As the good ship 2008 nears the end of its voyage, it's time to look back at the year's musical peaks and troughs. But rather than heap yet more praise (or derision) on the artists and releases I've already written about, the following unscientific, arbitary, misguided awards are intended to fill in any gaps I missed. Which means I won't even mention that my favorite albums of the year were The Holy Pictures by David Holmes, There Were Wolves by The Accidental, The Golden Age by American Music Club, and For Emma, Forever Ago by Bon Iver. Nope, my lips are sealed on that one.
So, without further ado, the winners are ...
Best Album I Should Have Reviewed (But Didn't):
Fleet Foxes: Fleet Foxes
When I decided to write about modern "Americana" in July, I asked friends to recommend recent albums with at least a twinge of twang about them. Two names cropped up a lot: I quickly tracked down (and wrote about) the previously unmentioned Bon Iver, but for some reason I took my own good time finding a copy of the Fleet Foxes album. I regret that now. Not only is it every bit as good as Bon Iver's, but the two of them sound great together. If Bon Iver captured the sound of midwinter in the Midwest, then the Fleet Foxes album is its summer sibling, still tinged with sadness, but fuller, lush, and fertile, like the feeling of sun on your skin.
George Bush Memorial Award for Most Misunderestimated Album:
Hayden: In Field & Town
The first time I heard this, I was totally underwhelmed. I think it was his voice, which is all lazy drawl and artful insouciance. But there was something else that wriggled into my brain, and the CD kept creeping back into my stereo despite my misgivings. Slowly, these quiet songs began to reveal their charms. In the end I had to admit that I had gotten it wrong. It is understated, sure, but it is also a delight, made with the kind of craft that only comes with practice (it's Hayden's sixth album). My bad.
Most Improved Live Act:
TV on the Radio
The clattering, loose-limbed eccentricities that have come to define the TV on the Radio sound haven't always worked so well live. In the past, some songs would soar, while others struggled under the weight of their own weirdness. However, with the release of the more polished Dear Science this year, the band seem to have finally realized their full potential live. At the Warfield in November they nailed every song to the ceiling with exhilarating panache, and without sacrificing any of their brilliant idiosyncrasies.
Biggest Live Let Down:
My Bloody Valentine
I should have seen this one coming. Battling the twin handicaps of a terrible venue and my own unreasonably high expectations, MBV were always going to disappoint in September. In the end, it wasn't all bad, and some songs actually sounded pretty good. But it just wasn't the same as seeing them when I was much younger and more impressionable. And too many songs were chewed into mush by the weird, cavernous SF Design Center. Did somebody forget to stop building that hall? It seemed to stretch on forever, as did the now predictably abusive finale of "You Made Me Realise" and its "apocalypse" section. Yeah, white noise, loud, whatever.
Best Song From Space (or South Africa):
DJ Mujava: "Township Funk"
Recorded by Pretoria's DJ Mujava, and released via the leftfield Warp imprint, "Township Funk" is a strange, upbeat slice of futuristic afro electronica with an outrageously catchy drumbeat. Listening to it left me full of excitement, as it reminded me that not all dance music is boring, that "world" music isn't just about yogurt-knitted sweaters and whole-grain acoustics, and that there's lots more weird and wonderful stuff like this to be found in unexpected places online.
Best Song Title:
Mogwai: "I'm Jim Morrison, I'm Dead"
The best thing about writing albums full of instrumental post-rock noise is that you can name your songs pretty much anything you want. This year, Mogwai have made the most of this freedom. As well as the prize-winning gem above, they've also given us "The Sun Smells Too Loud," "I Love You, I'm Going to Blow Up Your School," "Thank You Space Expert," and the bafflingly brilliant "Batcat," all from their excellent new album The Hawk is Howling.
Special Excuse to Link to a Video Award:
"Prisencolinensinainciusol" by Adriano Celentano
OK, this was actually released in 1973, but it's so good that I'm including it anyway. Enjoy, and here's to a very happy New Year!