Monday, December 29, 2008

Top 25 Albums of 2008

This was hard. Much harder than I thought it would be. I listened to about 75 albums from 2008, but there were so many more that I thought I "should" listen to, to be fair. Well, time ran out, and here's what I ended up with. I'm happy with it. I'd really appreciate your comments. Also, see my FULL list of reviews of all of the albums I listened to.

25. Beach House - Devotion
Very nice Nico-esque sound they have. It's retro, for sure, but not the same kind of retro everyone else seems to be ripping off lately. These Baltimoreans have done my home state proud.

24. AU - Verbs
I heard these guys open for the Dodos, and it took a few songs, but I eventually got into their sound. For some reason, I end up comparing a lot of bands to Animal Collective, but I think it's apt here. They have that same sense of how to make the bizarre beautiful.

23. Delta Spirit - Ode to Sunshine
Not consistently good through the whole album, but there are a few outstanding tracks. Their old-school folk/soul lo-fi sound feels comfortable from the moment you hear it.

22. Kanye West - 808s and Heartbreak
As much as I dislike the guy for his attitude, there's no denying his ear. Yeah, maybe he isn't a very good singer, but he knows it, and makes up for it with some appropriate effect-work.

21. Cut Copy - In Ghost Colours
Fun and dancy, this record doesn't take itself too seriously like a lot of electronic music. The synths and beats make for perfect party music that owes plenty to Depeche Mode and other earlier electronic groups, but still sounds modern. I think the singer could use some voice lessons though.

20. Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago
All quality songs. This mellow folk rock rookie in the Iron & Wine mold has some stellar melodies and a haunting sound that will touch your heart and be appropriate for the soundtrack to Gray's Anatomy (woops, too late).

19. Deerhunter - Microcastle
This album has multiple personalities. Its ambient, spacey, trippy side makes it pleasantly groovy. Its power pop melodies and hooks give it a familiar feel. "Never Stops" is a really good track.

18. Santogold - Santogold
Hopping back and forth between new wave, reggae, hip hop, and hard rock, (even a taste of country) this exciting new artist is fresh and filled with the funk. Can't wait to hear what she has to give us next.

17. The Raconteurs - Consolers of the Lonely
Jack White's "other band" is better than his regular band (The White Stripes). Yeah I said it. This isn't his side project. This is the real deal. Unlike White Stripes albums, this one keeps moving the whole time, not pausing to marvel at Jack's virtuosity. This is about the songs, not the man. The rest of the band must bring out the more practical rocker in him.

16. Amadou & Mariam - Welcome to Mali
Blind husband-wife duo mix traditional and modern sounds with soulful song-writing. I have no idea what they're saying, but they've got me convinced.

15. The Dodos - Visiter
This duo, sometimes trio, is downright nasty with the skills. Acoustic guitar, drums, and singing (and sweatpants). That's all you need, apparently. Their music is a frenzy of activity that you should be shocked to learn comes from just two young dudes from San Francisco. Full review.

14. Shugo Tokumaru - Exit
When I first listened to it, I thought it would surely be one of my top 3 albums of the year, but it didn't take too many spins before I realized it's just a very very good album. The multi-instrumentalist from the nation of my birth did the homeland proud with a little gem of an album. It's fun, trippy, airy, and concise. Full review.

13. Sigur Ros - Med sud i eyrum vid spilum endalaust
The Icelandic group's most accessible album to date. Mosts of the songs are single-length and of fairly standard song structure, unlike much of their more ambient catalog. A good listen for sure, even if it seems to cater more to the masses. They're still near the top of the active psychedelic music scene.

12. Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes
It took a long time for me to appreciate this album. It seems to be on everybody's top ten list, and I just didn't see it until I listened to it in the morning. Some albums are night-time music. This is morning-time music, for me at least. My beef with it for a while was that it's not very original, as it borrows a lot from the 60s and 70s era psychedelic and folk scenes, especially the Beach Boys. I know everyone borrows, but it just seemed too similar. But I realized that regardless of whether the style is new, the songs are great, and the melodies are timeless.

11. Jay Reatard - Matador Singles '08
What is he? Indie? Punk? Who cares, it sounds so good to me. It's defiant, angry, paranoid, confident. Everything he seems to be as a person.

10. Crystal Castles - Crystal Castles
Another innovative electronic group making beautiful sounds with blips, beeps, and buzzy beats.

9. Elbow - Seldom Seen Kid
This Mancunian group have been one of my favorite bands for a while now, but this album seems like their best, most confident work so far. Also, their show at 6th & I historic Synagogue was my favorite show of the year, and I went to a LOT of good shows this year.

8. Dr. Dog - Fate
They might be higher if not for a weak final three tracks. This band has been one of my favorite music discoveries of the year. They're awesome live, and this album, an indie/blues/folk fun-ride, complete with great vocal variety and harmony. Full review.

7. The Cool Kids - The Bake Sale
Midwest hip-hop duo lay witty, self-deprecating rhymes over minimalist, old school beats. My favorite hip-hop album since Madvillainy. Ok, so I don't listen to that much hip-hop, it's true. But this has fulfilled my undernourished taste for it for '08, and I think '09 will be a year of hip-hop exploration for me.

6. Fuck Buttons - Street Horrrsing
The future of music? This electronic group put together a great effort filled with hard beats, dramatic buildups, and a fascinating mix of melody and noise.

5. Frightened Rabbit - The Midnight Organ Fight
"I am armed with the past, and the will, and a brick / I might not want you back, but I want to kill him." These are the kinds of raw emotional lyrics, sung with a wobbly, earnest voice, that make this album great. It's produced by the same guy who produced Boxer by the National last year, and the two albums share the quality of breathing new life into the conventional rock style with just good song-writing and production.

4. The Walkmen - You & Me
Roommate Ed proclaims, "Sounds like Bob Dylan" and dismisses it. Whatever, he does have that great-singer-that-can't-really-sing kind of sound to him. There's so much more though. You feel like you're in some grainy independent film that's vaguely set in the past, but feels particularly timely, if that makes even a lick of sense.

3. TV on the Radio - Dear Science
This album occupied my top spot for a good portion of the year, and might have suffered from being the first of these top 3 that I heard, and therefore, the least fresh. It's amazing. They deserve all the praise they're getting. I think they finally put it all together on this record, where in their previous efforts, there were good tracks, but not a good album. Also, read my full gushing review.

2. Portishead - Third
Wow, who knew a band could go away for so long and come back with an album this good? I guess it's not unheard of. These alt-electro-rock-ish veterans know how to make some amazing sounds with their instruments, machines, and voices. To use a cliche term, the songs take you on a journey, and all the stops on that trip are beautiful and strange.

1. Department of Eagles - In Ear Park
First off, props to Brooklyn for putting out so many good records this year (this one, TVOTR, Santogold, The Hold Steady, MGMT, Vampire Weekend). Nicely done. This one takes the cake though. It's a full album, stunning from start to finish. They ditched their out-and-out electronica sound and humor (which were good too) and focused on making a spooky folktronica masterpiece. Daniel Rossen, also from Grizzly Bear, has a beautiful and earnest voice that colors the album with vivid, pained strokes. Also check out my full review.


Courtney said...

you are a machine, your heart out Rolling Stone!

Bubba said...

Great reviews. I'll have to check these out.

Also, if you're venturing into hip hop next year, make sure to study the classics beforehand like a tribe called quest, gangstarr, blackstar, run dmc, de la soul, wu tang and of course biggie and pac.

Edward said...

Good list. You know this already but for me: 1)Fleet Foxes and 2) Elbow stand out from the pack and then the rest follow with a special mention for Howlin' Rain (it got me kick-stated each morning for the entire spring).

Ed also thinks that sounding like Bob Dylan can be a good thing. And I actually realy like the Walkmen track on your CD. So there! The Walkmen always kind of remind of me of The Strokes for some reason. Maybe his voice.

Tyler S said...

Great list! Big ups on Cut Copy and Portishead; still not sold on Bon Iver or Beach House, though!

Two great albums of '08 I'd include on any list of my own, if you haven't heard- "The '59 Sound" by Gaslight Anthem and "Civil War" by Dillinger Four.

Maybe see you at your party tomorrow night!

Eli said...

Tyler, actually I did listen to Gaslight Anthem and didn't like it very much. I wrote why on the full list:

Drew Tatusko said...

I only recently realized that Beach House's latest was a 2008 release. The other band from Baltimore I like a lot is Wilderness.

Got a few in the dance/electro-pop category that I have not heard, but it's typically not my cup of tea.

At first I thought Fleet Foxes was simply too derivative of Smile! and Pet Sounds. but then I listened to it many more times like you and thought, who cares, it's just good music.

Just started listening to Frightened Rabbit. And the new Elbow is growing more and more on me. I'll check some of the other stuff out as well. Rock on!

Drew Tatusko said...

Oh yeah, and what is it about Brooklyn these days? What a hot bed of great stuff - even beyond the music released just this year! Seattle is getting its folksiness on and Canada is the indie-pop center of the universe anymore. North America makes great music when people are entering recession and have a government most people hate :-)