Getting 'Touchy' in 2008

Forget naughty and nice. The real lists to consider in December come from music fans. After sorting through hundreds (thousands? kabillions?) of CDs and MP3s, every media outlet from the biggies to the bloggers puts pop culture through the same end-of-year filter. This week we're putting our stamp on the music that moved us most. We have a whole host of lists to peruse at blogs.sfweekly.com.shookdown.

The Alps, III
We've been in a downward news spiral for months now: the political scandals, the recession, the fact that the anti-Bush Iraqi shoe-thrower had such poor aim. It's trying moments like these that call for local trio the Alps. Their music flows toward you in gentle cascades of cozy analog drones, celestial harps, and peaceful piano melodies. Think Pink Floyd; think Krautrock; think Six Organs of Admittance; then stop thinking and start exploring the Alps' many peaks.

Bon Iver, For Emma, Forever Ago
Justin Vernon's band Bon Iver stirred up a lot of noise in 2008 for being such a quiet project. His folksy, romantic tunes use minimal instrumentation for maximum emotional impact. The centerpiece of these songs is his voice, which carries a deep ache when his words get anxious, but more often hangs in a soft hush, delicately building momentum.

Crystal Stilts, Alight of Night
Just because this Brooklyn act's pulse skips a couple of beats along the way doesn't mean the music is comatose. The moaning vocals and hazy, shoegazy melodies make this grower of an album the perfect wintry soundtrack.

Davila 666, Davila 666
I don't know what these Puerto Ricans are hootin' 'n' howlin' about (the whole record is in Spanish) but they're sure fluent in the universal language of garagey party punk. Very much the brethren of the Black Lips, Davila 666 sounds wild, wound-up, and woolly. I love this record like a fat punk loves Pabst.

The Dodos, Visiter
Was there a music festival on the planet that didn't invite the Dodos to perform? The local indie act was on many a concert lineup in 2008 after moving from duo to trio and releasing its best record yet. Visiter courts folksy nostalgia and ladies named Ashley with ebullient guitar lines and creative percussionists who just can't keep their hands still.

Ecstatic Sunshine, Way
Head this Way for minimalist post-rock experiments with warm electronic and acoustic tones. Ecstatic Sunshine's nimble melodies prick with the purposeful electricity of pins and needles. Call it the instrumental superhighway you never want to exit.

Fleet Foxes, Fleet Foxes
When it comes to Fleet Foxes, it's all about the harmonies. Sure, plenty of other bands are trying to do something similar (the Parson Redheads, Band of Horses), but these Seattleites find that five-part sweet spot that ensures all their songs soar.

Little Joy, Little Joy
Little Joy is like the Strokes — if that band traded Manhattan cynicism for Laurel Canyon sunshine. The trio contains only one actual Stroke (drummer Fab Moretti) but keeps a slight distortion on the vocals while building a bridge between jangle pop and whimsical Devendra Banhart territory.

Luie Luie, Touchy
Luie Luie is a one-in-a-billion hombre, saved from obscurity by local label Companion Records. Self-recorded in 1974, Touchy is the sonic philosophy of a man who believed drugs were preventing people from really touching one another. So this is his psychedelic Latin-jazz treatise on loving one another, complete with instructions on where to grab your partner, stories about his mother's tortillas, and an unflinching, oddball optimism that's impossible to shake.

Magnetic Fields, Distortion
Stephin Merritt had me at "Too Drunk to Dream" ("Sober, life is a prison/Shitfaced, it is a blessing"), but the Magnetic Field's sardonic frontman has droll one-liners to spare with Distortion. To wit: the "California Girls" refrain of hating Golden State ladies and "Mr. Mistletoe's" wallowing plea: "Oh Mr. Mistletoe, wither and die, you useless weed, for no one have I." And yet, even with all that rhyming misanthropy, Merritt remains a lover, albeit one who wears a very sarcastic heart on his sleeve.

More favorites: Tussle's Cream Cuts; The Oh Sees' The Master's Bedroom Is Worth Spending a Night In; The Notwist's The Devil, You + Me; The Traditional Fools' The Traditional Fools; Jay Reatard's Matador Singles '08; The Dutchess and the Duke's She's the Dutchess, He's the Duke; King Khan and the Shrines' The Supreme Genius of King Khan and the Shrines.

Keep an eye out in '09 for: Girls. The San Francisco band's "Lust for Life" 7-inch was my summer anthem in '08. Despite its name, the single isn't an Iggy Pop cover, but rather a lo-fi power-pop fantasy of what would make for an ideal afternoon (a boyfriend, a suntan, a pizza, a bottle of wine). Live, the band alternately sounds like Teenage Fanclub and My Bloody Valentine, going from noisy guitar squalls to radiant pop hooks with a flip of the setlist.

 
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