Real-life top ten – best of 2008
– by Shawn Conner
1. Holy Fuck T-shirt. You can’t go wrong with this little yellow number by Canadian hard-rock/post-punk instrumental unit Holy Fuck. The red-and-black silkscreen of a cat wearing a cowboy hat and bandanna attracted more comments than any other piece of clothing, including my leather chaps, that I own. I became so attached to the attention I had a buddy buy another of the same T-shirt when he saw the band in Chicago. After seeing the effect it had, another friend went and ordered one off the ‘net.
2. Steve Martin, Born Standing Up (audiobook). If you grew up with Steve Martin, this puts everything in perspective – no mean feat when you’re talking about arrows-through-heads and comedy masterpiece The Jerk. Steve reads his memoir himself (appropriately enough) which injects added humour, pathos, and – uhm, maybe a little too much banjo.
3. Pemberton (music festival). Okay, I admit, I was lucky – I wasn’t a paying customer at this summer’s first-ever festival in Pemberton, B.C. If I was, my review might not have been so glowing – after all, there were lineups, mass confusion, traffic and $8 beer. However, even all those legitimate ticketholders who jumped through all kinds of hoops to catch Death Cab for Cutie, the Flaming Lips, Tom Petty, Coldplay and Jay-Z inaugurate a magnificently scenic dustbowl looked like they were having a great time. And let’s face it—a year or two from now, when all the bugs of the first festival have been ironed out by the corporation in charge, those of us that were there will be saying, “Man, do you remember the first Pemberton Festival? You could sneak booze in!”
4. Vancougar, Canadian Tuxedo (CD). Classic songwriting chops inform this debut from all-female quartet Vancougar. Other Vancouver bands, like Black Mountain, received more press, but Canadian Tuxedo delivers more hooks-per-song than any other guitar-pop album I heard this year.
5. Ghost Bees (new artist) – There’s only one song on Tasseomancy, the debut EP by Romi and Sari Lightman, that’s pure gold (“Sinai”). But the combination of the Halifax twins’ eerie harmonies, weird subject matter, and eerily beautiful live performance made them the name I dropped the most.
6. Omega the Unknown (12-issue comic book series, collected graphic novel) – Novelist Jonathan Lethem, with the help of artist Farel Dalrymple (and, in one issue, Gary Panter!), turns a ’70s Steve “Howard the Duck” Gerber (R.I.P) superhero concept on its costumed ear. More cool ideas per page/panel than any other mainstream comicI read this year, but with a wicked sense of humour, and heart and soul, too.
7. Nicole Atkins, “Party’s Over” (song) – Jersey girl Atkins’ CD-ending track (from her debut Neptune City) perfectly captures that end-of-the-night, let’s-get-the-hell-out-of-here feeling.
8. Castle Freeman Jr, Go With Me (novel) – A page-turner in the most page-turning sense, Freeman’s compact novel of retribution is true, funny, and suspense-filled. It’s also sparked by a fabulous sense of place and humour, as personified by a Greek chorus of good ol’ boys commenting on the action.
9. The Whigs, “Right Hand On My Heart” (song, performance) – The rest of the Whigs’ album, Mission Control, isn’t quite in the same league as this driving, striving, sweaty rocker. But at this year’s Bumbershoot, the Athens, GA trio owned the stage like The Who of yore. No wonder they’ve been pegged to open for the Kings of Leon.
10. Ian MacKaye (interview) – Twenty or so years after founding Fugazi and Dischord Records, McKay is still an oasis of integrity and smarts. His common-sense approach to music, business and life – explicated in an interview in The Believer (July/August 08) – is an inspiration to anyone who rejects the idea that you have to sell out to make a living. I wish I’d read this before I sold out.