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May 21, 2009

richard haslop’s albums of the year: 2008

Filed under: music,richard haslop — ABRAXAS @ 7:38 pm

41. American Music Club – The Golden Age (Cooking Vinyl)

– there was a time when American Music Club was one of my favourite bands, maybe ever, and Mark Eitzel a favourite songwriter; indeed, AMC’s sixth album, “Mercury”, was my Album of its Year – but that was 1993, the group split, to my great distress, after just one more record, and Eitzel’s solo career proved only sporadically engaging – so the weight of expectation around my house for the 2004 reunion was pretty severe – but “Love Songs For Patriots” quite comfortably passed muster, even though I missed steel player Bruce Kaphan’s atmospherics, so fundamental I thought to the sound I had loved (they were replaced by keyboards – never a good thing) – four years later only Eitzel and guitarist Vudi are left from that, or any other, version of the band, and Vudi has turned and toned down significantly, so “The Golden Age” is back to well pre-“Mercury” sparseness, when Eitzel, his songs and a mood had to carry the day – suffice it to say that I found it hard to stop playing the album

42. Kasai Allstars – In the 7th Moon, The Chief Turned Into A Swimming Fish And Ate The Head Of His Enemy By Magic (Crammed Discs)

– this is the third, from an aggregation of 25 musicians, singers and even dancers out of five different bands representing different Congolese ethnic cultures, in the already splendid series of recordings of so-called Congotronics, in which the wild, urgent and irresistible street music of Kinshasa, whose initial media shtick was the fact that it managed to be (they said) both primitive and electronic, became an (independent) music biz buzz – if you thought, when it started, that this might turn out to be a colourful one trick pony, think again – it’s no longer the epitome of exotic punk fashion, perhaps, but the music will run and run

43. Lambchop – OH (Ohio) (Merge/City Slang)

– Lambchop, the quietest big band in the world, are down to a spare, and even surreptitious, eight members and a couple of guests (no steel or strings this time, so the country-soul gives way to a brooding grown up pop style that could still be nobody but Lambchop) for an album that shows the taciturn and serially obtuse Kurt Wagner (Sharing A Gibson With Martin Luther King Jr and National Talk Like A Pirate Day are both inestimably wonderful songs, but what the hell do they mean?) again making fantastic use of vocal and melodic limitations to which he simply refuses to admit

44. Jim Neversink – Shakey Is Good (Self released) / Ella Joyce Buckley – For Astraea (.\/#/.)

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– I don’t know if this can be right (it certainly shouldn’t be), but it seems to me that the most interesting South African music invariably comes off CDs that are pressed personally, privately or at least seriously independently, and in ludicrously limited runs; in fact I don’t know if Neversink’s second album was ever “formally” released, and you can’t even say the name of Buckley’s record company (run by experimental guitarist and Buckfever Undergrounder Righard Kapp) out loud – but Neversink the man, who occupies a slightly more singular version of South Africa than the rest of us, grows in songwriting stature all the time while Neversink the band (now changed in time for an upcoming third produced by ex-Television guitarist Richard Lloyd) tucks in quirkily, but rockingly, behind him all the way to the heartbreaking Palace – Buckley’s record is quietly gorgeous … starker (mainly just her and her piano, guitar, Alpine zither, mandolin, synths, percussion et al, but not all at once), friendlier (because it sounds more like other people you’ve heard before and liked a lot), yet somehow a little unsettling, too (because, despite the tunefulness and peacefulness there’s an edge that sets it apart – a bit like “My Mother’s Children” by Mary Hampton that nearly made this list, and would have if I’d decided to twin Buckley with it rather than with Neversink)

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45. Eli “Paperboy” Reed & the True Loves – Roll With You (Q Division)

– Reed, a young white guy from Boston, actually sounds less like a black Southern soulman from the ‘60s than several of them, with parts of this record calling to mind Otis Redding, Bobby Womack, Sam Cooke, the Bobby Bland squall and the James Carr scream – it’s possible that Reed will turn out to have been just an exceptional mimic with a voice from God but, for the moment, “Roll With You” takes its place alongside the best that white soul has had to offer, and competes favourably with the more melanin enriched version, too

46. Ross Ainslie & Jarlath Henderson – Partners In Crime (Vertical)

– I’m fully aware of the overuse, by myself and others, of the word “blistering” to describe instrumental facility at high tempos, combined with a fire in the performance belly that raises the temperature along with the tempo – Ainslie and Henderson are two of the hottest young pipers (and whistlers) in the business, the former on the Scottish Border pipes, the latter on Ireland’s wilder uillean variety – not everything here is taken at warp speed, of course, and the proper amount of sensitivity is displayed when required – they both demonstrate a fine compositional sense, too, for players so young – but when they do hit the afterburners on those big old traditional reels, they really are nothing short of blistering

47. Seasick Steve – I Started Out With Nothin And I Still Got Most Of It Left (Warner Bros.) / Watermelon Slim & the Workers – No Paid Holidays (NorthernBlues)

– with the exception of a lone LP by the latter that nobody heard, bluesmen Seasick Steve Wold and Bill “Watermelon Slim” Homans started recording late in life, Steve after decades spent, he says (and seems to have the scars to prove it) as a vagrant, a hobo and a bum, which he claims are all different – for his third release he’s snared a major label, yet his rough, raucous, almost primitively driving take on the juke joint blues and his sparsely picked acoustic story telling remain intact despite slightly cleaned up sound, some female backing vocals and guests who include Nick Cave’s Grinderman and even KT Turnstall – Slim, a university graduated truck driving MENSA member who took up music full time after a heart attack, is on his third album for a much smaller label and it’s the same powerful, no frills stuff as before, packed with terrific slide and harmonica playing, fine songs, and the voice of raw and ragged experience

48. Thalia Zedek Band – Liars And Prayers (Thrill Jockey)

– the former Come singer leads her first band since that outfit’s demise through an outstanding set whose intensity matches, without flagging or faltering, her typically raspy vocal and the slow burning bond created between her guitar and bandmate David Michael Curry’s viola (he has contributed critically to the sound of the Willard Grant Conspiracy over the years, too) – so it’s not that different from a slightly less corrosive, but perhaps more consistent Come or, in fact, from Willard Grant with added laceration

49. Department Of Eagles – In Ear Park (4AD)

– is it just me, or are you also finding it progressively harder to follow exactly who’s in which band these days, which bands are just side projects of other bands (and which band is the side project and which the core outfit), and which apparent band names are actually attached to solo acts with a revolving set of mates? – it seems, for example, that three out of these five Eagles are also in Grizzly Bear, which itself might offer tempting clues (gentle but imaginative experimentation, clever use of samples, strong pop sensibilities and a commitment to good songwriting leading to an organically rich end product) – their love of and respect for the likes of Paul McCartney and Van Dyke Parks are palpable and if Macca stuck songs as good as Herringbone on his albums these days I might buy them as surely as I’ll be buying the next Department of Eagles effort

50. Boris – Smile (Southern Lord)

– I didn’t know this, being a relatively new convert to Japrock, till I looked it up, but Smile is apparently Boris’s 18th album, and the first one featuring vocals as more than just an occasional afterthought – what I do know is that, on the evidence of the four or five deafening Boris albums that I have heard, the hearing of this cobweb clearing Japanese trio must be in grave danger if it’s not already shot, so the idea of interspersing their personal variety of sludge rock in extremis with really quite pretty song material might have originated with the personal audiologist that they no doubt have doubling as one of their roadies – you know the expressions louder than bombs and louder than God? – well, Boris are even louder than that – once again their likeminded guitarist mate from Ghost, Michio Kurihara, is on board, with his considerable sonic imagination running free, and the results are really quite remarkable, provided you accept that the occasional ear bleed is good for the soul

2 Responses to “richard haslop’s albums of the year: 2008”

  1. Jaunted Haunts Press » Blog Archive » ‘For Astraea’ in Richard Haslop’s Top 50 albums of 2008 Says:

    […] The list will be published in the June/July issues of Audio Video Magazine, but the entry on ‘For Astraea’ can be viewed here in the meantime. […]

  2. sarah hills Says:

    i also love the fleet foxes, bon iver and nick cave albums and it’s great to see the jim neversink cd appear in your best of too. go richard!