A Year in Music: Shaun’s best of 2008
I’m not going to pretend these are the best records of 2008. I’ve only heard a tiny fraction of what’s come out, and I listen for pleasure – not to pick out something unique, evolutionary, or a “generational lightning rod” (source: the Observer, predictably). No doubt next year I’ll hear something I missed that will blow me away, and I’ll be kicking myself and mixing metaphors all up the creek without a paddle. But as of right now, at the very end of 2008, these are my favourite albums released this year.
1. Dillinger Four – C I V I L W A R – the very definition of a triumphant return, CIVILWAR is one of the best melodic punk albums from one of the best melodic punk bands. The D4 formula is retained – Paddy and Erik sharing lead vocal duties, their gruff and nasal styles playing off one another; the heavy, full, taut guitar and bass; the sociopolitical themes and compressed, compound song titles; the lyrics that you just can’t help but sing along to.
Before I heard CIVILWAR I was hesitant to download the leak on the basis that I didn’t want to risk disappointing myself. In the end, though, I couldn’t resist, and quickly grew to love the album enough that I picked up a legit copy the week it was released. Don’t worry, Fat Mike, I wouldn’t steal from the punk mafia!
Standout tracks: Gainesville, Parishilstonisametaphor, Fruity Bebbles, Faithbasedinitiativesofamerica
2. The Gaslight Anthem – The ’59 Sound – Right about now, punk/soul brother. The Gaslight Anthem have cemented their sound, mixing melodic punk rock songwriting with the soulful, heartwrenching tales of smalltown Americana. They’re upfront about how significant The Boss is to what they do, which is lucky because they seem to be riding that into the bigtime. Not that they don’t deserve it – there’s nothing cynical about this band. This is beautifully naive, hearts-on-sleeve punk rock storytelling, and it’s the most bittersweet romantic thing I’ve heard all year. The Gaslight Anthem can only become more special.
Standout tracks: Great Expectations, The ’59 Sound, High Lonesome, Film Noir, The Patient Ferris Wheel, Meet Me By the River’s Edge
3. The Sainte Catherines – The Soda Machine – yup, I’m nominating a ragbag collection of b-sides, compilation offerings and old songs. Why? Well, because TSM catalogues the lifetime of a band that constantly evolved and changed. Because TSM contains one of the best Leatherface covers I’ve ever heard, which you probably haven’t heard (it’s from the 2-disc Leatherface tribute on Rubber Factory). Because TSM contains some of my favourite TSC songs. And, most of all, because for less than the cost of most other CDs you also get a DVD containing a feature-length documentary on the band, produced and directed with affection. The Sainte Catherines inspire that. I love this release.
Standout tracks: Sour Grapes, Still Not Getting Any… Credibility, Broken Cigarette 2004, The Unforgiven 3, You Shall Rise Again From Your Own Ashes
4. Crystal Castles – self-titled - I’m as surprised as anyone else to find this at #2, but in terms of how much I’ve listened to it it’s right after CIVILWAR. Ironically, I refused to listen to the record for months after its release. Why? Well, the ridiculous amount of hype surrounding the band, for starters. And then there was the incident with the band using stolen artwork and refusing to reimburse its creator when he found out. And the hype. Oh, I am a silly punk. Still, the band paid the artist, I got over myself, and I listened. I listened and liked.
Whilst those hooky 8-bit beats and melodies are a big part of what makes Crystal Castles work for me, the reason why I listen time and again is the way they interact with the fraught, cracked screams and gasps of vocalist Alice Glass. It works.
Standout tracks: Love & Caring, xxzxcuzx me, Alice Practice, Air War
5. Parts & Labor – Receivers – an intoxicating mix of soft post-hardcore (I hesitate to use the term but it’s where the band started out, and there are still traces of that in there, but this is gentle music) and electronic twiddlings, Receivers manages to be simultaneously weird, familiar, dischordant, mournful, warm, and generally full of excellent songs. I don’t really know what else to say about this band. I like them quite a lot, but I’m new to them.
Standout tracks: Nowhere’s Nigh, Little Ones (mainly for including bagpipes and not being horrific), Solemn Show World, Satellites
Other records I like enough to give a menshie (in no particular order):
The Hold Steady – Stay Positive – this album is a bit of a weird one for me. It’s a great record, and I like it a helluva lot, and there are some amazing songs on there, but if I’m going to stick on a Hold Steady record I’ll go straight for Separation Sunday. Stay Positive is a stronger release than Boys & Girls in America, in my humble (and inconsistent from week to week) opinion, but the formula hasn’t changed enough for it to wow me like Sep Sunday did.
Fucked Up – The Chemistry of Modern Life – by contrast, with this release Fucked Up have continued forging ahead into new territory. It’s an amazing album, and it’s a shame that my personal feeling is that I enjoyed the intense riffing of Hidden World more. That said, I’ve not given Chemistry too many listens as yet, and I’ve little doubt that it will continue to grow on me.
Zombie Zombie – A Land for Renegades – being a French electronics duo who make songs right out of an 80s John Carpenter soundtrack, and have a music video that recreates The Thing with GI Joe action figures. Not so much a record for active listening, but for setting atmosphere you can’t go wrong.
Off With Their Heads – From the Bottom – I’ve seen OWTH described as “suicide pop-punk”, and truthfully that’s not far wrong. The lyrics are miserable, loaded with self-loathing and self-destruction, and the vocals that deliver them are gruff and hoarse. But the music is big and distorted and as upbeat as minor chords can be; after all, if you’re going to be depressed and hate your life you may as well have a party, get drunk and bounce around a bit, right?
Alkaline Trio – Agony & Irony – the Trio jettison the overwrought strings and theatrics of Crimson and return to what they do best, namely writing outrageously hooky pop punk songwriting saturated with lyrical dark wit.
…And So I Watch You From Afar – This is Our Machine and Nothing Can Stop It – in fairness they were never going to be as intense on record as they were live, particularly given that this postrock is all intrumental… but it’s nonetheless a superb debut album. Props for the awesome name and equally inspired album artwork (go look it up).
Hot Water Music – ‘Til the Wheels Fall Off – Another collection of songs from hither and thither, and again from a band who owe Leatherface a huge debt. Funny coincidence. Lacks many standout tracks but for HWM fans it’s pretty much essential.
Popular Workshop – We’re Alive and We’re Not Alone – in truth I need to listen to this more but every time I put it on I skip straight to the last track, ‘Villains Who Twirl Their Moustaches Are Easy To Spot’. I can’t get enough of that guitar riff.
Rolo Tomassi – Hysterics - an excellent debut album from a rising star of the UK scene. If you’ve not been introduced to Rolo’s brand of start-stop spastic noisecore, do yourself a favour and correct that mistake. The jury is still out on whether Hysterics is a better record than last year’s self-titled EP, though.
The Offcuts – White Horses & the Unicorn – that they’re good friends of mine is irrelevant; this is a superb hardcore punk album overflowing with unique ideas and character. How many hardcore punk bands build jazz and prog techniques into their songwriting? How many bands are prepared to write brilliant songs and still not take themselves seriously? How many bands release debut albums this varied? Oh, fuck it, I champion these guys enough. You owe it to yourself to check out this intense and innovative album.
Jaguar Love – Take Me To The Sea – I’m getting quite sick of writing these now. Sorry, readers. Sooooo, TMttS is a glorious album and every bit as good as I’d hoped. Vocalist Johnny Whitney (the weird-sounding one from the Blood Brothers) has built on what Neon Blonde started, producing a densely layered collection of off-kilter pop rock. It is a fun album.
Torche – Meanderthal – this, on the other hand, is a nasty album. It is heavy and it will grind your earbones into submission. The riffs are big and they are good. Best played very loud.