So, what about the records I’ve heard that didn’t make the cut for the compilation? What, indeed, of the albums I didn’t get round to picking up? Well, starting with the latter, I must admit I have not got round to acquiring numerous records I’d like to hear, notably those by:
- I Am Kloot (shocking omission, partly down to rubbishness by Amazon – I expect it to arrive any day now)
- Okkervil River (also on its way, but too slow by Amazon to be considered for the comp!)
- Old Crow Medicine Show (ballsed up by Sendit who were unable to deliver a product as advertised– I advise you avoid them!)
- CSS (I was disappointed by their live set at the start of the year, but have been more impressed by their new material than I expected; bizarre thing about Lovefoxx is she can’t dance for toffee)
- Land of Talk (I enjoyed their 2007 effort a great deal, and saw them supporting The Besnard Lakes to good effect in a sweaty venue last year)
- The Last Shadow Puppets (the hype made me wary of this, but it looks like it’s actually rather good)
- The Young Knives
- Ron Sexsmith (always makes the same record, but always worth listening to)
- Bon Iver (another one that’s been on the list to get for a long time, but still not accomplished… I fear it may not be as good as they were live, supporting Iron and Wine)
There are perhaps some omissions from the compilation that are a bit surprising, and not explained by the above list. What, for instance, about the Elbow record? A handful of the contenders they beat to the Mercury did make it on, but I left Elbow off for perhaps rather harsh reasons. I just don’t think The Seldom-Seen Kid is their best record: it’s very good, but Elbow are a band that tend to revisit the same formula with every record. It’s a worthwhile thing to do, but overall I can’t help but think it’s paying slightly diminishing returns, and their best work remains Cast of Thousands from 2003. Despite enjoying them enormously at the Brixton Academy, I still felt the record itself didn’t quite nail the songs so well – it needed a bit more oomph. Not lots – this is Elbow we’re talking about, after all – but it worked better live. Lambchop similarly have produced a very good record that I enjoyed seeing them perform live, but again it’s not their best work and doesn’t captivate on record in the way that many of its songs did in their Union Chapel gig.
I liked Noah and the Whale‘s debut, though I sympathise with the view that its hit single is a bit too twee. But for some reason listening to the album always gets me down – no idea why.
There was a handful of bona fide disappointments in 2008, so let’s deal with those. The Hot Puppies and T-T records I’ve dealt with in the main post, but some records fell down much more seriously. Tilly and the Wall‘s O, the follow-up to Bottoms of Barrels, spawned an excellent single: Beat Control distilled their sometimes sprawling sound into a tight and honed slice of pop. Disappointingly, the album was just a re-hash of their previous stuff that lacked the excellence of some of their earlier songs.
Sticking with American bands, The Breeders delivered another lacklustre album: bar a few production tweaks and a nice cover version, Mountain Battles contained nothing of merit. Seeing them live at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire was a bit of an “emperor’s new clothes” experience: for all their indie pedigree, Kim and Kelly Deal could frankly barely play their instruments, and had a back-up guitarist to do all the tricky stuff. They were enjoyable when playing the decent stuff from Last Splash, but otherwise made for a sad spectacle.
Still, at least they’re still going. The split of The Long Blondes earlier this year came for the most shocking reason – not unlike when snooker player Paul Hunter was diagnosed with cancer, you just don’t expect to see a young guy knocked out by a stroke like guitarist Dorian Cox was. Sad to say, therefore, that they did not go out on a high: unlike many critics, I found Couples to be a pale and unworthy successor to Someone To Drive You Home. It lacked the energy, the cutting lyrics and the mood. The icy electro of lead single Century was a false dawn; rather than taking a bold step and doing the whole album in such a radical style, the band produced a thin, scratchy and unattractively self-pitying record.
Let me also mention the squally album from The Magnetic Fields: I know they went for that sound deliberately, but too often it just drowned the songs.
Finally, let’s look ahead to 2009, which is already promising new albums from:
- Emmy the Great
- MJ Hibbett
- Jarvis Cocker
- Howling Bells
- Camera Obscura
- Fight Like Apes
- Junior Boys.
I’m looking forward to all of those. Meanwhile, if you’re thirsting for more end-of-year list action, I’ll be doing a review of the year’s telly after Christmas. For an idea of what it might contain, see last year’s reviews of BBC drama, other drama and comedy.