winner of the 2003 Album of the Year has been extremely prolific and has now released three records that are as good, if not better, than his winning effort, Master and Everyone. (He's also become somewhat of an accomplished actor, and yes Becca, we've developed a serious man-crush on him to boot.)
Lie Down in the Light could be his best yet. We read somewhere that this is an upbeat, countrified anti-I See A Darkness, and we agree. The songs are celebratory - "you remind me of something, the song that I am, and you sing me back into myself...and dancing goes on in the kitchen until dawn, to my favorite song that has no end" - and every one is a winner, packed with lines to treasure. Though it's still so new, Oldham has another old-friend record under his belt.
***So back to the title of this post. It's always great to have so much to choose from, especially this early on, when we think of the year's best. Palo Santo finished second in 2006, Oldham's The Letting Go was third. Despite the competition, we think top 3 finishes for both artists are certainly not out of the question in 2008.