I have already written about most of my favorite rock and electronic albums of 2008 either for CultureCatch or Bigtakeover.com. So, just like last year, I let the music speak for itself (where possible).
1. Getachew Mekuria & The Ex: Moa Anbessa (Terp)
Legendary Ethiopian saxophonist teams with notorious Dutch punk band of expanding interests. Not only is the album great, their brief U.S. tour was the highlight of the year.
There's no YouTube video of this project, but here's my Culture Catch review: This meeting of punk icon Smith and My Bloody Valentine mastermind Shields is an epic celebration of Smith's friend Robert Mapplethorpe, the controversial photographer who was her roommate in her early years in New York. After he died of AIDS in 1989, she eulogized him with a long poem cycle, The Coral Sea, by turns ecstatic and heart-rending. As she writes in the liner notes to this two-CD set, "I had tried to read it publicly, but could never sustain reading the entire piece. Performing with Kevin Shields gave me an all-encompassing landscape on which I could explore the emotions that drove me to write it." Mostly she reads, occasionally she sings; sometimes she sounds like she's about to cry. Shields accompanies her with sustained electric guitar tones, sounding at times like an organ. Some people might think that two CDs of an emotionally draining poetry reading lacking melodies or beats couldn't rock, but believe me, even though you wonâ€™t dance to this, its utterly transfixing catharsis will rock your soul.
French electronica producer with vintage keyboard fetish finally gets the hang of vocals and makes an album of majestic pop. "Graveyard Girl" (official video) couldn't sound more Eighties.
The dubstep innovator's club music sounds just as great in your home. In 2008 there wasn't a hotter, more widely praised dubstep track than his collaboration with Coki on "Night," here with its official video.
Jonathan Meiberg's voice was one of my favorite timbres of the year. Here he performs "Rooks" at South by Southwest.
Best known as half of Mountains, Holtkamp explores a somewhat different musical approach on his solo album, layering sounds in a thicker, more loop-like way to construct grand sonic edifices that at times suggest an aural equivalent to Joseph Cornellâ€™s boxes. Here's the MP3 for "Walker."
The Eighties revival continues with this Brit-influenced bit of dreampop/shoegaze. Here's the official video for "Seven Sisters."
Christian Fennesz, one of the few superstars of non-dance electronica, delivered another masterpiece this year. In this fan video for "Vacuum," the static images are an apt complement to the music's ambient stillness.
O'Connor is one of the most soul-shaking songwriters in New York. My recent review is here. This is the official video for "Always in Your Mind."
Dub Colossus (AKA Count Dubulah AKA Nick Page) collaborates with Ethiopian rising stars on an infectious, compelling Afro-reggae hybrid. Here's a concert performance of "Neh yelignete," sung by Tsedenia Gebremarkos.
Much modern electronic music is, for me at least, the triumph of the avant-garde. Sounds and styles that in the Fifties were considered the exclusive domain of academic eggheads now reach thousands of listeners. Contrary to the expectations of those who think only dumbed-down culture can find a significant audience, challenging music such as Autechre's finds many fans who accept its challenge. Below is an unofficial video directed by Lucio Arese for "plyPhon."
Brooklyn art rock band adds beats and achieves joyous uplift. Here's the official video for "Golden Age."
Keeping the Southern Rock flame burning, DBT isn't always consistent from track to track, but their peaks are ferocious. With Patterson Hood roughly wailing a harrowing tale from the Iraq War, "That Man I Shot" is one of their greatest tracks ever, here in concert with a scorching guitar duel.
Castanets mastermind Ray Raposa never stands still either musically or lyrically, and his evolution has produced this album of disquieting intensity, uniting avant-garde gestures, folkie high-lonesome vocals, and desert desolation. This video of "Refuge 1" by StudioH uses images by B. Amato.
15. Girl Talk: Feed the Animals (Illegal Art) Hip-hop vocal samples + classic rock samples = the formula that keeps giving chuckles. Here's a fan video mash-up for "What's It All About."
Dresden Dolls' chanteuse is joined by Ben Folds on an oddly compelling concept album full of catchy piano-bashing. Here's a solo concert version of "Astronaut."
Share your 2008 favorites in the comments!
Mr. Holtje is a Brooklyn-based poet and composer who splits his time between editing Culturecatch.com, working at the Williamsburg record store Sound Fix, and editing cognitive neuroscience books for Oxford University Press. No prizes for guessing which pays best.