Chompin’ at the Bit: Some Preliminary Thoughts on the Best Albums of 2008

It may be a little early to do this, but I have an itchy trigger finger this year (possibly due to Silent Ballet staff discussion threads on the upcoming end of the year lists). I’ll try to keep with the spirit of my list for 2007, which departed from the protocol of strict ranking. For a refresher, check that post from January. Also, this is purely a preliminary list, as it is only the second half of September and there are many opportunities for good albums to be released in the next 3 months. However, most labels refrain from releasing their strongest material during the holiday season, because it is supposedly a dreadfully slow time for album sales. Pictured above are The Black Angels, authors of one of this year’s finest LPs.
First off, my beloved Grails are special enough to have not one, but two albums in the running. First came their EP Take Refuge In Clean Living, which was classic Grails and the only drawback was a potential oversight in track order. Then, well, actually, their newest LP Doomsdayer’s Holiday hasn’t even been released yet, but let me tell you, it kicks ass! When I wrote praises of Grails being one the best bands out there in a post earlier this year, I meant it. This was not just fan-boy drooling acclaim.
As for our pictured friends above, The Black Angels, their newest album, Directions To See A Ghost, is true to their peyote trip-induced sound that Jim Morrison would fawn over and only Lou Reed and friends have achieved in the past. This album is so damn hypnotic that I try not to listen to it while driving, as I feel it could be detrimental to my driving ability, specially at night.
How ’bout a shout from the past? This band hasn’t produced any new material in ten years, but they haven’t missed a beat. Portishead, ladies and germs, put out an incredibly strong LP in the form of 3rd. There was a lot of griping at the time of release, because folks felt it was too much of a departure from their original sound. I agree, it’s a departure, slightly, but a good one; this album is powerful and concise, while retaining the oozing emotional schema they began with on the likes of Dummy.
Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band continued to supply our eardrums with anarcho-socialist revolutionary soundtracks to our collective unconscious melancholy on 13 Blues For Thirteen Moons. Though, I can’t say I’ve listened to this ASMZ album with the same zeal as previous recordings, they haven’t lost their zest. My recommendation would be to pass on this while perusing the racks in your local record store if, that is, you already have all the other ASMZ LPs. The first 12 tracks are just a bunch of screaching noise, though they total about 42 seconds it seems like a lifetime, and feel like absolute garbage intro fodder. They could’ve just put up the four songs and left it at that.
2008 also served to turn me onto a band that I heard a million times, but never paid any attention to back in my record store employee days. I understand it’s not a new album, apparently a digest of oddities and b-sides, but Bardo Pond’s Batholith turned me on to another fabulous vein of stoner rock. I’d just like to apologize to my homey Barrett for always dissin’ this shit back in our Cellophane days, my bad. I had a terrific time spacing out to this album on the couch, headphones cranked up full, the first thorough listen.
So, at my work at the bar, we staff often play tunes from our iPods for the whole bar and every once in a while a coworker will play an album I know, but for some reason hearing it at the pub makes it new and I invariably ask, “Whatchya playin?” Well, Station by Russian Circles has done that to me every time.
Unfortunately, 2008 is a year without a Murcof release. Luckily, his Static Discos labelmate Fax put out Yo Recuerdo to keep me infused with Tijuana techno. I think my review of this album should suffice, so click on the link mother fucker!!!
Some albums are like time warps. The Black Angels album is one good example and starts the theme. Black Mountain, a Vancouver band steeped in druggy, 70’s rock tradition really came into their own this year with In The Future. Their previous releases are solid and definitely display the beginnings of a unique style (particularly the use of numerous synthesizers and keyboards to augment that 70’s sound), but this album was a full on launch into orbit. It felt like the dawning of a band that should loom large over the landscape for years to come. Oh right, almost forgot, saw these folks live and that shit was awesome, dreamlike.
Max Richter has been releasing some wonderfully heartfelt neo-classical compositions and 24 Postcards In Full Color is no exception. Great for quieter times or moments spent gazing off into sunsets or fog-filled mornings. My only complaint about this album is the extreme brevity of the songs/sketches.
As I mentioned above, 2008 lacks a release from Murcof, the master in minimal, micro-house electronica. Mercifully, the gods saw it fit to have Kangding Ray, aka David Letellier, provide our ears and imaginations with such a masterpiece as Automne Fold. My second start-to-finish listening of this album was a legendary experience on the couch…but my review, accessible through the hypertext, will explain it all. Bass that rushes through your hair like a sudden Alpine gust through the meadows below.
More electronica! Four Tet put out Ringer to much delight. This was a fabulous EP, but that was my biggest disappointment as well. I wanted a full length album. However, Ringer was wonderfully executed, what else can I say that I already haven’t?
Cult of Luna, Eternal Kingdom. A solid record by one of my favorite metal bands, but I don’t know if anything can surpass the excellence of Somewhere Along The Highway.
More metal please! Zozobra, who rocked my wordl opening for ISIS in 2007 with a show so packed with energy that it could’ve been just another day at the Hadron Particle Collider, released Bird of Prey. Their debut LP, Harmonic Tremors, carried the same energetic heft as the live show. The combination may have made it my favorite album of ’07, at least the most listened to. Bird of Prey falls slightly short of expanding on the previous work, but at least the blueprint from which it is copied is so masterful. This album, formulaic at moments, still rocks some serious ass.
So, here’s one I’m not sure I can even begin to categorize (not that I want to pigeon-hold everything, but it can be helpful for description). Rise Of A Mystery Tide by Hulk is something else. Maybe minimal electro-ambient? Maybe avant garde? Do I really care? No, because this album is so packed with beauty it makes me twitch at the edge of exploding when I listen to it. The song “Sending Armadas” is only representative of its name in the way it rolls in in endless waves, an ocean of clarinets and oboes washed below the surface of metallic strings and creaking beams of wood.
Alright, time for a quick list of “still in the running” titles, that really I’m just too tired to write much about.
Alias Resurgam
Bitcrush Epilogue In Waves
Erik Levander Kondens
Goldmund The Malady Of Elegance
Grouper Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill
Melvins Nude With Boots
Mogwai
The Hawk Is Howling. Their live show kind of ruined it for me, but still a good record.
Yann Tiersen Tabarly

Lets hope the next couple of months bring some more tasty treats!
Oh, and by the way, I already know the biggest disappointment of 2008, maybe even the worst album of any artist who I expect something from: Turning Dragon by Clark. Album sucked a fat one, period.

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