03 Jan

Top 10 New Musical Discoveries of 2008

(In no particular order.) I’ll be posting songs on the tumblr for the next ten days.

  • Early in the year, my brother exposed me to Bon Iver, whose debut album, For Emma, Forever Ago is a one man show of Justin Vernon, a proud Wisconsinite who wrote and recorded all the songs on the album over a three month span one winter in the North Woods. It’s a phenomenal album, and he’s got a new one coming later this month. We recently saw Bon Iver in concert at the Barrymore, and we saw him last April at the Orpheum Stage Door theater. Both shows were great, though it’s hard to top the intimacy of that April show.
  • Another highlight of our concert-going for the year was the Hotel Cafe tour, which swung by the High Noon Saloon this fall. It featured five artists (Jaymay, Alice Russell, Meiko, Thao Nguyen, and Rachael Yamagata). Though Rachael Yamagata was the headliner, Thao definitely stole the show. Yamagata’s introspective songs were nice, but failed to command the attention and passion that equally quiet artists (like Ray LaMontagne or Bon Iver) can. Thao’s energy, on the other hand, was uncontainable and infectious, and her songs, from a release this year called We Brave Bee Stings and All were catchy and original.
  • We missed out on Vampire Weekend‘s stop through town (too late in trying to get tickets), but I personally enjoyed their album. It’s hip these days to call them overrated, and who knows? Maybe they won’t have much staying power. But one particular song of theirs, M79, is so good, I have to include them on my list.
  • I also have to include Flight of the Conchords, who released an album of their hits from season 1 of their show, which is without question one of the best comedies currently on TV. The music is not only funny; it’s quite clever in its nods to different musical genres, and it’s often pretty catchy stuff. I don’t typically go for musicals. They’re not really my style. But Flight of the Conchords manages to offer enough satire and comedy that it doesn’t feel like it’s a musical.
  • The movie Once also didn’t feel like a musical, though it most certainly was one. The accompanying album, by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, is a beautiful piece of musicianship that stands alone without any of the film plot associations it conjures. But the fact that the film’s story was so wonderful certainly helps.
  • Eileen and I discovered another Irish gem when we visited Ireland this past summer. It was a children’s choir called Cor Na nOg that we heard on the Irish equivalent of NPR. When we heard them on the radio, we were immediately impressed, but we didn’t catch their name. So we went searching in music stores, asking people about the RTE children’s choir. No one knew the name. But back in the states, with the help of the internet, I eventually found them out. I sent an email via the contact form on the website, asking if any CDs were available for purchase. I got a response from a woman named Norma who said the following: “Any CDs we have produced are ‘freebies’ to be sent out with our TV Guide. If you give me your address, I’ll see if I can dig one up for you.” She sent me two. From Ireland. At no charge. I love the Irish.
  • I also remained enthralled with Yann Tiersen, the composer responsible for the Amelie soundtrack, and I went on a binge, collecting music of his. This year, he put together a soundtrack for a documentary called Tabarly about a famous French sailor. I haven’t seen the film, and to tell the truth, I’m skeptical it can do the soundtrack justice. It’s mostly piano music, and mostly wonderful.
  • Tiersen’s Amelie soundtrack makes me wish I could play accordion. Not that I could really do anything as impressive as, say, the shirtless accordion guy, but perhaps I could do something minimal like Beth Tacular, who is one half of the duo that makes up Bowerbirds. Their album of avian-themed lyrics is decidedly indie, and/but it’s really creative stuff.
  • So is Girl Talk’s album, Feed the Animals. Girl Talk is another one man show, made up of Gregg Gillis and his huge vocabulary of popular music. He’s a mashup artist, who juggles far more songs per track than your normal mashup artist. Though it can be a little exhausting to listen to the album in its entirety, the musical samples are so fluidly juxtaposed you’ve got to remind yourself to close your gaping mouth as you listen in disbelief. The album is available online for whatever price you decide to pay, and there’s a good wikipedia page which lists all the samples in each track of the album.
  • Last but not least is Australian Xavier Rudd whose song Messages I stumbled upon while listening to Pandora one day. He’s been compared to Ben Harper, Paul Simon, and Jack Johnson. All of them are apt comparisons, actually. He’s a pretty versatile artist with lots of different sounds. This year’s release, Dark Shades of Blue, is a little harder and darker (evoking even more comparisons — to Lenny Kravitz and Pearl Jam), but still has some good stuff on it.

So there you have it. My top ten of 2008. Bon Iver, Thao, Vampire Weekend, Flight of the Conchords, Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, Cor Na nOg, Yann Tiersen, Girl Talk, and Xavier Rudd.

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