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Old 01-24-2009, 08:41 PM   #1
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If you shout...'s 2008 List

So, I remember reading a post in a "Best of 2008" thread, some time ago, saying that we shouldn't be allowed to make our best of lists before the year's out. I happen to support this kind of thinking very, very strongly, which is why I've been sitting around and trying, in my spare time, to figure out exactly how 2008 shook out, for me. Of course, this is an If you shout... post, so things're going to be wordy and grammatically impeccable. Sooner or later, I may even get around to talking about the albums which I really loved.

I have also written, in other threads, about how great a year 2008 was, for music. Not to mention for me, in terms of all I was able to discover! I discovered at least 30 records which I all thought were good enough to land in my top 10, and the only reason that this is going to be a list of my top 15 (or so), rather than a top 90, is because I'm on a dial-up internet connection and away from my regular computer (ie, my iTunes), and can't be bothered tracking down all this album artwork for hours at a time. Really, it was a wonderful year.

It was made all that much more remarkable because of the sheer volume of music which I discovered. Why so remarkable, in the internet age? Well, it's remarkable because I spent the last 4 months of 2008 on a 56k dial-up connection...and I was unemployed! This means that the vast majority of the vast amount of music which I discovered was either A) discovered in the first 2/3 of the year, or B) worth paying for, sound unheard! That's wild!

I was also dealing with an enormous move from Japan to Chicago, for several months, and didn't even spend most of my year listening to 2008 music. Instead, I spent literally months and months researching Caribbean music, for want of a better, less reductive or restrictive term--reggae, rocksteady/rudeboy, Calypso, ska, steel drum, Nyahbinghi, dub...the list literally goes on and on and on for days of nonstop music. I just listened and listened and listened to that stuff, which meant that I didn't have nearly as much time for new music; I was too fucking busy listening to music which was mostly new to me.

You put all of that in a blender and pour it out, and you have one damn-ass tasty mug of 2008. Simply fantabulous. And given the fact that there's still so much to which I haven't satisfactorily been able to listen just means that there's something left for me to sprinkle on top of it all, once it settles. Wonderful!

Also, before everything gets formally underway, I should make note of the following record:



This is Kingdom Shore's ...And All the Dogs to Shark. I think that it may actually have been released in 2007, but I never found it anywhere until early 2008. It sounds literally unlike anything else I have ever heard (maybe Arvo Part is at least a starting point, though). It was not really one of my favorite records of the year, and I don't really listen to it all that often...it's so radically alien that it almost serves to redefine the word, in musical terms. I read, somewhere, that a reviewer thought it sounded like Fugazi for cello, and while I don't know how strongly I agree with that characterization, I also can't really think of anything better, on my own. It is a record arranged for string quartet, it is relentlessly intense and forward-thinking, and it utterly defies any categorization of which I can think. I have honestly never heard anything like it, and I think that it really deserves to be heard by more people. Also, the vinyl packaging is gorgeous, and props are deserved, on that front. You really gotta hear this stuff to believe it, so I hope that you do. Look around for it, and give it a chance.

On we go, then. My top records of 2008.


1) Los Campesinos!: Hold On Now, Youngster...




This band came absolutely out of nowhere and blindsided me, in the summer of 2007. I remember that I was just sort of cruising around on the internet, in Chiba, the night after saying goodbye to one of my best friends, Nick (an Aussie who was leaving Japan to return to Melbourne), at a bar and during a walk home. It was humid and a bit drizzly, and I got home and decided to jump around and see what I could see. There was a link to a YouTube video on one page, and the video was for "We Throw Parties, You Throw Knives."

I saw that it was produced by my favorite producer, Dave Newfeld (SFA's Hey Venus!, Broken Social Scene's You Forgot It In People, Chikita Violenta's The Stars and Suns Sessions), I watched it, I frantically clicked through to the video for "You! Me! Dancing!," and I fell as hard for a band as I ever have. The latter song (which was sadly and poorly rerecorded for this full-length) is one of my least-favorite Los Campesinos! songs. Now, I'm not saying that it's bad...I have to stress least-favorite, here. I'm just saying that in a world of 9.5/10 songs, it's, like, a mere 9. I'm splitting hairs with these guys, because they're so good that I have no choice.

At any rate, I have listened to that song over 130 times, on iTunes, since I first got my hands on Sticking Fingers Into Sockets. It is not my most-played Los Campesinos! song, either. Such is my love. I remember being hopelessly terrified about the album, after having so loved the EP. The songs "The International TWEEXCORE Underground" and "Death to Los Campesinos!" are fucking light years beyond brilliant, but I wasn't really too big a fan of the videos, and they were my first exposure to the actual band--before that, I knew them only by bright, splashy, Lichtensteinian swathes of color. I saw them and the feyness of "TWEEXCORE," rather than just hearing it, and was like, "Oh, fuck. This band is going to suck, isn't it?" Song titles like "This is How You Spell, 'HAHAHA, We Destroyed the Hopes and Dreams of a Generation of Faux Romantics'" hardly helped matters.

And then I heard the leak, after returning to Japan, in January of 2008, having spent the holidays abroad. And then I surrendered. And I was happy to do so. And now, if I had the choice between hearing No Line on the Horizon right here and right now, or hearing whatever this band is next going to put out, I wouldn't even have to think about it. I would choose the LC! record. Not a doubt in my mind. I haven't felt this way about a band and a record since The Hold Steady's Separation Sunday, a record which came out in 2005 and to which I've listened about 400 times. This is also one of the few records which I own on both CD and vinyl, and for which I also have s. I got the Japanese CD, too! Had to pay more than $25 USD for that shit! It was worth it, too!

This band seems to be capable of so much that it literally terrifies me. At the same time, though, this album (and its follow-up) is so good that if they broke up, tomorrow, I wouldn't even have any regrets. They've already changed me, forever.

2) Los Campesinos!: We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed




Again, I tried to temper my expectations for this record, when it was abruptly and stunningly announced less than six months after Hold On Now, Youngster...'s release. It was recorded in hardly two weeks. Newfeld was no longer on board (they instead worked with John Goodmanson, who's produced Sleater-Kinney, amongst other bands). They were releasing some elaborate and pretentious-sounding box set in highly limited numbers. They were producing a 'Zine to go along with the thing. Jamie Stewart (Xiu Xiu) was writing haikus, or something, for them and for it. I figured they'd lost the plot.

Then, though, I heard the record. Nothing to worry about. Still the best band in the world.

The palette has grown, the band is painting with more colors, instrumental passage have been introduced (LC! = Post-Rock...? WTF?), the hooks are just as spectacular as before, and the boys and girls still have a way of making Xanga lyrics sound like the most profound shit in the universe. I almost felt bothered by how much I loved this record, at first. "Perspective," I told myself. "You need perspective. It can't be that good. No band can do this."

I was wrong. They did it. Not just two homers in a year...two grand slams.

3) The Ruby Suns: Sea Lion




This record came absolutely out of nowhere, for me. I remembered what the cover of the band's first album looked like, but I'd never heard as much as a peep from it, nor could I remember much press surrounding it. If memory serves, this particular record came out on the same day as the disappointing Fleet Foxes EP, Sun Giant. I got both records because of the good press which they'd received, but I only kept going back to the Ruby Suns record.

I remember when Panda Bear's Person Pitch came out, and I remember in great detail reading review after review of music which really sounded like something I'd like, when I was reading all those thousands of words and dozens of blurbs. I would put on the record, though, and recoil in horror--I hated that fucking album! Miserable shit, I thought. Still, I would read the reviews and keep giving it another try, every few weeks, hoping that I could finally hear what everybody kept insisting they were hearing. I've since come to the conclusion that either everybody is an idiot, or everybody somehow mistakenly got a copy of Sea Lion a year in advance, for their reviews of Person Pitch. Domino must've messed something up.

You see, this is the album that everybody swore up and down that Panda Bear had made. Washes of gurgling synths, clattery "world"-percussion, cyclical and spiraling songs, ethereal vocals, pronounced African rhythmic and melodic overtones (the unfortunately titled "Kenya Dig It?"), globe-trotting lyrics, and even a song title which sounds like it should've been on Feels--"Blue Penguin." There's even a song, "Tane Mahuta," in native Maori! It's fucking brilliant stuff. The album sounds like heat, humidity, and happiness. I adore it from start to finish. I am furious that there still hasn't been a vinyl release.

4) Johnny Foreigner: Waited Up Til It Was Light




Again, this one was a big surprise. I saw a link to a piece on them in DiS while reading up on Los Campesinos!, last February or March, and watched the video for "Eyes Wide Terrified." I was more or less instantly hooked. The band sounds a bit like a far punkier, far rowdier, far, far, far, far, far more rough-around-the-edges Los Campesinos!

Razor-blade, angular guitars, spiky synths, screamed boy/girl vocals, and hooks big enough to flatten a city. The band seems to have a keen understanding of the joys and heartbreaks of growing up, which reminds me very strongly of the first three The Hold Steady albums--there are faint traces of recurring characters, ideas, themes, and even lyrical snatches (not to mention occasional shout-outs to The Hold Steady by way of quoted lyrics; there were even plans to incorporate a cut-out of THS lead singer Craig Finn into a JoFo video, at one point) which all help to bind the record together. Whereas each song on Waited Up Til It Was Light sounds just about ready to explode from its confines, the record is remarkably cohesive--sonically, lyrically, and thematically. These two sets of lines from two different songs seem to sum it all up best: "But he falls asleep on her shoulder,/Every shift they spend together,/Which is most nights" and "I will wait for you outside carparks,/Outside busy shopping centers./I will wait for you at work,/When all your other shifts run late." Perfection.

It's also got one of my three or four favorite album covers of the year, not to mention a beautiful, honest, and poignant title. Just trust me. You hear the music, you'll know what I'm talking about.

Near-perfect songs include the one-two punch of "DJs Get Doubts" and "Sometimes, In the Bullring," not to mention "Yes! You Talk Too Fast" and "Eyes Wide Terrified." Just check out these lyrics from "DJs," and maybe you'll start to understand where I'm coming from:

I'm happy,
but I'd hardly call this dancing,
as such...
like lovers holding hands
and mostly losing touch.
These little, white lies
drag you through the colder nights.

5) Josh Goldberg: Double Murder Suicide




Yes, that is the correct cover. Yes, this album was self-released (for free) by a college student in Ohio. Yes, he seems like a really nice guy (we've been infrequently in contact since the record came out, and I've done everything in my meager power to get him more coverage). Yes, it is a concept album about the life of the late wrestler Chris Benoit, particularly those with his wife and Eddie Guerrero.

It is fucking amazing. Goldberg is able to overcome his admittedly laughable premise by never once stooping to its level. He never cracks a smile, on this one--not even on songs like "Chris Benoit's Kid Had To Die" and "WrestleMania of Love." Find that latter song, because it will floor you. The pacing and emotional outpourings are resonant as hell, and Goldberg does a brilliant job with the WWF soundbites which forced him either to release the album for free or be sued by WWE lawyers.

Revealed both on record and in our correspondences, Goldberg's intense devotion to his subject matter is undeniable. He is entirely believable and genuine, and his enthusiasm (not to mention his surprising sense of both pathos and fun) is hard to resist. What does it sound like, though?

This record follows along somewhat in the tradition of early lo-fi indie acts, like Beck (circa Fresh Meat and Old Slabs or Banjo Story, minus the difficulty and inaccessibility) or the old-school New Zealand explosion of the '80s and early '90s. Make no mistake--this is not at all a "finished" record. You can at times hear Goldberg unpausing his tapes, so that he can add a soundbite to a song, and the whole thing is basically what sounds like a barely functional drum machine, a guitar, and a young man's voice. It is brutally lo-fi, at times. Seriously, though, this record is dynamite.

It's also the only record featuring a song called "Wolverine Party in Heaven," which features raggedy, sloppy rhythm guitar, a fluid guitar solo, and a breakdown which incorporates Pink's "Get This Party Started." Without a trace of irony, either. It fucking works, and it fucking sounds great.
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Old 01-24-2009, 09:50 PM   #2
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If there's anyone that deserves their own thread for a Best of 2008 list, it's you.

Great writing, and I'm going to have to check some of this shit out.
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Old 01-24-2009, 10:01 PM   #3
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^ Agreed.

I always fancy myself a big music fan, but, my devotion to it is so fucking dwarfed by yours. You have no idea how refreshing it is to me when someone is so unabashed when conveying their passion.

People like you, Scumbo, El Mel, even the loathsome Laz, always pique my interest with your listening choices, even when I'm fairly sure that I'm not going to dig it as much as you do....because for every five Hold Steady's, there'll always be a Los Campesinos, and so that makes it worth the effort of checking out what you guys recommend.....if that makes sense.

Anyway, I look forward to checking out #'s 3-5. Thanks for posting this.
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Old 01-24-2009, 10:11 PM   #4
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Dittoing what the other two yahoos have said. While my tastes in music don't even remotely mirror yours, I have to admire the work you put into the list, and your passion for music.

Los Campesinos is the only name I even recognize so far, and after seeing what all the fuss was about them, they're not even remotely up my alley. I tried!
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Old 01-24-2009, 11:03 PM   #5
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6) Fucked Up: The Chemistry of Common Life




Until I heard this record, I was beyond certain that the post-hardcore scene had completely dried up in the wake of ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead's perfecting the sound with a little record we call Source Tags & Codes (At The Drive-In were the previous torch-bearers, with Relationship of Command). I'll maintain that post-hardcore is still pretty much dead (the fact that the 'Fork only got around to reviewing These Arms Are Snakes's newest album, Tail Swallower and Dove, this last week, like four months after it came out, says it all), but it's sure-as-fuck not all-the-way dead. Fucked Up lives. Post-hardcore lives. ...And in Toronto, of all places! Who the fuck knew, right?

This record is not as strong as the band's previous effort, 2006's Hidden World, but it is all the same one of the best records of the year. The band is as strong (and dangerous) as any I've ever seen. The band's history captivates as well as the music.

They've released, no shit, dozens and dozens of singles and EPs; they've released so many, in fact, that there is not yet a comprehensive discography, as the band cannot remember, itself, what all has been released. MTV banned them for destroying a bathroom (no joke!) during a live performance. They came under fire for joking around with anarchist imagery and ideology. The band members adopt laughably stupid stage names--the lead singer is Pink Eyes; the bass player calls herself Mustard Gas; a guitarist is named 10,000 Marbles; the band marches on. I'm not making this up.

This record is nothing like their infamous live show. Here, the songs are spectacularly arranged and dense. Some songs have literally dozens and dozens of guitar tracks piled up upon themselves (think Broken Social Scene's "Ibi Dreams of Pavement" played in perfect sync on five separate CD players all on max volume). Songs feature flutes, there are arranged backing vocals, wild, careening drum work, and the record at times even brushes up against ambient. Songs like "Crooked Head" (one of my favorites of the year, it sounds like a melodic, world-smashing bulldozer) and "No Epiphany" feel much more like something you'd feel more comfortable classifying as progressive post-hardcore. At all times, the record feels exciting and unpredictable (minus Pink Eyes's voice, a raspy growl/bark which will be more than familiar to fans of the genre). The dense, almost impregnable production work really lends the songs a propulsive, almost uplifting power--there are anthems, on this record, though it sounds strange to say that, even if I do know it to be true. An incredible subtlety and sense of control hovers about this cyclone of an album. It's really weird--the band always sounds both in control and on the verge of completely destroying the world.

The live show, on the other hand, is a dangerous, chaotic experience. I had the pleasure of seeing them in Chinatown, on the South Side of Chicago, a few months ago. I missed their 12-hour free show in NYC, a few days earlier. On the way in, I was accosted by two gang-bangers; I witnessed a full-scale gang fight, across the street; a guy threatened me, twenty feet from the door to Reggie's, and I gave him a few bucks for ripple. Once inside and once the show began, it turns out that I'd've been safer, outside. The show was my first full-on riot, all 300 pounds of Pink Eyes ended the show buck-ass naked, and it also marked a turning point in my life--before I saw Fucked Up at Reggie's, I'd never seen a quadriplegic in a mosh-pit. Now, I have seen a quadriplegic in a mosh-pit, because I have now seen Fucked Up.

Can't wait to see them at the Empty Bottle, next month. I fear for my safety, but that's what hanging out near the back is for, right? Oh, and you should see the gatefold vinyl. Stunningly beautiful. Just look at that cover!

6) TV on the Radio: Dear Science,




Try as I did, I never managed to enjoy a TVOTR record until this one came out, late last year. Much like my previous experiences with Destroyer and Animal Collective, TVOTR was a band which I generally appreciated and respected, but one with which I never really managed to make any meaningful connections. I thought that Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes was over-praised in a time when people were really desperate to fill the vacuum left in the wake of Kid A (see the corresponding over-hype of other New York-area bands like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Strokes, and many others), and that a lot of the Return to Cookie Mountain praise seemed to take itself for granted, rather than to prove that it had a reason to be there. With this record, things just seemed to click. And not just for me, either.

Across the board, you were suddenly reading things like, "TV On The Radio finally deliver on their great promise!" in rags that'd already been proclaiming them the saviors of the world for years. Regardless, I was glad to go along for the ride. Songs like "Halfway Home," "Dancing Choose," and "Shout Me Out" really blew me away. They were catchy, arranged with a true sense for and understanding of musical space, and mixed, mastered, engineered, and produced with both punch and clarity--I welcomed all of these things with open arms. I also welcomed accessible songwriting which didn't (at least musically) take itself too seriously.

I tend to agree with the group of critics which considers TVOTR to be sort of like America's Radiohead (in an abstract sense, of course...the bands sound nothing alike, apart from, regardless of race, sounding about as "white" as is humanly possible), and I feel like pointing out that these people are correct in more ways than one. The brilliant In Rainbows found itself really cut down only by one thing--Thom Yorke's suddenly, alarmingly, and unpredictably terrible lyrics. TVOTR has the same problem, here, with a host of cringe-inducing lines ("I'm fat and in love, etc." and pretty much the entire finale, "Lover's Day").

Just like the contemporary Radiohead, though, TVOTR is able to overcome considerable odds and considerably terrible lyricism with no more than drive, determination, and devotion to the music. There is absolutely nothing self-conscious about this stuff, and that helps it go down pretty easily. I'm also reminded of older-school U2, when I listen to songs like "Lover's Day." There seems to be a total obliviousness to just how incredibly uncool this stuff is, and that helps sell it. I mean, there are sleigh bells in the song. Sleigh bells, motherfuckers. It's hilarious, on paper, but it works. And it works quite fucking well.

7) David Byrne + Brian Eno: Everything That Happens Will Happen Today




Funny that I should mention whiteness, because here're two guys who've made nearly their entire careers out of being white, picking apart black music, and putting everything together to sound...whiter than they did, before they started messing around with black tropes...? It's head-spinning, but it's also true, and I'm not being critical--I'm just being observant. It's quite remarkable.

I had zero expectations for this album, as Eno has been irrelevant, for me, for well over a decade; Byrne, for nearly as long. Plus, they didn't even really collaborate on the whole thing (it's an e-mail album), and the mo'fucker was going to be accompanied by a national tour called something like, no fucking joke, "David Byrne Sings...David Byrne and Brian Eno Songs. Only $55!" Horrifying. At least they self-released the thing and didn't charge an arm and a leg for a regular-ass copy. Plus, you could stream the whole thing for free, to see whether or not it was any good, before buying it.

I haven't really stopped listening to this, since October. It's not perfect, by any means (I think that "Strange Overtones" doesn't really work, "Poor Boy" blands me to death, and "The River" finds a way to meander to the point of distraction, as does most mid-tempo, latter-day Eno work), but the highs are high and the lows are...well, really no worse than middling. "Home" wound up being one of my favorite songs of the year, "Everything That Happens" feels perfectly honest and un-gimmicky in spite of Eno's usual trouble handling the ballady stuff, and tunes like "Life Is Long" and "One Fine Day" manage to pull off the same trick as TVOTR--write songs so instantly accessible yet endlessly replayable that it doesn't make a difference how laughably silly and cringe-worthy they might seem, when broken down into their constituent parts.

One also has to marvel at how, well, marvelously David Byrne's voice has aged. I mean, did anybody think, when More Songs About Buildings and Food or Fear of Music came out, that this guy would have such a pure upper register? Something in his voice, on this record, invites you right into the room while still sounding big enough to fill a stadium (we're talking about David Byrne, remember--the David Byrne), and it feels comforting, assertive, and warm. I just can't bring myself to believe that he's actually the guy singing these songs. I've been literally a lifelong Talking Heads and David Byrne fan, and this shit is startling even in the wake of the gradual move towards his own personal version of crooning that he's been making for 10 or so years. It's wild! I don't buy that whole "electronic gospel" deal that they were selling in the promotional interviews, but it all at least does get carried along by a very powerful and surprisingly nuanced voice. All hail Dave!

8) The Hold Steady: Stay Positive




I have to admit that, while I really loved this record, I may not have wound up getting into The Hold Steady, had this been the first record I listened to. That's not because it's impenetrable or difficult, or anything (it's actually a very digestible record on pretty much all fronts), but rather because it simply bears no resemblance to the band that I fell in love with, four years ago. Looking back, I find myself somewhat alarmed at how quickly this band has changed into something which really defies easy categorization. There is the E Street Band over here, sure, and The Replacements over there, yeah...but it really sounds like neither of those bands, and there's a strange, almost loungey, balladeering, adult contemporary-style sheen to the production which doesn't, again on paper, fit with what's actually going on. Again, it's not an issue of a bad record; it's just an issue of style.

There are still a few shout-outs and pop culture cues ("Joke About Jamaica" riffs on Zeppelin and others, "Stay Positive" gives props to 7 Seconds and Youth of Today, and "Constructive Summer" shouts out D4 before raising "a toast to St. Joe Strummer. I think he might've been our only decent teacher.") Once Franz Nicolay came on as a full-time member, the band just radically changed. I read on ILM, one time, the most telling THS quote ever: "History will look back on Moustachio McBeret as the beginning of end The Hold Steady." That's probably true, but if this is a band flaming out harpsichords and all (the awful "One For the Cutters"), then I'm all ears. A song as anthemically moving and observant about its own band's mythology as "Slapped Actress" defines show-stopping.

The lyrics are, by and large, still brilliant. "Both Crosses," the album's centerpiece and highlight, weaves a brilliantly dense and symbolically rich story which resonates terrifically, on its own...but can knock you flat on your ass in unrestrained awe, if you're familiar with the stories and characters from the band's three previous records. This record, by the way, is far more story-oriented than 2006's Boys and Girls in America, and sounds, in that way, more like the band's 2004 debut, ...Almost Killed Me. New characters are introduced, new plot points spring up, and things stay pretty damn interesting from start to finish. One of Craig Finn's greatest writerly strengths is his uncanny ability to at least look like he always knew where everything was going, while you, yourself, had no fucking clue. The Hold Steady records are some of the few which, upon release, can both be read and also used to reread what has come before.

A representative anecdote from the days of Lifter Puller, Finn's first band: over the course of three LPs, an EP, and a whole slew of vinyl-only singles, the band told the story of Juanita, Katrina, The Eyepatch Guy, Nightclub Dwight, the Nice Nice (a club), and a whole host of other shit. Little did anybody know, though, that seemingly throwaway lyrics in, like, the band's third single were actually telling you how the story would end, some five years later. People got the final album, Fiestas + Fiascoes, and were stunned when the record just suddenly (both musically and narratively) ended with Eyepatch Guy torching the Nice Nice and killing everybody inside (including the other three main characters), because Dwight, the club's owner, had refused to pay back a massive debt. People went back and listened to the older records, and suddenly there it was. We'd known it all along, but we'd never put together all the pieces of the puzzle, because Finn hadn't yet provided us with the right perspective through which to read everything. Marvelous stuff.

I know that I'm talking too much about Lifter Puller, but it's important. That's what seems to be going on, here. The same thing happened on the first record, with "Barfruit Blues." A galloping, bratty bar-rock song, at first, and a conflicted ode to lost innocence and youth, by the time Separation Sunday hit. This record is just about as anthemic as the last album, not nearly as verbose as the first two, catchy as hell, and surprisingly deep, both lyrically and thematically. I can't wait to see where things are headed. This band is so good that this record landing "only" at number 8 on my list is a complete and total stunner. Almost an insult, to me. Perspective, though, is key, and this record, while not perfect, still kicks ass. They make their own movies!

9) The Mae Shi: HLLLYH




This record...I don't know what. This record sounds like psychotic, spazzed-out, deranged, possibly dangerous, meth-head televangelism. The band sounds wildly unhinged, at all times, and always just as ready to tell you/shriek at you that everything is gonna turn out okay. The title of this record perfectly sums it all up: 4Chan-style gibberish which is supposed to sound like a LOLcats version of "Hell yeah!" Other songs have titles like "7xx7" and "Pwnd," but, see, this isn't 4Chan music. This record has me feeling a bit trapped, because I'm not sure how to describe it without making it sound just like a Los Campesinos! or Fiery Furnaces record, which it most certainly is fucking not. I could draw fleeting parallels to Deerhoof and Ponytail (a newish Baltimore band), but that's about it.

The opener, "Lamb and the Lion," makes use of a looping, arpeggiated synth line which really invites you right in, and a loping drum line propels everything forward. Then...the singing starts. And the screaming. And the church choir harmonizing. Just dig some lyrics: "I predict/A decline/In the price of Lamb & Lion International./The lamb's gone missing/And the lion's sleeping peacefully./We've lost our forum./In respect,/Second thought,/This Virgin was established rather hastily./We thought we read it in the book,/But we couldn't find the verse./Now, the storm cloud's rolling." It also has to be mentioned that the song is instantly accessible. The melodies are huge, the shit is easily hummable, and it all just feels catchy and spunky and fun as hell.

Perhaps the best way to sum it all up would be to describe "Kingdom Come," the album's heart. It is, no joke, a mashup of every single song of the album. It is nearly 12 minutes long. Its length nearly brings everything to a screeching halt, but the song oozes fun. HLLLYH is a record which honestly couldn't exist without that track; it is stronger for it. It doesn't quite reveal the album's beauty, though, so here are some to listen to, if you're not so put off by my summary that you won't give this one a chance:

"Lamb and Lion," "Run to Your Grave," "I Get Almost Everything," "Book of Numbers," and "Divine Harvest."

Please give this record a chance. It will awe you, if you let it.

10) No Age: Nouns




Can lo-fi shoegaze exist? And, if so, can it be epitomized by a two-piece? I guess so, because this, to me, sounds closer to whatever that sound might be than that Times New Viking album did. I didn't ever wonder about that sort of thing until No Age sort of randomly teleported into critical consciousness, in mid-2007. I didn't enjoy any of the band's early singles/songs (compiled on Weirdo Rippers, for those who're interested), minus "Everybody's Down," so as with Byrne and Eno, lowered/more realistic expectations may've benefited my opinion of this album. A good album it is, though, regardless of expectations.

Everybody buzzed a lot about songs like "Eraser" (which slays) and "Miner" (which Dinosaur Jr.s its way to the skies), but I found myself most moved by the combination of "Teen Creeps" and "Things I Did When I Was Dead." The first song positively explodes, destroying its 3+ minutes, leaving you bruised, battered, and smiling, and it had to've been one of my favorite tracks of the year; the latter slowly burns, contemplatively and sweetly meandering to its fade-out. The record has some ambient/nose/drone tracks to fill out the running order ("Keechie" comes to mind, and works very well), and they help to polish things and help them to cohere.

For a very young two-piece at times seemingly more concerned with authenticity (they're fiercely DIY and, uh, a two-piece) and ideology (they came out of The Smell scene, in L.A., an all-ages club friendly to vegans) than with the music, these guys have managed to toss together one fucking hell of a cohesive debut LP. This record never really sags, and has few, if any, pacing issues. As U2 fans, we always rightfully wind up complaining about how side two lags, drags, and sometimes sputters to a finish. Sometimes it's easy to forget that things don't have to be this way. You can go back not only to Achtung Baby or The Joshua Tree to relearn this, but also to a first record from a couple of L.A. punks named No Age. This stuff just sounds great, especially coming out of speakers in your car, during the warm spring and summer months. Definitively collegiate, the record is fun, subversively heady, loud, catchy, and energetic.

Also, the cover is dynamite.
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Old 01-24-2009, 11:11 PM   #6
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Hey, stuff I've heard of!

I need to check out that No Age album - I've heard so much about it but have no idea what it's all about.
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Old 01-25-2009, 12:37 AM   #7
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12) Raphael Saadiq: The Way I See It




This record sounds like its cover. Just look at him. Look at how ballin' that suit is, not to mention the glasses, the hair, and that tie! And that brilliant red filter on the whole thing! Ooh, it makes me weak with nostalgia and joy!

From what I understand, Saadiq did pretty much this whole record by himself. He played the drums and the guitars and the keys and did pretty much all the singing and production, and he did a bang-up motherfucking job, too. This is one of those records which I think can very capably cut across audiences and demographics, because its sound is so firmly rooted in the past (and a musical past which, at this point, has been so firmly rooted into the western fabric as to become what we might, relative at least to ourselves, call "universal"). This is Smokey Robinson and The Temptations for the modern age. This is The Four Tops in 2008. This is The Delfonics on your iPod. Every solo song on this record sounds like a song you've already heard...and I mean that in the best way possible! The only missteps I hear on this album come in the form of some of the needless (well, album sales notwithstanding) guest spots. Joss Stone for some reason comes in on "Just One Kiss," which nevertheless comes out as one of the best songs on the record. Jay Z doesn't fare so well, though, on the catastrophic closer, "Oh Girl." I shudder to think of that one. Stevie Wonder, of all people, comes out of hiding for a very understated, non-vocal guest spot on "Never Give You Up," and that turns out a lot better than I thought it would. A weaker track, but not at all bad.

Most all of these songs have an airy, bouncy, studio-heavy quality to them, and they find a way to get into your brain without much of any effort. They feel refreshing in a "Man, they just don't make 'em like this anymore, do they?" kind of way, and I don't think that there's anything wrong with that. It's just a shame that this was mixed for stereo, I think. It doesn't sound that great, coming out of transistor speakers.

More importantly, this is a record which I love, which my mother loves, which my grandmother loves, and which my students in Japan were able to get into (thanks to an early-as-fuck leak). Really, this one deserves to be heard, and did quite well on the charts (Billboard Top 20 in the first week!) without actually being heard. I mean, I never heard any of this shit on the radio and never heard a single fucking person talking about it, in real life. Weird. I say, "Raphael Saadiq," and people think that I'm talking about a new president in the Middle East. This stuff sounds so smooth that more people deserve to be hearing it as much as it deserves to be heard by more people! Give it a spin.

13) Grouper: Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill




Another great album with a great cover, and this time perhaps a cover for the ages. That image just grabs hold of you and doesn't let go, don't you think? Sadly, the vinyl pressing was limited to 500 copies, all of which'd obviously sold out by the time I found out that Grouper was even putting out a new record. Shit now seems to go for between $50 and $80, which is just stupid. That happens with a lot of Type Records releases, if I'm remembering correctly. I could be way off, but I think that they're also the bastards who saw to it that so few copies of Xela's magnificent and unsettling The Dead Sea'd be released that I'd never even get to see one, in person, let alone own the thing. Sigh. Whatever.

This is hella-ethereal stuff. Lots of distant, reverbed-to-shit vocals (not to mention everything else) from ol' Liz, but this stuff does feel a lot more grounded than I guess she usually does. She makes use of a lot of folk-ish, minimal guitar kind of to balance out all the gloom and doom walls of...warm, enveloping white noise? I guess that's how we're supposed to describe a Grouper record. Reverb. White noise. Warmth. Distance. Proximity. The woods. Seattle. Gray-green. That's what this stuff sounds like.

Fans of the now-aging Low would do very, very well to check out this one. If I'm not mistaken, we've got a few of them kicking around on Interference, so I hope that somebody who'd be into this has the opportunity to read about it either here or elsewhere. I really love this record. Haunting, beautiful, and fleeting...every song is gorgeous and devastating, and they never go on as long as you want them to, no matter the running time.

14) School of Seven Bells: Alpinisms




U2 fans are no doubt at least passingly familiar with the Secret Machines, a New York via Chicago via Virginia (or something like that) band which once showed great promise and eventually just showed fans what it was like to be greatly disappointed. Ben Curtis left the band, a while after Ten Silver Drops, and joined up with some identical twin chicks to form School of Seven Bells. They already refer to themselves as SVIIIB, and I think that I heard Edge namedrop them in an interview. So, take that for whatever you will--Edge likes them, too. Oh, they also do stupid, faux artsy shit with their song titles, in addition to the band name. For examples, see (and listen to, because they're surprisingly good songs) "Iamundernodisguise" or "Connjur." "Face to Face on High Places" works swimmingly, too.

This band sounds nothing like the Secret Machines. Nothing at all. Instead, they sound like trance/world music, if you can believe it. I also like a band which sounds like trance/world, if you can believe it. Tribal trance. Stunning, no? I first listened to the record while driving from Chicago to Minneapolis, in November, and it suited me quite well. Curtis doesn't do any singing, instead leaving it up to the twins from Godzilla Vs. Mothra, but I can't really complain. "My Cabal," which blows the fucking doors off the place while beautifully and elegantly closing out the record, easily made my list of favorite 2008 jams. So fucking good!

I didn't enjoy the self-titled, dropped-from-Universal Secret Machines record which also came out, last year, nearly as much as this one. It's interesting to hear something like this in much the same way I imagine it was interesting for U2 fans to hear Captive or the "Theme From The Swan" moments from Original Soundtracks 1.

I think that Captive serves as a particularly fitting parallel. Hindsight helps us to digest and integrate into the canon something like that, but upon first hearing it when it first came out, I would've been totally blindsided. Like, "Wait a minute...Edge wants to be making music like this?" It's the same thing, here. I saw this band live several times, as they rose nearly into the mainstream and then fell crashing back to the earth, and I never once got the impression that one of them was even open to, let alone capable of, creating something like this. Absolutely gorgeous. Alpinisms seems a really fitting name, too. Perfectly done. Really good stuff, right here. Not sure how far it can go, but for an album, at least, it's bloody brilliant.

15) Neon Neon: Stainless Style




So, what happens when Gruff Rhys, of the Super Furry Animals, teams up with Boom Bip, an electronic music (a vague label, I know, but I don't care; I doubt that there are any anal and vindictive Boom Bip fans on Interference who will call me out on this) producer from America? It seems that they make a loosely considered concept album which focuses on the dirty life and times of...John DeLorean. I don't get it, either. I can't even imagine how much weed and how little thought went into a lot of this, but it hangs together smashingly. The record winds up about 3/4 '80s electro-pop and 1/4...dirty, grinding hip-hop? It's very strange and the record admittedly lacks cohesion.

I came and still come to this record as a massive fan of the Super Furry Animals, Gruff Rhys's solo work, and Ffa Coffi Pawb's old stuff, so I wasn't sure how well Rhys'd be able to work in this sort of context, but I found myself beyond pleasantly surprised at how easily he slipped into these clothes. I mean, really. "I Told Her On Alderaan" and "I Lust U," and "Racquel" are hardly the only endlessly replayable (just ask my iTunes) gems on this album. And Spank Rock brings his A-game, rapping somewhat less wordily than usual, about the DDs on the brilliant "Trick for Treat." The only tracks on this album which don't work and the only tracks which keep this from probably being one of the five best records of the year are the other two hip-hop tracks--"Sweat Shop" (ft. Yo Majesty) and "Luxury Pool" (ft. Fatlip). These songs just obliterate the record, and "Sweat Shop" is probably one of the worst songs I've heard on a widely released record, this decade. They are so bad that they cast a pall over the rest of the record, and they couldn't be more poorly placed. They always hit right when it would be worst for them to hit. I know that you sometimes hear that kind of thing in criticism, whether it be of art or sports or politics, and I am here to assure that it is indeed the case, on this record. They cast a pall. And you just can't seem to shake it, once you've heard them. Motherfuck, do these songs suck.

Otherwise, nearly every song here is smashingly near-perfect. On the whole, this record decimates Gruff's last solo album (the underwhelming Candylion), and flirts with the greatness he achieved on the progressive Welsh folkie, Yr Atal Genhedlaeth (which is even better than SFA's Mwng, actually!). I hate to dwell on the negative, but this album justifies it. Rarely has so much brilliance been so sullied by so little excrement. Stainless Style could have been one of the all-time Welsh greats, but it falls short due to a few unlistenable tracks. Leave it to Los Campesinos!, for a year, I guess. Maybe, this year, Future of the Left'll somehow manage to top Curses, and we'll have a three-way power struggle for ultimate Welsh (and, by extension, global) supremacy...?

16) The Loved Ones: Build & Burn




This is a pop-punk record. Really, it is. Not-quite-hardcore vocals backed by a very traditional '90s Western punk setup. Saw them open for The Hold Steady, in August. They were really nice dudes (and the bass player was very approachable). You could smell the tour on them, and you could see how hard they were working to win everybody over. They're from Philadelphia. They are skinny as fuck. They mean business.

The opener is probably my favorite track, and they call it "Pretty Good Year." Really, there's not much that I can say other than, "Just find that song and listen to it. If you don't like it, then you're not going to like this band, but at least you'll know what they're about." If you're really committed, but that one doesn't work, then maybe try "The Bridge." Goldfinger + MXPX + Rancid + Occasional Regional Flair - Any and All Traces of Ska = The Loved Ones. Enjoy! God knows I did (and am, as I write this)!
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Old 01-25-2009, 12:54 AM   #8
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Well, I sure did my damndest, with this thing, but there's a pretty major typo which anybody who's bothered to read this's already, no doubt, noticed--I got two #6s, on the damned thing! Sigh. Stupid disappearing "Edit" button! Bah! The correct one is Fucked Up's The Chemistry of Common Life, and then you can just bump the records labeled as 6-10 to 7-11. Sigh. Here it is:

1) Los Campesinos!: Hold On Now, Youngster...
2) Los Campesinos!: We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed
3) The Ruby Suns: Sea Lion
4) Johnny Foreigner: Waited Up Til It Was Light
5) Josh Goldberg: Double Murder Suicide
6) Fucked Up: The Chemistry of Common Life
7) TV On The Radio: Dear Science,
8) David Byrne + Brian Eno: Everything That Happens Will Happen Today
9) The Hold Steady: Stay Positive
10) The Mae Shi: HLLLYH
11) No Age: Nouns
12) Raphael Saadiq: The Way I See It
13) Grouper: Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill
14) School of Seven Bells: Alpinisms
15) Neon Neon: Stainless Style
16) The Loved Ones: Build & Burn
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Old 01-25-2009, 12:58 AM   #9
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Thanks again for this. Very well done.
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Old 01-25-2009, 01:00 AM   #10
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Glad to see Raphael Saadiq made your list - I remember you were the only other one who mentioned him on this site (that I saw) last year.

I've been talking up that record to lots of people. It's fantastic.
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Old 01-25-2009, 01:10 AM   #11
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Stainless Style, minus the noticeably shitty attempts at hip-hop, is stunning. Glad to see that one make the cut.
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Old 01-25-2009, 01:51 AM   #12
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And some runners up, in no particular order other than the order in which I thought of them...


Titus Andronicus: The Airing of Grievances



or




I really liked this one. Really shouty, indie-revivalist rock music. Not perfect, but pretty dead-on, when they hit a good one. Super raucous, at times. Kind of bar band-ish. Like a more vitriolic, poorly recorded The Hold Steady, maybe...? I dunno. I'm probably only saying it like that because I already read somebody else say it, that way. I got nothing. Oh, and that second cover was the cover of the first pressing. Guess which pressing I got? Yeah. The first one. Brilliant.

Ponytail: Ice Cream Spiritual




Sounds like Deerhoof and Xiu Xiu were forced to mate. Amazing fucking album. I started a thread on them, a few months ago, and it got like six views. C'est la vie. Awesome fucking album. Just awesome. "Beg Waves" was one of the best songs I heard, all year. Great video for it, too.

Frightened Rabbit: The Midnight Organ Fight




Another one with some of my favorite individual songs of the year. "The Modern Leper" and "Poke" are stellar, honest, sometimes heartbreaking songs. Now that I think about it, actually, this one probably deserved a spot in the top 15, but whatever. Everything's elastic, so it's not like that stuff was supposed to be set in stone. I'd say that this record sounds pretty well like a slightly more propulsive Belle and Sebastian. The two songs I mentioned, in addition to "Old Old Fashioned," "Keep Yourself Warm," and "My Backwards Walk" all served me damn well, in 2008.

Cut Copy: In Ghost Colors



Indie disco, I guess. Australian band. I used to be really into Australian stuff, a few years ago (especially from the Melbourne area), but not so much, anymore. This was a pleasant surprise. "Unforgettable Season" was both one of my favorite tracks of the year and the song whose title was most likely, in 2008, to remind me of U2.

Fuck Buttons: Street Horrrsing




This record sounds kind of like what I imagine Eno's '70s stuff would've sounded like, if he were a younger guy, today. Not quite dance, not quite noise, not really ambient. Definitely danceable, definitely noisy, and really quite ambient, at times, though. Highly recommended.

The Magnetic Fields: Distortion




Sounds like The Magnetic Fields messing around with distortion. Pretty good stuff. Simms kills her songs, as usual. A few catastrophic missteps, as there always will be with a Fields album, but still very good. The highlights are better than awesome ("Drive On, Driver," "The Nun's Litany," "California Girls," "Three-Way," etc.).

Hilotrons: Happymatic




Good stuff from a bunch of nobodies. Like the Goldberg album, I'm pretty sure that these guys still don't have a record label. They sound immaculately arranged and composed, and call to my mind early Talking Heads in the same way that a lot of bands have recently done. Very good. Very urbane and self-conscious. "Caught on Video" is so good that it hurts me. Literally. A magical song.

Samamidon: All Is Well




This is a really solid piece of (Eastern) American folk music. Good stuff. Very sparse, oftentimes very affecting, if not affected. I enjoyed this one quite a bit, back in the spring.

Castanets: City of Refuge




This is another which easily could have (and probably should have) made it up a lot closer to the top of this list. I have never really gotten into Castanets, before, in spite of my best efforts. He's kind of like the Eudora Welty of folk music, if that makes any sense--it's so tied to the region that I often find it impenetrable. This one, though, sounds like the long-lost soundtrack to an early Wim Wenders film. Hauntingly sparse and restrained, and mostly recorded in a hotel room, it sounds like billboards and neon gas station signs towering over long, deserted stretches of highway. I fucking loved this record. Another one of my favorite album covers of 2008, too, that one!



So, yeah. I guess that that's that. There're a host of other records which I could mention, and probably one or two which I didn't need to bother mentioning, but I had to close the book on it all, at some point. Thanks for reading, if you chose to. Better than that, though, thanks for listening to this stuff, if you were interested enough to follow through on anything. By all means, please do feel free to comment. I'd lovelovelove to hear about your (mis)adventures, listening to or refusing to listen to any of this.

Most importantly, though, please make sure to go out and buy any of the records that you dl and enjoy enough to keep. Gotta stick up for the artist, you know? I don't personally see anything wrong with trying before you buy, but it can be easy (for me, as well!) to get complacent, with this stuff, and just download, enjoy, and...well, that's it. Don't do that! It's theft, first and foremost. If you dl something to give it a try and you wind up really loving it, at least buy the mp3s. Gotta give people a reason to keep making the music that you want to hear, all right? Support your artists.
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Old 01-25-2009, 02:17 AM   #13
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Unforgettable Season
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Old 01-26-2009, 07:21 PM   #14
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Has anybody listened to any of this stuff, yet? Any thoughts? Opinions? Violent disagreements, perhaps...?
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Old 01-26-2009, 07:48 PM   #15
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Excellent choices, some of which I still need to check out, but Alpinisms is glorious...I think I described it to a friend as My Bloody Valentine fronted by Enya...I can almost here Orinocco Flow Love it though.

Johnny Foreigner was a band I forgot about as the year went on, need to relisten to it, but I remember liking quite a bit, just when your a music glutton some things inevitably fall by the wayside.
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