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Top 10 Albums of 2008 March 5, 2009

Posted by reidmix in 4AD, Album Reviews, Best of 2008, Free MP3, Indie, Labels, Lists, Music, Reviews, Slender Means, SubPop, Tomlab.
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Forgive me for I am late — so so late — but here is my top 10 albums of 2008!  I really struggled with this list because I felt very confident with my top 10, but the order I rearranged over and over, struggling with what I loved in CD-R form, what I loved earlier in the year, and what I love now.

Some choices were released in 2007, which surprised me and I will start a new series: Hey You! Last Year.  Even though I keep this list within 2008, one selection (Bon Iver) was “technically” released in vinyl form in 2007.

Last year I looked forward to good things to come based on singles, EPs, and CD-Rs but I’ve never put those in my top 10.  This year I have two EPs in my top 10 and I really do believe this was the year of the EP.  In once case (High Places), I have a compilation of singles and rarities.

There are no rules to albums you really love.

Entanglements

10. Entanglements by Parenthetical Girls
I really looked forward to this album and anxiously trolled Zac’s site for updates.  News of a Tomlab release made me happy — one of my favorite labels as of late — and then a peek at an OMD cover had me swooning.
Entanglements is a vast, orchestral siege.  It is not the twee little confections that were the panic pop of albums past.  The glockenspiel is still there but it’s now only a single voice amongst the movements of full symphony in each song.
What make most of the songs impenetrable are the lyrics.  Gone are the dirty little vignettes that made the cast of “Love Connection” or “I Was the Dancer.”   Those lyrics took a little tinkering to get the essence and (with great glee) the perverse irony out of them.  Conversely, the words that make up the songs of Entanglements are subconscious, delivered in secret language or with dream-time meaning that are tongue in cheek and full of innuendo and rhyme: “his legs gave way like pages / from a pop-up book / and i had to look.”  In the end, you derive your own message from each song, and with each song a mood that is meticulously crafted by Pennington & Co.  On the whole, the album cannot be easily cast aside.  Much care was put into the production and its soul is too sincere.  You are left wanting more, to know more, to be entrenched more, and with any album what more can you ask?
Buy Entaglements
: Slender Means, Tomlab, Insound, Amazon, eMusic, iTunes

Chunk of Change

09. Chunk of Change by Passion Pit
The first EP of the list, Passion Pit is Bee Gees for the Indie world.  I say this with the highest regard to Michael Angelakos and his Gibb-like falsetto that graces each song on Chunk of Change.  Sure there may be room for improvement, but here is a set that is more interesting than most full length LPs I listened to in 2008.
The songs are sticky sweet, multilayered candy.  The recipe may be full of synthpop, but there is enough playfulness and exploration of melody and percussion to keep things fun and surprising. Each song is dancible with the gold lamé of disco and the pathos of every great 70s love song.  In the title track, “Live to Tell the Tale,” the poetry goes: “Whatever happens to me / I hope that I’ll fall asleep / Knowing that you’ll always be / The story with no ending”
I must talk about “Sleepyhead” which was most of our introduction to Passion Pit and recorded later than the rest of the songs on the EP.  Here’s our departure from the love note of an album and for me, shows what we can expect.  Big beats that shake through the song while holding onto its playfulness, M.I.A.-like in its worldliness, more confident in its falsetto-ness. The melody is adept and smooth and the song is just too short.  This EP has enough going for it to last until the full-length release in early 2009.
Buy Chunk of Change: Frenchkiss, Insound, Amazon, eMusic, iTunes

In Ear Park

08. In Ear Park by Department of Eagles
I have mixed feelings about In Ear Park.  It is certainly good enough to be in my Top 10.  The songs are strong, especially in the first half of the album, and are worthy of all the praise the album has garnered.  I love the lyrics as epistles to Rossen’s recently passed father, they often hold a perspicacious view on life and how we live it.  The delivery approaches what McCartney and Lennon gave us in the late 60s, and what makes them pop gems are the repetition and variations on questions and phrases.  In “Phantom Other” the lyrics ask “What would it take? / What would it take to make you leave? / What would it take? / What would it take to make you listen? / My God, in heaven / What were we thinking?”
There are other musical nods — like on “Teenagers,” I imagine to the Dion and The Belmonts — hints of 50s AM radio doo-wop over jingly guitars.  But the Achilles heal of the album for me is how close to Grizzly Bear it sounds, and my first reaction was that it sounded half-of-that-band.  And certainly, if In Ear Park is Rossen’s farewell letter, I have rationalized that may be why what Fred Nicolaus brings to the table has taken a lesser role.  The exceptions is “Around the Bay” (my favorite song) and “Classical Records” which are full on Mothersbaugh percussive elements, bangs, clunks, doorslams, noisemakers, cello strings and blips to create a microhouse symphony standing mere inches behind Rossen’s vocal harmonies. The album is a thing of stark beauty and gothic-folk, but I still want all the cylinders roaring on that Beta Band trip-hop that fueled the first album.
Buy In Ear Park: 4AD, Insound, Amazon, eMusic, iTunes

Nouns

07. Nouns by No Age
I’m a big fan of No Age and their tongue-in-cheek noise-pop sensibilities.  Last year their compilation of singles ranked #4 on my Top 10.  Their full-length debut was another album I looked forward to in the spring and was stuck on repeat in my car in the summer.   The funny thing is that Nouns didn’t stick like Weirdo Rippers did.  Perhaps the sound was too polished, the edges a little too smoothed out.  Well I don’t care, every album has a halflife, I just may have burned through Nouns a little too quickly, not the fault of No Age!
The album first catches hold on “Teen Creeps” in a guitar and fuzz-off and has lyrics that read like adolescent anthems: “I hate you more I hate this place / I know why I feel this way / Teen creeps please don’t leave me dead, dead this way.”  The elastic sounds of “Things I Did When I Was Dead” has both a intimacy and a rawness that makes me wonder if Steve Albini recorded the track in the same vein as my early 90s faves like PJ Harvey or Pixies / The Breeders.  Other times, I feel like the songs like “Cappo” and “Keechie” are a nod to their experimental progenitor, Sonic Youth, with wide open spaces full of chutzpah and guitar.  Nouns gives us something a little more laid back, having less to prove, nonetheless with a lot of care. In the instrumental “Impossible Bouquet,” you feel their sense of joy in the making of their brand of rock that is quite beautiful.
Buy Nouns: SubPop, Insound, Amazon, iTunes

In Ghost Colours

06. In Ghost Colours by Cut Copy
In Ghost Colours, I feel like I’m cheating you at #6, please forgive me! You are one of the ones who’ve snuck up the charts in the writing of this list (you may glare at #1, if you dare).  I’ve asked before, how can a band so young throw-back to the best of the 80s synthpop and yet sound so new?  In Ghost Colours is not a hodgepodge of the great underground dance tracks, New Order, or nods to Top 40 connundrums like Fleetwood Mac, but a neat a holistic album where each song flows naturally from one song to the next.  The movement to each song is surprising and not forced, like the intro into “Lights & Magic” where you don’t realize the switch between songs is a fade but register it as a progression, and the full movement of the song doesn’t occur until you hit the chorus.
Unlike much electronic based music, In Ghost Colours remains organic through role of fine vocals and libral use of guitars. Even in the most Big Beat moments, they are connected with a sincerety in lyrics and composition between the spaces which keeps the album real and accessible. Cut Copy is not a one-note wonder, tripping genres and ripping rifts right off bands like the Pixies’ “Break My Body” like they do in “So Haunted” all the while danceable, moshable, thrashable, whatever works to keep your body moving with each song.  To fill out their sound, plenty of sound samples, tape loops, blips and the best of glitch to keep your ears entertained.   There is so much good on this album, it’s hard to believe we’re halfway through this list!

Buy In Ghost Colours: Modular Interscope, Insound, Amazon, eMusic, iTunes

Spectrum, 14th Century05. Spectrum, 14th Century by Final Fantasy
I adore Spectrum and Final Fantasy’s EP almost took top honors for me this year.  The 5 songs about this imaginary land that lives somewhere betweeen the mind of Owen Palette and the production of Beirut’s Zach Condon make up one of the most perfect EPs.  Begin with “Oh Spectrum,” where we entranced by the chirps of outdoor creatures to a build that reminds me of the bright horns in a West Side Story showdown (Hello, I’m talking Bernstein and Sondheim here!)  Somehow this song flows into a steeldrum masterpiece “Blue Imelda” with horns and heavenly chorus betray the words of a farmer, who works both the soil and his plow.
The lyrics are priceless and crafted with anachronism that make up songs like “The Butcher”  to tell the tale of a preacher at the end of days: “Every morning I listen to confessional / Couldn’t give a shit ’bout the bulk of it / Still I keep it professional” all the while in the same song to quote the great internet meme: “All your bases belong to us!”  The music is gorgeous, full of strings, and piano, against the backdrop of the outdoor bugs and birds forever present.  The wordplay is key against the castanets we learn of the “Cocktrice” in a self-referential song about self-existentialism before entering, I believe, the finest medieval lyrics about a gay bar “But I’ve seen them in the commons with their kerchiefs and tattoos” and “They are fathers without sons or daughters” and homophobia: “And a bunch of those together / Can only do the Devil’s work, and it’s the Devil’s work they do.”  A thing of genius!
Buy Spectrum, 14th Century: Books Recording Club, Amazon, iTunes

Vampire Weekend04. Vampire Weekend by Vampire Weekend
I love me some Vampire Weekend and read on eMusic a quote that put them into context: “Third-wave ska goes prep, with enormous results.” (Would this be another wave? Who’s counting?) I’ve had love affairs with The English Beat, Madness, and saw Mighty Mighty Bosstones play the same set twice because they had so few songs.  I can say that 90s mainstream didn’t do ska much good for me.
Ok, to go “prep” means for me, those cardigans of the 80s, those thin ties, raybans and the sweet music of Ezra Koenig’s “Upper West Side Soweto.”  There isn’t much new to say about Vampire Weekend other than to thank Stereogum/KEXP for getting me in at the ground floor and scoffing up those early 45s and finding the CD-R.  The XL release is remastered, fuller in sound and quality, some of the songs got renamed, but the sequence is the same.  The lyrics are fresh and full of fun cultural references, “Cape Code Kwassa Kwassa” still being my favorite: “As a young girl, Louis Vuitton / With your mother, on the sandy lawn / As a sophomore, with reggaeton / And the linens you’re sittin’ on.” I feel fortunate I got to see the band twice, once at the Echo upstairs, certainly one of the busiest nights I’ve seen for a Monday, and full of a much more varied agéd crowd that made me conclude that I was amongst the true earlier adopters of music greats that are my peers.  Even though I may have listened to the songs off this album ad nauseum even before it debuted, I look forward to what comes next.
Buy Vampire Weekend
: Direct, XL Recordings, Insound, Amazon, eMusic, iTunes

For Emma, Forever Ago

03. For Emma, Forever Ago by Bon Iver
This unsuspecting, spare album will arrest your velocity and place you firmly in it’s orbit.  Justin Vernon’s falsetto harmonies are startling, full of so much emotive quality, he puts most singer / songwriters in a lower class.  The creation of For Emma is equally entrancing, recorded over several winter months in Wisconsin alone in a cabin after a breakup.  And you can almost infer those origins simply by listening to it.
Even with that said, you might feel the album is cold, self-indulgent but Bon Iver provides the warmth in each song, wailing on a song like on “Skinny Love” with enough ire to not take himself too seriously: “I told you to be patient / I told you to be fine / I told you to be balanced / I told you to be kind.”  These are glorious creatures that reach upward to the sky and the sun, despite their current predicament or where the may have come from.
You can get lost in the melodies and rhythms and a subtle crescendo in several songs that sneaks up on you.  I personally love “Re: Stacks,” a sort of final resolution of the album after the title song, a way out of it’s inner depths, “It’s hard to find it when you knew it / When your money’s gone / And you’re drunk as hell” but you find that “It’s the sound of the unlocking and the lift away / Your love will be safe with me.”  And with For Emma, Forever Ago you believe it’s true with a self-realization you did not possess before.
Buy For Emma, Forever Ago: 4AD, Jagjaguwar, Insound, Amazon, eMusic, iTunes

03/07 - 09/07

02. 03/07 – 09/07 by High Places
High Places makes music with so many of the elements that I love in music and have loved for many many years now.   Boy-girl vocals, music-box melodies, odd sound creations and sampling, electronic in its creation but organic in sound, sweet (twee) lyrics that are so precious you want to squish their little eyes out.  They compose songs in a way I loved most about HNIA and has so much character and psyche rock to keep it interesting over months and months of listening.
Here is an eMusic collection of rarities that some how come-off as more coherent than their full length that was released later in the year.  What binds them together is an exestentialism like in “Cosmonaut” that wonders: “And we’re all full of questions / And we would like to know just exactly where we came from /And exactly where we’ll go” and considers that “I’ve read a lot of books about the future of the sun / And how my great-great-great-great-grandfather might have been a monkey’s son.”
These songs have a joy of life, humor, and innocence about them and are the epitome of what keep me so interested in new, independent music and remind me where I’ve come from and why I spend so much time online keeping my ears wide open.
Buy 03/07 – 09/07: Thrill Jockey, Insound, Amazon, eMusic, iTunes

Skeletal Lamping01. Skeletal Lamping by of Montreal
Of Montreal has been on my music periphery for the past several years, but never landed square in the middle of it nevermind the top of it. Each release capturing my attention more and more, I believed that Hissing Fauna would come the closest. When Skeletal Lamping arrived, I read many posts about its schizophrenia, it’s lack of focus and direction, it’s cringe-worthy lyrics.  Wrong.  It’s simple, they didn’t stick around to get to the meat of this amazing album. Fuck’em if they cannot handle the ride.
I had a friend who’s defense mechanism when first meeting him was to repeat in oh-so-many ways, “I’m gay! Gay! Gay gay gay, I’m gay!” And boy was he!  But after you got used to his fey qualities and need to prove his queeritude, there was a real person kicking around in there, complex and deeply sensitive.  Skeletal Lamping is this friend and the more you listen, the more you want to hear his story.
Sure, it’s about Kevin Barnes’ Ziggy-esque alter ego. “I’m just a black she-male / And I don’t know what you people are all about” but what’s more interesting is that “I’m a motherfucking headliner, bitch you don’t even know it!” exclaims Georgie Fruit with an attitude that’s all Hedwig.  For every song that may have put off cautionary reviewers, there’s something going on under the surface.  Sure, “We can do it softcore if you want, but I take it both ways,” but later Georgie confesses, “The mutual conclusion was I’m not worth knowing because I’m probably dead.”  It’s both sad and wonderful, an album of cinematic quality, full of vignettes and unexpected turns down dirty alleyways and into backdoors of Studio 54s.
The music is exquisite, perfectly crafted, unique and with a purpose.  Because each song shifts and turns doesn’t make it erratic, it’s theatrics and the headliner may be fucking with you (“Don’t be afraid Lille Venn of violence / I’m only poisoning you, not going to stab you”), may be fucking you (“I want you to be my pleasure puss / I want to know what it’s like to be inside you”), may be getting real with you (“He’s the kind of guy who would leave you in a k-hole / To go play Halo in the other room, remember?”), may be regarding a mood (“Plotting midnight raids on the Swedish plum trees”), or may be questioning his existence (“Why am I so damaged, girl?”)
You’ve got to listen carefully because I know Skeletal Lamping will be remembered when Of Montreal raised the stakes.
Buy Skeletal Lamping: Polyvinyl, Insound, Amazon, eMusic, iTunes

Thanks for hanging in to the end, please let me know what you think.

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Comments»

1. Ernest Millan - March 6, 2009

Thanks Reid. I need to do some catching up and this is a great list to begin from. 🙂

2. reidmix - March 6, 2009

Thank you — hope you find something you like!


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