The Best Of 2008: David Morris' Top 10

This is the first time I have ever had to rank music that I like in an order. So for the first time I started looking around at how others do it. Some do it very well. Others like The Observer Music Monthly are some of the most gangrenous swill-spilling saboteurs I have ever come across. Whoever put this together is a criminal. Why so?

Answer me this: Did they include albums they called "not quite so hot" and "a set that was bound to disappoint" in their Top 50 because they only heard 55 albums this year? Or are they just lazy cokeheads with an inflated sense of their own importance? There are young kids out there reading their parents Observer Music Monthly, and they might actually believe that these are the 50 best albums of the year, so take a little more responsibility. "Patchy, but with enough brilliance to maintain their status as poster boys". Well I guess that the Beatles got by like that, so why not let Hot Chip do it too!

Due to the nature of the music I like, I often end up finding albums that were released two or three years ago and they are a big part of my years listening. But that would be a different list wouldn't it kids? So I've not chewed my tether, and here is my 2008 Top 10 in unfairly distributed detail which I wrote in an old hunting cabin, in Wisconsin, in the winter with just a guitar and an old laptop. Oh and I'm a really regular guy. Funny, just when you think Christmas is the time the media starts to repeat the same old crap, you realise it's been going on all year. Oh yeah, it was in my top twenty by the way.

10.) Brimstone Howl: We Came In Peace

I bought this record the same day I bought another 2008 release on the Alive! Natural Sound label: Let it Ride by Buffalo Killers. In a way they could both sit in this spot, but Brimstone Howl have it by a whisker. And though this be on the "just inside" edge of my Top 10 this is the one record I say everybody should be checking out.

It had been a few months since I had got excited by a band I hadn't heard before, then I walked in on this. For a start calling a record We Came in Peace is inspired and perfectly suited to the boohoo/fuck you dynamic of the songs.

Now I've tried going out to see some punk shows around and about the town I live in, but they're boring. Brimstone Howl fill me with vigour. They gives my head backs to the lizards, knees to the amphibians, kicking and shouting. I'm sure plenty of people out there could say exactly what punk/blues band these Nebraskans sound like but it's at times like this I'm glad I'm pig ignorant (I don't even know what the MC5 or the Ramones sound like). This isn't the first self assured croon-baritone I've heard over some thump-drumming and distorto-jangle plus bass plod, but it is the first one that's got me going like this. Believe me: I wouldn't look good in tight fit jeans, but I almost get it listening to this. "It's easy to dream" they tell us. "What's this shit 'bout 2012?" they ask us!

Just look at this and then go out and buy it (this is one of my least favourite tracks on the LP, but it's still curing my flu). Keep these bucket-kickers on the front-line.

9.) Human Bell: Human Bell

The word “apocalyptic” was also used often in reference to this Baltimore duo. Most bands who find the instrumental/post-rock/apocalypse tag on their shoulders rip out a dark release with a crescendo, Human Bell however don't stray into indulgence of that fantasy (whether or not it is even one they hold). They keep the world-end tension going, "spinning plates" as Thom Yorke said. ˜Hymn Amerika" is a three and a half minute 'There Will Be Blood'. Even the stark world-funeral of the delayed trumpet on '˜Ephaphatha' doesn't quite let you go, it never really tries to hold you, just expands like a mushroom cloud. Human Bell conjure up a feeling and turn it over slowly, studying every aspect. The timing of their interwoven riffs is impeccable, and like praise for the production and warm, grainy guitar sound.

8.) Head Of Wantastiquet: Mortagne

Head Of Wantastiquet uses banjo, acoustic and electric guitar: strong and crisply picked over drones of all kinds. The music isn't sweet or gloom, it's very raw and is without emotion that is easily categorised. It represents the swaying rhythm of a grassland, or brook without trying to articulate the feelings that such a scene might elicit. It is comparable to the way in which the best instrumental hip hop summons the essence of streets it grew on without personal narrative. It's not opulent or too rich or stoned and it doesn't put you in a trance. All the above seem like cheap tricks to me now. Mortagne re-animates the dormant memories and impressions left with me by times spent walking in open, untamed land and is a reminder of the necessity of those journeys.

7.) Zomes: Zomes

Not the kind of album I can write much about. It seems that my top 10 (with one exception) is split between records that create one powerful mood with slight fluctuation over their course and some lyrical rock and rollers. This one definitely ranks in the former. I'm the first to point out that this year they're all American. I'm honestly on the lookout for some home-grown bones so if you reckon from reading this lot that you know a band I'd like, please drop me a line at david [AT] strangeglue [DOT] com.

Zomes is a collection of haunting psych-dirge loops which sounds like a music box built by the Atlanteans to make up for not getting to see The Doors. It is transfixing music, echoing and lurching on, single-minded loops of guitar, analog synth, whir and clatter that Asa Osbourne (also of Lungfish) compiled.

6.) Steven R. Smith: Owl

For a long while I have been picking up records by Steven R Smith, recorded under his many guises: his given name, Hala Strana, Ulan Khol and with the group Thuja. Owl got a release on the longstanding and hard-working Digitalis label, and the package was handsome. The over driven guitar tones come from the belly of the same that brought forth the epic 40 minute of Smith's single track Crown of Marches CD. The wintry acoustic tones remind me of his Kohl LP.

In the past year or so when walking among ruins, old churches and abandoned industry I have started to see them as what they were as well as what they are. This is the closest analogy I can find to what I aim to articulate about Smith. With his quaking drones he slightly and calmly loosens the fabric of time so that distantly remembered resonance can sift through. Smith is not the kind of musician to make radical leaps, his entire music shares one trait for me as a listener. If you are listening to them inside they are paralysing but expansive. If you are looking out of the window you can look for hours. If you are out walking, you could walk anywhere.

The tenderness of this record is gathered together by the first appearance of vocals on a Steven R Smith CD. Often double tracked, often repeating an elliptical melody over caterwauling tectonic guitar drones that swarm like heavy swell. It's quite a heavy listen and though it makes my top ten for the year, I couldn't honestly be sure who to recommend this too. If any of what I wrote made some sense, then maybe you.

5.) Hush Arbors: Hush Arbors

Keith Wood has been making music a long while, he's already put out a self-titled record under the Hush Arbors name, but nothing quite like this. This is new ground for the self-recorded psych-folk-country-fuzz horse that gallops around this mans head, and in varying hybrids through the minds of his contemporaries and predecessors: James Jackson Toth, Six Organs Of Admittance, Neil Young and a whole host of private press records.

A friend of mine says Wood is one of the greatest living songwriters. And it's not just him, this record has gathered together a lot of wild press from all sorts of corners. James Jackson Toth says himself that this record is “not a grower” and I know what he means. However I was waiting big-time for this to come out, having heard a few demo's on the Myspace page, and when it did I thought: "Where are the reviews?"

Over the past few weeks the tributaries of fan-splurge have started to amass in the timeless canyon of this record. It speaks volumes that where there have been some shit-awful reviews of records that are pretty good this year, every positive review of this record I have seen has been well written. Please allow me to mention The Guardian's god-forsaken snippet that crops up on copies of the Bon Iver CD "every moment not spent listening to this record has seemed wasted". What? What did you say You F****** Fool???

I think more than a few haven't given enough of a mention to the "other half" on this record: Leon Dufficy. Having seen the full band (with Rick Tomlinson on bass and Ben Swank on drums) a few weeks back, (with Leon boiling the stage) his influence on both the records sound and his pacemaker for Wood's heightened playing became hyper-evident.

I'm not going to go into each of the songs, because I love them all. One accolade I do want to give: Best Short Record Of The Last Few Years If I Am Remembering Correctly + Made Me Excited About Music Again This Year Award. It's not often that thirty two minutes of running the song writing tap can fill a bath big enough to hold the lover, the mystic and the son, and still have time to blast it all out again with killer guitar earthquakes.

4.) Pontiak: Sun On Sun

Not sure what more I can say, that I didn't say on my review right HERE.

I'm glad to hear that there are more than a few of you out there who agree with me. Let's get them to come play some shows in this country. Carney brothers! Ride back on the ghosts of Pilgrims that rest in your soil!

3.) D. Charles Speer & The Helix: After Hours

I'm glad I only just started writing about music, because if I'd tried to write a detailed review of this album, I might have killed it a little. Don't get me wrong, you haven't got to turn a blind eye to anything (unless you don't like country, or even Townes Van Zandt, you poor people), but it would be like taking acid to get enlightened. Or looking under the bonnet of the only car you've got, when you've got a long way to go with no delay. Of course it gets you there (like this record does in spades), but it might have started acting up if you'd shown any mistrust or held too many expectations. You've got to greet it easy knowing this record is sitting in it's sleeve downstairs is both a comforting and exciting thing, like having a stash of mushrooms, wood for the fire and nothing to prove. It's not my daily bread, it's my ceilidh dread.

D Charles Speer (which is a pseudonym, of sorts) has a great voice. So good in fact that I'm even looking forward to him making a few bad records. At strange intersections of this record, he reminds you of people, like a cloud shape game in purgatory on 'Sidewards' he sounds like Shawn Mullins (if the 'Rockabye' monster had spent some time inside and wasn't really Shawn Mullins anymore) weird vibe. It also gets me and my wife dancing and singing along in full voice (especially to the "he's got a black moustah-hache, red Cadillaaaccc" part of 'Single Again'), and I rant about it and play it to people who don't care. As a guitar player I very rarely play in standard tuning, but while round at a friends I accidentally started strumming the chords to 'Fossilized', which is the best Speer-penned song on here. Others compete lyrically, but this is the whole shebang.

The Helix are Speer's current band and they are incendiary on the all guns blazing songs, and a tight posse on the hymnals. They wait for Speer's phosphorous voice to start striking on the heavy bar-room air and then spark off the flames with a gust. Marc Orleans (who I think is a sometime Sunburned member, or maybe No Neck Blues Band like Speer) plays slide through some perfect effects, but not (thankfully) because he's short of ideas or skill. Hans Chew is a top shelf piano player, but doesn't start trying to climb on top of everything. The drums and bass are just what any country rhythm section should be: tight and playing deceptively simple backbones. The production is phenomenal and is the Straw that breaks the camels back. The vocal effects (which a lot of good singers shun) are one of the most psychedelic aspects, and every track sounds mixed as it should.

I've got to thank Dusted Magazine for putting me onto this, (here is their review) which also holds the track that abducted me, '˜Drink up and Go Home'. Listen to him drawl the last "Be thankful your living, Drink up and go Home" and just try and tell me it doesn't have all of the hooks of great country (with the gushing underground psych river rattling your soles) but remains relevant to Being Alive Right Now. Dusted praised this record for being "kitsch-free" and I think people should think about how rare that is. The police just knocked on my door while I was playing this pretty loud, it lent an odd twist, but they weren't looking for me.

2.) Wilderness: (K)No(W)Here

Despite giving this a ten out of ten score (see my review HERE) I haven't listened to this much since. It isn't the kind of record I will play to death, making sense of the full points, which I still stand by. In my time away from it I started to question certain elements, I even had a dream in which they looked like Monotonix  which was a screwball!

But as soon as that flat-line intro cleanses the palate, audio and others, I am filled with excitement about the unfolding of the album. Having read other reviews of (K)No(W)Here it's interesting to note that many critics recognise how much this record can mean to people even if they themselves aren't into it. For me this album is an antidote to self-pity and it's flip side pride, it sings to the real.

This has been a year in which I found out just how many great bands there were in the 80's and there is something very 80's about Wilderness. Growing from six to sixteen in the 90's meant growing with a music press who in my experience treated the preceding decade as an embarrassing relative, so much so that a lot of great music was unfairly distanced from me. (Many) Rock critics got puffed up on Grunge and developed an Emperor's New Clothes attitude to the importance of 1991. Thankfully they got what they deserved with Puddle Of Mudd and Staind, which were payment due.

So it's good news that alongside the current log-jam froth of retro-indie groups there are bands like Wilderness blowing their sparks on to today's tinder. Since compiling my end of year lists I have become more familiar with guitar player Colin McCann's solo outing as The Lord Dog Bird, and I highly recommend picking it up if you keep coming back to (K)No(W)Here! (download a track HERE courtesy of the label)

1.) Sun Kil Moon: April

This album was another revelation. It has been a good year for me. I can't remember how, but I stumbled upon the Sun Kil Moon Myspace. I instantly liked them because they had zero friends, excellent work.

When the song 'Lost Verses' cascaded out of the speakers I was taken back, and taken forward. Back to a time when music spoke straight to my heart and forward to anything that's coming my way. I don't know if it is going to stand the test of time and reveal more as I grow older with it, or be consigned to what it gave me this year. Either way is OK, because even if my connection to this album ends up like the love affair in this verse from 'Tonight In Bilbao', it was still worth it. That seems to be Kozelek's spirit too.

"I left Milan I went to Rome
And carried her aroma to Verona
And all the kindness she had shown
Was only a dream"

I like the dignified way he rocks out slowly on 'The Light'. The distant thunder of 'Heron Blue' is an acutely resonant portrayal of despair, to the point of truth. Kozelek pleads:

"Don't cry my love, don't cry no more, it overwhelms my breaking heart. A minor swell of violins, I cannot bear to hear them"

The violins echo off the floor and walls. Who hasn't felt their pain become the room that imprisons.

Will Oldham's harmonies on 'The River' are heartbreaking and noble, I feel like I have also seen "days pour out faster than rounds from a gun". '˜Lucky Man' is perhaps the most touching and is also unadorned acoustic and vocal. I'm not sure I can remember more than a handful of phrases from this album. The beauty of each washes the previous away, like watching a river. It is a pleasure to be able to use such vulnerable analogies and know their strength and validity deep down. April had a strong and uplifting effect on me and still does. I feel grateful way beyond the eleven pounds it cost me.

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