Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Favourites of 2008: 20 - 11

Continuing from where we left off, here are those that were clearly excellent releases this year but couldn't quite push their way into my top 10............

20 - Late of the Pier - Fantasy Black Channel
This is one bizarre, yet thoroughly satisfying, listen. It starts off by coming on like the Clangers national anthem, before moving into driving electronica numbers laden with synth effects. The album continues this way throughout, referencing any number of influences from The Klaxons and Mars Volta through Depeche Mode and New Order. Highlights include the fluctuating jungle stomp of The Bears Are Coming and the vigorous attack of Focker but in truth the whole headfucking effort needs to be heard in order to fully appreciate it. Mad prof genius.

19 - Forward, Russia - Life Processes
Going all standard for this release, FR decided that actual song names - rather than Give Me a Wall's arbitrary numbers - would be fine this time. How contemporary. The style is still jagged and raw, but with slightly more emphasis on melody, allowing for beauties like Spanish Triangles. The off kilter rocking numbers are still present too and the combination makes for an improved and highly coherent listen.

18 - Black Mountain - In the Future
About this time last year I was obsessively looking at the Jan '08 release schedule to see what might be worth picking up, when I downloaded Tyrants from this bad boy. It gave me the impression that I'd be buying a Sabbath-worshipping effort by a bunch of stoner long hairs. One member does fulfil that criterion, but the album from whence that track came is more varied than anything I could have imagined. Although it suffers a little for this, being too eclectically adventurous in places, they do create some exciting and dynamic tunes within it. Never knowing quite where they're going to go is also one of the positives as you move from track to track.

17 - Meshuggah - obZen
Not something you can simply put on as background music, sure, but Meshuggah deliver a technically brilliant and sonically challenging master class with obZen. It's a pleasure to have something so heavy, brutal and yet arse clenchingly tight to compare with Opeth's more organic but equally gifted Watershed in the same year. Although this doesn't come out on top, it's a more than worthy competitor.

16 - Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds - Dig, Lazarus Dig!!!
I got into the double album Abbatoir Blues/Lyre of Orpheus thanks to a friendly recommendation earlier this year, then had to follow up with this one. The title track is a typically brilliant storytelling effort, with Cave's trademark voice giving it the required biblical undertones. The album as a whole maybe doesn't compete with earlier releases but retains the high standard expected from a man with so much great material already out there.

15 - Okkervil River - The Stand Ins
Whilst not quite as immediately engaging as last year's The Stage Names, this one is nonetheless chock full of uptempo acoustic gems. They make it seem so effortless, pulling out deceptively simple tunes that lodge in your mind and release themselves via a slight hum later on, long after you've turned off the iPod. The Stage Names had more variety and as such was a more complete album, but this is still a worthy companion.

14 - The Gaslight Anthem - The '59 Sound
I avoided these folks for months due to their status of Kerrang! cover band and a strange link I had between them and an entirely separate emo band with Anthem in their name. More fool me! This is a terrific slice of nostalgiac, gritty rock music that revels in worshipping another time, specifically that of Bruce Springsteen's hey day. The huge choruses are undeniable and catchy as the sniffles in this freezing season we currently pass through. Check out Old White Lincoln and the title track for a couple of prime examples. Then buy the album on the back of them, because the whole kit and kaboodle fits together to make the big tunes sound even better.

13 - Portishead - Third
As a Bristol kid growing up - and actually living in the naff little town from whence their name derives - a new Portishead release had me all a flutter after all these years. My trip-hop crown will always go to Massive Attack, though Portishead came some significant yards with this engrossing return to the scene. They conjure up the expected low-end, symphonic grooves that made previous albums so good, then add a little bit of extra attitude to really push home their return. It sounds more urgent, more certain than I remember them, nowhere more so than the aptly titled We Carry On, which almost dares you to challenge them for trying their hand again. Then there's the almighty Machine Gun, which is sure to be one of the first songs on playlists worldwide for this year.

12 - vessels - White Fields & Open Devices
After downloading the Yuki EP last year I was wondering when vessels would gather enough material for a full release. Thankfully, the answer was 2008. This is a stunning amalgamation of both the foremost post-rocking Texans (Explosions in the Sky, This Will Destroy You), epic soundscape bands like Sigur Ros, and the queer electronic noodlings of Battles. All these great reference points are insufficient, however, in describing quite how involving and dynamic a listen this album is. Best pick up a copy and experience it for yourself, I'd say.

11 - 36 Crazyfists -
The Tide & Its Takers
There's not much to say about 36CF that hasn't been covered by previous album reviews. Yes, they have a contemporary metal sound with a touch of core thrown in here and there for good measure. Yes, the tremolo-affected vocals of Brock Lindow are a love them or loathe them affair. No, this doesn't sound entirely different from the last two efforts. But all of this is what I love about the band. I partially write them off after hearing a new song or two, thinking "it sounds like a lesser version of the last one", then see them live - for this is their natural environment and one in which they demolish all before them - and buy the album the next day. They wrote unbelievably affecting and positively uplifting songs, to my mind, and they always make me react. I have so many good memories and important lyrics linked to these guys that I almost feel bad for not jumping them higher on the list. At the end of the day it is still a good but similar album, though, and I'll add Absent Are the Saints and We Gave It Hell to my list of 'must-mosh' songs when I next see them live.

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