There is no denying that 2008 has passed with breathtaking speed. Frederick Foxtrott comes to you this year with our list of top ten releases just a few days shy of 2009. Rather than spend New Year’s celebration in New York City, we are going upstate to spend time in the out doors, at the base of the Adirondacks. There is something poignant about spending what is typically observed by thousands of people crammed together with bright lights and loud sounds in the isolated cold with small but extraordinary company.
There is also no denying that this year proved to be an interesting time for music. The industry as a whole is largely tending to homogenize, with publications as banal as the Florida Times Union regularly looking to Pitchfork top ten lists to inspire their own critical hierarchies. The style generated over the last decade that has dominated the genre of independent music has become standard fare. It is blandly ubiquitous and overly diffuse. Nonetheless, while we got nothing perfect, there was plenty to listen to—plenty to listen to other than Vampire Weekend or Fleet Foxes, both of whom received the latest dose of sickeningly strange love from most indie media. Seemingly lost in the midst of the hollow recordings that dominate the suggestion pages of the taste-making press are truly great releases. So here they are—known and unknown—loved and loathed.
Top Ten 2008
1. M83- Saturdays = Youth
Expanding from shoegaze to stargaze, as his name implies, Gonzalez managed to not merely replicate a style modeled by Tears for Fears, Echo & the Bunnymen, and Flock of Seagulls, but he has retroactively contributed to the bleak genre of gothic pop in a way that is insertive rather than derivative. With modern instruments and production, Gonzalez (re)vitalized a style, giving color and texture to a genre that many feel has been muted by twenty years of impersonation and distillation, killed by retro themed knockoffs and karaoke bars alike (Read Review).
2. Conor Oberst- Conor Oberst
Even as he releases a self-titled record, suggesting biography, Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band offer a personal narrative that is reflexive and acutely aware of where his lyrical perspective is anchored. Released on Merge Records rather than our beloved Saddle Creek, Conor Oberst is a record that disconnects from the iconic figure that the songwriter has become, allowing for the reclamation of personhood (Read Review).
3. Eagle Seagull- I Hate EPs (EP)
With its self-degrading title, I Hate EPs gives us a most vivid taste of what Eagle Seagull is up to. It is worthwhile to listen to every word on this EP. The lyrics are most certainly still emitted from the more noir recesses of our thought processes. They embody the violence that we inflict on one another with our thoughts, our lies, our manipulations, and the perfect memories that have since been pickled in the acerbic tension of current conditions (Read Review).
4. Sigur Rós- með suð…
Icelandic for “with a buzz in our ears we play endlessly,” með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust belies Sigur Rós’ self awareness that rejects the accumulation of star-power, instead favoring the humble roles of music makers with intimate attention to detail and an endless commitment to the art rather than constructed personae that sadly distract many once great contemporaries (Read Review).
5. Shugo Tokumaru- Exit
I am quite sick of the tendency for any musician who employs a whistle in their song structure to be labeled the next “Insert Nationality” Sufjan Stevens. Shugo seems to get shellacked with this honor quite often. His instrumentality relies on a menagerie of distinct sounds that have the sole intent of forming an effervescent ambience. I don’t imagine such a project can be said to be unique to Mr. Stevens. Indeed, Shugo Tokumaru’s Exit is one of the most original records released this year, and it is certain to endear many who listen. If you get the chance to see this guy upon his North American return, be sure to catch him at an appropriate venue, so that all the glorious array of whips and bobs don’t just float away (Read Review).
6. Hypatia Lake- Angels and Demon, Space and Time
There is the band and then there is the music. It is immediately understood when listening to Angels and Demons, Space and Time that Hypatia Lake has put together a record of enormous depth. The band itself is much less a physical entity, as it is a concept. The record is diffuse and eclectic, a psychedelic feast of beautiful noise and exquisite ambiances (Read Review).
7. Peasant- On the Ground
I have said previously that Damien DeRose’s voice is flawless, but his ability to bottle that beauty is remarkable. Usually such criticism is approached from the opposite angle. People rarely question what can be recorded after seeing such satisfying live performances. I have written at some length about Peasant’s talent and couldn’t be happier with this release. On the Ground offers 13 tracks without sounding repetitive or exhausting my patience and tolerance for sensitivity, which is rare these days. Peasant accomplishes this in part by keeping his songs under 3 minutes, making sure that the bitter moments do not overstay their welcome. I am happy to announce that Peasant will be re-issuing On the Ground in 2009 with the help of Team Love Records. If there is anyone out their with a modicum of taste, Peasant will make many more 2009 best release lists than he did this year (Read Review).
8. The Octopus Project- Hello, Avalanche
For those of you who are tired of bands that seek to reproduce the melodies of Tortoise, the sequence execution of The Album Leaf, or the gravity of Explosions in the Sky, know that Hello, Avalanche is a contribution to the modern music soundscape of unique and particular character. The Octopus Project allows the audience to dance as they marvel at a functioning collection of flesh and blood, rather simply to listen with a dissatisfied and disinterested ear. This is the balance they strike; they have a defined structure without sounding sterile or methodical. Who knew Austin…who knew (Read Review)?
9. Portishead- Third
No where on this record will you find the turntable scratching of Western Eyes or Only You. Clearly Portishead is not trying to recapture elements of their past. The lyrics are depressed and relaxed, sexy and sad, and in true form this relaxation is not brought on by contentment or happiness, rather it sounds opiate induced. It conjures the image of a dim room with the yellow haze of a poppy parlor (Read Review).
10. Magnetic Fields- Distortion
The Magnetic Fields…are extremely self-reflexively aware of Distortion’s influences and have taken steps to ensure that they do not appear to take themselves too seriously. This awareness not only saves the record from obsolescence, but it is exactly what makes it so relevant to how the music industry navigates itself forward, sometimes stopping to reflect on the nostalgic moments of its past (Read Review).
Other bands have blissfully welted the ears of the interested in 2008. Delta Spirit, released their debut, Ode to Sunshine. It was soulful and courageous. I usually prefer that bands keep their “gods” and “lords” out of my CD/MP3 player, but I’ll gladly make an exception for these impassioned song writers. Look for them on Jimmy Kimmel Live on January 16th. They split the rest of winter between Europe and North America, gracing the Bowery Ballroom stage on February 21st.
Canadian melody makers Wintersleep released Welcome to the Night Sky, an incredible record that offers exceptional lyrics and noisy pop riffs. Frederick Foxtrott reviewed their debut and recommends them with complete confidence. Welcome to the Night Sky is lyric driven record themed with violence and sickness. The guitars are distorted and heavy, accompanied by a barrage of cymbal crashes, but Wintersleep never fail to ebb back, allowing the listener to hear the calm after the storm, in addition to the silence before (Read Review).
Frederick Foxtrott thanks all of you for reading and visiting over the past year. We have expanded our readership greatly and only hope to continue in growth and reviews. We have some interesting things planned in the coming months so stay tuned. If you would like your record reviewed, give us an email and we will arrange something. We aim to keep you informed of not just what is happening in the world of independent music, but what should be happening.
Happy New Year,