eastes: 2008 Edition
Click here for 2007's Songs for
Swingin' Cineastes and here for
2008's Movies for Music Lovers
As ever, I like to rock, but
with the '80s revival in full
swing, I decided to give in and
embrace the synth-pop I used
to resist. It never seemed particularly cool or edgy, but rather safe, sanitized, and incredibly bourgeois. And maybe it is. May-
be I am, but I like what I like, and 2008 was a better year for
keyboards than guitars, so I went, willingly, with the flow.
In the end, though, it's still about the voice. My Spanish may be
rusty, but that doesn't matter when it comes to Argentinian TV
star-turned-indie sensation Juana Molina, since she spends as
much time scatting and sighing as she does singing. She could do
anything with that airy voice, and I would gladly follow along.
As for the Dirtbombs,
not only do they rock, but
Mick Collins is one of the
nation's finest vocalists. I
asked him about his style
once, and he laughed. He
doesn't seem to think he
has one, but it's that com-
bination of humility and flexibility that makes him such a great
front man—his guitar-playing is nothing to sneeze at either.
Every other singer below is equally compelling. Not necessar-
ily in a technical sense—whatever that means—but in terms of
personality, sincerity, or even quote-unquote insincerity, i.e.
Gary Numan's robotic drone. Me? I connect with it.
Lastly, I realize there are some old folks on this list. What can
I say? I was born in the '60s, and grew up with these fellows.
Against all odds, they've still got the goods, and yet it's far too
easy to take them for granted. Don't. It's unlikely we'll see their
kind again. Randy Newman, for one, is a national treasure.
1. Juana Molina - Un Dia (Domino)
2. The Dirtbombs - We Have You Surrounded (In the Red)
3. Santogold - Santogold (Downtown/Atlantic)
4. Santogold & Diplo - Top Ranking (Mad Decent)
5. She Keeps Bees - Nests (self-released)
6. Vivian Girls - self-titled (In the Red)
7. Jenny Lewis - Acid Tongue (Warner Brothers)
8. Mercury Rev - Snowflake Midnight (Yep Roc)
9. M83 - Saturdays = Youth (Mute)
10. Matmos - Supreme Balloon (Matador)
Note: For most of the year, the Dirtbombs were at #1, but I use a
simple litmus test for the top spot: not what's "best," but what I listen-
ed to most, and the answer is Un Dia, a record with no real beginning
or ending; it just flows from track to track. Another litmus test: did I
buy the t-shirt? In the case of the Vivian Girls: yes. (The only oth-
er band t-shirt I purchased this year features a fabulous Queen logo.)
11. Deerhunter - Microcastle/Weird Era Continued (Kranky)
12. Linda Lewis - Lark (Collector's Choice) [reissue]
13. Howlin Rain - Magnificent Fiend (Birdman)
14. Shearwater - Rook (Matador)
15. Joan as Police Woman - To Survive (Reveal)
16. Cut Copy - In Ghost Colours (Modular)
17. Karl Hector & the Malcouns - Sahara Swing (Now Again)
18. Calexico - Carried to Dust (Quarterstick/Touch & Go)
19. Randy Newman - Harps and Angels (Nonesuch)
20. James Hunter - The Hard Way (Hear Music)
Note: Unclassifiable British singer/songwriter Linda Lewis or-
iginally came in at #10, but after some friendly persuasion from
Randall Roberts, music editor of The LA Weekly, I gave her spot
to Maryland-based electronic duo Matmos. What the hell, they
killed it live...also, on 3/8/09, I switched out the Department
of Eagles with Deerhunter after catching up with Microcastle.
1. Gary Numan & Tube-
way Army - Replicas Redux (Mute)
2. Arthur Russell - Love
Is Overtaking Me (Audika)
3. Rodriguez - Cold Fact
(Light in the Attic)
4. The Shop Assistants -
Will Anything Happen
5. Steinski - What Does It All Mean?
1983–2006 Retrospective (Illegal Art)
Note: Click here for my review of Wild
Combination - A Portrait of Arthur Russell.
Other notable efforts (in alphabetical order): Arbouretum/Pontiak - Kale EP (Thrill Jockey), the Black Keys -
Attack & Release (Nonesuch), Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Dig!!
Lazarus!! Dig!! (Mute), Department of Eagles - In Ear Park (Ma-
tador) Frightened Rabbit - Midnight Organ Fight (Fat Cat), Al
Green - Lay It Down (Blue Note/EMI), Hercules and Love Af-
fair - self-titled (DFA), the Last Shadow Puppets - Age of the
Understatement (Domino), John Matthias - Stories from the
Watercooler (Counter), Sam Phillips - Don't Do Anything
(Nonesuch), Jay Reatard - Matador Singles '08 (Mata-
dor), TV on the Radio - Dear Science (Interscope),
Vampire Weekend - self-titled (XL Recordings),
Various Artists - Thank You Friends: The Ar-
dent Records Story (Big Beat), and Various
Artists - On Vine Street: The Ear-
ly Songs of Randy New-
man (Ace Records).
Top track: MIA - "Paper Planes" (DFA remix)
Note: The song features, quite exuberantly, in Danny Boyle's Slum-
dog Millionaire and also helped to promote David Gordon Green's
Pineapple Express, in which it does not otherwise appear...des-
pite Robert Christgau's Slate-based claims to the contrary.
Top show: The Dirtbombs at Neumos in May. They re-
turned in November, but I missed the second gig. How can
you top perfection? Matmos, Holly Golightly, and Battles
at Bumbershoot were also excellent...and I'm still kicking
myself for missing Howlin Rain, M83, Shearwater, and
the Vivian Girls, who played the same night as Go-
lightly, so thanks to KEXP for broadcasting live sets
from M83 and the 'Girls, who both sounded great.
Endnote: Cross-posted at Facebook. The links lead
to my CD reviews for Amazon, AndMoreAgain, and
Fuzz.com (R.I.P.). This year, I also covered music
for KEXP and Seattle Sound. Juana Molina im-
age from Sem Fio; all others from the archives.