Thursday, August 20, 2009

My Favorite Albums of 2008

2008. After this, you won't be bombarded with any more outdated Best of the Year lists (probably. I could go back in time.) Last year was a pretty good year musically. One of the best comeback albums in recent memory was released alongside several amazing debut albums. There was plenty of noisy, psychadelic-y, poppy rock stuff as usual, but it was also a great year for electronic music. And I turned 16. Driver's license! (Well, I'm actually still working on getting that. You need a lot of hours. It's tough.) Enjoy.

1. Portishead--Third
It's not often that a band can put out an album years after they've been (semi) forgotten about and have that album be any good. (Look at Sugar Ray's new album). However, Portishead managed to take 11 years off and then come back with a brilliant album. The only true similarity between Third and Dummy or Portishead is Beth Gibbons's voice (which is still amazing). The music on Third tends to veer away from trip-hop into the dark, experimental electro-rock category with great success. It's heavy, dark, beautiful, and the best of the year.

2. TV on the Radio--Dear Science
With Dear Science, TV on the Radio have secured their place in the modern rock pantheon. It takes the fuzzy, upbeat soul that they have demonstrated on previous releases and makes it front and center. It still sounds very much like TV on the Radio, but Dear Science is definitely a pop album. The songs are catchy and big, big enough to fill the sizable venues that TV on the Radio is starting to play in. And while the apocalyptic atmosphere that made Return to Cookie Mountain is certainly gone, the lyrics are still angry and relatively apocalyptic.

3. Deerhunter--Microcastle
I never would have thought Microcastle would have been this high on the list. When I listened to it, I liked it a lot--but not #3 a lot. However, when I was making this list, I found myself unconsciously putting this towards the top. And so I listened to it again, and I knew why I loved it so much. Microcastle may not be the most original. It may not have the best songs. But as an album, it works. The psychedelic pop songs are all executed perfectly. They all flow well with one another. It's easy to take it for granted, but Microcastle is the best pop album of the year.

4. Hercules and Love Affair--Hercules and Love Affair
Truly good dance albums don't come around too often because the genre revolves around singles. But here's one. Probably my most highly anticipated album of the year (based off of "Blind"), Hercules and Love Affair didn't really disappoint. Though "Blind" is the best track on the album (and best track of the year), all of the songs find a memorable dance groove--whether it's disco, house, or synth-pop. Despite that, though, it all sounds uniquely modern. It maintains a level of simplicity, which is rare for disco, and also a level of awesomeness.

5. No Age--Nouns
I've said before that I'm not particularly fond of the movement No Age helped usher in (i.e. all sorts of lo-fi garage rock), but there is something about No Age themselves that make their brand of lo-fi great. Nouns finds them turning the messy, art-rock pieces on Weirdo Rippers (which is also great) into messy, art-rock pop songs. The guitar fuzz is executed in a way that recalls both Wire and Sonic Youth, but sounds like neither. Behind all that fuzz is always a great hook. The last year has presented many No Age imitators, but there's only one No Age.

6. Fucked Up--The Chemistry of Common Life
The Chemistry of Common Life most definitely owes a lot to American hardcore and post-hardcore from the '80s, but, unlike most modern hardcore records, it also owes a lot to the post-punk and art-rock from the same period. It's heavy, but most of the heaviness is derived from the vocals, sung by Damian "Pink Eyes" Abraham. His vocals are forceful, angry, huge, and wonderful. The selling point, though, of the album is the wall of arty guitars. They're smart, intricate, and atmospheric in a way that's unlike (and cooler than) other punk albums.

7. The Bug--London Zoo
Talk about a heavy album. The Bug's London Zoo is dark, scary, urban, and wondrously heavy. The beats are reminiscent of dubstep and jungle, but they transcend both genres and prove to be wholly unique. The dancehall influence shows up in a guest spot from dancehall legend Tippa Irie ("Angry"), but, once again, it sounds very modern. All the other guests work well with The Bug's beats, providing dark, often angry lyrics and intense MCing to the equally dark music. London Zoo provides a bizarre, scary, awesome, Jamaican view of London.

8. Grouper--Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill
Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill crept up on me. I bought it, I listened to it, I liked it, I put it away. Its lush ambience had piqued my interest to an extent, but, well, it fell flat on hooks. A couple weeks later, I found myself listening to it again. A lot. The lush ambience, upon further listening, transformed into a beautiful dystopian landscape, backed by a quiet, haunting voice and an acoustic guitar. And "Heavy Water/I'd Rather Be Sleeping" actually has a pretty nice hook. DADDUAH is truly weird and stunning, and it's the most relaxing album in years.

9. Gang Gang Dance--Saint Dymphna
It's hard to say Saint Dymphna shows Gang Gang Dance becoming accessible because, well, it's hardly accessible, but it is certainly more streamlined and straightforward than their previous releases. It blends electronics, bizarre sounding guitars, squealy vocals, and endless, tribal-y percussion to create an original and futuristic sound that is quite refreshing. Parts of the album veer towards pop structures and sound very nice and smooth, while other parts are disjointed and harder to swallow. But everything is executed with precision and intrigue.

10. Atlas Sound--Let The Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel
Bradford Cox certainly went on a tear. Let The Blind makes three great releases by him in just over a year (Deerhunter's Cryptograms and Microcastle are the others). Atlas Sound, which is his solo project, makes music in a similar vein as Deerhunter, but the atmosphere he creates is far more desolate and more disparate. Washes of blissful fuzz cover his pop songs about being outcast and sad and "Quarantined," and interesting, foreign percussion moves those songs along. It's still psychedelic pop, but it's extremely personal and extremely good.

11. Fleet Foxes--Fleet Foxes
Beach Boys harmonies with a lot of reverb. That's what most critics said about Fleet Foxes. While that's not entirely untrue, I think that that only begins to describe the sound that they make. (Which is not to say being like the Beach Boys is bad. It can be good.) Yes, the album contains beautiful harmonies and a lot of reverb. However, it also contains well crafted, pastoral folk collages and endlessly catchy hooks. The music is not original, but it's done so well that it doesn't matter. And in twenty years, they'll be called "Fleet Foxes Harmonies."

12. Fuck Buttons--Street Horrrsing
Street Horrrsing, like Fleet Foxes, also suffered from mischaracterization. They call it "electronic noise" or whatever, but it's a lot more. Taking influence from post-rock and ambient-y dance music, Fuck Buttons creates miniature electronic suites that build and build above noise. Though the music is sometimes harsh and heavy (when they're hacking away at their primitive electronics), it is always interspersed with stretches of lovely, poppy ambience. It's post-rock for the future, and I'm looking forward to that future.

13. Beach House--Devotion
They don't change the hazy, lazy dream-pop that they established on their debut too much, but the songs are clearly better written, and the sound is more sophisticatedly produced. The vocals are relaxed and relaxing, and the music is psychedelic and repetitive in very good ways. Despite being poppy, it's always haunting and introverted, but without being overly depressing. On Devotion, Beach House continue to do what they best: churn out tons of hooks and luscious, lonely atmospheres.

14. DJ/rupture--Uproot
Uproot is a DJ mix. DJ/rupture took other people's music and put it all together and sold it with his name on it. It might be good, but it's not an artistic achievement. Right? Wrong. Uproot may be made up of previously released music, but it flows so seamlessly that I can't imagine the songs in any other context. Obviously his taste is impeccable--all the songs are really good--and he molds the tracks and sequences them in a way that is most definitely artistic. Uproot is a great mix that very few others could put together.

15. Arthur Russell--Love Is Overtaking Me
One could argue that this album also does not belong on this list. None of these songs were recorded in 2008. In fact, none were recorded this decade. But this still came out in 2008, so it counts. Love Is Overtaking Me finds Arthur Russell in folk mode, and he pulls off singer-songwriter nearly as well as he pulls off disco producer or solo cellist. The songs are desolate and beautiful as they recall lost love, current love, and the Midwest in an earnest and delicate way that is unique to Arthur Russell. If it hadn't happened already, this solidified his genius.

And roundin' out the top 30...
16. Air France--No Way Down
17. Lindstrom--Where You Go I Go Too
18. Philip Jeck--Sand
19. Harvey Milk--Life...The Best Game In Town
20. Fennesz--Black Sea
21. Luomo--Convivial
22. M83--Saturdays=Youth
23. Paavoharju--Laulu Laakson Kukista
24. Spiritualized--Songs in A&E
25. Titus Andronicus--The Airing of Grievances
26. David Byrne & Brian Eno--Everything That Happens Will Happen Today
27. El Guincho--Alegranza!
28. Micachu--Filthy Friends
29. Times New Viking--Rip It Off
30. Valet--Naked Acid

That's what I think. Comment if you disagree. Or if you agree. But it's unlikely that you agree with every single selection. But it's okay if you do.

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