And here are my gig highlights of 2008:
- The Tenori-On launch, San Francisco, 18 April
I happened to be in the Bay Area at the time, and went along, with some friends, to the Tenori-On launch. At the San Francisco one, they had a number of North American artists, the most memorable of whom was I Am Robot And Proud. Formerly one half of Girls Are Short, he now makes ambient electronica under this name, and, given a Tenori-On, integrated it into his performance alongside a piano, to great effect. I still didn't spend US$1200 on a Tenori-On, though.
- ATP vs. PITCHFORK, Camber Sands, 9-11 May
The first ATP festival I've been to, and it was great. Highlights were probably Glass Candy's deadpan Italo-disco, Los Campesinos' on-stage mayhem, Of Montreal's psychedelic psychodrama (which keeps getting more elaborate with each show), and krautrock veterans Harmonia playing an hour and a half of ambient electronica to a hushed room.
- Jeffrey Lewis, Scala, 18 September
I went to see Jefrey Lewis play, having only heard the Williamsburg Will Oldham Horror song of his, and not knowing what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised; rather than just playing guitar and singing, he did things like present short stories in sequences of drawings as he sang, and towards the end, his band threw off the folk moniker and rocked out like Mogwai or someone. Also, he had some of his comics for sale at the merch stall, and they were quite good.
- The Deirdres, The Vines, Derby, 7 Oct
The Deirdres' possibly last-ever gig, before three of their members went travelling abroad; how could I not go? I caught the train to Derby after work and made it to the venue at about 8:30, and I wasn't disappointed. They went on stage, costumed as animals which hibernate, and played with their usual raucous yet deceptively tight musicianship, and a great time was had all round.
- The Jesus and Mary Chain/Black Box Recorder, The Forum, 27 Oct
The gig was a memorial for the frontman of Earl Brutus, hence the high-profile lineup at short notice, and the giant tinsel British Rail logo behind the stage. Black Box Recorder played mostly songs from England Made Me (i.e., their best album), and the Mary Chain gave a great performance, on a par with their recordings. British Sea Power also played, but they didn't grab me.
- Parenthetical Girls, The Dome, 17 November
A stripped-down rendition of Entanglements, but while it may have lacked orchestral instruments, it didn't lack dynamism from Zach, who kept going in and out of the audience. The cover of OMD's Maid Of Orleans was pretty good too.
- I'm From Barcelona/SoKo, London/Brighton - 25/26 November
Two gigs, one after the other. I'm From Barcelona was the usual euphoric experience, with balloons and confetti (this time fired into the air by a confetti Gatling gun), though now only 12 band members on stage. SoKo, however, stole the show, with her quirky songs and multi-instrumentalism. She's definitely one to watch.
And now, here come the lists of things of the year. Starting with the top 10 records of 2008 (in alphabetical order of artist's name, as usual):
- Animal Collective - Water Curses
The futurefolk combo's follow-up to last year's Strawberry Jam, a 4-track EP further building on their textured yet organic sound. Highlight: Cobwebs, which sounds a little like something Björk might well have done.
- Cut Copy - In Ghost Colours
Australia's Modular label have been the toast of the electrofashionista elite of London and New York, and the core of a mass youth movement in Australia (one now hears disparaging descriptions of vast hordes of "mogans", unsophisticated fluoro-shirted teenage party kids from all over the suburbs and provinces of Australia, sharing musical tastes with the hippest of Shoreditch and Williamsburg's hipsters; how funny is that?), but they do release some good stuff from time to time. Case in point: Cut Copy's second album, which combines the vogue for 1980s New Wave stylings (cribbed both from international sources (listen out for the Peter Hook-esque melody lines) and Australian 80s top-40 sounds) with electro/house the way Australians like it (i.e., muscular, body-conscious and not too chi-chi or pretentious), and manages to make something quite listenable out of it, a collection of well-formed pop songs driven by coruscating synths, 4/4 dance beats, melodic vocals and the odd jangly guitar and glockenspiel. Highlight: the opening cut, Feel The Love, is a good start, starting as pop and morphing into something more clubby like a disco Transformers robot.
- The Deirdres - Why Do My Glasses Give You The Heeby Jeebys?
The Deirdres, a young unsigned band consisting of seven kids from Derby, are, in my opinion, one of the most exciting indiepop bands in the UK now. This self-released CD-R (the first versions had handmade photo-collage covers, and buyers got a raffle ticket to decide which one they got) shows that they're as good in the studio as they are at live shows, sounding in places like a more melodic Los Campesinos! or a much more compact I'm From Barcelona. These kids deserve to go a long way (and three of them are currently in Australia, gigging with The Motifs and Summer Cats). Highlights: Milk Is Politics is more typical of the exuberant pop mayhem of their live shows, and Rise And Fall is just sublime.
- Eine Kleine Nacht Musik - s/t
Another Modular release, this time from an American artist lovingly taking off the more electronic end of krautrock (think Harmonia, Tangerine Dream and such). With titles like Feuerprobe, Bardolator and Götterdämmerung, this album wears its inspirations on its sleeve, but it does what it does well. Highlights: perhaps the penultimate track, Das Regenecho.
- El Guincho - Alegranza
Influenced by Afrobeat, Tropicália and 1970s Canary Islands psychedelic rock, this record is a collection of loop-based Latin party music, assembled by a hipster from Barcelona. Imagine Panda Bear making party-rocking grooves, and you'll have some idea of what this sounds like. Highlights: Antillas perhaps?
- Glass Candy - B/E/A/T/B/O/X
What you get when some people from the DIY hardcore punk scene decide that Italo-disco is where it's at. As much influenced by cult 1970s Italian horror movies as 1980s Italian disco anthems, this brings a somewhat askew take to the genre. Highlights: Their cooler-than-ice take on Kraftwerk's Computer Love, followed by the Goblin-esque eerieness of Last Nite I Met A Costume.
- Momus and Joe Howe - Joemus
A collaboration with Glaswegian glitchcore mentalist Joe Howe (Germlin/Gay Against You), Momus' latest album sees a combination of influences; perhaps conscious of the youthful cutting-edge electronica Howe brings to the party, Momus digs into the past somewhat, covering a Cliff Richard teenage heartbreak anthem and a Ryuichi Sakamoto piece (the lovely Thatness and Thereness). This was somewhat overshadowed this year by Momus' decision to post the MP3s of his Creation-era albums online in his blog, but is still worth a listen. Highlights: Fade To White
- Moscow Olympics - Cut The World
The grey days of 1980s Britain, with their anomie and internal alienation, have become a golden age of indiepop to some; certainly, to Moscow Olympics, a group of kids from Manila, the Philippines, who plant their flag halfway between the Glasgow of Orange Juice, the Manchester of Factory Records and the Bristol of Sarah Records, with perhaps a slight lean towards Gothenburg. Cut The World, their debut EP on Swedish (where else?) indiepop label Lavender, sound for all the world as if they emerged from beneath the leaden skies of mid-Thatcher-era northern Britain with a defiantly optimistic song in their hearts, sounding like the Bodines with Peter Hook on bass and Keith Girdler (of Blueboy) on vocals. The EP continues in this vein for seven tracks, before shimmering away in a Slowdive-esque crescendo; this is as perfect a slice of C86-esque indiepop as one could hope for. Highlights: the opening track, What Is Left Unsaid is a good one.
- Parenthetical Girls - Entanglements
A lavish piece of 1960s-style symphonic pop splendour. The music is exquisitely orchestrated, wrapped sumptuously around finely-crafted words which, through baroque circumlocutions, tell a story of a torrid romantic tragedy, somewhere between Romeo and Juliet and Lolita, filtered through a sort of gauzy Technicolor impressionism. Highlights: the tango-infused cover of Windmills Of Your Mind is one.
- Vampire Weekend - s/t
Yes, it has been hyped to death. Yes, they're a bunch of privileged urban haute-bourgeoisie taking the music of the global downtrodden and crafting from it songs about the lives of the wealthy ("lobsters' claws are as sharp as knives"; see, a UHB's life is not without its hazards). But at the end of it, they do what they do quite well, combining Afrobeat influences, chamber-music strings, clever lyrics and good songs. Which doesn't mean you can't laugh at some of the toffishness. But who outside of a posh university would write a song titled Oxford Comma? Highlights: start anywhere on the album; the opener, Mansard Roof, is a good a point as any.
If I were to choose a record of the year, 2008's would be Moscow Olympics' Cut The World.
Today's heartwarming display of ecumenical outreach between religions comes to us courtesy of Australian Christian-right parliamentarian Reverend Fred Nile, who has tabled a bill to ban toplessness on beaches, to protect the sensibilities of Muslims and Asians who are not used to such licentiousness:
The Reverend Nile has rejected allegations that prudishness is behind a bill he has prepared to ban nudity, including topless sunbathing, on the state's most popular beaches.
Australia's reputation as a conservative but culturally inclusive sociery was at risk of erosion by more liberal overseas visitors, he said.Of course, Australia has only been a "conservative society" for some 11 years. Well, and all the time up to the Whitlam government in the 1970s, but that was a long time ago. Now, it's gradually and haltingly inching its way back towards a Western secular-liberal consensus. (Not at any great rate, mind you; video games unsuitable for children are still outlawed, film censorship is still handled by the Howard government's conservative appointees, and there is that national firewall proposal that keeps lumbering forward, zombie-fashion, despite not being remotely viable; but still...) Some people, though, don't want to abandon their dream of Australia as a spiritually pure Kingdom of Prester John in the South.
"Our beaches should be a place where no one is offended, whether it's their religious or cultural views," he said.No-one? I wonder whether this extends to the Wahhabi Muslims who would be offended by the exposure of naked female ankles and elbows, or even faces, on Reverend Nile's modesty-enhanced beaches. Or even by the fact that men and women can be on the same beach in each other's company. Unless Reverend Nile is prepared to mandate full gender segregation of beaches and the full burqa for women, I suspect he is being a wee bit hypocritical.