While looking back at 2008's year in music, I decided that for the first time I didn't want to make a list of just albums. Now that most of the money I spend on music is either via vinyl or mp3s, it didn't make sense to keep it that limited. So far that reason, I've mixed up albums, singles and live performances into one list. Equal ranking, no handicaps.
Another first in this list is the addition of a lot of Columbus music to my overall picks. Previous years there might have been one or two locals that made appearances, but this time around there's a total of 5 Columbus hits out of 13. I was never was good at math but I think that's like 123.b3%. It's a great time to be a fan of music and living in Columbus.
With each entry you'll find buy/video/mp3 and stream links. Give 'em a click and maybe you'll find a new favorite too.
1. Florence and the Machine, Live @ SXSW & Kiss With a Fist (single)
It's been nine months since SXSW, and Florence and the Machine's performance still echoes in my brain. It was a demonstration of fire and energy, of putting all of your soul out there and giving the audience something to remember. Click here to see a video of the show.
Kiss With a Fist is a perfect song of rage and revenge without apology. Florence's voice reminds me Dorothy Love filtered through Karen O's artistis sensibility and goddamn if this song isn't catchy as hell. I think I read on the BBC website that in parts of London you can actually not be charged with assault if you tell the police that you were inspired by this song.
While other albums that came out this year certainly were amazing, nothing could beat this single song as my top choice of the year. Buy Vinyl on Amazon | Buy from Label
Kiss With a Fist Video
2. The Dodos, Visiter (album) Visiter is such a rich album to listen to, it's hard for me to do anything else while playing it on my headphones. It's rare that I actually notice the drums or banjo or backup vocals in beautiful detail, and that's what helps makes this album such a standout. MP3: Red and Purple
3. Times New Viking, Rip it Off (album)
The first time I saw Times New Viking was when they opened up for The Arcade Fire in Columbus. (To put it in perspective, the show wasn't even halfway sold out of a 400 capacity venue). My initial impressions were "okay i don't get it." Everything started to make much more sense as time passed and I was able to see them live more. Songs are fuzzy and distorted and recorded on equipment that might have been recovered from a basement flood, but they have enough kick in them to fill an arena. These damaged pop songs make up one of the most important albums in recent Columbus history. I can't wait to hear what they do next. MP3: Drop Out | Donewaiting.com Interview
4. Gnarls Barkley, The Odd Couple (album)
It would have been easy for Gnarls Barkley to try and recreate the success of "Crazy", but instead they took an artistic and far more interesting turn. I love the slow burn of this noiry lounge album. Cee Lo's voice still goes down nice and smooth and Danger Mouse knows how to assemble the right beats and instruments to wrap around it. Don Draper approves.
5. Los Campesinos!, Hold On Now, Youngster and We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed (albums)
It's not fair to other bands when one band comes around and puts out two amazing records in the same year. The nerve! Anyway, both are a logical extension of the modern Belle and Sebastian discography but with more distortion and just slightly more energy. See.... music can be fun and challenging at the same time. MP3: Don't Tell Me to Do The Math(s)
6. Columbus Discount Records, The Columbus Discount Singles Club Year 1
You've got to have a lot of confidence (and a twinge of insanity) to be a small label and decide to commit to a year-long vinyl singles club (run of 250 each). The gamble paid off both financially (the club sold out within weeks) and musically, with bands like El Jesus de Magico releasing some of their finest work. Still to come in the series: The Unholy Two, Psychedelic Horseshit, Mike Rep and many more. Forget trying to create fake slogans like "Indie Art Capital of the World," Columbus Discount Records should be looked upon as a true banner of inspiration to the entire
7. Langhorne Slim, Langhorne Slim (album)
When I was relistening to this album as a primer for the list writing, I finally realized that most of the songs on this album hover around the 2 and 3 minutes mark. It struck me as interesting because in each short song an incredibly detailed picture is painted with Slim's lyrics. Call it hit and run songwriting maybe. This album is a great example of a band living in the Americana genre but not sounding completely cliche. MP3: Hello Sunshine | On Letterman
8. Alina Simone, Everyone is Crying Out to Me, Beware (album)
I can just imagine Alina's pitch... "Okay, here's my idea... I am going to do an album of all covers. And they're songs written by a Russian musician. And yeah, I am going to sing all the songs completely in Russian.... Oh and I am going to put her photo on the cover and not mine." While this album may be sung completely in Russian, it only enhances the impact. Desperation and longing and hope pour out of Alina's voice with each song, making it one of the most emotional albums released this year. MP3: Half My Kingdom
9. Two Cow Garage, Speaking in Cursive (album)
On Two Cow Garage's fourth album, they've finally hit their side. You can hear the confidence in their songwriting and singing. Always on the road, in both Europe and the US of A, chances are Two Cow Garage is playing your home town this weekend. People need to throw away their Kings of Leon albums and listen to this instead. MP3: Your Humble Narrator
10. Envelope, Shark Bolt (album)
Blueprint reigns supreme over the Columbus hip hop scene, but Envelope has quietly slid into the #2 spot. With the release of his second album, this blue collar rapper has shown he's got what it takes to mix it up in the big leagues. The national press are starting to take notice and things are coming up Envelope in 2009. MP3: Straight Up (featuring Hugs and Kisses)
11. Vivian Girls, Vivian Girls (album)
This album makes me want to go drag racing and get tattoos and road trip to Austin TX and find those vampires from that one Tarantino movie and stab them in their undead, vampire hearts. While all the locals thank me for taking care of their vampire problem, the Vivian Girls will be blairing out of my vintage Mustang.
12. The Hold Steady, Stay Positive (album)
Craig Finn's cast of characters are back in more episodes of discouragement, dead ends and hopeful dreams. I've totally bought into the world he's created. I want to know everything about the people he sings about and would pay at least $20 for a companion book that expanded upon the songs. And man, there's so many lyrics casually tossed off that just stick around my thoughts for a real long time.
13. Moon High, Moon High (album)
If you didn't know that Moon High was from Ohio, you might think they make their music somewhere on a secluded California beach, dividing time between recording and exploring the rock formations in the ocean. There's a casual beauty that sweeps the entire record that feels warm and breezy. A perfect album to get us through the winter. MP3: Gathering Song
What do you get someone who already has everything? Here's a disc you probably won't find elsewhere in town that's perfect for someone who loves film, history, or San Francisco. It features a short film from 1905 that documents, as the title indicates, a trip down San Francisco's Market Street six months before earthquake and fire devastated the city.
For the 100th anniversary of that film, a remake was staged showing the Market Street of 2005. The disc is also bursting with related vintage films (including Market Street After the Fire 1906 and color footage from 1945 documenting the spontaneous celebrations that broke out on Market Street on the day WWII ended) and newly commissioned films (of these new films I've only seen Tomonari Nishikawa's Market Street, a masterpiece of single frame filmmaking and in-camera editing). The only thing missing is esteemed filmmaker Ernie Gehr's great 1974 found footage Market Street film, Eureka. ($19.99)
For those lucky few who have larger budgets this year, this seven disc box set offers such a dense and varied amount of films that it will keep the recipient busy for months. The New York Times predicts that the set will "undoubtedly stand as one of the major monuments of the DVD medium." The set offers films ranging from the avant garde to home movies, but all the films are experimenting with the possibilities of moving pictures.
These are rarely seen works helped to create and expand the medium and still hold up as captivating artworks today. Among the filmmakers included are Busby Berkeley, G.W. "Billy" Bitzer, Rudy Burckhardt, Joseph Cornell, Marcel Duchamp, Walker Evans, Douglas Fairbanks, Robert Flaherty, Springfield, Ohio's Dwinell Grant, Norman McClaren, Edwin S. Porter, Man Ray, Paul Strand, Orson Welles, and countless others. ($99.99)
As documentaries continue to maintain their unprecedented level of visibility within the film community, it's worth revisiting this 1969 landmark of the genre. One of the key films of the "direct cinema" movement, Salesman remains one of the most finely crafted documentaries ever made. It's a portrait of a group of door-to-door bible salesmen that contains all the narrative trajectory and control of tone of the greatest fictional films. The film remains one of the greatest portraits of mid-century life and the despair behind the American dream. Essential viewing for any fans of documentary filmmaking. (39.95)
Here are a few shows that stood out to me this year:
1. Black Is, Black Ain't, at the Renaissance Society in Chicago. This was a timely and provocative reflection on the rhetoric of race as much as racial identity that took place well before the November election. If you missed this show you can find images on the website as well as Hamza Walker's thought-provoking essay.
2. All-Inclusive: A Tourist World at the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt.
This group show proposed a new view of the world through the eye of the tourist. It included works about personal desire, fantasies about exotic cultures, and installations focused on airport security and the constant threat of potential violence and disaster. Compelling was also the decision to include works about migration, which is a pressing topic in Europe. My favorite aside was an open janitor's closet near the restrooms, which contained not only cleaning supplies but a panorama of postcards of exotic destinations. Although the staff assured me, it was not part of the show (â€œNo, it's definitely not Fischli and Weissâ€) I thought it was the icing on the cake.
4. Martin Kippenberger at MoCA, Los Angeles was another terrific show. It helps to have a certain appreciation of irreverent German humor and a few insights into post-war German art to fully appreciate which sacred cows are being slaughtered, but even a cursory glance is revealing. The exhibition will travel and I highly recommend it.
5. Still on my list of shows to see is the group show Worlds Away: New Suburban Landscapes, at the nearby Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh. The focus is on art and architecture. One of my favorite features in the catalogue is a â€œLexicon of Suburban Neologismsâ€ where you can look up intriguing terms such as boomburb, Grage Mahal, LULU, and NIMBY, as well as a new definition of pork chop. The exhibition is on view until January 19th.
6. Last not least, if you have not seen Andy Warhol: Other Voices, Other Rooms you should hurry to the Wexner Center to see it!
I had a longer list and was going to try and put it in some kind of order, but then I realized that I saw some performances this year that were so excellent, groundbreaking, surprising, etc. that they defied ranking. In other words, they were basically â€œperfectâ€. I also realized that some of the great bands I saw play merely good shows should not be included, and I narrowed it down to the following (in chronological order):
Pink Reason at Beachland Ballroom (Cleveland OH) 01/26/08
Kites/Kevin Shields/Justice Yeldham at Churchhill's Pub as part of the Intl Noise Conference (Miami Florida) 02/14-16/08
Holographic Dog Disease at Skylab (Columbus OH) 02/20/08
Laundry Room Squelchers/Psychedelic Horseshit/Out There Dudes at Skylab as part of the Columbus iteration of the Intl Noise Conference (Columbus OH) 04/20/08
Anna Ranger at Rumba Café (Columbus OH) ??/??/08
TV Ghost at Bernies Distillery (Columbus OH) 06/14/08
Nelson Slater's Bored Teen War Team at Skylab (Columbus OH) 06/28/08
Panicsville at Skylab (Columbus OH) 06/18/08
Hair Police at Skylab (Columbus OH) 07/27/08
Little Claw at Carabar (Columbus OH) 09/13/08
Jandek (w/ Ryan Jewell, C. Spencer Yeh, and Derek Dicenzo) at Wexner Center for the Arts (Columbus OH) 10/10/08
Ludo Mich / Koonda Holla at Bokal Royal (Brussels Belgium) 11/02/08
Indian Jewelry at Cave 12 (Geneva Switzerland) 11/09/08
Adam "Smitty" Smith/ Russian Tsarlag at Skylab (Columbus OH) 11/22/08
Aaron Dilloway at Modern Formations (Pittsburgh PA) 12/13/08
One last comment about venues: I'm not really surprised at how many of the shows above were at Skylab this year, but I am surprised that none of them were at Café Bourbon St (or for that matter, any of the other DIY venues here in town). The many shows I saw at Bourbon St in 2008 were almost always good, and I am surprised myself to note that none of them made this list.
Current Wexner Center Media Arts Residency Award recipient Guy Maddin recently sent us a few screen grabs from his current project which will premiere at the Rotterdam Film Festival in January. The work will be presented as a large public projection as part of an â€œUrban Screensâ€ initiative that includes Mexican director Carlos Reygadas among others.
As you can see from the images, the film features the dazzling Isabella Rossellini strapped into an electric chair. The inspiration, according to Guy, is his ongoing friendly argument with Isabella about Thomas Edison's greatest invention: Guy says the movie camera, Isabella, the electric chair. Hopefully this piece will settle the matter!
While the film Guy is shooting as part of his Wexner residency is just beyond the embryonic stage he thinks that some of his â€œshockingâ€ footage with Isabella will make it into his project for us. Bill Horrigan and I are attending the Rotterdam festival and we will be sure to post a full description of Guy's piece and everything else we see.