It's a cold Thursday in the city of brotherly love and we're exactly 7 days from Christmas. While there's no real news to report, it's time to start the end of the year festivities while I have some time. Unfortunately, I'll only be doing a music list this year. I'm not sure what really happened, but 2008 saw me seeing little to no movies. I saw The Dark Night and that was outstanding, easily one of the best super hero movies ever made. I saw others as well, but trying to appraise the year's films wouldn't be fair because I just didn't see that many.
Musically though, 2008 was as my editor in chief would say, "A motherfucker man!" A lot came and went, but a lot stuck around as well. There were some comebacks both successful (Portishead, My Bloody Valentine) and failed (The Verve) and plenty of new faces that'll keep those who already love music talking (for those just coming to music, there's plenty of inspiration for further exploration). As with 2007, music that made it easy to move the feet was the predominant order of the day, but thinking man's art played a stellar role from where I stand. There were out and out rockers as well as socially conscious club bangers. The only genre for me that seemed not to have a huge presence at the party was hip hop. Sure, Kanye brought out another fantastic album in 808s & Heartbreak, but anyone who's made that journey knows it's not a hip hop album. The Roots brought out the equally awesome Rising Down, but that wasn't without its shortcomings. The only really long lasting hip hop impression for me came from an oldie but a goodie. You'll just have to wait and see.
Because I was seemingly drowned in good music to listen to this year, I've got a couple lists. First is a group of albums that really burned bright and made an impression that either didn't sustain for long or I just didn't have enough time with the album between when I heard it and now. In any other past year, these might've really been top contenders, but alas, 2008 just wasn't to be for them in my opinion (as if that ever mattered anyway). Here's my first grouping of 2008 talking points.
In No Particular Order:
Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend
This album has everything in its right place in such a manner that it should be criminal. Many critics seem to want to give this album more sophistication that it deserves. Then again, maybe I'm the only philistine in the room. There are plenty of great songs here from "Oxford Comma," "A-Punk," and "Mansard Roof" to "Walcott" and "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa" that'll welcome repeat listens. As much as I hate to do it, I have to agree with what Popmatters said. They're an equally bouncy, just as indifferent New York replacement of The Strokes. Instead of channeling 60s era garage, they're aiming at Graceland-era Paul Simon and nailing it in a way that's nowhere near derivative and smacks the bullseye of astuteness. I must say that, if any of that is to be regarded as true then let's just hope they make better choices than the band they replaced. If possible, then long may it continue. Hopefully the next time around won't see the album's quality suffocate in the hype of the blogosphere.
Girl Talk - Feed the Animals
A mere minutes into this album, the phrase "You've got a face perfect for radio" came to mind. Switch a couple things around and it fits perfectly. This is an album made for music videos. Just check out some of the videos on YouTube and you'll see what I mean. Girl Talk is definitely not a bad mash-up man because this album is full of head-knodding, dancefloor filling tunes. This album does raise the question, "Where does creative sampling end and copyright infringement begin?" Not that I think this album shouldn't exist, but is this great music in itself or just the mixing and matching of music that was relatively great already? If one doesn't mind-fuck this one too much, it's really entertaining. However, I tend to do that a lot.
British Sea Power - Do You Like Rock Music?
Since I started writing about music in 2005 (holy shit! has it really been 3 years?), I've fallen into the same trap several times. I guess it's easy when you're a fan of a band and try to forgive them a lot. While I thoroughly loved this album upon first few listens, by the time it came time for me to review it, all of its flaws really came to the fore. I really have to talk about it though because I still feel it's worth a shot for anyone who likes robust, arena-size guitars and has a penchant for huge, sweeping ideals. BSP really got their art-rock/stadium pop schizophrenia to sonically work together, but history repeated itself here. With The Decline of British Sea Power, convention got the shaft. With Open Season, many say it was their artistic integrity that got the boot. In gaining both of those back for Do You Like Rock Music?, I think it was the lyrics that were left at home.
The Hold Steady - Stay Positive
If there was ever an album more workman-like this year, I missed it completely. It seems constantly vogue for a band to really flash up, over-conceptualize and be as hyper-literate as possible for them to get any credit. I came really late to this album this year and completely missed their 06 effort Boys and Girls in America. This is the living, breathing article that proves it's okay to just be good at what you can do and not necessarily explore what you cannot. The Hold Steady embody there name with their muscular brand of alt-rock that uses straight talk rather than extended metaphors and euphemisms. Had I not only had a week with this album, it would've made the main list for sure.
Osborne - Osborne
This is another sad casualty of me arriving late at a party. Sadly, that tardiness cost another album entry into my final list for 2008. Osborne's self-titled debut would be another shoe-in if I'd come to it earlier. This one I've only had for a day. That's how good I think it is. What starts with a droning, minimalist, pseudo-Kraftwerk epic consistently grows and evolves over 15 tracks. The end result, in my opinion, plays like an after party for a Hercules and Love Affair show. Some may still want to dance and others may just want to chill and this is a solution that can satiate both of those needs with plenty to spare. The major striking point on this album is its construction. With its beginning in "16th Stage" described above, every additional cut seems to add something, creating the idea of watching an architect build or painter paint. While other album's are louder or more stylistically diverse, this disc plays like its at peace with itself and hopes you enjoy the sounds as well.
Fennesz - Black Sea
When someone has taken the kind of scholarly approach to listening to music that I have (many claim to have, but few can back it up), discovering something totally new doesn't nearly stack up against discovering something you've missed. Fennesz has been around for a long time and Black Sea is my first entry into his oeurve. It's also an album that makes me want to see what else he's done. Black Sea is not really a collection of songs so much, but more like a sonic collage that feels like transmissions or audible signals from either the far reaches of the universe or some post-apocalyptic future. While the melodies can create a sublimely contemplative atmosphere for the listener, I found myself getting lost in the static that often clutters or even buries them. It reminded me of waking after dream to find yourself in front of a snowy TV, not quite sure where I'm at but being able to still find my bed. I always wondered how that could sound musically, Fennesz provides a stunning answer.
DJ/Rupture - Uproot
Very much in the vein of Fennesz, I was completely unaware of DJ/Rupture before Uproot. I've not really expressed it within this blog, but I'm not a fan of modern reggae at all. It almost seems like it's been in a series of holding patterns since the 80s. However, this year brought a lot new entries for me into what's going on in the genre. Now, this is NOT a reggae album, but a suite of beats and melodies with true international feel. The dubstep and reggae vibes permeating this LP make the Jamaican musical pastime the most immediately identifiable sound, but not the only one. For me, this album is the natural evolution of the downtempo/chill-out electronica culture that painted itself into a corner a couple of years ago when the likes of Thievery Corporation and others seemingly ran out of ideas (but not quality). Uproot is a complete package with tranquil beauty and a bit of muscle perfectly balanced and coalesced into a thought-provoking package.
Wale - A Mixtape About Nothing
Throughout junior high and high school, Seinfeld seemed to catch hold of my peers in a weird way with each passing year. I took it upon myself, as I did many other aspects of those years in my life, to arbitrarily go against the grain and refuse to like it. In the age of DVR, I've come to see the error of my ways. Oddly enough, hearing Wale's Mixtape About Nothing was the strongest catalyst. While those who know me well will attest, I really do love hip hop as a way of life, an art form and a genre, I don't pretend to be a part of it nor does it hold too heavy of an influence over me. However, Wale's album struck a chord with me for its sheer artistry and style. The opener, which samples the Jonathan Wolff theme to the show, features the MC delivering smart rhymes in the manner of the titular character's "What's the deal with..." way of beginning a joke. While I can't say his flow is the most intricate on the market, he seems to have the Talib Kweli knowledge of self. He speaks about not being signed, racism and a myriad of intra personal topics and coalesces them into his own transformation of the sitcom that even has an appearance from Julia Louise Dreyfus (thank god she doesn't rap though).