Best Albums of 2008

Since I already blogged about my favorite songs/artists that I heard for the first time in 2008, it seemed only right that I A) add some more that got left off the list, and B) give some credit (in blog form) to the best albums that came out in 2008, regardless of when I first heard of the artists. Once again, this list is incomplete, very subjective, and has changed the last 4 or 5 times I tried to narrow it down to 10 albums. So I guess this is more like "today's best albums of 2008 list" since I know I'll change my mind tomorrow.

First, here's a playlist of a track from each album.

And now, some reading material:

This album had a hold on me from the first time I heard it. Their blend of punky high-energy pop, ridiculously clever and complicated lyrics, and immensely catchy hooks just grabbed me and hasn't let go yet. Last time I said I was torn between "Death to Los Campesinos!" and "My Year in Lists," but it turns out the song I really wanted to showcase is "This is How You Spell 'Haha ha, We Destroyed the Hopes and Dreams of A Generation of Faux-Romantics'," which earns points both for being a great song, and for having one of the longest song titles I've ever seen.

Elbow - The Seldom Seen Kid
I already gave my friend Kate a shout-out in my other "best of 2008" post for introducing me to this band, but she deserves another one. This album showcases some of the best of what this band is capable of, namely intelligent lyrics, wonderful percussion, great multi-tracked vocals, and a wonderful instrumentation that manages to be both spare and lush at the same time. This song, "The Loneliness Of A Tower Crane Driver," has almost the exact same tune in the background of the verses as Leonard Cohen's "Dress Rehearsal Rag." Coincidence? You decide.

Mother Mother - O My Heart
How could I have left this band off of my other list? It's a toss-up between this album and Los Campesinos! for "album Jordan listened to over and over again way too many times in 2008." This album has it all: pop hooks, syncopation, clever-but-somewhat-dadaist lyrics, bright shiny production, and incredibly catchy songs with nicely layered vocals. Like Los Campesionos!, Mother Mother makes great use of male & female vocalists for a fantastic sound reminiscent of the Pixies (some would replace "reminiscent" with "derivative," but whatever). I had a hard time choosing a favorite song off this album so I went with the one I found most often repeating itself in my head, "Ghosting." This one doesn't sound a lot like the rest of the album, actually, so it's kind of a terrible choice in terms of representing the whole thing, but it's still a great song, especially the lyrics. Musically it really gets going around 2 minutes in. EDIT: I couldn't pick just one song from this album, so please enjoy "Burning Pile" as well.
Girl Talk won my heart back in 2006 with Night Ripper. I was disappointed by almost everything else I heard from him after that (i.e. his earlier records), but Feed The Animals picks up where Night Ripper left off, and continues his brilliant streak of mixing hip-hop, 70s hits, 80s pop, and a host of other stuff together with mathematical precision and an ear for hooks. "Play Your Part" is the album opener, and I think it's the best track on here, but the whole thing is worth a listen. No need to make a fancy playlist for your next house party, just throw this album on and let Girl Talk do the work of finding something for everyone. Check out the samples used in this track alone.

Plants and Animals - Parc Avenue
This album can sound at turns rambling, expansive, jam-bandy, and occasionally focused, but it's always listenable and usually fantastic. I find a lot to like here, which is easy because they play with several genres at once in any given song. This track, "New Kind Of Love," sounds to me like what Fleet Foxes would be if they lived up to their hype. [Editor's note: they don't.] They have a knack for a catchy chorus that sounds more or less accidental, like they kind of fell into it during a jam session. But that's deceptive; there's obviously a plan at work here, which is why this album works so well.

School of Seven Bells - Alpinisms
I didn't know what to expect when I heard that Secret Machines guitarist Benjamin Curtis had formed a new band. I guess I expected Secret Machines-lite, which is kind of what I got from the last couple of Secret Machines albums. Instead I got this riveting electro-dance-pop album [Editor's note: there's probably some real sub-genre that the hipsters are using for this sort of thing, but I don't know the name of it.] that really rewards repeated listenings. This track, "Connjur," is one of the lighter numbers on the album, but nicely showcases the vocal abilities of twin sisters Alejandra and Claudia Deheza as well as the general dancing-in-a-weird-80s-dream vibe of the whole album.

TV On The Radio - Dear Science
I didn't like this album the first several times I heard it. I wanted more horns, more bizarre vocal stunts, more a cappella, more of everything I loved about their first album. And then one day it just suddenly clicked for me, and I realized that this is a fine album by a band that's growing and trying different things. It's just that in TV On The Radio's case, they started out weirder and are getting (slightly) more normal, so progression for them is not what I'm used to hearing in terms of bands branching out and experimenting. But now I know they can make good, accessible songs and still showcase their unique talents, and I'm OK with that. I guess I'm growing, too. "Crying" could have been a Top 40 dance track in another era with a different singer.

Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend
Ah, Vampire Weekend. For the longest time I told myself you were just a flash in the pan, a band of limited talents who stood on the shoulders of giants and put in just enough songcraft to get the job done and pull the wool over the eyes of today's youth. Then I realized that I had inadvertantly memorized every track on this album because they are all so damn catchy. Why fight it? This is a wonderful pop album with some great influences. I like "The Kids Don't Stand A Chance" both because it sounds different than most of the other songs on the album, and because I love the title's modern update of the Who's "The Kids Are Alright" - whether it was intended to be that, I couldn't say, so let's assume it was.

Why? - Alopecia
2005's Elephant Eyelash was such a great album, I had very high hopes for this follow-up. The sound is a lot fuller and richer, with more instrumentation and fleshed-out choruses, but that overarching sense of dread and loss remains, which makes for a great album from a band (well, a solo act, more or less) to watch. "Good Friday" doesn't feature the higher-pitched nasal sound that is Why's trademark, but it does contain a reference to Houdini's death by an unexpected punch and the line "sucking dick for drink tickets/at the free bar at my cousin's bat mitzvah," so it made the list.
I used to think "One Pure Thought" was the only great song on this album, but that's not doing justice to the glitchy ballads that make up this album. Whether they're going overboard with the synthesizers on "Touch Too Much" or overboard with the drum machine on "Bendable Posable," Hot Chip does their best impression of really sad robots on this album, and while the results are mixed, they are usually great. "Wrestlers" is a robot's attempt at a Justin Timberlake song (seriously, I could hear Justin and [hot rap artist du jour] making a Top 40 hit out of this song) and it's deliciously weird. Word to the wise: skip the last track on the album, the robots checked out and the humans really weren't up to the task on that one.

Honorable Mention: M.I.A. - Kala
This album isn't consistent enough to make it into my official Top 10, but c'mon...Paper Planes! The Clash never sounded so good (with apologies to The Clash). Just to mix things up, I've included the "Scottie B. Remix" from Paper Planes: Homeland Security Remixes. For more on my love affair with this song, click here.

Well, that's my list. I've already changed my mind about it, but now it's written so I'm stuck with it. What were your favorite albums released in 2008? What are you looking forward to that's coming out in 2009? Tell me in the comments.

1 comment:

99 said...

here's my pointless (not ranked, no descriptions, etc) list of favorite albums. at least the ones i can remember right now.

parts and labor, hello saferide, the ruby suns, apollo sunshine, the mae shi, titus andronicus, los campesinos, jenny lewis, deerhunter, micah p. hinson, the dodos, love is all, mgmt, ting tings, portishead, okkervil river, nextdoor neighbors, portugal the man, abe vigoda, tv on the radio, wire, apes, plants and animals, forest city lovers, frightened rabbit, the fall, julian cope, el guincho, indian jewelry, the muslims, wye oak, cloud cult, the aliens.