2008: Nate Knaebel
While listening to music all day everyday this year, I occasionally found myself wanting to pack it in and call it a day. I’d get a tinge of relief when I considered the prospect of relegating music to a less substantial part of my life, something that played in the background and never became a demanding endeavor. I wondered why I put so much effort into tracking down, analyzing and cataloging something that was ultimately supposed to be about pure enjoyment.
Well, it’s because of records like the ones listed below. I hesitate to call these my favorite records of the year (though some of them are), nor do they represent all of the great music I’ve heard in 2008 (though much of it would fall into that category). Instead, this is a bundle of singles, full-lengths, reissues and comps that made me realize why I do the deep digging (relatively speaking) and heavy lifting required to be an obsessive music fan. Even though I can still feel a little exhausted by music, nothing is as exhilarating as hearing a great record for the first time. These platters knocked me out of my stupor.
Sex Vid - Communal Living / "Nests" 7” (Dom America)
I like hardcore, as I am still not without a certain vile misanthrope lurking within. Hardcore offers the occasional and necessary reprieve. I also happen to prefer that my hardcore have a distinct lack of a social or political agenda. Sex Vid thrillingly delivers the damage. Thanks for the hate vibe, boys and girls.
Arthur Russell – Love is Overtaking Me (Audika)
Arthur Russell is an endless source of surprise and pleasure for me. I enjoyed the disco records I’d heard, but I was truly taken aback when I first experienced Russell’s solo cello/vocal pieces. I’m even further back now, thanks to this collection of folk-pop singer-songwriter exercises that spans nearly the length of his career. A genre workout? Perhaps to a degree, but no one approaches pop music problem solving quite like Arthur Russell. He sings himself back home to Iowa here, and we’re lucky to have the opportunity to join him.
Pink Reason - "Borrowed Time" 7” (Fashionable Idiots)
This single made me a genuine fan of Kevin DeBroux and Pink Reason, as opposed to a listener trying to make sense out of an enigmatic artist. Of a piece conceptually, perhaps, with his 2007 full-length debut on Siltbreeze, this single is ultimately a different musical animal altogether: a brisk, cantankerous punk blast that’s over before you can process just what you’ve heard. It doesn’t quite solve the mystery of Pink Reason, but it makes the investigation all the more compelling.
Vivian Girls - Vivian Girls (In the Red)
Vivian Girls do what they do just right. Not excessively twee nor excessively grrrly, their simple take on fuzzy sing-along pop rings perfectly true. I’m glad – not elated or psyched, mind you, just glad – this kind of hum is back on the table. The question to me isn’t necessarily what’s not to love, rather what is there to hate?
Cobra Verde – Haven’t Slept All Year / Prisonshake – Dirty Moons (Scat)
Sometimes crafting a good rock album is complicated, sometimes it isn’t. I offer you these albums as contrasting cases in point. The latter is the 15-years-in-the-making album that everyone in the industry should have paid attention to this year. The former is an unexpected gem that I wrote about at length earlier in the month. As a Pittsburgher born and raised, I’m reluctant to heap any further praise than I already have on a pair of bands from Cleveland. That said, I thank god every day I’m from the Rust Belt..
Dennis Wilson – Pacific Ocean Blue (Legacy)
Constructed out of bits of gospel, pop and funk, 1977’s Pacific Ocean Blue is as ambitious and fully realized as any of the more conceptually minded Beach Boys records from the late 1960s/early ’70s and certainly better than anything the brothers managed to put together in the 1980s. Dennis was able to pull off a master stroke during a time when Brian was getting fat and paranoid. Better suited to the bitterly cold months of an east coast winter than the peak of a California summer, Pacific Ocean Blue posits that the warmth of the sun is merely a state of mind. The album was reissued this year with the requisite bonus disc of outtakes and unfinished business, but the original 16 songs stand strong on their own.
The Goodnight Loving – The Goodnight Loving (Dusty Medical)
I wasn’t sure at first, but I’m now convinced that this, the Goodnight Loving’s third full-length, is the band’s finest so far. Some might disparagingly call it their most mature, but it also contains one of the group’s most giddily unhinged numbers in “Mad is the Man.” It’s a garage rock album made sweet by the country melancholy that pervades it, with the end effect resonating like a twangy, caffeinated take on Jonathan Richman’s “That Summer Feeling” – wistful nostalgia with a switchblade beat.
Jay Reatard - "Always Wanting More"/"You Mean Nothing To Me" 7” (Matador)
My favorite single from Matador’s 7” series. Much was made of the evolution in sound from the first single to the last, but this one, which came roughly in the middle, represents the man at his best. The songs capture Reatard’s ace writing skills and pop smarts (see the keyboard-driven b-side), while still allowing Jay space to spew palpable disgust at the songs’ anonymous subjects. You can see where Reatard is headed on this single, but there’s also a sense that he’s thankfully not going to stray too far from where he’s been.
The Dirtbombs – We Have You Surrounded (In the Red)
No one does revolution like the Motor City. On their fourth full-length, Detroit’s own Dirtbombs channel the spirit of the Grande Ballroom through a glitter smacked pseudo sci-fi future. If the martial cadence on the cover of Dead Moon’s “Fire In the Western World” doesn’t make you want take to the streets, then nothing will. Mick Collins has granted us all five more minutes to make a decision. Now we all must choose.
Eddy Current Suppression Ring - Primary Colours (Aarght!/Goner)
Like the album itself, I’ll keep this one simple. Tight, tough punk-tinged garage songs that make me glad I’m a fan of the whole lousy mess called rock. See my extended review for further thoughts.
Nodzzz - “I Don’t Wanna (Smoke Marijuana)” (Make a Mess)
This is exactly how I felt in high school.
Times New Viking - Rip It Off (Matador)
Mudhoney - The Lucky Ones (Sub Pop)
Cheap Time - Cheap Time (In the Red)
Thalia Zedek - Liars And Prayers (Thrill Jockey)
Randy Newman - Harps And Angels (Nonesuch)
Pierced Arrows - Straight To The Heart (Tombstone)
Thomas Function - Celebration (Alive)
Oxford Collpase - Bits (Sub Pop)
Blank Dogs - On Two Sides (Trouble Man)
Gentleman Jesse - Introducing Gentlemen Jesse & His Men (Douchemaster)
Bob Dylan - Tell Tale Signs: Bootleg Series Volume 8 (Columbia)
Charlie Louvin - Step to Heaven (Tompkins Square)
Al Green - Lay it Down (Blue Note)
Hank IV - Refuge in Genre (Siltbreeze)
Thanks for listening.
By Nate Knaebel