Top 10 Albums of 2008 (Part One)
It’s part one because there are invariably about five albums I discover a few months too late that make my inner-monologue yell a Charlie Brown-like, “Augh! If only I was patient enough to publish this list 3 months too late!”
1. Portishead – Third
Goes to show you that just like a really expensive coat, truly great musicians never go out of style. After evaporating 9 years ago, a lot of things changed in the musical climate. Portishead seemed to condensate here and there, keeping up with avant artistes, taking notes from the resurgence of English Dub, and experimenting with loops and samples- less with turntables. The result was a precipitation that reminded a world that seems to be more and more saturated with melancholia, that they’re not sad. Oh no, you want sad? Portishead will kick you in the tear duct. Devastatingly dark, ephemeral, and haunting, Third re-calibrates the entire music scene’s sense of sorrow and musical mastery in one fell swoop.
1. Subtle – Exiting Arm
The finalé in a trilogy of concept albums (and I’m a total sucker for a concept album, much less a trilogy), Exiting Arm opens with the title track that sets the tone for the most harmonious and least hip-hop driven of the three Subtle LPs that chronicle the journey of Our Hero: Yes. However, three albums rife with angular and almost-too-abstract/clever lyrics only scratches the surface of the universe that’s been created around Hero Yes. Thousands of pages of notes and sketches, most of which can be found online at http://www.exitingarm.com/ if you so desire to spend eight hours of your life on something that will never be made into a movie. Anyway, these guys descended from Anticon and this album ties for first place for the same reason Lord of the Rings rocks- way too much work that went unnoticed went into it. Well, I noticed guys. I noticed…
3. Fucked Up – The Chemistry of Common Life
This album is like the second coming of punk. It is teflon to any clichéd nuances that plague most any punk band after 1983. Fucked Up rocks for the sake of sweating and screaming and punching things in the face and any sociopolitical commentary that accompanies it is merely incidental. Their first album, Hidden World, was a modest bellwether of where this band was going. However, compared to the veracity and intensity of this monolithic album, Hidden World is a speedbump. From the opening flute on the first, insatiable track “Son the Father”, to bongos, backups by Vivian Girls, and tracks that supposedly had upwards of 80 overdubs, this is far from a minimalist approach to punk. However, the attention to detail and varied nature of this album belies the rawness and uncompromising fury throughout the album.
5. Gang Gang Dance – Saint Dymphna
This album snuck its way onto this list and quickly climbed the ladder to number five. Somewhere between dub and down-the-rabbit-hole-acid-trip-psychedelia, Gang Gang Dance are like a musical singularity whose gravity sucks in sounds from every corner of the earth and the self-collapse is narrated by a squeaky chanteuse whose voice is somewhere between a kazoo and a siren (the mermaid kind).
7. Solid Gold – Who Ya Gonna Run To?
Solid Gold is a Minneapolis based trio that’s gaining a lot of traction with its fanbase. This album made it on this list based almost entirely on the strength of one track – and that I was not very impressed with many albums this year. However, “Bible Thumper” is has the most infectious, make my head shake groove since, maybe, Haddaway’s “What is Love?” I almost didn’t put this on here since it’s just an EP and half of the tracks are remixes. But, like I said, this top ten list was more an exercise in assembling ten great albums than paring down to ten great albums. And this EP does rock.
8. Via Tania – Moon Sweet Moon
Tania Bowers is an Australian musician who does nothing if not charm me. Her first LP, “Under a Different Sky” was a brooding and haunting trip-hop cum folk record that was in constant rotation on my deck for well over a year. Her second full-length effort, “Moon Sweet Moon” finds a less gloomy track, with more emphasis on acoustic guitars and staccato basslines than eerie samples and minor key changes. However, both are very charming to me, I’m just more easily charmed by her darker half. Also, hers is a runner up to Chan Marshall’s in a “Whose Voice Do I Want to Have a Bunch of Sex With” contest.
9. Deerhunter – Microcastle
Deerhunter’s first album didn’t bowl me over. I might be alone on that, but what can I say. However, I first heard a track, “Never Stops” of their new album while driving through the hills of Sonoma at dusk. Maybe it was the mix of Northern California air, amazing wine, and the taste of autumn in the air, but this album struck me entirely differently than their first effort, Cryptograms. Although it still has the almost useless intro track, Microcastle is a much less pretentious effort in my books. In the way the new kid on the block will go out of his way to impress people before coming down from hyperbole, Microcastle has all the creative characteristics of Deerhunter but comes across as a more genuine effort.
10. Lindstrøm – Where You Go I Go Too
Epic in scale, but disco in scope, Lindstrøm exercises the utmost precision when evolving disco born electronica over a mere three tracks totaling over 55 minutes. This is possibly the only time a non-trance electronic song has exceeded 10 minutes (with the title track passing the 28 minute mark) and has kept my attention. And to be clear, any 1o-plus minute trance songs were in the background and never really had my attention to begin with. This album is like a long road trip with lots to look out the window at.
Honorable Mention – Don the Reader – Humanesque
Honorable Mention – Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes
Honorable Mention – Passion Pit – Chunk of Change
Honorable Mention – Mouth of the Architect – Quietly
Worst Album of the Year – Mogwai – The Hawk is Howling
These guys have gone off the ******* deep end. First, claiming that Mr. Beast would rival My Bloody Valentine’s timeless classic, “Loveless”. Mr. Beast had a couple of okay tracks, but the overall album would have been more appropriately called “Careless” with respect to MBV. Now, they released an even more boring album than the yawn-some Mr. Beast. Dudes- repetition is okay. It’s what you’re good at. Repeat your back catalog, no one will fault you for doing what Mogwai does. Don’t take yourselves so seriously and get back to rocking. Young Team, EP+2, Come On Die Young- all stellar albums. That being said, I truly appreciate these guys are trying a new direction. Contrariwise to my criticism, I want them to innovate. I just don’t hear the inspiration and transcendence that Mogwai used to have.
Other Worst Album of the Year – Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend
If I wanted to listen to Paul Simon and his friends play bongos I would go raid your mom’s record collection. Vampire Weekend has done nothing exceptional except piss me off more than almost anyone ever. And the thing is, people smarter than me with better taste in music like these guys. Where am I missing the freakin’ boat? It’s too happy, it’s too accessible, it’s too college flavored, and it’s too many kids’ soundtrack to spring break. I might be an elitist for saying it, but on top of sucking on its own merits, this thing sucks by sheer association. Incidentally, I’ve seen Vampire Weekend play live more than any other band in 2008. WTF guys?
Best Make-Out Dance Track– Solid Gold – Bible Thumper
Best Song About Domestic Violence – Florence and the Machine – Kiss with a Fist
Most Rock Your Ass Off Song – Fucked Up – Father the Son
Goes Best With Zinfandel Song – TV on the Radio – DLZ
Goes Best With (lotsa) Whiskey Song – Mouth of the Architect – Rocking Chairs and Shotguns
Goes Best With Sauvignon Blanc Song – Passion Pit – Sleepy Head