A Series of 10 Musings on Music and Me, circa 2008.
An Old Friend Returns
I started getting really anxious about doing a year-end list, because that would mean that I'd have to quantify and place the new Portishead album, which seems like an unrealistic task. It's not even that I like it so terribly much (I do) but more that it occupies a space somehow closer, more remembered, than the rest of music right now. What would it mean to talk about Mark Henning (whose album Jupiter Jive really is great) and Portishead right next to one another? It wouldn't make any sense.
Vampirical History and 80s Pop
If we're going to talk about the most important musical things in my life of this past year, one of the most edifying and memorable ones was in September, me, my girlfriend, and one of my best friends rode our bikes to an old church here in Philly, went into a teeny chapel, took a seat in a pew, and watched unfold before us the behemoth that is The Jolly Ship Whizbang. They performed Straight Up Vampire:The History of Vampires in Colonial Pennsylvania as Performed to the Music of Paula Abdul (a Gothic Political Romance). It was almost exactly like what it sounds like, except way, way better than you could ever imagine.
There was a period in the spring where for about a month and a half, all I wanted to listen to was Big Black, Rapeman, Butthole Surfers, Flipper, the Dazzling Cherubs, and their many not-too-dissimilar brethren. And I wanted it fucking loud. Then, all of a sudden it stopped, which is probably better in the long run, at least for my mental health. I had a brief relapse, of a different sort. Connected thematically, if not totally sonically, was the mind-numbing Jesus and Mary Chain B-sides collection--it hurts so good.
Hey, would you look at that? I actually kinda like M83, turns out.
Or, at least the new one, Saturdays=Youth, which I keep going back to. Maybe I should reevaluate the older stuff. Probably not, though.
The Saga of Villalobos: So minimal, I'll make your microscope break
As a sort of endurance exercise, sometimes in the studio I'll put on Fizheuer/Zieheuer. On repeat. Just clicking the button makes me giggle.
Anyway, that's sort of an outlier. The rest of the time I was listening to pretty much everything else Villalobos has put out. I think maybe it's got something to do with missing Germany, but also (and this applies more broadly to all the minimal/micro/deep-house/tech that's been in near non-stop rotation for me this year) there's something strangely comforting about having more familiar human touches (voices, for example) completely gone. Maybe it's because I can just ignore it--I'm not ruling that out--but I don't think so.
With this I do have to specifically mention the Luciano nina simone edit, which I can just listen to over and over and over. The Mark Henning album is nice because it's like this but, you know, has a sense of humor, and Deadbeat's Roots&Wire is almost like a novel. But, you know, a novel about a club.
You can read about the Bon Iver album almost anywhere on one of these types of things. Really, though, you should just listen to it. It's certainly one of my favorites of the year, but I've been having an emotionally wrenching couple of months, and I can't really listen to it much. It's just too hard. The Mount Eerie (w/ 2 other people who's names I forget) Lost Wisdom is sort of similar, but less visceral, in a good way. I also love the second song, Voice In Headphones, as a really great way of making music about music that actually keeps the urgency.
Sometimes, Music Makes Me Really Happy
Los Campesinos! and Jamie Lidell both totally fall into this category. Also the Mavis Staples album, in particular the part in "Why Am I Treated So Bad," about 3 minutes in when she starts just talking about her grandma, and that segues into her and the band humming/singing without words. It lasts about a minute and a half before she gets back into singing the song proper. It's one of those moments that reminds me how much I love music. This sort of thing lasts almost throughout the entirety of the Aretha Franklin Rare and Unreleased comp. that came out last year but I didn't get to til this year. Untouchable.
Also--The Cool Kids.
There are two in particular that immediately spring to mind, and whaddaya know, but that they're actually related. I remember a period of time where I would wax enthusiastically to friends of mine that hadn't heard TV on the Radio about how they were truly, genuinely doing new and interesting things, that they made me think about the possibilities still left in rock. This was roughly the first two months after I first heard Young Liars and a couple of tracks from Desperate Youth. I saw them about a year or so after the absurdly titled Return to Cookie Mountain, and while that album didn't do much for me, the power of their live show is undeniable. Gradually, though, they became one of those bands that in my head grew better and better even while I never really listened to them anymore. Then, I heard about Dear Science, coming out, and got all excited. Turns out, though, not so good. Even as people spill much digink about how great it is, it leaves me totally and completely bored. What's missing is that, in the early stuff (and this particularly applies to OK Calculator, which I still totally adore), even when the music was sing-along-able, or could totally get you grooving, there was still an undercurrent of something deeply unsettling.
The second disappointment was one that, had it not been, I might have literally exploded. A Tom Waits tribute album, by ScarJo, with David friggin Bowie on it?! And, of course, production by Dave Sitek (he of TVOTR fame). If this thing had actually turned out really good, I think it would have completely turned over what I could and should expect from the world. The fact that it's so-so (although not as bad as it could have been) is somehow reassuring.
I've listened to James Brown almost incessantly this year--it's been the one thing that I can really point to that sticks out as continuous thread. Does this really need any explanation?
Other Things I really liked, that came out this year, without a snappy title
Cut Copy, Dj/Rupture, Windy and Carl, Nico Muhly, Earth, School of Seven Bells, and Mr. Oizo. I haven't made up my mind about the new Kanye yet, but I'm leaning towards the "This is incredible" opinion. It could go the other way though.