The Zaw Towers Review of 2008

2008 was the culmination of the last couple of years of really rediscovering myself, the passions of music, football and other things I like, and best of all being able to gain some new friends, build on the old friendships and generally make the most of the time. To say that there were lots of highlights was an understatement, but I shall try and mention them all here. Like last year, it definitely has been a defining year and one that's culminated in me being in a very happy place indeed. So, let's go!

Best Single of 2008 - "Do The Indie Kid" - MJ Hibbett and the Validators
The only dilemma I had was which of their singles to nominate, as for different reasons, "It Only Works Because You're Here" is also a lovely song. However, I went for "Do The Indie Kid" as it really does explain all about dancing at indie discos in a nutshell. It has an infectiously catchy chorus together with a dance step that is really easy to follow, even features "the music of the future" and is just good old fashioned chugalong indie pop that leaves you feeling bright, breezy and altogether full of happiness. In other words, like all good indie pop songs should be but don't quite aspire to. The video is also great fun to watch, and if that wasn't enough, at the band's gigs, people were even doing the dance step!

Also recommended:
"Platform Zero EP"- Pete Green - Four great tracks on one seven inch vinyl single of goodness, including the utterly brilliant "Best Brittish Band Supported By Shockwaves" which slags off the NME about its rubbish awards and being rubbish in general. Oh, and "Happy Being Me" which mentions Pete in Morrissey-like mode. Hurrah for good old fashioned indie pop!
"That's Not My Name" - The Ting Tings - Somtimes good old pop is too good to ignore, and this was definitely a case in point. It has a great stop/start feel to it throughout punctuated with excellent percussion, and a chorus that is very very hard to get out of your head indeed. I have a feeling that next year will see them become even bigger than now.
"This World EP" - Donna Marie - A lovely six track collection of electric and acoustic in equal measure, with a rousing version of the live favourite "Goodtime Girl", an excellent title track highlighting the environmental issues, and the closer "Faraway" is so wonderfully breathy and emotional that it just makes me wonder why she isn't more noticed than she is currently.
"Pork And Beans" - Weezer - Catchy as hell, and even mentioning all the Internet phenomena in its video, it's sing a long a indie rock at its finest, and you can't help but yell out "I don't care" at the end of the second verse bridge to really go for it. It's all good fun, and get the CD if you can for an excellent Gary Numan cover on the b-side to boot.

Best Album of 2008 - "Ghosts I-IV" - Nine Inch Nails
If ever an album needed to be listened to in its entirety instead of just parts, this was it. It takes you on a journey across thirty six tracks of really deep meaning. Imagine the "Requiem For A Dream" soundtrack if you will, but a much more haunting and melodic and dark piece, and you're sort of there. It's hard to explain just why it works so well, only that it does. And then some. It's beautiful, it's tragic, and it even has the godlike genius of Adrian Belew on the guitar wielding his magic on there. The whole thing is stark yet comfortable, bitter yet sweet, moody and emotional and all at the same time. You need to take a listen to fully appreciate what's on there, but when you do, it's reward for your perseverance.

Also recommended:
"Third" - Portishead - In what's sure to be one that will divide the critics into the love and hate categories, I fall on the side of loving it. It's absolutely beautifully dark, with Beth Gibbons' voice sounding even more haunting. "The Rip" is the bit in the middle of all the darkness that sounds so melodically synth-light, but it's the hammering blows and punctuated percussion of "Machine Gun" that really makes you up and take notice of just how musically important this album was - it's just so dark!
"Letters From The Underground" - Levellers - After a few years of albums that weren't so good as their early classics, it was a complete surprise to hear the early singles off this one sounding so fresh but classic at the same time. Indeed, the album is a very welcome return to form on the band's own label, with the picking on the gun-toting Americans in "Burn America Burn" and the rockier "Eyes Wide" being highlights.
"Fall Among Thieves" - Baskery - A late entry, and indeed not out in the UK till 2009, but these three "banjo punk" Swedish sisters released an album full of verve, indie Country, wondefully delivered vocals and fast paced sounds mixed with more gentle numbers that take you on a real yee-hah stroll. Highlights have to be the singalong "Out-of-Towner" (check the slide guitars) and the fast speed of "Haunt You". See them in 2009!
"Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!" - Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Even at the ripe age of fifty, Cave proves that once again he can rock out with the best of them and still have that unique delivery and drawl. It's a progression from the Grinderman album, and no less for it. In terms of actual standouts, the title track starts things off well and "Night of the Lotus Eaters" has a great crunchy grinding dirty guitar feel that is very hard to escape also.

Best Concert of 2008 - 3 Daft Monkeys - Bury Met
I saw plenty of gigs in 2008 which definitely got me even more into the live bug. But, like many occasions, it's the smaller venues that really stick out as being ones that create a great atmosphere and 3 Daft Monkeys were up for the occasion. In a very small room, they presented almost two hours of feel good tracks with plenty of fiddle and get up and go, which soon had me bounding around the place with plenty of others like a mad loon. But also the band themselves seemed so happy and enjoying themselves too that it was very infectious indeed and effortlessly fun to be involved. They even put two seats at the side of the stage for two nine year old fans and sung Happy Birthday fiddle-style to one of them. Just how nice? Very. And I've still got the moment that everyone started bounding around to "Hubbadillia" in my head, and the sweat to prove it wasn't just a dream. Next time they tour - catch them!

Other Concerts I Enjoyed:
Swing Out Sister - Lowry Centre, Salford
- It was a welcome return to the home city of Manchester of one of the band and indeed where the band were formed too - in the Haçienda, no less, a point not lost on them. For almost two hours an intimate audience at the Quays theatre had plenty of the old and the new, mixing in parts from their album "Beautiful Mess" to the likes of "Am I The Same Girl?" (complete with audience dancing!), "Surrender" and of course, what I hoped for, the still bloody brilliant "Breakout". And I was front row, right in front of Corinne. How lucky was I?
Buck 65 - Roadhouse, Manchester - On Easter Sunday, the hip hop Canadian delivered a storming set which you couldn't resist grooving on down to. Ably having CR Avery as support warmed the crowd up nicely, and that was left for the Buckster to do plenty of stuff from the "Situation" album including the infectiously catchy "Dang" as well as old classics like "Indestructable Sam". Even in the tight confines of the Roadhouse, people were happily bounding and grooving along and the atmosphere was lovely.
MJ Hibbett "My Exciting Life in Rock" - The Cross Kings, London - Well worth the trip down to see a previerw of what was to be his show at the Edinburgh festival this year, it was the story of various instances of MJ's life in the world of indie rock, and the songs that he wrote that helped shape the life in rock, including favourites such as "Easily Impressed", "Do The Indie Kid", "The Lesson of the Smiths" and numerous others, which all made sense when "It Only Works Because You're Here" was the lead track of the EP of songs from the show. Aha!
Gary Numan - Manchester Academy 1 (March) - Numan played the Academy 1 twice this year, and I went both times. What edged it though, despite my friend and I not always having the best view, was ths one, it was his 50th birthday on the night of the gig and the Academy 1 was packed to the rafters to see Numan do plenty of tracks from his "Replicas" album (in fact all of it and B-sides) and then also thrash out some of his other classics at the same time. It was a time for celebration of his work and respect for his dark Industrial sound that many others try to emulate but fail to match.

Best Theatre Show of 2008 - Kristin Hersh, Paradoxical Undressing, South Bank Centre, London
A new category for this year, and a deserved one. I couldn't classify Kristin's show as a gig, as it was mostly spoken word readings from her forthcoming book "Paradoxical Undressing" set to some sparse acoustic instrumental music Kristin herself had written, with the occasional move into some really emotional pieces from her back catalogue. It was a truly gut wrenching emotional moment that had many of the diehard fans including myself close to tears, such was her power of emotions and movement and music all put together in one package that was very hard to resist but even harder to let go of. Spine-tingling doesn't even come close.

Best Film of 2008 - Kung Fu Panda
Being the sucker for animation that I so obviously am, it was hard to resist this story of an overweight panda being seen as "The Chosen One" and the stuff of legend to eradicate an old warrior whom had escaped from prison. It in parts was a little predictable, but all good natured fun nonetheless and certainly brought many a chuckle to me, which is why I enjoyed it so much. Jack Black excels as the voice of Po the Panda, whilst there's more than ample voice duties done by Dustin Hoffman as the wise master Shifu, Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan and Lucy Liu, all giving their characters plenty of individuality. It's up for an Oscar for Best Animated Feature, and deservedly so in my book.

Best DVD of 2008 - Control
What was my favourite film last year translated very well to the DVD medium. The transfer for the film itself was stunning and the black and white imagery comes across very well on screen, reflecting well on the content. The etxras include the likes of the commentary from the directors, the extended versions of some of the songs that the actors who played Joy Division performing live, and heaps more interesting stuff. The way that the whole package was laid out was just inviting you to watch and it's certainly a must have if you can get hold of a copy. In short, simply stunning and yet stunningly simple.

Best TV Programme of 2008 - Louis Theroux: Law and Disorder
When Theroux is at his investigative best, he really does manage to connect with those around him and manage effortlessly to not be biased against anyone and try and see things objectively. In two programmes, he visits Philadelphia and Johannesburg and gets to the inner heart of some of the most lawless places in the world, having empathy with those that live there and coming to terms with why some criminals do what they do in equal measure. The savagery of the guerilla "security services in Johannesburg and the way that they would beat people up made you stand up and take notice that this is the real thing and not sensationalised media - and Theroux deserves an award for his objectivity.

Best Sporting Moment of 2008 - The Olympic Cycling Team's Gold Medals
The Olympics were the best by Britain in over 100 years, and that gave us all something to be mightily proud of, but it was in a lot of the smaller sports that we truly excelled. One such effort was the cycling team, who really showed their intentions at the World Championships in Manchester where they swept the rest apart. In Beijing, it went to the next level. Not only did it start off with Nicole Cooke's road race win, but the track athletes did their bit with gold after gold and world record after world record. They showed such togetherness as a team and their accolades speak volumes showing just how Olympic preparation should be done. And they all train here in Manchester which makes me proud that our city is the breeding ground for such talent - well done one and all!

Best male personality of 2008 - Chris Hoy
In all the accolades given to the British Cycling Team, it would be hard to pick one winner out, but Chris didn't win BBC Sports Personality ahead of Lewis Hamilton no less, for nothing. Chris absolutely blazed the trail out there in Beijing, and this despite his speciality event, the 1K time trial, being eliminated from the Olympic schedule. He instead just concentrated on the others he could possibly have a good go at and won them all, the kierin, the team sprint, and then the individual sprint. In fact Chris said that his hardest race was the sprint final against another British cyclist, showing the strength in depth. He's bloody fast and works so hard at his sport, and is an example to us all as to what you can achieve if you really try.

Best female personality of 2008 - Rebecca Adlington
Another Olympian here, and deservedly so too. British swimming wasn't exactly doing so well at the recent Olympics, but in the women's 400 metres freestyle all that changed. Rebecca along with team mate Jo Jackson timed their final fifty metres to perfection, with Rebecca beating Katie Hoff of the USA and Jo finishing third. It was spine tingling stuff and the way the commentators went mental showed just how much of a surprise it was, as her strongest event is the 800 free. She cruised to win the gold in that one, and not just that, but broke the longest standing world record in swimming, last set when she was six months old. Oh, she didn't just beat it. She obliterated it. And no wonder her team mate Cassie Patten said "If the Queen is watching.. Dame Rebecca Adlington". Says it all.

Personal moment of 2008 - Falling In Love
One of the things I definitely didn't expect to happen was to fall in love. I have had so many nice things happen, plenty of nice gigs, lovely moments with friends, making new friends (especially those in the Manchester UK Flickr group) and all that, but I knew that what was missing was soemone to adore and love and someone to love me. When I least expected it, it happened, and I can't even begin to tell you how good that feels. My memories of one Summer evening and meeting The Purple One In My Roses Jar was one of happiness and excitement. The gaze into the eyes and the fact I didn't want to go home at the end of the night said it all from me - and it's gone from there. I know how I feel and I also know that the most important thing is to maintain and develop things all for the future - and if the future includes her, then that will make me very happy to say the least. You know how you are, and you know I love you :)