Let me start by saying that I think this was the best year of the decade for new albs, mebbe. Thus it’s necessary for me to produce this mammoth and tripartite survey of 1) the very good, 2) the great, and even the things I haven’t heard but that I suspect 3) might be very good/great. We’re starting off with among other things, this latter category of albs. And lemme encourage one and all, please, to tell me what I’ve missed (including but not limited to the entire stoner-metal/drone/sludge fleet of 2008 albs.) And lemme add to the treasure hunt by pointing you to two the best-of lists of my most trusted musical oracles, builtonaweakspot and hardcorefornerds, with whom my top 10 shares little-to-no albs in common! As I said, this year’s pool is wide and deep.
The Haven’t Heards
Bonnie “Prince” Billy: After the grandeur that was Superwolf, I think I hit the same point with Oldham that I reached with Guided by Voices in 2002: I’ve just got no more love to give. Oldham’s flag is now somebody else’s to fly, but only because I’ve carried it from my head to my heart and from Tampa to Tulsa, etc.
Times New Viking: Let these folks be the stand-ins for all the interesting-looking new Siltbreeze acts that have emerged in the late Bush era. What a galldarn beautiful thing, this great “outsider” label resurfacing. TNV are now the property of matador, but there was always that sorta revolving-door vibe between those institutions, as “rock” gods revolved in and out from pop tones to out sounds. Without bestowing too much by way of expectations on this outfit, for me this outfit evokes (sight-unheard) the sonic-cultural life awaiting those who recognize that “indie rock” since about 1995 has signified little but a marketing boom and an oft-ravished, oft-confused-for-animated corpse.
Fennesz: Black Dice notithstanding, I still believe there’s a chance for me and blip-music. Somebody wanna tell me I’m wrong?
Hercules and Love Affair: What the hell, right? I’m a sucker for the Rapture and !!! and, hell, even that early Radio 4…. so why shouldn’t I check out the new disco heavies on DFA? ‘Might be just what I need, seeing how, as you’ll soon see, this was a great year for albs but mostly a great year for sad albs.
These are albs that could/should end up higher in my rankings come 2009, but that I couldn’t pay/haven’t paid the necessary attention to.
Tears Run Rings: the bounciest of the crop of 2008 contempo-shoegaze albums I’ve so far checked. I can, I will engage this further and let you know.
Thalia Zedek: no excuses, I have simply been a little bit a-scared of Thalia’s self-professed first “rock” alb [ed note: oh my christ! read: “first ‘rock’ alb in a while”. DMC could’ve done me a lot worse than he did, that merciful man!) An all time hero, believe me when I tell you even Thalia’s ostensibly non-“rock” albs rock, tho as I’ve said I struggle with the damned violin.
Lambchop: ah, I like it. I don’t have the mastery over this band’s ouevre to start babbling about “return to form” bullshit, but I will say that unlike the last two albs, I spun this for le premier temps and actually vowed to spin it again. This band is its own genre, and this alb is a hot emblem thereof.
Zomes: yeah! Post-rock instrumental-ish-ness is so important to me that I have all but completely abandoned it in practice, and certainly abandoned all intentions of surveying the contemporary scene of emerging slow-low-quiet-loud-core practitioners. But this, this is not at all that! It’s saturated gtr and organ sounds. It sounds like a cassette on fire in the waiting room for outer space, which is always also the waiting room for purgatory. Imagine if Jim Pollard’s contribution to the great, old, weird GBV of “Get Out of My Stations” was somehow dragged to a slightly more musical conclusion. Having done that, you won’t be surprised to hear this is Lungfish-related. And knowing about said relation, you won’t be surprised to hear that this is fucking great.
Ida: ‘Never figured I’d like this group – too much piano and loving dude/lady harmony – but last year I fell, fell, heels-over-hoofs-over-haircut for Lovers Prayers, which, what the fuck, was somehow recorded by Levon Helm in Woodstock? That said, I must’ve overdone it, because I quickly gobbled this follow-up ep and haven’t spun it since. This is serious song-music with very not-stupid (but emotionally accessible) lyrics. Recommended for: Tara Jane O’neil fans who’d like something a little bit song-ier, and 10,000 Maniacs fans who’d like to take their “Why Be Normal?” buttons off and join the rest of us for some “grown-up time.”
Hush Arbors: Again, the Hush Arbors dude made a loveable, memorable alb of psych-uh-folk-uh in 2006 that I pretty much sneezed/pead over for days… but I’m just not rushing to this full-scale follow-up. Readers of this blog and listeners to my recent alb will no damn well that I’ve had dour/solo/folkie/songwriter/fingerpick-y/agnosto-strum on my mind for so long, too long… and none of that is this Hush Arbors’ badasses’ fault. I’ll get around to it, okay, dude? And what do you care, anyway? Doubtless you’re right now lobbing pinecones into a fireplace with Damon and Naomi at some rented sandal shop in Western Mass.
Earth: Way, way weirder than the Ida/Levon Helm connection is Bill Frisell’s performance on this syrup-y and great love poem to John Fahey. As Fahey worship, it’s un-equaled since Gastr Del Sol’s definitive cover of “Dry Bones in the Valley” (feat Tony Conrad.) Remember when these guys were an “out”-er-than-the-Melvins venue for Kurdt Cobain’s best buddy? No more, s’mores.
Deerhunter: Yeah, this is really something. It’s on everybody else’s list, so lemme just say that this is the album I knew they could make, but was never sure they would make. I gather that their live show is still really the thing, but damned if this alb doesn’t qualify as “fully realized.” For whom is this unlistenable? How? Congratulations, blokes. (for an earlier description of these lads and their, i dunno, Greg Oden-ish well of potential, see here.)
Shoegaze: It’s still 2008, and Tonevendor is still my most-loved vending machine. By late ’07 I’d reached a point when I knew that the canonical Brit-troika of My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive and Ride were no longer going to be enough to satisfy my yen for “shoegaze:” lush, rich gtr-blankets draped over sex-vocals with the feet-cymbals peaking out from under them blankets. And so I went forth and found Airiel and the Electro Group and oh, so much else (though really, Electro in particular have dominated my thought process.)
In particular, I found Adam Franklin of Swervedriver, Toshack Highway, Magnetic Morning and “Adam Franklin” fame. Well, paint me pink and hang me from the chandelier! This guy can do MBV sound-waves, Lou Reed barre-swagger, Ron Wood bends and Bowie-lethargy vocs. He’s my personal swanky gangster, and he seems to’ve plateaud at that weird, safe-but-unbeloved commercial/critical promentory where most of my heroes dwell. Goddess Bless, people. (When I say “swanky gangster,” I mean I cop his vocs-strut before my shaving mirror, so to speak. You know what I bleeping mean, Gene. Or otherwise you don’t care, if you’ve made it this far.)
Louisville-DC-Chicago axis never dies for me: hardcorefornerds’ Hoover genealogy project has produced writing and thinking on some of the 90s most daring and most thrilling punk-related anything. Even more importantly, it’s unearthed lost sounds – and encouraged a discourse around those sounds – that I know will guide me and guard me through this semi-sad xmas hotel room, and god knows what else. Particular mention has already been made to/particular attention needs to be paid to the crownhateruin and hoover sessions live from the godly WFMU. How. Come. Nobody. Plays. Music. That. Sounds. Like. This. Anymore?
(so ends part 1 of 3. Please, please, lemme know your thoughts if you ain’t busy hanging lights and Diet Sprite cans on a half-fake Xmas oak. coming up next: The Very Good.)