It’s harder than you might think, choosing seven songs that in one way or another stamped themselves indelibly on your year. Far easier would be a round up of albums (which would certainly include those by lisa hannigan, robert plant & alison krauss, noah and the whale, and elbow), but that’s not, sadly, in my brief.
So, with a certain amount of caution and hesitation, here’s my seven songs from 2008
The thing that makes rock such a redundant form is that it’s mainly bright young things playing it, or else boring old farts reworking their old tricks – often to great commercial success, like AC/DC or the Stones. In the other arts age is an advantage, creating complexity – Yeats is great not because he was inspired in his youth (although he was), but because of the contrast he displayed in a lifetime of work. One of the few artists actually taking up that baton is Nick Cave with his bad seeds, who constantly seem to be re-inventing themselves and refusing to stay still. The process continued this year with Dig Lazarus DIg, a brilliant, clever, and articulate album showing that rythmn isn’t the exclusive prerogative of youth that we may have thought. This particular track has a great riff, however restrained (in fact, that’s the point), and lyrically catapults us into Cave’s version of Nighttown.
Then again, there’s nothing wrong with throwing out a similar formula for your second album, if the formula sounds so good. The album on the whole didn’t excite me as much as their first, but this track is a stand out. It’s got it all, from the opening guitar riff, through to the eye-catching title. It’s amazing how a band that rips off so many other sounds, manages to sound so thoroughly themselves.
I spent so much time this year listening to young women (duffy & kate nash for example) that I started to feel slightly grubby, but there was really no other choice given their talent, and out of a talented lot Laura Marling was, perhaps, the most accomplished. This song is delivered with a calm confidence that most performers would be lucky to achieve after a lifetime of performing. Mysterious and blustering, it has the good sense to stick to its ridiculously short 1.16 seconds level. Whisper genius.
Not that they ever really lost form, but this year’s album from Counting Crows, Saturday Nights Sunday Mornings, made a welcome return to some of the themes and sounds from their second (and best) album Recovering the Satellites. This track (apparently one that was written a number of years ago) is worth it just for the guitar sound alone (producer Gil Norton working the same magic he brought to the band on that second album) – and Adam Duritz reminds us that as far as writing and delivering lyrics go, he remains far ahead of the American pack. It’s no regression, though, as they push, punch, and pull the songs through to reflect where the band are at now.
Three Monkeys went on the record a number of years ago with its unbounded admiration for Lisa Hannigan’s voice, suggesting back then that it was time for her to step out from the shadows as Damien Rice’s foil. It took some time – and a callous sounding order to pack her bags from Rice – but 2008 saw the release of Hannigan’s debut album Sea Sew, and it was well worth the wait. The spine-tingling hook in this song is a non-verbal ‘a-ha’ refrain , which takes on shades – thanks to her inimitable voice – of passion, frustration, control and tenderness. The lyrics are great (“I stumble out into the afternoon. still salty from drink and the late night pool I’ll be gone an hour at most, you will be more diagonal “) but she could sing about the football results for all I care, as long as it’s with that voice.
I listened to a huge amount of demo tapes this year, but one unsigned band stood out more than any other – the American band Anton Mink. The biggest challenge to a new band is having a sound that can immediately stand out and grab attention; Anton Mink’s heavy bass sound is upbeat, dynamic and open to space, but they know where their trump card lays and the focus is rightly on lead singer Chloa’s rough, melodic vocals. Somewhere between Janis Joplin and Billie Holliday, her voice immediately stamps identity on songs that, on closer inspection have plenty of substance to back them up. Search them out.
Tenessee band My Morning Jacket’s 2008 album Evil Urges seems to have dissapointed and confounded as many as it’s pleased, coming on the heels of the more homogenous album z. As an album it’s an interesting and difficult beast to grapple with, but the title track grabbed me for various reasons. First, there’s that scrotum-tightening vocal where Jim James sings as if his soul (or other parts) were in the palm of the devil. Funky and yet deliberate, the band plays like a machine running at full throttle with the very real danger of falling apart. It’s southern white boys hovering between Prince and Lenny Kravitz – and that hovering is all to the good. Last but not least there’s that crazed southern-rock boogie that comes in from nowhere towards the end, where it sounds as if the band are down at the crossroads looking for a deal.