2008: Brandon Bussolini
I started off this year keeping a rolling, hierarchical best-of list. It was a Google document, allowing me to update it at work: which I did for the first eight or so months, usually making time between actual profit-generating labor and the long blog drifts I often found myself on before writing about music (and before knowing things about blogs became jobs of sorts in my life). It was a good idea: When it comes to compiling year-end lists, I’m of at least two minds, and keeping the list seemed initially like a way of getting the hard work out of the way early. This hard work sprouts from the stupid subjective/objective binary, and I’m unsure if spending time on it here amounts to squandering a public forum given in good faith. Still, writing about music in 2008 can sometimes feel weird: the writers seemingly most invested in staking out a position on the new also seem least interested in pursuing the liminal affects that make for the new in the first place. That seems opaque, sure, but reveals another aspect to this strangeness: Writing in concrete terms exclusively is an exercise in redundancy, while writing exclusively in the abstract can be noble conceptually but incapable of producing new ideas, which is kind of criticism’s job.
Which brings me to the curious feeling of looking at something I compiled with care, something that aggregated a substantial amount of time and thought, and being somehow unable to access its logic. Last year, in the process of compiling my Dusted list, I found myself trying to spackle over the gaps between selections in Sasha Frere-Jones’ 2007 list: I was less interested in the picks themselves than the narrative that held them together. No satisfactory explanation ever arrived, but I can accept that the expectation was facile. If I have any overarching remarks about music and my experience of it over the last year, they have less to do with changing trends in or among scenes – I gather that wild animals are still popular in indie rock – than the fact that my own consumption of music is becoming more explicitly therapeutic. I bought The Pavilion of Dreams this year, for example. As for new music, there were weeks where I listened to the whole of new Deerhunter and TV on the Radio albums on a daily basis; they don’t appear here not because they are being covered amply elsewhere, but because they are ultimately too adept at accomplishing what they set out to do. It might not seem that an album like My favorite record, Mount Eerie’s Lost Wisdom, attempts anything greater in scope than your Microcastles, but there is something more productive in both falling short of one’s goals and exceeding oneself than fulfilling intentions. I suppose, then, that I’ll allow myself one diagnostic comment about music over the last 12 months: it’s been a little too tasteful, even in its moments of self-appointed outrageousness.
1. Mount Eerie with Julie Doiron & Fred Squire - Lost Wisdom
(P.W. Elverum & Sun)
It was not hard to listen to this record: It’s short, and its melodies are sort of indecipherable for the first five passes and then suddenly become indelible. At some point after that, it becomes both more scrutable and structurally unusual. “What?” ends like a Buñuel film would if he had been a Buddhist. The secret to this record is not just Julie Doiron – someone I’ve only appreciated by proxy up to this point – but also Phil Elverum’s gentle, didactic take on ineluctable existential problems, like losing yourself falling in love and feeling lonely all the time.
2. Love Is All - A Hundred Things Keep Me up at Night (What’s Your Rupture?)
I take the fact that I prefer this record over RIYL discs like Crystal Stilts and Vivian Girls to mean that I am some kind of ham. Even if English were their first language, Love Is All would find a way to inhabit it as goofily as they do on this album. But what’s surprising is that A Hundred Things manages to capture, in its overenthused way, something really sad and troubling about being alive now that their Brooklyn peers don’t.
3. Dominique Leone - Dominique Leone (Strømland)
The two times I’ve seen Dominique Leone perform live, the emphasis has been squarely on his classical chops. Spanning two worlds where eclecticism is privileged is no mean feat, but his debut record is remarkable precisely for avoiding being overly dense with references. While the noisy bits on this record have yet to totally win me over, the pop bits are so solid and smart I trust it’s just a matter of metabolizing them.
4. Syclops - I’ve Got My Eye on You (DFA)
Reaffirming the mystical power of the pseudonym, this album does indeed sound like Maurice Fulton needed to split himself into three imaginary Finnish people to accomplish it. Cosmic fusion that gets as close to the Weather Report as it gets to Cluster and even Pete Namlook’s spookier stuff, the album’s best quality lies in the fact that it manages to make every track sound like the result of a bet to make something stupid sound amazing.
5. Justus Köhncke - Safe and Sound (Kompakt)
2008 was not the marquee year for Kompakt that 2007 was, and that quiet ebb was the perfect place for Safe and Sound to carve out its own niche. A home listening techno record with a stronger sense of Köhncke’s humor (the chic-yet-pompous “Yacht”) and more textural variety than its predecessors, it’s minimal only in the sense of sounding minimally fussed-over.
6. Matmos - Supreme Balloon (Matador)
This might be the record that only synth geeks could love, but I have to say that this is the first Matmos album I had as much fun listening to as I did reading about. Taken separately, each of the album’s tracks recapitulates the electronic music meta-narrative that guides the whole project: this thing is basically a run-on love letter to decades of academic and dancefloor innovation, and its enthusiasms ooze out from chewy jams, like the everlasting gobstopper “Polychords.”
7. Arthur Russell - Love Is Overtaking Me (Audika)
Drift is a quality that unites all of Arthur Russell’s work, and it’s no less at work with Love is Overtaking Me. The initial shock of hearing Russell’s voice in country settings is quickly, er, overtaken by how perfectly put the sentiments of “I Couldn’t Say It to Your Face” or “Habit of You” are.
8. Beach House - Devotion (Carpark)
One argument against this band is that it’s a little too knowing: narcotic Carpenters vibes perfected on thrift store gear and performed in a mausoleum, an imaginary ’70s suburban bohemia. If this is lifestyle music, though, I take no issue with the lifestyle I imagine it fitting with – weed, wine, Altman’s Three Women, barefoot dinner parties. “You Came to Me” stands out, but the more I anticipate its telescoping structure, the more I realize the whole album works the same way, pieces coming out of other pieces like rooms in a rambling circuitous home.
9. Fennesz - Black Sea (Touch)
Wherein the saturated hues ‘n’ slithering drones of Venice recede from waterfall to dry riverbed; even though the album features untreated instrumental sections and undisguised chord progressions, there’s something both harsher and more subtle about it. The vaguely post-Soviet landscape pictured on the album’s artwork is a perfect analogue for the frostbitten, yet strangely moving monuments sculpted out of Max/MSP trickery and a previously undisclosed amount of classical competence. Heavy features and impenetrable moments of silence.
10. Sébastien Tellier - Sexuality (Record Makers)
There were a lot of warning sounds surrounding this one, but I’m glad that my interest in non-Ed Banger French music is powerful enough to have let this one into my life. The whole album revolves around one idea with a kind of patience that doesn’t avoid cliché as much as it takes cliché with a kind of radical, deforming faith. Of course, beyond issues of translation, the lyrics are irrecoverably smudged, but the ambiguity is nicely met by the music’s grid-like cleanness.
By Brandon Bussolini