Saturday, 24 January 2009

Everyone's a critic and most people are DJs.

8 albums from 2008

When I first started writing music reviews, it was for the H.O.M.E. Newsletter, a pamphlet edited and largely written by myself and Leah Swearinger and distributed amongst the youth (and their parents) of the home-schooling co-op I was then a part of. This was over ten years ago. When I first started writing reviews for websites, the most powerful review-sources on the internet were still proper websites and not everyone had their own specifically subgenre-catered blog breaking ten new bands a week. This was somewhere around 9/11 (I'm pretty sure there's no connection.) I recently came to realise that arriving in Wales marked the first time in over 10 years I wasn't nominally employed writing reviews in some fashion (it's remarkable my tastes have remained so rigidly consistent. i'd hate to think what I'd been listening to if I hadn't been constantly dissecting and justifying my record collection to my mates. Its a sad, tragic life.)
Overall, it's been nice. I don't generally miss it. I was tempted briefly to make my own music/movie/culture review blog (or turn this into one) but 1) I'm lazy and 2) I'd rather just get into what I'm into. I know myself and being part of the "blogosphere" would have me a lot more worried about things like validity and obscurity (not a fucking badge! standinginthecornerlikeyourgirlfriendsdeaaaad!) and relevance and oh, look, I'm already enjoying life way less than I was before I started this sentence.
Still, I like writing about music and the end of the year seems as good a time as any to do that. So here's 8 albums from 2008 that I felt like writing about. Not all of them are the "best" records of the year, some aren't even my favorites per say, but stuff I thought was worthwhile. There's a lot of shit that came out that other people were really into that I simply thought was alright and then even more that I never even heard. And you probably don't need me to tell you about The Hold Steady or TV on the Radio-- what other people are saying is right, at least in the sense that Dear Science is fun to listen to or that "Constructive Summer" helped get me through mine. I thought that Nick Cave proved he was Still Awesome (best live show of the year) but every time Nick Cave puts out an album people get stoked on the fact that he still exists. You can add younger, but perpetually favourited acts like The Roots, Mountain Goats or whatever to the list that's always so long.
That said, here's mine:

Man Man--Rabbit Habits
This one is probably my favourite record of the year. Its made me dance in my chair and everyone I've played it for has thought it sounded like something different. A brief list: Gogol Bordello, the B52s, Tom Waits, Modest Mouse, "some drunk guy in a cabaret trying desperately to get laid" (I'm not sure how this is different than Tom Waits)and others. There are too many electronics and mashed up beats for it to fall under any sort of rambler/"freak folk"/songwriter tradition, but damned if the violins near the end don't make me want to join some sort of post-modern caravan. The critic in me also likes that this falls squarely outside of most modern music-cliques, though I could see it catching on fiercely, in which case there are worse bandwagons to jump on.

Times New Viking--Rip It Off
I've largely been listening to music on my laptop or iPod-- i.e.: headphones. And this album is way. too. loud. Which is appropriate for a band that dubs themselves Shit-Gaze and would be "lo-fi" if it weren't so ear-damaging. Its like they know that guitar-noise terrorism has been done and that reactionarily-cute pop has been done and that most bands who try to reconcile the two sound sort of like poorly produced Weezer, so the only option was to go farther in both directions. Because there are some damn good melodies threaded through all the fuzz.

One of these days I'm writing an essay on The Good Band; a group that might not incite riots of hype every time, but consistently produce solid, well informed albums that build on what they've done before. I wouldn't have pegged Ladytron to be an example of this when I first heard "17," but Velocifero has loads of great synth-pop, excursions into straight-up electronic fare, subtle humour and has stuck with me over repeated listens. All hype bands should get this good with time.

Deerhunter--Microcastle/Weird Era (contd.)
If I'd waited until October '08 to write my '07 list, Deerhunter's "Kryptograms" would have been on it. Oh, Time, you cruel bitch. That said, this record is pretty fucking sweet as it is. They crash together the pop song/noise track dynamic that made up "Kryptograms" quite nicely; most of these two discs are dreamy, ambient guitar pop punctuated with the odd feedback squall. Best start with "Operation" or "Nothing Ever Happened" for bona-fide pop chops and then work inward; this is a thick soup but it's soooooo delicious.

Black Milk--Tronic
Is it OK to write about an album you don't own and have never seen a physical copy of as one of your favourites of the year? It's my blog so I say it is. I haven't listened to a lot of new hip hop this year (see the bit about laptops being bad conduits for bass) and I'm not interested in Lil' Wayne's styled hype machine or Kanye's attempt at a Spandau Ballet record. Anyways-- Black Milk. Rapper/producer from Detroit who's got his whole album streaming on myspace and I've been going there every day to listen to it in my headphones. Reminds me a bit of Gangstarr (though that might be my limited points of reference.) The production is great; in addition to a lot of expected influences I also hear a good slice of Massive Attack and Kraftwerk in there and the rhymes are solid. I don't know if this is available in the UK, but I want it, and some good speakers to hear it through.

Made Out of Babies--The Ruiner
My theme for reviewing heavy records seems to be "The Melvins also put out an album this year, but this is better." Last year it was Big Business, this year it goes to post-punk/metallers Made Out of Babies, who've achieved the difficult task of making an album that's genuintely scary without sounding like it was made by meth-retards or ridicculous cartoon viking-nazis. I love you Julie Christmas. . . almost as much as I fear you.

Truckers of Husk--Physical Education E.P. (PEEP)
"Hey, do you like Prog?" "No." "How about mathy stuff, which is kind of like prog, but you know, not." "Like what?" "Lots of 99-03-5ish Northwest stuff. Sharks Keep Moving, Lands Farther East. . ." "Dude! Do you like Truckers of Husk?" "Who are they?" "They're this band from Cardiff and they're completely on that trip, but with shorter songs and more structured dynamics. No vocals-- mainly-- but it completely doesn't need it. Like Battles but less. . ." "Alien? That could be good. Really good." "Yes! Exactly!"
"Let's be friends."
"You know Math is basically prog for--"
"Shhhh. We're friends now. We don't speak of such things."

I admit it; I should have actually paid for this.


Ryan A. Johnson said...

as far as Deerhunter goes, I have Cryptograms. As far as I can think, that one has about a 50% ratio of song songs to pitchfork songs. How does the new one compare. I really like Nothing Ever Happened.

graham said...

Nothing Ever Happened is definitely the "single"-- nothing else is quite so immediately catchy, though a couple come close. On the flip, there are less songs that are single-note drones or washes of just-noise. I miss the yin/yang thing but I think they've struck a good balance. Check it out.

Aaron Burkhalter said...

Ahhh! I'm so behind on my blogs.

Hey glad to see this list. Deerhunter I'm really not up on at all. I need to give them a spin.

Same with the new Portishead. It's shameful that I've not heard it yet.

But I kind of slept through 2008 musically. Hopefully with 2009 beginning with new albums by Andrew Bird, Antony and the Johnsons and Animal Collective, I'll be a little more up on it. (coincidence that they all begin A)