As December gets underway, so does the season for year-end best-of list-making in the worlds of music, movies, books, games, and just about every other type of media out there. One particularly rich list is the voluminous collection of album and local live show picks from B-Side Records, which released its 2008 edition on Monday.
Marking its 26th year in business this fall, the venerable record shop located on the 400 block of State Street has been publishing a year-end best-of list since 1991. Presented as a four-page zine, the list pulls together a massive collection of album selections by current and former staff at B-Side, who are solicited to share their picks every late November by co-owner Steve Manley.
The B-Side Best of the Year 2008 is as large as ever, jam-packing hundreds of albums with an emphasis on the sounds of indie rock and pop into lists printed in five-point type and smaller. Seven current and a dozen former staff at the shop shared their selections this year, as does a special guest, one of whom is invited to contribute every year. A trio of staffers -- Manley, and local musicians Alex Fulton and Peter Kaesberg -- also list a wealth of shows gracing Madison stages over the year.
"It's up to the individual as to what to put in there," says Manley, who himself listed more than 120 albums and shows. "I really don't have strict guidelines at all."
Like previous years, there were several Madison-based musicians and bands selected by contributors. The self-titled debut by The Runners-Up and a reissue of the 1984 album SFB by Appliances-SFB both got a pair of picks, while See the River Rise by Sunshine for the Blind, Sooner Late Than Never by Whatfor, the double 7" by The Midwest Beat, Return to Mayaquez by Vid Libert, Until Lions Have Their Historians, Tales of the Hunt Shall Always Glorify The Hunter by United Sons of Toil, Making Love with the Shabelles by The Shabelles, the Hotness for the People EP by The Arge, and Magnus by the Tim Whalen Nonet also received nods, as did the 2007 release El Topo by El Valiente.
"My favorite local album was by The Runners-Up," says Manley, who notes that the band's members (which includes B-Side employee Fulton and Isthmus Guide Editor Bob Koch) are friends. "That type of music is just up my alley, with the garage-pop vibe that I enjoy. It's probably the local disc that I played more than any other this year."
Manley also counted the debut album by Whatfor among his selections. "I thought this was pretty creative," he notes. "The band created well-crafted pop tunes, and the album stood out as a local release different from any other I heard this year."
The B-Side best of list culminates with a compilation of those releases that received multiple picks from contributors. Though this wasn't the case in 2007 when there was an 11-way tie for the top spot, there are usually a handful of albums that stand out as clear favorites. "I think the list speaks for itself this year," declares Manley.
The marquee honors in 2008 go to the self-titled debut by Fleet Foxes, the harmonizing pop quintet from Seattle that put on a much-heralded performance on the Memorial Union Terrace back in July. Taking the next spot is the debut by Bon Iver, the acclaimed folk project from Eau Claire singer-songwriter Justin Vernon that's playing a hotly-anticipated show at the Barrymore Theatre on December 19. More than three-dozen more albums make this aggregate cut, defined as the collective "Harmonic Opinions" of the B-Side staff and alumni.
This compilation follows:
Fleet Foxes -- Fleet Foxes
Bon Iver -- For Emma, Forever Ago
Beck -- Modern Guilt
The Black Keys -- Attack And Release
Dead Meadow -- Old Growth
Stephen Malkmus And The Jicks -- Real Emotional Trash
Bonnie "Prince" Billy -- Lie Down In The Light
Cat Power -- Jukebox
Flight of the Conchords -- Flight of the Conchords
The Black Angels -- Directions To See A Ghost
Blitzen Trapper -- Furr
Calexico -- Carried To Dust
Dungen -- 4
Alejandro Escovedo -- Real Animal
Jenny Lewis -- Acid Tongue
James McMurtry -- Just Us Kids
She & Him -- Volume One
TV on the Radio -- Dear Science
Lucinda Williams -- Little Honey
Eef Barzelay -- Lose Big
Black Mountain -- In The Future
Sera Cahoone -- Only As The Day Is Long
Deerhunter -- Microcastle
The Dials -- Amoeba Amore
Dr. Dog -- Fate
Drive-By Truckers -- Brighter Than Creation's Dark
Duffy -- Rockferry
Felice Brothers -- Felice Brothers
The Hold Steady -- Stay Positive
The Kills -- Midnight Boom
The Notwist -- The Devil, You + Me
Jennifer O'Connor -- Here With Me
Okkervil River -- The Stand Ins
Portishead -- Third
The Pretenders -- Break Up The Concrete
Sun Kil Moon -- April
Thao With The Get Down Stay Down -- We Brave Bee Stings And All
The Walkmen -- You & Me
Paul Weller -- 22 Dreams
David Bowie (reissues)
Creedence Clearwater Revival (reissues)
As always, the list closes with a disclaimer that it simply represents employees' personal opinions, along with a salutation from the shop. "Although we could 'vote' for as many discs as we wanted, we did not discuss our voting intentions, so as not to influence each other any more than we already do," it reads. "Speaking of voting, we wish to thank those who again voted B-Side 'Madison's Favorite' Record Store in several surveys this year. As we cautiously tiptoe into 2009, we would be remiss not to extend a huge thank you to all our customers, friends, and well-wishers for allowing B-Side to be your music provider... we do not take you for granted!"
Given the ongoing recession, coupled with the long term woes faced by music retailers, next year is looking a little scary, notes Manley. "It's a precarious situation, and it goes all the way up to the gigantic corporations, as you know," he says. "I think we're going to be around for a little while longer, but I don't think anyone is feeling super confident in the retail world."
Like the rest of us, Manley is hoping for better economic climes in 2009, and thanks customers for continuing patronize at B-Side in their quest for music. For persons looking for some of this year's best, at least as determined by one of the few remaining independent record shops in Madison, this list is a great resource. So, too, are previous editions, with complete lists for the last five years are provided online by the shop. Copies of the B-Side Best of the Year 2008 will be available free to all at the front counter of the shop through the rest of the month and on into January.