Hello all! I’m spending a lazy Chrismas Eve afternoon in front of the telly, after a fairly traumatic visit to the supermarket at lunchtime. With time on my hands and thoughts turning towards the end of the year, I thought I would round up a subjective and probably partial list of my favourite releases of 2008 (with a hat tip to Information Overlord!). I’m also throwing in an older record I discovered, just because.
Portishead: Third. The wait for this was reaching My Bloody Valentine-esque proportions, and while MBV have yet to release any new material, Portishead vindicated the wait. They did so by ditching most of what made them famous in the first place, namely the filmic, down beat hip hop (avoiding the “t” word there!) of their first 2 albums. Instead they emphasised the mood of dread that was present but muted in those records, and brought Beth Gibbon’s keening vocals to the fore. This, combined with some startling production (see “Machine Gun” in particular), makes for a gloomy yet compulsive listen.
Optimo: Sleepwalk. Optimo are my favourite DJ team (check out Psyche Out and Walkabout), and they specialise in non-cheesy 2 Many Djs type stuff, but this is something a little different. The mix is a back to mine affair of downbeat stuff, ranging from bleepy Krautrock and ambient to low-key electro and Ethiopian jazz. The result is somnolent but seductive, working as chill out music it’s okay to chill out to.
The Hold Steady: Stay Positive. Better than their last record, Boys and Girls in America, but not quite up to the standard of their masterpiece Separation Sunday, Stay Positive maintains the high quality of their releases. If this sounds like faint praise, it’s not meant to be; this record is great, plotting a path between the aforementioned shimmering stadium rock of Boys… and the raddled, hard rocking Separation Sunday. I particular like The Hold Steady when they sound quiet and dissipated, allowing Craig Finn’s lyrics to come to the fore, and the closing track “Slapped Actress” does this, sounding sad and regretful, the musical embodiment of the morning after the night before.
No Age: Nouns. Part of the resurgence in lo-fi noise rock that seemed to happen during 2008, No Age are a couple of LA skate punks who turn out melody-filled, pounding shoegaze/ punk rock. Nouns is the apotheosis of their sound, and despite being ragged and aggressive it is supremely addictive, revelling as it does in being young and making a great big noise.
Girl Talk: Feed the Animals. Certain critics have decried this as music for people with ADD, but I think that’s unfair. Or at least it’s only fair if you’re not that much into fun, which Girl Talk delivers in spades. The record mashes up a huge number of tracks, ranging from hip hop to classic rock to chart pop, creating completely original compositions. The intellectual property implications of this are perhaps questionable, but the results are fascinating and hugely listenable, if a little like eating too much chocolate gateau in one go.
Nas: Illmatic. A hip hop landmark from 1994, Nas’ debut Illmatic has apparently never been topped by him, and remains an all-time classic. It’s well worth this tag; the lyrics are incredible, possibly only matched in my experience by a few releases by the Wu-Tang Clan, and the beats (by, among others, DJ Premier and Large Professor) just about define mid-90s hip hop. It’s also unusually short for a hip hop album, coming in at under 40 minutes. I was amazed at how damn good this record is, and sorry that I hadn’t heard it much, much sooner.
Honourable mentions of other 2008 stuff: Cut Copy’s “In Ghost Colours”, Justin Robertson’s “Art of Acid” mix, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik’s “German Only” mix of Krautrock and other teutonic weirdness, Fuck Button’s “Street Horrsing” (great live!), Fleet Foxes’ S/T.
Merry Xmas and a happy New Year!