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Fred de Vries

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Top 11 for 2008

Is it still really worth it to make end of year lists of favorite albums? Given the confusing state of the music industry one would be tempted to say no. The industry is in a mess. The CD-format is rapidly becoming obsolete, while downloads and sharity blogs flourish. Moreover, despite an overdose of good music, there wasn’t a single album that really stood out; 2008 didn’t bring us a new Closer or Entertainment! or Village Green or Damaged. Despite what the music critics try to make us believe (forget about the retro stuff of Fleet Foxes and the whine of Bon Iver) there were no classics.

Therefore this year a Top 11 that doesn’t just include albums, but also single tracks, ex aequo’s, books and blogs. And some are certainly not form 2008, but are somehow linked to the year, with ample space for women and psychedelica.

Here it is – in no particular order – my top 11 for 2008 – for what it’s worth…

1) Shannon McArdle – Summer Of The whore (Bar None Records). Great title, great break-up album. Shannon McArdle was one of the singers and songwriters of the indie band Mendoza Line, who split after making the excellent, depressing 30 Year Low. At the same time her relationship with Mendoza’s other songwriter Timothy Bracey broke down. Summer Of The Whore recounts that painful break-up. Musically it’s a more laid-back affair than the Mendoza’s, while the lyrics verge between angry, bitter, sad and relief. Fave tracks: That Night In June and He Was Gone.

2) Pink Floyd – Echoes (from the album Meddle (Harvest)). I’ve never been a huge fan of post Syd Barrett Pink Floyd, and from Animals onwards I found them increasing dull. But some of the work has certainly stood the test of time. And when I heard that keyboard player Richard Wright had died this year I played Meddle again. Wright was responsible for much of the beautifully melancholic Echoes, which covers most of side B. And what a great, simple signature he left behind with that “ping” right at the start.

3) Cat Power – Jukebox (Matador). The Guardian predicted that 2009 will be the year of female musicians and the end of indie boy bands. They added that there is especially a future for electronic female pop. Maybe that’s something Chan Marshall aka Cat Power now also should try her hands at. After all she has worked with Faithless and El-P. Her latest album Jukebox was a kind of sophisticated extension of The Covers Album from 2000. Once more she managed to make other people’s songs her own, but Jukebox lacked something as unexpected as the Stones cover (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction or something as exquisite as the Moby Grape tribute Naked If I Want To. Lovely album nonetheless. Fave track: New York, New York.

4) Michael Bracewell – Re-Make/Re-Model; Art, Pop, Fashion and the Making of Roxy Music, 1953-1972 (faber and faber, ISBN 978-0-571-22985-7). This is the story behind one of the greatest debut albums of all time. It describes in great detail the context and environment that led to the formation of Roxy Music and the recording of that sublime eponymous LP. Some critics found Bracewell’s style and unusual eye for detail (read his description of The Marcus Price shop, Newcastle’s only trendy clothing store in the early 60s) too much. I loved it, and took out that 1972 Roxy Music album to play it again and again and again. Fave track: If There Is Something.

5) Sticky Antlers – Sticky Antlers (KRNGY). Although the new Jim Neversink album still hasn’t been officially released, South Africa had plenty of interesting releases this year, especially by Afrikaans musicians such as Battery 9 and Bittervrug. But biggest kudos to the Sticky Antlers, who are part of a Pretoria collective. They started out as an improv band and crystallized into a proper fearsome lo fi noise-band that draws from outsider art, comix, underground films, Sonic Youth, PJ Harvey and The Boredoms. They’ve released numerous home-made CD-Rs on their independent KRNGY-label. Their first full length album comes with an exquisite hand made cover. The sound is distorted and haunting, occasionally verging on the hysterical. Read more about them on Fave track: Company

6) Ex aequo: Drive-By Truckers – Brighter Than Creation’s Dark and The Dexateens – Lost And Found. Southern rock continued its survival long after the heady days of €€Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Allman Brothers, thanks to efforts by the Drive-By Truckers and the Dexateens. Brighter Than Creation’s Dark is easily the best Drive-By’s album since they started in 1996. In vinyl terms it would have been a double album. Nineteen compassionate tales of losers and no hopers captured the spirit of 2008 more than anything else. Fave track: Two Daughters And A Beautiful Wife. The Dexateens started out as a bunch of southern punks, but have developed over the years into a semi-acoustic outfit that makes great use of dual vocal harmonies. Their Lost And Found can be downloaded for free (or whatever you want to pay) from Fave track: Altar Blues.

7) Paul Westerberg – 49:00. Now this is a real odd one. The former Replacement released this as one mp3, which was to be downloaded from Amazon, and would cost a mere $ 0,49. Which was great value for 43:55 minutes of music. Amazon, however, soon removed the mp3 from its list of downloadables, allegedly because of copyright issues (there is a weird bit at the end where Westerberg does a medley of old songs). So by the time I heard about this album I had to track it down on blogs. Eventually I found it, downloaded it and when I played it I thought something had gone wrong during the downloading. The first couple of songs sound ok, but then you get snatches of compositions and you hear different songs playing simultaneously. Some tracks break off in what seems to be the middle, and others start way past their intro. From various reviews I learned that it was all intentional. All in all a great, messy, ADHD piece of music. And there’s more self-released Westerberg stuff on the net, like the missing minutes of 49:00 on a track called 5:05 and Bored Of Edukation. Go and find it…

8 ) Hari Kunzru – My Revolutions (Penguin paperback, ISBN 9780141020204). This book was inspired by the Angry Brigade, London’s late 60s answer to the Rote Armee Faktion. The book traces the life of a 50-year old radical turned terrorist turned junkie turned incognito bourgeois husband. An exciting, entertaining novel that should be read while playing Pink Fairies and Hawkwind, and that somehow reminded me a lot of the founder of anarcho punk band Crass, Penny Rimbaud.

9) We Have No Zen ( I stumbled upon this blogspot after reading a piece in The Wire about an ultra obscure psychedelic noise Japanese band called Les Rallizes Dénudés. They were especially active in the late 60s and 70s, and apparently there were links with the people who hijacked Japan Airlines Flight 351 in 1970, orchestrated by the Red Army. Which is quite beyond the realm of normal rock and roll. Anyway, We Have No Zen not only had lots of Les Rallizes Dénudés music, but also tons of other equally extremely obscure music, all there to download for free (and some to buy). A superb blogspot!

10) Ex aequo Various artists – Summer And Smiles From Finland (Fonal Records) and Sprengjuhöllin – Sprengjuhöllin. I know, I know, Summer and Smiles From Finland is from 2005, but I only discovered it this year. With the dreary muzak of Coldplay and the trusted sounds of Oasis, Metallica and AC/DC topping the charts, one has to look beyond the English speaking world for interesting music. So after reading a small article about Finnish band Paavoharju and the Fonal label I searched for them on eMusic and found an introduction to Finnish music, a compilation called Summer and Smiles From Finland. I duly downloaded it and have enjoyed tremendously ever since. It’s weird and wicked, freaky music, uncategorizable. Fave track Nina olen, Palasina. And there’s so much more out there up north. Check out the Icelandic mods of Sprengjuhöllin, whose self-titled album almost makes up for the disappointing new Okkervil River album and the lack of Kinks/Ray Davies material this year. Fave track: Worry ’til Spring.

11) Finally a big chapeau for The Pavement Special, a live music/magazine/CD initiative which was started in 2007 by South African journalist Lloyd Gedye and designer Michael MacGarry. The third issue of TPS was launched in December, and the accompanying CD with tracks by tracks by Sticky Antlers, Blk Jks, Buckfever Underground, Cutout Collective, kidofdoom, Jacob Israel, Gazelle and Tale of the Son, gives a prefect overview what’s happening left of dial.

PS Oh, and I completely forgot to say what a great album Japanese band Boris made with Smile (Southern Lord), a perfect mix of noise, melody and drone, a kind of Blue Cheer for the new century. And also forgot to mention how much I enjoyed the Dylan movie I’m Not There and the Joy Division documentary and the Ian Curtis film Control. So that would make it a Top 13 or a Top 14 even…

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