Best of 2008 (half-way there)

We are at the midpoint of the year 2008, so I thought I'd post my favorite albums of the year thus far. I am providing links to artists' Myspace pages so you can listen to songs, and then links to the cheapest way to buy each album, either on vinyl or digitally.
1. Mates of State- Re-Arrange Us. (Buy vinyl. or Buy digital.) Nothing really comes close to this album this year for me. It is rare that a band I am so familiar with exceeds my expectations by leaps and bounds. A very fun summer pop-rock album.
2. Thrice- The Alchemy Index vols. III & IV: Earth & Air. (Buy digital. Vinyl is coming soon in the form of a 4 x 10".) Not as good as the first two volumes, but a great concept and very original. Air is the least successful of the four volumes, it is all over the place. But Earth is a terrific acoustic/organic EP.
3. Nada Surf- Lucky. (Buy vinyl. or Buy digital.) Took some growing on me, but another great album from these guys. I am super-excited about their vinyl box set coming out soon.
4. Colour Revolt- Plunder, Beg & Curse. (Buy vinyl. or Buy digital.) This, their first LP was long awaited, and it does not disappoint. A little more mellow than I expected, but it has great guitar work and dynamics.
5. Coldplay- Viva La Vida. (Buy vinyl. or Buy digital.) You've read about it everywhere, I really like it. I find it to be a completely new direction for the band, which is good because another album like X&Y would have been bad news.
6. R.E.M.- Accelerate. (Buy vinyl. or Buy digital.)The first good album R.E.M. has put out in a decade. A drastic and welcome change from their last album, the band attempted to recapture their energy from the 80's. Sounds like a cross between the 80's stuff and 'Monster.'
7. Thao- We Brave Bee Stings and All. (Buy digital.) One of my random, lucky emusic finds. A great upbeat folk album with very unique vocals.
8. The Weepies- Hideaway. (Buy digital.) I love this folk husband-wife group, but this is not their best work. Nice songs lyrically and vocally, but they all blend together.
9. Headlights- Some Racing, Some Stopping. (Buy vinyl. or Buy digital.) I greatly prefer their first LP, but I do really like this after seeing all the songs performed live.
10. Death Cab for Cutie- Narrow Stairs. (Buy vinyl. or Buy digital.) Very disappointing. I am only mentioning it because of how much I love the band. 'Plans' was a step backward, and they tried to right the ship and failed. I LOVE "I Will Possess Your Heart", but there are only 3 other songs on the album that do anything for me. Probably the first time in history that a single is my favorite song on an album.


Mates of State: Five Years Later

(First picture here I took in Paris in August 2003, the rest of the shots at the show a couple nights ago. Click on the pictures to see dozens more from the shows at my Flickr site.)

My wife and I saw Mates of State play Wednesday night at Mr. Small's Theater in Pittsburgh, PA. The show was spectacular, it reinforced how much I truly love the band Mates of State. Their new album, "Re-Arrange Us", which was released last month, is my early pick for album of the year. Even if it doesn't end up being the number one album of 2008, it is definitely the album of the summer. It is fun, catchy, poppy- the perfect album to listen to while driving around in the summer months.

Headlights opened the show, a band I have always enjoyed, but never really gotten that into. They released an album this year, "Some Racing, Some Stopping", that has gotten excellent reviews. It was actually a disappointment to me, I greatly prefer their first full-length, "Kill Them With Kindness." Headlights is a great live band, they enjoy themselves on stage and give great energy to their music. Seeing the songs performed in concert gave me a much greater appreciation for them.

I became a Mates of State fan in the summer of 2002 while living in Orlando. A friend referred their second album, "Our Constant Concern", to me, I had never heard anything like it. I mainly listen to guitar-driven rock, I had never heard a rock/pop band driven by an organ. I was then able to see Mates of State in Paris on my August 2003 Europe trip. Five years has passed since that show, and a lot has changed in my life and with Mates of State, so I thought I would do a comparison.

The Venue:
2003: Paris, France. Some small bar/restaurant. I want to say it was called "The American Club." Reminded me of a Chili's and I can remember eating an amazing burger.
2008: Mr. Small's Theater in Pittsburgh, PA. (Actually in Millvale.) Visiting relatives in PA, our first visit to the club. It is an old church that has been turned into a recording studio, skate park and concert hall.

2003: 20 to 30 people there to see the band probably. I am fairly certain I knew Mates of State's music better than anyone there, and I could have been the only other American in the audience.
2008: 200 to 300 people. Mates of State has grown in popularity tremendously over the last 5 years. Most everyone there was also singing along.

The discography:
2003: At the time of the show, Mates of State had two albums: "My Solo Project" (2000) and "Our Constant Concern" (2002). I bought "My Solo Project" at the show in Paris.
2008: Mates of State has just released their 5th LP, "Re-Arrange Us." Their 3rd album, "Team Boo" was released in Fall of 2003, and their 4th, "Bring it Back" was released in 2006.

The band:
2003: Mates of State is the married couple Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel. Until a few months ago, they had never played a show with more than two people on state. Kori plays organ and keyboards, Jason plays drums.
2008: Their current tour is their first with extra band members. They have two guys, the members of Judgment Day, playing a variety of instruments: violin, cello, guitar, trombone, percussion, etc. It adds a completely new dimension to their sound, new songs and old. Half the show was with the extra members, half the show was just Jason and Kori. They would typically alternate two songs with, two songs without. Kori also plays electric piano now, switching back and forth between the organ. Their new album is the first to feature piano on every song. On the final song of the night, "The Re-Arranger", all five members of Headlights also joined the Mates on stage.

2003: Jason and Kori were married. I was very single.
2008: Jason and Kori have two daughters, I now have a wife and a son. These are the biggest five year differences! Mates of State has a very popular baby blog: Band on the Diaper Run.

I don't remember the exact order of the setlist, but I remember the songs, I think. The opened with "Now" from the new album and ended their 2-song encore with "The Re-Arranger." Here is the full list of songs:

From "Re-Arrange Us" (2008):
Get Better
My Only Offer
The Re-Arranger
Blue and Gold Print
You are Free

From "Bring it Back (2006):
Think Long
Fraud in the 80's
Like U Crazy
Beautiful Dreamer
For the Actor

From the "All Day" EP (2004):

From "Team Boo" (2003):
Ha Ha

From "Our Constant Concern" (2002):
10 Years Later

From "My Solo Project: (2000):