First Half of 2008 – My Favorites in Music

In no particular order, here are the albums that I have found myself playing on healthy repeat throughout the first half of the year…

M83
Saturdays=Youth

Anthony Gonzalez’s records have always been epic in their full spectrum, but by dialing it down ever so slightly and focusing on the simple subject of lost teenage souls from the 80’s looking for a reason to connect with the world, he has managed to create his most powerfully beautiful work to date. The combination of both opening tracks, “You, Appearing” and my choice for single of the year so far, “Kim and Jessie”, sets the tone for the amazing experience to come and provides the best one-two punch that starts any record I’ve heard, in a long time. I am the type of person that needs to let a great album sink in upon repeated listens before I recognize, or even understand, how good it really is, Saturdays=Youth took no time convincing me to fall in love with every aspect of it. Making it easier to love this album is also my undeniable fondness for the decade of the 80’s, or more-so the respect for music and movies and the various arts that can re-create, or remind us, that there actually were creative, even innovative minds and different things that happened in that time. There is an inescapable brilliance to this album, something about it that will one day classify it as one of those creations that can bring back the high-schooler in all of us, make us recall the awkwardness of certain key, coming-of-age moments. I can certainly relate to many bits and pieces scattered throughout Saturdays=Youth. It’s a fascinating record no matter how many times I revisit it.

Frightened Rabbit
The Midnight Organ Fight

There are more than a few outstanding bands that hail from Glasgow, Scotland, and another to emerge from there is Frightened Rabbit, whom I’d never heard of before discovering their sophomore album, The Midnight Organ Fight, in April. Formed in 2004 by a drummer/guitarist duo of brothers, Grant and Scott Hutchison, the band released their debut record, Sing the Greys, to acclaim in early 2007. I eventually learned that Greys was a very solid debut, but I found out about it the backwards way, for my first taste of this infectious band was with their new record, the aforementioned Organ Fight. My initial thoughts on this album were that, it definitely had some awesome, awesome tracks, but I didn’t think it stood well as an entire record. However, it didn’t take me much longer after that to notice that my initial criticisms were very wrong and I was basically being blinded at giving the full thing a chance, and that was due to my complete obsession for the tracks “Old Old Fashioned” and “My Backwards Walk”. I was listening to those two and those two alone for about a week straight on my drive to work, and exclusively. I wasn’t really giving the entire album a nice spin-through, so my thoughts on it had no real way of getting across with some validation until about a week after my obsession with single tracks wore off. Once I started to let the whole thing put itself on display, The Midnight Organ Fight easily made a case for itself as one of the top-shelf records of the first half of 2008.

Sun Kil Moon
April

Apart from being one of the pioneers of the so-called “slowcore” movement when he formed Red House Painters in the late 80’s, Mark Kozelek has done so many things a lot of his generation’s peers have failed to do – he has actually become wiser with in his later years as he approaches middle-aged songwriter. The very best artists manage to best themselves, or so it would seem, with each passing release, and Kozelek certainly deserves to be plopped smack in the middle of this category. It’s definitely an arguable topic, but after dozens and dozens of listens to his latest Sun Kil Moon project, the staggering and awe-inspiring April, it is very conceivable to make this the towering achievement in his complete discography. There are those who think Kozelek has become more repetitive, and sadly, even boring with his vocals over the last few years, but I think that a criticism like that can only come from the fact that these people have stopped letting themselves become entirely involved in the words and wholly authentic feelings in which he sings, and are only focusing on the singing itself. If you’re unlocking any work from Kozelek, whether it be from early Red House Painters albums, solo efforts, or recent Sun Kil Moon recordings, you had better not come from the perspective of wanting conventional music and lyrical arrangements, that way you’re just setting yourself up for disappointment. It is baffling to me that there are some that believe this brilliant songwriter has fallen off since the departure of Red House Painters, because an artist like this only excels as he ages, and on April he has added another sprawling masterwork to his list.

Dodos
Visiter

I got into Dodos the very same way I first listened to Frightened Rabbit, after their sophomore record received high acclaim and was made noticed through popular sites such as Pitchfork. Visiter is one of the most ambitious and sonically profound records I have heard in a very long time, with song after song of foot-tapping, humming goodness. One of the few bands to come along that makes good on the promise that unique drumming can be the central ground to the creation of constantly affecting music, Dodos have quickly put themselves on the map with this welcomed Visiter. What makes this album that more amazing is the fact that, as good as the musical arrangements and chemistry of the two principal members of the band are, the attention to personal lyrics are just as praise-worthy. Meric Long, the chief member of the band that initially meant to go solo with the title of Dodo Bird, sets his heart and soul on a table for full dissection, and in catchy but heartbreaking songs like opener “Walking”, “Winter”, and one of the many long-jamming epics scattered throughout it all, “Joe’s Waltz”, he proves himself to be a hopeful mainstay. The immediate impact of Visiter, plus a chance to experience them live in April, made me reach back and listen to their 2005 debut, Beware of the Maniacs. I have no doubt that the sudden following this San Fransisco-based band has developed from their sophomore record will cause Maniacs to be uncovered a lot more than it has so far, which it is most deserving of.

Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy
Lie Down in the Light

In the fifteen years since Will Oldham has graced himself and his talent of music-making upon this world, he has managed to be one of the most actively productive artists in all of the scene. Often collaborating with his spacious family of immediate brothers and sisters, he first began recording under the name Palace Music/Palace Brothers/Palace Songs, which can easily be narrowed to down to simply, Palace. He made the segue to solo records in the mid-90’s and created some solid music, but it wasn’t until 1999, when he threw down another moniker, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, that he started to make his way toward the top of the talent list. It was in that year that he made one of my standing favorites, I See A Darkness, a record that is so essential that it deserves to have serious consideration for top albums of that decade should there ever be a strong look back at some of the overlooked recordings of the time. Since 1999 he has mostly released records under the sticking name of Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, delivering consistently fascinating albums like clockwork, and a pace that goes at no less than one a year, whether it be a full-length, EP, film score, or collaboration of some sort. His latest release, Lie Down in the Light, can first be easily recognized as another worthy addition to his discography, but as I dug deeper into the diversity in sounds and even the fact that it broadens the Bonnie scope quite a bit, I found this record to be a higher point among a career filled with high points. It’s the most gleeful of all of Oldham’s recordings, even with some dampened subject matter embedded in some of the songs everything just has a happy feeling to it. It’s a wonderful record and one that can be sure to find itself somewhere high on my end of the year list.

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10 Responses to “First Half of 2008 – My Favorites in Music”

  1. Rodger Jacobs Says:

    Nope. Never heard of any of ’em.

    Damn you kids today and your newfangled music!

  2. Ferguson Says:

    Give anything from Mark Kozelek a try, I think you would like him. That means go out and look for Red House Painters or Sun Kil Moon.

  3. Rodger Jacobs Says:

    I will indeed check him out, having just carefully read your review again. By the way, you’re a good, insightful cultural analyst. I enjoy reading your well-considered reviews for the verbiage alone, even if I’m not always familiar with the artists you are discussing.

  4. Rodger Jacobs Says:

    Hmmmm … I just listened to Kozeleck’s “Up To My Neck in You” on You Tube. Nice stuff and strong but detatched voice — for musician as storyteller. Based on that one tune alone he recalls Gordon Lightfoot.

  5. keegan Says:

    I disagree with almost everything… but I couldn’t agree MORE with M83. Incredible.

  6. Ferguson Says:

    Rodger, that song you were checking out on YouTube was actually from an album of all acoustic AC/DC covers that he did back in 2002 under his real name. I liked it quite a bit as he did things with those songs that I didn’t think could ever be done, but if you are interested in him more, then definitely check out some of his original music.

    Thanks a lot for always reading and commenting and liking my writings, I appreciate it.

  7. Ferguson Says:

    Keegan, thanks for checking the list out and stopping by my blog. Sorry we have to disagree so much on most, but at least we have “Saturdays=Youth”!

  8. Rodger Jacobs Says:

    Yeah, I realized about halfway through that it was an AC/DC cover; I’ll have to check out his original material.

  9. fiendinacloud Says:

    All these were great albums, it’s hard not to like any of these.

  10. Ferguson Says:

    It was definitely hard to narrow this one down to just five choices for the first half of the year. It has been good, let’s only hope the rest of 2008 can deliver.

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