Brace yourself for another "year end music review." Maybe you will find something you like, and then you will forgive me for being so cliché.
These are not necessarily things I liked, just things that I thought about.
Arm's Way - Islands
One of the reasons Electric Light Orchestra remains one of the few 'classic rock' bands I really like is because there is a playfulness to their music, a sort of winking self-effacement that was so atypical of their peers, while still producing the big, gaudy sound expected of 1970s rock.
With Arm's Way, I feel like Islands have taken up that mantle, and then some: songs with the heavy layers and multiple movements a la ELO, but with the face-melting hooks that contemporary hipsters come to demand. At the same time, I feel like Nick Thornburn and company have said, "Fuck the hipsters," -- they're always going to be having fun, taking themselves just serious enough to make awesome music.
Pitchfork Media's review of Islands' second effort lauded Thornburn for avoiding trying to repeat their "breath-taking" first effort, but also lambasted it for the ways in which it strays from the construction of Return to the Sea. I don't get that. To me, the fact that any Islands track has become a synonym for "skull-rocking pop medley" is pretty unique and enjoyable. So much so that I can only speak in horrible abstractions.
This Is It And I Am It And You Are It And So Is That And He Is It And She Is It And It Is It And That Is That - Marnie Stern
I guess Marnie Stern is hot. She did that whole kissing booth thing. I don't care about that. All I care about is that the song "Shea Stadium" is one of the most sonically stimulating songs I've ever heard. The rest of the album is pretty good, too. If you like guitar tapping noise and off-kilter drumming. I do.
BITS - Oxford Collapse
When Oxford Collapse released Remember the Night Parties a couple years ago, I fell in love with the album, and remember being slightly embarrassed at liking something so fratty. But even if the album dropped into a macho world of silliness after the first five tracks, those five were some of the most fun and rocking songs of 2006.
OxColl's 2008 follow-up features songs that feel more like songs--the album feels more like an album. The sound is more consistent--it feels like they envisioned the sound more fully, not just added a bunch of songs that they played at parties to a few well-considered efforts (as they did in RTNP). BITS is definitely party rock, but it's a self-aware party rock--stuff likely to make its fans feel aesthetically elite as they get blindingly drunk once again.
Parc Avenue - Plants and Animals
Somehow reminiscent of both Donovan and "Hey Jude" Beatles bombast, Parc Avenue was the second 2008 album that had me thinking that maybe my baditude towards 'classic rock' was unjust. I think it's just more that I like way a lot of contemporary 'indie' groups are learning from the '60s and '70s. I don't even know what that means. Dark Meat's Universal Indians comes to mind for the same reason's (though they draw just as much from things like Black Sabbath as from CCR).
Red Star EP - Third Eye Blind
Having not released anything since 2003's Out of the Vein, this was kind of a surprise, especially since you don't see bands with 3eb's (former) popularity release things that aren't full-length albums. But what better way to reinsert themselves into the contemporary scene than with a short, e-only release. The first track (included here) is a pretty good effort, but a track tending towards the Snow Patrol end of the spectrum and a live track consisting of Stephen Jenkins and an acoustic guitar leave a bit to be desired for any loyal fans still awaiting this release.
I'm not sure if the radio edit of "Non Dairy Creamer" includes Jenkins shouting "Young Gay Republicans!" during the bridge, or how I feel about said, but I have to give Jenkins credit for trying. One thing I can say is that Jenkins has never been afraid to try to fuse the disgusting with beautiful (see the unedited version of "Slow Motion") or to wear his skeptical heart on his sleeve (see "Darwin"). For me, perhaps, Third Eye Blind is adolescent-obsession-turned-guilty-pleasure, but I'm still rooting for them.