The Year, Sorta Discussed

(Subtitle: Favorite albums of 2008?!)

THE PROBLEM: Digitalageayedeeachedee. Trends galore. Broken laptop. Singles-prominence. Googlepediatube. Autotune/T-Pain.

THE SOLUTION: Listen to the radio. Leave the house. Buy music MAKE MUSIC. Unplug the stereo when you're not using it. Autotune/T-Pain.


I couldn't even begin to give you an honest Top-5 or Top-10 or Top-Multipleof10 list this year. I just didn't listen to that many albums. Maybe I'm losing patience like everyone else, or maybe it was just that kind of year; music and I fall in and out of love. (Sometimes, for months at a time, it's nuthin but lust.) But I could really only name you six or seven albums I even listened to the whole way through, and while they're all worthy, I bet that if I'd been more adventurous, if I'd soaked up more content (digital sponge) those 6-or-7 would be in considerably hotter water.

So instead, I'm just going to list, in no particular order, new music that I loved, whether it be an album, a show, a song, or a video. What-fucking-ev-fucking-er. While I am utterly ambivalent about the structure this list takes, all the music is earnestly and passionately loved from the bottom of my heart, music I savored and learned inside and out and will keep listening to for -- well, let's be honest, at least months to come. (But probably more.)

Today is PART I. As you'll see, each entry is a little long, so I'm going to space this out over the next week or two. As of now, I don't know exactly where this list will go or who/what it will include -- you'll know when it's over around the same time as I do.



I went to two "shows" this year -- quotations meaning I'm not counting shows I played or shows my friends played; only two shows where I went to see a band whose record I liked. The first one was Bon Iver, back in February. (Here's what I wrote about it.)

For Emma, Forever Ago has nothing if not staying power: these are songs that have real emotional depth, by which I mean the more you listen to them, really listen to them, the more they reveal their insides, hurts and joys, hopes and wants, scars and mistakes. Musically it seems innovative and forward-thinking, but what it boils down to is that even if you stripped away the words, the stories you've heard about the album's maker -- its sound is startlingly, intensely personal -- and therefore unique. It's an album that gets better, which is really another way of saying it gets truer.

Justin Vernon self-released For Emma in 2007, but the record didn't see official release until February, through Jagjaguwar; anyone who has been paying attention since then already knows that it's been a huge year for Vernon. Bon Iver is now a band, and an exciting one at that: at this point, Mike and Sean are inextricable, as much a part of these songs as Justin -- I forget at times they're not on the album. Bon Iver was my first show this year, and they'll be my third in a week and a half -- and just to witness the journey this music has taken, to see its growths, has my head swelling with excitement.

Then again, that has a lot to do with who'll be opening for Bon Iver...

2. THE TALLEST MAN ON EARTH. (Previously on TWSH.)

The day I heard Kris for the first time, I'd spent some time teaching myself one of my favorite folk songs: "I Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground". I stumbled on TTMOE the way I usually stumble on new music -- through browsing music blogs -- and these were the first words I heard: "If I ever see the morning / just like a lizard in the spring."

Now, I'm typically a rapt listener, I don't make up my mind about a song within the first few bars and turn it off if I don't like it. Songs hold and keep my interest, even bad ones, and unless it's physically hurting me I'm not going to reject it that quickly. With that said, I can't remember ever feeling so immediately attached to a piece of music as I was to "I Won't Be Found" that evening. It may have been the connection to "Mole in the Ground" in the lyrics, which admittedly made me feel what I guess you might call a fast kinship with Kris, like when the pretty girl on the bench has "over a cardboard sea" written on her shoes.

But in contrast with that feeling of closeness was the sense that this was something foreign, something unlike any folk music I'd ever heard. The singing has a lot to do with it: Kris doesn't sound distinctly Swedish or distinctly American, and his lyrics have (for me) no obvious lineage, though they are as rich and poetic as any I've heard. There's an air about him, a gulp of syrup and a handful of myth in that voice.

His debut album, Shallow Graves, might as well be legendary, considering how flabbergastingly great it is. It's the album I listened to most this year, at least in part because it's the most elliptical, the toughest egg to crack. It made me wonder: where are these songs coming from? How is he doing this, goddamnit?! Every melody so instantly infectious, not in the way pop music is, but the way it feels when you create something -- the way it feels in the exact moment something rises out of you, and then when you fall in love with what you (little strange unknowable you) made. Maybe that makes sense, maybe it doesn't, but that's what listening to these songs feels like for me now -- I'd probably hate Kris if I didn't love his music so much, because he's done exactly what I wish I could. In that way, it's strangely the most personal record of the year for me, for all its otherworldly strangeness. (Obviously, I'm especially excited to see him perform next Monday night.)


MORE LATER THIS WEEK. Or next week. Expect words about Fleet Foxes, Lykke Li, Damien Jurado, Kanye, Sun Kil Moon . . . and . . . yes . . . T-Pain.

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