Ours for Yours: Favorites of 2008

The year-end Top 10 tradition is inescapably self-indulgent, so we’re proposing a swap. Knowing that Dest:Out readers are incredibly well-informed, we’re as curious to read about some of your picks as we are excited to share ours. Below you’ll find a list of things from the year 2008 that had the most impact for us, and we look forward to reading your highlights in the comments.


Bands performing new soundtracks to silent films is pretty standard fare nowadays, but these acts raised the bar in startling ways. The undersung confusion rock trio Calabi Yau concocted revelatory scores for three surrealist shorts. They levitated the roof with their mix of Neubaten clamor and Don Cherry circa “Brown Rice” trance drone for “Ballet Mecanique”; deftly melded heavy propulsion and swinging fishing tackle for Man Ray’s “Starfish”; and gobsmacked the audience with shimmering Eno-like ambiance for ‘Windmill III.” Totally fucking sublime. Equally wonderful were Brent Bagwell leading the Tenspeed Orchestra’s melding of free-jazz squall with minimalist gestures and Scribbian colors to conjure the trippy cut-out animations of “Adventures of Prince Achmed.” Pere Ubu de- and re-contextualized “The Man with X-Ray Eyes” by mixing their music with the existing soundtrack, offering a subtle new underscore, obliterating overscore, and audio-musical commentary, all at once. As organizer of the event some might think I’m hopelessly unbiased, but my ass was in the seats with everyone else and I know attendees have my back on this one.

Particularly these hypnotic and cryptic masterpieces:
The Inner Scar; The Virgin’s Bed; Le Revelateur.
“Garrel has managed to discover some degree zero of representation in which the most pared-down images manage to yield the most complex results – results that current film theory can in no way adequately account for.” – David Ehrenstein, Film on the Front Line

The Breeders
Mountain Battles; M83 Saturdays = Youth; Terry Riley Last Camel in Paris; No Age Nouns; Matmos Supreme Balloon; Dennis Wilson Pacific Ocean Blue; Deerhunter Microcastle/ Weird Era Cont; Erykah Badu New Amerykah, Part One (Fourth World War); Steinski What Does It All Mean?; Jay Reatard Singles 06-07; Marnie Stern This Is It…Harmonia Live 1974; Vampire Weekend Vampire Weekend; Jorge Ben Jorge Ben (1969).

This year saw a motherlode of stellar compilations and straight-up exhumations of exceptional African music, most focusing on the 1970s, the golden age of afro-funk. And that’s not including essential new comps of Franco and Rochereau. Here’s a short-list of shoutouts that merely skim the surface:
-African Scream Contest
-Nigeria Special: Modern Highlife, Afro-Sounds, and Nigerian Blues
-Orchestre Poly Rythmo de Contou “The Vodoun Effect
-Nigeria Disco Funk Special
-Nigeria 70: Lagos Jump – Original Heavyweight Afrobeat, Highlife, and Afro-funk


Emotional Rollercoaster rides. Best: After months of teeth gnashing and cold-sweat nightmares, Obama’s win was a massive relief. Worst: The suicide of David Foster Wallace, an unuterrably sad end for the most talented and life-affirming writer of his generation.

Ten faves – new and old, fiction and non, text and graphic:
Remainder by Tom McCarthy; A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes; Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys; Can’t Stop Won’t Stop by Jeff Chang; The Unconsoled by Kazou Ishiguro; Short Letter, Long Farewell by Peter Handke; Ghosts of Hoppers by Jaime Hernandez; Our Late Night by Wallace Shawn; Orlando by Virginia Woolf; By Night in Chile by Roberto Bolano.

A superb Choses Vue package collects his entire directorial output. Making his name as the male European “it” actor of the ’60s, Clementi spent much of his later career hand-crafting an exceptional series of experimental films. Something akin to Brad Pitt leaving Hollywood to direct Stan Brakhage-style movies. The early films throb with brilliant lysergic superimpositions, evoking both Kenneth Anger and underground theatre. The later later films offer visionary autobiographical essays and a sci-fi feature that is the closest any filmmaker has come to capturing William Burroughs’ dystopian cut-up novels.

Some 2008 films worth your time:
Ashes of Time Redux (Wong Kar-Wai); Don’t Touch the Axe (Jacques Rivette); Paranoid Park (Gus Van Sant); Mister Lonely (Harmony Korine); 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu); The Last Mistress (Catherine Breillet); Joy Division (Grant Gee); My Winnipeg (Guy Maddin); Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson).   Great old films that were new to me: Walden (Jonas Mekas); Ms. 45 (Abel Ferrara); Duelle (Jacques Rivette); Throw Away Your Books, Rally in the Streets! (Shuji Terayama); The Spider’s Stratagem (Bernardo Bertolucci); Hellzapoppin’ (H.C. Potter); El Sur (Victor Erice); The Brood (David Cronenberg); From the Clouds to the Resistance (Straub and Huillet).  TV: The Wire, Season Four.   Hats off to my hometown’s finest movie establishment: Patchwerk Playhaus.

Mosaic’s Anthony Braxton “Complete Arista” set the gold standard this year. Fledg’ling reissues of the first few Brotherhood of Breath albums, plus suppressed Chris McGregor sides from that same era, formed another essential body of work and didn’t get as much press as they deserved. Hats off for the welcome reissue of John Tchicai’s Afrodisica, and more treasure troves of rare and wonderful Sun Ra now available via Art Yard and Atavistic.

NEW WORLD: There were some mighty impressive doubleshots this year: Bill Dixon’s Exploding Star Orchestra and 17 Musicians in Search of a Sound: Darfur; Vijay Iyer with Tragicomic and Fieldwork’s Door; William Parker with Double Sunrise Over Neptune and Petit Oiseau; Rudresh Mahanthappa with Kinsmen and the Indo-Pak Coalition’s Apti. We’re not forgetting George Lewis’s AACM book. But we are neglecting to mention much else. Enlighten us in the comments, please!


This was for me a year of inconspicuous consumption, unrelated in the main to prevailing economic trends. On the whole, I probably took in less music, movies, media than in any year since I started keeping track. This mostly had to do with family commitments, bill paying and such, but possibly also was related to the notion that “Losing My Edge” has ceased to be funny to me, or even relevant: I am old and out of touch, and surprisingly find that there are moments when I would rather listen to nothing at all. Also, I had a lot of headaches. And I’m increasingly at peace with all of this (except the headaches).

Or maybe, as Chilly reminds me, it’s more that my methods have changed. I remain an active buyer of music, though it almost all comes to me via download now. Perhaps filling up a hard drive week by week, from the comfort of a desk chair, doesn’t feel as tangibly memorable as filling up a CD rack shelf by shelf, courtesy trips to local record marts. Two thousand and eight definitely feels like the year I grew to fully accept, and appreciate, music that comes with no literal weight, with no packaging — the de-objectification of music seemed finally to be a good thing.

Regardless, there were enthusiasms, and books were read, and songs gave sustenance. Here’s what I remember liking:


My usual level of political engagement barely qualifies me for citizen status. I learn the minimal amount needed to vote responsibly, and then vote. This year was something else; for a lot of people, obviously. And that was thrilling. But instead of obsessive poll watching, blog reading, issue learning, or, y’know, involvement, I traveled back in time, to the not-so-faraway place known as Nixonland. This was not by design, exactly, but his name kept coming up. I read the following amazing books this year, none of them even remotely unsung, but all worth your time if you haven’t yet taken the plunge, as I hadn’t:

Nixonland, by Rick Perlstein.
An astonishingly entertaining and enlightening sociological study of America during the time of Nixon. Probably overstates Nixon’s influence, but throws so much fascinating information at you, it’s forgivable. I’m actually still reading this one, taking my time.

Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72, by Hunter S. Thompson.
I underestimated both this book and HST to such a degree that, when I finally got around to it, I was simply pole-axed by the depth of his political understanding and commitment to the story. Having seen Thompson embarrass himself at a campus event in the late 1980s — a mock debate with G. Gordon Liddy, who out-performed HST in every possible way — this was a revelation, and a welcome antidote to my memory of a broken man.

Miami and the Siege of Chicago, by Norman Mailer.
Mailer on the ’68 conventions. Though there is way too much Mailer on Mailer here, his take on the candidates, Nixon principally, and on the chaos in Chicago, is a very good add-on to Perlstein’s account. Originally ran in Harper’s, recently reissued by NY Review of Books. There are some great artifacts from this assignment at this page, at UT/Austin’s Mailer archive.

The Book of Daniel, by E. L. Doctorow.
A phenomenally moving and raw novel about the Rosenberg spy case, principally. Nixon doesn’t play any kind of role, but given his connection to the actual case, he does hover around the edges. This post at The New Nixon (?!?) includes transcript of a 1984 interview wherein Nixon discusses the evidence against the Rosenbergs.

Frost/Nixon: The Ron Howard movie is enjoyable enough — wait for the DVD, I’d say — but basically just makes one long to see the actual footage, which I have yet to get my hands on.

Other sustaining books: Jeff Chang’s Can’t Stop Won’t Stop (seconding Chilly; so much more than then story of early hip hop, which would’ve been enough); Paul Morley’s Words and Music (as fun and ear-opening as it was annoying and perplexing); Lydia Davis’ Varieties of Disturbance (these “stories” make me giddy with the joy of the unexpected); Adam Haslett’s You Are Not a Stranger Here (finely polished stories with emotional wallop).


Oh-eight was a good year for comedy, excepting the deaths of George Carlin and Mr. Dolomite, Rudy Ray Moore. Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and their crews were consistently killing. The genius of John Hodgman raised the bar on the Daily Show, but also revealed itself in his own book, and his amazing contribution to the fine, eclectic State by State antholology, wherein Hodgman takes on his (& my) home state of Massachusetts.

But the highlight for me was the discovery of The Mighty Boosh. This will perhaps come as no surprise to any D:O readers in the UK, where Boosh — Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt — has been a hit for years. But aside from a momentary appearance on BBC America, Boosh remains a cultish phenomenon over here (from my vantage, at any rate). I experienced the joy of the Boosh BBC radio series, which is how the duo first burst on the scene, only later becoming a TV experience. You can download the entire radio series at Audible. A favorite and relevent segment can be viewed at YouTube (embedding is disabled). While I don’t agree that only science teachers and the disabled listen to jazz, I do share Noel/Vince’s views on scatting.


There’s little we left out concerning our feelings on Anthony Braxton — see here for the full picture — but any year-end summary of mine would be incomplete without a full bow in the direction of AB. The Mosaic Arista box will ensure years of enjoyment and puzzlement, and I’ve no doubt that I will return to Graham Lock’s superb guide to the man and his music.


The following sounds kept me tight and feeling right on the otherwise joyless commutes of 2008 (NYC 4/5 train riders, represent): “Hang On,” by Dr. Dog (as good an anthem for this past fall as any; The Band redux, with ample chorus); “Shakey Dog,” by Ghostface Killah (“The moment is here; take your fucking hood off” — one for the money, two for the show); “How Long?,” by Sharon Jones and those Dap-Kings (sweet acoustic version here; version version at the MySpace joint); “Everybody Loves to Cha Cha Cha,” Sam Cooke (smiling all the way to the dance floor); “Charlene,” Charles Gansa, from the Living Bridge comp. (loss, longing, and deeper than it’s possible to say); “Daft Punk Is Playing at My House,” LCD Soundsystem (oh, simple pleasures!); “Bye Bye Johnny,” Rolling Stones (oh, simpler pleasures!); “O Leaozinho,” Caetano Veloso (oh!). These are in no way “2008 songs,” of course, nor especially recondite, but whatev.

There are two albums of 08, though, that I’d like to single out, for the sheer pleasure and surpise they provided me this year: Au‘s Verbs, and Jugenstil, from Chris Speed, Chris Cheek, and Stephane Furic Leibovici. I honestly do not know much about these discs, nor much about the musicians, except for a passing familiarity with Chris Speed’s work elsewhere. But nothing prepared me for — and I heard nothing else that equaled — the beauty found herein. It is contemplative music, pretty but not overly so, melodic, and extremely patient. Quiet at times. (See headaches, above.) There is no “spang-a-lang” whatsoever, but the music, in both cases, draws on a wide range of influences, most certainly including jazz. I even hear Braxton’s Creative Music Orchestra in Verbs‘ standout moment: “rr vs. d” (listen at the band’s myspace). If you don’t find that a winning song, well, then, check your win-o-meter. It’s busted. Honorable mention in this category to Bill Dixon’s 17 Musicians in Search of a Sound: Darfur.

Now let’s about hear your 2008 faves….

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