Old Music…2008 C.E.
Greg has done an excellent job of raking in this year’s best (at least in his highly-informed opinion) albums. That’s great stuff (I’m only speaking generally because I think Coldplay’s Viva La Vida is mostly rubbish), but how much of it will we be listening to in two years? Because music is in-and-out so frequently I’ve composed what I consider the best albums of 2008, though none of them were released this year. Lend me your ear eye.
If you or I were to look at a list of our favorite albums from two years ago it would probably be different than the list we would make today. I’m suspecting a lot of the albums that I considered my favorite from two years ago have lost ground in my personal rating and that is not to say that the latest albums have replaced them. What I’ve found is that through recycling the music I listen to I sit with an album longer and it really grows on me. For instance, I first heard Elliott Smith’s Figure 8 in 2001. Since then this album has been climbing its way up my list and I considered it my favorite album of 2005 (even better than Come on Feel the Illinoise!, the quintessential indie-folk hit that year). If Greg’s picks were subjective, mine will likely be hyper-subjective. This whole thing also has to do with the fact that the music I listen to usually gets to my ears one of three ways: by way of NPR/KCRW, by way of associated acts (i.e. I heard of Sufjan Stevens because he once played in Danielson, an earlier favorite of mine), or by way of a highly sophisticated (and elitist) filtration system consisting largely of Greg Stump.
With all of that said, I must also add that I have not purchased much new music from this year. In fact, as I look at my computer the only albums I see in my iTunes library from 2008 are Ratatat’s LP3, Danielson’s Danielson Alive EP (free online), and Danielson’s Trying Hartz. I’m not against new music, but I suppose that after sampling I wasn’t compelled to buy many new full albums this year. That is not to say that I’ve not grown in my musical breadth: according to my “date added” information in my iTunes library I’ve added more than forty albums to my iTunes this year (and it’s not over), thus I’ve purchased more than forty albums this year (buying used music on Amazon is incredible). So out of the albums that I’ve purchased this year here are my top ten.
1. Brian Eno—Another Green World (1975): My intense affections for Brian Eno are entirely thanks to a certain ladyfriend who introduced me to his work. This album feels like it’s been in my rotation for years, but I only bought it earlier this year and it’s my favorite listen this year for two main reasons (both a result of Brian Eno’s genius): (1) This album samples what eventually became his more atmospheric music, something that makes me wonder how tracks like “Zawinul/Lava” weren’t actually part of Ágætis Byrjun (not that I have an especially strong affinity for Sigur Rós, but they do make lovely music). (2) Brian Eno is a great visionary and songwriter, whether it is dreaming up soundscapes and turning them into pioneering electronic music or writing sentimental songs oftentimes about the simplicities and complexities of love.
2. Bauhaus—The Sky’s Gone Out (1982): This album begins with one of my favorite Brian Eno songs, “Third Uncle,” so I immediately fell in love. From what I’ve read the main dissatisfaction with this album is the fact that it feels less uniform than its predecessor Mask, like a compilation rather than an album. I believe the musical diversity plays as a strength, especially once one has ventured past the honest and bleak three-song movement, “The Three Shadows,” into the heartbreakingly nostalgic “All We Ever Wanted Was Everything.” This album is a great musical experience, an excellent listen—one of my favorites—and it’s unlikely to leave you wanting to either take your life or become a vampire, in case either of those are your fears.
3. Morrissey—Viva Hate (1988): Let’s face it, if I was a homosexual and he would have me, I’d probably marry Morrissey. Until this year Viva Hate has been missing from my music library and it’s been missing primarily because it shares three tracks with Morrissey’s 1990 release, Bona Drag, which I already owned. With those three tracks representing some of my favorite points in Bona Drag, I figured I didn’t need to go for Viva Hate…until now. What was I thinking? I love every track on this album—possibly excluding “Bengali In Platforms” due to its repetitiveness—and while it is sometimes one’s experience to enjoy Morrissey primarily due to what he does lyrically/vocally and sometimes even despite his backing band, Viva Hate is both elegant (i.e. “Margaret On The Guillotine”) and aggressive (i.e. “Alsatian Cousin”) musically, drawing us in with both.
4. Tom Waits—Alice (2002): Before this year most of my exposure to Tom Waits was contained in his work from 1971-1987. I bought Mule Variations in 2004 and Orphans in 2006, but was unfamiliar with the others: Big Time, Night on Earth, Bone Machine, The Black Rider, Blood Money, Alice, and Real Gone. They’ve all proven to be gems, but none as much as Alice (at least not yet). This album is composed of songs for the musical of the same name based on Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. No tracks feel like clones of each another whether that is due to Tom’s oddball and dynamic vocal idiosyncrasies or the great instrumental diversity we have come to expect from his music. Tom Waits is on top of his game in this album, weaving in and out of coherent, semi-coherent, and incoherent vocals, all with great intentionality and affect. If only “Cats” had a score this interesting.
5. The Smashing Pumpkins—Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness (1995): In 1995 one of my brothers gave this album to me. I had heard a number of tracks including “Tonight, Tonight” on the radio and through listening to Mellon Collie (divided into two parts: “Dawn to Dusk” & “Twilight to Starlight”) I experienced a great musical awakening at age 9. I continued to listen to this eclectic double LP regularly until my second year of high school when my best friend “borrowed” it and I never saw it again. I recently re-purchased the album and as [hopefully] a more seasoned listener was blown away by both the conceptual coherence and diversity; a beautiful tension between hope and despair, good and evil, love and hate. For an album of 28 tracks the potential for a number of worthless songs is a great danger, but whether or not occasional industrial alternative rock is my musical preference these days this album is most certainly a beast of creative genius.
6. The Germs—(GI) (1979): This is the one and only studio release by Los Angeles punk band The Germs and is an excellent example of punk’s first steps toward hardcore—away from the poppy harmonies brought to us by the likes of The Ramones—and probably mostly due to the efforts of Pat Smear. Nothing on this album is superfluous, each track moving swiftly and aggressively into the next, keeping the listener engaged with the often Diamond Dogs-esque apocalyptic lyrics of the late Darby Crash. Everything from the pleasantly surprising production quality (thanks to Joan Jett, someone I generally expect little from) to the aggressive (yet precise) musicianship makes this album an excellent contribution to the foundation of punk rock.
7. The Rolling Stones—Between the Buttons (1967): This album represents a high point in The Rolling Stones’ career: they were moving beyond their adolescence (with the likes of other “British Invaders” such as The Beatles and The Kinks) and they had yet to write Their Satanic Majesties Request. This album is full of solid and memorable baroque pop tracks, each one of them wonderfully catchy and sloppy, demonstrating the magical songwriting capabilities of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.
8. Adolescents—The Adolescents (1981): Prior to hearing this album I had a rather intense aversion toward Adolescents because of their close association with two bands I find myself often despising: The Vandals and Social Distortion. But I was foolish not to give Adolescents a chance as this album has made it onto my top ten non-2008 albums of 2008. Full of, well, rather adolescent-type lyrics, fast punk rock drumming, and catchy guitar and bass riffs, this album proves to endure as a classic punk rock masterpiece.
9. The Kinks—Kinda Kinks (1965): Production quality aside, this album showcases Ray Davies’ excellent writing ability. With both somber/mellow and energetic tracks this album is perfect for driving on sunny days, for falling in love, and for breaking up.
10. Converge—When Forever Comes Crashing (1998): This 1998 album was reissued in 2005 with bonus material! If you’re unfamiliar, Converge is probably the best thing to come out of Salem, Massachusetts since Nathaniel Hawthorne. They’ve been melting faces with metal since 1991 and this album certainly shows few signs of letting up. For 1998 it was well ahead of its time and still proves to be an enjoyable (if you like metal) and ingenious effort.