What links and binds all the music that’s dazzled and dazed us and forced us like an unseen entity to fall to our knees in wide eyed rapture like wailers in a temple, is that no matter how abstract and dizzying so much of this stuff appears to be on the surface of things, ultimately in one shape or another what all of it highlights so clearly is the pure and honest power of good, well made pop music that will always bring out in us the eternally awkward teenager forever fantasizing of a parallel universe edition of Top Of The Pops where the heroes we speak of on these pages are given free reign to do their thing and cause the girls to scream and the boys to dream.
One of this years highlights for us was being given the opportunity to work with so many great people on our Devil’s Trident video/remix project with Telepathe and it’s definitely been no secret that this year we’ve hearted those girls in an intense, some might say unhealthy way. We would say in response that it’s healthy to have a name or two carved into your arm from time to time- shows you have the all important capacity to love. Anyway we’re pretty confident everyone is going to rightfully flip their shit when they get to hear the spectral Cash Money haunted avant-pop that they’ve created for their forthcoming debut record Dance Mother.
The Ghost Box label made us thankful for their existence with more phantasmagorical transmissions of an eerie half remembered childhood spent watching giant stones with eyes close in on helpless victims and truly terrifying public information films about cloaked figures that lurk near lakes to watch the misguided and the stupid breathe their last breath as they disappear beneath the dark water. The Advisory Circle created a paean to the suburban séance on an album of cold, decaying electronic collage and Belbury Poly hinted at an even more expansive cosmic horror sound for next years From An Ancient Star.
Kelley Polar armed with some of this years most spellbinding melodies and often evoking pitch perfectly the aching bliss-pop romanticism of The Stars We Are era Marc Almond and the avant disco leanings of Arthur Russell created a modern masterpiece of sorts, that veered from being blissfully absurd to insanely intelligent and in other moments eye wateringly beautiful, and sometimes all in the same song (A Dream In Three Parts (On Themes By Enesco.)) Similarly galloping across the Cosmos on pink ponies in disco ball armour Morgan Geist got around to releasing an album of majestically sad eyed love songs heartbroken and haunted by restless Italo apparitions that managed to be as great as everyone expected it to be, and Nite Jewel made us fall in love with her pastel shaded computer balladry that gave us the woozy feeling that we were dancing half asleep, half awake in the Lyncian discotheque of our dreams as visions of a decadent 1980s Milan that may have never existed unfolded before us.
Without resorting to quoting Edward Said and becoming overly preachy the concept of “world music” has always been a retarded and unarguably flawed one and in 2008 a number of artists did an amazing job at proving just why this is. Of course some, but definitely not all, did this with more panache than Paul Simon and resisted the easy temptation to spew forth his particular brand of see-thru, self satisfied Benetton soul to sound like the genuine real deal. Gang Gang Dance, who took the flame in their hands from well travelled sonic adventurers The Pop Group and ran with it to become the potential architects of this new sound returned in a kaleidoscopic shitstorm of Sublime Frequencies polyrhythm’s, obtuse techno and shamanic vocalisms, amazingly and quite unexpectedly whipping grime star Tinchy Stryder up into the mix with them, to create their best album to date. On a similar journey traversing Paper Rad deserts with post punk squall were Rainbow Arabia and Nomo gathered in a circle and pounded away on anything they could get their hands on in an evocation of Anansie inspired astral funk, hands deep in the dirt, eyes fixed at the stars. The Big Pink partied like it was the mid ’80s and they were signed to Creation Records – think not of Oasis but of Jesus & Mary Chain at their strung out and aimlessly noisy best. San Franciscans Mi Ami created a transcendental racket of broken bone psychedelia whilst their soul sister and purveyor of fine forestry funk 51717 was responsible for one of the more audacious covers to emerge in the last twelve months totally gutting out a silky disco soul classic by Barbara Mason to sound like pagan lo-fi.
Meanwhile listening to El Guincho was the sonic equivalent of watching a star explode, the glorious noise that’s made when a man’s brain spills out underneath the pressure of trying to capture and compute everything beautiful about sound into a few minutes of perfect pop music, making the Brian Wilson party record of the year in the process. His equally impressive band, Coconot alongside art punks Abe Vigoda for once actually justified a term often made up by bored hacks and made angular guitar music that was positively bathed in tropic mists, the latter’s “Dead City/Waste Wilderness” tune becoming something of an anthem to flail limbs too without a shred of abandon in these parts this year.
High Places continued to soothe our battered psyches with the rattling hypnotics of their animalistic folk pop, Gyratory Systems astounded us with some ridiculously innovative synthetic gamelan that left us soul searching for right words that we have yet to find, Late Of The Pier splattered in a grisly neon mess came on strong and brought the fun like The Knife’s kid brother’s frenetic prog rock band and Teengirl Fantasy made the kind of cyborg dub that compelled us to sweat. A lot. Same for Ben Butler & Mousepad, who will be rocking our world with his further excursions into the 8-bit psychedelic polyhedron. And after a lengthy period away from things returning this year in a far quieter, but no less impressive fashion was Leila who blew us away with an album of creeping lullabies drowned in a queasy, disorientating ambience that aside from being brilliantly mesmeric, also heralded the welcome return of unsung hero Luca Santucci.
As usual a handful of R&B and pop artists rubbed dirt in the festering wounds of indie elitists still adamant of the necessity that music should always have a white boy with a guitar attached for it to be deemed inventive or credible, the fools. In 2008 though it was mostly the songs that for whatever reason you might not have heard that flew the flag for the Kiss F.M. avant gardists, and most of it sounded like the kind of amazing futuristic machine funk Prince would often have bestowed upon the world in the 80s with any one of his robo-divas. Ciara lost her breath over rave synth click tracks with Windowlicker breakdowns and spazzy Knight Rider samples, but truly lost her mind in spectacular fashion when she decided to go operatic over the bone crunching tech-crunk of High Price. Meanwhile Cassie continued to create great frost bitten electro soul and simultaneously sound like the little girl ghost in the machine, her angel whip voice buried most evocatively in the chilly, groaning cybernetic atmospherics of My House. Britney Spears, after having slithering in 2007 over one of the blackest of black, hole in the heart sex jams to ever so effectively put action into the erotically charged words “the smell of doom” (the wise musings of the Purple One’s malevolent alter ego Camille no less), re-emerged last month with another impressively odd club banger called Mannequin, a sonic juggernaut of wonky disembodied whines, thunderous bass and mind-boggling stream of conscious lyrics. Wynter Gordon made this years Umbrella and no one noticed, The Dream made a bunch of potentially drunk skanks called Electrik Red sound positively poisonous, Danja kept pumping out incredible space-hopper beats, and Ryan Leslie took an icy toned replicant for a delirious ride on his digitised chrome carousel. No disclaimer necessary.
The bug-eyed talking in tongues weirdness of A Milli was everywhere and for good reason, because it was amazing no matter how many times you heard it (as was Beyonce’s wired retooling) Ignoring the wave of electro inspired naffness that followed on from the tsunami that was Wearing My Rolex, grime and dubstep continued to mutate and produce some arresting sounds. Y.D.O.T. channelled the obtuse electronics of Autechre to make some intensely exciting stuff that reminded these ears of the first time I Luv U and Pulse X made pirate radio sound like alien transmissions. Meanwhile Trim rode an awesome stuttering snake charmer rhythm that crawled under the skin like a bug, while Rustie, Joker and Ikonika plainly ignored all this New Rave rubbish and did it their own way.
Zomby shuffled into off-kilter consciousnesses with a flutter of 12″s before flooring all with “Where Were U In ’92?”, a mash-up of house piano, drum & bass skiffling beats and euphoric vocal cut-ups, with rave sirens covering up the selotaped seams. The LP felt so authentic it was like a lost cassette tape you found in a shoebox of teenage crap that you’d recorded off of pirate radio in that fateful year of the title. The Zomby EP leaned more on the psych-dubstep of the first few 12″s, with sliced up Prince shards projected onto phosphorous 8-bit backdrops, Crystal Castles melted down and microscopically viewed through a kaleidoscope.