2008: Brad LaBonte
I highly doubt that 2009 will be as eventful as 2008, unless Sarah Palin leads the Philadelphia Phillies to another World Series championship, thereby solving all economic woes. Could that happen? You betcha.
For those long flights to and from Alaska, the best that 2008 had to offer…
10. The Bug ft. Warrior Queen – "Poison Dart" (Ninja Tune)
Much was made of Mr. Martin’s "embracing" the dubstep sound, but that’s not really an accurate assessment of what went down. "Poison Dart" is a natural extension of the Razor X Productions tracks, with the edges sanded, the tempo slowed, and the emphasis on the bass. If that’s enough to equal the dubstep sound, then so be it, and in a year when DMZ laid low and either silly wonk or meathead atmospherics dominated the scene, it’s hard to blame folks for trying to find something distinctive.
9. Jacob Kirkegaard – Labyrinthitis(Touch)
Kirkegaard has some of the smartest concepts going in electroacoustic music, and Labyrinthitis is no exception. Focusing on "oto-acoustic emissions", Kirkegaard records the quiet sounds produced by the ear as it receives sound, then plays the OAEs back, thereby producing new OAEs in the listener. Those OAEs are then played back, and so on and so forth. While it may lack the ghostly shock of his "4 Rooms" project, Labrynthitis creates a similar sense of wonder at the real physical sounds that inescapably occupy daily life.
8. V/A – Recovery (Fractured)
The Fractured crew must’ve gotten into my brain and pulled out the geekiest dream project inside. Electronic artists covering songs near and dear to them, in theory, sounds pretty standard, but, I mean, Ryoji Ikeda covering AC/DC? snd covering Michael Jackson? Alva Noto covering Afrika Bambaata? Richard Chartier and COH covering Soft Cell? All in a deluxe box set of 7"s? I mean, come on. That’s just awesome. As you might expect from these folks, there are serious intellectual underpinnings here, ideas of necessary relationships between the best pop and the avant-garde and whatnot, but, as you might not expect from these folks, those ideas mostly take a backseat to pure fun. Worth it just for now allowing me to say that Richard Chartier has contributed to pure fun.
7. The Ting Tings – "That’s Not My Name" (Sony)
The rebel yell of the year. Armond White was on to something when he referred to this track as one that "subtly reconsiders modern ethics and identity": Dizzee Rascal reworked the lyrics and covered it right around the time of White’s writing. Where TT lead Katie White put forward feminine individuality, Rascal throws off hooliganisms: "They call me blud / They call me rudeboi … They use the n word / Like it’s a game / That’s not my name." "That’s Not My Name" provides a handy blueprint for the oppressed and underprivileged to assert themselves, which sounds to me like the definition of rock and roll.
6. Them, Themselves, or They – Ribbons & Bows, Angel Dust & Magick Wands (Malt Duck)
Thinned-out loping repetitive hypnotic bassy guitar loop goodness. TTT sound like a druggier, less-proficient Lard Free that doesn’t give a shit, which is okay by me. Out of everything on this list, I’m most excited about new music from this camp. If they beef up the sound and decide to really rock out, they could raise some hell.
5. Byetone – Death of a Typographer (Raster-Noton)
Finally! After flirting with techno for years, Raster-Noton let loose in 2008 with a full-on dance 12" from Byetone, complete with remixes from dance music mainstays Sleeparchive and Dr. Walker. While the full-length Death of a Typographer doesn’t reach for that degree of sheen and propulsion, it contains enough warped 808ish breaks and energy for it to be the most immediately accessible R-N release I’ve heard. All of the noise sheets and rhythmic rigor that the label specialize in are here, only with much of the intellectual distance removed. This is the sound of the wall between pure process and techno mechanics joyfully crumbling.
4. Ursula Bogner – Recordings 1969-1988 (Faitiche)
Jan Jelinek released an album of recordings given to him by a guy he met on an airplane. Apparently, the guy’s mother, in her downtime from working at a pharmaceutical company in Berlin, recorded hours of electronic music experiments that she never made public. She also explored interests in painting, printing, and "solar energy used for healing purposes." Though Jelinek only claims credit for reworking three tracks, the whole disc is infused with ideas that have popped up on his last few releases. Gently interlocking rhythmic loops build and fade, and though there are no harsh sounds to speak of, nothing feels static or placid. If Bogner is actually Jelinek, then it’s a brilliant way to package his latest development. If not, keep the tapes coming.
3. Everything that Rustie touched
What did I say about silly wonk in dubstep? Rustie was the silliest wonkster there was in 2008, but he gets away with it for putting forth almost zero pretense. In his own tracks and in remixes for Zomby, Rod Lee, Pivot, Modeselektor, and who knows how many others, there’s no sense of a fella trying to do anything more than lay down cracked-out beats that aim to please. What puts Rustie head and shoulders above the crowd is that the joy of cracked-out beatmaking, of a hip-hop drop under fucked up noise and squiggles, comes through loud and clear. He might go off the rails a little bit (both "Zig Zag" and the Pivot remix kind of make me dizzy), but it’s all in good fun.
2. Matias Aguayo – "Minimal" (Kompakt)
Did not see this coming. Both in Closer Musik and in prior solo work, Aguayo has made clear his penchant for playing the seductive front man, but both he and Kompakt have never gone this far out. The more I think about it, the more clever the track and title get. It’s a joke, an incitement, a relative oxymoron, a brutal criticism, and an accurate encapsulation of what makes dance music great: a beat, a hook, and sex. Focus on anything else, and you start to miss the forest for the trees. Aguayo does to minimal what the Talking Heads did to punk. Aesthetic purity as an end in itself is just silly.
1. U.S. Girls – Introducing… (Siltbreeze)
In which U.S. Girls, a.k.a. Megan Remy, claims a place for the post-millennial DIY scene in the pop music continuum. The bulk of her peers make music as stale and predictable as the minimal cats that Aguayo shows up. Like Bruce Springsteen’s amazing cover of Suicide’s "Dream Baby Dream", also released this year, U.S. Girls shows the importance of reaching across the musical aisle to find common ground. She loses none of the edge or physicality of cassette culture and gains all of the heartbreak, rebellion, and life experience that pop offers. All of this is boiled down in "Prove It All Night," a Springsteen cover that barely qualifies as such, yet absolutely nails the track’s desperation by jettisoning Springsteen’s grandstanding. Nothing else in 2008 made the old seem as new.
By Brad LaBonte