Saturday, December 20, 2008

2008: Always look on the bright side

Albums I got this year that I liked the best:
{Those that have already been covered will receive shorter blurbs to avoid repetition.}

Doremi Fasol Latido - Hawkwind
Fuck. I either bought this at the end of last year or the very beginning of this one. Whatever - it took me until July to give this one a proper spin. It's an overgrown masterpiece that lives somewhere in between psychedelia, prog, and early punk with some fucking amazing songs with silly lyrics: "Brainstorm," "Space is Deep" and "Time We Left This World Today." Blast off with Hawkwind.

Distortion - The Magnetic Fields*
Stephin Merritt pissed off a lot of people by making an extremely monochromatic album after the "variety-show" style 69 Love Songs and i, an album people only started liking two years after its release. Those who recognize the songcraft beneath the impressive wall of noise he built around himself are vindicated once again - this is yet another amazing collection of songs about despair, drinking, murder and occasionally, love. You know, pop music.

- The Clean
This year was my initiation into Kiwi-pop. I'm not saving up for my ticket down under yet, but in the meantime I can bliss out to the 40 or so songs on The Clean's fairly comprehensive career retrospective, which contains their first EPs with outtakes that you pretty much can't find anywhere else - thus making this essential for anyone even remotely interested. You can hear them transition to an experimental pastoral band in disc 2 or just keep jamming to the instant classics from the band's early days. Either way, this is amazing stuff.

Wasps' Nests - The 6ths
The Mag. Flds. played a couple very good songs off this record when I saw them play a paradoxically acoustic set at the so-called "Noise Pop" festival this year, so I shelled out 7 bucks to get this one used. After several listens, it clearly stands out as one of Merritt's lesser known masterpieces. Featuring half independent music greats (Lou Barlow, Mac McCaughan, Dean Wareham, Georgia Hubley, Chris Knox, Robert Scott) and half people that promptly fell off the radar (almost everyone else), Merritt's occasionally bleak, occasionally ecstatic gems are fleshed out into universality in true cabaret style. Highly recommended.

- Black Francis*
He's back. Begun as a session for a single B-side, CT/FB/BF couldn't help himself and jizzed out seven great new songs with punk furor and abandon. The best follow-up we could have hoped for to last year's brilliant Bluefinger (which I have come to realize does not contain one bum song on it), this EP or mini-album or whatever it is only reinforces Mr. Thompson's renewed songwriting vitality. Hope that "Golem" sountrack is just as delicious.

Mountain Battles - The Breeders*
Listen to this one back to back with SVNFINGRS and you can trick yourself into thinking you're hearing the new Pixies album. Sorta. The Breeders took almost as long to make this as they did for the so-so Title TK but this time, actually WORKED on an album for most of that waiting period. Pay off: their best album to date, which encompasses folk, Mexican crooning, Microphones-esque musings and oh yeah, indie-rock - but still sounds incredibly cohesive, with a dark enigmatic cloak over the proceedings. Are the Breeders grappling with mortality? Best to check this one out and decide for yourself.

Imperial Wax Solvent - The Fall*
Mark E. Smith continues to be my personal hero by living against all odds. Luckily, he also makes great records that aren't just testaments to his longevity or increasingly cliched attitude. One of his best albums this decade (chuckle), he's exploring new textures in the Fall, having learned a few tricks from his time in Mouse On Mars collab. Von Sudenfed. The band is now just one big rhythm machine to be cut up with Smith raving in sliced digital audio. Throw on a terrible Groundhogs cover ("Strange Town") and MES has done well for himself again in 2008.

(Unnamed Collection) - Moondog
This stuff will be on the classical stations in 100 years. Until then, you can look really cool by getting into one of the most important composers of the 20th century before everyone else.

Bull of the Woods - 13th Floor Elevators
Coulda been their best album - if only, if only. Instead, we'll just settle for this being a great album.

Third/Sister Lovers, Live - Big Star
Live is raw pop beauty, Third is pop gone shut-in. Big Star is pop that never popped but lives on in the hearts & minds of those that know better.

The Climaxxx - Sex-S*
Recorded in glorious laptop jizzery, Sex-S' debut album is inconsistent, adolescent and also fucking hilarious with surprisingly great beats. New anthems like "Toppin'," "Demons," and "Luxury" have catchy enough choruses to stick in your craw forever but Sex-S' scatological sensibility and bizarre free-association provoke return listens time and again. Also, it's free (if you missed the limited-edition CD-R only available at Pehrspace). 

Like Flies on Sherbert - Alex Chilton
Punky southern critically acclaimed drunk makes messy album and it still sounds great thirty years later after the idiots that derided it said their peace. Let "My Rival" continue to lead us into a better musical future.

Daddy's Highway - The Bats
The Bats have a great thing, so it's good that they do it over and over, because it never gets old to me. Boy-girl harmonies, gorgeous-sounding rhythm guitars, a REALLY FUCKING good bassist whose tone recalls a distorted, plucked piano and endless plaintive hooks. Those that don't feel the same are those that call this album too long or repetitious. Daddy's Highway is a binge fix of pop lovin' that lasts an hour but pulls at my heart strings hard enough to stay with me long afterward.

Introduction - The Red Krayola
Art-rockers! Don't live fast, die young: 50-somethings can still rock and be weird AND make listenable, catchy tracks so let's celebrate Red Krayola's best (in my estimation) album in their autumn.

Corky's Debt to His Father - Mayo Thompson
Some things are classics waiting for you to discover them, and aren't on every fucking "Top Albums of All Time" list. This is one of them.

California Gold - Retarded Muppit Farm*
Are RMF maturing? Even when they pretend to be child molesters ("Where Have All The Children Gone?") it's done in measured, well-developed verses that build the tension to a masterful climax. Sonically, it's their best yet, with the Casio and Yamaha backing tracks bathing in digital reverb and increased guitar shading. And the best songs are nothing short of monster hits, particularly "Never Gonna Leave You Baby" and "Love Will Take a Back Seat." Call it their "safe for work album" (almost) and one of the year's most rewarding ones.

Bound to Lose (DVD) - Holy Modal Rounders
As good as a new Holy Modal Rounders album, we get glimpses into the strange journey that has been the lives of Stampfel & Weber. Cross your fingers for yet another reunion.

Kimono My House, No. 1 In Heaven - Sparks
Sparks Sparks Sparks. What can one say about Sparks that can't be said better by their music? I often say "Like Queen but far meaner and wittier," but that still feels like selling them short. Kimono My House is glam but not, completely Wagnerian in scope, as if it were trying to outdo Phil Spector with a five-piece band. No. 1 in Heaven, with its aerosol-can production, is much more danceable and coked-up, a style that fits the Mael brothers perfectly. Just go listen to these already - trying to describe a band this great makes me feel stupid.

The Splinters - The Splinters*
I wrote a very long entry below on this six-song EP, which should say it all. Best new band this year.

Woman's Gotta Have It - Cornershop
Took me a while to pick this one up (it was released in '95 and I've been listening to this band since '00), but it still sounds pretty fresh, considering how tired the genre-world-music blend cliche has become. Cornershop might be the most naive-sounding band of all time, and their music is frequently stripped naked, but these qualities might be why their records survive (to me at least, people seem to laugh when I tell them I like this band). Barely any bass on this extremely fun and low-key record, but plenty of half VU, half Pussy Galore, half something else (150%) gems on here - plus some Punjabi thrown in for good measure. You can get this one for $5 like I did and see for yourself, but Cornershop always win me over.

* = released this year.

Next up: fave. songs, best shows, etc.

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