2008: Rob Hatch-Miller
The presidential election consumed just about all of my energy and attention in 2008, to the point where I could barely bring myself to focus on my job or my relationship or my friends, let alone on music. Plus my 4-year-old iPod’s battery only lasts for about 20 minutes at this point, so it’s been hard to listen to much music in transit.
Now that campaign season has been over for a month, I’ve been getting a lot more sleep, doing a lot more work, and listening to a whole lot more music. Going back through all the stuff I heard, wrote about, and played on my radio show in the past year, I was able to narrow down a list of 10 absolute favorites, plus a few other enjoyable things that didn’t quite make the cut.
Arthur Russell – Love is Overtaking Me (Audika)
When I saw a screening of Wild Combination at The Kitchen, hearing "Close My Eyes" was an absolute revelation. I had no idea Arthur ever recorded any songs like it, and when I found out the track was coming out on a new Audika collection with some other vaguely country/folk songs, I was thrilled. This disc is definitely my favorite Russell release since Calling Out Of Context, revealing a totally new side of one of the most prolific and multi-faceted musicians I can think of. Thanks to Steve Knutson and Tom Lee for sharing this music with us, and congratulations to Matt Wolf on the much-deserved success of his film.
Young Jeezy – The Recession (Def Jam)
This album sounds pretty much exactly the same all the way through, and its political angle is totally incoherent, but somehow I can’t stop listening to it. I can’t get enough of "Put On," or any of the Kanye West auto-tune tracks (it’s true, I love 808s & Heartbreak). The highlight of the album is the epic closing song "My President." Of course, the track is incredibly shallow and materialistic, but the pride Jeezy expresses is hard not to appreciate… even if he is equating having a black President to owning a blue Lamborgini (with matching rims).
Bun B – II Trill (Rap-A-Lot)
The new Bun B solo album is terrific, probably more terrific overall – and less obscene, and a whole lot shorter – than the final UGK record, although there isn’t an individual track on it that comes anywhere close to their phenomenal "Int’l Players Anthem."
(As long as we’re still talking hip hop, I’ll admit that I probably listened to Lil’ Wayne’s Tha Carter III more times than any other album in 2008. And I was absolutely blown away by the Madlib-produced single "The Healer" from Erykah Badu’s new record.)
V/A – Thank You Friends: The Ardent Records Story (Big Beat)
I know a lot of people were excited about the Big Star demos and outtakes on this compilation’s second disc (and some of those are of course absolutely terrific), but I was much more interested in finally hearing the early Chris Bell and Alex Chilton solo songs like "Psychedelic Stuff" and "Free Again," as well as the 1960s Terry Manning productions that make up much of the first CD. It’s totally fascinating to hear the Memphis power-pop sound’s evolution, starting with a bunch of quirky British invasion copycat bands and ending with some of the most distinctively American rock music ever made. This collection also includes one of singer-songwriter Sid Selvidge’s best songs ("Miss Eleana" from his Don Nix-produced Portrait album) and great stuff from other underrated Memphis bands like the Hot Dogs and Cargoe.
Van Duren – Are You Serious? (Water)
This way my other go-to power-pop reissue for 2008, yet another Big Star-related disc. Van Duren was a Memphis guy who recorded and performed with Jody Stephens and Chris Bell and auditioned to become Bell’s replacement when he left the band. Alex Chilton didn’t pick him, but he went on to make this fantastic album on his own in 1977, after cutting lots of demos with Immediate Records honcho Andrew Loog Oldham. When I first listened to this I couldn’t believe no one had ever told me about it before. It sounds a little like the Raspberries, Todd Rundgren, Badfinger, and several other artists that I completely adore. Are You Serious? is a stone-cold power-pop classic, and now one of my favorite albums of all time. Seriously.
(I also want to acknowledge a few more power-pop things I thoroughly enjoyed this year: the Collectors’ Choice reissue of No More, No Less by Blue Ash, the Numero Group’s two-disc anthology of the Titan record label, the reissue of Caspar Giles McCloud’s "Messin’ Around" 7-inch from Vinyl Countdown, and Cheap Time’s admirable self-titled debut on In The Red.)
El Perro Del Mar – From The Valley To The Stars (The Control Group)
I came late to the first El Perro Del Mar album, and had extremely high hopes for this one. It actually didn’t make much of an impression on me at first. I was maybe even a little disappointed by it. But it was a grower, and by now I definitely prefer it to her last album.
V/A – Wayfaring Strangers: Guitar Soli (The Numero Group)
A lovely compilation of tracks from relatively obscure fingerstyle acoustic guitar players, mostly from the 1970s. The disc features a few artists I already knew and loved, and many others who were totally new to me when I first heard it. Hopefully we will eventually see Numero do reissues of some full-length albums by some of these guys.
Joe Higgs – Life Of Contradiction (Pressure Sounds)
More of a Jamaican soul or even folk album than a reggae album, Life Of Contradiction is a beautiful record by a guy who was Jimmy Cliff’s touring bandleader and apparently taught Bob Marley how to sing. The album was recorded in the early ’70s for Chris Blackwell’s Island Records, but was shelved and finally came out a few years later on a smaller label. Reggae had evolved a lot in that short period of time, and had become considerably more popular, and unfortunately the LP sold poorly after critics wrote that it sounded outdated. Today, it sounds totally classic. It’s a wonderful and really deep album. I especially love the title track.
V/A – Nigeria Special, Nigeria Rock Special & Nigeria Disco Funk Special (Soundway)
In 2008, Soundway proprietor Miles Cleret released multiple volumes of music compiled from his own amazing collection of Nigerian funk and rock music. All four discs (or eight LPs, depending on how you prefer to listen to your music) are non-stop awesome.
(I also loved the African Scream Contest compilation from Analog Africa, and the LP reissue of Africa by Amanaz, which Shadoks will hopefully release on CD someday.)
Jean-Pierre Massiera – Psychoses Freakoid & Psychoses Discoid (Mucho Gusto)
These two great compilations feature a ton of rare tracks produced by Jean-Pierre Massiera, the deranged genius behind Les Maledictus Sound. There’s weird sci-fi ’60s pop, psychedelic disco, electro funk, a French cover of "They’re Coming To Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!," and even some proto-metal and pre-rap stuff. One of my favorite tracks features Massiera and friends improvising somewhat aimlessly over a field recording of African folk music. It’s not all great, but there are enough bizarre gems to make the pair of CDs totally essential listening.
Grouper – Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill (Type)
Cold Sun – Dark Shadows (World In Sound)
Paper Bubble – Scenery (RPM)
V/A – Papagayo! The Spanish Sunshine Pop & Popsike Collection (Toytown)
… and the amazingly touching and incredibly funny, Spinal Tap-esque documentary Anvil! The Story Of Anvil.
By Rob Hatch-Miller