So, I've finally decided to cut myself off from trying to cram as many 08 releases into my ears as possible, and just make this damn list already. There are a lot of albums that I wish I had gotten to, and which very possibly would have made it onto this list. I listened to well over 200 releases from last year (many of which I feel I didn't really digest enough to include them on this list, Dear Science, among them, sorry TVotR fans), and I've still got almost 100 waiting in the wings (and the 09 releases have already started coming in...it never stops). There just isn't enough time in the day, is there?
It should be said that these rankings really aren't set in stone at all. If I made this list tomorrow, the order would be almost completely different (although the Top 10 is pretty correct, I think). However, most of the same albums would be present.
Anyway, enough of my blabbering. Here's my take on the Top 50 Albums of 2008.
(P.S. Links are coming in gradually, will spend the next couple of days uploading)
Weezer - Weezer (The Red Album)
Okay, okay, maybe this album isn't perfect. It's gotten trashed a lot since its release, by critics and fans alike. However, I think that's mostly uncalled for. This is a fun, enjoyable release by a band that never really disappoints, as long as you aren't expecting another Pinkerton. You know you nod your head every time "Pork and Beans" comes on the radio, so why deny it?
Skipping Girl Vinegar - Sift The Noise
Driven by acoustic guitars and a strange mixture of cheerfulness and spunk, this album was one of the most overlooked of the year. The influences here are numerous and varied, and Skipping Girl Vinegar having no qualms about going from folksy romps to meandering, Radiohead-esque ballads. This lovely little four-piece make it clear in tracks like "Sift The Noise" that they're infatuated with life, and after listening to this album, you can't help but share that feeling.
Polar Bear Club - Sometimes Things Just Disappear
Polar Bear Club have been getting a lot of attention from the punk community, and it's easy to see why. On Sometimes Things Just Disappear, the group has delivered a catchy post-hardcore album that avoids the pitfalls that destroy so many albums like this. Whatever they're doing, they must be doing it right, because they've managed to snag a tour supporting The Gaslight Anthem (if that's not a hell of a show, I don't know what is).
Adam Linder - Burning Up
Download at What.cd
For those of you who were disappointed by Cassadaga in 2007, I now point you in the direction of Adam Linder. Burning Up, self-released by Linder on private torrent tracker What.cd, is an album of self-described "white boy blues". Linder manages to rise above the stereotypical image of a sad singer-songwriter, however, and turns his debut album into a charming and poignant glance into his soul.
Santogold - Santogold
It's nice when an album that get so heavily promoted by certain "alternative" music publications (which shall remain unnamed) is actually, you know, good. Expecting yet another flavor-of-the-month album that no one would remember a year from now, I instead got an exciting and immensely fun debut. I think I speak for just about everyone when I say that this recent flood of electro-indie-dance acts has become tiresome (to say the least), but Santogold is able to make herself stand out from the crowd with her intoxicating mix of rock, punk, dub and, yes, electro-dance. I can only hope she sticks around.
The Mountain Goats - Heretic Pride
Veteran folk-rock artist John Darnielle returned in 2008 with another offering from his most famous project, The Mountain Goats. Heretic Pride shows his work rising even higher in production quality, right along with the band's popularity. And while this may alienate even more of the lo-fi world, it perfectly compliments the direction he's taking The Mountain Goats. The sun is setting, things are getting dark, and this album brings you along for the ride. "In The Craters On The Moon" proves itself to be the standout track, giving a full look at the darkness that runs through this album.
Frightened Rabbit - The Midnight Organ Fight
The thing I've heard most about this album is that its lyrics are 'direct'. Well, it's hard to argue with that when it contains lines like "it takes more than fucking someone you don't know / to keep warm". The Midnight Organ Fight shows Frightened Rabbit maturing beyond the generic indie-rock that we've all heard a thousand times into a band with a sound that's unique and appealing enough to keep you coming back for more, again and again and again. And with every listen, a new track seems to jump out and become your favorite. Who doesn't love albums like that?
The Tallest Man on Earth - Shallow Grave
What's to be said that hasn't been said already? This is a great folk album. If someone told you it had been dug out of a time capsule from the mid-60s, you'd probably believe them. Did Bob Dylan's collection of bootlegs not quite do it for you? Look no further than Shallow Grave.
Astronautalis - Pomegranate
It was a very good year for so-called 'alternative hip-hop". On Astronautalis's third album, he offers the listener a collection of moody hip-hop tracks that incorporate a startling amount of indie rock. In an age where the term hip-hop brings to mind images of repetitive beats and songs with nothing much beyond a chorus, Andy Bothwell has crafted a terrifically lyrical album, even drifting into the realm of spoken word. He says so much that this album demands multiple listens simply to grasp everything being presented to you (in fact, if I had listened to this more, it would probably be much, much higher on this list). He even gives the listener a break near the end, with the curiously named "The Most Important Track On the Album" (curious because it contains complete silence) giving us a chance to breathe before the album's immensely satisfying closer "The Story of My Life" leaves us breathless yet again.
Sigur Rós - Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust (With Buzzing in Our Ears We Play Endlessly)
Download Part 1
Download Part 2
On their fifth full-length album, Icelandic post-rockers prove to the world (or to me, at least) that they are apparently incapable of making bad music. Straying far from their roots, Sigur Rós still deliver a wonderful album. They even recorded their first English-language track, although I question how many people would have picked up on that little tidbit if it hadn't been so widely publicized.
Glissando - With Our Arms Wide Open We March Towards the Burning Sea
Proving yet again that post-rock and vocals are not mutually exclusive from one another, English group Glissando released one of the best truly post-rock albums I've heard in years. Elly May Irving's stunning vocals form the core of this album, complemented by beautiful piano and guitar arrangements. Despite the hour+ playtime, this album never once drags, and provides the perfect soundtrack to a rainy night.
The Blue Seeds - The Blue Seeds
A detective leans back in his chair, takes a drag of a cigarette, and delivers the opening monologue that sets the scene for a black-and-white 70s noir film. The rain is lightly falling as he walks down a dark, narrow street in the bad part of town. This album is playing in the background.
Pompeii - Nothing Happens For A Reason
Nothing Happens for a Reason could very easily be the title to an album containing a band's nihilistic worldview, but instead this album comes of as an ode to life. With a restrained and refined sound, Pompeii have created an album that perfectly balances heartbreak and love, failure and triumph, misdirection and purpose. They take pride in the seemingly mundane aspects of life and music, elevating them both to a level of meaning, and leave behind this beautiful type of rock album that the world doesn't hear very often.
Uh Huh Her - Common Reaction
I'm of the opinion that any band who takes their name from a PJ Harvey album is worth looking into. I'm glad I feel that way, because otherwise I may never have found Uh Huh Her. This duo's debut was released to surprisingly little press, especially after the mainstream success of Tegan and Sara's The Con in 2007. Nevertheless, those who have heard this album are very satisfied. This is an album full of girly electropop that no self-respecting guy would be caught listening to, and no self-respecting music fan would be caught ignoring. So make up your mind, right now. I know where I stand. Will it be your music, or your manliness?
Bloc Party - Intimacy
Okay, so, remember a few years ago when Silent Alarm came out and everyone wet themselves? Yeah, that album was lame. Remember when A Weekend In the City came out and no one cared? Yeah, so do I. Well, now Intimacy has come out, and it seems like Bloc Party have finally released an album that I dig. And I dig it a lot. In opening track "Ares" Kele Okereke states rather matter-of-factly "get out the way (get out the way) / or get fucked up (or get fucked up)". I guess I didn't get out the way, because this album kicked my ass.
R.E.M. - Accelerate
Michael Stipe and company have never truly disappointed, as far as I'm concerned, but Accelerate is undoubtedly a return to form. This album shows them going back to their alternative rock beginnings, and doing it as if no time has passed at all. They kick things into gear with "Living Well Is the Best Revenge", and I think the track is a fair response to the critics who have said in recent years that the band has lost their way. This album is a rocker from start to finish, and despite (or perhaps because of) the short length of under 35 minutes, this album encourages you to let it spin more than once, a difficult thing for an album to do. They close out the album with "I'm Gonna DJ", which, with the silliness of "death is pretty final / I'm collecting vinyl / I'm gonna DJ at the end of the world", is the perfect finish.
Marnie Stern - This Is it and I Am it and You Are it and so Is That and He Is it and She Is it and it Is it and That is That
What a title. What an album. On her sophomore effort, New York guitarist Marnie Stern ups the ante, and goes all out with her finger-tapping guitar work. You'd be hard-pressed to find a guitarist with more talent or style than Stern, and the best part is that instead of being a soulless virtuoso who appeals only to guitar freaks, her music can even draw in listeners who don't know a fretboard from a washboard. This is an erratic and eccentric album that never lets up. It's a constant barrage on the senses (and sensibilities) of the listener. If that sounds like a bad thing, don't me misled: it isn't.
Gnarls Barkley - The Odd Couple
What's this? The bastard sibling of St. Elsewhere appearing on a Top 50 list? Yes, that's exactly right. This album seems to have been panned by people who wanted St. Elsewhere Part 2. Well, that's their loss, because The Odd Couple is a great album, and it's hard to think otherwise with tracks like "Going On" and "Whatever". If you passed up on this because people said it 'wasn't the same', do yourself a couple of favors; listen to it, and then tell said people to piss off.
Lykke Li - Youth Novels
Youth Novels is an album that dance dance dances down the line separating sweet and sour, with lyrics like "and for you I keep my legs apart / and forget about my tainted heart" that both puzzle and amuse, since they're sung with such a strange mixture of sincerity and playfulness. Why can't all pop music be this good?
Thomas Newman - Wall-E Original Soundtrack
Thomas Newman gives audiences a score that fits right into the charming and lovable film WALL-E, but that also stands strongly on its own as an album. Filled with both grand moments that belong in a hall of fame somewhere and robots expressing their love the only way they know how (by saying their names), a score for a film about a trash compactor ends up being strikingly human (as does the film, but that review is for another time and place). Also, enough can't be said about Peter Gabriel's fantastic track for the credits, "Down to Earth", which is an Oscar-worthy song if I've ever heard one.
Laura Marling - Alas I Cannot Swim
It's difficult to believe that Laura Marling is only 18 years old, and already writing music this good. I think the thing I like most about this album is that it doesn't end up being just another cutesy female singer-songwriter ode to love. Marling makes damn sure of that, with opening track "Ghosts" containing such heartwarming lines such as "it's not / like I believe in / everlasting love". One has to wonder how someone this young could already be so jaded.
Beck - Modern Guilt
Beck and DJ Danger Mouse are a match made in a heaven, and Cat Power's contributions are icing on the wonderful cake that is Modern Guilt. Danger Mouse spends most of his time on this album making sure that Beck's zaniness doesn't detract from the beauty of the album, and Beck spends his time being Beck, doing whatever it is that Beck does. And make no mistake, this is indeed a beautiful album. Every track makes the listener ache for the next, and when the album ends after a mere 33 minutes, you can't help but start it up again; that is, once you get over the shell shock of "Volcano", which is one of the best songs Beck has written in his entire career. "I don't know where I've been / but I know where I'm going / to that volcano / I don't want to fall in though". You can't argue with lyrics like that.
Fire On Fire - The Orchard
This album was a last minute discovery for me, and I'm glad I happened to stumble across it. This is one of the best folk albums to come out all year, although I feel like simply calling it folk is bordering on an insult, because The Orchard is so much more. The fact that the album was released on Michael Gira's record label should give you an idea of what I mean. This is a constantly shifting and changing album, with members rotating instruments and vocal duties every other song, keeping a dynamic feeling to a genre of music that all-too-often feels dry and monotonous. I haven't fully absorbed this album yet, but I couldn't not include it on this list, because I could tell from the very start that it was something very special.
Белые Флаги Зажигайте Медленно (Set The White Flags On Fire Slowly) - Dazhe esli proletariat voz'met vlast' v svoi ruki... (Even If The Proletariat Takes The Power Into Its Own Hands, The Spring Will Be Left For Us, And The Aims Of War Will Remain The Aims Of War)
If that album title doesn't intrigue you, nothing will. Russian band Set the White Flags on Fire Slowly's debut album is both jittery and awe-inspiring instrumental rock, with heavy usage of both electronics as well as traditional instruments, not to mention occasional bursts of feedback and white noise. I'd say that this is for fans of 65daysofstatic, and it is, but this is a band that has the potential to be (and in many ways, already is) far more than that. This album is classified as post-rock, but that doesn't do it justice at all. All I can really say is to listen to this album.
Mount Eerie - Lost Wisdom
As someone who was never a big fan of The Microphones, I am continually surprised by just how good Mount Eerie is. Lost Wisdom is a testament to that. Clocking in at under 25 minutes, this is barely long enough to be called an album, but nevertheless it's beautifully executed. The title track is just dynamic enough to keep your attention, but not so much so as to be overbearing, and "Voice in Headphones" is the type of haunting song that stays at the fringes of your mind for days after you hear it. Lost Wisdom is a masterpiece of lo-fi music.
The Gaslight Anthem - The '59 Sound
Talk about a success story. A bunch of thirty-somethings (or maybe late-twenty-somethings) listen to a bunch of Bruce Springsteen records, record a punk album, and suddenly they're being featured on Myspace's homepage, heir album is flying off of shelves at Best Buy, and they're playing on Conan O'Brien's show. It's always nice to be able to say "I knew them before they were big!", but I PROMISE that's not why this album is so high in my rankings. This is just a really great album. It's catchy and infectious, and at the same time sad and melancholy. Singing songs about highways and cars and girls that got away, these Jersey punks are only beginning to get a taste of the popularity that's on the way for them.
Grouper - Dragging a Dead Deer Up A Hill
After dropping the showy droning and buzzing that characterized her earlier work, Liz Harris has finally made a truly great album. On Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill, her vocals are clear enough to be heard but not understood, and the music is dynamic enough to not be called ambient but plodding enough to still be called drone. There are some albums that are simply meant to be experienced sitting in the dark with quality headphones, and this is definitely one of them. Without paying careful attention, the listener may simply hear the calm of this music, and not pick up on the very unsettling nature of this entire album.
Ty Segall - Ty Segall
Calling Ty Segall's eponymous debut a 'garage album' doesn't really do it justice, I think. This album doesn't sound like it was recorded in a garage; it sounds like it was recorded inside a tin can. You have to really try to make production sound this bad. For the first couple of songs, Ty Segall is almost painful to listen to, and the ear-splitting hollowness of the music seems to overwhelm everything else. But as the album gets into its flow, the melody begins to shine through, and the listener starts to enjoy themselves. A lot. It's not that the production gets better, it's that you stop caring how bad it sounds and love it for what it is, which is a gloriously (and purposefully) flawed album, full of love songs and psychedelia which put most studio bands to shame. Still, this may not be for those with delicate ears.
Omar A. Rodriguez-Lopez - Old Money
I think by now fans of Omar know to expect great album after great album, and he does not disappoint here. Of his numerous releases in 2008, Old Money is easily the most satisfying. Curiously released on Stones Throw Records, this instrumental album shows him really showing off his chops at guitar, indulging his every whim. Oh, and Cedric plays the drums on one track (now I know you're interested). Another progressive odyssey from Omar and friends, this funky and psychedelic album never shows signs of wear, and sounds fresh on every subsequent listen.
Girl Talk - Feed The Animals
Download at official site
First of all, any artist who releases their work under a Creative Commons license is cool in my book. Second, any artist who can make an album like Feed the Animals should be cool in everyone's book. You can talk all day about how sampling isn't art, or how this album should have caused a slew of lawsuits, or how pop music and hip-hop are shit, but at the end of the day Gregg Gillis is still really goddamn cool (seriously, a mash-up of Kelly Clarkson and Nine Inch Nails takes some serious cool points to pull off). This album is one huge party from start to finish. Gillis essentially took the last 25 years of popular music and threw it all into a blender. Despite how much fun Feed the Animals is, I think the best effect of this album is that it shows music snobs like me that despite all the shit we sling at many mainstream artists, their music can still be pretty damn enjoyable.
And on that note, we proceed to the Top 20...
Coldplay - Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends
If you had told me a year ago that Coldplay was going to be in my Top 20 albums of 2008, I would have laughed in your face. And I don't mean a slight chuckle, either; I mean a straight-up, point-and-laugh-until-I-cried event would have occurred. And yet here I am, a year later, eating my words and admitting that Coldplay did what I thought was impossible and released an album like...this. Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends is the type of rock album that probably only comes around once in a generation, in that it's accessible to absolutely everyone. Ranging from grand, stadium-filling anthems to small, personal moments of clarity, this album is a masterpiece of popular music. Viva la Vida floored me in every way possible. What's more, I finally feel as if the U2 comparison is applicable. This is Coldplay's The Joshua Tree.
Dosh - Wolves and Wishes
If you're looking for a stronger argument than this for the legitimacy of glitch-hop, you won't find one. Mixing synth sounds and excited drumming, Dosh has crafted an album that is both danceable and contemplative. Every listen to Wolves and Wishes draws out a new element, previously unheard. Dosh has an uncanny ability to merge sounds with one another and make it work amazingly well, and not just as a novelty, but as a work of art. This is the kind of album you give to someone to prove to them that electronic music doesn't all sound the same.
Vivian Girls - Vivian Girls
On their debut album, Vivian Girls make delicious indie pop with a nice cushion of fuzz and noise on top to give it a little warmth. This is borderline shoegaze, and I can very easily see them going and turning into Cocteau Twins within an album or two. Every time I listen to this album it gets about twice as good as the last time I heard it. This shows no signs of stopping.
The Big Sleep - Sleep Forever
A progressive rock band that's actually progressive. Now there's something you don't see every day. The Big Sleep aren't afraid to push the envelope on what 'indie rock' can be, and this album plows through every so-called convention. They're blasting, droning, balls-out 'indie rock' if I've ever heard it. I wish I had listened to this album more, because I feel like it could have nabbed a Top 10 spot if it had sunk in.
Emiliana Torrini - Me And Armini
Emiliana Torrini became known for a trip-hop album, but that sound is all but gone on Me and Armini. Her sweet voice is also one of the strongest and most distinctive in music today, and it's a damn shame more people don't listen to her. Another example of pop done right, this album shows Torrini belting out "you've heard it all before / you want me here no more" to some poor soul who is obviously quite insane, and making drum noises with her voice in "Jungle Drum". You can't help but love her.
Billie the Vision & The Dancers - I Used To Wander These Streets
Apparently it was a good year for indie pop music, too. Cheerful and bubbly and naive, Billie the Vision & the Dancers is a band, an ensemble if you will, of seven people, none of whom are named Billie. This is music at its infectious best; I guarantee you will listen to this album more than once. Just try not to.
Portishead - Third
After disappearing off the face of the earth for a decade, Portishead came thundering back into the musical world in 2008 with what is quite possibly their best work to date. If Beth Gibbons has aged in the last 10 years, her voice sure doesn't show it. She can still cut right to the listener's bone with nothing more than a soft whisper. This album's been talked about a lot over the last year, so I won't say much more on the subject, but needless to say this album deserves the attention it's gotten.
Starfucker - Starfucker
Remember how I said I was tired of electro-indie-dance music? Yeah, apparently I lied, because Starfucker's self-titled debut album is one of the strongest of the year. Talk about a head-nodder of an album. How can an album be this catchy? I just don't understand it. This was a total blind grab for me, based entirely upon the name (I'm so edgy), and was a uniquely satisfying experience. Great car album.
Jenny Lewis - Acid Tongue
Collaborations, collaborations, collaborations! Jenny Lewis is a talented artist in her own right, but she's really outdone herself with Acid Tongue by surrounding herself with a plethora of other talented people. Elvis Costello, M. Ward, Paz Lenchantin, Chris Robinson, hell, even Zooey Deschanel sneaked in there! But let's not overstate their importance, for this is undoubtedly a Jenny Lewis album. With her powerful vocals serving as the centerpiece as always, she manages to keep herself as the focus. The obvious standout track is the nine minute "The Next Messiah", which is a pounding and pulsating testament to how great of an artist Lewis really is.
Q-Tip - The Renaissance
Mainstream hip-hop is dead? Not if Q-Tip has anything to say about it. On his third solo album, the former A Tribe Called Quest leader has made a soulful and honest hip-hop album that the masses are actually hearing. The fact that one of the tracks was produced by J Dilla before his death is a sign of how long Q-Tip has been working on The Renaissance, and how much work has been put into it. And it shows. This is polished to the point of being a finely-tuned machine. Everything clicks in perfect succession, there aren't any falters, there aren't any missteps. Q-Tip, and in fact the whole of hip-hop, is in top form here.
Fucked Up - The Chemistry of Common Life
The punk community, from what I've seen, has had some very negative reactions to this album. But I guess that's to be expected, because historically, the punk community takes serious offense at anyone attempting to change the way their music sounds. And that's exactly what Fucked Up are doing with this album. The only way I can think to describe The Chemistry of Common Life is as this decade's The Shape of Punk to Come. In fact, I doubt it was an accident that this album was released almost exactly ten years after Refused's seminal hardcore release, because its intentions appear to be largely similar. The hardcore scene, in the eyes of Fucked Up, has stagnated yet again, and their cure of choice seems to be to inject the genre with a huge dose of larger-than-life instrumentation and production values that sound like the band actually got into a studio instead of a basement. Every track on this album is amazing, from the 6 minute opener "Son The Father" all the way to the 7 minute title track closer. If it wasn't already clear from those track lengths, nothing about this album is conventional for a hardcore band. The themes are the same, but instead of writing about them in a personal and childish way, Fucked Up chooses to paint things in an all-encompassing light. As I mentioned earlier, the instrumentation is tight and practiced, and the production is actually clear. In "Twice born", the listener is commanded "hands up / if you think you're the only one". Fucked Up are none too proud of the arrogance of punks, it seems. The Chemistry of Common Life is destined to be seen as an absolute punk classic.
Tilly and the Wall - O
Indie pop group Tilly and the Wall returned in 2008 with their third album, o, which from start to finish is nothing if not a moody affair. Swaying back and forth between cute-as-a-button love songs and go-fuck-yourself rockers, o is an album that perfectly represents the mind of a confused young person who thinks they know everything. Hearing Neely Jenkins croon lines like "when there wasn't anywhere for me to go / oh, I stumbled into deep love with your rock and roll" and "you can fake that smile / for a hollow while / but the kids all learn / once those bridges burn" brings to mind mental images of conflicted and determined lovers, bent on discovering exactly what it is they're after and how to get it.
O'Death - Broken Hymns, Limbs and Skin
If you want an old-fashioned, good old boy romp through americana and country music, but without the dreaded bluegrass transformation, then Broken Hymns, Limbs and Skin should probably be your next acquisition. Yet another group that makes me wish I lived in New York, O'Death aren't afraid to throw a dirty and raucous album right in the middle of a music scene that prides itself on artistry and high-class work. These guys bring the listener back to another time; a time of banjos, makeshift drums, and washboards. Oh, and they really know how to rock the fiddle.
Times New Viking - Rip It Off
Columbus natives Times New Viking make indie pop music that I would almost go so far as to call twee. Sweet and innocent and charming stuff that wouldn't sound at all out of place in a cutesy indie flick about a dysfunctional family. That is, excluding the huge wall of grating noise and distortion that they erect between their music and the listener. On first listen it may seem as if the noise is unnecessary, a gimmick even. But on the second or third listen, it becomes clear that it is in fact used as an additional instrument, adding to the mood and style that belongs to Times New Viking alone. In its own twisted way, it actually adds immensely to the charm that makes the listener fall in love with this album. All last year when you were listening to Nouns? You should have been listening to Rip it Off.
Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago
Before you even think about making a comment like "This is an 07 release!", understand that I don't care in the least. This album didn't get a proper release until last year, so I include it. And really, can a list feel complete without an album like this? Justin Vernon, under the moniker Bon Iver, has expelled his demons in the only way he knows how: with music. Locking himself away from society after the breakup of his band, Vernon came out of a cabin three months later with For Emma, Forever Ago. There's a lot of pain in this album, and the listener is driven to wonder what the hell could have happened to this man. It's a contemplative work, allowing the audience to reflect on their own lives, their current situations, their recent decisions. The most eye-opening moment comes in the form of the track "Skinny Love", when Vernon howls out "Now all your love was wasted? / Then who the hell was I?" with more venom than mere text can convey. If you listen to this album at night, on your own in the dark, it may serve to bring out painful memories of your own.
Los Campesinos! - Hold On Now, Youngster... / We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed
Yeah, these are two separate releases, I know. But both of them deserve a place on this list, and I just couldn't justify taking up two spots with the same artist. No two albums have provided more fun in the past year than Los Campesinos!'s first and second efforts, released only eight months apart. On debut Hold On Now, Youngster..., they show themselves as playful and youthful, if not exactly innocent and sweet. On We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed, they appear to have somehow matured in such a short amount of time. Actually, maybe matured isn't quite the right word, or maybe it just isn't better for their state-of-mind, since they're still crooning lines like "I identify my star sign / by asking which is least compatible / with yours" and "I think it's fair to say that I chose hopelessness / and inflicted it on the rest of us". But don't be fooled, Los Campesinos! are jovial and boisterous, and it's damn near impossible not be sucked into their good-natured sarcasm and personal attacks. You'll be listening to these albums for hours at a time, so clear your schedule.
A Silver Mt. Zion - 13 Blues for Thirteen Moons
On their fifth offering, the revolving door ensemble that is A Silver Mt. Zion have proven once and for all that they're far better than any of the other projects its members have ever been involved with. They've stepped out of Godspeed You! Black Emperor's shadow at last, and simultaneously leaped into the light. To even call 13 Blues for Thirteen Moons a post-rock album would be to severely undercut just how much ground the group covers within these four 13 minute+ tracks. In order to create the massive scope of this album, they have turned it into a fully vocalized affair, abandoning the notion that post-rock bands should only use vocals sparingly, if at all. Led but not dominated by chief songwriter Efrim Menuck, the entire group sings on every track, acting as a chorus to convey the universal themes and topics in this album. Peace, war, hope, despair, love, loss, idealism, realism, everything is here and in top form. 13 Blues for Thirteen Moons smashes into the listener with the force of a freight train on the opening epic "1,000,000 Died To Make This Sound", beginning with a whimpering "One million died to make this sound / can't learn the words if you don't know the feeling / can't get the feeling if you don't know the sound", and slowly escalating towards the angry accusations of "their way is debt and prisons / they're burning half the world". They then kick things up even higher with the burning attack that is the title track, shouting out repeatedly "we just want some action / we just want some action / no heroes on my radio" and closing it out with the distorted and jerky call to arms "we will not sing at your damn parade / we will not sing at your damn parade / we-will-not-sing-at-your-damn-pa-rade!". The album ends with a deeply affecting track, "BlindBlindBlind", and the simple assumption that "some hearts are true". 13 Blues for Thirteen Moons is an astounding album that should be required listening for anyone who thinks they know what it means to truly care about something.
M83 - Saturdays = Youth
You've heard that it's beautiful. You've heard that it's haunting. You've heard that it's the soundtrack to a John Hughes movie that doesn't exist. These things are all true. Saturdays = Youth is less ambient and more structured than the group's (now solo artist's) previous efforts, sometimes nearing shoegaze territory, which is unsurprising, since the album was produced by Ken Thomas, known for his work with Sigur Ros and Chocteau Twins. I feel like everything that can be said about this album has been said more elegantly than I could hope to do, so I'll keep this brief. This is the definition of a nighttime album, meant to be listened to in the time of night when no one else is awake, and it's just you and your headphones in a dark room. The ethereal vocals will carry you away, and certain moments will both excite and calm you. M83 has delivered what is possibly his best work to date with Saturdays = Youth.
Why? - Alopecia
On their second album as a group, Yoni Wolf and friends have brought audiences another breathtaking dose of their signature mixture of hip-hop, indie rock, and folk. Driven as always by Wolf's unmistakable lyrics and vocals, Alopecia is an enlightening foray into the imagination. With thick and seemingly impenetrable lyrics, Why? make the listener strain to discover meaning, even though the intent is to create images, to make the audience think. Although there are occasional lines like "even though I haven't seen you in years / yours is a funeral I'd fly to from anywhere" in "These Few Presidents" which are wonderfully telling, oblique lyrics such as "I'm not a ladies man / I'm a land mine / filming my own fake death" form the backbone of this album. But let's not overlook the beats and instrumentation, which utilize folk arrangements in unexpected ways to execute the band's intentions. I feel as if it's difficult to describe this album accurately with words; it's something that simply needs to be experienced.
Album of the Year
Phoebe Killdeer and the Short Straws - Weather's Coming...
Amid a seemingly endless sea of predictable and uncreative artists that don't have an original thought in their heads, music scenes that have stopped evolving entirely, and the holier-than-thou attitude that seems to have spread like a plague throughout the entire music world, Phoebe Killdeer released an album from totally out of left-field that stands head and shoulders above every other release of the 2008. Weather's Coming... announces the arrival of a distinctive and thoroughly original voice to the music world. I guarantee you have not heard an album like this before, because there ARE no albums like this. But what truly makes this album great, and what makes me believe that it undoubtedly deserves to be called album of the year, is how identifiable and lifelike it is. It runs the gamut of human emotions, from insecurity ("Paranoia"), to loss and the ensuing confusion ("He's gone"), to infatuation ("jack"), to just having a good time ("How Far"). But the defining moment of this album comes midway through, with the track "Stuck Inside". The track is a musical version of excitement and anticipation, with the climax lasting only seconds, and coming halfway through the song. It's a representation of how sometimes the things we yearn for most turn out not being what we expected, or not being quite what we had hoped. How we're let down by those around us. How our aspirations betray us and leave us wondering what's next. Weather's Coming... doesn't let you down, though, because if this album is any indication, Phoebe Killdeer if one of the finest artists in music today. She's the kind of artist that I can see being an active member of the musical community within a few short years, gaining critical recognition, even mainstream acceptance. Don't take your eyes off of Phoebe Killdeer.
Top 5 EPs
Architecture in Helsinki - Like it or Not
The standout track on their 2007 album Places Like This, "Like It Or Not" gets the remix treatment. This EP is padded out with some leftover tracks from the Places Like This sessions.
Agalloch - The White
I would have preferred another full-length, but this will do for now. On The White, Agalloch shun their metal beginnings and decide to go the neofolk route. This is essentially a continuation of The Mantle, and that should tell you how good this EP is.
Slow Club - Let's Fall Back In Love
If my sources are to be believed, this band once passed out muffins to the audience at one of their gigs, and this is exactly the type of music you would expect after hearing that. Indie pop that's cute enough to make you puke, Slow Club released yet another single in 2008 to both the admiration and frustration of their fans. Let me just join the chorus by saying "release an album already!".
Sugar Daddy - This Ain't No Party This Ain't No Disco
Okay, so I'm not totally sure this should be included with the EPs, since Sugar Daddy have referred to it as a "mini-album", but whatever. This is a funky and rocky album, and another one that was self-released by the artist on What.cd. This EP was a lot of fun, and proved to be really nice driving music (which is always a plus).
EP of the Year
Animal Collective - Water Curses
I wanted to choose something a little less obvious for Top EP, but it's just impossible to argue with Water Curses. This trippy and jammy little EP continues Animal Collective's progression into more accessible music, and does it oh-so-well. I've tried to describe their music in the past and failed miserably, so my only recommendation is to check this out if you haven't. This serves as the perfect appetite-wetter for Merriweather Post Pavilion.
Well, there you have it. My Top 50 Albums and Top 5 EPs of 2008. I feel like I've been writing for a month, but if my computer crashed right now, I'd happily start all over again (okay maybe not happily, but I would). Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the list as well as my inane commentary. Comments are appreciated and encouraged!