Saturday, December 06, 2008

The Best Albums of 2008

Taking a quick break from the 25 Films, 25 Years blogging to bring to you my list of the best albums of 2008. The year is not over yet, but I feel that there will be nothing else of the caliber until 2009 or right before this year ends. Since I'm antsy and have a solid list, I present to you the 10 best albums of 2008 in all their glory.

10. M83 - Saturdays = Youth - What a treat! Dream-pop at it's best. M83 adds their usual ethereal sound to make a 4AD style album reveling in the sound of the 80s. Lathered in spacey fuzz and synthy goodness, the tracks lift you up into an atmosphere that warms your bones. "You Appearing" is a perfect album opener and blends perfectly into the next track "Kim & Jessie" with seamless fusion. They say that they are honoring their favorite time period in music (the 80s) yet this is nothing short of futuristic music. Simply delightful. Channeling the Cocetau Twins or This Mortal Coil was a perfect maneuver for M83. This album is a beautiful late night car record. Although it is hypnotic, there is nothing more graceful then driving down the highway late at night and seeing stars in the sky with the beautiful collection of melodies M83 has assembled here. Maybe it's the track "Highway of Endless Dreams" that makes me say this, but hey, whatever. It still is a perfect companion piece.

Key Track: "We Own the Sky" - The beat, the droning synths and the vocals send the listener into a happy and warm trance.

9. Electric Six - Flashy - I'm not gonna lie when I say I am completely untrustworthy when it comes to my love of Electric Six. Although I was somewhat disappointed with their past two records, I still love them more than I should. What it boils down to with Electric Six is that they are pure fun. However, I will admit that Flashy is a certain return to form for E6. The guitars take over and the amount of sheer rock power shines through. "Formula 409" and "Graphic Designer" are proof positive E6 can still churn out rock hits while a song like "Face Cuts" or "Making Progress" shows a little more maturing in sound and depth, but still staying immature. The album is rollicking and never flounders. Valentine's lyrical schizophrenia continues and with face paced intensity.

Key Track: "We Were Witchy Witchy White Women" - Alliteration aside, this song pounds a catchy riff over and over again with some of Valentine's most feverish and ridiculous lyrical passages.

8. The Jet Age - What Did You Do During The War, Daddy? - The surprise album of the year, The Jet Age bring also one of the most interesting concept albums of the year. Hailing from Maryland and mixing the sounds of The Who and Dinosaur Jr., The Jet Age unleash a fast paced garage sound on their second full length record. What Did You Do During the War, Daddy? is a loose rock opera centered around a jaded middle-aged family man who after his government and the death of his American dream, turns to be an American suicide bomber. The songs aren't 100% beat you over the head with this idea and are much more introspective giving this album many sides to it. The face paced riffage on "O, Calender" and the posthumous love song "Maybe Love's a Transmission" are fantastic rock songs. Nothing slows down on this album except for the reprise of "Ladies, Don't Cry Tonight" that closes the record. Maybe it's a sign of the times that such a frantic political record comes out, but it's nice to hear it without it being slanted into any one direction, either left or right. Wise decision, mates. You just made an album that has lasting power!

Key Track: "I Said 'Alright'" - Finally giving in, our rock protagonist gets fed up with his government's b-s and gets ready via a rollicking rocker.

7. Beck - Modern Guilt - Beck's last effort, The Information, was legitimately the most disappointing album of his career. It was filled with too many songs that could have been left on the cutting room floor and when it boiled down to it, you would have had a very small album. The Information EP may have been a better idea. Modern Guilt must have been a reaction to that as at only a little over 30 minutes, it's 10 perfect tracks that never get old. They are also very simplistic, save the frantic drum and bass track "Replica." If Midnite Vultures was Beck's funk album and One Foot in the Grave his delta blues record, Modern Guilt is his psych pop record. "Gamma Ray" sounds like a beach party song of the 60's, the titular track is a Zombies-esque rocker and "Soul of a Man" hearkens to the Yardbirds. It's all over by the time you are ready for more, but I think that's the charm of it. Short and to the point. As I mentioned in my write up of it after it came out, quality over quantity. Kudos, Beck.

Key Track: "Chemtrails" - This is easily Beck's finest outing musically, lyrically and frantically. Best song of the year.

6. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! - After his outing with garage rockers Grinderman, Nick Cave returned to his Bad Seeds and has given us another awesome collection of rock songs about the underbelly of society. The titular character is risen in the middle of New York City and is sucked in by all the evils there. "He was never asked to be raised from the grave" as Cave croons over howling distortion and a funky organ riff. "We Call Upon the Author" to Explain" is a raucous rant with a very interesting distortion laden bass breakdown. Cave mellows it down on "Hold On to Yourself" and acts as troubadour on "More News From Nowhere." As my year of learning the ways of Cave comes near the end, this album is easily one of the best of his latter year albums that I have heard.

Key Track: "Midnight Man" - It's ethereal sounds and longing lyrics is one of the more hauntingly beautiful tracks of the year.

5. Portishead - Third - A return, but not to form. Eleven years from their self-titled second album, the aptly named Third brings the melancholy back but with a new twist. Rather than samples and trip-hop infused ballads, the members of Portishead strap on instruments and bend the sounds these instruments have with a technical fervor that is utterly beautiful. The vocals are sublime, the music is spaced out and harrowing and the variety is a plenty. Much like how Sonic Youth has aged for the better, Portishead moves on the same path. Take what you've learned and expound upon it. The opener "Silence" is nothing short of a noisily beautiful track with a double percussion line that is the pulse and strings that cut through the beat. It's a very simple track with one continuous riff, but it's one that sets the scene with razor precision. "Machine Gun" batters the listener into submission while "Nylon Smile" lulls you into a false sense of security with it's hypnotic tones and siren song vocals. I always enjoyed Portishead, but not to the extent this album makes me feel.

Key Track: "The Rip" - A trippy ballad of love that slowly changes at the halfway point into a pulsating masterpiece.

4. Danava - Unonou - These guys were sent here from outer space. But unlike the aliens in The Day the Earth Stood Still, they don't not want to destroy us. They want to show us what they have done with the transmissions of King Crimson and T.Rex sounded like after years of travelling through space to reach their humble planet. Prog Glam in all it's granduer is here via Danava. The Portland, Oregon rockers on their second full length bring a heaping helping of rock to the table. They give the finger to the indie elitists who have deemed the only cool retro rock comes from the influence of the 80s. I beg to differ. Epic tracks like "Down From A Cloud, Up From the Ground" pound and shift gears through it's 8 minutes. Dusty Sparkles wails above the fuzz and frenzy. At first glance it sounds like any 70s metal track with typical manuevers, but it constantly changes and surprises with noisy synthesizers and wailing feedback. Just when you think it's over, the guitars take over again in a break neck frenzy. "The Emerald Snow of Sleep" blooms like a wild flower with it's mind-game synth sequence, moves into a droning drum beat and ends with a guitar hook and a horn section. The titular track is Danava at their most prog since "By The Mark" off of their self-titled debut. To me, it's all a refreshing breath of air amidst a lot of other indie bands emulating the same new wave sound. It takes some to look further back for inspiration and when executed properly, an interesting array of tracks arise. Also, one of the best live acts you'll see.

Key Track: "Where Beauty and Terror Dance" - The flagship track of Danava's output to date, it is structured to perfection and has the spaciest outro you'll hear all year.

3. The Raveonettes - Lust Lust Lust - The Danish duo have consistently been at the top of my Best Albums list since their first full length, Chaing Gang of Love. As a matter of fact, they may have topped the charts the year their debut came out. Critics say they don't change their sound much, but I beg to differ. Elements stay the same, such as their kinky lyrics and their two part harmonies, but each album has an identity in it's own. The first album was an experiment in key. Pretty in Black was an homage to the 50's and 60's with it's Spector style production and reach form bubble-gum pop songs to surf guitars to genre jumping. Lust Lust Lust is pure shoegazing noise craft. "Aly, Walk With Me" is proof of this with it's hypnotic drum beat and bass riff. When it blasts into it's tidal wave of guitar noise, it's a sinful sound. One that is painful and utterly captivating. The album follows this formula throughout. "Lust" is a loud lullaby love song. "You Want the Candy" is a pounding pop rocker with more sexual innuendo packed into it then a horny English major. "Blush" is a pining anthem that should end a film someday. It's cinematic soundscape is nothing short of awesome. The Raveonettes are a band that deserves your full attention. They should be huge, but their sound is something way too unique for the mainstream. For the benefit of their fans, we don't mind that you don't get it. We are fine with seeing them play at tiny venues in our beloved cities and recognizing our friends after shows. It's a treat to have a connection to a band of such caliber.

Key Track: "Dead Sound" - Let this song damage your ears. Listen to it as loud as you can on really amazing headphones and you will feel the warming power of it's glow. Breathtaking.

2. David Byrne & Brian Eno - Everything That Happens Will Happen Today - After years of not working together, two of music's most intelligent and out there musicians got together again to make an album. In 1981, they came together for the breakthrough brilliance of My Life In The Bush of Ghosts. It was avante garde world music for a culture that didn't exsist. In 2008, they came together for Everything That Happens Will Happen Today. It's probably their most shocking album yet as it is nothing short of pop music perfection. It isn't anything mind shatteringly unique, but the straightforward nature of the album is what gives it it's edge. The opening acoustic guitar riff of "Home" proves this to the listener. You aren't in store for anything but break neck honesty. The titular track is a beautiful gospel hymn showing the beauty of the world in all things, be it a "perfect freeway" or watching your "neighbor's car explode." The melody will lift you up above it all and allow you to observe life in it's simple glory. The age of the two men shows through their many jabs at themselves. "Life is Long" and "The River" shows the men looking through old eyes at a long life of fruitful goodness, yet still yearning and searching for more. Only two tracks venture into strange soundscapes. "Poor Boy" and "I Feel My Stuff" have weird beats and strange vocal expressions care of Byrne. These tracks help mix up the album up and keep it exciting, but the honesty on the rest of the album is where the record truly shines.

Key Track: Most addictive song of 2008. I may have to make a fan video for this song. I can't get enough of it's simple beauty.

1. Black Mountain - In The Future - As I said in my half way through the year in review year in review, I didn't think that Black Mountain would be dethroned. My assumption was right. Although I don't listen to this nearly as much as I did the first half of the year, I still believe that this record has touched me in a strange, mystical way. It may be that this is a band with raw talent on all ends of the spectrum. A group that works together to create such a phenomenal sound. It could also be that I can see these guys at tiny venues when the music should be filling the air of giant stadiums. It may be because I should have grown up in a time where this music would be at home, but boy am I grateful that I grew up now and was able to witness this music now. From start to finish, In The Future is sheer power. "Stormy High" is a maelstrom of rock grandiosity. "Angels" is a more straightforward rocker. "Tyrants" is nothing short of a sprawling epic that has more shifts and turns than any single song should, but it pulls it off in a coherent beauty. "Wucan" has a riff handed down from the heavens and "Nightwalks" closes with a wondrous dirge. If anything at all, In the Future proves that the album is not a dead form of art. Bands write songs for the iTunes generation. You can buy one song and be happy. Black Mountain forces you to enjoy their record as a cohesive album filled with a signature sound and an impressive range of soudns and unique voices. Not just because their are two different voices, but because a song like "Evil Ways", with its boogie psych organ, and "Stay Free", a campfire sing-a-long, can coexist with relevance. This is why Black Mountain top this very list. It's an album that demands to be listened to as an album. It engulfs mind and body when played. It takes the listener on a journey. It does what a great album should do to it's listener: it'll move you.

Key Track: "Queens Will Play" - It was hard picking one key track, but the vocal performance of Amber Webber, the subdued band playing an eerie riff and a swelling rock-out at the end are a recipe for awesome.

Some sad omissions to this top ten list:

Secret Machines - As much as it is an awesome selection of songs, I just haven't been able to devote much time to the record. And for that, it makes me feel that it can't crack the top 10. I will admit that "The Walls Are Starting to Crack" is in the top 5 best tracks of the year.

School of Seven Bells - Alpinisms - Off shoot of the above band is really good. But it also suffers from the "I listen to it enough, but not enough to get into it."

Ratatat - LP3 - Awesome mood music and background music. More of the same, which is good, but nothing mind altering.

TV On the Radio - Nate Adams said it best. "Crying" would also make my best songs of 2008 list.

Torche - Meanderthal - God it's good, but it's better live.

Biggest disappointments of 2008:

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - Real Emotional Trash - Every time I tried to listen to this straight through, I failed. Too much wankery that lead to nothing emotionally catching. Maybe on song that is good, but I was pretty upset with this one.

Of Montreal - Skeletal Lamping - I think I just need to come to the realization that I only like about 6 songs by Of Montreal and won't like anything else they've done. This album is prue garbage.

Nine Inch Nails - The Slip - Trent, yer starting to slip. Ghosts I - IV was pretty cool though.

Guns N Roses - Chinese Democracy - Hilariously bad. I keep trying to finish listening to it straight through but I just can't. Yucko.

Most Overrated Album of 2008:

Vampire Weekend - Can my most overrated album of the year still be good? Yeah. That's how overrated they are! It's decent pop music, but it is nothing short of ordinary. The amount of buzz I heard about this band was insane.

Best Live Act:

5. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds @ The Electric Factory
4. Secret Machines @ The North Star Bar
3. David Byrne @ The Tower
2. Black Mountain @ Johnny Brenda's

I'm saving the top slot of Neil Young & Wilco which I presuppose will be nothing short of the greatest concert event of my life time to this point.

That is all. Discuss. Throw tomatoes. Sing praise. Enjoy.


Marilyn Roxie said...

Oi, the only albums from this list I've heard are the Nick Cave and Brian Eno/David Bryne ones; I totally need to check out the rest, particularly that Raveonettes one since I really dug their other albums. My own (still tentative) list:
1. You Are Here - thenewno2
2. Imperial Wax Solvent - The Fall
3. Midnight Boom - The Kills
4. Crystal Castles - Crystal Castles
5. Sixes & Sevens - Adam Green
7. Box of Secrets - Blood Red Shoes
8. Plutonium Blonde - The Legendary Pink Dots
9. Velocifero - Ladytron
10. 22 Dreams - Paul Weller

Joe said...

Paul, this list is mostly awesome. I hope Secret Machines grows on you... As an overall album, I think it's their best work yet. Kind of agree about School of Seven Bells, though. It's good, but it's a little indistinct at times and took a long-ass while to grow on me. As for NIN, I feel the inverse of what you said about Ghosts and The Slip. And as for Black Mountain and The Jet Age, I'll have to check 'em out!

Mr. Dogg said...

love, LOVE the props you are giving Nick Cave (both here and on the top 30 songs list, Midnight Man is one of my favorite songs of the year), and I'll have to introduce myself to black mountain, but you've got to shake this beck-lust of yours.