The new year is already a week old, about time for me to look back at all the great music the last year brought me. 2008 was almost certainly the year in which I discovered more music than ever before in my life. But, like Oliver Wang of soul sides, most of the music I got to know wasn’t released this year, but rather quite a while, often decades ago. Sure, there was some contemporary stuff I liked but in the end hardly any album released this year was able to excite me as much as some of the old treasures. And like Oliver, I don’t know quite what to think of that. Should I simply embrace my inner 50-year old or make some active effort to get into current music more. I guess we’ll see over the next year.
Here is a fairly comprehensive list of the albums I dug:
Hip Hop, Soul & Funk
Emily King – East Side Story
Discovered through a staff pick at Amoeba music in Los Angeles and slowly but surely got into it. I still think it’s a bit thin vocally at times, but nonetheless very good contemporary R&B overall.
Aretha Franklin – Rare and Unreleased Recordings from the Golden Reign of the Queen of Soul
Outtakes and hitherto unreleased songs from the golden era of Aretha Franklin who is still to me the the greatest female soul singer of all time.
Donny Hathaway – Live
Donny Hathaway was the musical discovery of the year for me. What a voice! On a few songs he makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up like very few other people can. Definitely check out his version of Lennon’s “Jealous Guy”. It was hands down my favorite song of the year.
The Hot 8 Brass Band – Rock with the Hot 8 Brass Band
A New Orleans brass band that does (mostly) covers of soul and hip hop classics. My whole family is by now rather annoyed by them, but I still dig the dirty brass sound of their “Sexual Healing”
Kylie Auldist – Just Say
The solo debut of the Australian soul singer that already featured prominently on the last two albums by The Bamboos as well as on their recently released third record. There isn’t much that differentiates this from the Bamboo albums but that is not at all a bad thing.
The Sound Providers – Looking Backwards: 2001-1998
Jazzy hip hop that reminds me a lot of Jurassic 5. Which is quite possibly the reason I also enjoy this greatly.
The Sound Stylistics – Play Deep Funk
Kanye West – Graduation
I’m usually not much of a hip-hop fan. Even though I don’t usually listen to song lyrics much, even I can figure out that most hip-hop songs have the lyrical depth of an average high school student. And Kanye West is no different for the most part. But he just kills me as a producer. Many of his songs are just so well-crafted, from the choice and manipulation of samples, to the addition of matching beats, to his excellent taste in other artists to feature on his tracks. Fell in love with ‘Graduation’ only this year but now listen to it all the time. His latest album, sadly, is a huge disappointment
Bill Evans – The Complete Live at the Village Vangaurd 1961
This album, or rather the separate albums “Live at the Village Vanguard” and “Waltz for Debbie”, are apparently on every must-have Jazz list ever written. And what can I say, rightly so. This is classic trio jazz at its absolute finest, with a mastery that is almost hard to believe. It’s a delight to listen to these albums carefully and notice the instrumental virtuosity of Evans, Motian and LaFaro (who unfortunately passed away soon after this concert) and the way in which they take and pass subtle cues to play off each other and create one harmonic whole.
Dave Pike Set – Noisy Silence, gentle Noise
My brother derisively calls this elevator music, but I hardly think that does Dave Pike’s vibraphone playing justice. Excellent loungy jazz.
Annamateur & Ihre Gitarristen – Unerotisch
My parents saw these three live a couple of weeks ago and brought home the album raving about the performance. And after listening to it a couple of times I understand why. The best German musical cabaret I’ve heard in quite some time. Fantastic musically and extremely witty lyrically.
Esbjörn Svensson Trio – Good Morning Susie Soho
This Swedish jazz trio was unfortunately ripped apart this year by the tragic diving accident of its front man. After getting tipped off about them by our very own sepalot, I’m still discovering much of their music. I am already, however, bummed I never got a chance to see them live.
Dinah Washington – The Swingin’ Miss “D”
Dinah Washington was another one of my great discoveries of the year, as were many other female jazz vocalists. I stumbled on her through an interview with Amy Winehouse who apparently greatly admires her. I discovered this particular album through a television commercial, quite frankly, which featured “Relax Max”, still my favorite track on the album. All the arrangements on the album are by Quincy Jones, Washington’s husband at the time, so the album has two musical geniuses going for it.
The Rosenberg Trio – Seresta
Titi Winterstein Quintett – The Best Of
Joscho Stephan – Acoustic Live
Three gipsy jazz albums, in the spirit of Django Reinhard, that rival Reinhard’s quality. All three albums are excellent, some adding violin (in the case of Stephan) or accordion (in the case of Titi Winterstein) to the traditional gipsy jazz lineup of percussions, two guitars and standing base. In the future, watch out for Joscho Stephan, a young German who has the potential to become truly great. I saw him in concert at the beginning of the year and was blown away by the ease with which he pulled off even the most intricate guitar moves.
Oscar Peterson – Exclusively for My Friends: The Lost Tapes
Oscar Peterson cannot be missing from the list. He was my first serious jazz crush and still ranks pretty high on my list of favorite pianists. The album is a collection of out-takes from his MPS recording series in which he played for only a select group of friends in the legendary black forrest recording studio of Hans Georg Brunner-Schwer, recordings which he himself later called some of his best ever. And what can I say, the man was right.
The Bad Plus – For all I care
My favorite Jazz album of the year. I was delighted to see the Bad Plus at this year’s North Sea Jazz festival and even more delighted to see that they’d brought along a female vocalist to preview some songs from “For all I care”. All of the deconstructed pop songs are wonderfully arranged and I even think that some of the covers are superior to the originals, something that’s tough to do with e.g. Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb”
Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited
I’ve always had a bit of a difficult relationship with Bob Dylan. On the one hand I thought he was at best a second-rate guitar player, a pretty terrible harmonica player and far from a great singer. And yet many of the people I admire greatly kept referring to Dylan’s genius and covered his songs. And not only that, I loved the covers, from the now legendary Hendrix version of “All Along the Watchtower” to the rather obscure Keith Jarrett Trio take on “My Back Pages”. So clearly there had got to be something I was missing. Discovering Highway 61 Revisited may quite possibly be my point of entry into the World of Bob Dylan.
Sondre Lerche – Dan in Real Life Soundtrack
I’ve liked Sondre Lerche’s poppy Skandinavian folk music for quite a while and in retrospect think letting him write and play out an entire movie soundtrack was a stroke of genius, because it so nicely complements the movie.
Rogriguez – Cold Fact
Folk music that bears a striking resemblance to Bob Dylan. Not quite as much lyrical depth, but Rodriguez compensates by being a much superior instrumentalist and singer.
Luiz Bonfá – Live in Rio
Another one of my great discoveries this year. Found a track of his, the stunningly pretty “Perdido de Amor”, on a music compilation by Jamie Cullum and immediately went to find all his other stuff. And this collection of live recordings of just Bonfá and his acoustic guitar are the ideal music for a relaxing summer evening.
Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes
As I wrote in my recent concert review, this is a bit of an acquired taste. I didn’t like the music much the first time I listened to it, but after seeing and most of all hearing them live in Essen a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been listening to them incessantly.
Air Traffic – Fractured Life
Saw them at the Rheinkultur festival in Bonn and was pleasantly surprised by them, despite the terrible sound mix. Got my hands on their album soon thereafter and they have become a constant presence in my playlists ever since. Unapologetically poppy indie music (that may very well be a contradiction in terms).
Flogging Molly – Drunken Lullabies
I’m usually not one for punk music. Most of it, quite frankly, bores me to tears. But this bit of Celtic punk, my brother’s recommendation, is simply extremely fun music. I would love to see one of their concerts the next time they’re in town.
Janis Joplin – I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama!
The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Electric Ladyland
Nothing particularly obscure, but there’s a reason these two albums are classics of Woodstock-style rock music as I found out while consciously going through major parts of both the Hendrix and Joplin discographies.
The Kooks – Konk
Not quite what I was hoping the successor to the debut “Inside out, outside in” was going to be, but still a very enjoyable album after a few listens.
Lily Allen – Alright, still
Still an underrated singer, starring on another one of those very, very well-produced albums. Mark Ronson really gave it his all with this one. Now very much looking forward to the soon-to-be-released follow-up
The Pigeon Detectives – Emergency
Another fond concert memory. Fun indie rock. Nothing special or particularly innovative, but immensely enjoyable nonetheless.
The Raconteurs – Consolers of the Lonely
The side project of Jack White of the White Stripes and Brendan Benson, a great power-pop (apparently that’s the genre label) singer in his own right. And what a great collaboration. The White Stripes were always a bit too shrill and dissonant for my taste and Benson always a bit too much on the poppy side but I adore their convex combination (math inside reference).
John Mayer – Were the Light is (Live in Los Angeles)
Yeah, yeah, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that this is incredibly kitschy pop, the kind of music that pimpled 14-year olds listen to, at best one step above the Backstreet Boys or whatever pimpled 14-year olds listen to these days. To which I can only say “meh, so be it!”. I won’t pretend that this is sophisticated music (though I do think that Mayer is a pretty decent guitar player), but the man has a talent for writing songs with very catchy guitar hooks.
Ryan Adams and the Cardinals – Cardinology
Ryand Adams back to old form. I don’t enjoy a lot of country music. The mainstream stuff seems to me to have the musical complexity of German carnival music and is equally trivial and corny lyrically. But Ryan Adams and the Cardinals still seem to be able to capture and convey that certain longing, heartache and fragility that draws me to them immensely.
Gonzales – Solo Piano
One of the people behind Feist’s breakthrough album and a bit of a musical polymath. Neither the hip-hoppy electronica of his first two albums nor his most recent effort “Soft Power” are entirely my cup of tea, but this album, 45 minutes of calm self-composed solo piano music is right up my alley.
Monsters of Liedermaching – Sitzpogo
I owe one of the funnest concerts of the year to this German guitar singer-songwriter sextet. Their latest album is possibly their best yet. More than once have I’ve caught myself singing and humming some of their funny lyrics in recent weeks.
So, what was your favorite album of the year? What was the song you kept singing and humming involuntarily all the time? What was your great musical discovery? I would love to hear from you!