Yes, it’s all subjective and we know that.
Yes, it’s impossible to give a fair assessment of all the music released in some form in 2008, because collectively as a group of music lovers and writers we certainly haven’t listened to 1/1000th of the new music that came out in 2008.
And yes, we know that there are nearly as many year-end lists of the best new music as there was new music in 2008, and like the past two years, we’ve still been working on ours well after all the other blogs and sites have offered theirs (and probably by this time you’re already sick of these lists anyway).
But hey, we like this kind of thing, so why not again offer our Year-End Lists of our favorite music with mp3s and videos and stuff like that? Just because you may not read them doesn’t mean we can’t have fun writing them. What follows for the next few days will be lists from our multiple contributors in their own idioms and with their own styles and et cetera.
Enjoy. Or don’t. Whatever. At least we’re having fun.
I’ll start it off.
Day One: Scotter’s Lists
I’m pretty sure this one is on a lot of lists this year, and deservingly so. As I wrote in a previous post, the best writing on this album that I’ve read is at Fone Culture, so check it out.
Kanye wrote a break-up album in the mode in which such albums should be written: soul. You don’t rap about heartbreak–you sing it! And even though Kanye has gotten some ribbing for singing through an Auto-Tune, I think it’s perfectly normal to need a crutch here and there in order to create (or re-create, or re-build) after a profound personal injury. Even those who may not like this album must admit that it took a lot of courage on Kanye’s part to write and release it. That courage, and Kanye’s spirit, is emotionally palpable as these songs radiate out of your speakers or headphones.
But the more I listen to the album, the more I think that maybe the Auto-Tune is not so much a crutch for Kanye, as it is a layer of protection for us. Perhaps without the artificiality of the Auto-Tune, the feeling issuing forth from these songs would be too much for us to bare or understand.
9. of Montreal – Skeletal Lamping (buy)
I don’t think I’ll ever understand Kevin Barnes because, frankly, he seems to have a very special kind of mind that is rare in human beings. Jeff Milo at DeepCutz tries, but frankly, Milo’s writing here is kind of beyond me as well. I’d rather not try to feel and understand the anguish and emotional distraught that would cause Barnes to create and transform himself into this Georgie Fruit character. I’m no Freud (who, I suspect, would have been overjoyed at the prospects of taking apart the line “You’re the only one with whom I would role play Oedipus Rex”), but I know that parts of some of these songs are enough to make it listenable over and over and over again. I’ve heard the word “schizophrenic” used a lot to describe this album, and it’s true. Each song is similar to an episode of The Family Guy: they start out with one theme that you think will be carried out through the entirely, but then shift to a completely different storyline or theme, only to switch again to something completely different toward the end. And just like The Family Guy, you sit there entranced through every oddball turn and unexpected twist.
is not a masterpiece like Hissing Fauna, are you the Destroyer? was (my number one album last year!), but an album like Skeletal Lamping is such a deviation and weird offering in the annuls of Indie music that it’s too soon to really be able to assess it. Barnes created something very different here, and the best we can do is enjoy the irresistible hooks that occur every other song and keep listening and learning to figure out how good this thing actually is.
8. Foals – Antidotes (buy)
I couldn’t jog to this album. You’d think it would be ideal jogging music, in a way. Dance drumming, chanting vocals, slow-building layerings of sound with steady cadences–the ingredients of a good workout soundtrack all there. But the rhythms and build-ups are more intricate than you would think. It’s always easier to work out to steady, less-complicated music that you don’t have to think about too much. And on a surface level, Foals’ Antidotes seems that way. But there’s a lot going on here, both lyrically (in the sense that the repeated chants and lines are doing a lot by not trying to do too much) and the music, which subtly changes from song to song so as to make each subsequent song unique and interesting while maintaining a consistency that holds the collection of songs together.
I was lucky enough to see Foals live at a small Detroit venue in the spring, and it was undoubtedly one of the best concerts of the year for me. This album is not getting the credit it deserves. The song “Cassius” itself is enough to make anyone a believer.
7. Beck – Modern Guilt (buy)
OK, I can’t believe I’m going to talk about jogging again in order to say something about Beck’s Modern Guilt. I’ve officially lost all of my cool points now, and I’m pretty sure I’ll be shunned by Parliament-smoking hipsters all over Detroit (as if I’m not already). Ah, the days of once being a Parliament-smoking hipster myself! Now I’m getting a bit older, getting a little bit of pepper in my hair, and am visibly not one of the cool, young, and reckless types going to shows these days. Is this getting close to actual modern guilt? After listening to this album about 60 times, I couldn’t get much closer to what modern guilt really is, but perhaps its having followed Beck through his fourteen-year career and finding myself not dancing to, nor smoking to, nor drinking to, nor flirting with girls to, but jogging to the new Beck album! And perhaps Beck would say “hey, cool man” to my confession (should I ever meet him) that “I really like to jog to your new album!”
Oh, aging hipsters the world over! We grew up in a time when the word “hipster” wasn’t used to deride, but as a badge of honor. We had all the new music that no one else knew about. We honestly liked Barry Manilow before it was cool to like such uncool musicians. And now, we go jogging!. Beck makes a spectacular and spooky 60′s throwback album, his best (in my opinion) since Sea Change, and we jog to it! Some of us (read: me) listen to “Profanity Prayers” on repeat when jogging. Hell, most year-end lists I’ve read don’t even include this album! But hipsters of 30 and over, let us revel in our arch-hero’s continued longevity. For as long as he stays cool, so do we.
6. Mason Proper – Olly Oxen Free (buy)
This is the point in my Top Ten list where the distinction between “best” and “favorite” must necessarily break down. I think this is the best album of the year. Like I said earlier, I listened to a small percentage of all of the new music that came out this year, but of everything I listened to, I was most impressed, as far as quality of songs and performance, with Olly Oxen Free than any other album. This is Mason Proper’s second proper full-length album, and I really think that they have the talent to be one of the best bands in the country. The music they will be creating over the next few years will be astounding. And the only reason that Olly Oxen Free rests at numero six is that I fell in love in a more intense way with the next five albums on a personal level, although Mason Proper certainly was no slouch on my emotions and tastes in 08.
Up until this morning, I had this album as my number one, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that while I like this album a whole hell of a lot, I had it at number one solely on the strength of “In the New Year.” Not to say that the other songs aren’t excellent (I’m also particularly taken with “Canadian Girl”), but “In the New Year” is the kind of song that can completely change your opinion about a band, as it did for me. My other Walkmen experiences had been ghastly. I didn’t really get it, I suppose, and the one time I saw them in concert, I thought they were terrible (and others with me that night agreed, while others not with me thought I was crazy for thinking so. Thus, I peg it as a bad night for either them or me or both). But I’m a believer now, and will be spending the first few months of 09 listening to everything Walkmen before You & Me.
This album delivered all year long. I listened to it in my car. I listened to it at work. I listened to it at home. I listened to it waiting in line. I listened to it on a plane. I listened to it on a bus. I listened to it with my girlfriend. I listened to it grieving over the loss of that girlfriend, now gone from my life. I listened to it in the morning, afternoon, and night. It put me to bed several nights, the only thing not Mozart that I fell asleep to this year. I listened to it intently. I let it play in the background while reading. I listened to it while walking through art museums. I listened to it while staring into a Rothko. I listened to it in the spring, the summer, the fall, and the winter. I whistled along. I sang along. I played some of the guitar parts along. I want to give this album to people the way that some give copies of In an Aeroplane Over the Sea to potential love interests, to show her that you’re a sensitive guy, or as a test to see if this prospective love interest is passionate and feeling enough to be a potential mate. If there was one album this year that I wish was food, it would be this one. If there was one album this year that I wish was clothing, it would be this one. If there was one album this year that I wish was drugs, it would be this one.
Yoni Wolf’s lyrics could be read aloud as poetry and not lose any meaning or intent or feeling. But the fact that the lyrics are better sung and with music than just spoken gives credit to how amazing this album is.
(Note: I just spent 15 minutes trying to figure which lyrics to quote here. Instead, I’ll just note how long this action took without being able to pick the two best–they’re all so good!).
It takes a little while to be able to listen to this album from first song to last. Some of the songs–”These Few Presidents,” “Song of the Sad Assassin,” the amazing “The Hollows”–are easier to get than some of the more free-verse, nearly rap stylings of songs like “Good Friday,” “Fall of Mr. Fifths,” or “By Torpedo Or Crohn’s.” But once you familiarize yourself with the totality of songs and can then listen from first to last, then you know just how insanely well-constructed and crafted this album is. No other album this year consistently surprised me listening after listening, and I’ll certainly be spending a lot of time with it well into 2009.
I’ve been awaiting this album for nearly three years. It was worth the wait. Pas/Cal doesn’t really play anymore–all of the members are now living in different cities and with different goals and plans and such. But I can say with all honesty that the first time I’ve ever seen this band about five years ago, I thought to myself that I’m seeing the best pop band in the world. This album would have been one of my favorites no matter what (unless, of course, it would have continued unreleased).
But this isn’t just your run-of-the-mill, verse-chorus-verse pop music. In fact, the first three songs–spanning over 15 minutes total–have so many twists and turns that I might call them schizophrenic if of Montreal didn’t redefine what that word means with Skeletal Lamping this year. It’s pop that’s best consumed with open, attentive ears and given the respect you’d offer a concerto. On the other hand, I could dance my ass off to any song on the album. “O Honey, We’re Ridiculous” is one of the all-time great pop songs.
Every once in awhile, you come upon an album where everything makes sense together. An album where so many different elements and possibilities meet to make something unusual and special. Some bands have singers with amazing voices or vocal stylings, but the music doesn’t really make sense. Some have a flair for the dramatic in their songs, but without the resources to make their visions real. Some bands imagine complicated and interesting projects, but get too bogged down with their own creativity to actually produce something that is also enjoyable.
And then you get The Evening Descends, which is both ambitious and enjoyable, haunting and playful, joyous and disturbing. Josh Jones’ voice is sometimes angelic, sometimes the shriek of a banshee; part Daniel Johnston, part Freddie Mercury (if you can believe that!). The album features so many dramatic pace, volume, and tempo changes that it’s nearly dizzying. It’s both cinematic and operatic, grandiose and subtle. There’s a lot going on here, but none of it really calls attention away from the heart of the songs. “Bellawood” is the album’s most intense and blood-curdling track–it’s like being in a Stephen King book or a haunted house. But “Snowflakes” is one of the most gentle, yearning, and trance-like compositions I’ve ever heard, a meditation on the sadness and desperation trapped under a deep snowfall of the human heart. The line “I’ve been up all night” is sung not with the anxiety of the insomniac but the calm acceptance of defeat of the insomniac.
The album explores so many modes of rock and pop seamlessly, without drawing attention to this exploration. It’s an album that I’ve loved all year long without being able to figure it out. On a critical level, The Evening Descends must be judged with the knowledge that Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle applies: the more you figure out one part of the album, the less you grasp about other parts. It’s also like making out objects through a fog or haze: you can’t really make out exact features and you may have to squint or need a flashlight to see your way through. But if you just sit back and allow the haze to become part of the panorama of your vision, then it becomes beautiful unto itself.
I went to my iTunes and found that I listened to this song more often on my computer than any other. That’s because it’s Dan Bejar at his best–sassy, literate, a bit pissed off, and nearly completely obscure. The build-up towards the end is one of the best adrenaline rushes of 08.
Aimee Mann’s @#%&! Smilers was not stellar, but it was Aimee Mann being Aimee Mann, which is pretty great to me. Not enough to be one of my favorite albums, but this song in particular was a little bit weirder than her usual fare (a duet?) and I’d love to actually perform this thing on stage one day. It’s just plain fun, which is something that Aimee Mann is always capable of but not well-known for.
“Hugs and Kisses” – The Dead Bodies, from an upcoming EP.
Unreleased and possibly still unrecorded by Detroit band The Dead Bodies. I don’t know. The opening guitar riff became instantly stuck in my head upon first listen. It’s one of the best songs of the year and needs to be recorded and released and purchased for some million-dollar ad campaign for Pepsi or Bud Light. If it’s ever released, you’ll certainly hear about it from this blog.
This is the “Blank Generation” of 2008.
Tremble Under Boom Lights wrote an early piece on “In the New Year” before the release of You & Me and it’s still my favorite writing on the song and on The Walkmen. The organ melody is more memorable than your wedding. And I absolutely agree with Tremble that Hamilton Leithauser’s lyrics are disarmingly simple, and brilliantly so. He gives the listener so much room within those lyrics to interpret as they will. “In the New Year,” like much of You & Me, is a lament on what is lost when you’re always on the road. But you can make it so much more than that. It begins:
Oh I’m still living at the old address.
And I’m waiting on the weather
That i know will pass.
I know that its true-its gonna be a good year.
Outta the darkness and into the fire
I’ll tell you i love you.
And my heart’s in the strangest place.
That’s how it started.
And that’s how it ends.
Simple, right? Well, what the old address, physical or a place in the mind? Is the weather meteorological, or emotional? Will it really pass, or are you just hoping it will–an affirmation, then, without a truth value. Darkness and fire? Is the darkness cold? Is the fire too hot, or is it a fire of absolution? The place between the darkness and the fire would be a strange place for the heart. And what’s the starting and ending? It’s all so open, the words are not specific, but open to be interpreted by the listener at will. This is one of those songs that allow you to embody it, the writer so generous as to offer his art as a cocoon of the soul, affected through music, and the lyrics sung, nearly screamed, with a burning intensity, right at the top of his vocal range, the organ like a hallelujah radiating from a cathedral, the droning guitar steadying the singer toward that new year like the grip of time, carrying us from present to future.
So much hope and longing–so human, when the human is ready to be at his or her best, and the soul is ready for a new and better beginning.
And that’s how it ends.
E-Kula’s Best of 08
For Day Two of what’s looking to be our five-day list extravaganza, E.Kula, who wrote a great review of the Love Is All album in October, offers his list of fave music in 08.
(Record Label in parentheses)
10. Christina Carter – Original Darkness (Kranky)
9. Shugo Tokumaru – Exit (Almost Gold’s 2008 U.S. Release)
8. Nico Muhly – Mothertongue (Bedroom Community)
6. The Jealous Girlfriends – S/T (Last Gang’s Wide Release)
5. Cryptacize – Dig That Treasure (Asthmatic Kitty)
Lacktherof – Your Anchor (Barsuk)
Eric Chenaux – Sloppy Ground (Constellation)
Lau Nau – Nukkuu (Locust)
PWRFL Power – S/T (Slender Means Society)
Cheap Time – S/T (In the Red)
Thomas Function – Celebration (Alive)
Cloudland Canyon – Lie In Light (Kranky)
Other Top Songs (with one caveat)
CAVEAT: Every single track off Girl Talk’s “Feed the Animals” lp could be one of my top songs. But, invariably throughout the album, each track includes a particular mix (or two or three) to my chagrin. A fine collection of songs, but to make this list you have to plug the Big Muff directly into my g spot 100% of the time…not 90%
“Get Out 3″ by Peter Rehberg
“I Quit’ by The Jealous Girlfriends
“O Honey, We’re Ridiculous” by Pas/Cal
“Sea Sick” by Love Is All
“Dance, Dance Dance” by Lykke Li (in particular the Youtube Lykke Li/Bon Iver collaboration)
Memory Cassette – Rewind While Sleeping
5. Mary Anne Hobbs Presents Evangeline (planet mu)
4. The Postmarks: By The Numbers (Unfiltered) (Compiled covers album)
3. Jay Reatard: Matador Singles ’08 (Matador)
2. Wierd Compilation, Vol. II Analogue Electronic Music 2008 (Wierd)
1. Titan: It’s All Pop (Numero Group)
Amy’s 2008 Year-End Mix
2008: BETTER LUCK NEXT YEAR: THE MIX CD
Friends: the gig is up. Last year I put together a mix CD for you, dear readers, as a highly self-conscious and tongue-in-cheek exercise in revisiting the year, made relevant only by merit of my return to the world of indie rock after a long, wandering absence.
This year bears no such self-important or self-derogatory flourish. This year was epic. And mostly shitty. And while in some way, no amount of good music can change any of that, it is true, ultimately, that music is an anchor in otherwise stormy seas. I’m not sure this mix CD does this year poetic justice, but I hope it takes an acceptable stab in that emotional direction.
“Fernando,” ABBA, 1976
I went to Kalamazoo for New Year’s Eve to reunite with some college friends, and I hitched a ride with a mysterious man named Fernando. This song was playing in the car when I met him for the first time, and it played over and over again until I realized it was on repeat. I said, “Is this on repeat?” And Fernando said, “Oh, damn! You figured it out!” It was the beginning of an often frustrating but generally beautiful friendship, and in its nascence, I listened to this song over and over again.
Four Songs by Arthur Russell, 2007
In June I wrote about a fresh heartbreak and included this song. Casting a romantic eye on this year I might say that this song could have been the turning point. When Jens played it to a hushed theater –alone at center stage with a thumb piano –I looked at the young man sitting next to me and thought, “This could be serious.” And from there on out, the stakes started to climb. One brief, pretty love affair was just the beginning.
For Emma, Forever Ago, 2008
By far the most personally affecting album I listened to in 2008. This song sums it up for me –the yearning to have some solid ground to stand on, something to trust, the struggles we all face in our flailing attempts at self-improvement and the distraction that always exists in the quest for genuine love.
Shallow Grave, 2008
On a whim I went home for Memorial Day, and my friend John and I stayed up all night on his back porch drinking wine and whiskey by candlelight and caught each other up on our strange and changing lives. This album will always make me think of him, and the thrill of the spring.
I dated two men named Michael, one right after the other. Both of them broke me a little bit, and both of them broke up with me, one for an asparagus farm, one via Facebook message after a night he spent so blotto that he doesn’t remember getting the shit kicked out of him. This song reminds me of the better parts of both of them. I really like this album.
Songs in A&E, 2008
This year more than any before it evoked the specter of death at every turn. I lost my uncle in July, the body of the man in the studio next door to our office was discovered almost two weeks after he died, I learned of suicides of high school classmates and former business associates and fatal car accidents involving college friends. This dark, spooky song shouldn’t make me feel better about any of that, but it does, and that’s what music is all about. Seeing Spiritualized was also one of the better concert-going experiences of 2008.
Oracular Spectacular, 2008
It wasn’t until October –when, driving around Detroit, my friend turned this song on and said, “you know ! I like this album” –that I realized I have heard this album in every strange situation and on every ridiculous road trip and during production at the office and on the radio and at parties and all over the place. It’s almost getting tiresome and I don’t really want to hear it anymore, but I couldn’t leave it off of the mix because it has such sheer power to bring to mind so much with so little. I woke up singing the resigned refrain –“everything must run its course” –all the time this summer.
Hustle Beach –to be released 2009
This cheeky power ballad gave me so much odd, triumphant hope every time I heard it. Even in some seriously dark hours, it gave me the will to fight. I also like that this song is from the future. This recording is from a Daytrotter session. Maybe my favorite song of the whole year, and I think Hustle Beach is already a shoe-in for next year’s top whatevers.
“Danke Schoen,” Wayne Newton, 1963
Starting in June with an ill-advised assignment in Branson, Missouri, the magazine began sending its most mean-spirited and impetuous reports on uniquely American road trips. On our trip to Des Moines, IA, in August, we were thrilled to learn that we would be staying in the same hotel as Wayne Fucking Newton, who was in town for some sort of really important Arabian horse exposition. We spent the whole weekend trying to track him down. And we failed. But we did discover Mr. Newton’s catalog, of which this song is the only notable work. If I could say one thing to the year 2008, it would be: Thank you for all the joy and pain.
“Get On Up,” The Esquires, 1967
I remembered this song existed when a wonderful man played it for me on a charmed October morning. Less than two weeks later, I was sitting next to that guy who sings the bass line (“Get on up ! get on up !”) at a bar. I didn’t know it was him. We talked about Barack Obama for a while, and the death of Four Tops lead singer Levi Stubbs, and then he was invited to the stage for an impromptu rendition of “Get On Up.” Oh my god.
(Photo Credit Joe Kirschling. And yes, Aaron is wearing an Iron Maiden shirt)
To the Trees, 2008
I saw these handsome Milwaukee gentlemen for the first time this year and was instantly infatuated. This song in particular always chokes me up, and whenever I admit to my friends in the band that I cry about it they make fun of me and I deserve it. I saw them play on one of the happiest days of the whole fall, when I went to an apple orchard with my friends and an adorable 2-year-old and we played with the goats and saw some bunnies and ate some apples and afterward went to A&W. The band didn’t play at the orchard, or at A&W, but they might as well have.
I’m not sure what it is about this song. I think it speaks for itself, pitch-perfectly, and I think it speaks for my internal emotional world in the latter half of the year with jaw-dropping clarity.
In Ear Park, 2008
Thanks, Post-Rockists, for introducing me to this marvelous album! I love it! This song is so catchy and buoyant. Which at this point in the mix CD, and in the chronology of 2008, becomes dreadfully important.
In My Own Time, 1971
My discovery of Karen Dalton seems to prove that there is a Right Time to hear all of the music that becomes a big part of your life, and this year was definitely the Right Time to discover her, and listen to her endlessly, and put this song on repeat at the end of many chilly, sad night. When I went home for Thanksgiving, John and I listened to this album together and drank beers on the couch and took a long walk in our old neighborhood, which kind of brings everything full circle, summer’s brink to autumn’s quiet slip into snow.
doesn’t milwaukee look like fun?
Being Nice Won’t Save Milwaukee, 2008
There’s really nothing like a simple but expertly crafted rock song to take the edge off, and Quinn delivers. He likes to invite audience members on stage to play tambourines, and in December I was a proud tambourine-welding/booty-shaking/clapping and singing along member of the orchestra.
“This Will Be Our Year,” The Zombies
Odyssey and Oracle, 1967
I rediscovered the Zombies this year and they accompanied many of 2008′s most joyful, redeeming moments, of which there were many, despite my melodramatic howling about how everything turned out.
But damn, do I hope this is true of 2009.
FANCY DAN’S 10 FAVORITE ALBUMS OF 2008
10. MGMT –Oracular Spectacular
Equally tongue-in-cheek and sincere at the same time, MGMT managed to craft an album that captures the spirit of being young. Every song on this record is catchy enough to be a hit, but there is a surprising amount of depth and feeling that lurks beneath the surface. On Oracular Spectacular, MGMT combined influences ranging from disco, glam, funk, psychedelia, electronica and rock, creating a sound where bits and pieces seem familiar, but as a whole it is totally unique. Their music proves that these guys know how to be adventurous and have a great time, but they are also serious about creating music with memorable melodies, convincing performances, detailed arrangements and ornate production, that will make this record hold up over time and will make MGMT an exciting band to watch in the future.
9. Santogold –Santogold
After initially being touted as a former A&R Rep who became an M.I.A. copycat, Santogold proved with her debut album that she has far more to her than any one-dimensional label could ever define. On her self-titled release, Santogold goes from genre to genre without skipping a beat as one minute she’ll be cooing over new-wave guitars, the next she’ll be belting at the top of her lungs over ferocious tribal beats, and then out of nowhere she’ll be doing a dub-inspired indie rock song. Even though there is so much variety in the songwriting and arrangements, somehow it all comes together as an album. Every song is filled with interesting rhythms, strong hooks, heartfelt vocals, and memorable melodies, making Santogold one of the most exciting new artists to watch just to see what she’ll come up with next.
8. Adam Balbo –Big Kid Now EP
Like a cross between Woody Guthrie and Eminem, Adam Balbo is an indie-folk singer who uses traditional melodies and phrasing, but sings about unsacred topics with irreverent humor and plays around with language in a way that would make most folk purists cringe. On Big Kid Now, Balbo sings with a child-like casualness that makes it sound like he’s making this stuff up on the spot, even though his lyrics are so cleverly constructed and the arrangements are well put together that this EP is certainly not as tossed off as it sounds. Rough around the edges in all the right places, Big Kid Now is focused and consistent in its vision as Balbo uses just a twangy acoustic guitar or a cheesy sounding keyboard, backed with minimalist drumming, to innocently describe the contents of his head. Like childhood, it’s random and profound and trivial and playful as he uses all kinds of 1980s references to Teddy Ruxpin, He-Man, Gremlins, and many more, which makes Big Kid Now the perfect soundtrack to growing up in 1980s America as well as just what it sounds like to be a kid.
7. Bob Dylan –Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 8
The most recent bootleg series installment from the archives of Bob Dylan offers a fascinating look into Dylan’s late career rebirth that has resulted in some of his best music yet. Starting with 1989′s “Oh Mercy,” Dylan’s approach to songwriting shifted as he began to work towards making archaic music that blended forms of traditional American music into something that felt deeply rooted in the past, but that applies to the present as well. Tell Tale Signs offers a combination of demos, alternate takes, songs from soundtracks, and live performances from the past two decades that somehow make up a complete work that is surprisingly consistent and satisfying as an album, all while proving Dylan’s continued relevance in modern times.
6. Vampire Weekend –Vampire Weekend
Vampire Weekend’s schtick of being ivy league-educated young white boys in country club sweaters, who happen to have an affinity for African music, wouldn’t go very far if it weren’t for their ability to write such good songs. Their first full-length album plays like an amalgamation of Paul Simon’s Graceland and The Strokes’ Is This It, which works surprisingly well as Afro-pop hasn’t been combined with a punk sensibility too often before to this great of an effect. The drums and bass lock into a danceable groove while the clean electric guitar nimbly bounces around singer Ezra Koenig’s stream-of-consciousness vocals, where he muses on a variety of white boy topics that rarely make much coherent sense at all. At a mere 34 minutes, the album is a tight collection of songs with a consistently unique sound, making it instantly memorable and a total blast to listen to.
5. The Hold Steady –Stay Positive
This is the first Hold Steady record where I totally believe them the entire time. On Stay Positive the formula of power chords and sing-a-longs doesn’t change much, although they add some new instrumentation such as a harpsichord, banjo, and talk box, but the songwriting has gotten tighter and more heartfelt this time around. Craig Finn is more convincing and inspiring than ever as he offers up more tales about disaffected American boys and girls who go to shows, drink too much, get in trouble, grow older and are ultimately saved by the healing power of rock and roll. The album plays as a tribute to the saints of rock and roll who gave us hope and something to identify with when all our other heroes let us down. No other band making music today knows the gospel of rock and roll better than these guys.
4. Kanye West –808s & Heartbreak
In the tradition of the great breakup albums like Bob Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks and Beck’s Sea Change, Kanye West made a minimalist, pain-filled record of raw emotion, that is an incredibly bold statement, especially coming from the world of hip hop. Instead of rapping in his usual style, Kanye chose to sing using the much-debated Auto-Tune effect, which makes his voice sound especially vulnerable, behind tribal beats made from the classic Roland TR-808 drum machine. It’s a pop art experiment that could have failed miserably if not for Kanye’s complete dedication to his craft and willingness to go to a place that few artists would dare to go. As a result, 808s & Heartbreak isn’t as immediate and classic-sounding as his other records, but over time it will hold up as being one of the most unique and effective things he’s ever done, especially in a time when no one in popular music is taking risks like this.
3. Lil Wayne –Tha Carter III
The summer of 2008 belonged to Lil Wayne as this album pushed him into the mainstream and proved that he has the talent to be the next Biggie or Jay-Z, but with a style that is entirely his own. Tha Carter III has a little something for everybody as it is Lil Wayne’s first official release after a long line of mixtapes and guest verses that built up his reputation enough to get people interested and gave him the chance to prove himself with a proper album. Everything about this record feels classic, from the cover art that is in the tradition of hip hop classics such as Nas’s Illmatic and the Notorious B.IG.’s Ready To Die, to the pacing and song choice, to the variety of traditional breakbeats as well as modern production techniques, and above all a flow that is refreshingly creative and endlessly appealing. Often times Weezy raps with such a charming effortlessness, that you wonder how he managed to create this good of an album, especially since he sounds high all the time, constantly cracking himself up and making up words and bizarre rhymes, but that is exactly what makes him so much fun to listen to.
2. TV On The Radio –Dear Science,
With their third full-length album, TV On The Radio have managed to enter a whole new plane of existence and have become one of the most important bands making music today, rivaling the high caliber of a band like Radiohead. Dear Science, is certainly their tightest and most accessible album yet, but surprisingly that doesn’t water their sound down whatsoever and only makes it more interesting as they explore new rhythms, melodies and textures within the conventions of pop songwriting. The production is as dense as always, but within their wall of sound there are catchy hooks, soulful vocals, funky guitar lines and unexpectedly danceable rhythms that make the songs instantly memorable in a way that they haven’t been able to do on their previous albums. It’s essentially a dance record that’s the perfect soundtrack for the end of the world as well as the dawning of “the golden age,” which brilliantly captures the strange ambivalence of 2008, a year filled with dread and hope.
1. The Walkmen –You & Me
After hinting at greatness with their past few records, The Walkmen have made their first masterpiece that is one of the most rewarding listens in recent memory. It takes time to get to know You & Me, but once you do, it is shocking how many layers of emotion The Walkmen have been able to tap in to. They’ve maintained their sense of musical experimentation that has been present in their past work, but now they’ve embraced subtlety, where the songs gradually sneak up on you instead of hitting you over the head. For a rock band, The Walkmen use a variety of unconventional instrumentation including waltz rhythms, weeping horns, spaghetti western whistling, odd guitar strumming patterns, wobbly keyboard playing techniques, and out-of-range vocals, all while not calling attention to these elements, but instead using them to benefit the mood of each song and the record as a whole. You & Me is a tribute to the kind of vulnerability and love that is only possible between two people and with this album, you’ll be honored to be able to be on the receiving end of a relationship with The Walkmen.
TODD’S TOP 10 OF 2008
I heard a lot of really great music in 2008, and putting this little list together was no easy chore. I spent a lot of sleepless nights listening and re-listening to these albums, concocting a weird calculus of irrational rules to arrive at the final tally. But the fact is, the difference between my #4 and #44 album of the year is pretty insignificant. I realize there were a lot of albums released this year that are technically better than the ones below, but in crunch time, these records never failed to deliver the goods.
10. Times New Viking – Rip It Off
This album still hurts my ears. Even at the lowest sliver of volume on my iPod, the unhinged heat of juvenile cacophony is enough to make my teeth quiver and face blanche. But if cochlear deterioration is the price I have to pay for EQ-bleedin’ ecstasy, so be it. 2008 saw an unexpected resurgence in hip, lo-fi bands that used stylishly poor recording as a crutch for bad songwriting, but with Times New Roman there was an immediacy and urgency to the recordings, a rush to expression, that gave the tape hiss its charm. Rip It Off isn’t meant to be a trendy record, it’s just good rock and roll: simple, effective, memorable. No one else matched effortless pop hooks with joyous chaos quite as well as Times New Viking.
9. Karl Blau – Nature’s Got Away
There’s a deep tranquility at the heart of this record that keeps dragging me back for repeat visits late at night. Blau’s voice cracks and stumbles, but he delivers his verses and mothball-mouthed metaphors with the care of a parent, cautious of sending his words out into the world but amazed by what they can reveal all the same. Although the music stumbles with the studio imperfections of a claustrophobic bedroom environment, the ragged guitars and eerie organs share a sense of purpose that seem to indicate that harmony isn’t just found in music, but in nature as well.
8. TV On The Radio – Dear Science,
By any objective standard of measure, TV On The Radio’s new album would consistently rank at number 1. But this isn’t such a list, so it’s number 8.
7. Spiritualized – Songs in A&E
Rock & roll redemption from a fallen spaceman. I may have overreacted in my praise given in my original review, but just like Jason Pierce coming back from near-death to finish this record, the songs here are remarkably resilient.
6. No Age – Nouns
Nouns is a raw, noisy, dense punk rock bulldozer. But underneath the squalls of distortion is a highly nuanced album, crafted with daredevil riffs, shocking melodicism, and a merciful willingness to plant green spaces in the wake of No Age’s destruction. It’s kind of like being roundhouse-kicked in the face by Chuck Norris: it’ll knock you flat on your ass, but at least you’ll appreciate the artfulness of the kick as you’re flying through the air.
5. Evangelicals – The Evening Descends
Their songs definitely delve into the macabre, but it’s more out of a curious fascination than depressive fixation. You get the sense that singer Josh Jones’ cast of zombies and walking skeletons really just want to find happiness and acceptance, just as his shattered and skewered songs are really just trying to be upbeat pop songs, but are constantly thwarted by their own innate freakishness.
4. Beach House – Devotion
The first great album of the year, and still the most magical. I’m debating whether I should say that Devotion fit me like a glove or like a snug sleepingbag in a starlit field, but when it’s playing it makes its presence felt, and analogies about its intimacy or spaciousness don’t seem to matter. I get shudders just thinking about it.
3. The Walkmen – You & Me
For a band most known for their thundering drones and gourd percussions and Hamilton Leithauser’s vocal cord abuse, it’s the restrained, bare-bones moments on You & Me that really linger with me. The gentle, mournful horns on “Red Moon”; the jittery shuffle of “Canadian Girl”; the cracked optimism of “In the New Year.” These songs just continue to sound better the colder it becomes outside. The Walkmen are a band that could easily have chosen to re-write “The Rat” over and over again, but instead they found the confidence to work on these wry, vulnerable tomes that speak much more to their ability.
2. Bradford Cox – Everything he touched
Deerhunter, Atlas Sound, you name it — if Bradford Cox’s long, spindly fingers touched it, it was as good as gold. Most musicians are lucky to write one halfway decent song in their lifetime, but this year Cox dipped into a seemingly limitless well of creative inspiration that made kindred bedfolk of droning krauthouse burners and Afro-electro ambient and Cold War-era pop and soul. If we were just talking about his albums proper, from the flawlessly executed effervescence of his solo debut to the frighteningly good Microcastle, Cox would deserve to be on any blogger’s Top 10 list twice this year. But when you start to take into consideration all the overtime he put in this year — the more than sufficient “bonus” album Weird Era Cont.; Atlas Sound’s mesmerizing Another Bedroom EP; hell, even knock-offs like the “Holiday” virtual 7″ displayed a keen sense of narrative dynamics and subtle storytelling — it’s clear that we’re dealing with a rare sort of talent that has a surplus of passion and vision, as well as an enviable work ethic.
1. Of Montreal –Skeletal Lamping
I nearly shelved this album when I first listened to it. It was too weird, too pretentious, and too deliberately difficult to give much consideration. But over time I realized that as much of a mindfuck this album is, and as great the temptations are to overthink the songs’ complex structures and psychoanalyze Kevin Barne’s fruity narrative selves, Skeletal Lamping really isn’t meant to be a thinking man’s album. Human emotions don’t unfold in a linear fashion, and neither does this album. It explodes in arcs of joy and fear, of lust and anger, and for all its fey conceits, this is a strikingly honest and accessible album. You just need to open yourself up a little to let it in. It’s a ball. Really, it is. I can’t think of any other record this year that I grappled with more, that brings me such unhinged happiness and stupidly-grinning pleasure as Skeletal Lamping. Plus, they put on one hell of a live show.
Department of Eagles – In Ear Park (review)
Lil Wayne – Tha Carter III (earlier praise)
The Magnetic Fields – Distortion (review)
Thao & The Get Down Stay Down – We Brave Bee Stings and All (review)
Kanye West – 808s & Heartbreak (what he said)
KIM’S 10 FAVORITES OF 2008
10. Mirah –The Old Days Feeling
This is a very short album with each song lasting less than 3 minutes. This is just the way I like my music — in tiny, bite-sized morsels. I enjoy the variety of instruments and styles used by Mirah. The front half of the album is much better than the back half, but it’s all fun to listen to.
9. Pas/Cal –I was Raised On Matthew, Mark, Luke, & Laura
Okay, I admit it, this was a latecomer to my list. I didn’t even know that they had a new album until Scotter posted them in his list. So I checked my computer and lo and behold the album was already there but SOMBODY (ahem, ahem) didn’t tell me that he had it and/or that I should listen to it. [Note from the editor: The scoundrel!] Anyway, I haven’t had much time to digest the album, but I really do dig it and the poppy beats and catchy melodies. Also, bonus points for being from Detroit.
“Summer Is Almost Here”
8. Vampire Weekend –Vampire Weekend
If you haven’t heard of Vampire Weekend you are living under a rock. I wasn’t really sure if I liked it when I heard it first. I think my mindset went something like this: “What is this, some reggae-ska hybrid?” But, after a listen or two it was hard to stop humming along and tapping my toes. That equals a winner in my book.
7. Beck –Modern Guilt
Classic Beck, I’m sure you’ve heard of him. He’s dreamy and makes good music. It’s nothing groundbreaking but it’s a fun album to listen to. I guess I am getting old, too, Scotter.
6. Au Revoir Simone –Reverse Migration
This is an album of remixes from the 2007 release The Bird of Music (my 6th favorite album last year, oddly enough). I’m not normally a fan of remixes, especially the ones that are like 7 minutes long and just drag on forever, but this album is not like that. The music is varied and sounds much different than the original album while still retaining the group’s beautiful vocals. The music is much richer and fuller in some places, and even more acoustic in others. Dare I say, it is better than the original.
5. Adele –19
What a powerful singer! If her album hadn’t been named “19″ I never would have guessed that was her age. Channeling the spirit of singers past like a young Brenda Lee with a hint of Kate Nash’s attitude. It’s hard to not enjoy Adele’s voice and her lyrics are quite smart.
4. Hello Saferide –More Modern Short Stories From Hello Saferide
I believe that Annika Norlin got it right with the title of the album. She doesn’t sing songs, she tells stories. Her music is so autobiographical that I feel like I know her. This is much more tranquil than her previous album, Introducing Hello Saferide. My Biggest regret of 2008 was missing seeing a concert of hers in Oslo by one day on our November trip to Scandinavia. Now if only I could learn to speak Swedish so I could enjoy her Swedish language side project –SÃ¤kert!
3. Billie the Vision and the Dancers –I Used to Wonder These Streets
I adore this band. I dare you to listen to the album and not tap your toes. Much like Billie the Vision’s 2007 album, the songs from I Used to Wander These Streets are humorous and catchy. This is an awesome pop album from my favorite Swedish pop band. This album contains songs about homesickness as a child moving to a new country, struggling with a transgender identity, and is much more personal album than the three previously released by the band. Best of all, you can still download the album for free.
2. Thao –We Brave Bee Stings All
I’m not really sure how to credit this artist. She has listings as Thao, Thao Nguyen, Thao Nguyen with the Get Down Stay Down, or sometimes just Thao with the Get Down Stay Down. In any case, she and her Get Down Stay Down kids have been making some kick ass music this year. Unusual vocals and catchy beats make this album one of the best of the year.
1. She & Him –Volume 1
A little bit of country, a little bit of ’60s girl band. The charm of Zooey Deschanel meets M. Ward’s musical stylings in the best album of the year. I certainly hope that this is volume 1 of many.
The Sound of Arrows –Danger! EP
Lykki Li –Youth Novels
Cryptacize –Dig that Treasure
BRYAN’S BEST OF 2008
It bugs me when I hear people saying 2008 was a bad year for music. It didn’t have the stunners last year did, but there were thirty albums that could have been on this list. Spiritualized and Portishead made rejuvenated returns, TV On The Radio and Hot Chip cemented their bigger-than-indie status, and those Vampire Weekend kids managed to sound great to anyone over 34 or under 22. There was so much good music that I lumped some albums into categories. So there you go, let’s get to the good stuff.
None of this stuff was recorded anywhere near 2008, but its cool and innovative sounds had me anxiously awaiting each release. My love for soul and funk can never be fully satisfied, so I was ecstatic to see a slew of 1970s afro-funk tracks unearthed. The Nigeria Special series continued to give us some Disco Funk and Rock gems, building last year’s fantastic collection. But if you can only buy one, African Scream Contest is the best, hands down. Below is the opening track, and in it you’ll hear obvious Highlife influences and some mesmerizing guitar work that brings an energy even Sly Stone would have trouble keeping up with.
SONG: Lokonon Andre & Les Volcans – “Mi Kple Dogbekpo”
9. FUCK BUTTONS – Street Horrrsing
For me, one of the most beautiful and difficult accomplishments in music is holding someone’s attention for 9 minutes and building on the sound so that what started out good culminates in a stirring crescendo (see “Paranoid Android,” “The Past Is A Grotesque Animal,” “Think I’m In Love,” et al.). Fuck Buttons’ occasional fuzzed-out screams and yelps add a primal feeling to some pretty electronic melodies. It was fun getting lost in its drone as I shared a subway car with aggressive panhandlers, unapologetic blowhards, and forget-about-it guys from Queens. It was the enthralling buffer between my tired, 6pm mind and a world of chaos.
SONG: “Bright Tomorrow”
8. SUPER EPs: Crystal Stilts – Crystal Stilts; Air France – No Way Down; Simian Mobile Disco – Clock
Each of these has every right to be placed next full length LPs. Crystal Stilts ended up releasing their solid debut, but was comprised mostly of songs from the EP. It sounds like a beach rock-obsessed Ian Curtis rose from the dead to fill us in on the future of garage rock. Air France’s No Way Down EP is cheesy and beautiful, like meadows and butterflies and lazy Saturdays and necking with your favorite gal. But it’s just that beautiful and sunny, like an aural version of MDMA without the comedown. Simian Mobile Disco released a pair of EPs in ’08, but had they expanded Clock‘s 4 songs into a full-length, it would have been the best dance album of the year.
SONG: Crystal Stilts – “Converging In The Quiet”
7. NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS – Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!
You won’t find a piano balladeer on this Cave album. It’s all rock and it never stops. Some of it is cock-rock, some is Suicide meets Lou Reed, and it’s all grimy and seamy and reeks of cigarettes. The end of days isn’t a new subject for Cave, but he and The Seeds pump blood and guts back into a world that appears to be on life support. Common themes are dive bars, prostitutes, impending doom, drugs, vengeance, and lust. If none of that sounds intriguing, you need to hang with Nick Cave for a while.
SONG: “Albert Goes West”
6. MIX TAPES: The Very Best; Diplo & Santogold – Top Ranking; Girl Talk – Feed The Animals
These three albums each offer a different case for the validity of remixes. On The Very Best (still free to download), Radioclit takes the instrumentals from his favorite tracks and lets Esau Mwamwaya sing in his native Chichewa. He adds a ton of fun to “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” as he erases its original ties of college and Paul Simon. On Top Ranking, Diplo essentially re-produces Santogold’s debut into an 80-minute island thumper, filling it out with Aretha Franklin, Cutty Ranks, the B52s, and others. Lastly, Girl Talk takes a scalpel to songs and sounds unforgettable to any music junkie and creates brand new tunes by laying them beneath rap vocals. At a poker game a couple months ago, someone called him the musical equivalent of The Family Guy–nothing is really new, but you can’t help waiting for the next reference. This happens about every 3 seconds on Feed The Animals.
SONG: Esau Mwamwaya – “Kamphopo”
5. DREAM POP: Beach House – Devotion; Grouper – Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill
The new Beach House album feels like it’s been forced to make a decision between staying with its current lover and moving on to new but uncertain things. The eerie organ gives it a haunted feeling, but Victoria Legrand’s breathy, hardened voice knows exactly where her heart lies. Dragging A Dead Deer is like waking up from a dream and sifting through the hazy half-sleep phantasmagoria – you might vaguely remember where you were or what you were doing but mostly you just remember how you felt. Liz Harris’s voice seems to be lurking a mile under water, giving you quick glimpses of forgotten memories.
SONG: Beach House – “Gila”
4. DEPARTMENT OF EAGLES – In Ear Park
In Ear Park is Daniel Rossen’s warm and beautiful ode to his late father. While many Grizzly Bear tunes leave me a little bored, here Rossen packs each song with vivid scenes of going to work, funerals, and parental advice. The album is instantly accessible and has grown on me even more throughout the year. Plus it delivers my favorite song of ’08 in “No One Does It Like You.” Rossen’s sound is so universally enjoyable that friends, mothers, brothers, and even fathers should have no problem appreciating it.
SONG: “No One Does It Like You”
3. DEERHUNTER – Microcastle / Weird Era Cont.
Bradford Cox was officially THE man of ’08. After releasing a stellar solo album as Atlas Sound, the Deerhunter frontman tightened the band’s sound, making it more personal in the process. Cox has openly had a complex childhood and Microcastle reflects his fragility and elegance with a confidence that should excite any Deerhunter haters. And anyone who’s visited a music blog knows the album leaked 4 months too soon, so Cox and friends gave us another album. Weird Era Cont. takes any sort of mope out of shoegaze and is evidence that whatever leaking/online/personal drama Cox has gone through made him the man to watch for the next few years.
SONG: “Nothing Ever Happened”
2. CHAD VANGAALEN – Soft Airplane
This album wins the award for most diverse song collection. VanGaalen starts with a sweet banjo ditty about a Viking funeral and maneuvers his way through straightforward pop-rock, Crazy Horse-era Neil Young stompers, an electronic song involving TMNT, dark acoustic ballads, and ends with dissonant guitar feedback. And somehow it never loses steam or feels disjointed. His boyish obsession with death and loss is the unifying theme, yet this was a huge summer album for me. Maybe that makes me a little weird, but more than anything it shows you can sing about deep subjects without it taxing your emotions.
SONG: “City Of Electric Light”
1. CUT COPY – In Ghost Colours
After their first album, I expected Cut Copy to get comfortable making moody but hollow pop, but In Ghost Colours’ opening track shatters that notion – it’s full and warm and sugary sweet, like a post-hangover sunny day where food tastes better, the birds are chirping, and you’re glad to have your wits about you. There’s quite a bit of guitar, both electric and acoustic, but, as usual, their catchiest diamonds are saved for the dance floor (“Lights And Music,” “Hearts On Fire,” “Far Away”). The lyrics are not quite happy, but always stay positive, and the music behind them never deliver a wrong note. This is an album club kids make when they mature and decide to focus not just on the present, but also the future. See them live, you won’t be disappointed.
SONG: “Hearts On Fire”