Holiday Guide 2008: Seasonal sounds

Sifting through the year's albums and shows for melodic gifting
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culture@sfbg.com

Thanks to the continued explosion of musically-oriented Web sites and blogs, you'll probably be even more inundated than usual this year with "best of 2008" lists come January 2009 — far too late for your tuneful shopping needs. So we're cranking one out early, organized by affinity groups — some slightly imaginary, some more concrete — in an attempt to cut through the loud hype and scattered bombast while amping up your gift-giving options. At the end is a suggested list of delectable upcoming live shows, if you're more ticket-oriented.

FOR THE RETRO-FUTURIST DISCO HEAD

Electronic music is a good example of how griping about the state of a scene can sometimes release unexpected creativity. Syclops, nominally a Finnish fusion trio, is the latest we've heard from Maurice Fulton since his quasi-breakthrough electro-spazz project Mu. I've Got My Eye on You is the longest in a line of pretty epic wins for the label DFA and for electronic music generally: radiating out from "Where's Jason's K," the 10 tracks that make up the album tear ass from pharma'd-out Detroit techno to dreamy, lush deep space jazz.

Also: Shed's Shedding the Past (Ostgut Tonträger) if your giftee's the type who longs for the halcyon days of high minimal glitch; Nôze, Songs on the Rocks (Get Physical) if his or her affection for tech house precision is matched only by a love of closing-time sing-alongs and Waitsian growls.

FOR LONG-LIMBED INDIE SCRAPPERS

It would be hard to write enough about "Black Rice," the best song on Canadian indie quartet Women's self-titled debut on Jagjaguwar. Starting from an absurdly unambitious guitar line, the song blossoms into something wildly and fiercely beautiful. It could be the impossible falsetto of the chorus, or the way the rhythm section comes unglued from the vocals and guitar, but the song condenses what makes the rest of the album — noisy, lo-fi interludes and all — so engaging. Everything seems held together provisionally on a song like the heartrending "Shaking Hand," but the chorus snaps into place with rubber-banded eagerness.

Also: Abe Vigoda's Skeleton (PPM) for its irrepressible youthful longing and controlled thrash; Benoît Pioulard's Temper (Kranky) for twining the threads of noise and surprisingly pretty, almost adult-contemporary songwriting into a neither/nor album that's perfect for gray days.

WEIRDOS ONLY

Although more structured than anything they've done before, Saint Dymphna (Social Registry), the newest long player from New York's mystical vibe crew Gang Gang Dance, still arrives packed with the otherworldliness that characterized its excellent predecessor, God's Money (Social Registry, 2005). Three years in the making, the album itself is nothing if not well paced: the transitions between songs and the gradual build of rhythmic energy make it less kin to trad rock albums than to DJ mixes.

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