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White Hinterland's Top Ten of 2008

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Photo by Tod Seelie via White Hinterland's Myspace

December is 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.

White Hinterland

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I can't say I'm very good at these top-ten lists. I don't listen to much that's been released currently—I haven't had very much time this year to keep tabs on other bands, unless they're friends of mine. The other part of it is that usually, during a touring year, I don't listen to a lot of music. When I'm at home or in the car, I really value having a little bit of peace and quiet.

That said, here's a list of musicians or records I've been listening to a lot this year. Although some of them aren't "new," that should only underline their timelessness if nothing else.

White Hinterland - "Dreaming Of The Plum Trees"

In no particular order:

1. Bon Iver- For Emma, Forever Ago
This record snuck up on me, and has now nestled itself into my heavy-rotation set. I hadn't heard much of Justin's music until we went out on tour with them, and every night was a real joy to get to sit stageside and listen to these songs over and over. I think this record rewards multiple listens, and it's my favorite "current" record I've heard in a long time. Listening to it reminds me of warm memories with my friends. I'm really happy with all that's happened for them this year, they work so hard and really deserve everything that's given to them.

2. Steve Martin- A Wild And Crazy Guy
Ok, it's not a current record--it's also not really a record of songs, per se. Do comedy albums count? No matter. I love this record, and hadn't listened to it in years and pulled it out recently. It's amazing, and sends me in stitches every time. Steve Martin's wit is so razor sharp, he is one of the few in my book who deserves to be lauded as a genius.

3. Camarata Contemporary Chamber Group - The Velvet Gentleman: The Music of Erik Satie
I think somewhere around April of this year, I decided I was most interested in listening to instrumental music. It relaxes me. Erik Satie is a long-standing favorite of mine, and this record I found in a dingy shop in Portland, ME for $3. It has a lot of the old hits: Trois Gymnopedies, Les Nocturnes, Peccadille Importunes, etc. But what makes this record stand out from the rest is that the camarata orchestrated some of the pieces for Moog. When I first heard it, I thought I was dreaming. Good if you like your Satie extra-trippy.

4. High Places -
This is a current band, and possibly the best that I've seen also in a live-setting this year. I don't actually own their album--and have only heard them in the context of friends' I-pods. But each time I hear it I kick myself for not having gone out to the record store already--I'm a slow-consumer, I guess. The music they make feels very otherworldly, and sounds a bit like being in utero on psychedelics, warm & anointed with stardust. I love how oblivious to the audience they seem onstage--they both look so completely lost in the music. We saw them at SXSW playing with Ponytail (another favorite band we've gotten to see this year), and they were very sweetly electrifying.

5. Alexis Gideon -Video Musics
Alexis's record is actually only available on DVD, for it is a fully animated rap opera. The plot is based on a traditional Hungarian folk-tale. Technically it won't even be out until next year. Whatever, I've had these videos on repeat for the entire year--"Brimstone Blain" is a classic. Good for those Dan Deacon fans out there--sounds and looks like a giddy neon sugar high to me.

6. Tune-Yards - Bird Brains
Merrill is a friend of mine (notice the heavy hand nepotism plays in my year-end list?), and we've had the lucky pleasure of playing with her a few times, both as Tune Yards and with her other band, Sister Suvi. The last was in Montreal, where she lives. Like the record, the live setting is layered and on fire with loops, distorted ukelele, and crunked out percussion. I wish in my heart of hearts I could sing the way she does, if there was any other voice in the whole wide world I could have....She has such unbridled power in her voice, this solid command and presence on stage. She is an amazing force of nature and I love her!

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7. Carlo Gesualdo- Madrigaux (Performed by Les Arts Florissants with William Christie)
If you haven't seen Werner Herzog's film Death For Five Voices, stop what you're doing and go rent it. It will clue you in to the particulars of his turbulent and violent life. But if you're anything like me, you need only get yourself a copy of his Madrigals and listen to the incredibly ahead-of-its-time chromaticism. These madrigals are stunning, and not just because they derived themselves from a mad-man.

8. Sandro Perri - Tiny Mirrors
I think that Sandro Perri's songs are some of the most ephemeral things I've listened to in a long while. I like how impossible they are to pin down. One minute, you think you're listening to some long lost Arthur Russel track, and the next it's like the beachy track on a well-worn mix tape. They feel very ephemeral, and the arrangements are often quite surprising.

9. Extra Life
This is more of an overall artist pick. They had a record that came out this year. This one song of theirs, "The Refrain," has been lodged in my head since I heard them play it in Portland over the summer. Charlie's way of singing is my favorite kind of singing--very elastic, inventive, quite evocative of 15th century motets (there's some vestiges of hocket going on in there, which is jarring to hear, at first), and yet very thoroughly modern.

10. "Hot Burrito #1" by Gram Parsons
This is my favorite Gram Parsons song of all time--isn't it everyone's? I was about to list a Flying Burrito Brothers record, but decided to get straight to the point. While on tour in Europe this past October, we listened to the Avalon Ballroom '69 concert every single day. This song is so absolutely devastating, no matter how it is played, and it breaks my heart every single time I hear it.

xox.casey of WH
This last year Casey Dienel made her way into our hearts her bold jazz-pop outfit White Hinterland.