Written by: Jimmy Hitt, CC2K Staff Writer
It’s been an underwhelming, unpredictable year for music so far (or has it?). 2008 has seen few of the breakout masterworks of 2007 (see Of Montreal, LCD Soundsystem, M.I.A., et al) and more discreet, experimental releases, with minimal electronic albums ruling the first six months. Since the mid-way point of the year, however, a few more traditional, exciting releases popped up that don't require much in the way of effort on the part of the listener. But, if you find yourself just too damn busy these days to keep up with new releases, the following ten albums should provide a fairly comprehensive guide to the first six months of music in 2008.
Vampire Weekend got the ball rolling this year, dropping an unexpectedly solid The Police and reggae-influenced rocker that displays some serious music chops and has that classic rock sound that a lot of artists go for but don’t necessarily achieve.
Don’t be fooled by the name: Bottomless Pit is not a death metal band; far from it, in fact. On Hammer of the Gods, the Chicago band evokes the subtle seriousness of fellow Midwesterners The National, but manages to do them one better by crafting more immediate and searing lyrics on top of expert and time-tested rock and roll riffs.
High Places’ 03/07-09/07 followed shortly thereafter and remains one of the more precious electronic gems thus far. In typical electronic fashion, the band consists of a dude sitting in front of a wall of devices and a chica on vocals wailing about banana slugs and God knows what else.
Much the same as High Places, albeit darker and more persononal, Atlas Sound, aka Bradford Cox of Deerhunter fame, gave us Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel, a bedroom mix of droning atmospherics and soft-spoken vanity pieces reminiscent of some of Brian Eno’s more eclectic ambient pieces or Lou Reed’s softer, post-Velvet solo work, not includingMetal Machine Music, of course. Cooler still, however, is that Cox gave it away for free along with his other Atlas Sound work…respek.
But so much for soft, atmospheric indie electronica. The curiously named Fuck Buttons blew the lid off the year’s slow start with Street Horsssing, a collection of hypnotic jungle electronics and buried, piercing vocals that takes listeners on an epic journey of experimental noise and nouveau electronica. At times abrasive, inviting, and purely enjoyable, Street Horsssing is 8 tracks of masterful mixed up gobbledygook that never lets up and always warrants strict attention.
I get this feeling that in Scotland, bands like Belle & Sebastian and Snow Patrol are heralded as rock gods, despite the kindness of their music. Frightened Rabbit clearly take a page from those well-worn books on Midnight Organ Fight, a pop album of flavorful complexity and admirable honesty. This album is a safe bet for anyone who likes their indie-pop straightforward and devoid of the rough stuff.
France’s M83 have several interesting, if flawed, albums under their belts. Before the Dawn Heals Us saw the band stuffing wave after wave of drums and keyboards into each track, making our asses shake but also trying our patience. Now, with Saturdays = Youth , M83’s Anthony Gonzales seems to have found the right mix of 80’s nostalgia, irreverent lovey dovey lyrics, and powerful, hypnotic instrumentals.
Perhaps the biggest highlight of 2008 is Portishead’s first album in a decade, the aptly titled Third. Stripped down to the band’s barest essentials, Third could not be more personal and engrossing. Gone is the heavy handed bombast that their earlier albums’ trip-hop genre diving so often waved—and waved well—instead of making a profound statement.Third is that statement. Over very spare arrangements, Beth Gibbons’ sultry, acid-house voice floats gently and majestically for some of 2008’s finest and most haunting minutes.
More basic and immediate than any of the aforementioned, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, aka Will Oldham aka Palace aka Palace Music (you get the idea), dropped the country-tinged folk stunner Lie Down in the Light. Recalling his earlier work on I See a Darkness in name only, Lie Down is a sunny and positive exercise in love and ethical relationships. But if that sounds about as fun as a first year seminar on Pre-Socratic philosophy, fear not. If there’s one reason to peruse Oldham’s extensive catalogue, it’s for his propensity towards a strangeness that few artists can equal.
Earlier in the year, Fleet Foxes released an enjoyable, if relatively uneventful EP called Sun Giant. Now, with their self-titled debut, the band builds on its promising EP in the greatest sense. Fleet Foxes combine the hippie dexterity of other Northwestern musicians like Elliott Smith and Phil Elvrum with a certain knack for melody, harmony and unpredictability that makes them unique. Sure, it’s basic pop music, but they do it sooo well.
Along with the aforementioned artists, here are some more awesome tracks from Crystal Antlers, Crystal Castles (“crystal” is the nom du jour, see also Crystal Stilts), Lindstrom, Bloc Party, Conor Oberst (nee Bright Eyes), Wolf Parade, The Hold Steady, and Air France
As always, the songs that appear here and the bands mentioned represent just a fraction of the music worth checking out in 2008, but if you find yourself pressed for time or unable to follow what has become and increasingly varied and ginormous global music scene, this should provide as good a starting point as any.