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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Music: The Best Albums of 2008

At first blush 2008 seemed like a, well, sucky year for new music. As I listened more it turned out to be less sucky, if still not a high water mark. Here are my top 40 favorite albums of the year - with a special shout out to my top 10. You can also see my best archival music of the year here

1.  Deerhunter – Microcastle
Deerhunter's Cryptograms, released last year, along with their debut album suggested a band in thrall to art punks like Swell Maps complete with song fragments and experimental interludes. Some of that spirit shows up on the bonus disc of Microcastle entitled Weird Era but the album proper is stuffed with amazingly tuneful songs bracketed by the occasional introspective short instrumental. The songwriting and arranging is spot-on and the chugging guitars seem to meld Velvets drone with bratty Pavement melodies.


2.  The Hold Steady – Stay Positive
Here's a band that by all rights should have been a novelty act. Craig Finn, former vocalist with Lifter Puller, made his mark on Hold Steady's 2004 debut Almost Killed Me as more of a ranter than a singer. His sing-songy cadences and clever clever lyrics were fun over one album of standard issue bar band tunes but this is album number four - how'd they get to be my 2nd favorite of the year? Mainly by growing in leaps in bounds from each release. The band is tighter with better, more complex arrangements and killer choruses. Finn actually carries tunes here and his stories have the weight, economy and sadness of prime Raymond Chandler. Harpsichords are bought in, reggae beats are toyed with and I'll be damned but it all works as the sing-along record of the year.


3.  TV on the Radio – Dear, Science
Their last album had some great songs but the production was stultifying and it wasn't a rewarding experience to revisit. Like Radiohead's In Rainbows though the latest from TV on the Radio opens up their sound to let the songs breathe, leading to the first album to reward the promise of their debut ep. For a change their sense of humor and their sexiness is allowed free reign and at times there are hints of vintage Talking Heads - a pop art musical touchstone.


4.  Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Dig Lazarus Dig!!!
Nick Cave ought to be off writing his goth novels and screenplays for his Australian cowboy films but he keeps coming back to making music. Last year's Grinderman side project showed him moving from balladeering back to raw guitar noise and this one splits the difference a bit with the Stooges quoting "Today's Lesson" jostling with the beat poetry of "Moonland." It's Cave's most vital album in years, and one of the best in his catalog.


5.  Of Montreal – Skeletal Lamping
A sequel of sorts to last year's artistic breakthrough, Skeletal Lamping finds Kevin Barnes giving his hedonistic impulses full flower. Beyonce may have Sasha Fierce but Barnes has Georgie Fruit, a bisexual soul singer who gives this album the sound of Beck circa Midnight Vultures crossed with the ADD songwriting of The Fiery Furnaces. As awful as that might sound, it's a paradise of hooks, pumping rhythm, weird falsettos, and sleazoid lyrics.


6.  Neon Neon – Stainless Style
Super Furry Animals guy Gruff Rhys has seen his band abandon the earlier electronica flourishes that made them one of the best britpop bands and embrace increasingly uninteresting beardy psychedelia. For his Neon Neon side project he fully embraces  that which has been rejected with the help of producer/collaborator Boom Bip. The album's unlikely subject is disgraced swinging car entrepreneur and would-be coke dealer John DeLorean. Somehow it works, with great songwriting and beats underscoring the need for a chin implant in "Michael Douglas" and even room for a side trip to Star Wars love in "I Told her on Alderaan."


7.  MGMT – Oracular Spectacular
If you don't like a song on this Brooklyn band's audacious debut wait, the next one is likely to sound completely different. Though this does little for coherence, the songs themselves range from good to amazing. The comparisons have been to The Flaming Lips, and they share a producer in David Fridmann, but that fails to embrace their LCD Soundsystem -worthy "Let's Pretend" in which they imagine themselves as rock stars with model wives who eventually choke on their own vomit or "Electric Feel" where they channel classic late 70s disco sounds.



8.  The Knux – Remind Me in 3 Days
 The long sad decline of hip-hop continued this year but The Knux suggested a jury rigged hybrid where indie punk and indie rap meet halfway. Dressing like throwbacks to the fat gold rope days, playing their own instruments and laying down rhymes, The Knux suggests a way forward for an ossifying genre. And you could shake your ass to it too.


9. Crystal Castles – Crystal Castles
There was some good electronica in '08, and then there was Crystal Castles which melded an Atari 5200 sound chip into mind bending melodies and  hypnotic beats. They get a surprising amount of variety from what could have been a limited palette. Named after an arcade game but anything but toylike.


10.  Fucked Up – The Chemistry of Modern Life
What could be wrong with a band who's name so threatened the New York Times that Ben Ratliff's review referenced a band named ------ --. Aside from being the funniest music review in the paper since, well, ever, it was obvious what band he was talking about. Taking the shouty vocal chord shredding vocals and pummeling beat of hardcore punk, Fucked Up spikes it with guitar washes and subtle melodies that entice and draw the listener in.


And the rest...

11. Department of Eagles – In Ear Park
12.  Lambchop – OH(Ohio)
13.  Nas – Untitled
14. Wolf Parade – At Mount Zoomer
15. Apes – Ghost Games
16. Gnarls Barkley – The Odd Couple
17. Girl Talk – Feed the Animals
18. No Age – Nouns
19. Flying Lotus – Los Angeles
20. Joan as Police Woman – To Survive
21. Chandeliers – The Thrush
22. Dr. Dog – Fate
23. Martha Wainwright – I Know You’re Married but I’ve Got Feelings Too
24. The Breeders – Mountain Battles
25. Murs – Murs For President
26. The Fall – Imperial Wax Solvent
27. Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy – Lie Down in the Light
28. Be Your Own Pet – Get Awkward (UK Version -avoid the censored American release)

29. Alias – Resurgam
30. Blitzen Trapper – Furr
31. Okkervil River – The Stand-ins
32. Plants and Animals – Parc Avenue
33. Portishead – Third
34. Randy Newman – Harps and Angels
35. RZA as Bobby Digital – Digi Snacks
36. Santogold and Diplo – Top Ranking
37. Stephen Malkmus – Real Emotional Trash
38. Truckasaurus – Tea Parties, Guns and Valor
39. Atlas Sound – Let The Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel
40. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes

1 comment:

kimberlycouzens said...

Electric Feel by MGMT and Creator by Santogold were on Gossip Girl :)

-Kim

PS We miss you!