Nonesuch Artists Continue to Draw Year-End Accolades
Since the last Nonesuch Journal entry of 2008, which laid out scores of year-end best-of lists featuring Nonesuch albums and artists, still more critical praise has come in placing this music among the year's best.
The Magnetic Fields's Distortion was clearly a hit among the Denver Post's writers, landing on the Top 10 for two of them. The paper's pop music critic, Ricardo Baca, who has the album at No. 5, writes, "The master of melody, Stephin Merritt, buys new guitar pedals and explores the roots of power pop. It's like Matthew Sweet channeling Brian Wilson, only better." His colleague at the Post, John Wenzel, places it at No. 9, and says that Stephin "finally discovered that it's fun to turn off the Pro Tools and rock out with an amp. Bonus points for Shirley Simms' heartbreaking vocal turns."
Distortion rounds out the Top 10 list from the Cleveland Free Times's Michael David Toth, who says that, with the new album, Stephin "nobly returns to the foggy, slushy sounds of early Magnetic Fields with great effect."
The album's second track, "California Girls," makes No. 9 on the list of the Top 100 songs from New York state's Times Herald-Record. Writer Tim Malcolm says that even through the album's titular, distorted soundscape and Stephin Merritt's acerbic lyrics, "the song itself is sunny and melodic. How perfect." Another track off Distortion, "Too Drunk to Dream," made the Top 100, as did Randy Newman's "Korean Parents," off Harps and Angels, and The Black Keys' "Strange Times."
The latter track comes from The Black Keys' Attack & Release, which the listeners of 89.3 FM, The Current, from Minnesota Public Radio, have placed at No. 15 of their favorite 89 albums of the year (a list that also includes The Magnetic Fields' Distortion, at No. 58).
The Houston Chronicle's Andrew Dansby slots Attack & Release at No. 2 of the year's best. "I first thought this garage-rock duo would have run out of ideas by its fifth album," writes Dansby. "Instead it has made a panoramic monster with producer Danger Mouse that has me utterly and enjoyably confused about what could follow."
Performing Songwriter's managing editor, Jesse Thompson, includes the album in her year-end Top 5, saying of its producer's touch: "Danger Mouse made great albums with Gnarls Barkley and Beck in ’08, but his deft studio touch added new layers to the blues-rocking twosome’s thunderous sound." Thompson's colleague, Beth Walker, the assistant music editor, concurred, exclaiming, "The Akron, Ohio, boys have done it again! They’ve created yet another ear-grabbing record (possibly their best), proving without a doubt that white boys really can rock the blues."
The album also lands at No. 2 on Detroit Free Press music critic Brian McCollum's 10 Great Albums in '08. He writes: "An absolute masterpiece of a soul-rock record—conceptual but not brainy—from an Ohio duo that has skillfully expanded its garage-blues palette."
It's at No. 3 on the Top 10 from Georgia's Augusta Chronicle, whose Steven Uhles says his picks are the ones he found to be "the best and brightest, smartest and most sublime releases of last year." "Stripping away much of the heavy electric blues of its early work," writes Uhles of The Black Keys, "this innovative duo produced an album of expansive and sometimes spacey songs while retaining the full sound that continues to win fans. The Black Keys remain the act that the White Stripes want to be when they grow up."
The Cleveland Free Times's Dan Harkins includes Attack & Release at No. 5 on his Top 10. "How the neo-blues movement got this Akron duo at the wheel is right here on a more polished but no less visceral vehicle," says Harkins. "It's full of instant classics that swells an already impressive repertoire."
Harkins colleague at the Free Times, Jeremy Hills, gives it the No. 8 spot, praising producer Danger Mouse for "putting a new twist on the Keys' wall of sound."
In a broadly reaching Year in Review for Chicago's Lumino magazine, writer Dan Hyman picks the Keys' Attack & Release as 2008's Best Album. Hyman writes:
The Akron rock duo’s fifth studio release is funky, bluesy, and soulful. With a mature sound throughout the album, its evident the Keys sound is forever evolving ... It’s hard to give this album a listen and not find yourself impressed by the sheer amount of sound produced by the two inspired rockers.
On a "classic rock" year-end playlist from the San Francicso Chronicle's Joel Selvin is "I Got Mine" off Attack & Release. As the aforementioned Times Herald-Record did, the Chronicle pairs a track from that album with a track from Randy Newman's Harps and Angels, in this case the title track.
Randy Newman's Harps and Angels shares still another list with the Attack & Release: the Houston Chronicle best-of from Andrew Dansby, where it places at No. 4. Randy Newman "remains crusty and witty as ever," says Dansby. "But this time out it's with little acknowledgments of the great beyond, a surprising bit of vulnerability."
The two albums also share spots on the aforementioned Performing Songwriter best-of lists, with the publication's editor and publisher, Lydia Hutchinson, picking Harps and Angels for her Top 5, writing, "After nearly a decade, Newman and his lovable cast of off-kilter characters return in fine form. Self-deprecating with barbed and painfully true observations, Newman reminds us why he’s in a class all his own."
The San Diego Union-Tribune's George Varga includes it at No. 3 in his list of favorites. "It's been nine years since his previous album," Varga explains, "but Randy Newman rewards patient listeners with a masterful collection of songs that feature his most sophisticated arrangements yet." Varga says of all Randy's witty lyrics, he "saves his best for 'A Few Words in Defense of Our Country,' in which he posits that our soon-to-be-former president isn't so bad—compared to Hitler and Stalin." The New York Post lists that tune among the year's best songs.
Randy is the subject of a feature article and interview in American Songwriter magazine titled "Humor with Character," which describes him as "one of America’s most revered and iconoclastic songwriters, a man who has solitarily created an entire school of songwriting which others have attended but from which they’ve rarely graduated, the college of character-driven songwriting."
Paul Zollo, who says Randy is "at once one of America’s most serious and hilarious songwriters," wriets: "New masterpieces such as 'Potholes' shine as brightly as his greatest songs, from 'Political Science' and 'Sail Away' to 'The World Isn’t Fair,' all of which seem way too smart and funny for mass consumption, but for which we rejoice. There’s nobody like him, and never has been." Read the complete article at americansongwriter.com.
Sam Phillips is another American songwriter whose latest release, Don't Do Anything, has made a number of year-end best lists. It lands at No. 6 on the list from the Cleveland Free Times's Michael David Toth. "Phillips further expands and refines her smart, shadowy neo-Tin Pan Alley pop," writes Toth. "She's in a league of her own, digging into interpersonal and spiritual themes with uncanny depth and elegance."
Don't Do Anything is at No. 18 on the Best of 2008 from the Chicago Reader's Post No Bills blog, written by Peter Margasak. He credits Sam, who made her self-producing debut with the new album, with giving it "the same kind of unraveling, broken-down sound" that producer T Bone Burnett gave to her previous recordings. "Her songwriting betrays her love for the Beatles and, to a lesser extent, Kurt Weill," says Margasak, "and her husky, molasses-thick voice manages to make even her darkest lyrics (which are plenty dark) sound somehow soothing."
T Bone Burnett's own release this year, Tooth of Crime, made the Top 5 from Performing Songwriter's senior contributing editor, Howard Massey. "Eclectic. Unique. Experimental. Dark. Compelling," says Massey. "Pick any adjective you like, this totally off-the-wall set may not make a great first impression, but it will get under your skin."
Ten years after the Carnegie Hall concert captured in the famed Wim Wenders documentary, Buena Vista Social Club's Live at Carnegie Hall, a two-disc recording of the special event from World Circuit / Nonesuch, is on Newsday's Latin music Best of 2008 from critic Ed Morales. He goes so far as to say this album "may be better than the original studio recording. Perfect acoustics and performances that define their almost-forgotten genres make this an album for the ages."
Live at Carnegie Hall is at No. 5 on the Top 10 list of Latin Albums of 2008 from the Chicago Sun-Times's Laura Emerick. She calls it a "long overdue ... live recording of Cuban supergroup's landmark 1998 concert" and finds it "all the more memorable," given the loss of many of the group's key players.
Another World Circuit / Nonesuch recording, Orchestra Baobab's Made in Dakar, made the best-of list from the San Diego Union-Tribune's George Varga, in the music blog The Other Stream. "Groove, in all its many manifestations," says Varga, "is an art for the multinational members of Senegal's Orchestra Baobab." On its 2008 release, he writes, the band
mixes new and old songs while reaffirming its mastery of rhythm, melody and the ability to create musical propulsion in virtually any tempo, no matter how relaxed or accelerated. Ghanian high-life, Jamaican reggae, Congolese rumba, Senegalese mbalax, the salsa hybrid mbalsa and all manner of Afro-Cuban styles are performed with consistently infectious results ... Orchestra Baobab's pulsating ensemble work makes every song a celebration.
The Tallahassee Democrat's Kati Schardl includes Toumani Diabaté's The Mandé Variations, also from World Circuit / Nonesuch, among the albums that "rocked [her] world" last year. She calls Toumani "possibly the most brilliant pure musician in the world at the moment," suggesting that he "transcended geography, culture and genre on his breathtaking disc The Mandé Variations, a pristine and gorgeous set of songs performed solo on the kora." She goes on to describe the album this way: "Shimmering cascades of notes fall like stars from an ink-black sky, leaving incandescent trails and otherworldly echoes."
Schardl also includes Rokia Traoré's Tchamantché on her list, as it was released outside the States in 2008. She describes the album, available in the US next week, as a "thrilling and intimate vocal showcase from a goddess of Malian music."
Kronos Quartet, a group known for breaking musical boundaries throughout its career, does so again in its recording of Terry Riley's The Cusp of Magic, with pipa virtuoso Wu Man. Rochester Democrat and Chronicle classical music critic Anna Reguero includes the album in her Top 10 for 2008. "In this work, Riley was really bitten by the world music bug, going on a Buddhist journey with the most adventurous of string quartets," Reguero reports; "it's a perfect union of minimalist music and minimalist philosophy, but still seemingly mystical."
Fernando Otero, another artist whose work certainly straddles more than one genre, makes Reguero's list in the Democrat and Chronicle as well, with his Nonesuch debut, Pagina de Buenos Aires. Writes Reguero:
Jazz, tango and modern composition intersect in this recording by composer and pianist Otero, a New York City jazzer by most accounts. It has the fire and passion of tango without being conventional. In fact, there's a high level of experimentation going on that's totally accessible because it's rooted in music of a culture.
The Chicago Reader's Peter Margasak slots the album in at No. 24 on his best-of list, asserting that Fernando "makes a strong case for himself as the inheritor of Astor Piazzolla's mantle. Whether playing duos or performing with an orchestra, he crafts nuevo tango of the highest order."
The first recording of John Adams's latest opera, A Flowering Tree, tops the list from Bloomberg's Alan Rich of the year's best in classical music. "An ancient Indian legend sweetly resembles the plot of Mozart’s Magic Flute," writes Rich. "Peter Sellars’s text underscores the resemblance and Adams’s warm-hearted music, lit with the incandescence of soprano Jessica Rivera, carries it all the way from innocent love-making through heartbreak to triumph."
Both Adams and Philip Glass find themselves on the review of the year's best from the Boston Globe's Jeremy Eichler. He includes the Metropolitan Opera's productions of Adams's previous opera, Doctor Atomic, and Philip Glass's Satyagraha among "the year's most memorable moments in the opera house." Regarding the latter, Eichler cites in particular "Glass's serenely haunting score, the parting image of Richard Croft as Gandhi singing virtually alone on stage, levitating up a simple scale over and over and over again, as if floating on air."
- Go to The Magnetic Fields's page
- Go to The Black Keys's page
- Go to Randy Newman's page
- Go to Sam Phillips's page
- Go to Buena Vista Social Club's page
- Go to Orchestra Baobab's page
- Go to Toumani Diabaté's page
- Go to Rokia Traore's page
- Go to Kronos Quartet's page
- Go to Fernando Otero's page
- Go to John Adams's page
- Go to Philip Glass's page