Saturday, January 17, 2009

Cary's Favorite Non-Portland Albums of '08

Having already sounded off on my favorite music from Portland, Oregon in 2008, I wanted to address, albeit belatedly, some of my favorite albums from everywhere else. Being late, I'll save everyone the time it would take to read whatever commentary I might add to the albums that have already been mentioned here. Suffice it to say that I was, like some of you, a big fan of, in diminishing order:

Fleet Foxes
Bon Iver
Vampire Weekend

I would also like to clarify that my favorite Portland album of the year - "Verbs" by Au - was my favorite album of the year - period - and I highly recommend taking the time to investigate it. If you have any fondness for ecstatic group vocals, Minimalism or structural inventiveness, it's worth your while. "RR vs D" and "Are Animals" are a good entry point.
Au MySpace
Au on Amazon MP3

Probably coming right behind Au and Fleet Foxes in the number three slot would be

Abe Vigoda - Skeleton

This album is pretty relentlessly trebly and up-tempo; in spite of that constraint, it manages to cover a deceptively wide stretch of emotional territory and, because of the narrow sonic palette, it does so in unforeseen ways. Virtually all of the somewhat disappointingly little press this album got included the term "tropical punk," which is somewhat fair given the fact that one of the two guitarists' tones recalls a steel drum more than a string instrument. Like many of the LA (okay, fine, Chino) bands that made it okay for hipsters to think that LA is cool again (No Age, Mika Miko, Health), Abe Vigoda are part of the unofficial roster of downwtown LA venue The Smell. In my opinion, they are the best of the lot, doing something not exactly like anything I've heard before, and if you live in Southern California you should try to check these dudes out. A precious municipal treasure. They have a new EP coming out - again on No Ager Dean Spunt's Post Present Medium label - in February. Recommended starter tracks: The Garden, Skeleton
Abe Vigoda MySpace
Abe Vigoda Amazon MP3 Link

I suppose that brings me to
No Age - Nouns
I think that my instinct to react against this duo because of all the hype they got was negated by my native Angeleno's excitement to see a band from my hometown contribute to independent musical culture in a way that the rest of the world noticed and appreciated for the first time in my adult life. Call it a wash. But the fact that they, because of their affiliation with The Smell, became the poster band for all-ages community music venues certainly did endear them to me on extra-musical grounds. The "noise" tag and experimental gestures are really filigree - No Age is the next generation in the long, proud line of progressive SoCal punkers. SST for the oughts. Listening to this record reminded me of how I felt listening to The Minutemen in my bedroom as a teenager. The instrumentation and sensibility is quite different, but something about this album and its rough edges reminds me of early Sebadoh. There aren't a lot of killer hooks or melodies here, but something about the No Age sound is inexplicably catchy. Recommended starter tracks: Sleeperhold, Teen Creeps, Eraser
No Age on MySpace
No Age on Amazon MP3

Group Inerane - Guitars from Agadez
This Tuareg band from Niger that draws upon Western blues and rock traditions to create something identifiably North African but uniquely stunning features some of the most amazing electric guitar work I have ever heard - and not just from a technical perspective either. The ululating choruses gives me chills, and this drummer is a total badass who somehow makes makes basic fills you've heard a hundred times sound completely fresh and captivating. If you are into people appropriating foreign musical styles and doing something with them that their progenitors could never have imagined, you must get this album now. I first saw this in a DVD compilation that Seattle-based world music label Sublime Frequencies put out, and it blew my mind. If you are unfamiliar with Sublime Frequencies, their whole catalog is uniformly fascinating and, most often, wonderful.
Group Inerane on Sublime Frequencies Download Store
Sublime Frequencies Home

The Dodos - Visiter

If this album - and every song on it - were about a third shorter it would be phenomenal. Like No Age, The Dodos are a California drums-and-guitar two-piece, but they hail from San Francisco and draw upon acoustic folk traditions rather than noise. Insistently, but unobtrusively, rhythmically complex indie folk songs that belie a firm grounding in the 90s indie rock cannon. Fools was undoubtedly one of my favorite songs of the year, plus this video for it is one of the best performance-based clips I have ever seen (that slo-mo contrasting with the velocity of the actual song is awesome!). Recommended starter tracks: Fools, Red and Purple, Jodi.
Dodos on MySpace
Dodos on Amazon MP3

Portishead - Third
A beautiful, haunting record that proves that musicians can improve with age and not simply "mature." Ten years later, Bristol's Portishead, a two-hit wonder but cult favorite of the nineties, return to put their previous work to shame. One foot in the trip-hop of their past efforts, one in the post-dub-step world of contemporary British music, and a freakish third leg in an alternate history where the Silver Apples took on the influential importance that the Velvet Underground enjoy in reality.
Portishead on MySpace
Portishead on Amazon MP3

Kanye West - 808s and Heartbreak
I have a knack for being turned onto an otherwise popular artist by the album that alienates half of their fans. I don't care whether Kanye can actually sing or not - this is a record and he wrote some fantastic songs that, to my mind, completely updated and rejuvenated a questionably moribund tradition of soul music. I am not naturally drawn to hip-hop or r-n-b, but I find this really exciting an compelling. The production aesthetic is fantastic and instantly identifiable - rich but barren, spare but lush. Recommended starter tracks (like you haven't heard them): Love Lockdown, Paranoid
Kanye West on MySpace
Kanye West on Amazon MP3

Women - Women
I was a late-comer to this, really only hearing about it in December, but I have made up for last time. An enigmatic record that makes the band's biographical details irrelevant as it oscillates wildly between 60s-style pop, 90s-era indie rock, and odd instrumental numbers that sound like psilocybin-fueled band practices. Recommended starter tracks: Black Rice, Shaking Hand, Group Transport Hall
Women on MySpace
Women on Amazon MP3

Marnie Stern - This Is It And I Am It And You Are It And So Is That And He Is It And She Is It And It Is It And That Is That

Whatever seeds doubts a title like that might sow in your mind, it must also necessarily put to rest any questions that this 30-something, two-handed-tapper is fearlessly pursuing her own vision. The extent to which NY-based Marnie is actually a guitar-shredding virtuoso is greatly overblown, but the extent to which she more or less invented her sub-genre of music is under-recognized. These are frenetic, disorienting, self-help songs in which the drumming of Hella's Zach Hill is the most predictable element. This Is It is a refinement of the style Stern pioneered on 2007's KRS debut, and the songs are much more than passingly interesting oddities this time around. Recommended start tracks: Ruler, Transformer
Marnie Stern on MySpace
Marnie Stern on Amazon MP3

Times New Viking - Rip It Off (LP) and Stay Awake (EP)
Exuberant, simple, sugary pop songs whose contours have been roughed up with a digital bludgeon. Like their name, just clever enough to suggest talent rather than conceit. Present-day Ohioan inheritors to the Midwestern lo-fi indie tradition of Guided By Voices. Recommended starter tracks: Call and Response, Teen Drama
Times New Viking on MySpace
TNV on Amazon MP3

Also - and again, I am not someone who typically has a soft spot for Top 40 - I thought that Beyonce's "Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)" was the best radio-ready pop song I have heard in a really, really long time. That hook is instantly and utterly unshakable.

Lastly, as Oscar season creeps up on us I have a lot of movies to see, but here are the ones that, so far, I enjoyed the most from 2008:

Slumdog Millionaire
Paranoid Park
Vicky Cristina Barcelona


Daniel said...

Looking forward to checking out many of these bands. Especially Abe Vigoda. Thanks playa!

Thomas McMahon IV said...

Abe Vigoda is one of those local bands that I feel bad about not having seen yet. They're always playing around L.A. Gotta get the album, too.

Just found a video on YouTube of Group Inerane performing. Wild stuff.

Thomas McMahon IV said...

Also, I never liked Portishead, but I just went ahead and listened to the new album on their 'Space based on your endorsement. Wow! I'm blown away. Totally captivating.

Paul said...

As I've mentioned before, you're right on in your assessment of Abe Vigoda and their primacy in those groups affiliated w/ the Smell, although I still have a soft spot for Captain Ahab. I do think, though, that No Age could inspire really good stuff from kids starting bands, much you like you alluded to. They definitely have a DIY ethic (and chops) that is appealing.

I gave up on the Portishead b/c it was too difficult. Sigh . . . that's what happens when you do a lot of your listening while running (literally) or running errands. I need to take that record out to dinner and spend some time w/ it.

Some of us saw Women open for Dungen. I agree with you about how they seem to shift from early SY-type noise to songs that are almost reminiscent of the Clean and the Shins. Young dudes, they are.

You know, I want to like Times New Viking, but I really do find it unlistenable. It's unbearably loud; the lo-fi aesthetic just sort of seems to be applied as an anti-gloss, not as the natural biproduct of not being able to afford working in a recording studio. But again, so very loud.

Good list, Cary. You did it again. I gotta check some of the other stuff out. And I gotta see Wall-E.

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