2008: Ethan Covey
A dizzying amount of interesting music was released this year, a very small proportion of which I will briefly mention below. Often in 2008 I was overwhelmed with material I wanted to hear – thanks in many ways to the ever-alert suggestions of my fellow Dusted writers, the ease of access to quality record shops that living in NYC offers and the constantly expanding online music universe. Were it not for limits of budget and time, I would have been able to immerse myself even further in what this year had to offer.
Growing up during the rule of Compact Disc as the premier source of recorded sound, it was interesting in 2008 to see CDs continue their slide from peak-popularity. Personally, this year found me dedicating a lot of time (and money) to promoting my love of vinyl – and filling my apartment’s few remaining open spaces with stacks of it. 2008 also was the year I tamed my digital music hate and seriously began buying MP3s. Due to iTunes slowly accepting that not all listeners or artists want DRM restrictions on their music and Amazon jumping on the MP3 wagon, the major online retailers became slightly friendlier to independent music fans. Even greater was the emergence of well-stocked, high-quality download sites like Other Music Digital, a site I rarely go a day without browsing. My advice, if you’re going to click your way into debt, give the little guys your love first.
On to the music… Below are a number of records that stayed with me through the year. Hearing so much music means that few albums make a mark. These ones did and I recommend you give all them a spin.
The albums listed here are not structured in any particular order—except for the first one…
Grouper - Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill (Type)
Hands-down the best record of 2008. Liz Harris’ third full length as Grouper is the type of record that deserves each ooze of hyperbole and glorified praise. It also deserves to be listened to on a daily basis, which I did for much of the year.
Sic Alps - U.S. EZ (Siltbreeze)
San Francisco is the source of some hot-shit bands these days and Sic Alps are the best of the bunch. Following a number of limited release LPs and cassettes, Sic Alps released U.S. EZ, the perfect distillation of their psych-noise garage-pop sounds. If there’s any justice in this world, this record will be what Slanted and Enchanted was to a new generation of youthful gtr heroes.
Also released this year, A Long Way Around to a Short Cut, on the Animal Disguise label, compiles the group’s earlier OOP works. It’s a grand gateway into the world of Sic Alps. The compilation is unfortunately OOP itself, but copies are still out there if you dig.
Thee Oh Sees - The Master’s Bedroom is Worth Spending A Night In (Tomlab)
Another SF band that hit their stride in ’08 is John Dwyer’s Thee Oh Sees. After a spurt of records (and name changes) during the past few years, the group dove headlong into ghoulish psych-punk so drugged up and depraved it’ll give you goosebumps even when you listen to it at noon. Billy Childish should be pleased.
Additional bonus points for the rad cover art—I’ll take one of whatever he’s having, please.
The Bug - London Zoo (Ninja Tune)
Urban paranoia never sounded attractive. Kevin Martin has long excelled at seeing the world through the barrel of a bong. Here, he introduces his smoked-out London to the world via 12 tracks that pair his sub-bass beats and dancehall riddims with top UK MCs such as Tippa Irie, Ricky Ranking and Warrior Queen. “Poison Dart,” with Warrior Queen, is the year’s top single and “Judgment,” with Ranking, is end credits music for the apocalypse.
Koen Holtkamp - Field Rituals (Type)
Koen Holtkamp is better known as half of acoustic-electric duo Mountains. On Field Rituals he mixes drones and melodies culled from a variety of acoustic and electric instruments with field recordings. The end result is an incredibly warm, inviting drone record.
Stephan Mathieu - Radioland (Die Schachtel)
Stephan Mathieu also breathed life into the drone genre this year with Radioland. Grand yet subliminal, awash yet finely structured, the album showcases Mathieu’s terrific attention to detail. These drones are born of great craft and it shows. Should be required listening for anyone who thinks capturing the sound of a guitar leaning against an amp for an hour constitutes a drone recording.
Scott Tuma - Not For Nobody (Digitalis)
Not For Nobody is a fitting title for a new release from an artist who works at a notoriously glacial pace. Tuma’s last album dropped five years ago and anticipation was high for this new full-length. I’d wait a decade for a record like this – guitar-based Americana indebted to folk traditions and unafraid to break from them.
Ellen Allien - SooL (Bpitch Control)
Ellen Allien stepped briefly away from the dance floor in 2008, focusing instead on soundtracking the nocturnal pulse of her beloved Berlin – or at the very least creating a kickass chill-out record. Either way, SooL succeeds. Moody, yet not melancholic, the album invites the listener deep into its labyrinthian grooves. Terrific music for waiting to catch a train.
Cheveu - Cheveu (Born Bad)
These Parisian punks are all over the place on their debut long-player. They bring horn-filled lounge grooves, crib lines from Rimbaud and, mostly, rock tighter than most bands could ever dream of. Guitar, vox, drum machine is the formula, and it’s all that’s needed to jam out just under a dozen post-punk tunes that defy categorization as completely as they demand repeat listens.
The Hospitals - Hairdryer Peace (Self-released)
Yet another Bay Area band, the Hospitals dropped a major bomb this year with their self-released LP Hairdryer Peace. Ditching all ties to the garage-slop sound of previous releases, Adam Stonehouse, Chris Gunn, Rob Enbom and Rod Meyer spit out one of the most damagingly psychedelic records ever set to wax. Shitstorm noise, cracked folk and rocket fueled punk all running into and on top of each other. Is this a joke? I certainly hope not.
On the folky reissue end of things, terrific long-lost albums by Rodriquez, John Phillips, Jim Ford, Iain Matthews, Gene Clark and Bill Quick got heavy play ’round these parts; Eddy Current Suppression Ring, Gentleman Jesse and His Men, Cheap Time, Eat Skull and Thomas Function gave sloppy, beer-marinated rock a good name; The Pink Noise, Factums and the Wierd Records stable proved that this year’s ’80s love wasn’t entirely focused on neon-loving dance groups; The Dead C got the rock out on their best record in a decade; LSD Pond, the sick collab between LSD-March and Bardo Pond kept many a late night well lit; Nagasa Ni te released an epic of Neil Young-meets-Japanese-psych tunes; Tape and Fennesz held claim to their titles as masters of the organic drone; Omit returned with a two-disc set of frighteningly minimal electronic pulse; and hip-hop pioneer Steinski was given the love of a deluxe career retrospective.
There’s so much more that could be written – and I’m sure I’ve forgotten much that deserves words – but I’ll stop at this.
Here’s to a great year and hopes of an equally impressive 2009.
Support the artists you love.
By Ethan Covey