Saturday, December 27, 2008

The 10 Best Albums of 2008

Sorry these posts have been so few and far between. I barely have time to write for pleasure anymore.

2008 is essentially over. Nothing else will come out in the next few days, and so I feel its safe to put this list together. This was a big year for music; there were a lot of albums I really enjoy that do not make the top 10. I never predicted that so many memorable discs would be released this year, and so organizing the list proved more difficult than anticipated. So here they are, the 10 best albums of the year 2008.

10. Day and Ag
e - The Killers

Few enjoyed the Killers last foray, Sam's Town, finding it to be a trite Bruce Springsteen sound-alike. I felt critics were a little too harsh in their opinion. Sure it wasn't spectacular, but I still found it enjoyable. Nonetheless, the Killers had hurt their reputation, and needed to release an album that would revitalize their canon. Boy, did they ever. Day and Age is a smashing alternative rock album that is a pleasure to listen to from start to finish. While the songs aren't complicated or ground breaking, the whole album blends together beautifully. Brandon Flowers voice seems to be getting better and better. On their first album, I felt like he was doing more yelling than singing, and this changed. Mr. Flowers now seems to be able to carry a tune, and presents himself as a vocalist who doesn't always need a big band backing him. My one criticism of Day and Age is in its concept. It feels the album has more style than substance. Its like a blockbuster action film. If you look past the explosions, tits, and gunfire, there really is not much to look at. But, no one watches action films to be wowed by narrative, and the same goes for this album. We weren't expecting the thinking man's LP, just something pleasant to the ears. We got that and more from Day and Age.

9. The Dodos - Vister

I actually hadn't heard about these guys until a few weeks ago. Their first LP, Visiter is an experimental folk album that thrills the senses. My first play through of Visiter was distracting, as I spend a good portion of the album trying to figure out what the fuck was going on. My second run was much smoother. The schizophrenic percussion started to make sense, and the lyrics were no longer nonsense. The album is long, and through its entirety, someone is banging on something with something else, ambiguous and difficult to identify. The style is erratic, but really defines the character of the disc. It is masterful if anything. The singer really can belt it, and his lyrics are clever throughout. There is just something so satisfying when the vocalist in a band named after the dodo bird sings, "I'm retarded."

8. Oasis - Dig Out Your Soul

The boys from Manchester are back. Famous for being plagued by internal turmoil, it really is fantastic to see Oasis move beyond their quarrels and turn out such a gem of a record. Dig Out Your Soul returns the band to their rocking roots, featuring vocal heavy tracks backed by loud guitars and effective drum work. The album, while relentless in its onslaught, is enduring, and never seems to wear thin. Oasis' sound is mature but restless, and shows that the band is ready to move on. In between the growl of the guitars, or the snarl of Liam Gallagher's vocals, Dig Out Your Soul simply put, rocks.

7. Wolf Parade - At Mount Zoomer

Wolf Parade hail from Canada, and bring with them a psychedelic plodding style similar to their close friends, The Arcade Fire. After a successful debut, the band managed to overcome the dreaded "sophomore slump" and release a stellar second album. At Mount Zoomer is a carefully written album, one defined by forethought and patience. Everything is carefully arranged, and has a specific purpose. The song writing is top notch, and each arrangement is distinct and beautiful. The best track is the last one "Kissing the Beehive", an eleven minute trippy epic, that builds and builds, delivering the album to a breathtakingly satisfying climax. I'm really excited to see where these guys go, as their seems to be plenty of gas in the tank for a long and satisfying career.

6. The Mars Volta - The Bedlam In Goliath

The fact that this album made the list will probably piss a bunch of people off, and to a certain degree I can't blame them. The Mars Volta are a bunch of narcissistic douche bags, famous for throwing cacophonous and dangerous concerts. Still, this album is a breath taking achievement, in its musical complexity and ear shattering force. The album begins with a thunderclap, and never lets up until the final fleeting bars of the last song. "Sonic Terrorism" might be a good term for The Bedlam In Goliath, as the listener is taken hostage in the fury, and given no release until the end. The musicianship on the album is astounding, especially that provided by their new drummer, Thomas Pridgeon. Thomas entered Berkeley School of Music as the tender young age of 16 on a full scholarship, and quickly earned a reputation as one of the best up and coming drummers. This album is his debut, and he immediately proves that he is a force to be reckoned with. He keeps time like a Jazz drummer, but will often explode into a barrage that moves so quickly its nearly impossible to keep up with. Whether you like it or not, you have to admit the Mars Volta are one of the most instrumentally talented bands in the business.

5. The Sword - Gods of the Ea

More than any other album on this list, Gods of the Earth fucking rocks. The Sword understand how to write an awesome riff better than any modern band I can think of. Their songs are locked in my short term memory as soon as I finish listening to them, which often leads to me listening to the same song all over again. I just can't stop myself. This is the best Metal album of the year in my opinion, and the band do the genre a huge favor. Metal is dragged down by its own people, possessing more shitty bands than any other genre out there. This is really sad because the good Metal bands are a real treat, and The Sword are an example of how things can go so well. Gods of the Earth is a relentless thrash fest, showing off its ferocious cymbal/drum work and chugging riffage to propel the listener to stand up move around. It is impossible to listen to God of the Earth while standing still or sitting. To truly enjoy the album, I find myself running, driving, etc, and I bet its even better if you listen to it during a bar fight or something. The best is saved for last, as the band reproduces one of the tracks acoustically. It still rocks just as hard, and that should show how powerful these songs really are. I mean you could play them with a pair of bongos and a fucking lute and people would still feel compelled to headbang.

4. Dr. Dog - Fate

Dr. Dog are all about what has already happened, stranded in the past with no way back. But this is why they're so much fun to listen to, as they reinvent the sound of an age where mainstream music was actually good. Dr. Dog sound like The Band, The Beatles, and The Beach Boys were all thrown into a huge blender. The end result is a delicious multi-faceted smoothie that always hits the spot. Fate is a strong disc, one that relies on double edged vocals, smart lyrics, and a classic sound. The production ideas are clever, the vocals are ragged-but-right, and the horns are silky smooth. Everything here seems to just work. I'm excited to see what Dr. Dog has in store next, and I really hope that they move out beyond the past and start trying to live in the future.

3. TV on the Radio - Dear Science,

This disc was probably the most surprising release of the year. I've never been a huge fan of the band, but I enjoyed their last few endeavors. I noticed their new release on the shelf, and with nothing grabbing my eye figured "Fuck it, what else am I gonna buy." I listened to the whole album start to finish, and found myself wanting to immediately reexamine the bands catalogue. Its art rock with a human face, one with density and texture that hides an optimistic core. The whole disc is shit-hot thrilling music, while at the same time manages to be multi-textural and ambivalent. The entire album's purpose is laid bare in its lyrics. Adebimpe's voice doesn't speak of audacious hope or depressing despair, it rings of confusion. They're the house band for a country that has no idea where its headed. On "Golden Age" they sing of "utopia," but have nothing to back them up evidence wise except their own music.

2. Fleet Foxes (Self Titled)

Fleet Foxes have a firm grasp of Rock and Roll history, but they never play their record collection. Rather than revive a particular style or re-invent a lost sound, the Seattle quintet cherrypick their ideas from a broad spectrum of styles that include folk, country, classic rock, and SoCal pop. Vocals play such a primary role in Fleet Foxes' music that Pecknold's lyrics at times sound like merely a delivery system for harmonies, with references to meadowlarks, rising suns, and streams bolstering the rural and placeless evocations. However, these are ultimately carefully and well-crafted compositions. On "White Winter Hymnal", a firelit roundelay that best showcases the band's vocal interplay. The album is strengthened in its production, as their sound is very open, and seems to echo around the room. Fleet Foxes is a great album, and in its last few bars, it seems to linger as if the band doesn't want it to end any more than the listener does.

1. Metronomy - Nights Out

This album will be on no one's list, and that's a bloody shame. Metronomy, the production name for Joseph Mount (who apparently was named the nicest guy in pop by NME), is a genius electronica project firmly steeped in realism as its concept. Mount, who is a heavy metal drummer by trade, dreams up songs that are just too damn catchy to not be heard. You want these things to be stuck in your head; they never seem to wear out their welcome. Mount's use of real instrumentation combined with synthesized beats is magnificent, and his arrangements are addictive. Nights Out, a concept album in nature, is one that shows Mount is brimming with potential beyond what any of his peers suspect, clearly possessing the artistic knack and technical grasp to bring his marvelous ideas to fruition. What started out sounding like a simple little home-grown electro record has uncoiled itself over a number of listens into a multi-layered party playlist that gurgles out anthems without pause. “It’s a soundtrack to a bad weekend,” Mount has claimed, as deceptively humble as the music he makes.

P.S. Forgive the crappy picture, it sucks that the best album of the year didn't have any good images online.

Well there you have it. I'm pretty happy that not one buy TWO Metal bands made the list. I look forward to reading everyone else's opinions and I wish you all a happy new year.


Sean said...

A solid list. It sounds like Cat Fancy won't be posting our lists until we've seen all the 2008 movies that are still trickling into wide release, so it might be a while.

BethAnn said...

How about the Best Albums of 2009? What's new with you, cuz?