There were quite a few great albums this year. I could have added at least ten more, but decided to keep it relegated to the very finest. So without further adieu, I bring you thee most excellent LP's of 2008, in alphabetical order:
Blank Dogs, On Two Sides (Troubleman) and The Fields (Woodsist) - Some of the year's best ideas can be found between the grooves of On Two Sides, from the schizophrenic guitar work in "Blaring Speeches" to the wobbly synth and breathy chorus of "Epic Moves". The album's centerpiece, "The Crystal Ladies", could be stripped of everything but its vocal melody and still be perfect. The Fields strips another layer of gauze from the limbs, revealing not necessarily a more "Pop" sound, as some are insisting - go back to the first two weeks and you'll hear plenty of hooks - but a more consistently adventurous (and comfortable) relationship with the song.
Cheap Time, Cheap Time (In the Red) - Americans taking what the Belgians like Hubble Bubble and Raxola stole from the Brits (glam riffs, snotty lyrics, dramatic changes), somehow making it sound very much like a Memphis thing. There's nothing remotely original about Cheap Time and that's okay, because there's nothing remotely bad about all fourteen songs and the effortless swagger they are brought forth with. And no, it doesn't matter that the best song here was actually written by Jack Oblivian.
Cheveu, Cheveu - (S-S) - The late-Winter night Cheveu spent in Columbus was one of the most excessive of the year. Two feet of snow didn't stop the loyal from witnessing one of the best shows at Cafe Bourbon St. ever, as the Parisian garcons partied onstage and off like it was their last, when it was in fact their first, night on tour. Their debut LP sounds exactly like that night: drugged and deranged, with little care of what came before and what would come of the mess after.
Children's Hospital, Alone Together (Sacred Bones) - The best thing any A-Frame has done since A Frames 2. Children's Hospital are not as horrific as the name and sleeve's imagery would have you believe. Instead they opt for a more nuanced sedative, lulling the listener in with layered grooves and vocals caressed through the hospital intercom. The vibes are not good, but not altogether evil either. But then again sometimes the scariest shit happens from where you least expect it.
The Dutchess and the Duke, She's the Dutchess, He's the Duke (Hardly Art) - I tried my damnedest to hate this record. Something about this group just really bugged me. Maybe it was the Seattle thing, or it could have been a song I heard from their first single. Long story short, I took a shot at a used copy and immediately changed my story. The sentiments on this record are heartfelt and sincere without the trite cutesey-ness usually associated with modern acoustic folk. Killer vocals, incredible songs and great performances. Just a great, great record.
Eat Skull, Sick To Death (Siltbreeze) - I LIVE NEXT DOOR TO A POWER PLANT. One of the more memorable opening credos in recent memory, and it just gets better from there. Eat Skull took hardcore and removed the macho bullshit, replacing it with flourishes of 90's lo-fi and 80's DIY. If you held a gun to my head and made me pick a favorite record from '08, this would probably be my choice.
Eddy Current Suppression Ring, Primary Colours (Goner/Aarght) - It was very early this year when I scored a copy of their debut LP and played it regularly until the new one dropped. Goner saved Primary Colours from becoming an Australian obscurity and we must thank them for this, because ECSR are a band for the people. Taut punk grooves that sound tough as nails and riffs that revel in their simplicity, while singer Brendan Suppression, leather gloves in tow, recites thug haiku. Brilliant.
Fabulous Diamonds, Fabulous Diamonds (Siltbreeze) - The Fab Diamonds have come a long way from where they were a year ago - an unknown Aussie duo with a sole 7-inch and little else to their name - having toured the states to ecstatic results and releasing this incredible debut long-player. Nothing else sounded remotely like Fabulous Diamonds this year, or any year in recent memory, with its dubbed-out fusion of European femme-punk and esoteric dance. The world fell in love with Jarrod and Nissa in 2008.
Factums, The Sistrum (Sacred Bones) - From my post earlier in the year: ...fans of their synapse-frying debut on Siltbreeze last year will not be disappointed with this doozy. But don't expect to be handed all the barbed hooks they passed out last time. The Sistrum has more of a cohesive feel, as many of the songs are allowed room to breath, venturing into the four- and five-minute range. Opener "Mushrooms" is the Peter Gunn theme played in a German bunker, while "Origami" pounds out sub-motorik pulses beneath layers of guitar feedback and tuneless organ. The second half cools down into a series of sinister grooves, a few of which you could even dance to. The midget from Twin Peaks would approve.
The Hospitals, Hairdryer Peace (Self-released) - There's Shitgaze, and then there's this. For some people, Hairdryer Peace was the line in the sand, and Adam Stonehouse is the guy swimming out beyond the buoys. I'm not exactly sure if this would make more sense to civilizations future or past, but what I am sure of is that most people who hear this are left scratching their heads like a chimpanzee. I know at least one individual who's goal next year is to top the utter out-ness of this album. To this person I say good luck.
Los Llamarada, Take the Sky - (S-S) - Zoinks! The gang from Monterrey take their sound to another dimension, riding the ship to Sun Ra's palace with Malcolm Mooney and Nico navigating. Wait, that's not even close enough to the energy, the fuckin' energy this album exudes. Apparently it took a couple tries to nail down all the right stuff for this album, and it's no surprise when you hear how out of control most of it gets. Take the Sky is an album with hundreds of brilliant ideas unleashed like a herd of cattle, with only a few cowboys to lasso them in.
Nodzzz, Nodzzz (What's Your Rupture?) - Of all the great records to come out of California this year, Nodzzz might be the purest distillation of that state's, er, state of mind. Listening to songs like "In the City" and "Losing My Accent" you get the feeling they've discovered the nerd-party Rosetta Stone and have decided to share it with the masses. I can't wait to see these songs live.
Nothing People, Anonymous (S-S) - From my post earlier in the year: ...You could play "name that influence" along with most of Anonymous, but that's not the point. At their best, Nothing People play by a new set of rules. That they're so impeccably well versed in all things cool should not go down as a detriment. Instead, enjoy Anonymous knowing that this genre of outsider rock has a new leader.
Thee Oh Sees, The Master's Bedroom Is Worth Spending a Night In (Tomlab) and The Peanut Butter Oven EP (Awesome Vistas) - The evolution of John Dwyer's most prolific project has been a fun one to follow, as it has progressed from an acoustic-based experiment to his full-fledged garage powerhouse. Last year's Sucks Blood was the perfect balance of the soft and loud, but it was no preparation for the onslaught of thumping rhythm and echo-drenched freak-outs on The Master's Bedroom. And then he goes and puts the cyclical doom of a song like "Kingsmeat" on the collectible Peanut Butter Oven EP. AND there's another LP from this year that I haven't even heard, with an additional DVD accompanying it. What did you do this year.
Sic Alps, US EZ (Siltbreeze) - I really liked this one. Still do.
Times New Viking, Rip It Off (Matador) - What I like most about this record is that Jared, Adam and Beth stuck to their guns. When I first heard the final mix I wasn't exactly sold, and I'm sure even Matador was taken aback a bit by the noisy, jumpy mastering job. But as with everything of theirs, TNV believed in their material, knowing eventually everyone else would get it. And sure enough, the songs I liked least at first are now my favorites. TNV, molding our minds with their sweet little anthems.
TV Ghost, TV Ghost (die Stasi) - I feel like this one has been overshadowed by the band's underage/on the road antics and consistently excellent live show. And there are those looking ahead to the upcoming full-length on In the Red. But this LP, especially upon re-evaluation, finds the band tooling with their sound and experimenting with recording techniques. Matt Horseshit's presence can be felt throughout, especially on the album's closer, "Long Talk", and his dry studio sound allows each member to stand out. One-two punch of "The Amputee" and "Babel" beats the shit out of just about anything released this year.
Various, XXperiments (die Stasi) - Damn. A truly excellent compilation expertly sequenced by Lane at the die Stasi label. I will provide no references, because there has never been a community of women making avant garde music of this caliber, ever, at least in modern history. That may sound like hyperbole, but in my mind it is simply hopeful thinking that these ladies are just getting started, and that XXperiments will be looked back on as the foundation for a monolithic movement rising out of Midwestern bedrooms and beyond. I want more from every artist involved.
Vivian Girls, Vivian Girls (Mauled By Tigers) - Say what you will about where they are and how they got there (and what they will do next), but there's no denying the greatness of this, their debut record. Each song stands tall on its own, especially such instant-classics from the melancholic back side like "Where Do You Run To", "Damaged" and "I Believe in Nothing", but the album is strongest as a whole. Not once did I listen to one song from the album without listening to the rest. In the future, when I look back on Summer 2008, this the record that will take me back. It's the truth.