Arts Desk

Best of 2008: Cutting Back & Slimming Down

2008 was a year for cut backs. Most of the records I really enjoyed found bands toying with their shtick, drawing back on excesses, and homing in on the sounds that mattered the most. Kanye got somber, Deerhunter stopped jamming, The Points refused to play a single drum fill. This was a year to prove that less was more, and all of these groups managed that in some way or another.

Microcastle, Deehunter (Kranky)
A longtime devotee of Spiritualized and Loop, I've been down on my knees praying for the 90s to come back into style pretty much ever since the decade ended. So thanks, Deerhunter, for making that dream a reality. I've probably listened to this record more obsessively than anything else on this list.

Cutback: Reverb. Delay. Also, I don't think there's a middle 8 anywhere on this whole album (well, maybe one, on "Saved By Old Times")

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Deerhunter, "Agorophobia"

Saint Dymphna, Gang Gang Dance (Social Registry)
It's pretty amazing that a band that started out as hard-core Jackie O Motherfucker-style improv could make a record that ironically references Madonna. Er...just read this.

Cutback: Drummers. Tim Dewit apparently went on hiatus from the group shortly before Dymphna finally came out. Also dialed back the undirected space-jams and improvisations.

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Gang Gang Dance, "Desert Storm"

808s & Heartbreak, Kanye West (Roc-a-Fella)
There are a lot of reasons that 808s was an important record for Kanye. It's a stylistic about face–a wacko Prince-worthy departure that defied what his audience expected and desired out of his whole persona. Also, how long has it been since a major hip hop record musically referenced Phil Collins and Gary Numan?
But my favorite part is that even at his most tragically bummed, Kanye still finds a way to flaunt his wealth. Back door brags like "He said his daughter got a brand new report card/ all I got is a brand new sports car," abound on "Welcome to Heartbreak."

Cutbacks: the swagger, the bling.

S/T, The Points (Mud Memory)
The Points play nearly perfect robot stoner punk that finds its inspiration somewhere between Martin Rev's drum machine, The Ramones guitar chops, and The Deal Milkmen's punk accent. Ben Ratliff agrees.

Cutback: Fills. Frills.

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The Points, "Never Trust My Heart"

Third, Portishead (Island)
You have to hand it to Portishead: they're basically the only band to make it out of trip-hop alive.

Cutback: Jazzy samples.

New Amerykah Pt. 1 (4th World War), Erykah Badu
I guess Badu has always been weird, but this weird? I think not.

Cutback: Intelligibility.

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Erykah Badu "The Healer/Hip Hop"

Sea From Shore, School of Language (Thrill Jockey)
I really enjoyed Dave Brewis' old band Field Music and this kind of picks up that same stately pop vibe, maybe even makes it a little more straightforward and earnestly rocking. Played and enjoyed often throughout the year.

Cutback: Keyboards. Other members of Field Music.

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School of Language "Poor Boy"

Primary Colours, Eddy Current Suppression Ring (Aarght!/Goner)
These guys also made my list last year for their debut record. The follow up is a little less scrappy and a little more heavy. Kind of like Lungfish sped up to 45 rpm.

Cutback: Useless and extraneous notes.

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Eddy Current Suppression Ring, "Which Way to Go"

Made in the Dark, Hot Chip (EMI/DFA)
Really didn't expect to be into this at all, but they write great hooks. They also put on a really good show.  (I saw them twice this year.)

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Hot Chip, "One Pure Thought"

A Matter of Scale, Secondo (Soul Jazz)
Reviewed this record on a whim for another publication, but it really resonated. Secondo takes samples from old disco and boogie records, then reworks them into glitchy microhouse. But the songs still retain the rich and gaudy textures of the source material.

Cutback: No real cut backs, just tons and tons of cuts, slices, samples.

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Secondo, "Kuwait"

Here are some honorable mentions:

  • Growing All The Way
  • Bruno Pronsato Why Can't We Be Like Us?
  • The Walkmen You & Me
  • Abe Vigoda Skeletons
  • Black Angels Directions to See a Ghost
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  • Sherman Oaks

    Some of these albums I'm gonna have to check out!

  • Greg Neate

    oh yes definitely that black angels album is stunner.

  • Aaron Leitko

    Yeah, I was surprised how much I liked that Black Angels record. Best tambourine album of 2k8. Great live show too.