By popular request (read: three of you) I’ve labored to compile my selections for the best records of 2008.
Given my rather eclectic and obscure tastes – as compared to the average listener, many of the albums below may be unfamiliar to you. Depending on your own inclinations towards discovering new music, that will be either good (yay! new music to listen to!) or bad (who the hell are all these bands and why should I care?). I offer this with no endorsements other than the fact that I listen to a fair amount of music, and these are my favorites from the past calendar year.
Your mileage may vary, obviously.
A couple of caveats as you consider the list:
- This is not a list of the best tracks from 2008, but rather the best albums. Big difference. If you’re looking for a best singles kind of thing, I suggest listening along to my mixtapes.
- Most of these are indie rock acts. If you don’t like indie rock – if you are, say, a country music or a Top 40 person – please move along, there’s nothing to see here.
- Don’t get hung up on the sequence, particularly outside the top five, because frankly I didn’t really agonize over it myself.
- This is only music released this year: this is not, please note, music I started listening to this year. That list would look very different.
- I’m sure there are acts I’ve forgotten. I’m even more sure there are acts that I’ve missed. Sue me.
Oh, and before I continue, my thanks to Anthony for passing along the Wikipedia List of Albums Released in 2008 which started this whole thing. Thanks are also due to WOXY for introducing me to many of these, and the DJs there for sharing their own versions of this list.
Anyway, on to the list. One of the things I generally hate about music reviews is that they don’t tell you where to start: i.e. if you’re going to buy a track, which one? I’ve tried to fix that below, both via suggestion and via Favtape. More on that in a minute.
- Sigur Rós: Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust:
No, I’m not going to translate that for you: just listen to it. This is the one band on the list whose appeal should be near universal. One other thing: I’m not asking you, I’m telling you: see them live. They’re that good, trust me.
Try: Inní mér syngur vitleysingur
- Cloud Cult: Feel Good Ghosts (Tea-Partying Through Tornadoes):
To be honest, this album is a bit up and down for me, but it places so highly because what’s good is really good. I am absolutely killing tracks like “No One Said it Would Be Easy,” which are all the more poignant if you know the back story. As an added bonus for the green folks in the audience, this band is seriously dedicated. Like “powered by geothermal energy and built partially from reclaimed wood and recycled plastic” and “tours in a biodiesel van” dedicated. So they’ve got that going for them. Which is nice. (Thanks to Shelly for this recommendation, btw).
Try: No One Said It Would Be Easy
- Ok, I’m going to cheat here and 1.) insert Greg Laswell after the fact b/c I forgot him and 2.) not bump anyone. It’s my list, dammit.
A.) Greg Laswell: Three Flights From Alto Nido:
Like a lot of the other bands on this list, there’s little to differentiate Laswell technically speaking. He’s your basic singer/songwriter type, but I’m nevertheless a big fan of this San Diego artist. Unpretentious, with a gift for poignant lyrics, I recommend him. In addition to this record, look for this year’s EP, “How the Day Sounds”; the track “Salvation Dear” is one of his best, IMO.
Try: Days Go On
- Pete & The Pirates: Little Death:
Technically, I suppose it’s not much to listen to: just another punk-tinged act. But this ended up being one of five, maybe six albums that I took the time to burn onto a CD for the car. A catchy little act. If you like The Oranges Band, you’ll like these guys.
Try: Come On Feet
- Frightened Rabbit: The Midnight Organ Fight:
A solid album end to end from these Scottish rockers. A bit emo-tinged at times, but I like it in spite of that.
Try: Old Old Fashioned
- Blitzen Trapper: Furr:
This was an album I bought only after picking up maybe five of the tracks individually, which is generally a good sign. It’s got its highs and lows, but its Southern rock feel might evoke the Kings of Leon at times if you like that band. Furr, also, is one of the better tracks I heard this year.
- Beck: Modern Guilt:
Another year, another excellent Beck album. What’s new? Big fan of the man. And not just because he was awesome on Futurama.
Try: Profanity Prayers
- Noah and the Whale: Peaceful The World Lays Me Down:
One of these things is not like the other…this is way more popish than anything else on the list, and I’d understand if some of you dismiss it as saccharine. That was my reaction at first. But it grows on you, and there’s no arguing that it’s catchy. I liked it.
Try: Rocks and Daggers
- Little Joy: Little Joy:
Great little act with some Strokes pedigree. While that influence comes through at times, however, the sound is quite distinct and lovely, in its own way.
Try: Don’t Watch Me Dancing
- Vampire Weekend: Vampire Weekend:
The biggest little act ever, most of you have probably heard this somewhere. Like last year’s Neon Bible, this one got heavy airtime in a variety of venues, but like that record, Vampire Weekend is well executed. The afro-pop rubs some folks the wrong way, but I enjoy its distinction.
- Gnarls Barkley: The Odd Couple:
I liked the last one better too. Still, this is an excellent, different album. And it’s Dangermouse: if you think I’d leave him off the list, you’re insane.
- Flogging Molly: Float:
This Irish-punk conglomerate is one of my favorite acts going, and if it wasn’t for the presence of Sigur Ros on the list, I’d be tempted to claim they’re the best live. They are simply phenomenal. Float’s a good offering, I think, from these guys: it took a couple of plays, but I’m sold.
Try: From the Back of a Broken Dream
- Santogold: Santogold:
Ok, this is even more pop than Noah and the Whale; it’s borderline Top 40, in fact, as Santogold tracks now play in frigging Old Navy stores. I know, I know. But give it a listen. I don’t like all of it, but what’s good is good. And girls tend to love it, as an FYI.
Try: L.E.S. Artistes
- Okkervil River: The Stand Ins:
I’ve tried to listen to Okkervil River in the past and they simply didn’t click, for whatever the reason. The Stand Ins changed that; I get it now, I think. Borderline dissonant indie rock shown to good display.
Try: Singer Songwriter
- Thievery Corporation: Radio Retaliation:
If you’re thinking, “hmm…Thievery Corporation – I know I’ve heard that somewhere,” you’re thinking of Lebanese Blonde, their (excellent) track that’s been in a bazillion movies and twice as many commercials. Radio Retaliation is, in my view, classic Thievery: weird ambient electronic rock featuring a variety of stylistic influences.
Try: 33 Degree
- Bound Stems: The Family Afloat:
Took a little while with this one, and they don’t quite get to where I think they can. Tracks like the opener are Exhibit A: it’s listenable for the first two or three minutes, excellent the remainder. More consistency would place them higher.
Try: Taking Tips from the Gallery Gang
- Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin: Pershing:
I’ve listened to these guys for a number of years, and this is their best effort – IMO – to date. Very listenable if technically not diverse rock.
Try: Modern Mystery
- Parts & Labor: Receivers:
Not a bad little album.
Try: Nowheres Nigh
- The Black Keys: Attack & Release:
The Dangermouse produced Black Keys effort was, frankly, not exactly what I expected or even hoped for, but it’s still very good. If you like your rock heavy on the blues, the Black Keys are your band. Enjoy, and you’re welcome.
Try: I Got Mine
- King Khan & The Shrines: The Supreme Genius of King Khan & The Shrines :
For some of you, the directness of the King Khan & The Shrines approach will be, effectively, a bludgeoning. For myself, as a fan of vaguely similar bands in the Detroit Cobras, it’s refreshing. Give them a listen, and find out what camp you sit in.
Try: No Regrets
B.) Peter Adams: I Woke With Planets In My Face:
I love this album, not least because it’s self-published and made available at http://www.peteradamsmusic.com/ for a Radiohead-style “pay what you want” economic model. I valued it at $8 per album, as I recall, but it’s probably worth twice that.
Try: Conversations With the Moon
And there you have it. I’m sure there are other more technically sound, more comprehensive, and generally better lists, but that’s mine. If you’re interested in actually hearing some of this instead of just listening to me talk about it, head over to the Favtape and drink deep of 2008. A couple of caveats: due to the limitations of Favtapes catalog, a.) I couldn’t always pick the track I wanted and b.) some of the albums (Thievery and Peter Adams, I think) didn’t have any available at all from the album and thus are omitted. My apologies.
The Honorable Mention list for those seeking more punishment: The Avett Brothers “The Second Gleam,” The Dutchess & The Duke “She’s the Dutchess, He’s the Duke,” Electric President “Sleep Well,” Airborne Toxic Event “The Airborne Toxic Event,” MGMT “Oracular Spectacular,” We Are Scientists “Brain Thrust Mastery,” Portishead “Third,” Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s “Animal!/Not Animal.”