Moving forward

The Year in Music 2008: Smaller meant better in 2008, in a myriad little ways
Gang Gang Dance: saintly

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Gathering my thoughts about how I listened to music in 2008, I think not only of Luc Sante's piece on Manny Farber in this month's Artforum, but also Ariana Reines' Action, Yes piece explaining why she hates the "cleanness and elegance of tight and perfect writing." In different ways, both pieces deal with the importance of smallness, incompleteness, and, to steal the title of Reines' piece, "sucking."

Because it's easy not to suck, and this may or may not be the Internet's fault. Music itself did not suck in 2008, despite the crumbling of an always-already imaginary consensus, and that's maybe what's so unsatisfying about trying to hang 12 months on something as well-executed yet under-inspiring as, say, Dear Science (Interscope). I'm not sure that people won't start rallying around a single release or clutch of releases to narrate what made this year worth listening to deeply, but the albums that spring to mind now as forecasting what will sound good in the future are ones that pursued a small, near-inarticulate muse and ended up with something almost monomaniacal. It's not a coincidence then that so many of these records were made during time apart from the artists' main gig. The economy, man. We all gotta grind.


1. Inca Ore, Birthday of Bless You (Not Not Fun)

Former PDXer and current Oaklander Eva Saelens is Inca Ore. Her most recent solo LP is an incantatory, patient ritual, a literally awesome tapestry of magnetic tape smears, disembodied wails, and dark, roiling resonance.

2. Arms, Kids Aflame (Melodic)

Harlem Shakes guitarist Todd Goldstein strikes out on his own here, and the results can be insanely satisfying: the indie triumvirate made up of "Whirring," the title track, and "Tiger Tamer" is a welcome reminder that pop music is supposed to make your heart race. The album's second half is less distinctive, but it's not like it hasn't earned the right to be.

3. Bohren and der Club of Gore, Dolores (Ipecac)

There's nothing organic about this full-length's inert pace: slow enough to make Swans sound like a thrash band, its floating vibraphone riffs eerily familiar/defamiliarizing like only the Twin Peaks soundtrack before it, Dolores at times seems like a morbid joke. If the characters in Samuel Beckett's trilogy listened to music, I have a hunch it would sound much like this.

4. Zomes, Zomes (Holy Mountain)

In addition to playing guitar in Lungfish, Asa Osborne constructs sturdy little habitations out of drum machine, guitar, and organ under the Zomes moniker. While it may sound too controlled at first, the recording's insistence on small, unvarying patterns reveals itself as an autonomous language over time, its photocopy mystery emerging from the stuff of repetition and reproduction itself.

5. Ssion, Fool's Gold (Sleazetone)

This disc's two release dates might as well stand in for its own ability to navigate, rather than drown in, Internet-era self-reflexivity — it seems less like a one-off collection of jams than a collection of techniques for fucking with identity. Tracks like "Street Jizz" and "Clown" don't have to decide between earnestly camp and campily earnest because they realize a third way.

6. School of Language, Sea from Shore (Thrill Jockey)

The punched-out vowel sounds that open this album recall, like Sébastien Tellier's "Divine," old Art of Noise productions. Field Music's David Brewis uses them as a bed not for uptight Euro-funk, but for generously rendered bedroom prog. At moments surprisingly muscular ("Disappointment '99") but always rhythmically ambitious, Sea may seem like Manny Farber's "white elephant art" from the outside, but is unmistakably "termite-tapeworm-fungus-moss art" within.


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