Slipped Discs

Artist: The Charlatans
Album: You Cross My Path
Label: Cooking Vinyl
US Release Date: 2008-06-10
UK Release Date: 2008-05-12
Internet release date: 2008-03-03

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The Charlatans spent nearly 20 years as British rock survivors. They overcame critical skepticism and all sorts of bizarre calamities to become one of Britain’s best rock bands. By 2006,though, directionless and drug-addled, it seemed they were finally about to write themselves off. So leader Tim Burgess sobered up and the band sharpened up their songwriting pens. The faux-reggae was ditched and the Hammond organ was dusted off. Veteran engineer Alan Moulder (Smashing Pumpkins, Swervedriver) was brought in to add a sharp, glimmering edge. And the taut, nervy You Cross My Path was the band’s best album in a decade. Ten lean, mean, melodic, danceable songs, and no frills. Crucially, the Charlatans rediscovered their knack for co-opting UK pop trends while retaining their own identity. While the Killers and Primal Scream tried with mixed results to add modern relevance to 1980s dance music, and Oasis made a hit-and-miss attempt at resurrecting Britpop-era tunes’n’tude, You Cross My Path excelled at both. John Bergstrom

The Charlatans – The MisbegottenThe Charlatans: You Cross My Path

Artist: Elvis Costello and The Imposters
Album: Momofuku
Label: Lost Highway
US Release Date: 2008-05-06
UK Release Date: 2008-05-05

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After vowing to stop making albums, Elvis Costello thankfully reneged on that threat and delivered one of his spriest albums in years, with Momofuku. Named after the creator of Ramen noodles, and referencing both the quick prep of the soup and this record, Momofuku was one of the rare albums (by any artist) that favorably and accurately sounded like a musician’s “old” stuff, while still moving the ball forward — no small feat given Costello’s wide-ranging discography. To wit, the opening one-two punch of “No Hiding Place” and “American Gangster Time” could legitimately have been This Year’s Model outtakes and “Harry Worth” mixed Imperial Bedroom‘s orchestration with the noir of The Delivery Man. To top things off, album closer “Go Away” proved Costello’s still got more piss and vinegar in him than most supposed actual Angry Young Men. Stephen Haag

Elvis Costello – American Gangster Time/I Don’t Want To Go To Chelsea (Live in Milwaukee)Elvis Costello and The Imposters: Momofuku

Artist: Carl Craig and Moritz Von Oswald
Album: Recomposed Vol. 3
Label: Deutsche Grammophon
US Release Date: 2008-10-17

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Both minimalist and technically complex, Carl Craig and Moritz Von Oswald’s Recomposed: Music by Maurice Ravel & Modest Mussorgsky is a transgression into the world of soundscapes represented by two of the most prestigious artists in the electronic world. Originally commissioned by the Berlin Philarmonic, Oswald went in and took out the original multi-tracks to Maurice Ravel’s Bolero and Rapsodieespagnole, and Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition in Ravel’s orchestration. He then invited Carl Craig along for the ride where they both worked meticulously on the recomposing of classical orchestrations from the mid-’80s. What came out was a world of analog soundscapes that build among old-school techno drum machines and sampled orchestrations. It’s as intriguing as Brian Eno’s work with Cluster, meticulous as Philip Glass, and ambitious as Steve Reich. John Bohannon

Carl Craig and Moritz Von Oswald: Recomposed Vol. 3

Artist: Deerhoof
Album: Offend Maggie
Label: Kill Rock Stars
US Release Date: 2008-10-07
UK Release Date: 2008-10-13

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It may be a publicity stunt, but it’s one too ingenious to come from any other band: soliciting fan interpretations by releasing the sheet music before the song itself. Plenty of the “Fresh Born” recordings captured the group’s warped, split-second melodic instincts, but none nailed that intensely raw, noise-rock undercurrent, a brilliant foil to Satomi Matsuzaki’s cutesy “tot tots” and “rah rahs”. Offend Maggie, the group’s ninth album in about as many years, is all about that contradiction, scaling back the extravagant, proggy flourishes of Friend Opportunity. And really, to hear “My Purple Past” blast from the speakers, all visceral, noisy riffs and monstrous drum grooves, is to be reminded that the ‘hoof is a rock band first and foremost, and they do bring the rock. Glancing at year end lists, it seems the critics and indie kids alike jumped off the Deerhoof wagon as abruptly as they hopped on in ’05. It’s their loss. Zach Schonfeld

Deerhoof – Fresh BornDeerhoof: Offend Maggie

Artist: Department of Eagles
Album: In Ear Park
Label: 4AD
US Release Date: 2008-10-07

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This release from Fred Nicolaus and Daniel Rossen, dedicated to Rossen’s late father, is a collection comprised of everything from intimate creaks and strums to brash, bold collages of scattered textures. More than once, scratchy chords, resigned vocals, and battered beats give way to lyrical passages of emotional force and pure intensity rivaling any alternative work released this year. Nicolaus and Rossen successfully achieve what so many of their peers aim to do but can not: they have created a work driven by eclecticism that never once feels contrived. Angsty and momentous, mournful and glorious, In Ear Park causes speakers to effuse a delicate glow for many moments after the last track fades away, as both its haunting lulls and sweeping storms linger in the ear and mind. Elizabeth Newton

Department of Eagles – In Ear ParkDepartment of Eagles: In Ear Park

Artist: Digitonal
Album: Save Your Light for Darker Days
Label: Just Music
US Release Date: Available as import
UK Release Date: 2008-09-09

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Digitonal is a British electronic project whose gorgeous 2008 album flew mostly under the radar. Featuring fragile chamber orchestration and carefully constructed rhythms above sweeping waves of sound, their latest is a tour de force of genre fusion. “Ana Kata” oozes with shoegaze, channeling the note-bending of My Bloody Valentine and the calm of Slowdive. “A Lighter Touch”’s crisp electronics would delight any fan of Ulrich Schnauss or Boards of Canada. “Emberkreiss” echoes the post-rock of Saxon Shore and The Album Leaf. “Silver Poetry”’s muted vocals even call to mind Dredg at their quietest moments. What really makes the album indispensable, though, is the interpolation of small-ensemble strings, clarinet, and harp into this ultramodern sound world. Their slow, deliberate, graceful melodies evoke the heartbreaking, profound sorrow found in the “holy minimalism” of composers like Arvo Pärt and Henryk Górecki. In straddling the worlds of ambient electronica and modern classical, Digitonal have created a masterpiece not to be missed. C.T. Heaney

Digitonal – 93 Years OnDigitonal: Save Your Light for Darker Days

Artist: The Dirtbombs
Album: We Have You Surrounded
Label: In the Red
US Release Date: 2008-02-26
UK Release Date: 2008-02-23

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These Detroit uber-garage punks have made a soul album, a pop album and now, an end of the world album, but it’s hard to say which is more fun. We Have You Surrounded is their fin du monde epic (they even have a song called “Fin Du Monde”, and it’s in French, suckas!) partying at the edge of the abyss. With these big fuzzy bass lines, exuberant “yeah yeahs”, skanky distorted guitars and pounding double drums, it had better be the end of days, or we’ll all have a hangover tomorrow. It’s all good, but the undeniable climax is “Leopardman at C&A” as sharply written as it is body-shaking and, hands down, my favorite song of 2008. Jennifer Kelly

The Dirtbombs: We Have You Surrounded

Artist: The Dodos
Album: Visiter
Label: French Kiss
US Release Date: 2008-03-18
UK Release Date: Available as import

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San Franciso’s the Dodos eschew the tropes of a traditional guitar-and-drum duo. Heavily influenced by West African Ewe drumming Singer Meric Long applies rhythmic finger-picking to his pleasant folk melodies while drummer Logan Kroeber supplies the complex tom-tom heavy beats. Of course, Visiter is peppered with an assortment of horns, backing vocals and toy piano but the songs essentially revolve around what Long describes as the “space between the beats”. It’s perhaps this reliance on the Ewe drumming method that separates the Dodos from other indie folk acts. Their single “Fools” shows the beauty of this approach as Meric Long’s gentle croon gives way to the raw underbelly of breakneck drumming. The result is a surprisingly supple two-piece. Freak-folkers everywhere should be intimidated. Joe Tacopino

The Dodos – FoolsThe Dodos: Visiter

Artist: Earth
Album: The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull
Label: Southern Lord
US Release Date: 2008-02-26
UK Release Date: 2008-02-25

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For 20 solid years, guitarist Dylan Carlson and his ever-revolving cast of collaborators in Earth have defined metallic drone music for a generation of musicians. Following a re-emergence from a five-year hiatus in 2002, they inking a deal with influential doom label Southern Lord and recorded an amazing album in ’05, Hex: Or Printing in the Infernal Method, that played upon Carlson’s love for the soundtrack works of Ry Cooder and Ennio Morricone. Flanked by perhaps his strongest line-up yet, Carlson’s sixth Earth album perfects those dustbowl atmospherics merely hinted at in Hex by creating an arresting work of dark desert beauty that would serve as a perfect score for the forthcoming film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic masterpiece The Road. Ron Hart

Earth: The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull

Artist: Alejandro Escovedo
Album: Real Animal
Label: Back Porch
US Release Date: 2008-06-24
UK Release Date: 2008-06-24

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Alejandro Escovedo takes a sweeping, 360-degree view of his life so far, careening from downtown NYC days (“Chelsea Hotel”), to a fascination with Iggy (“Real Animal”), to a boot-knocking cow-punk era (“Nun Song”, “Chip ‘N Tony”) through to late-life serenity (“Slow Down”). Escovedo can still rock as hard as anyone, but he achieves transcendence in two of the disc’s gentlest, most lyrical moments. “Sister Lost Soul” mourns the passing of a love who wandered off alone, years ago, to be lost but not forgotten, while “Golden Bear” ponders the virus that almost killed Escovedo and persists, even now, in his blood. Poetic but never overwritten, nostalgic but not in the least sentimental, this is Escovedo’s finest album yet. Jennifer Kelly

Alejandro Escovedo: Real Animal