Sunday, January 04, 2009

Albums of 2008

Guess it's that time of year again. This is more of a list of everything I've listened to (at least the stuff that made a big enough impression on me to be listworthy)--I'm not really following new music close enough to have to narrow the list down. But hey, I'm 40, I should get credit for listening to this much stuff, when I could just spend the rest of my life looking for obscure blues, punk and hip hop records.

Of Montreal - Skeletal Lamping

Somehow, the album I keep coming back to this year is this art-rock concept album that invokes the day-glo hysteria of gay disco filtered through a thousand hooks. Skeletal Lamping is a hillarious collection of sex songs (I can't remember another album with this many quotable one-liners), but it's not quite the horny silliness of Beck's Midnight Vultures. The characters that inhabit these songs all have unique neurotic hang-ups. It's as if Shortbus had been made into a musical. The fragmented song-structures could have resulted in an annoying prog rock opera, but by attaching them to a great beat (the disco thump is not really constant, but you get the impression that it is), it ends up feeling more like a long DJ mix (one that includes bits of Prince, Bowie, Queen, The Beach Boys and Duran Duran). Much more satisfying than Girl Talk.

The Matthew Herbert Big Band - There's Me and There's You

This album has a great sound that at first reminded me of Dean Elliot's Zounds, What Sounds! After doing a little research, I found out that Herbert is actually some big deal guy in electronic music, and the hron arrangements are built around his industrial samples rather than the other way around, which actually makes it even more interesting (this negative review from Pitchfork fills you in on some of the signifigances of the samples, which I suppose is information I could have gotten from the liner notes if I had bought the CD instead of downloading from eMusic--more on this in a minute). Lyrically, it's one of the few contemporary albums to really engage with our political landscape, from the criticism of the media in the opening track, "The Story" ("Read nothing about it") to the finale of "Just Swing," a chipper tune that gives voice to Bush-era fundamentalism: "Forget those silly facts and things." Eska Mtungwazi's Ella-esque vocals give the whole thing a classic feeling. Perfect sounds for a New Year's Eve party.

The Drive-By Truckers - Brighter Than Creation's Dark

This album feels like a move into the next phase of their career, a bit more mellow, but also more confident. Compared to the fiery performances on, say, The Dirty South, the Truckers here sound like a band with nothing to prove, and that confidence allows them to pull off an album that should, by all rights, be just too damn long. It's not that every song is a winner, but the album is paced so well that you never feel it's length (saving the masterpiece "A Ghost to Most" for the end is a particularly smart move). Mike Cooley writes great songs so routinely that it's hard to see them as remarkable, but he outdoes himself not only with "Ghost", but with "Lisa's Birthday" (a perfect Nashvile country song, right down to John Neff's low-register steel guitar solo), "Three Dimes Down" ("while chicken wing puke eats the candy apple read off your Corvette"--that line alone should qualify this album for my top 10) and "Sunrise in Las Vegas". Meanwhile, Patterson Hood has perfected his own storytelling song style, particularly on "The Opening Act," probably Hood's best song outside of the rowdy southern rock style he most excels at. It's the kind of song you'd want to hear on a Waffle House jukebox at four in the morning. And then there's Shonna, stepping into the third singer-songwriter spot vacated by her own ex Jason Isbell. Shonna's got a beautiful singing voice, and it's that voice rather than her songwriting skills that makes "I'm Sorry Houston" good and "Purgatory Line" great (sorry, I just can't get with "Homefield Advantage," which sounds like some bad Melissa Ethridge shit), but there's definitely potential there.

Various Artists - Como Now

I'm hesitant to write about this, because if I start talking about how this is "the real, deep shit" I'll end up coming off as the classic White Guy Fetishizing Black Culture, but man, this collection of a capella gospel newly recorded in Pinellas County, Mississippi is incredibly powerful stuff. When I listen to "Move Upstairs," I can totally hear how it would sound with drums and bass, and it would really rock, but it wouldn't rock as much as it does a capella.

Deerhoof - Offend Maggie

Deerhoof don't have the kind of easily traceable career arc that, say, Sonic Youth had in their first decade, but there's definitely a consistent move toward being more ear-friendly. Their song structures are still confounding, but there are little bits you can hold onto now, like the massive riff in "The Sound and Music of Love," the Jimmy Page/Fairport Convention 12-string in "Offend Maggie", or the funky beat in "Fresh Born." "Snoopy Waves" has what sounds like a harmonica but could just be a distorted guitar. Either way, although the song is as far from blues pop music can get, you get the feeling of "blues" from that sound, and it makes the weirdness go down easier.

Erykah Badu - Amerykahn Promise Part 1 - World War Four

I'm so happy that Eykah didn't lose her edge and become a "normal" R&B singer. This album is as weird and eclectic as anything out there, and even near the end where she throws a few slow jams in (I'll amdit that I just don't like this kind of song), I'm willing to stick with it because "The Healer" and "The Cell" are so freakin' cool. (I tried uploading "The Cell," but since I got it from iTunes, I guess it's got that DMR shit on it, so I posted a video of "The Healer" instead. Here's the closest thing I could find to a video of "The Cell.")

V/A - Nigeria 70: Lagos Jump
V/A - Calypsoul 70

I wrote about Nigeria 70 earlier this year. Calypsoul is a similar collection covering 70's funk from the Carribean and Bahamas. Funky steel drums, carnivale rave-ups, a little bit of reggae and a lot of drum breaks. These comps are really revealing to me the limits of having an eMusic account, because here I have these two great comps with no liner notes, so I know nothing about any of the bands included within (including, in the case of Calypsoul, the island of origin for each tune). The wacked-out song I posted above is "Guanavaco" by Marius Cutler.

The Heliocentrics - Out There

Psychedelic space rock, funky beats, Man...Or Astroman?-ish samples. This is good, funky stuff. Check out those tight horn parts on "Sirius B"!

Beck - Modern Guilt

What can I say? It's Beck. I love everything Beck does. My favorite Beck is the funky Beck of Odelay, Midnight Vultures and Guero. I thought this would be more funky Beck, because it was produced by Danger Mouse. It's not, but it's a great collection of vaguely 60's-ish pop tunes with a nice, warm feeling. The Information was a much more interesting album, but it was such a mess that I couldn't really grab onto anything, so the clean lines and distinct songs on this album are a welcome change-up.

DJ/rupture - Uproot
I had this placed much higher on my list at first, but after repeated listens, there are some really boring stretches in there. I like the swampy feel of this dub mix, reminds me of the symphony of frogs and crickets you could hear at night at my relatives houses in Okechobee. A good chill-out mix to accompany MIA's Kaya. Sticking "Brooklyn Anthem" near the end to liven things up was an excellent choice.

Mitch Hedberg - Do You Believe in Gosh?
This posthumous set is actually my favorite Mitch release. He seems both looser and tighter. I suspect this was not recorded with the intention of being the next Mitch Hedberg album (again, I'm lost without liner notes), so he treats it more like a regular night of road comedy, and fucks around just enough to make it interesting. Mitch dealing with a heckler in the above clip is the funniest part of the record.

Q-Tip - The Rennaisance
God, that bass on "ManWomanBoogie" is like a wet dream. So nice. I'm not even sure what I like about this album. It's not like Tip is breaking any new ground here, or outdoing himself in any way, but it just hits the ears very nicely. I should also mention that I love maybe half of that Nas album.


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