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Dusted Mid-Year Roundup 2008

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Dusted’s writers take a look at some of their favorite records to come out in 2008.

Dusted Mid-Year Roundup 2008

In alphabetical order:


The debut full-length by Dutch producer Dave Huismans is more than just an Album of the Year contender. Sure, Aerial‘s massive basslines and pixelated paranoia make for some of the best dubstep of 2008. And yes, it’s remarkably good throughout its 51 minutes -- not bad for someone who usually sticks to 12"s. But the most exciting thing about Aerial is the way it crystallizes the evolution of a genre. Dubstep is still a toddler when compared to other styles of electronic music, and like a young child, it’s developing at an alarming rate. For the most part, these advancements have consisted of refining the minimal and making the most out of very basic materials. Aerial, however, sounds new. Perhaps it’s the 200 miles separating the Hague from London or Huismans’ background in techno. Either way, it marks a significant departure from the norm without neglecting the sound’s essential elements. Baby steps, these ain’t.

-Otis Hart

Big Dipper
Supercluster: the Big Dipper Anthology

These long lost, Boston-based shoulda-beens made a career-crippling miscalculation when they jumped from Homestead to Epic in 1989, producing the straight-to-bargain-bin Slam! and alienating a devoted fan base. They broke up shortly after, and their stellar early material languished out of print until this year’s revival. That’s maybe I why hadn’t heard of them until this year, and why, when Supercluster arrived, their pop-punk songs sounded fresh to me, as well as, undefinably, just like home. And, in fact, if you grew up during the punk-into-new-wave era, as I did, you can sink into Big Dipper’s goofy chaotic rockers, its prickly-sweet pop ballads, the way you’d fall into an overstuffed couch. You do so at your own peril, though, because there’s an anarchy here that never crept into mainstream college rock -- the songs about UFOs and Lou Gerhig’s disease, the guitars that seem to fight each other rather than joining together, the sweetness of melody joined to jagged, juddering beats. Supercluster is a fantastic introduction for those who missed Big Dipper the first time, but there’s plenty for long-time fans, too. After all, even the wankiest aficionados never had access to the long-lost tracks from Very Loud Array, Big Dipper’s angry, punky response to major label perfidy, or to early porch session demos where Gary Waleik and Bill Goffrier played together for the first Slam! is included here, and it makes the case for Big Dipper as one of the great late-1980s pop bands...and, anachronistically, my best find for 2008 as well.

-Jennifer Kelly

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
Dig, Lazarus, Dig!

Finally, an old guy we can look up to. Rock’s most misunderstood comedian drops his most ambitious, clever, passionate and poignant record in over a decade, mixing eerie ballads ("Hold on to Yourself"), Stoogey rock ("Albert Goes West," "Today’s Lesson") and dry self-parody ("We Call Upon the Author," "More News from Nowhere") with the deftness of a lifetime-achiever. His band hasn’t been this tight since the departure of chaos-avatar Blixa Bargeld. While it’s hardly a "return to form" (and doesn’t try to be), DLD! crystalizes everything brilliant from Cave’s frustratingly uneven mid-to-late-period work, and provides as good an entry point as any.

-Emerson Dameron

Toumani Diabaté
The Mande Variations

In his first solo album since 1988’s Kaira, Toumani Diabaté offers a unique approach to the kora, which is a sort of West African harp. Underpinned by convoluted bass lines, the mood of each song depends on the intensity of the cyclical arpeggios being sprinkled down in cross-rhythmic flurries. Diabaté handles the bass, rhythm, melody and improvisation all at once, deftly demonstrating his mastery of the kora as he continues his development by intertwining Indian, Egyptian, Senegalese and flamenco themes within traditional Malian music. With the passing of his colleague and close friend Ali Farka Touré in 2006, Diabaté has become arguably Mali’s most accomplished, talented and innovative musicians, and The Mandé Variations is a defining statement.

-Michael Ardaiolo

Eddy Current Suppression Ring
Primary Colours

You’re forgiven if you haven’t heard of Australian quartet Eddy Current Suppression Ring yet. After all, Primary Colours, their second full-length (following a 2006 debut LP that barely made it out of their home country), doesn’t even come out in the States until August. But there’s a reason copies of it have moved with a fervent intensity both down under and abroad, as these ten tracks take an obvious affection for classic thug and art punk (think the Pagans working side by side with early Wire) and marry it to a stark tunefulness that few of their contemporaries can match. Often sounding like Pink Flag re-imagined by football hooligans, ECSR’s Primary Colours eschews any hint of the bizarre and embraces a homey earnestness that, when all is said and done, will resonate further than most of 2008’s most intensely hyped bands.

-Michael Crumsho

Extra Life
Secular Works

Extra Life has all the tricky time signatures you might expect from a band fronted by former Zs and Dirty Projectors guitarist Charlie Looker. Far from the self-conscious irony of most math rock, though, Secular Works is bold, sweeping and grand. Looker’s melodies dart and weave like those of medieval and Renaissance music, and the accompaniment behind him is sometimes brutal, and sometimes quietly intense. "I Don’t See It That Way," in which melismatic melodies dance around a spinning mobile of jagged-edged guitar shapes, is probably the most impressive song I’ve heard all year.

-Charlie Wilmoth

Nah und Fern

This 4-CD box set also has some bearing on Electronic Music History writ large, the gradual turning away of machines from vanguardism to timid “nu” retreads. Maybe it’s hard to imagine the conviction of a genre like rave at the first degree? It’s probably unfair to call Wolfgang Voigt’s Gas an electronic music project despite his insistence that it’s pop, or at least an attempt to synthesize a pan-Germanic form of pop music. But from a certain vantage, this seems to be the last major development within music that’s better at evoking over-saturation than the kind of spaciousness Voigt produces here. Gas evokes the feeling of alpine solitude, the micro-moods of the forest: this box set’s signature sound, classical samples subjected to processes “zoom, loop, and alienation,” is at once an overpowering gray mass and a sun-dappled forest floor, occasionally illuminated by garish disco lights.

-Brandon Bussolini

Hercules and Love Affair
Hercules and Love Affair

Hercules and Love Affair’s debut is neo-house’s 5:00am second wind, an unexpected jolt of energy. This shortish album is, out of nowhere, the DFA’s best release of recent memory. It floats improbably on candor and even melodrama - but what else would we ask from the (now venerable) genre that once proclaimed, through a booming, didactic diva: "In the beginning there was Jack/And Jack had a groove." The guest-diva here is Antony Hegarty, better known by first name alone. To squelches, horns, and moto-bass he adds his trademark urgency and melancholia which, locked into heavy grooves, has never sounded so right. A treat.

-Ben Tausig

Tommy Jay
Tall Tales of Trauma
(Columbus Discount)

Strong outsider vibes douse this potent, out-of-nowhere reissue of a decade’s worth of recordings by Ohio’s Tommy Jay. All but lost to the margins when the burgeoning interest in Columbus punk/rock dried up in the late ‘90s, this edition (issued as a cassette in the mid-80s to hardly anyone) benefits from a reawakened curiosity in such sounds, these songs having ripened from as early as ‘74. Grafting a personal vision onto already-worthy VU/Roky/Mayo Thompson booze-n-pills lit school ambiance, with absolutely nothing to lose, here is the sound of an old human spirit taking flight. Stacks up to any comparable singer-songwriter release from the past few years and blows it right down.

-Doug Mosurak

Kurt Vile
Constant Hitmaker

Constant Hitmaker is one of the most immediately appealing bedroom recordings to cross my desk in years. Vile, a mysterious Philadelphian weirdo of the highest order, adorns tracks like "Space Forklift" with a fuzzed out melancholia that somehow invokes the spirit of Lee Hazlewood at his best. Elsewhere, the searing liberation of "Freeway" is Kurt’s formidable bid for tear-the-roof-off driving song of 2008 and is guaranteed to land in the heavy rotation of anyone with a proper appreciation for killer pop hooks. Along with fellow Delaware Valley travelers Home Blitz, this whole scene appears poised to once again empower the geeks by seizing control from the goons.

-Mike Lupica

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