Laughter’s Album of the Year for 2008: Extra Life, Secular Works
“Charlie Looker has issued every rock band in existence a very serious challenge: write music as inventive and natural as the stuff on Secular Works or get the hell off the stage.”
I stand by that statement. Only one other record captured my heart and soul as much as Secular Works and that album was nowhere near as inventive or unpredictable as this one. From the first rhythmic explosion of “Blackmail Blues” to the pop sensibilities of “The Refrain” and the psychedelic miasma on “This Time,” Charlie Looker and his band are energetic, unrelenting, and ceaselessly enterprising. This album features solid song writing, Looker’s original and potent voice, a varied but unified aesthetic, and no small amount of impressive technical prowess. Obviously conceived with a great deal of care and consideration, Secular Works was the most adventurous and approachable record I heard all year.
There were two others records that I enjoyed a great deal during 2008. Early on, I decided that Fleet Foxes’ debut record on Sub Pop was easily album of the year, but after a time I realized it was one of my favorites because it was so familiar and gently satisfying. I’m not sure what it means to call a record the “best” album of the year, but my favorite records generally aren’t one-dimensional, immediately-gratifying records. Fleet Foxes crafted an album I was familiar with from the start; it’s filled with great melodies, excellence performances, and a serious dedication to style, but in the end it isn’t as multi-dimensional as I’d like it to be. It’s pretty and addicting, but not as enduring as Secular Works. Juana Molina’s Un Dia also spent a lot of time pouring out of my speakers, but it simply doesn’t possess the emotional heft that Looker’s music so effortlessly heaves upon the listener. Molina’s voice alone commands attention and her instrumental tendencies are simultaneously bizarre and attractive. I can’t complain about either of these records, really, it’s just that Extra Life’s record is really that captivating. If you have any extra money to spend on records this year, make sure at least one of these three finds its way into your collection.
There were plenty of other records released in 2008 that deserve attention, many of them less conventional than the ones just listed. Windy Weber released a solo album that blew me away, Portishead triumphantly redefined their sound, Andrew Liles managed to outdo himself on a record replete with lurid samples and unnerving atmospheres, Matmos released the best album of their career, Harvey Milk returned from the dead with a huge and heavy record, James Blackshaw, Jack Rose, Current 93, All the Saints, Growing, Squarepusher, Boduf Songs, Raglani, Fennesz, and Bohren und Der Club of Gore all released (or re-released) solid records, and I’m sure there’s more I’m forgetting. I’ll leave other websites to debate the best EPs, singles, box sets, reissues, and so forth. The following radio program covers some of my favorite things from this year and you can refer to that if you want to know what else I liked. Just a few others topics spring to mind concerning this year, and I’d like to mention them:
- I attended and worked at all three days of the Brainwaves festival, conceived and put on by Jon Whitney and Tim H. and made possible by innumerable volunteers, technicians, professionals, musicians, and music lovers. I made new friends, got to see old ones, and nearly cried when Stars of the Lid lit up the stage. I was going through a pretty hard time when all this happened and couldn’t be more thankful for the whole thing. I had the good luck of being surrounded by amazing people and, though they may not have known it, all of them lifted me up and gave to me exactly what I needed. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.
- I met and saw Peter Christopherson (Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV, Coil, Threshold House Boys Choir, and now Soi Song) perform at that same festival. There’s nothing more surprising and surreal than meeting someone that literally shaped the way you think about music. I’ll never forget it.
- I finally read Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. I’m not sure any other work of fiction has affected me so thoroughly. I sometimes hear people talk about works of art changing their lives and I frown when I realize that very few works of art, in any medium, have had that effect on me. This novel changed me, though. I have a small list of books that I think everyone must read and this book is now one of them. That list is small and books do not get on it easily. If you’ve not read it, do yourself a favor and correct that.
- California is, without a doubt, the most beautiful place in the lower 48 states. Get the hell out of the city and see what’s left of nature. I went out into the wilderness and, without knowing it right away, came back with a better sense of myself and the people that surrounded me at the time. I’ve been on a lot of hikes out into the middle of nowhere, but this one tested me and left a pretty good scar. Thank God.
- Three words: first black president! Took long enough.
- I’m more suspicious than ever of the powers that lead and influence this country. I’m going back to school this next semester because getting a decent job with decent pay is, as Springsteen might say, hard to find. I’m lucky to have that recourse, many others do not have that option and are hurting because some very rich people decided they needed to be wealthier than they already were. What’s worse is that our government, in some fashion or another, has refused to adequately explain the situation and provide a resolution. Worse still, this problem is ongoing despite all the attention the media has been giving it. Events like these often cause a bit of hatred to well up in me and I have to keep reminding myself that no good can come of it. All governments are composed of liars and crooks to some degree, but I’m at a loss to explain this kind of negligence and greed. Where’s Bill Hicks when we need him?
Thanks to everyone who listened to Laughter this year. I appreciate your comments, your kind phone calls, your company on the air, and all your support. I’ll be back in 2009 and hopefully I’ll have some of those extras I promised you over the course of this past year. Thanks for reading, Merry Christmas and happy holidays to you all. Be good to each other and enjoy the music.
01. Boduf Songs “Mission Creep” from How Shadows Chase the Balance (2008) on Kranky
02. Graveyard “Don’t Take Us For Fools” from Graveyard (2008) on Tee Pee
03. Harvey Milk “Death Goes to the Winner” from Life…The Best Game in Town (2008) on Hydra Head
04. Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy With Harem Scarem & Alex Neilson “Is It the Sea? / My Home is the Sea” from Is It the Sea? (2008) on Domino
05. All the Saints “Hornett” from Fire on Corridor X (2008) on Killer Pimp
06. Calexico “House of Valparaiso” from Carried to Dust (2008) on Quarterstick Records
07. Atlas Sound “Cold As Ice” from Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See but Cannot Feel (2008) on Kranky
08. Arthur Russell “I Couldn’t Say It To Your Face” from Love Is Overtaking Me (2008) on Audika
09. Portishead “Machine Gun” from Third (2008) on Island
10. Extra Life “The Refrain” from Secular Works (2008) on I and Ear Records
11. Juana Molina “Dar (Que Dificil)” from Un Dia (2008) on Domino
12. Ø “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” from Oleva (2008) on Sahko
13. Matmos “Zemoi” from Supreme Balloon (2008) on Matador
14. Squarepusher “The Coathanger” from Just a Souvenir (2008) on Warp
15. Odd Nosdam “Hollow Me” from Pretty Swell Explode (2008) on Anticon
16. Fennesz “Perfume for Winter” from Black Sea (2008) on Touch
17. Stephan Mathieu “Prolog I Himmel” from Radioland (2008) on Die Schachtel
18. Richard Pinhas & Merzbow “Ikebukuro: Tout Le Monde Descend! (Excerpt)” from Keio Line (2008) on Cuneiform Records