A Most Musical Year

The cliched bits of wisdom that fall from the mouths of older people in our lives begin to make more and more sense as I grow into my thirties. This year really did fly by, sadly forecasting an even quicker passing of 2009, unless, of course, Barack Obama can produce a time-slowing device for communal use. It sucks to admit that all sorts of adults along the way have said that the years get faster and faster and that they may be right, but, fuck it…maybe I was just having a really kickass time. This year certainly was filled with an insane amount of music, which is not abnormal for me. I live to consume through my ears and my appetite is constantly whetted for more and instatiable in its devouring of new and different sounds. However, 2008 saw an increase the likes of which go unparalleled save for my years at Cellophane Square, which was aided greatly by the re-initiation of my music writing (critical, not compositional) career at the Silent Ballet. Of course, there was also the constant sharing with my best friend and fellow music junkie, Bench.
So, as is common for music junkies and critics to perform at the nearing of the year’s end, I’d like to present a collection of records that brought me joy in the last 12 months. It was a year that saw my interest in metal wane just a little bit, particularly in the last 4-5 months. Mostly, this had to do with a more tightly honed focus on all sorts of forms of Electronic music and deeper interest in Modern Classical. It seems that as we push further into this new millenium, there is a rise in number of artists coming back to much “older” approaches to music (i.e. primarily chamber style instrumentation and arrangement with cello, viola/violin and piano). However, a lot of the current artists are evolving this so-called modern version of Classical music from an Electronic standpoint (check artists such as Helios and Deaf Center for starters). The styles really seem to mesh well, as the simple, repetitive mantras of dance style music (descended from Hip-Hop) lend themselves nicely to a much more slowed down approach of form and variation in Chamber/Classical music. I wonder frequently if this reduction of hyped-up energy in some Electronic music circles is a socio-psychological response to a world too frenetic, violent, uncaring, cold and just plain fucking crazy; sort of an aural valium is what I guess I’m thinking of.
Yet, speaking of the more beat-oriented styles of Electronic music, I also gained a deeper focus on and appreciation of them as well. Attending the entirety of Decibel Festival this September really helped with that, as getting a dose of music in its live, pulsating manifestation always refreshes the passions I possess for it.
2008 was also the year that one single, dust-laden violin note encompassed the aggregate of emotional ferocity that Heath Ledger laid down for us all in his interpretation of the Joker as a dark, ominous psychopath beyond true comprehension. Well, let’s get to it, shall we?
Again, as I did for last year, this is NOT A RANKED LIST, yet rather just a representation of music that delighted my ears this year. Ranking implies direct comparison, which becomes more and more ridiculous when you’re talking about listening to Radiohead one minute and then Hulk the next; they are nothing alike in the sense of comparing for enjoyment value. And, here…we…go!
GRAILS Take Refuge In Clean Living and Doomsdayer’s Holiday. Nary a year goes by now that Portland noir-folk-psych rock band Grails doesn’t have a release and, more importantly, a release that pleases again and again. After repeated listens to both, however, they might have waited to release another full-length until next year, as Doomsdayer’s Holiday lacks just a touch of the strength and completeness that the last three releases have. Still great albums, though. Most bands would love to release just one record as good as the lesser of two Grails albums in one year.
HELIOS Caesura. In all honesty, this album is in a dead heat for favorite of the year. Beyond that, I can’t say much more than what I’ve already said in my review, which I think will speak volumes more than what I could blabber here.
HULK Rise of A Mystery Tide. Absolutely mind-blowing. I’ve never heard anything else like it and it is truly exciting when you feel like an artist has cracked open the protective shell around a previously unexplored galaxy of sound and style. At some times reminiscent of a Jan Jelinek album, Rise of A Mystery Tide also drives towards a minimal Classical and I don’t think that is even a fair attempt at describing it. The leap in progress from the first Hulk release to this one is also startling. I consider this a must listen for anybody who dares to consider themselves a serious music junkie (this doesn’t mean you’re required to like it, just listen fucker!).
PAAVOHARJU Laulu Laakson Kukista. Ummmm, I’m certainly glad I’m writing this and not trying to pronounce it to you in person. Equally as original and individual as Hulk’s release, this Finnish outfit has finally scored the soundtrack to the most bizarre of recurring dreams. Everything you hear dances in these little confined spaces like snowglobes, weaving in and out of a myriad of voices that utter somnambulant promises. It is, at times, even an attack on the senses, but one that is welcomed, almost yearned for like a masochist awaiting the whip.
HANS ZIMMER and JAMES NEWTON HOWARDThe Dark Knight OST. I really include this primarily for the aforementioned single droning note of angst and horrified anticipation that accompanies all the scenes involving the Joker. In the words of my friend Iris, “They fucking nailed it with that soundtrack, man!!”
JACASZEK Treny. Michael Jacaszek hails from Poland, which is the basics of what I know about him. His album is one of those that I was talking about earlier that is primarily Modern Classical, but comes out sounding like an Electronica record, but just minus the beats (not even micro-programming ala Murcof). Simple, heart-wrenching beauty that haunts while simultaneously warming and soothing you. God damn, people are making some great music to score the imaginary love scenes of my life. Too bad I’m the only one who gets to see them, good thing is, we can all hear the music.
HAUSCHKA Ferndorf. Prepared piano, cello and viola and some percussive sounds make for another new millenium chamber music. A bit more upbeat than some of the others in this musical gene pool.
ALPS III. In a manner void of the dark noir rock and world music influence that Grails bring to the (turn)table, time spent listening to the Alps begs me to get extremely high smoking bowl after bowl. III just has the feel of music you’d love to hear as you make the return trip home from a weekend of camping and doing mushrooms in the woods. All the car windows are rolled down, the music is up and almost now words are uttered at all, even amongst very close friends, as all would prefer to just exist in that telepathic state. That’s the basic gist of this record. This San Francisco band (including members of Tarentel) is a great addition to the Type Records lineup.
The BLACK ANGELS Directions to See a Ghost. This is my generation’s Velvet Underground, that’s about all you need to know. Fantastic album of throwback-to-the-60s psychedelic rock.
BLACK MOUNTAIN In The Future. This one almost gets lost in the mix purely for the fact that it was released in January, but this junkie won’t exlcude it from the musical Oscars just because of release timing. “Wucan” was my first anthem of the year, as I got hooked on its repetitive, ascending guitar line and spooky singing by both Stephen McBean and Amber Webber. They played an awesome live show, but the smoke machine was retarded and kept pumping waaaaaayyy too much fake smoke out.
FOUR TET Ringer. This little EP restored my faith in Kieran Hebden, as the collaborations with Steve Reid had begun to kill my Four Tet buzz. Combining his electro-roots with a new psychedelic bent, Hebden takes a turn for the better and rekindles my love for his music.
KANGDING RAY Automne Fold. One of the darkest, most ominous packages of heavy, bass-sunken beats to also ignite the romantic side. I love the new directions in heavy music ocurring in the world of Electronica. I guess that sometimes I imagine this album being the soundtrack to the inner monologue of a sensitive warrior, constantly amidst thoughts of a lover and the mortal moments of combat. A musical representation of the ebb and flow between rage and love that marks the madness of our world. My review.
JOHAN JOHANSSON Fordlandia. Modern Classical at its best, Fordlandia possesses all the melancholy memorabilia of the 21st Century collector’s soul – the sadness of people stuck in the disconnect of owning kitsch representations of the real. Yet, the album also holds firmly to a sense of hope. So, maybe it is a perfect compliment to the regime change put clearly down on November 4th. All of the interludes (“Melodia i-iv”) are these compact little poems, comprised mostly of woodwinds and their motifs speak for the hopeful side of the record.
GROUPER Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill. Spooky? Check. Warm? Check. Dreamy? For Certain. Delay pedal? Double check so much you can’t even tell there’s some straight up Flying Saucer Attack crazy shit going on in the far reaches of this album’s sonic palate. Her voice is beautifully, nightmarishly soothing, but don’t ask me to explain how that description really makes sense in my head. The scary little 70s horror movie girl on the front cover, though? Makes me wanna run and scream and lose my mind in grainy 35mm. My review? Check 1, Check 2…Waiter, check please!
GOLDMUND The Malady of Elegance. This was definitely Keith Kenniff’s year. After a disappointing 2-Point Discrimination out of his Goldmund appellation, he drives in the crucial winning runs with this gorgeous collection of piano contemplations and then the aforementioned Helios release. Way to go Keith! This album has lulled me to happy nights of sleep many a time this year since its release. Resurrecting Erik Satie must be a totally satisfying hobby. I sure hope Keith found time to etch some musical commandments into stone this year.
FAX Yo Recuerdo. Static Discos labelmate of Murcof, Ruben Tamayo kept me company for many a mile through the great Rockies states during a road trip. Particularly the track “Cuarto Para Tres”, which became an essential driving track in the vast expanses between sightings of people. A beautiful place to be.
LIBRARY TAPES A Summer Beneath The Trees. As melancholy as A Silver Mt. Zion, if not more for the lack of human voices, but as dusty as the Western Frontier of 200 years ago. This album, every track contained within, moves with the deliberateness of a shy, yet hungry cat. A Summer Beneath The Trees is the kind of music I would put on a mixed tape for a new girlfriend in the hopes that she would understand its seemingly sad, out-of-placeness amongst other sounds.
CLARK Turning Dragon. Alright, this is a bit of trickery throwing this one in here, because it is my biggest, most complete disappointment of all of 2008, musically speaking. After the brilliance of Body Riddle, I was expecting a knockout follow-up. Instead, I receieved a huge, steaming pile of whatever the fuck Clark wanted to call music, er, shit. Stay away, unless you base all of your musical opinions on what I don’t like.
ZOZOBRA Bird of Prey. More electric metal coursing through my veins from the Zozobra-bruh-bros (worst pun I’ve made all year…this album doesn’t deserve that kind of treatment). A bit more straight forward than Harmonic Tremors, but delightful rock-the-fuck-out Summer driving music.
SYLVAIN CHAUVEAU The Black Book of Capitalism. I didn’t even know the title of this record until after it had spent a week on my turntable. The last time my homie Bench and I went to Sleazy Street Records I picked this up on vinyl thinking it was an older release. Come to find out, it was brand new…follow my whiskey nose, it always knows! Some of the more refined compositions in his repertoir and I listened to it for a week solid not caring for names, but just enjoying personalities of songs and the album as a whole. Then, the album title sealed the deal for me, a fantastic record. What is on the black book of Capitalism? Freedom? Individuality? Common Sense? I continue to search through my mind…
PORTISHEAD Third. I wish all my favorite bands/acts could take ten years off and come back with one of the coolest records of the year. Totally preferable to releasing a bunch of fart-smelling filler for those ten years. Kudos to Portishead for not losing their shit!

Now, I’m getting tired of writing blurbs for every freakin’ rekkid, so here’s a little list of some other ’08 releases worthy of attention. Even if that attention comes from you hitting the stop button.
BITCRUSH Epilogue In Waves
THE BOATS Faulty Tuned Radios
GESKIA Silent 77
PART TIMER Blue
BRAEL/TOKYO BLOODWORM Living Language
CON_CETTA Micro
BOLA Kroungrine
CANYONSOFSTATIC The Disappearance
COMATONE & FOLEY Trigger Happy
CULT OF LUNA Eternal Kingdom
DREAMSPLOITATION The Soft Focus Sound of Today
FJORDNE The Last Three Days of Time
JOE BEATS Diverse Recourse
MILLIMETRIK Northwest Passage’s New Era
MOGWAI The Hawk Is Howling

And then, something I think is very important, the music not from 2008 that I discovered during the ’08 calendar year. The biggest highlight is, by far, Deru and Julien Neto. Some others are Erkin Koray and Los Dug Dugs. There’s so much more, but at this point, I feel I should be done and you’ve probably quit trying to finish this post anyways! Cheers and here’s to an 09 this tasty.

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1 thought on “A Most Musical Year”

  1. Quite a list of gems, my not-yet-friend. But would it KILL you to put in some paragraph spaces or album covers? Straight blocks of text are SO last year. Given that your tastes are so similar to mine, I take your musical suggestions a bit more seriously than others. So, i’m gonna have to check out some of these releases that I ain’t heard of, and that aren’t a part of these Top50 shenanigans.I say, Gabe. You realize that we are, essentially, neighbors. And our musical tastes are quite similar. When I visit Seattle next time, maybe I’ll see you at a show. Or..we can plan it that way.Merry New SolsticeNaytp.S. I’ll be putting up my LIST of sorts on my music blog today. I’ll show you how it’s done 😉

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