2008: Doug Mosurock
I may have listened to more music in 2008 than ever before in my life. Maybe it was the massive crush of releases that swung my way, or maybe it was to keep my mind off of the pendulum swings of underemployment and overextension. The world sucked a fat one this year as well, and we’re all feeling the pain right now.
Nevertheless, there was a surprising amount of greatness present in 2008’s offerings, even as the mediocrity presented before me threatened to blot it all out. I think we were all waiting for that other shoe to drop this year, though we probably weren’t expecting it aimed at Bush’s dome. The economy damn near collapsed (to say nothing of Iceland’s) and one out of every two of my friends seems to have lost a job in the past twelve months. Here’s hoping that a tightening of the belt will reign in some of these folks who conflate the size of the personalities with the scope of their musical abilities in 2009. We need to get back to the things that matter, and for now, being obnoxious about the things you push out into the market doesn’t fit into the game plan.
I’ve been busy and therefore do not wish to rank these records. All you need to know is that they meant a lot to me this year, and they might to you as well. Most represent a return to core values in rock music, as well as build upon rock’s foundations to make something memorable.
P.S. Still Single will return in January with highlights from 2008 and perhaps a podcast of songs that moved me throughout the year, both old and new. My deepest apologies to those of you who were left hanging. There are only so many hours in the week.
Kurt Vile - Constant Hitmaker (Gulcher)
Like so many of today’s lo-fi practitioners, Kurt Vile has been releasing CD-Rs and tapes at a ridiculous clip for years. But it’s on Constant Hitmaker, a collection of these recordings, where the artist proves that years of experience and practice make all the difference between a memorable, timeless collection of material, regardless of fidelity or equipment. Mr. Vile, also a member of the band The War on Drugs, has mastered his own 4-track, and bestows upon these songs the depth missing from just about everything that surfaced this year. Gorgeous, homemade wanderings that mitigate psych, Springsteen, GBV and Flying Saucer Attack; even his castoffs sound richer and more rewarding than most bands’ A-games. After ’08s onslaught of straight-to-eBay releases is long forgotten, this will be the record I remember that brightened a bleak year.
Dan Melchior und Das Menace - Christmas for the Crows (Daggerman)
The British-born singer/songwriter behind the Broke Revue and collaborations with Billy Childish and Holly Golightly begins his weird Southern period in earnest with this overstuffed, yet unreasonably compelling album. Adrift in the Carolinas, Melchior’s most realized work to date strikes hollow, haunted notes of sadness and regret, and outlines a plan to live with the ghosts rather than exorcise them.
Torche - Meanderthal (Hydra Head)
Saw them live and they didn’t do much for me, but there’s really no getting around Miami’s Torche as a band that got me excited for variation in heavy music again. Of course they did it from a direction I couldn’t expect to have enjoyed: poppy, upbeat, alt-rock-nicking mini-anthems that leveraged the off-kilter rippers, a la Chavez, with the ferocious bottom of Karp. Moves a lot of air really quickly, gets the fist in the air, then shoves you into a puddle. Perfectly sequenced and expertly realized.
Prisonshake - Dirty Moons (Scat)
Twenty years is a long time to sit on releasing the long-promised double album that your fans waited for until they all but forget about you. Yet, somehow, Prisonshake – one hometown and a good 15 years between albums – quietly, proudly resurfaced with their Golden Hind in tow. It’s excessive but hard to forget, one rock classic after the other, after the other, after the other, riffs piling up like cordwood.
Viva L’American Death Ray Music - Sangre Libre (Sangre Libre)
Nicholas D. Ray’s fifth album under the VLADRM banner does more than right itself after a disappointing fourth. The double-length Sangre Libre actually repurposes its predecessor as a preamble, expanding its themes of dub, Krautrock, polyamorous glam rock, and Fall worship, all rubbed off on a sturdy Memphis garage framework. It’s a highly personal review of what music means to one man, and lucky for us, it’s a compelling enough tale to tell over and over.
Cheveu - s/t (S-S/Born Bad)
Parisian post-punk sleaze that travels light; nothing more is needed for Cheveu to get down than a guitar, an amp, a mic and a drum machine, but the trio explores this lineup from every viable angle, and comes up a winner again and again. Somewhere between Ween, a country tease, and the first party at your new address, with all the wound-up energy and thick, debasing riffage such an event would require.
Pumice - Quo (Soft Abuse)
Stefan Neville provides hope for an afterlife in New Zealand’s storied tradition of worthwhile singer/songwriters and experimentalists, enabling his country’s music to progress from where the candle blew out about a decade ago. File alongside greats like Alastair Galbraith who are still getting behind things down there and pushing hard.
Portishead - Third (Mercury)
Cold, closed-off beats and sharp corners from this sump of loneliness, made even more striking by the group’s insistence to plow through the burnt-down remnants of their ‘90s output. Portishead is no longer interested in making music for dorm room peel ‘n’ spread operations, retaining the grace away from such actions and leaving it in the clumsy hands of ham-and-eggers like Fall Out Boy. They are now content to provide the score of the world crumbling around us.
Eddy Current Suppresion Ring - Primary Colours (Goner)
Clean-cut, offhandedly superior Australian garage rock, stripped of all excess so that only the music could make or break it, saved by earnest riffage and an honesty that most bands in their area lack. Their first album was pretty good, but this one is great.
Awesome Color - Electric Aborigines (Ecstatic Peace!)
This one got no love from just about everyone. Clean the shit out of your ears! Don’t fault a rock and roll band for making a rock and roll record, especially one as unerring and truthful as this. Improving on their debut in just about every way possible, this is the line by which ye who can walk it stay on the right side of, while ye who can merely talk it run from with disdain. Not in my back yard, indeed.
Endless Boogie - Focus Level (No Quarter)
There was a time when I couldn’t stand this group, but Focus Level has brought about an improved, richer recording and minor refinements that have made all the difference. They crack the top 10 just by virtue of how much this one impressed me, and how easy it is to get lost in their infinite groove. A really good time to be had here.
The Dutchess & the Duke - She’s the Dutchess, He’s the Duke (Hardly Art)
Jerusalem & the Starbaskets - The Howling (self-released)
Idea Fire Company - The Island of Taste (Swill Radio)
Ulaan Khol - I / II (Soft Abuse)
Cult of Youth - A Stick to Bind, A Seed to Grow (Dais)
Black Time - Double Negative (In the Red)
Naked on the Vague - The Blood Pressure Sessions (Siltbreeze)
Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks - Real Emotional Trash (Matador)
Deerhunter - Microcastle/Weird Era Cont’d. (Kranky)
Fucked Up - The Chemistry of Common Life (Matador)
Birds of Maya - Vol. 1 (Holy Mountain)
The Ooga Boogas - Romance and Adventure (Aarght!)
Country Teasers - “W.O.A.R.” side of split LP w/ Ezee Tiger (Holy Mountain)
Religious Knives - Resin (No Fun) / Live at Big Jar Books (Archive) / The Door (Ecstatic Peace)
Crime Desire - s/t (Life’s a Rape)
Meneguar - The In Hour (Woodsist)
Shit & Shine - Küss Mich, Meine Liebe (Load)
Los Llamarada - Take the Sky (S-S)
Breeders - Mountain Battles (4AD)
Harvey Milk - Life … the Best Game in Town (Hydra Head)
Cold Sun - Dark Shadows (World in Sound)
Unlike any other psychedelic record of its time, or any time in between 1970 and now. Finally available in a legitimate issue, this is a world beater of lost, paranoid psychedelic expression, as jubilant as it is shivering. Were you to drop $60+ on new vinyl, this would be the one to do it on.
Soft Location - Diamonds & Gems (Senseless Empire)
Awesome Color’s Mike Troutman pressed up this 2004 CD by a defunct Michigan dream-pop band simply because it needed to be done. He was right. This is a major rediscovery with an intimate feel, like the kind of record only friends of the band would know. Singer-songwriter Kathy Leisen establishes herself as a bright talent; nowadays I’m told she can’t even be reached for comment. Please, Kathy, make more music.
Tommy Jay - Tom’s Tall Tales of Trouble (Columbus Discount)
Thankfully, lo-fi is running its course, and the better participants of that mess (Times New Viking, Women, Pink Reason) are doing what they can to keep the good separated from the multitudes of bad. The reissue of Tommy Jay’s 1986 cassette compendium of material might not have existed without it, though, and combined with how youngins scrutinize and recontextualize the past, you’d think this was a lost reel by Roky Erickson or the Velvets. You’d be halfway right, too. Jay proves himself the unsung voice of Ohio’s proto-punk underground, and with this reissue he drags compatriots Mike Rep and Nudge Squidfish back out into the open, the plangent sounds of operating in secret blown wide open. It’s great to have all of these guys back in action – see also the new Mike Rep and the Quotas 12”, and the Harrisburg Players 7” on the same label – but this one is the champ.
Mission of Burma - Vs. / Signals, Calls and Marches / The Horrible Truth About Burma (Matador)
An enormous effort: full remasters of Mission of Burma’s complete Ace of Hearts catalogue, complete with bonus tracks and DVDs of priceless live footage from way back when. Even if you’ve owned the originals or the Ryko editions, these are worth grabbing. There’s no mistaking the quality involved; these records have finally been given the lavish treatment they deserve. Burma’s currently performing at the peak of their powers (2005’s The Obliterati remains one of the strongest efforts of the decade), and it’s a blessing that they have a home that supports them in such a respectful fashion. Long may they burn.
Irma Thomas - Sings (Change!/Mississippi)
Obscured, misunderstood, brazen, and vital, Portland’s Mississippi imprint – vinyl-only, operating in an admittedly gray area, and purposely secretive in their intent and operations – provides reissues of a wide swath of music both popular and regional. They’ve come under fire for some of their works, but those of us who care wait eagerly for each offering, and pick them up as soon as they’re made available. In a year that found the label under fire for “bootlegging” African music, firing off legit reissues by pre-Dead Moon band the Rats and messtheticists Animals & Men, and dropping more incredible compilations of music dedicated to the struggle, this one – covering New Orleans R&B legend Thomas’ singles sides, in blatant violation with EMI copyrights – was the crown jewel; a perfect example, an implicit understanding of the curatorial relationship between a one-of-a-kind label and the lives they enrich through its work.
Dave E. and the Cool Marriage Counselors - Searching for Sears 7” EP (Christmas Pets)
Out of another gray area comes this unexpected gem, an absolutely essential piece of Cleveland punk history. Lost sounds from Electric Eels frontman Dave McManus, rendered at what sounds like the brink of sanity on toy instruments and acapella arrangements. Suburban dread and love life as pulpy noir reminiscences. Wish there were more than these three songs, but I’ll take what I can get.
Severed Heads - Adenoids 1977-1985 (Vinyl-on-Demand)
S.P.K. - Dokument III0 (Vinyl-on-Demand)
Five LPs of Severed Heads tapes, outtakes and live material not enough to tide over your Australian tape/splice/post-modern jones? How about twelve sides of live destruction by S.P.K. in a wooden box, not to mention reissues of their first three singles, if you were lucky enough to score the limited edition? The world’s most extravagant and vital reissue label – one which plumbs the depths of experimental/industrial/post-punk/minimal synth grandeur, and presents its findings in lavish box sets – shook me to my core with these offerings, and with 2009’s schedule in place (M-Squared box set!) and a sagging Euro, I may be enticed enough to become a subscriber this year.
Dennis Wilson - Pacific Ocean Blue (Sundazed)
A deluxe 3xLP version sits next to my $7 used copy. This is one I don’t mind having doubles of, the sound of internal collapse from the dreamer of the Wilson clan. Glad it’s back around.
Rodriguez - Cold Fact (Light in the Attic)
An American reissue of Sixto Rodriguez’s albums (the second, Coming From Reality, is on its way) was a bold and audacious surprise, when really it shouldn’t be – people all over the world have identified with his weary, embittered sounds of struggle, as evidenced on Cold Fact, and it’s great that the man is finally getting his due.
Best Live Sets of 2008
1-10. The Vaselines - Maxwell’s, Hoboken NJ, 7/11/2008
Labels of the Year
For kickstarting a neo-folk resurgence (Cult of Youth), championing old school noise (Whip & the Body) and new synth pop with purpose (Cold Cave), as well as documenting the far flung corners of Genesis Breyer P-Orridge’s body of work. No missteps.
For getting a lot of different people excited about some really great music, from Times New Viking to Fucked Up; for the Burma treatment, for Lou Reed’s Berlin, and for signing Sonic Youth. This was one of their best, most diverse and creative years to date, and will be remembered fondly.
By Doug Mosurock