2008: Jon Dale
Over the past month, I’ve filled out five end-of-year polls for various music publications and each time I’ve felt wearier than the previous. It’s not even that I find the whole premise to be pretty fake – it’s just that no one has perfect recall, and I always forget that one record I really loved back in January… So what you’ve got here is a bunch of things that kept me going through 2008, a fun list from a pretty good year, all things said and done. I’ve missed literally hundreds of records, not to mention books, films, etc – but I’ve also not just kept this to releases from 2008, nor just albums/singles. If you contain your year-end documentation to releases from the year you just lived through, it’s probably not going to fairly reflect your time in audio. So – just let it roll.
V/A – Steam Kodok (Grey Past)
Just picked up this collection of great tracks from ‘60s Singapore and South-East Asia. Wild, woolly, and on occasion – i.e. the mysterious Fox – freak-out weird. Released back in 2003, I think, it does Sublime Frequencies better than the Bishop brothers…
Franciene Thomas – “I’ll Be There”/”Too Beautiful To Be Good” (The Numero Group)
The Numero Group did well this year, but these two songs, both included on Eccentric Soul: The Tragar & Note Labels, were the real find. “Too Beautiful To Be Good” in particular is just devastating – and listen to that drummer!
Martina Kudláček – Notes On Marie Menken (Index)
A beautiful film about a beautiful film maker, Kudláček captures the warmth and beauty of Menken the individual and Menken the creative force – not that the two are separable, in any case. Jonas Mekas is brilliant in this film, and seeing Menken’s films again reminded me how much we all owe her, for liberating underground film from its assumptions, its myths, its ‘tortured artist status,’ and handing us the world, simply captured and celebrated in all its color and pace and love, in short, vivid, kinetic bursts.
Hoss – live at The Factory, Sydney
Crow - “Ravine” (Phantom)
Gig of the year? Hoss, who are hands down the greatest rock band in Australia (sorry, but Eddy Current Suppression Ring haven’t claimed that title just yet). Joel Silbersher’s sunglasses and between-song banter are to die for. Hoss do what they do, no pretension or fuss, and the world is better for it. Crow played the same night and their set was a shambles, but they pulled off a great version of my favorite song of theirs, “Ravine.” I was doubly happy when I finally found the “Confection”/“Ravine” 7” a few days ago in Melbourne.
There seemed to be a lot of sound art and sound exhibitions this year, and frankly I found most of them tiresome and embarrassing. They pretty much all screamed Dude, Where’s My Arts Funding at the top of their institutionalized lungs. And any way, when it comes to the meeting of sound and art, Dieter Rot’s Selten Gehorte Musik did it best, first. Particularly the piece where he drinks booze and plays piano, badly. Now that’s sound art I can get behind.
The Bangs - “Getting Out Of Hand” (Downkiddie)
The Bangles – The Bangles (Faulty Products/IRS)
Finally heard these thanks to the generosity of Jay Hinman at Detailed Twang. I have no qualms with the Bangles – “Going Down To Liverpool” and “Manic Monday” are incredible – but their first two EPs are the kind of breathless, gorgeous ‘60s pop that people think the Vivian Girls are making (actually, I enjoy them too). Up there with mid-period Redd Kross and the Pandoras, in terms of perfect period pieces.
Nathaniel Dorsky – Devotional Cinema (Tuumba)
I spent so much time this year reading student essays that I’d often feel like my brain had taken leave of my skull when I got home from the office, which meant I was dysfunctional and could barely focus, but one book I still found myself returning to was American underground film maker Nathaniel Dorsky’s Devotional Cinema. Ostensibly about the relationship between film and religion, it features some beautiful, simply expressed passes on the primacy of film material, and the transfigurative properties of film. Better than any music criticism I read this year – and it’s from 2001.
Green Beret - Green Beret (Sabbatical)
I just picked up the Green Beret CD-R (Gulbenkoglu, Henry Krips and Justin Fuller) and it’s typically excellent, but really I just wanted to talk about my friend Arek, and how I admire his patience, intelligence, and unerring sense of the appropriate. Last Friday night I caught him in a quintet alongside Dale Gorfinkel, Rosalind Hall, Philip Samartzis and Natasha Anderson, and while they didn’t always gel, there was some great music in there, and I’d be particularly keen to hear the core trio of Gorfinkel, Gulbenkoglu and Hall in action.
Rickie Lee Jones - The Sermon On Exposition Boulevard (New West)
Every note she’s been involved with since she started, really, but particularly Girl At Her Volcano. Seriously rediscovering The Evening Of My Best Day after dismissing it for years, and I’m still obsessing over last year’s Sermon On Exposition Boulevard. Plus, I can’t believe she almost toured with Current 93!
Sic Alps – U.S. Ez (Siltbreeze)
Was this another one of those years when punk supposedly breaks? I was surprised at how many people got excited about Sic Alps, Eat Skull, Los Llamarada etc., not to mention who was getting excited, but there’s something inarguable about Sic Alps in particular. They’re the perfect blend of US/NZ recording techniques and Anglophone melodic sass.
Because he was the only person I would reach for when I needed to scratch that musique concrete itch. There’s an itch associated with that, right?
Sure, I should resent them for keeping me in the financial doghouse, but I admire the tenacity of these three mail order and/or record stores, flying the flag for the fetish object in a climate of ephemerality, and patiently refining and defining their respective aesthetics when all around them, the music industry goes into ‘shit sticking to walls’ mode. Plus they’re run by some of my favorite people on the planet.
2008 was the year I decided the Ex and the Mekons were our greatest ambassadors for punk as politics, and I probably spent more hours and garnered more pleasure from listening to key entries in their combined back catalogs than any other artists (quickly, though, “Ghosts Of American Astronauts”, Fear And Whisky, Blueprints For A Blackout and Singles Period). The Ex’s label Terp quietly released some excellent music too, and I scored two great Ex DVDs.
The most consistently slamming run of records this year came from Mississippi, from their Irma Thomas reissue (on side label Change), through an excellent set of compilations of old blues and gospel (the recent Fight On, Your Time Ain’t Long is particularly special), Love Is Love, and yet the best was the magic of Washington Phillips, whose What Are They Doing In Heaven Today reduced at least one friend of mine to tears of joy. Plus, they reissued Dog Faced Hermans = maximum respect.
V/A - Victrola Favorites (Dust To Digital)
Some of 2008’s most pleasurable listening came from the Climax Golden Twins’ cherry-picking of their 78s collection for Victrola Favourites, and their on-line peers at Excavated Shellac, whose vaults are as deep as their owners are generous.
Jesus Loves You – “Generations Of Love” (More Protein)
This has not been a good time for Boy George, has it? Still, a serious flashback moment with “Generations Of Love,” plus finding the Terry Farley & Pete Heller remix 12” recently, reminded me of his period of greatness in the early 1990s, completely caught up in dance music. And, uh, collaborating with an ex-member of Haysi Fantayzee…
Damon & Naomi – More Sad Hits (20/20/20)
They’ve released plenty of great albums since, but Damon & Naomi’s debut, freshly reissued on their own label, is still my sentimental favorite – melancholy but brave, at times dryly funny (“This Changing World”), this was their Robert Wyatt Rock Bottom re-invention moment.
Breakdance The Dawn’s samizdat, hit-and-run approach to releasing music means they reclaim their title as Australia’s greatest label for 2008, while their Japanese cousin Black Petal had a stunning year, the uncompromising content of their CD-Rs matched by the gorgeousness of their packaging. Buy everything on sight (and especially those new Yr Intestines discs).
Villalobos - “Enfants (Chants)” (Sei Es Drum)
Sis - “Trompeta” (Sei Es Drum)
Both these tracks are simple, maddening, mind-numbing, yet why do I return to them over anything else either artist released through ‘08? Because they’re plateaus of pleasure, perfectly balancing cheese and charm.
Antiopic Allegorical Power Series
Ultra-Red’s political audio is concrete yet suggestive, absolutely clear in its conceptual parameters yet often quite seductive as a listening experience – almost tactile, synaesthesic. Their net label, Public Record, was one of the reasons I broke my ‘no downloading’ position. Antiopic’s Allegorical Power Series, a run of MP3s questioning how experimental music could deal with politics, was another. Both polemical in intent, they’re provocative interventions in a digital landscape that sometimes feels full of zeroes.
Robert Wyatt – Old Rottenhat (Domino)
Robert Wyatt – “Amber And The Amberines” (Domino)
The pick of Domino’s extensive Robert Wyatt reissue campaign, this has Old Rottenhat himself campaigning, landing ideological blows against the empire. Nice also to have Wyatt’s most moving song, “Amber And The Amberines,” readily available – its humming, mournful gravitas both sublime and cutting, a rejoinder to humanity.
Harry Pussy – You’ll Never Play This Town Again (Load)
Form-eviscerating hardcore-not-hardcore from my favourite power trio, this essential compilation revisits their ‘final era.’ You really do need five versions of “Smash The Mirror” in your life.
DJ Sprinkles – “Ball’r (Madonna Free Zone)” (Mule Musiq)
snd4, 5, 6 (snd)
Terre Thaemlitz/snd “You Speak What I Feel” (Comatonse)
snd are here because the rigorousness of their triple-pack was refreshing after the wetness and softness of so much electronic music. “Ball’r” is more seductive, cloaking its hard politics in effervescent deep house. Disengaged from a queer community and culture that’s had its political spine ripped from its back through its shift from localised activism to globalised hedonism, Terre Thaemlitz is the canniest operator in audio.
Arthur Russell – Love Is Overtaking Me (Rough Trade/Audika)
I know some people who thought the archives of Arthur Russell could yield no finer fruit than previous Audika releases, but Love is Overtaking Me‘s affective negotiations of romance in the everyday proved them wrong. Arthur Russell will out-yield us all.
Scorces – I Turn Into You (Not Not Fun)
Christina Carter – Masque Feminine (Many Breaths)
Christina Carter and Heather Leigh Murray are among the very few artists who follow their own logic and suggest there are ways to play together – and apart – which fit neither ‘responsive’ nor ‘parallel’ approaches to improvisation. In short, they’re working toward a new language.
By Jon Dale