The Outsiders: The Best Albums Of ’08

Not all of Stereogum’s favorite sounds conform to what folks expect us to cover. In this space, resident Bananafish fetishist Brandon Stosuy focuses on bands, albums, singles, and villages in Sweden that may otherwise pass by unnoticed. This installment’s virtual milk crate contains The Best Albums Of 2008.

In 2008 I spent more time listening to metal than anything else. (Note: To that top 20 I would currently find a way to squeeze in Nox Inferi’s Adverse Spheres, Aura Noir’s Hades Rise, and Mitochondrion’s Archaeaeon. Plus, Darkthrone jumps about five points.) That said, these are a few of the other albums I returned to frequently. It’s hard labeling them as “Outsider” because they’re very much in heavy rotation, and it’s the sort of music I’m most drawn to (i.e. I don’t find it at all inaccessible), but they’re also albums that didn’t receive as much mainstream indie hype as, say, Fleet Foxes or TV On The Radio. That’s sort of the guiding principle. As far as their link to heavier tastes, I think most of these releases touch upon a certain sonic/aesthetic darkness. Except when noted, the list is in no particular order.

[Liz Harris/Grouper]

Grouper – Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill (Type): From the haunted rumble of “Disengaged” through “We’ve All Time To Sleep,” Liz Harris’s late-night whisper gains resonances and detail with each listen, like a rural midnight landscape slowly coming into focus. I grew up in the woods with hunters around me, so the album title and track “I’m Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill” add a strange sense of place (and, for me at least, caged-in teenage energy). I said these albums are in no particular order, but this is no. 1. We’ve posted Dragging’s first two tracks and “Invisible” as well as non-album track “False Horizon.” Her artwork is another way of describing her sound.

Cold Cave – The Trees Grew Emotions and Died (Heartworm) + “Painted Nails” 7″ (Hospital):. Cold Cave is the brainchild of Philadelphia’s Wesley Eisold, ex-Some Girls, Give Up The Ghost, XO Skeletons, and currently Ye Olde Maids, etc. Judging from the comments he received when we gave him a BTW writeup, folks’ ears aren’t entirely ready for white noise, even when it’s this catchy. I don’t usually like straight-up dance music or new wave, but when you drench it in inches of feedback and crackles and this particular iciness, it becomes dance music like “Hot On The Heels Of Love” is dance music via dudes who ostensibly like New Order and Prurient. The songs are danceable, dark, instantly infectious. Think ’80s industrial and synth pop over-driven through power electronics. We have “Sex Ads” posted at the above link, or head to his MySpace to hear more. Also, take a look at the man’s Heartworm Press (co-run with Max G. Morton), especially the book of collages they published from Youth Attack head Mark McCoy.

Valet – Naked Acid (Kranky): Naked Acid is a good descriptor, as is Maria Dixon’s amazing Bitches Brew-style cover art, for Honey Owens’ wind-tunneled bedroom psychedelia. She mixes in dirty, scrubbier, more burnt work (like “Fuck It”) with plenty of airy and ambient tracks. She also runs a store in Portland you should check out. Or check out “Kehaar.” This past year, she also added some live depth to Atlas Sound’s sound.

Caïna – Temporary Antennae (Profound Lore): UK’s Caïna, aka 22-year-old Andrew Curtis Bignell, is one of the more uncompromising (and surprising) artists to emerge from the “extreme underground.” He started out as a fairly straight-up one-man black metal act in 2004, but by 2007’s Mourner (his “first ‘real’ album,” in his own words) found a singular melding of one-man black metal, pretty shoegazing, indie/post-rock, Current 93-esque spoken excursions, and mournful balladry. On his third proper album Temporary Antennae he connects the crisscrosses of his eclectic musicality more seamlessly than on the at times slapdash Mourner. Maybe think about Xiu Xiu going Alcest or Jesu as you listen to Temporary Antennae.” You can dig up more sounds at his MySpace.

Ocrilim – ANNWN (Hydra Head): This was the year of Krallice, but Mick Barr also released this mind-bending Ocrilim album way back in January, which is when he and it were featured in the Outsiders. And, here’s this:

Blank Dogs – The Fields (Woodsist), On Two Sides (Troubleman), and the free MP3s at his blog (which seems to be dead at this point), etc. It was a prolific year for Mr. Blank Dogs and his melancholic but jubilant bedroom new wave/punk dance. It’s like Joy Division vocal lines with the Cure’s synth and guitar melodies filtered through ancient submerged keyboards and eroded recording equipment. We crowned him with the BTW tag, but as with Cold Cave, it seems like not everyone’s convinced. The new Woodsist album’s fun, but I’m already looking ahead to Under And Under the 20-song double LP (or single CD) In The Red’s releasing next month. Take a listen here and at his MySpace.

Shit & Shine – Küss mich, meine Liebe (Load): Shit And Shine’s Kuss Mich, Meine Liebe is a distorted, distended, brown-tinted mass of fuzz and muck sectioned via titles like “Biggest Cock In Christendom,” “The Germans Call It A Swimming Head,” “Toilet Door Tits,” and “Mr. And Mrs. Gingerbread Hawaii.” Since it’s almost Christmas, take a listen to Biggest Cock In Christendom.”

Harry Pussy – You’ll Never Play This Town Again (Load): Speaking noise and Load, the Providence label put out this 42-track compilation of out-of-print rarities and previously unreleased material from the seminal Miami band Harry Pussy. I can say without blushing HP influenced me (and a generation of noisemakers — Magik Markers, Wolf Eyes, etc.) greatly and trained my ears when I wasn’t old enough to drink. They’ve been kaput for more than a decade, but this collection’s more alive than most bands who’re still living. Listen to a bunch via Outsiders: Vol. 21.

Yellow Tears – Pissmop LP (Hospital): Young blood Long Islanders. You can find some MP3s at their site. Here’s Pissmop’s “Pissing Sorrows”:

Yellow Tears – “Pissing Sorrows” (MP3)

Kevin Drumm – Imperial Distortion (Hospital): This appears to be the Hospital portion of the list because it is. Fernow’s label can usually be trusted for high-quality releases, but Drumm’s double CD of glacial low-end is the year’s best. It’s an elegant, shadowy, sometimes almost silent rumble, glide, and soar. Each of the six tracks is over 15 minutes. If you dig it, also check out 2002’s Sheer Hellish Miasma. You can hear the Chicago metal expert at his MySpace.

Prurient – Arrowhead (MEGO): Speaking of Hospital, Fernow had another productive year (including All Are Guests In The House Of The Lord, his collaboration with Drumm), crossed genre lines by successfully touring with Xiu Xiu, and moved his record store from the basement to the spot that used to house Jammlyand. He put out Cocaine Death compilation on his own label and No Fun did And Still, Wanting, but my favorite release was Arrowhead, which was originally released in 2004, for its raw purity. I still hold up 2006’s Pleasure Ground as his masterpiece, but this gives you another vicious side of Fernow’s art. You can hear tracks from the Drumm collab, the No Fun release, and Pleasure Ground in The Outsiders: Vol. 5. Arrowhead is just three tracks — two lengthy, one short — so you’ll have to search for those sounds elsewhere. While you’re out, look for his forthcoming Rose Pillar, an 11″ record and book out on the aforementioned Heartworm Press. (Full disclosure: I recently put on an event with Fernow where he projected a film/sound piece connected to said book.)

Peter Rehberg – Work For GV 2004-2008 (MEGO): Rehberg, who performs as Pita by his lonesome and as KTL with Sunn O)))’s Stephen O’Malley, runs Editions Mego. He’s also involved in a long-term collaboration with Parisian choreographer/puppeteer Giséle Vienne. They’ve been working together since 2001, but it’s Kindertotenlieder, the 2004 the project with Dennis Cooper and O’Malley, that I’ve followed most closely (and that showed up on pervious KTL releases in 2006, 2007). Work For GV 2004-2008 collects Rehberg’s non-Kindertotenlieder Vienne sound pieces from the span of years indicated in its title: I Apologize (2004), Une Belle Enfant Blonde (2005), Jerk (2008). Take a listen to “Black Holes.”


Burning Stare Core’s Challenger (Hospital/Plastic) is also worth a listen: “Beauty Hunter” as is Menace Ruine’s The Die is Cast (Alien 8), and the Dead C’s Secret Earth (Ba Da Bing). 2009 will be a big year for Wavves. 2008 was a big one for Sic Alps. I know this isn’t a book list, but I wanted to add Roberto Bolano’s 2666 because I’m making my way through out now and I haven’t been this excited about a new book in a while (old books yes, but not new). Well, besides Peter Sotos’ Lordotics, which is amazing in a perfectly different way.

If you’re in the NYC area (or have way of getting here), the next kinder, gentler No Fun Fest features a number of the bands included here (Cold Cave, Yellow Tears, Peter Rehberg, Blank Dogs, C. Spencer Yeh) plus Bastard Noise (!), Merzbow, Skullflower, Brian Chippendale’s Black Pus, Axolotl, Chris Corsano, Thrones, some youngsters called Sonic Youth, etc.

Finally, I asked various folks covered here — Valet, Cold Cave, etc. — as well as a few who aren’t but who have an ear for the outer realms — Ben Chasny, Glenn Donaldson, Jesy Fortino, etc. — to submit their own top 10s. So keep your eyes peeled…

[Photo of Grouper/Liz Harris via The Portland Mercury]