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Arts and Entertainment

Kenneth Pattengale's Top Ten of 2008

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Photo via Kenneth Pattengale's Myspace

December is was list-making season. And for us music journalists, it is a time to look back on scores of albums, reflect upon the music and recapitulate our favorites. But this year, just like the last, we took this opportunity to flip that tradition upside down, asking the artists that influenced us what influenced them. The prompt was not limited to albums that came out in 2008.

When asked to contribute -as an LA based artist- to LAist's top-ten-albums-of-o'-eight-end-of-the-year wrap-up I thought to myself, "oh boy, I don't listen to enough new music to tackle this adequately." My listening habits are most akin to a middle-schooler's lunch: the same every day and most often consumed past prime.

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So instead I offer here a list of what I listened to this past year. Many of these folks are compadres, others heroes. We might find ourselves back in '06 and never much further than a five mile radius from my current dwelling but, rest assured, everyone here is active. All hard at work writing music that inspires and informs.

My list is decidedly LA. It might come in most handy for those looking for a pick me up 'round these parts.

Kenneth Pattengale - "Charlie"

Kenneth Pattengale's Top Nine Plus One Plus One Albums/Acts/Songs/ I dunno of 2008

Bonus track
Cowboy Church Sunday School - "Open Up Yout Heart (And Let the Sunshine In)"

Just listen. Special thanks to Jason Savvy for the illumination.

Xx. Matt Taylor & His Laurels
The Fight (EP)
http://www.myspace.com/hislaurels

Having produced this little EP requires a full disclosure on my part that this opinion may carry a bias (hence sans numerical marking.) These guys spent a week in my home studio this past summer breathing the same wretched air as I with pen put to paper, coffee put to grinder. It's short, sweet, well-rounded and real. Looking forward to seeing Matt and company play live more this coming year.

9. Oren Lavie
The Opposite Side of the Sea
http://www.myspace.com/orenlavie

Perhaps more time spent behind the board has lead to a personal easement regarding pop music (the misleading simplicity of a rock-solid hook.) The wurlitzer from beat one governs a healthy listen to this entire collection. I, too, mislead in characterizing the record as pop. Instead, it sits somewhere between Nick Drake and Danny Elfman where they play it straight (Drake always plays it straight, I guess.) The injected light heartedness -though often staid- lifts Opposite Side somewhere near the pop realm. Also, Oren just started performing live in Los Angeles. Cool.

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Recommended Song - "Her Morning Elegance"

8. His Orchestra
they tell me a new album in '09 - their first
http://www.myspace.com/hisorchestramusic

They all look so damn whimsical on stage. Don't let the stage fool you. This sextet doesn't put on the show, they are the show. With each performance I think they lose their collective weight in water (except Whitney who doesn't weigh much or move much.) Now this is pop music. Not because I know what that is but because I don't know what else to call it. Just sounds like it should be pop music. There are some traces of Peter Gabriel somewhere in there, lots of robot sounds, and a dynamic-duo of a string section that somehow play their instruments amid extended bouts of convulsion. The two leaders Raviv & Doug hold down their responsibility quite well. Dress in your favorite hipster garb (or just wear old man clothes like me) and wander down to a show.

Recommended Song - "Black Coffin"

7. Foxtails Brigade
again, they tell me a new album in '09 - their first proper
http://www.myspace.com/lauraweinbach

I first met Laura after she played the slot before me at Bordello in May. We later stayed in her violinist Sivan's Oakland victorian while playing shows up north. During a much needed reprieve from my band's nonsense I sat on the staircase listening to the two rehearse behind a half-closed door what sounded like two sirens singing gypsy music. Delicate & gripping. A lesson in drama & charm. While I would love nothing more than to play with, sing with or produce the pair I fear I wouldn't be up to the task.

Recommended Song - "The Hours"

6. Liz Pappademas
"11 Songs"
http://www.myspace.com/lizpappademas

When trying (unsuccessfully) to book a concert on the same bill as Liz, the promoter for the venue noted that she's one of the best songwriters in Los Angeles. 11 songs is proof. Coming from San Francisco (via Boston and Austin) it's our fortune to find Liz now in our midst. A warning: with exceptional performance, production and engineering this record is a suitable alternative only should Liz not come close enough to play live for you. Her voice, never at fault, is impeccable in concert. Her performances hypnotizing. I wrote long ago that, in my life, her songs exist in the same place as those of Gillian Welch, Cat Power and Jolie Holland. A year later my thoughts remain the same.

Recommended Song - "Soldier's Girls"

5. Chris Smither
"Leave the Light On"
http://www.myspace.com/chrissmither

Chris Smither is an artist who upon hearing the first time made me realize that the songs I've spent years trying to write have already been written. If you're not on the east coast, Chris will come to your town once a year at most. The venue is always full, stuffed to the gills with supporters near and far only expecting one thing: Chris. There's no pretense in his songs, his playing or his performance. Just that guitar, that voice and that foot.

Recommended Song - "Origin of Species"

4. Cat Hair Ensemble
"East of Western"
http://www.myspace.com/cathairensemble

I've been fortunate to sit in on resonator with Cat Hair a few times (including a good story about opening for The Tiger Lillies.) And though he might take issue with the label, I like to think of band leader Roderick Cumming as an author of pirate music. He's assembled quite the cast of characters around him: a dizzying horn section, gypsy drums & guitar, a laconic pedal-steeler and a bear of an upright player who is at once the nicest person you'll ever meet and the one who'll scare you to death with his mad finger antics. Roderick shuffles through guitars, banjos and accordions- trading the conductor's baton for ordered chaos.

Recommended Song - "This Year I'm Using a Knife"

3. Erich Von Kneip
"A Collection of Abject Musings"
http://www.myspace.com/erichvonkneip

Yet another writer who seems to command his band before they've ever been assembled. This is vintage thirties european jazz with a lyrical bent towards the macabre. The rub is that Erich will sing his way right into that empty chest cavity where your heart used to be. I sat in on accordion with the band last month. When it was finally determined that the amplification system was being manned by monkeys (or monkeyed by man) Erich asked us to cut the cords, descend the bandstand and just play the old-fashioned way. I'm quite sure it was a rare treat for our audience to partake in the old-fashioned way. I sure was.

Recommended Song - "A Melody of Longing"

2. Killsonic
album? what?
http://www.myspace.com/killsonic

Killsonic Marching Gang is a collective of working class musicians (mostly from the east side of Los Angeles here) who won't hesitate to take over an MTA bus or march through closing time traffic jams. They boast an impressive number of horns, percussionists, accordions (seven deep at last count) and will blow your mind grapes over and over and over. Any given show renders from 15 to upwards of 30 members. I don't know if they have plans of recording a CD, though, I probably wouldn't recommend it anyway (make a hefty cash donation instead and GO SEE THEM LIVE!) The beauty of this group is being a part of their live show. You can't help but get swept away thinking that you are a part of the group. In fact, so long as you march aside them you are a part of them. The list below is an inventory of different acts whose members comprise Killsonic (the most thorough I could be, anyway.) What a group.

• Mooey Moobau ( myspace.com/mooeymoobau )
• Dorian Wood ( myspace.com/dorianwood )
• Cat Hair Ensemble ( myspace.com/cathairensemble )
• Liz Pappademas ( myspace.com/lizpappademas )
• Master Slave ( myspace.com/masterslave )
• Red Maids ( myspace.com/redmaids )
• Soul Conference ( myspace.com/soulconference )

Recommended Song - Well Well Well

1. Joe Henry
"Civilians"
http://www.joehenrylovesyoumadly.com/

Nevermind that he penned and performed my favorite record of the year (okey, so it came out in '07), Joe Henry has perhaps taken the crown as producer of the new millennium. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone else who has not only been the brains behind so many great albums in the last ten years, but has left indelible marking upon them. I'd usually say that a good producer would be one you could never guess produced the very albums you listen to and love, or a guy like T-Bone who can be traced by themes throughout his production work but doesn't necessarily fuel an instantly recognizable sound. Joe rewrites these rules. It starts with Solomon Burke's Don't Give Up on Me in 2001 and continues through Rodney Crowell's Sex and Gasoline this year. Along with Henry's own albums, the road is sprinkled by wonderful recordings from Loudon Wainwright III, Betty Lavette, Mary Gauthier, a laundry list of tracks from old soul artists (think Mavis Staples and Allen Tousaint), Ani Difranco, on and on and on...

Joe manages to find himself working (he would probably take issue with the passivity there) in service of artists that bring something exceptional to the table: an absolute artistic voice. That might be the one neccessary element that allows Joe to do what he does. A master of sonic minimalism (listen to Betty Lavette's Just Say So), Joe seemingly has the ability to take an artist and strip them down to only the essentials. In the aforementioned case he doesn't bring back much. When he does it's from a musical arsenal that play like the '27 Yankees. Jay Bellerose, Dave Piltch, Patrick Warren and Greg Leisz are the mainstays. If you dig deeper you'll find superstars and no-names alike, never anything that really matters when put into context. It's what Joe strips an artist down to that he holds up again high for us all to hear.

I know a hairstylist who has it under good authority that Ramblin' Jack Elliot just finished recording an album in Joe's basement. How is that for cool?

Recommended Song - "You Can't Fail Me Know"