Saturday, December 20, 2008
My Top 20 Albums Of '08
2008 was also a year in which we had the return of Metallica, My Bloody Valentine and a Britney Spears that isn’t completely crazy. It is also a year that has blessed us the “Rosa Parks” of getting girls to make out with each other, Katy Perry. Looking back on ’08, I can say it hasn’t been too bad.
Who knows if I’ll be writing this list anymore in the years to come because the album format is dying year by year. Chuck Klosterman wrote a very good review on Guns N’ Roses’ “Chinese Democracy” and says that “Chinese Democracy” will be the “Last album that will be marketed as a collection of autonomous-but-connected songs and the last album that will matter more as a physical object than as an Internet sound file.” And its hard to agree with that, but for now lets look over, what I believe to be, the year’s best.
If you get tired of reading this there are always great year-end lists that require little reading like Smoking Gun’s Top Mugshots of the Year or the Douchie Awards given out by Hot Chicks With Douchbags and of course what could be the most important list of after mine: Mr. Skin’s Top Nude Scenes of 2008.
I present to you my totally biased view towards the year in albums. Really, a list isn’t a list unless you disagree with it. I expect people who read this not to agree but the number 1 album something I stand behind firmly. No Fleet Foxes here folk. Enjoy.
20. “Evil Urges” by My Morning Jacket
Just because this album is the bottom of my list doesn’t mean you should ignore it. “Evil Urges” was pretty close to being left off the list and being replaced by Chad Van Gaalen’s “Soft Airplane” but then I realized how much I love this album. In my opinion, this is the best “Southern Rock” album of the year; sorry Kings Of Leon fans – they aren’t making my list.
The album morphs from Southern Rock to a Prince cover band and the ends in a hazy, slow sounding mess. Craig Finn of The Hold Steady says that My Morning Jacket are the “American Readiohead” and even though I think he is way off I don’t dispute that this band makes some great music. You already know “Touch Me I’m Going To Scream Pt.1” was one of my favourite tracks of the year. I can tell you that sounds like “I’m Amazed”, “Thank You Too!” and “Smokin’ From Shootin” make this album a well balanced and great listen.
19. “Bake Sale” by The Cool Kids
Last year I had 3 rap albums in my year end list, which is odd because as most of you know, I’m not really a big rap fan. What is even more odd is that those three album were all in my top 10 albums of ’07. This year is a much different story in regards to rap.
The Cool Kids’ “Bake Sale” is the ONLY rap album to make it on my year end list. Yeah, you read that right – No “Tha Carter III” in my top albums, Lil’ Wayne’s already locked down “Album of the Year” titles from Time and Blender. Wale’s “Mixtape About Nothing” almost made my list though.
Anyways, I was thinking about leaving this off because most of these songs came out last year but the greatness of these songs as a collective was too much to ignore. This is just a simple and fun rap record. Basic but catchy beats and clever and mostly nonsensical lyrics make this a 10 song album that you’re going to have great fun listening to. “88”, “A Little Bit Cooler” and “Jingling” are all stand out tracks whose topics range from race wars to boutique street wear. You really can’t hate the Cool Kids – they broke out Skee-Lo and Montell Jordan samples when I saw them live.
18. “Sebastien Grainger & The Mountains by Sebastien Grainger
In case you don’t know Sebastien Grainger use to be the frontman/drummer for a band called Death From Above 1979 , a short lived amazing music duo. This is his first solo album and it rocks. While, you probably may not see this album on any other year end list its no reason to dismiss it.
It is a mashup of rock sounds, ranging from that dance rock (Renegade Silence) to punk (Niagara) and even a live track (I’m All Rage). The songs that I find the best are the ones in which Grainger seems to has found his own style: “American Names”, (Are There) Ways To Come Home?” and “I Hate My Friends” display the best of what Sebastien Grainger has to offer. I look forward at what is to come from one of the most disappointing band splits from recent years.
17. “Saturnalia” by The Gutter Twins
A couple years ago I use to make fun of a friend because it seemed that the only bands he liked were bands whose band names started with “The”. This chum of mine then counteracted saying I have a fondness for 90’s rehashed supergroups (Think Audioslave and Zwan). I’ve grown out of those bands (I still like the first Audioslave album, though) but am in love with the pairing of Mark Lanegan and Greg Dulli: A underrated, dark singer-songwriter supergroup.
Dulli’s Afghan Whigs and Twilight Singers are both mind blowingly awesome and Lanegan sings on one of my favourite songs (In The Fade by Queens Of The Stone Age); is often compared to Tom Waits and is responsible for Kurt Cobain closing the MYV Unplugged set with “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?”. As the moniker Gutter Twins suggest this is a dark and gloomy rock album. “The Stations” is an AMAZING opener; “Front Street” is a great dark and poetic closer and everything in between flows together perfectly. “Saturnalia” is a Roman Festival in which social roles are reversed typically slaves and masters switched places. This is funny because of two of the most under appreciated singers out there have their day and triumph with a beautiful album and your new rainy day mix.
16. “Crystal Castles” by Crystal Castles
My good friend Jordan Orava just quit reading this list after seeing this entry. Crystal Castles’ debut is the second and final CanCon album to make the cut.
Crystal Castles are total 80’s nostalgia: their music is comprised of 8-bit video game music (Original Nintendo Music, for those not in the know) and their name is taken from She-Ra’s fortress. And while it seems they get their attention because of this schtick or retro-ness, I think that their debut is much more then that – its an electronic/dance album tinged with a punk attitude that has pulled me into a type of music that I have all but abandoned since Prodigy’s “Fat Of The Land”.
“Magic Spells” and Vanished” have to be my favourite tracks followed by “Crimewave (Crystal Castles vs. Health)”; “Courtship Date” and “Knights”. Great background music and just as good if you’re listening to it in your headphones.
15. “Modern Guilt” by Beck
What would one of my year end list be without a spot dedicated to Beck? His “Modern Guilt”, which was produced by Danger Mouse, is a 35 minute easy, boppy listen that has tinges of the psychedelic. He has abandoned the upbeat dance style that saturated of this last two albums and tried something new. The first single “Chemtrails”, is a hazy and mellow gem about the conspiracy theories that surround jet streams from planes. “Youthless” and “Soul Of A Man” are reflections of a man growing up and “Profanity Prayers” I don’t have a clue about but it’s the second best track on the album.
In the end Beck crafted a short and easily accessible paranoia album for those who don’t listen to albums no more.
14. “Top Ranking” by Diplo And Santogold
Street Fighter, B-52’s, The Clash, Panda Bear and Of Montreal are all sampled on this joint effort between Diplo and one of my new favourite artists, Santogold. If I can declare that my number 10 album is funnest album of the year this can easily be the second.
“Top Ranking” is a cornucopia of sounds and samples. There is the great “Guns Of Brooklyn” which is a take on The Clash’s song of almost the same name. Then you have remixes of songs that appear on Santogold’s debut, the “Lights Out” and L.E.S. Artistes remixes are just as good as the originals. Then you have new and original songs that are pure ear candy. “Run-Hide” is super catchy while “Icarus” is a mellow and blissful track which simply has Santi’s voice over a harp. While “Top Ranking” isn’t literally top ranking on my list it is pretty close. (Lame ending line count: 1)
13. “Heart On” by Eagles Of Death Metal
On this album, Jesse “Electric Boots” Hughes and Josh “Baby Duck” Homme have perfected their aim to be The Eagles if they played ”Death Metal”. The one thing I don’t like about this album, is its title, “Heart On”, I don’t get it? It seems to be an incomplete sentence? Heart on, what? What exactly is the heart on?
Anyways, this album is a sexy rock gem that makes you want to pitch a tent in the middle of the desert and throw a party. You get songs like “High Voltage” that are straight up erect rockers and then you get mellower summer jams like “Now, I’m A Fool”. In the end, this is Eagles Of Death Metal’s most complete, cohesive and fun album. It was quite a boner of me that I didn’t go and see this band live when I had the chance.
12. “Viva La Vida…” by Coldplay
Yes, I like this album. Yes, I still have both of my testicles. Yes, I enjoy sappy love songs. Yes, I know how my opinion doesn’t matter as much after listing this album and not listing your favourite.
Most importantly though: Yes, this album is actually really good and a step in the right direction for a band that was headed nowhere (Not literally though – in terms of creativity) after “X&Y”. They hired acclaimed Brian Eno to produce their newest album and it looks like he instituted many different styles and sounds into the band. According to an interview I read Eno said that Coldplay was “Relying on too many of their old tricks” and “Viva La Vida” definitely changes Coldplay’s musical direction while alienating many of their fans – which really is a good sign.
Despite its Ricky Martin title and Coldplay’s ridiculously gimmicky stage theme and wardrobe the album is consistent from beginning to end. Chris Martin admittedly, said that he wanted this album to be short and compact and meant to be listened to on a subway or “tube” ride – not requiring much attention. Even though the death of album format is a sad sentiment, tracks like “42”, “Lost!”, the brilliant first single “Violet Hill” and the excellent closer “Death And All His Friends” make this album a fast, endearing and most importantly an enjoyable album.
11. “Little Joy” by Little Joy
The only way you’ve stumbled across this band is if you’re a fan of the Strokes. Drummer Fabrizio Moretti teamed up with a Brazilian by the name of Rodrigo Amarante and Binki Shapiro to form a trio that sounds like summer. That is the one bad thing about this album, the time of its release, it would probably rank so much higher if I had heard this in June instead of during the wintery grave of the North in November.
Little Joy’s name is taken from a cocktail bar in LA and the name is very telling of their sound. In what will be seen as hopping onto Vampire Weekend’s bandwagon Little Joy create a fun, poppy and simple atmosphere. Songs like “Brand New Start” will make you think you’re on a beach enjoying your life; “With Strangers” is a great campfire song minus the drunken guy who doesn’t know the lyrics and “How To Hang a Warhol” makes it seem OK that you’re an Art Major – even though it isn’t. Little Joy? More like A LOT OF JOY, as far as I’m concerned. (I’m here all week, folks).
10. “Feed The Animals” by Girl Talk
When I first started compiling my list in November (Yes, I give this shit too much thought) Greg Gillis’ lastest mash up of indie songs, Top 40 hits, rap anthems and old classics was at number 20 on my list. I couldn’t justify it being any higher because it is an album made solely out of samples. Then I remembered the Avalanches’ “Since I Left You” and Beastie Boys’ “Paul Boutiques” both sample happy albums that received high acclaim.
Now, why is this album so high for a guy who doesn’t like dance music? Simple, because it is a really fun album. I probably haven’t had this much fun listening to an album since Adam Sandler’s “Goat Song” in Grade 7. Girl Talk also was probably one of the most “fun” I had at a concert this year (The Hives come in second) and while the merits of Girl Talk’s music is questioned there is no doubt that his live show is a dance mix tour de force. Mixing Radiohead’s “ROC Boys” with Radiohead’s “Paranoid” Android” is awesome. Lil Wayne against Sinead O’Connor is shocking but works great and Metallica with Lil’ Mama is brilliant. This collection of 14 “songs” makes a great party album which Gillis gave out for free. Download it set it up on your comp and let it be your DJ for a fun night.
09. “The ’59 Sound” by The Gaslight Anthem
One of those albums that creeped up on me and got better and better with every listen. As a person who has seemed to have outgrown his “punk” tendencies (I wasn’t really a huge punk fan but was more open to it) I have a hard time giving anything relatively “punk” a chance. Now, punk fans who are reading this, I know that Gaslight Anthem, isn’t really punk but that is what it is getting lumped into.
Now, if you’re like me you probably won’t listen to this initially, just download it and keep it on your playlist or Ipod and hope that your shuffle will land on a song. Once one song catches on then the rest will follow. Really, this is more similar to Bruce Springsteen’s work then any other punk album I’m familiar with. “Film Noir” is foot stompingly awesome; “Miles Davis & The Cool” is a catchy anthem and of course you should know about my feelings about “Even Cowgirls Get The Blues” my 9th favourite song of the year. “The ’59 Sound” hasn’t got much exposure in many of these year end lists but they definitely deserve to be in my top 10 albums of the year. A consistent and emotional album that has wide appeal. Different then anything else I have on my list.
08. “Vampire Weekend” by Vampire Weekend
The caption to Spin’s January ’08 issue stated something like “This Year’s Best Band, Already?” and while Spin wasn’t exactly right, they were really close. Vampire Weekend is one of the most compelling bands to emerge onto the scene in 2008. With countless interviews, blog mentions and shows played its no surprise that many of these publications that hyped them have jumped off of the bandwagon. Really this has nothing to do with their music just how things are these days.
Vampire Weekend’s self-titled debut is great summer album, super catchy, poppy and synonymous with Paul Simon’s “Graceland”. I love the snooty literary-ness of the anti grammar song “Oxford Comma”; “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” was a track I overplayed too much this year. “One (Blake’s Gotta New Face) I thought was ridiculous the first time I listened to it, but so ridiculous I began to enjoy it. And “I Stand Corrected”; “Walcott” and “The Kids Don’t Stand A Chance” are three of the best songs on this album that sadly bring Vampire Weekend’s debut to its conclusion. Lastly, the sale of boat shoes and Oxfords have shot up tenfold just because of this band’s existence.
07. “In Ear Park” by Department Of Eagles
I had the opportunity to check out Grizzly Bear three times this year and only managed to catch them once and while they were enjoyable they didn’t really blow me away. Department Of Eagles on the other hand did. I can’t really specify the atmosphere and sound that is created in this album but I can say how it is light and friendly and dark and complex all at the same time.
In my songs of the year list I proclaimed that “In Ear Park” could be best suited as an old school Disney soundtrack and I can stand by that. Songs like “Teenager” and “Herring Bone” to me, display the album’s Disney side. I made a mistake by not putting the boppy “No One Does It” on my year end songs list (for you Britney fans there is a catchy mashup of this and Womanizer at Hood Internet to download).
While scanning Animalshirts.net, I hypothesized with friends that Eagle shirts were going to be all the rave in ’09 and I think that Department Of Eagles is a precursor to this. “In Ear Park” is a great album that will eventually park itself into your ear. (Yes, I believe the count is at three now)
06. “Como Te Llama?” by Albert Hammond, Jr.
I’m pretty shocked that no other publication has listed this album on their list, this album is definitely deserving of your adoration. The Strokes guitarist’s sophomore album is the perfect mix of pop and garage rock. “GfC” was on my songs list; “Rocket” is a beautiful distorted mess and “Victory In Monterey” and “Miss Myrtle” are catchy pop ditties that will get stuck in your head.
Because of the awesoemness of Hammond, Jr. and Little Joy the next Strokes album has a lot to live up too. If the parts of the band are doing so great on their own we can only hope the Strokes' next album will be the best of the year. If the Strokes break up and we are left with these bands, the existence of Albert Hammond Jr's solo career softens the blow.
05. “Nouns” by No Age
A distorted, chaotic and beautiful mess of sounds is how I would describe No Age’s “Nouns”. In tradition of bands like White Stripes and Death From Above 1979, No Age is a duo that creates big and loud music.
The music on this album goes from 10 to 5 and then back to 10. The lulls in this punk’ish and garage sounding album are just as sweet. Every song is a 2 to 3 minute blast of energy that makes you want to relive the days you were still able to participate in a mosh pit. “Nouns” is a criminal lineup of loud, punk-pop inspired music, with offenders like “Eraser”, “Sleeper Hold”, “Here Should Be My Home”, “Ripped Knees” and my number 1 song of the year: “Teen Creeps”.
04. “In Ghost Colours” by Cut Copy
When I first downloaded this album I never thought it would be in consideration to make this list but when I started writing this I realized that I have been playing this album just as much, if not more, than any of the albums listed.
Cut Copy’s “In Ghost Colours” is a catchy, poppy and fun dance-rock record that you won’t be able to shake. It opens with two bangers (Yeah, I used that word) “Feel The Love” and “Out There On The Ice” that build up the albu. The middle of “In Ghost Colours” then begins to perfectly slow down with tracks like the beautiful and haunting “Midnight Runner” which is followed by “So Haunted” and the combination of “Voices in Quartz” and the blazing “Hearts On Fire”. Really this album is great all the way through and probably my favourite Australian export since Silverchair circa ’97. It would be a shame of me to not namedrop “Strangers In The Wind” as well. You may not catch on to this album at first but give it time, I certainly did and now its cemented into my CD player.
Before I get to my "Top 3" entries I'll say that there were many other good albums that came out this year that also deserve some praise. The first being Nine Inch Nail's giveaway "The Slip. Foals' "Antidotes" was the album that we wish Bloc Party would write again. MGMT wrote half of an AMAZING album. Passion Pit put out a great EP "Chunk Of Change", they are going to be '09's hyped band. "One Day As A Lion's debut EP teased a lot of Zach De La Rocha fans. The Killers put out an enjoyable album but it was pretty hard to top "Sam's Town". Elliott Brood's "Moutain Meadows is one of the best albums you haven't heard a lick about. Kings Of Leon's "Only By The Night" won me over. M83 put out a rnostalgic disco album which was entertaining. My respect for the Mars Volta has gone up with their release of "The Bedlam In Goliath". Some will say '08 wasn't a good year for music but you just have to try harder these days to find music you enjoy.
03. “Santogold” by Santogold
I was a little worried for most of the summer that this would be my album of the year. Now, I know that reads bad, but I’m a rocker and wanted a rock album to get the spot, this is not taking anything from Santogold though, she has really molested both of my year-end lists and I was pretty disappointed when she ditched Lolla to head out on tour with Coldplay.
Santogold’s debut album was your anthem of ’08, even if you don't know it. From hocking Mountain Dew to cars and Converse shows she has been everywhere and for good reason. She has got a brash and refreshing sound that can get the attention of many different types of music fans. The anthemic and anti-whatever “L.E.S. Artistes” is probably the best radio single of the year. The song is then followed by other ear candy tracks such as “You’ll Find A Way” and the M.I.A.’ish “Creator”. My favourite tracks are the songs in which she gets into a mellower and more chill style, like on the droning “Starstruck”, the almost Weezer’ish “I’m A Lady” and dark “Anne”. Santogold is my pick for favourite new artist of the year and should really be more popular then she is. Santogold is an example of really good pop music and being a fan of her's is nothing you should be ashamed about.
02. “Microcastle/Weird Era Cont.” by Deerhunter
Initially I didn’t care for this band at all and didn’t buy into the hype that came from their '07 releases. When I eventually gave this album a shot it kept on getting better and better with each listen – to the point it cemented a number two spot. To me “Microcastle/Weird Era Cont.” is a dream – a distorted, comforting, layered and awesome dream. I’ve fallen asleep to it many times and that’s not a bad thing.
The album begins with “Agoraphobia” and the almost Sonic Youth ripoff “Never Stops” – which is the perfect mix of shoegaze and pop. You are then lulled into a dreamy and euphoric state with mellower tracks like “Microcastle” and “Green Jacket” and then you should be blown away by the amazingly catchy first single “Nothing Ever Happened” (Which carries a massive chorus); the great “Saved By Old Times” and then you are jolted awake by “Neither Of Us, Uncertainly” and My Bloody Valentine inspired “Twilight At Carbon Lake”. The best thing is that you can relive this musical experience by popping in the bonus/hidden second disc “Weird Era. Cont” which is an added bonus to those who purchased the album. While Deerhunter’s crowning achievement is a great, great album it, and any other album on this list for that matter, do not hold a candle to this year’s number one.
01. “Dear Science” by TV On The Radio
“Dear Science” has already garnered “Number 1” album titles from Rolling Stone and Spin Magazine (Spin has given them this title twice in the last 3 years actually. Time and NME gave it their number two spots and it was Pitchfork’s Highest rated album of the calendar year. This to me is heartwarming and validates my often poor taste in everything.
I was worried because their first two singles. “Golden Age” and Dancing Choose” did not live up to my very high expectations. This is a band who wrote the amazing “Young Liars” EP and my number 1 song of '06, “Wolf Like Me”, I was expecting a lot from this band. A week or two after listening to this album, it was without a doubt my number one album of the 2008, shitting over everyone in its path.
Dave Sitek engineers a captivating atmosphere that mashes up elements of jazz, doo-wap, borderline rap and a darker shade of rock. “Halfway Home” continues the band’s tradition of amazing opening tracks. “Crying” is just as good as its predecessor and showcases Tunde’s Prince-like voice. “Stork And Owl” was an early favourite and was hastily put into the upper echelon of TVOTR greats like “Young Liars” and “Blind”. The hauntingly chill “Family Tree” is TVOTR going Coldplay and somehow succeeding. Then you get the scathing what seems to be anti-war track “Red Dress”, which is dressed with beautiful horns and a powerful chorus. “Love Dog”. “Shout Me Out” and “DLZ” rival any other three song runs on any other album I’ve ever listened to. And then you finally conclude at the beautiful and best TVOTR closer “Lover’s Day”.
“Dear Science” in short is about the current state of the world, it was inspired by the Large Hadron Collider, race issues, war and most importantly the hope for change. These may not sound like the most favourable of topics but it inspired hands-down the best album of this year. I can take you not liking any other entry on this list but this one is not arguable. TV On The Radio are one of the most compelling, experimental and important bands to be making music right now and if there is any band worthy to be deemed the American Radiohead its Brooklyn’s TV On The Radio.
No links here folks, shareminer.com or your local record store will help you with that.
See you next year, folks.
Posted by M.Ho