Thursday, December 11, 2008

Albums of 2008

2008 has been an odd year for me in terms of my relationship with music. At the tail-end of 2007 I bought a house and then Stylus shut up shop in pretty quick succession. This year I’ve written a couple of things for DiS, started this blog, and… pretty much nothing else. I’ve also been conspicuous by my absence from even this venture you’re reading right now over the last couple of months; I’ve barely written a thing in 2008. I’ve not listened to much new music, either. Or old music, for that matter.

Why? Domestic bliss, for one. Lack of interest, for another. Becoming an interior design whore, for a third (a side-effect of owning a house, I suspect). Kittens. Cooking. Credit crunch. In late October a new digital SLR camera that seriously rekindled a love affair with photography. All sorts of things. Plus, maybe, just maybe, a (whisper it) shitty year for music.

There, I said it.

I normally react badly to people saying things like that, and trot out “you have to dig, there’s always good stuff around if you look for it” statements. Every year is as good as every other year, cos you always have new old stuff to discover, too. But maybe this year really was poor?

Nah, that’s still a crock. If I’d looked hard enough, invested enough, I’d have got rewards. I just… got old. Perhaps.

But… that doesn’t seem quite right, either. Mike TD is older than me and far more enthused, and just as into photography and interior design too, I suspect. So there must be something…

I want to understand my apathy better. Maybe it’s just mourning Stylus. Maybe it’s all the above and then some.

So I’ve decided to write about some “significant” albums from 2008, in order to try and understand the year, and my relationship to its music, a little better. And I’ll do that with a corny list.

Only this isn’t a list; it’s not in any order, for a start. Really it isn’t – I C&P’d a big chunk from the NME list a couple of posts back (deleting all the ones I’d either not heard of or not heard at all), and the rest from my Amazon List memory aids. This is… a hodge-podge.


MGMT Oracular Spectacular
Lots of people whose taste I respect were muttering about this early doors, and piqued my interest. Then I found out Friddmann produced and mixed it, and that it was a big, wave-hammered sonic mess. I don’t think I’ve consciously heard a note of it since; if I have, I certainly can’t remember it. This may well be my loss (this was NME’s album of 2008, and is cropping up high on pretty much every other mainstream / indie list I’ve seen), but, after nearly three years of banging on about compression and sound quality, I really can’t be arsed anymore.

Insert long-winded, wrong-headed rant about Blu-Ray being pointless here.

TV on the Radio Dear Science
As above, except that I did download and listen to this, and, obviously, Friddmann wasn’t involved. A populist breakthrough to some. A predictably dull move away from what made them at all interesting to me.

Glasvegas Glasvegas
Every single note I’ve heard from this, which admittedly is not that many (thankfully), has been absolutely fucking wretched. How on earth did this get as much hype as it did?

Vampire Weekend Vampire Weekend
This, on the other hand, I have thoroughly enjoyed. Yes, it’s not quite up to my rigorous sonic-fascist standards, BUT… it uses its dynamics (and, more importantly, space) well, the songs are hooky, good-natured, pleasant, clever enough to want to listen to again. Is it ideologically sound to listen to (gasp) middle class kids in Lacoste play at cod-afrobeat? Who fucking cares.

Foals Antidotes
Dave Sitek, TVotR’s producer dude, had his handiwork pretty much erased from this. It’s probably better for it. I quite liked it. Not massively, though. Yes, I watch Skins, but very much as a nearly-30-something voyeur. There are… hints at art, perhaps… in this, enough to make it seem worthwhile, rather than just snotty-nosed.

Kings of Leon Only by the Night
At times I’ve thought about picking this up, having heard lots of good things about it. Em has too. But something stops me. I like to think it’s the fact that, however close I may feel I’ve got to giving up on music, I’m not there yet. I don’t drive a Mondeo. I’m not a sales rep.

Fleet Foxes Fleet Foxes
Pretty, occasionally transcendent, but just a little hollow. If the upbeat side of the EP and the first few songs on this had been continued, rather than abandoned in favour of samey aesthetic prettiness torpor, it might have been great. The people putting this at number one in their lists for 2008 aren’t far from the Kings of Leon acolytes, I suspect. Yes, you’re still into music. No, it’s not terribly amazing music.

Elbow The Seldom Seen Kid
Do I feel the same way about this? Are Elbow the British KoL or Fleet Foxes? Or are they something else? Unlike Snow Patrol they prove that you can go to Polydor after being an interesting little indie band and NOT have your personality sucked out entirely (although, to be fair, SP managed at least one good album for Polydor before becoming entirely hollow and reprehensible). Live they were awesome. It’s heartening that “Grounds For Divorce” has become so ubiquitous. It’s doubly heartening that the record sounds so good. But still there’s a sensation that they’re not quite… the same thing as they once were. Which, of course, they shouldn’t be; because what fun, or use, or joy, or worth, is stasis?

Late Of The Pier Fantasy Black Channel

Spiritualized Songs in A and E
Bits of this make me think they still matter to me. Most other bits are fucking boring.

Lightspeed Champion Falling Off The Lavender Bridge
This guy was in Test Icicles. I think I met him once. I know people who love this. But he was in Test Icicles, so I can’t even approach it.

Oasis Dig Out Your Soul
The single made me think, for four minutes, that this might be worth bothering with. It’s not.

Bon Iver For Emma, Forever Ago
This is on 4AD and an awful, awful lot of people, some of whom have taste I can respect, have said wonderful, loving things about it. And so I bought it, and hoped it would be beautiful. And it was really dull fake folk.

Portishead Third
Seemed like a revelation, an explosion, nuclear fallout, something important and profound. Probably would do still if I played it now. But it’s too bleak, perhaps, to play at all. It’s like Threads, more talked about and through of than experienced. Unless you’re into self-flagellation.

The Verve Forth
NME only put this after Portishead in their list for shits and giggles. Bits are promising, if you’re mental. But really, this is like… Mandy going back into Hollyoaks; sad, pathetic. “Didn’t it work out for you in the big wide world? You can always come back with your tail between your legs.” Richard Ashcroft manages to make himself the most hateful man in the world. How? Why? He surely must realise what an unpleasant wanker he seems.

Hercules and Love Affair Hercules and Love Affair
A track from this came on the Zeppelin the other day, when we were playing a playlist of everything we have from 2008; you know what? It was pretty wicked. Maybe a bit shiny-clean and disco for me to really love, but perfect like a frosted lawn in the morning.

British Sea Power Do You Like Rock Music?
I wanted to like this. But I thought it was shit, I think. I can’t really remember it. I remember broadsheets and similar frothing at the thought it might propel them into Arcade Fire’s league of sales, simply because… well, people always go silly for one album they hope will be a smash that comes out in January. There’s fuck-all else to write about.

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!
I quite enjoyed the title track. Next!

Coldplay Viva La Vida
Oh, it’s this;’s album of the year (according to scrobbles, whatever the fuck they are). It’s… pleasant. Inoffensive. Unremarkable.

Mogwai The Hawk Is Howling
I wanted to like this too, but somehow it never connected for me. “Batcat” and that vaguely Eno-esque one whose name escapes me where good, but really…Mogwai never sound like anything but Mogwai, and Bark Psychosis exist, so why would you bother?

Primal Scream Beautiful Future
How in the name of holy fuck is this in NME’s top 50? Absurd. I heard three songs. They were horrific. Wretched. Their performance on The Culture Show was almost enough to make me burn my LP of XTRMNTR. That’s some free pass they’ve got.

Bloc Party Intimacy
I said pretty nice things about this for DiS. And then I didn’t listen to it again. I very nearly predicted that this would be the case in the review, but then I thought… what if it DOES reward more over time? Fat chance with this bunch of poseurs.

Polar Bear Polar Bear
Now we’re onto the stuff I’ve listed myself rather than just stolen from the NME list. I said very nice things about this for DiS, and probably listened to it more than any other new album this year. But that’s just because… if you’re 29, and own a Wassily Chair, and a Componibili storage unit, then modern British jazz is your default listening, isn’t it?

Shearwater Rook
At points I thought this was the greatest record ever made (mainly that point with the trumpet at the end of “The Snow Leopard”). It’s not, but it is very good. And not as much like Talk Talk as some people think. I’m saddened that it’s not cropped up on more lists. Or any lists, that I’ve seen.

The Notwist The Devil, You & Me
Ditto this, which is a miraculously constructed record of beautiful, subdued songs and exquisite, sensually pleasurable arrangements, that no one gives a fuck about.

The Blessing All Is Yes
More British jazz, a bit more frenetic this time.

Guillemots Red
wtf happened with this? What went wrong? Some of it… maybe all of it… is actually really good. But it landed on its face flatter than… any record since the last promising debut had a left-turn for a follow-up.

Cadence Weapon Afterparty Babies
If I listened to hip hop more, I’d listen to this more. And enjoy it more.

Roots Manuva
Ditto. Except, with this, I can’t even remember what it’s fucking called, which says more about me than it, I think.

Why? Alopecia
Third. Ecept that this guy’s not hip hop, is he?

Youthmovies Good Nature
About 40% of this album is wicked little leftfield indie tunes that makes me go “wow, these guys could be fucking amazing”. Sadly the remaining 60% is bad heavy metal with show-off time signatures and lyrics about Games Workshop games.

The Dø A Mouthful
This is an unexpected little joy, just a little, foreign slice of indie-pop that pushed all the buttons a little, from Lisa Left-Eye Lopez to PJ Harvey to Björk to lots and lots of other things. Apleasure from start to finish.

Four Tet Ringer
Likewise this four track EP by Keiron Hebden, who eschewed folktronica and improvised electronic-jazz to just make some excellent electronic music that might be old-fashioned techno or might be something completely new but which was definitely, definitely, wicked.

Seu Jorge America Brasil
Just. Really. Good.

The Dodos Visiter
Guitars, drums, singing. Enjoyable.

Koushik Out My Window
Caribou’s mate, finally making a debut album, and it being a perfect little distracted pleasure, like sitting in a sunny field and hearing bees buzz and birds chirp.

Scorch Trio Brolt
Mad fucking guitar jazz that I need to buy a real copy of.

I may add more later, if I think of anything else. Am I any closer to understanding why I’ve lost my musical mojo this year? Unsure. If there’s a thread, it’s that the things I’ve enjoyed have been very much about sensual pleasure, about listening rather than taking part…


Steve Mannion said...

well if nothing else you've reminded me to check out The Dø - ta

Yo! MattS! said...

Slime and Reason.

The Q-Tip album is the best album of the year, hands-down. It starts of incredible and just gets more incredibler.

Raw Patrick said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Raw Patrick said...


I don’t like it but the Late of the Pier album isn’t a smashed tuh fuck mess. LJagz needs to rep for it here maybe, but it’s better than Foals as mainstream-future-rock even if it is basically detritus from a Mighty Boosh sketch.

Polar Bear and Shearwater are both great. And you were the one pushing the sounds-like-Talk-Talk line as I remember. For something that does sound a bit like Tx2 check the Autistic Daughters album from this year. You’d dig it.

The Four Tet was surprisingly good. I would never remember it existed unprompted though. I really tried but never dug The Dø.

mark e said...

my fave end of year list.
probably due to me connecting with the sentiments.
2008 is the year i officially gave up the hunt for new, and the new gave up the hunt for me.
i cared not.
ta for the reminder re four tet - this is one i need to track down.

Marcello Carlin said...

Agree with much of what Nick says here (except for Bon Iver, Coldplay and BSP).

Snap (and probably cursory) diagnosis, however: needs to get out of the indie comfort zone.

The BiA EoY albums shortlist currently is in excess of 200 but almost none of it is coming from this area of music.

Wayne said...

I deleted my copy of TV on the Radio first, when I needed some disk space. That's what I thought of it.

John Blonde said...

There isn't a critic alive that mentioned The Breeders or Wire albums from '08. What a shame since they were easily two of the best. In a splintered world of endless choices is everybody really only listening to the same 20 records?