Favorite edition 2008: Quarter final

November is done, and December isn’t big on releases. So I’m calling it — my Favorite Edition list for 2008.

A number of titles got bumped around — or bumped off — the list for this final draft, but I have to say 2008 has been a near embarrassment of riches. Competition for this list was really stiff, with a lot of albums getting heavy play time on my media player. I even like the ones I didn’t absolutely love.

If there was an overall theme to this year, it was the number of releases by gay artists I actually liked. Most of the time I run across someone name-dropped in the Advocate or Out, they tend to fall into two genres: wispy folk music or club music. This year, I’ve run across musicians either pushing the boundaries of those constraints or working outside them altogether.

  1. MASS OF THE FERMENTING DREGS, MASS OF THE FERMENTING DREGS Combining an uncanny melodic sense with driving guitar riffs reminiscent of NUMBER GIRL, this duo of Japanese women produced a compact but ambitious debut mini-album.

  2. The Magnetic Fields, Distortion Stephin Merritt wanted to be more Jesus and Mary Chain than the Jesus and Mary Chain, so he put every instrument on Distortion through distortion. Merritt’s usually sophisticated songsmithing takes on a grimy patina with a wash of reverb and squeal inundating each track. Sally Sims ought to be the lead singer of the Magnetic Fields full time.

  3. Emmylou Harris, All I Intended to Be After writing most of her last two albums, Harris returns to her role as an interpreter. Producer Brian Aherns also brings Harris back to the more organic sound of her early albums, resulting in a work as strong as Bluebird or Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town.

  4. ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION, World World World ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION has a reliable style, but with this album, they aim for something far more ambitious and succeed incredibly well.

  5. Girl Talk, Feed the Animals Girl Talk had me when DJ Gregg Giles laid Missy Elliot over Nu Shooz and Tag Team over Big Country.

  6. Samamidon, All Is Well How’s this for thanks? Nico Muhly introduces me to Samamidon, and his album leap frogs over Muhly’s on my favorite list. Also? Muhly’s orchestrations on All Is Well elevate this collection of traditional material to sublimity. That’s not to knock Amidon’s beautifully casual delivery.

  7. Chris Walla, Field Manual Man, how bad is it that the solo album by Death Cab for Cutie’s producer and guitarist is actually better than the Death Cab for Cutie album released in the same year?

  8. Leo Imai, Fix Neon Imai manages to capture the feel of the ’80s without resorting to ripping off the decade wholesale. Synth effects from the era mix with some durable rock writing to result in one of the most confounding and appealing releases of the year.

  9. Nico Muhly, Mothertongue Subtitled "Three Large Vocal Works with Twitching", this album expands the scale of his debut Speaks Volumes. Imagine Björk being possessed by the ghost of Alfred Schnittke.

  10. Spangle call Lilli line, ISOLATION Spangle call Lilli line can get a bit too mired in atmospherics, but on ISOLATION, piano work reminiscent of French impressionist composers — Claude Debussy, Erik Satie — gives this album classiness.

These albums almost ranked:

  • hey willpower, P.D.A. Indie rock needs more influence from radio pop, if hey willpower is any indication.
  • VOLA & THE ORIENTAL MACHINE, Halan’naca Darkside It bears repeating: less POLYSICS == good!
  • ZAZEN BOYS, ZAZEN BOYS 4 Either Mukai Shuutoku has decided to write songs again, or Dave Fridmann wasn’t putting up with his freaked out bullshit.
  • Matt Alber, Hide Nothing A former member of the classical vocal ensemble Chanticleer, Alber creates a debut album with a lot of wonderful atmosphere, reminiscent of Sacha Sacket without the overly dark interior. Alber will probably hear no end to the Rufus Wainwright comparisons, but as pointed out elsewhere, Alber isn’t as dour. Also — holy crap can dude do countertenor.
  • Bob Mould, District Line Not as varied as Body of Song, but I like how Mould can veer from driving indie rock to dance beats without losing his bearings.

Best of gay, some of which have already been mentioned. Yes, I know — sausagefest:

  • Matt Alber, Hide Nothing
  • The Dead Betties, Nightmare Sequence This 2/3 gay trio can melt paint off the walls.
  • hey willpower, P.D.A.
  • Ivri Lider, Beketzev A’hid Batnu’ot Shell Haguf (The Steady Body of Movements) He had me at "Rak Tevakesh".
  • The Magnetic Fields, Distortion
  • Jonathan Mendelsohn, SNOCAP tracks Mendelsohn shares with R&B artist Ari Gold a suitable voice for mainstream radio stardom, but while Gold has a decidedly urban sound, Mendelsohn sounds more European. Perhaps even more underground. The demos he has on sale from Myspace makes me hopeful the ball won’t be dropped on his work.
  • Bob Mould, District Line
  • Nico Muhly, Mothertongue
  • Sam Sparro, Sam Sparro Sparro is already successful in Europe, and his self-titled debut certain sounds like it’s geared more internationally. On a few tracks, the only thing missing were Wendy & Lisa, but Sparro does a pretty decent job crafting pop music that has some semblance of a shelf life.

Favorite catalog from 2007 and beyond:

  • Ann Sally, Brand-New Orleans I had always wanted to listen to this album, and thankfully it popped up on the Evil Sharing Networks. Ann Sally does a remarkable job interpreting such classics as "Sweet Georgia Brown" and "Basin Street", but her backing band of New Orleans regulars really gives this album some push.
  • Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Performs Peter Lieberson: Neruda Songs What a wonderful singer.
  • Osvaldo Golijov, Oceana For anyone who wants an extension of Dead Can Dance’s Spiritchaser.
  • Steve Reich, Music for 18 Musicians (Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble) Impressive.

Favorite reissues:

  • U2, Under a Blood Red Sky I almost forgot this album existed, but man — makes me wish I caught the band before they ever recorded The Unforgettable Fire. It actually kind of makes me miss them.
  • U2, Boy The bonus disc of early demos and b-sides have an amateurish charm, an urgency that has mostly been wrenched out by latter-day expertise. Can’t go back, I guess.
  • Midnight Oil, Diesel and Dust The remastering on this album is terrific — the sound is crisp and respectful of the original album.
  • Shiina Ringo, Watashi to Houden I already have a lot of these b-sides, but it’s so much easier to have it all on two discs.