Friday, December 26, 2008


SEVENTEEN. The number of my life. It has been the one I and others have chosen, non-arbitrarily as the one that shows up "at random" more often than any other number in English speaking reality. People perpetually use it to exaggerate in stories. Its multi-syllabic nature is a favorable feature when trying to embellish. Seventeen. The day of my son's birth. The number of weeks in an NFL season. The number of chapters in Finnegan's Wake. It's a novel, a musical, a song or five, a movie, a magazine. Locusts. Chlorine. NC-17. It's around.

One of these days I am going to figure out what it has to do with the nature of the universe. But not yet. First we have music. This was a decidedly vocal-less year by comparison to every other year I have listened to music. The number one reason why is having become a writer for The Silent Ballet, an instrumental music website. Wow, how times have changed. So with a 17-gun salute and in a slightly particular order, I present the 17 Most Bestest Albums from 200n8:

Maninkari - Le Diable Avec Ses Cheveux
Here is the list of instruments used for this album: Viola, drums, cymbalom, santoor, keyboards, piano & samples. Intrigued? It gets better. This is this French duo's first album, and it is a double album of post rock drift and middle eastern tinged tribal clouds and jazzy shufflings. No, one CD cannot contain this awesome, truly unique sound. If you are looking for something new and adventuous, look no further. Listen

Russian Circles - Station
Someone needs to say this. Station is better than Enter. There. Yes, Enter has more complex riffing and Station seems the simpler of the two. So it is like this: If you could make chicken kiev, country style grits, streudel, mole, and saltwater taffy every day, you probably would. But is that more sustainable than, say, a nice, juicy grass-fed hamburger? What is going to be more satisfying in the end? Often enough, simpler methods lead to a more sustainable result. Station is like that. The song-writing is better. It sounds simpler, but it took a lot more work to get the quality pacing this album possesses. Listen

The Abbasi Brothers - Something Like Nostalgia
Off the Dynamophone label, this is one of the freshest, lovely debuts I've heard. Conceptually, it's diverse and full of strong, warm musical theater. Piano and guitar. So much can be done. Each song on this album could be a theme song on a movie soundtrack. Just about every one has a melody that strong. Dynamophone has a penchant for the "relaxed". This is one of their most dynamic-relaxed releases. Listen

Aidan Baker & Tim Hecker - Fantasma Parastasie
What makes this drone weather-scape album better than other ones? It's quiet by being loud. It's denser than mousse cake in a puddle of lead. The layers seem infinite. The number of melodic changes is also very high for a work so slowed down. The evolutions still take me by surprise. These guys are good. Listen

Bohren & Der Club of Gore - Dolores
This ended up being the number one album on The Silent Ballet. I really can't say it doesn't deserve it. The patience of Bohren is astounding. It invokes a light of hope in the middle of a relenting black. Like Grenouille of Perfume seeking out his inhuman dreams. I happened to review it, as well. I felt it was the best review I wrote all year. Good thing. Listen

Upcdowncleftcrightcabc+start - Embers
I don't know why people dog on this album over at TSB. It's an album that has left the staff divided. "It's an Explosions in the Sky rip-off" is a common sentiment. I can understand that. At least two of the tracks sound like they could be EITS, but with less emotional oomph. But UpcDownC rock hard. There is serious drama on "Get To The Chopper" and "McDoomish". Maybe it's not genius, maybe it is a guilty pleasure, but it's compelling. The use of a string ensemble in conjunction with UpC's precise, angular melodies is also a delightful choice. The guitars sound good and rich when they get heavy. I'd call this album infectious. Not convinced? Too bad for you. I can't stop listening to this thing. Listen

Earth - The Bees Made Honey In The Lion`s Skull
Expansive dark country music! Dylan Carlson, the founder of Earth, is getting better with age. This is undoubtedly the most accessible Earth album. It has a poignancy rivaled only by Bohren's Dolores. The songs all feel extremely natural. Earth truly are masters of their own universe. Listen

Portishead - Third
Few bands are this good. Another planet good. Fewer bands can be all like, We are going to ignore the band for ten years and then make a record and have it be ground breaking. Each song is ridiculously original, except for the couple that sound like Portishead. What a rip off. Wait, they created that sound! What a band. Listen

James Blackshaw - Litany of Echoes
Extremely talented and young James Blackshaw rips a new one. Don't take that the wrong way. I only put it that way because some people came down on this album, like they were expecting it to get crazy or rock out or something. No, it doesn't change all that much. Jimmy B is a meditator, and a damn fine one at that. Tireless hands on a 12-string are joined by piano and strings on this gorgeous piece of work. Track two is one of the most breath-taking songs I have ever heard. Listen

Svartbag- Svartbag
Psych-kraut-trance-tronica with a real drummer. This was a surprise gem. I mean, 'svartbag' doesn't exactly sound all that endearing. More like a bad joke gone worse. But I don't speak Danish. I do, however, speak in the language of cerebral spinal fluid boiling bejesusness that this album speaks in. This is one of those amazing albums whose creation I do not understand. Being a musician, I love that. Black Capricorn is one of the best tracks of the year. It's in 5-4 time! As a whole Svartbag is gem after gem, well-paced and intrepid. Listen

Grails - Seek Refuge in Clean Living/Doomsdayer's Holiday
If you didn't notice, these two albums which came out in 2008 are kind of short. What's a Grail's fan to do? Burn a CD with both albms back to back. And wow! It feels like it's supposed to be that way. Grails' black tar and incense-infused psychosis starts like a sober trip to India on Clean Living, and then the tour bus gets sucked into the vestibule of hell and salvation on Doomsdayer's. Both are very strong records. I don't get what all the fuss is about, with Grails releasing too many good records in one year. This band is on another planet. Go there to wonder and tremble. Listen

*Grouper - Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill* *Julia's Pick*
If this was your first listen to Grouper, you might say 'Hey, that's a lot of reverb.' In reality, her previous records had way more of it. Dragging is Liz Harris' cleanest sounding album, and it's gorgeous. I find melodies from this album arriving in my head, they stay for days, and when I finally realize it was Grouper, they disappear into the ether. This is a beautiful record, one with a title that suggests something very difficult, which is what Harris said this record was: Lifitng the veils of reverb and echo enough to make out her voice and guitar with clarity was a big challenge. I hear she doesn't like doing live shows either. So, this was an emotional break out. Lovely. Listen

Philip Jeck - Sand
Philip Jeck! Never heard of him, you might say. That is ok. This man uses found sounds to create collages, basically. But listening to the fizz and fanfare of Sand wouldn`t lead you to believe it was put together with a bunch of scraps fathomed by others. It is an entirely natural world. A world of momentum. Of moving particles and their destruction and reconstitution. Jeck does all this on turntables, and to actually know that makes the experience of listening to Sand that much more amazing.

Sigur Rós - Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust
In case you haven`t heard, this band is really good.
And Happy!! An absolute disaster your life could be if you don`t put Sigur Ros in it. Hyperbole, no.

Disinterested - Behind Us
Why mess with a good thing? Drifty, post-rockish shoegaze can be delightful. Just because an artist doesn`t push a genre to new limits doesn`t make his album wonderful. I do not think Behind Us came out this year, but we have been listening to it a lot. It has been a consistent album to throw on as the day winds down. I find that each composition is pretty different from the next, and the album is very cohesive. It is too pretty to deny, really. Listen

Stars of the Lid - and Their Refinement of the Decline
I know. This came out last year. And I also said it was one of my favorite albums from last year. But, what the fuck, no one can stop me. This is one of the best albums of the decade. Stars of the Lid are in a class all their own. Its drifty, orchestral washes were there through my wife`s pregnancy, it was playing when she was in labor, we played it for three weeks when our new baby was out and all boiled monkey-looking with us. We sleep to it. It became our album of 2008. The theme to our new family. Listen

Panda Bear - Person Pitch
Again, I know. This also came out last year, but damn it. We listened to it THIS year. It colored many a sunny morning. It`s like going to church and singing with the choir. So happy! And brilliantly conceived. A record we will go back to year after year. A keeper. Listen