cast yr mind back to midnight, december 31st, 2007, and - that's if you remember anything at all - you'll remember after all the drunken kisses and well wishes for the year forthcoming. what immediately followed (for me, anyway) was puns of varying degrees of quality on the year 2008. 'two-thousand-and-mate' was a popular one. 'two-thousand-and-hate' rhymed well enough, but didn't feel right. but the best one, and the one that stuck 'til way past the cider 'n' wine new years day hangover faded away, was 'two-thousand-and-great'. aside from being just an effective play on words, it made me feel genuinely confident and optimistic about the twelve months ahead. and in retrospect, that confidence was completely justified. pretty much everything about this year went great, from personal accomplishments, experiences and relationships, to the little extras that make life better - like music, books and film.
what follows is a list of those extras that made '08 great for me, starting with my favourite album and favourite gig. i'll try to steer away from the usual chutney you'll be reading on every blog, webzine and publication this time of year, cuz no one wants to read about Vampire Weekend and/or Fleet Foxes for the 643rd time this year, even if good things is all i'd have to say about them. however, one concession i will make is...
Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago (12th of May, UK commerical release)
my dead cert, all round favourite album of this year. i know, i know technically it was self-released in '07, but the general public (me, obv) didn't know about it til the commercial release from Jagjaguwar in May of this year. it took me a surprisingly long time to get into this album, considering how fond i am of it now. i bought it completely on a whim after reading the five-star review in Mojo, because it seemed to tick all the boxes i have for my lovelorn, one-man-and-a-guitar singer/songwriters. just like the critics and record-buying public, i was drawn in by the "recording in hibernation" PR story (which i'm sure i don't need to reiterate in detail here), and felt i had to get to know his songs. since then, it's had the same effect on me as 2005's Illinois by Sufjan Stevens - a life-enhancing album that you wish you could experience for the first time all over again. but its one of those records that, once you get beneath the surface of the songs and you know them inside and out, you won't be able to remember what life was like before you heard it.
which leads me on to...
Bon Iver, Wild Beasts & No Age @ Pressure Point, Brighton (15th of May)
...this. taking place as part of The Great Escape festival in Brighton's tiny (soon to be closed) Pressure Point venue, it's only in retrospect that i can genuinely appreciate what a special gig this was. at the time it just seemed like two relatively hip acts sharing the stage at a magazine-sponsered leg of a festival, nothing to blog about. but when the queue for entry started to form and snake along the pavement and up the street, often haphazardly spilling onto the roadside, i started to wonder. was everyone here just for Bon Iver? had everyone been enjoying the exact same listening experience as me for the past week or so? at this point i was still to find out the album had been available in some format for nearly a year, but even so, it felt like overkill for a one-man band with nine songs from out of Nowheresville, USA. it took until halfway through the set, for Justin Vernon to coax everyone in the room into singing along to the haunting refrain in "The Wolves" ('What might have been lost...'), that i was completely convinced the hype was justified. as if i needed further reassurance of the devotion he commanded, he took his acoustic guitar in hand and marched into the middle of the packed room and sang the album highlight "Skinny Love" without a microphone, and with every repeated bridge of 'My my my, My my my, My my', the audience contribution got louder, converting more unbelievers each time. without a doubt one of the best gigs i've ever attended, and i'm sure nearly everyone in attendence would concur.
such an act is hard to follow, and that unenviable task was given to Wild Beasts. another hyped-up band with a debut LP this year, the crowd had substantially thinned by the time they took the stage. their indistinct brand of Talking Heads'ish awkward pop definitely failed to impress. but i've since given a couple of studio recordings a listen ("His Grinning Skull", "The Devil's Crayon"), and they fare much better than the live interpretations. it's probably another case of a band who, when given the budget and studio time, can get their songs sounding exactly how they want, but the structures fall flat when they're faced with recreating them for the stage.
by the end of their set the crowd was filling out in places, the feverish anticipation starting to build for No Age. by this point i had been a No Age geek for some time, listening to Weirdo Rippers on a daily basis since '07 and tracking down every b-side from the limited vinyl EPs that had been cherry picked to make up that excellent compilation release. their debut album proper, Nouns, had been released earlier that month and i had been keeping it on repeat and soaking up all the tv static'y scummy noise pop it had to offer since it leaked to blogs earlier in the year. i hadn't seen them live yet and had high expectations, which had doubled since entering the venue and witnessing Bon Iver. the sheer volume with which they burst into action was startling, making opener and Nouns highlight "Teen Creeps" identifiable only by its dental records and a killer riff. halfway through the set came the first single "Eraser", a track i was one listen away from starting to skip on my mp3 player, was reanimated in a live setting. guitarist Randy Randall playing the minute-long intro riff wandering around the stage and into the crowd, before drummer/vocalist Dean Spunt chimed in, bringing the track to life by pounding on the drums with a force i'd not seen since watching Dave Grohl on my old Nirvana VHS. i soon realised that No Age are such a unique band, i felt instantly ridiculous for having tried to weigh them up against Bon Iver not half an hour before. they're two bands worlds apart in sense, style, and scene - but because they have the fortune of coming from similar DIY roots in one country (California and Wisconsin are close together when compared to the rest of the world), and both having debut albums in '08 on hip labels, they'll never be so far apart that a lazy blogger won't try and see a parallel between the two when they share a stage at a UK festival.
mp3: Bon Iver - "The Wolves (Act I and II)"
mp3: No Age - "Here Should Be My Home"