Top 10 Albums of 2008
10. Juana Molina, Un Dia
Is Juana Molina the Latin American Bjork? Er, probably not, but fans of exotic elf-women might will find a lot to like in Molina's vaguely alien song-constructions. (Plus, check out this album cover, my favorite of the year.) And, at the risk of essentializing, Molina's palette is distinctly sub-equatorial: it's sometimes classified as electronica, but it's driven at least as much by its Rioplatense vocals, Argentinian rhythmic elements, and loops of acoustic guitar. Warm, weird, and lovely. On Domino.
Listen: Juana Molina, "
9. Cloudland Canyon, Lie In Light
A lot of bands lately have returned to drink from the well of 70s-era German progressive music, but Cloudland Canyon stands out from the pack. They approach the ecstatic, psychedelic pastoralism of that era less as a source to be emulated and more as an open-ended experiment that they have made it their mission to complete. Their 2004 album Requiems der Natur was an intriguing curiosity; this year's Lie In Light is a minor masterpiece. Thanks to Chris P. for tipping me off to these guys. On Kranky.
Listen: Cloudland Canyon, "
8. Pocahaunted, Island Diamonds
The best way to imagine Bethany and Amanda, the two women who comprise Pocahaunted, is to imagine them calling to you, in their wordless sirenlike style, as you are descending deeper and deeper into a drug-induced coma. (It might even be worth waking up in the hospital just to hear these sounds.) They've been releasing a fairly steady stream of releases in obscuro formats; this one gets the nod because it benefits from its (comparatively) high-profile release on the Not Not Fun label, and because the presence of drummer Bob[b?] Bruno gives it a dose of extra structure and urgency.
Listen: Pocahaunted, "
7. Scott Tuma, Not For Nobody
Back when I lived in Chicago, I saw Scott Tuma perform a bunch of times as part of the exemplary Good Stuff House trio, so I knew he was one of the more interesting experimental guitarists out there. But that didn't adequately prepare me to expect him to release this beautiful and curiously moving album of Americana folk guitar. It retains its "experimental" status by including a few left-of-center gestures, but it's more heartfelt than it is cerebral. Thanks to Chris M. for sending this along.
Listen: Scott Tuma, "
6. Brightblack Morning Light, Motion to Rejoin
As a guy who loves his Internet, I find Nathan Shineywater and Rachael Hughes' back-to-nature / get-off-the-grid / Native-Americans-had-it-right trip a little hard to swallow at times, but listen to the music and you have to admit that they might be on to something: this bit of laid-back, smoked-out, electric psychedelic desert blues is a pretty mesmerizing piece of work. The best album Matador has put out since Matmos' The Civil War (2003).
Listen: Brightblack Morning Light, "
5. Natalie Portman's Shaved Head, Glistening Pleasure
Earlier this year, I described these guys as "hipsters who have learned that dance music is fun and sexy, but who feel just enough doubt about the enterprise that they're forced to add generous helpings of irony and absurdity lest anyone think that they're going about it straight-faced." That sounds like something that might wear thin after a few listens, but this album became one that I found myself returning to again and again, and growing more enamored of, not less.
Listen: Natalie Portman's Shaved Head, "
Slow Motion Tag Team"
4. Jamie Lidell, Jim
There's an appropriative aspect to the whole "blue-eyed soul" thing that often makes me a little squeamish, so I'm a little embarrassed that I enjoy pasty-white geek Jamie Lidell's barn-burners as much as I do. On this album, Lidell's third, he strips away some of the electronic frippery and analog burble that he used to ornament his earlier albums with and plays it instead as a straight-up revivalist act. And why shouldn't he?: he's got the charisma, pipes, and songwriting chops of any one of the greats. (If you're really feeling guilty about the appropriative element and want something a little more authentic, round out your purchase of this record with a purchase of this year's fine compliation Conquer the World: The Lost Soul of Philadelphia.)
Listen: Jamie Lidell, "
3. Rameses III, Basilica
Last year, Rameses III released Honey Rose, an modest yet perfect little driftwork which ended up slipping onto my Best of 2007 list. This year's Basilica shows them growing both more assured and more ambitious, releasing a suite of astral-plane drones that evokes majesty without sacrificing their characteristic gentle lull. Imagine the broadest dawn you've ever seen and you've got the recommended visual. Includes a second disc of "remixes" by drone-underground stars like Robert Horton and Neal Campbell as a bonus. On Important.
Listen: Rameses III, "
2. The Dodos, Visiter
Two dudes, one on guitar and one on drums, one of them singing, and a female vocalist who occasionally joins insounds like an indie-pop formula that's pretty much been done to death. But the Dodos approach it with a zeal and urgency that make it seem brand new. Part of it is the emphasis on percussion: drummer Logan Kroeber works overtime to provide unusual timing for each song, providing sonic interest without devolving into wank, and guitarist Meric Long follows suit, exploring the potential of the guitar as a rhythmic device. The end result is little indie gems that also provide amazement and pleasure simply as kinetic or propulsive constructions. Endlessly listenable.
Listen: The Dodos, "
1. Fuck Buttons, Street Horsssing
In my imagination, the story goes like this: a couple of kids from the Bristol noise scene sagely decide to try to use structure and rhythm to harness some of the energy and intensity of noise music, in the interest of getting it to yield something amazing. And the amazing yield in question proves to be nothing less thanecstatic beauty! Wild success. Interestingly, substitute "punk music" for "noise music" and you can see that acts like the Boredoms and Black Dice have also attempted a version of this experiment and attained identical resultsindeed, look at Street Horsssing next to the Boredoms' Vision Creation New Sun and Black Dice's Beaches and Canyons.and it looks like nothing less than the disc that completes this decade's most awesome trilogy. Thanks to Nancy P. and Steve F., who both correctly intuited that I would like this album.
Listen: Fuck Buttons, "