We don't delve too far into the music world here at RFC (Our Obligatory Music List is probably updated the least on this site, which is saying something), but it does play a significant part in our lives and if there were one area that's taken into consideration upon expansion, it would probably be music. 2008's year in music was cut short for me when my computer keeled over in November, taking my iTunes library with it. But thankfully I was lucky enough to have updated my iPod with 44 albums before the crash giving me more than enough to get me through to the day when that new Mac Mini comes out. Also, I corrected a wrong made many years ago and got that turntable at the yard sale this summer -- there's an ice cold cockle that is once again warm.
I can confidently say that 2008 was a solid year for my musical tastes. I'm still trying to decide if I can say the same for the year in film. It was a good year for new artists like Cut Copy and Lykke Li who made even crotchety old bastards like myself want to shake some ass. Mainstays like Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Silver Jews, Magnetic Fields, The Breeders, Spritualized, Stephen Malkmus and David Byrne released albums that while not quite reaching their greatest heights, were nonetheless excellent entries in some of the best ongoing catalogs of music. More recent discoveries over the past few years like M83, Okkervil River, The Walkmen, TV on the Radio and Deerhunter continued to make good memorable work, some better than others with the latter making an album that came damn close to being my favorite of the year. But that honor has to go to two (yeah two, what about it?) albums that came from nearly forgotten artists who both created unshakable achievements that instantly garnered a spot as the best in recent memory - not just this year. Both these albums not only improved upon subsequent listenings but practically demanded it and rewarded you with grand ambition that actually pays off.
Portishead's last album was their second (if you don't count that live one they released) and the self-titled, 11 year old release was a darker, even moodier set of songs than their first. Since both the albums came out in the mid-to-late 90's it's easy to blur the two together and think that they simply released two "trip-hop" albums. And since "tip-hop" was a dated term the second it escaped from some trend-spotters lips, there was certainly some question marks as to what Portishead would sound like in 2008 and certainly some backlash when the over-eager super-fan breathlessly listened to Third and was refused one of the swooning singles found on Dummy, their first and still most accessible album. But the truth is they've released three distinct and wholly beautiful, haunting albums. 2008's Third feels like such a natural, organic progression from 1997's Portishead that I was smiling from ear to ear through some seriously sad songs -- I couldn't help myself. Here was a band that didn't literally take 10 years off, I'm sure each member was working on something or other, but seemed to jump effortlessly right back to where they left off. Not only did they not miss a beat but changed the beat while keeping it unmistakably Portishead. Beth Gibbons voice is still worthy of devotion and even at it's most agressive, as with "Machine Gun" the album is so well produced that it never veers off from being beautifully hypnotic.
Effortless isn't what I would call Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds' Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! I mean, look at those exclamation points -- there's three of them!!! There's blood, sweat and tears in this music, man -- there's effort in every note. Now, I've by no means ever considered myself a Nick Cave fan in the past. I liked a few tracks on his "Best Of" album but for the most part felt he was way too preoccupied with a narrow selection of themes. While religion and death are certainly deep buckets to draw from, they can also be a bit of a drag and make your songs and albums indistinguishable from one another after a while. But for one reason or another I always give Cave another shot and with Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! I was rewarded with his strongest set of songs. No other album got me riled up quite like this one. The first two songs are a classic one-two punch that completely caught me off guard -- since when the fuck does Cave rock out like this? He's not crooning funeral hymns, sometimes ranting might be a better word and sometimes he's tossing out killer lyrics so quickly that you think he's coming up with this shit off the top of his head. While he's still in his usual concept album mode, it's just an extra bonus in this case. While we're following around a dazed and confused Lazarus (Larry), the songs stand perfectly strong on their own without any knowledge of the larger story -- which is pretty loose to begin with. And while there's a healthy dose of death and religion (um, it is about Lazarus after all) it manages to be something that hangs out in the background supporting the songs rather than standing front and center. The fact that the song "We Call Upon the Author" (to explain) is about The Bible and God isn't explicit, it just juices up what is already an explosively escalating song. It's a truly rockin' album, like I said it's the one that got me the most riled, fist-pumping and singing along to. And chances are, that album will always be tops for me.
Runner Up: Deerhunter - Microcastle; Spiritualized - Songs in A&E;