Sunday, 28 December 2008

Favourites of 2008: Random Numbers

Right so, I've re-listened to about as many albums from this year as I'm realistically going to fit in before the end, so I feel happy kicking off the list countdown efforts.

Carol is one of Pitchfork's less eloquent reviewers

It turns out there are 32 discs I can't be leaving off this time around, some distance short of the round 50 that I managed last year. There were still more 2007 releases that I came across early this year, so that list could have been expanded still further. This year I've found to be much more patchy. Without doubt, there have been some cracking releases, it's just that they've either all come in a glut (at least for me personally) or have been very disparate styles. That has plus points but the resounding feeling at this point is that '08 was very unbalanced and not entirely satisfying musically. I put this down to two factors:

1) Personally, I've probably not spent as much time trawling around blogs and review sites to see what's being released. At least a third of the year has been spent in transit to the USA and preparing a move to New York City, which has been great fun but has only recently got me back scouring the release schedules again. I also like to buy the discs that I'm really digging from downloaded mp3's, but cash has been reserved for only the best of the best in the second half of the year.

2) Stylistically, I'm just not feeling some of those genres clogging up the interwebz this year. The lo-fi, quiet folky bands and pop-disco sensations have at best delivered a couple of tunes that have tapped my toes, at worst left me entirely befuddled as to their peculiar charms. All of which is perfectly fine, simply allowing more time for the discs that have staked a claim to be digested fully.

Metal, in its purest form, remains conspicuous by its absence this year. I still love the genre and bands that pulled me into this beautiful musical universe but the deathcore and emo-metal that parades around trying to convince that it can stand up to the old guard simply sounds tedious and trite. Metallica released a return to form, apparently, which I'm glad for in industry terms but on a personal level this is a band that have never fully engaged my ears. I also missed the Cavalera Conspiracy record and passed over a few others in favour of more post-rock efforts, so perhaps some of the fault is mine. One way or another, though, the meat and potatoes of the genre isn't producing new bands that are demanding my attention.

Anyhow, that's all talk around the main point of this post, so to get back on track here goes 32 - 21 of my preferred listening this year.

32 -
The Gutter Twins - Saturnalia
Greg Dulli/Mark Lanegan collaborations are always likely to find a place, though this is lower than I would have first expected. It's a sombre, introspective affair for the most part, with only a few tracks like 'Idle Hands' providing a much needed change of pace. Good but perhaps too solemn for its own good?

31 -
Sigur Rós - Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust
A mild surprise, in that this time out everyone's favourite BBC documentary soundtrackers reign in the epic and keep a good 3/4 of the tracks around the 5 minute mark. The album doesn't suffer for it and it actually makes for a happily direct listen, though I would certainly run back to Takk for the real blockbusters. That said, Hopelandic is rarely short of beautiful and this no exception.

30 - Frank Turner - Love, Ire & Song
Despite the expected absolute scorchers (Reasons Not to Be An Idiot, Photosynthesis, the title track...), Frank still suffers from the occassional filler that also hit debut Sleep Is For The Week. His high points are nothing short of anthemic on both plastic and the stage, however, and he still stands out as one of the UK's finest singer-songwriters of my generation...I relate to his griping!

29 - Shearwater - Rook
Beyond being an Okkervil River side project, this album has plenty of its own character and depth. The quiet, contemplative vocal style and carefully arranged instrumentation adds up to a delicate, reflective listen that gives more every time you sit down with it.

28 - Counting Crows - Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings
It's been a while since Hard Candy, so a new Crows album was a nice e-prise to find nestling in my inbox earlier this year. Whilst a double album about the weekend could have been overblown and unwarranted, whatever the concept is thankfully doesn't interfere with the enjoyment of the album. Whilst they'll probably never come close to August & Everything After again in their career, this is a welcome return to form and live circuit in my humble opinion.

27 - Jr. Juggernaut - Ghost Poison
One of a few happy accidents this year, in this case a last minute download on e-music in panic of a month's credit not rolling over. This is Americana-tinged rock with some wonderfully simple yet catchy songs (Lit By The Winter, Coming In Backwards). Closer inspection of the lyrics reveals some intentionally contradictory content against the feel of the songs (Believe in Something), which only adds to the repeat listens guaranteed by the quality on show here.

26 - Scars on Broadway
- s/t
Some hold that when Daron sings in System of a Down, things get shite. Happily I'm not one of these strange people and thus I take Scars on Broadway for what it is, a gloriously eccentric alternative to the day job with enough differences and quirks to justify its existence. Listen to Stoner-Hate or They Say and the point is proven.

25 - The Duke Spirit - Neptune
A strong follow up to the rollicking debut Cuts Across the Land, this one is full of water-borne metaphors to cover anything from du jour trends to the inexplicably abandoned relationships. The vocals hark back to Detroit's rock heyday but the overall sound is much more contemporary, making for an out of time but fascinating listen. Getting stronger by the album.

24 - Bob Mould - District Line
That distinctive, time-wearied voice of Mr Mould is immediately engaging on this solo outing, evoking fond memories of his influential pre-noughties bands and keeping one happy throughout the short duration of the album. Snappy, punchy songs with hooks that could be used to drag out Simon Cowell's smarmy grey matter. This is the honest, pure sound of music that needs to be retained.

23 - Earth - The Bees Made Honey in the Lion's Skull
A slow, rumbling, behemoth of an album. This sounds like an expedition into the deepest rainforest, being both organic, adventurous but with a sense of deep foreboding underlying the whole effort. One to be taken in the right frame of mind but a great duality of uplifting and worrying tones, when the mood suits.

22 - Russian Circles
- Station
From the post-metal beginnings of Enter, the band have taken a sharp left turn and veered over the carriageway onto Post Rock Drive. None the worse for it, the songs here breathe gloriously, build gently, and of course rock furiously on the few occassions they're let off the leash. Whether or not they stay on this course will be interesting to hear, although the fact that they stand up proudly in a genre close to saturation point is all the more to their credit.

21 - The Raconteurs -
Consolers of the Lonely
A surprise addition to the release schedules in March, only a week notice was given for this follow up effort to 2006's excellent Broken Boy Soldiers. A bit more grandiose and ambitious, this one can at times stray a little too far from the simple, loveable pop-rock that made that record so fun. Even so, Salute Your Solution caters for that crowd quickly and effectively, where as some of the grander numbers like Rich Kid Blues and The Switch & The Spur do add an interesting style-twist but retain the all important hooks. After getting used to the change in approach, this one recovers to be a thoroughly enjoyable affair.

I'll get the artwork and links up here shortly for these, then onward to the big hitters in my year. I know, the anticipation is only marginally below that of US election night......patience is a virtue. Whether this is as important historically, of course, only future generations will decide. Close call.

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