Friday, January 02, 2009

Stand up and say "Hey, just a second!": 2008 Rocks.

Another year, another year-ending celebratory mix disc. As I did last year, I made my mix of things I discovered this year--though not all were released this year. In this sense, it is a chronicle of my musical year, moreso than the musical year that was.

America Is Waiting
For My 2008 Mix.

Brian Eno and David Byrne, “America Is Waiting,” My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1981; Nonesuch, 2006).
How did I miss this re-release in 2006? So I start my compilation with an acknowledgement that I can be woefully behind the times. So it goes! This album still sounds as incredible as it did when I first heard it on the crappy cassette deck of my first car, and even then it was already almost 10 years old. Even if you have this album on some other format, it is worth buying the CD for the liner notes’ detailing of the working process that went into making some of the most innovative music of its era. NB: sampling, in those days, was a more intuitive and analogue process. Also note the excellent vintage photos of Eno and Byrne. Those were the days.

Kassin+2, “Ponto Final,” Futurismo (Luaka Bop, 2008).
This “Samba Supergroup,” as Rolling Stone describes them, is Moreno Veloso, Domenico Lancelotti, and Alexandre Kassin, and their sound is somewhat tropical, somewhat electronic, and altogether groovarific. This disc is part of a three-part “+2” series, each disc featuring one of the band members in the title role. Kassin has has produced records by singers like Marisa Monte and Bebel Gilberto and made an album from the bleeps of a Gameboy. About this song, Kassin says, “The song has a classical theme. The singer says, ‘I don’t want you. It’s over.’ At the same time he’s singing about how he wants to be smarter, and he wants to get in shape, and he wants to have a new life. It’s about wanting what you haven’t got.”

Nortec Collective Presents: Bostich + Fussible, “Norteña del Sur,” Tijuana Sound Machine (Nacional, 2008).
While we are thinking about genre, this album's MySpace page denotes this disc as "Psychedelic/Concrete/Electronica." I personally am not clear on where the boundaries of "Concrete" end and "Psychedelic" begin, but the sound here is cool, coming out of Tijuana's electronic scene. If you know Nortec Collective, then you might recognize Bostich and Fussible from their series of Tijuana Sessions albums. Bostich and Fussible are not exactly people or bands, but rather the noms de turntable of Pepe Mogt and Ramon Amezcua. What is there not to like about this album's blend of accordions, tubas, trumpets, norteño percussion, vocoders, drum machines and synthesizers? This song will make you wish you were driving around in the car on the album's cover, instead of whatever clunker you find yourself cranking the track in.

The Cat Empire, “Fishies,” So Many Nights (Velour, 2008).
The date on this disc is 2008, but Wikipedia tells me the album was released in the band's home country of Australia in September 2007. Whatever. Dig on the horns, the blasting piano, the funky Latin beat and the great lyrics. I dare you not to dance in your car. Or wherever you are. Tie me to the mast--I must believe!

Irakere, “Bacalao con Pan,” Sí, Para Usted: The Funky Beats of Revolutionary Cuba, Vol. 1 (Waxing Deep, 2006).
Did you know that the revolution would come with funky son? I did not, and yet it did. But honestly, was I asleep at the wheel in 2006? Oh well--more to enjoy this year. This disc comes out of a radio program and podcast called Waxing Deep. This song, it turns out, is about cod sandwiches. Cod sandwiches--how'd you get so funky?

Amy Ray, “Cold Shoulder,” Didn’t It Feel Kinder (Daemon, 2008).
If you ever wished, while listening to the Indigo Girls, that Amy Ray would let loose with that voice and attitude of hers, then come here. Dang, but this is a perky song about how girls can treat you bad and the world can treat you worse. But that is a good combo ultimately, because you feel better after you sing along.

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, “Nobody’s Baby,” 100 Days, 100 Nights (Daptone, 2007).
This is one hot R&B album. Sharon Jones has a voice that will kick your ass, and Dap-Kings can bring the funk. She did some anonymous session work early on, and sang back-up for Lee Fields on a Desco release, and toured with the Soul Providers in the 1990s until Desco collapsed in 2000. A little reshuffling produced the Dap-Kings, and this is (I think) their third album. If you don't already have this album, you need the whole thing, really you do, but let this track suffice for the sake of my mix, for which America is waiting.

The Black Exotics, “Theme of Blackbyrds,” Carolina Funk: First in Funk, 1968-1977 (Jazzman, 2008).
This album may be my favorite find of 2008--a compilation of funk tracks recorded in North and South Carolina. This particular tune was laid down at United Music World Studios in West Columbia, SC in 1975. What remains of the Black Exotics is a single extremely rare 45, and both tracks are covers. The band actally came from Macon, Georgia, but a part of the West Columbia scene. But seriously folks, this entire disc is excellent.

Gnarls Barkley, “Charity Case,” The Odd Couple (Downtown/Atlantic, 2008).
I was conflicted about whether to include this song or the second track, which I like just as well, maybe better, but I decided I wanted the more upbeat sound here in the mix. But as for this track: opening with the sound of a film projector, bouncy beat, diverse percussion--can't beat it. Given that this album was up for 4 Grammys, I doubt I need to say much, but I will note that I love how Cee-Lo Green sounds like he has some serious sinus congestion--a condition with which I can always identify.

Elvis Costello and the Imposters, “Flutter and Wow,” Momofuku (Lost Highway/UMG, 2008).
Did you see Elvis when he was touring recently with Bob Dylan? Well, Bob Dylan is Bob Dylan, but really Elvis alone with his guitar stole the show before Dylan even made it to the stage. This disc, of course, is no solo venture, but this song is a great example of the beauty of his pop songs--a beauty that stands out whether he is fancilly produced or rough and solo on stage.

DeVotchka, “The Clockwise Witness,” A Mad and Faithful Telling (Anti, 2008).
Saw these folks at the Orange Peel, on a night when I was completely exhausted from my day at work, but Lands, Alive--what a show. I am sorry to say that this disc does not seem to feature the theremin, which Nick Urata played beautifully in concert, but his vocals do sometimes take on that eerie, otherworldly quality. The band's sound is very much here: starting out with the vibes, then Nick Urata's great vocals, and bowed and plucked strings. I see from wikipedia that they started out as a backing band for a burlesque show, early on touring with fetish model Dita von Teese--and that does somewhat explain the appearance during the show's encore of a magnificent aerial artist performing on two fabric sashes from the top of the stage. I wish I could somehow get her onto this disc.

Elmo Hope, “Hot Sauce,” Trio and Quintet (Blue Note, 1953, 1957/2005).
When I taught Allen Ginsberg's Howl recently, I did not quite believe it when one of my more straight-laced students said, "Could you give us a definition of 'hipster'?" I did my best, but I wish I could have had this album along. This disc is brings together three separate previous releases and a few tracks originally only on Blue Note compilations--and it is good news for us all. The track in question is from Elmo Hope Trio, which means Hope on the piano, Percy Heath on bass, and Philly Joe Jones on the drums.

Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis, “Stardust,” Two Men with the Blues (Blue Note, 2008).
I hope you don't mind my transitioning from the jumping "Hot Sauce" into Dan Nimmer's peaceful piano opening of "Stardust." I probably would not have thought to bring Wynton Marsalis and Willie Nelson together, but really, the result is pretty cool.

NoCrows, “Five 2 Six – El Trencaclosques,” Magpie (Crows, 2008).
I saw this band perform in Sligo, Ireland, and what a show. The foursome is Steve Wickham on the fiddle (you may know him from The Waterboys), Anna Houston alternating between cello and mandolin, Felip Carbonell on guitar, and Eddie Lee on the double bass. This track was written by Carbonell, a way of remembering the sounds of Spain (from where he hails) in Ireland. The second part of the title means "The Jigsaw Puzzle" in Catalan, and the first part refers to how the tune alternates between 5/8 and 6/8 time.

Siba, “Vale do Juca,” What’s Happening in Pernambuco: New Sounds of the Brazilian Northeast (Luaka Bop, 2008).
The sticker attached to this album's wrapping said, "If you only buy one disc this year of music from Northeaster Brazil, make it this one." It is a great compilation, with a great deal of range, as different traditions blend and stand out. Siba was a founding member of Mestre Ambrósio, who dug up the old traditions of the sertão to bring them into contemporary music. The valley of Juca, according to the footnote in the liner notes, "is an imaginary place symbolizing the space where our ancestors still live and breathe."
Once upon a path
Amost without footprints
Where leaves serenaded
so many sunrises.
Once upon a road
Many crooked turns
How many passages and doors
Were hiding there?
It was a row without beginning or end
And my grandparents planted
the flowers in this garden.

Vampire Weekend, “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa,” Vampire Weekend (XL, 2008).
By contrast, Vampire Weekend are American Indy pop, out of New York, and though Christian Lander might call them "the whitest band," they do cool things with the Afrobeat sound to ask, "Is the bed made?" Apparently Peter Gabriel has expressed interest in covering the song, but the jury is out over what he'll do with the lyric, "It feels so unnatural, Peter Gabriel too." Urban legend? Maybe. But it's a good story anyway.

Tinariwen, “Chatma,” Amassakoul (World Village, 2004).
This song comes from Tinariwen's second album, whose title means "Traveller." The members of this group are Tuareg people, the nomadic pastoralist inhabitants of the Saharan interior, and they play in the Tichumaren style--whose name comes from the French word chomeur, or "the unemployed"--meaning that the music centers around the sounds of the electric guitar. Historically, the style of music come into being at a time when long drought had forced many Tuareg people to seek other ways of life in urban centers, where their lack of education often left them unemployed. The call and response on this track is hypnotic, and it is tempting to read it in dialogue with African-American worksongs of the southeastern USA.

Galactic, f. Mr. Lif, “. . .And I’m Out,” From the Corner to the Block (Anti, 2007).
This disc came out the middle of 2007, but what can I say? I make up for lateness with enthusiasm. Galactic--originally Galactic Prophyllactic--come from New Orleans, and their sound is a dose of jazz and a lot of funk. This album has an array of alternative hip-hop MCs providing vocals. On this track we have Mr. Lif of solo and Perceptionists fame.

Juaneco y su Combo, “Linda Nena,” The Roots of Chicha (Barbès, 2007).
As its subtitle tells us, this album compiles "Psychedelic Cumbias from Peru," recorded between 1968 and 1978. Originally "chicha" is a corn drink made in the Andes for millennia, and though it is made from fermented maize, it exists in mildly alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions. But musically, cumbia is "a lower version of cumbia," "more popular with the lower social class." Translated? Cheap keyboards, low-end guitar effects, and surf music with the guitar replaced by accordion. The album's liner notes call Juaneco, formed in Pucallpa in 1966, "the most mythical of all Amazonia bands," as they claimed Shipibo Indian lineage, dressed in traditional costumes, and wrote songs about the clash of tradition and urbanization. In 1976, most of the band died in a plane crash, though their leader Juan Wong Paredes lived to 2004. Now the band still tours under the direction of his grandson, Mao Wong.

Ben Folds, “Free Coffee,” Way to Normal (Epic, 2008).
When I was in graduate school, my roommate was often confused by my eclectic mixes, and she would often ask, "What is the segue here?" Well, here it is thematic. Both the last song and this song deal with the ways that modern life can shock the hell out of us. Both are a little psychedelic though each of its historical moment and region of origin. Ben Folds is the king of break-up songs, hails from North Carolina, and usually plays the piano. Here you almost lose that keyboard under the other layers of synthetic hooha--but that's perfect given the singer's confusion, which is a lot like that described in "Once in a Lifetime," but overlaid with stardom:
Called in sick one day
Stepped out my front door
Squinted up at the sky
And strapped on my backpack
Got into a van
And when I returned I had
Ex-wives and children
Boxes of photographs
And they gave me some food
And they didn't charge me
And they gave me some coffee
But they didn't charge me
And when I was broke I needed more
But now that I'm rich they give me coffee

Kíla, “Ríl Rossa (5:30 a.m.),” Handel’s Fantasy (Kíla, 1992).
I discoveredDublin-based Kíla this summer in a pub near Trinity College, where I was staying. The pub in question had become my favorite rather quickly, as the food was good (and served at the dinner hour--not always true) and not too expensive (also a big deal for Dublin), the pints were well-pulled, and the atmosphere was small and cozy, though I never had a problem finding a place to sit. One night I was in there for my Guinness and stew, and the barman was playing Kíla. The table of Canadians next to me asked him to change it out for "some real Irish music." "But this is the best band in Ireland!" he replied, before agreeing to follow their request. I managed to track him down for some disc recommendations. Their sound is not as purely Celtic as this track would lead you to believe--indeed they fuseIrish and Eastern European sounds--and they have recently released an album recorded with Japanese singer Oki. This is only a small flute frenzy evoking the several albums of theirs that I came home with.

R.E.M., “I’m Gonna DJ,” Accelerate (Warner Brothers, 2008).
Did you see R.E.M. play on The Colbert Report? Had I not, I might not have gone out and bought this disc, but it has spent a lot of time riding around in my car stereo, and the more I have listened, the more it has grown on me. Besides, politically it was a great soundtrack for the last months of the Bush regime. A number of tracks on here have already made it onto my mixes in 2008, even though most of those have been themed, and centered around politics. Who knew that "Houston" would be so apt again this year? And all that? But this last track sums up some of my own ambitions--and what a way to end the mix.

That was 2008, y'all. Ready for 2009?

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