Monday, March 02, 2009

Top Ten Albums of 2008

{Yes, yes - I realize it's March, 2009 and I'm just now posting best albums of the year that ended three months ago. Cut me some slack already...}

Number Ten
Artist: Vampire Weekend
Album: Vampire Weekend
Label: Xl Recordings
Release Date: January 29, 2008

Once the hype died down and the buzzing dimmed, what remained was a truly enjoyable pop album with real staying power (despite the unfortunate genre title of "Yacht Rock" that accompanied its success). Few albums, let alone debut albums, are as consistently solid from song to song as this. Brief though it may be, clocking in at just around 35 minutes, Vampire Weekend is timeless and immediate, accessible to the masses for now and of high enough quality that the rock snobs will come back around later.

Number Nine
Artist: Portishead
Album: Third
Label: Mercury
Release Date: April 29, 2008

With a full decade's gap between releases, Portishead had all sorts of expectations to live up to. Third did not disappoint. Ultimately gratifying because the band simultaneously sounds like the Portishead we remember and what we hoped the progression of their sound would result in, Third presents a mature collection building on the acid jazz, cabaret vocals, and spy movie synesthesia that defined their sound. Beth Gibbons and company have weathered the same past eight years (and era-defining administration) as us, despite being across the pond, and the tracks here reflect the subsequent scars of that maturity the way Dummy perfectly contained all the angst of youth.

Number Eight
Artist: Cut Copy
Album: In Ghost Colours
Label: Modular Interscope
Release Date: April 8, 2008

Without question the best indie dance music album of 2008, In Ghost Colours just wouldn't go away all year. The upbeat jams ("Lights and Music", "Hearts on Fire") that made so much sense in Spring and Summer gave way to the bittersweet pop ("So Haunted", "Unforgettable Season") that perfectly scored a blustery Autumn and Winter. In Ghost Colours lifts Cut Copy to the next level where that capital-A Artist label is justified.

Number Seven

Artist: M83
Album: Saturdays = Youth
Label: Mute U.S.
Release Date: April 1, 2008

Somewhere between Air, My Bloody Valentine (or at least Kevin Shields, circa Lost in Translation) and a John Hughes soundtrack falls M83. Deftly framing pop rock sentimentality within sprawling, sonic layers of electronic compositions, Saturdays = Youth is well-crafted and remarkable. "Kim & Jessie" and "Graveyard Girl" quite literally made us check to make sure M83 wasn't around during the Sixteen Candles and License to Drive days. And yet many of the digital beats and rhythms could just as easily have been laid down on Kanye's 808's and Heartbreaks (see: "Couleurs", "Up!"). As impressive an album as we heard all year.

Number Six

Artist: Dr. Dog
Album: Fate
Label: Park the Van
Release Date: July 22, 2008

No one's going to accuse Dr. Dog of being the most original band on the planet. On almost every song the influence of Paul McCartney or John Lennon or Jerry Garcia or Levon Helm is quite blatantly obvious. Like finding a bunch of lost b-sides: "From" could easily have been a Lennon throw-away; "100 Years" wouldn't sound out of place on a Dead album; "The Ark" may actually be a McCartney cover. To be honest, it borders on imitation. To be brutally honest, I don't give a shit if it is imitation - these songs are great and this album is wholly enjoyable.

Number Five

Artist: Santogold (aka, Santigold)
Album: Santogold
Label: Downtown
Release Date: April 29, 2008

Santogold released a bunch of tracks on her full-length debut that were almost too good. Snatched up by advertisers, it would have been easy to make the mistake of overlooking these tracks as just catchy jingles or dance club singles. But with the aid of Diplo, Mark Ronson, and Spank Rock, Santogold is complex and shrewd, some culmination of what those producers had been working towards. Like a less jarring MIA, Santogold satisfies the teeny-bopper, the stoner, and the yuppie all at the same time. No easy feat.

Number Four
Artist: The Dutchess & The Duke
Album: She's the Dutchess, He's the Duke
Label: Hardly Art
Release Date: July 8, 2008

Sparse and simple, tragic and intimate, She's the Dutchess, He's the Duke could easily be Number One on this list. The
brief but potent 31 minutes of vintage bluesy folk/gypsy rock recalls Leonard Cohen, The Animals, or early Rolling Stones, tunes with despair-riddled lyrics over a production full of crackles and pops that transport the listener to a wholly different time and place. The stomp and swagger of "Reservoir Park" remains one of the best tracks of the year, while the intimate pleas and apologies of sincere experience are almost too much to bear on "I Am Just a Ghost". With one of the best live performances of the year as well, The Dutchess & The Duke are a most promising duo.

Number Three
Artist: TV on the Radio
Album: Dear Science
Label: Interscope
Release Date: September 23, 2008

It's getting to the point where it's almost not even fair. TVOTR has become one of the most consistent bands on the planet, and they're just getting started. Hard to believe, as the Brooklynites seem like such industry vets now, but Dear Science is just their third official full-length. They have most definitely honed their craft, having built upon the ambitious experiments of Cookie Mountain, and Science is their most cohesive and focused album to date. Losing none of their lavish orchestrations or complex harmonies, though, TVOTR has more specifically learned how to work their sonic arrangements into structured and polished pop songs.

Number Two
Artist: The Walkmen
Album: You & Me
Label: Gigantic
Release Date: August 19, 2008

With You & Me, The Walkmen established themselves as a premiere Indie Rock outfit with the same sort of woozy, whiskey-soaked jangle and thump that The National perfected with last year's Boxer. You & Me meanders through sandy beaches and foreign towns like postcards from Hemingway, stumbling out of jazz clubs at 3am with the locals, keeping upright solely by leaning on the shoulders of new friends who happen to be singing at the tops of their lungs. With a most distinct voice, Hamilton Leithauser has hit his stride with this organic, wandering sound, punctuated by drummer Matt Barrick's masterful percussion. Wistful and rousing, You & Me is quite simply beautiful.

Number One
Artist: Fleet Foxes
Album: Fleet Foxes/Sun Giant (EP)
Label: Sub Pop
Release Date: June 3, 2008

Fleet Foxes truly set themselves apart in 2008, and their eponymous full-length debut followed by the simply-too-good-for-just-an-EP, Sun Giant, combine for the most lush and gorgeous music of the year. By no means the only indie rockers exploring the folk side of rock, the Seattle quintet distinguished themselves quickly with their pitch-perfect harmonizing, led by Robin Pecknold. The warmth and richness in the vocals stands in stark contrast to a vast majority of indie bands that get by on earnesty and sincerity alone. The voice - and more specifically here, the remarkably pleasing combination of voices - emerges as the most gratifying instrument to the human ear. As the opening and title track to Sun Giant begins, what we hear is a capella, but it isn't affectation, it's an expression of freedom as they do what comes so naturally. Both albums present a sophistication well beyond their years that commands attention. Hello world, we're the Fleet Foxes.


1 comment:

JenniferToo said...

I gotta say, I got worried when TVOTR was at number 3...

Great list. And it is good to see you here again.