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31 December, 2008

Music of the year, 2008

First the disclaimer: I dislike ranked 'Best of' lists.  The idea of asserting that Album A is 'better' than Album B but not as 'good' as Album C is patently absurd and has no value.  I recoil from the activity of compiling such lists, too: far too anal and stereotypically male for my taste. 
That said, I am able to at least identify those albums released in 2008 that I have (and haven't...) particularly liked.

Album of the Year
Elbow - The Seldom Seen Kid
Wonderful. I don't love every track – only most of them.


Highlights

Bass Communion - Molotov And Haze
[Reviewed here]

Marillion - Happiness Is The Road
Another peak on the Marillion roller coaster, another bungie-jump over the shark. After last year's excorable 'Somewhere Else' this was a very welcome return to form. It's no 'Marbles' or 'Brave' overall, but several individual tracks are of that quality.

Steven Wilson - Insurgentes
The release of SW's 'debut' solo album (in the limited sense of it being the first solo album released under his own name) was rather overshadowed by the grossly pretentious packaging and petty 'exclusivity' of certain tracks, both of which were a barrier to my appraising it fairly. However, despite not wanting to like it, I do – with the caveat that I only really like one track and I suspect this'll go the same way as SW's 'Blackfield' albums i.e. I'll have tired of it within a few months.


Also-rans (– but still pretty good!)

Bass Communion & Freiband - Haze Shrapnel
The Bass Communion track, an outtake from 'Molotov And Haze', is excellent, but the Frans de Waard remix doesn't add much.

Bass Communion - Pacific Codex
Pretentious over-packaging aside, I enjoyed the sonorous music, though after the long wait, it didn't turn out to be my favourite Bass Communion release.

Andrew Liles & Fovea Hex - Gone Every Evening
[Reviewed here]

Pg.lost - It's Not Me, It's You!
As I said in August, this Swedish post-rock band's debut EP 'Yes I Am' may have been my favourite discovery of 2008, but that's a 2007 release so doesn't qualify for this exercise. However, their debut complete album was released in September 2008 and it's... mixed. The first half is excellent, if a little less novel that the earlier material (which, to be honest, wasn't desperately novel, 'merely' very well composed and performed), but I'm slightly less impressed by the rest.

The Resonance Association - dronezero
Pretty good; no complaints, though it's not exactly groundbreaking, and is slightly disappointing after 2007's excellent 'Northern Coastline Soundtrack'.
And yes, I did buy the CD-R version.

The Resonance Association - We Still Have The Stars
[Reviewed here]


Expectedly Mediocre

No-Man - Schoolyard Ghosts
Meh. S'okay. On the whole, it may be my favourite No-Man album, but it's still just not the sort of thing I'd ordinarily choose to hear, and Tim Bowness's 'crooning' still annoys me. If only this was an instrumental project....

The Pineapple Thief - Tightly Unwound
Yet again, they've released an inoffensive, entirely passable album which I neither like nor dislike. I played it a couple of days ago in order to write this review, as I'd forgotten how it sounded... and have forgotten again. I recall that whilst I hear it, it's 'okay', but no more than that, and I don't know when, or whether, I'll bother with it again. That's at least the third time I've responded this way to a TPT album, and probably the last. It may sound cruel to classify 'Tightly Unwound' as 'muzak', but that really is the level to which it grabs my attention.

Porcupine Tree - We Lost The Skyline
I rarely listen to official live albums nowadays, but this one less than most: the sound quality's not that much better than a good audience recording, and the performance definitely isn't. I know people who attended the in-store mini-concert, and like this aide mémoire, but I suspect that added personal meaning is required to really enjoy an otherwise rather average album.


Disappointments

Opeth - Watershed
Oh dear. This is a case where my principles contradict my tastes. I highly respect the band's wish to progress musically, but I don't like the resulting music: I want full-on death metal from Opeth, and it'd be an understatement to say I dislike Camel-influenced 'prog'. All the best, guys, but we may have parted company.

Sigur Rós - Með Suð Í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust
Initially, I was disappointed by this album, which contains fewer truly novel highlights than previous releases and, worse (for me), frequently has a more upbeat feel. However, having set my preconception and preferences to one side, it's grown on me a little, and the cheery climax of 'Inní Mér Syngur Vitleysingur' is a surprising favourite. On reflection, it's not a bad album; my iPod tells me I've rated two tracks as '4 stars' (of 5), one '1' ('Gobbledigook' is dreadful) and the rest an 'acceptable but unexceptional' '3'. I just don't rate it anything like as highly as the foregoing three albums.

Steven Wilson - Cover Version V
Nah. I don't particularly like the original of the cover track, but slightly prefer it to SW's rendition. As for the accompanying original song by SW: 'Well You're Wrong', er, is. Falsetto vocals never saved a mediocre composition.


Too Soon To Decide

Murcof - The Versailles Sessions
Maybe it's too soon to tell (I only heard it for the first time last week), but I suspect this was better as accompaniment to a visual spectacle than as the focus of one's attention, an album for home-listening. The novelty of using period Baroque instruments is just that, and of no particular relevance to the compositions, apart from my favourite piece, a reinterpretation of one by Lully.
Only for Murcof completists; the rest of us could have just waited for the next 'real' album in the wonderful 'M-U-R-C-O-F' sequence.

Comments

No mention of The Reasoning's second album "Dark Angel"? Seeing as you liked "Awakening".

Posted by Tim Hall at December 31, 2008 11:36 PM

Nah; I heard most of the album online, and didn't rate it at all. Not terrible, just not my thing.
Apart from the title track, 'Awakening' hasn't lasted well for me, either – I don't remember when I last dug it out.

Posted by NRT at January 1, 2009 12:17 PM
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