31 December 2008

Albums in the year 2008

As with last year, this is not intended to be in any way final. It’s just a list of what I consider my favourites from the year at this point near the end of 2008. No different from any other list, then, but at least I admit its state of flux. So, whether they would make it or not, the following albums are disqualified: Portishead’s 3, Asva’s What You Don't Know is Frontier, the Koushik, Burning Star Core, Skullflower, Ascend, Fennesz, Krallice and other stuff I’ve not listened to enough times. Also Earth and The Bug, whose stupid labels didn’t press enough copies of their albums for me to get one in.* Also the Caretaker, Gang Gang Dance, Black Dog, Landstrumm, Motorpsycho, Q-Tip, and the myriad others whose albums I just haven’t got round to buying. This is why end of year lists need leeway. This shit can’t be properly done in time. And GAS, Carl Craig and whoever else, whose albums were compilations. Oh, apart from…

00. ShiningShining

Number zero because it’s technically not a 2008 album. In the strictest sense of the term. It came out in 2008, but combines the albums Shining released in 2005 and 2007. But then you knew that already. Anyway, both albums are fantastic. And the mighty Rune Grammafon saw fit to release them together on vinyl for the price of one (quite expensive) album.

Ergo it’s the best thing that came out this year. I am very disappointed that Wire magazine saw fit to omit this from their reissues list. But then I have numerous issues with some of their end of year conclusions. More on this at a later date!

01. AkimboJersey Shores

So this’ll be my favourite album of material that was released for the first time in 2008, then. Cliff’s Notes for the token-metal cru: this year Harvey Milk is better than the Melvins, but Akimbo is better than both. I had wondered why this was recorded in early 2007 but not released til about a month ago – a long gestation for an independent label. Turns out it was recorded at the same time as their last album, Navigating the Bronze, but they wanted to save it as a separate entity.

There will be a throughsilver investigation on Akimbo if Dopamine Records stops being shit. And maybe if not. Anyway, this is epic, dynamic riff-based metal, with hints of sludge, which currently leaves the scary noises of Asva and Lustmord in the dust.

02. Squarepusher - Just a Souvenir

This is another one that baffles me. Why do people not get it? JAS is catchy, silly, clever and awesome. I used to say it just took a while to get into, but that’s really not the case. Maybe it’s the silliness. Dance heads want cool rather than silly and, while this is a brilliant album (the best one Jenkinson has done), it is far from cool. And intentionally so.

Tom has made a career out of thumbing his nose at the dance establishment, so it’s really not a surprise he’d do the same to the people expecting an album of drill and bass or post-rave off him in 2008. I’m somewhat disappointed, then, that he’s releasing an EP of just that in January. If he was going to be that cynical, I’d rather he did a dubstep album. Now that’d really be taking the piss.

03. Duke SpiritNeptune

Heard them for the first time on the Hills. And how long I have waited to write about the Hills here. I love it! But that’s for another day. I was so taken by a certain chorus, a certain sound, that I Googled the lyrics and found this band. Specifically, the single ‘The Step and the Walk’. A short while later, and I have this record and the 10-inch. But enough about my excitement.

This is dark poppy rock, produced by Chris Goss: the mastermind behind the sounds of Masters Of Reality, Kyuss, Queens Of The Stone Age and Slo Burn. The songs are really well formed and smoky-cool. Liela’s singing is fantastic: think the timbre of Adele, but actually being able to do more than hold notes. Not to mention the songs are infinitely better. Not reading mainstream press, I don’t know if Duke Spirit is at all credible. They are grand though. It’s just a shame it turns out they played my city a mere three weeks before I got the album in. Nooo!

04. EvangelistaHello, Voyager

I should be disappointed this is so high. It’s not as good as the last album (confusingly named Evangelista, but released under Carla Bozulich’s name). it’s not as good as her 2008 live show. So why am I not disappointed? Well, both of those other things are startlingly great, meaning that this can be really goddamn good in its own right without surpassing them. And it is that good. Continuing the uber-organic feel of the last one, this fittingly has members of Silver Mount Zion and has that DIY/real real real aesthetic. The difference between Carla and most of the Montreal set is that she is an incredibly visceral singer and strong performer.

So this is intense. Not (very) noisy, but emotionally, personally intense. And you feel it. It’s the kind of fractured beauty I thought had been lost under the suffocating bombastic romanticism that people call post-rock and post-metal. The arrangements are well thought out and recorded in a clear fashion, without being clinical. There’s enough dirt in the material itself without having to obscure it with post-post smudge and mirrors. The title track is epic, elemental. This is catharsis in a way I haven’t heard in years. Maybe since Converge’s 2004 album.

05. Rye WolvesOceans of Delicate Rain

With Akimbo, Rye Wolves brought the metal assault from Washington state, obliterating the bore-metal crews in their way. Intelligently composed (I will never use the dread term ‘math rock’ with a straight face), well-played without being annoying, and just downright devastating, this is an impressive debut.

The album was mastered by James Plotkin, who I am currently falling in love with (Atomsmasher/Phantomsmasher: why did it take me so long to get you in my grubby mitts?), and he really renders this work with some terrifying clarity. Vocals are BM style, but really to sparse to annoy people who might be annoyed with that type of singing.

Rye Wolves do dynamics without having to resort to the nothing-then-all model that has been so tediously popular this decade. They scythe from bludgeoning, doom-on-steroids riffs to smooth arpeggio and way more without the telegraphing lesser bands have to use. As with Akimbo, the album came out too late in the year for the prematurely ejaculating magazines to consider. That is everybody’s loss.

06. Be Your Own PetGet Awkward!

Why? Why did BYOP have to split like that? After their spectacularly messy brilliance of their self-titled debut, BYOP broadened their aural palette just enough to avoid sophomore over-compensation. They had the pop brilliance of NOFX or prime Blink 182 (that’s right), the raw punk energy of Mondo Generator and Zeke, combined the two as well as peak Misfits and looked cute as four colourful buttons in doing so.

I was upset they split, but I suppose they should be applauded for not outstaying their welcome. They were never really welcomed by the po-faced cognoscenti anyway. Fuck them. And fuck BYOP for ending before I could see them. I have to get all their singles now. Goddamn it, now I’m annoyed.

07. SND4, 5, 6

It’s minimal, but not. It’s better than Villalobos or Pronsato. It’s uber-limited and I own it. It’s not for the faint at heart, or for those seeking either house complacency or an instant fix. It’s mysterious and clever. Maybe too mysterious and clever. But not really. And you can actually dance to it, if you can find somewhere to dance that might play it. It’s cool and awesome and ridiculous at the same time. There’s no artwork. Sometimes the mnml/Boomkat/serious-faced people are right. Sometimes you have to get in on a crazy-limited, annoyingly elitist piece of work. Sometimes none of the above actually matters, those times include when you’re listening to 4, 5, 6. But don’t download it. It’s easy for me to say, I know. That’s why I am saying it.

08. Genghis TronBoard Up the House

I’ve written about this approximately a billion times already, so I’ll keep it brief. And – hey! – maybe come up with some new thoughts on it. So yes, it is more mature and more varied – more subtly dynamic than 2006’s Dead Mountain Mouth. But the binary, all-or-nothing dynamic suited the Tron’s digital metal futurism to a tee. In a way, the more varied sonic spectrum is a step down in artistic success from the black and white the last album presented.

It’s a bit like when Fear Factory released Obsolete, saying it was warmer and had more bass than Demanufacture. But it didn’t work, because the strength of FF was that T-1000 cold, harsh metallicism. They diluted what made them a success without making enough growth in the opposite direction to justify it.

I think Tron did the same thing. It’s a bit more melodic. There are more shades of grey. But it’s a compromise when compared to the confident digital bludgeon of DMM. That said, it’s still fantastic, and the electronic parts of the record have come on in leaps and bounds. And then there’s the monumental ‘Relief’. The next album should be the break-out. You read it here first. They just need to get those fucking remix EPs out of the way.

09. Erykah BaduNew Amerykah Part One (4th World War)

Starting to get a little tired now. It’s bloody new year’s eve! And I’m hungry. Anyway, Erykah rules. I’m sure we can all agree on that much. She rules and she’s just had a reinvention, from earth-mother-hippy to funkatropic, err, hippy, with awesome producers. That’s right, Sa-Ra have got involved in this one. While it might look like a token non-rock choice (although Squarepusher is doing easy listening jazz or dinner party prog, depending on which idiotic hack you read. Then again SND isn't rock either), it’s not that.

It’s just a great album which flows really well. Sa-Ra can do pretty much no wrong as far as I’m concerned, and this bolsters their rep. the non-Sa-Ra stuff is great too. I can’t wait for part two. I should really listen to those Sa-Ra EPs I got a while back, actually. That’ll be a nice new year treat for me. And she’s as coolly, great-singingly hot as ever.

10. Kevin DrummImperial Distortion

Cheating a bit here, as I haven’t listened to the whole thing. But it is about ten days long. Shock horror! Intense noise artist goes ambient! Well it’s not much of a shock as noise and ambient have so much in common. Play an ambient record too loud and it could be Merzbow. Play some Masonna at low levels and it’s pretty much ambient. And noise is ambient in a way by its very nature. And ambient would be noise to people who don’t like it.

Whatevz. There is a musicality to this that can often be missing in ambient. People like to think they can establish a nice sound and hold it for an hour and they have a great album. It doesn’t work like that. This has nice sounds, but only ostensibly. There is a menace to the whole thing. It’s ambient, but in the way that the long-sunken Titanic has atmosphere. It’s the ambience of decay, or a Damoclean sword hanging perilously above your head. It could all come crashing in at any second, you either drowned or crushed. How many metaphors can I mix?!

It’s reminiscent at times of the ambient bits of Through Silver in Blood (especially the start of ‘Locust Star’) which is clearly a winner in my book. A lot of care has been put into this, and it pays off. I like listening to it on the bus. Where a lot of music overpowers your thought processes when you’re out and about, a nice bit of ambient/noise simply augments your reality as it is. And when it’s as gently surreal as this, tha is some augmentation. And there’s apparently a twist at the end…

So that’s it. More to come at some point. More round-up, reviews, opinion and projects that never come to fruition. Have a boss 2009!

* [edit: 1 March 2009] Sorted!

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