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Enjoy the finest albums of 2008. We recommend you only interact with the past via these albums. We also recommend you do not read the Pitchfork list, it is RIAA propaganda. This is the real thing.
The Top 20 Albums of 2008
by Danish Aziz, Brittany Julious & Alex Carnevale
Usually Christmas is just as depressing as January, but this holiday season will offer a last glimpse of the decadence we enjoyed in the last twenty years of American life. Music will assume a new importance in the barren wasteland that follows – like the makeshift orchestra on the deck of the Titanic, the decline of a culture deserves the right arrangement. The sadder the world becomes, the more important the artists are, and the less their work belongs to them. Whatever your feelings on the sad joke that is American copyright law, if you can justify paying for something that’s just as easily obtained for free, then you should thank your stars you’re better off than most. The best music of this year did make itself available to us. There’s nothing particularly mysterious about what these albums accomplished – some stand apart from the time in which they were created, and others draw a sad strength from the same. These twenty earned our skinny love:
20. Evangelicals The Evening Descends
If The Evening Descends was released twenty years ago or twenty years in the future, it’d be more at home than it is here. More epic than Arcade Fire, and more Dream Theater than Dream Theater, this is the wildest joyride theme album you’ll ever listen to. At times it sounds like the Beach Boys are getting beat up by KISS, but mostly this Oklahoma band is like nothing you’ve ever heard before.
“Bellawood” – Evangelicals (mp3)
“How Would You Sleep?” – Evangelicals (mp3)
“Snowflakes” – Evangelicals (mp3)
“Party Crashin’ ” – Evangelicals (mp3)
19. Santogold Santogold
Santi White faced two comparisons that marked her solo outing – each one overwhelmingly incorrect. On the one hand, she was frequently described as a hip hop artist, which was curious upon one listen to Police throwback tracks like “Say Aha,” “You’ll Find a Way,” and “Light’s Out,” a light, crisp charmer that diminishes the harsh (yet fierce) aesthetic of early single “Creator.” On the other hand, “Creator” itself produced frequent comparisons to another young female musician bridging different music genres, M.I.A. Fair or unfair, the work stands on its own. The rest of the album deserved the hype.
“L.E.S. Artistes” – Santogold (mp3)
“Starstruck” – Santogold (mp3)
“Say Aha” – Santogold (mp3)
“You’ll Find A Way” – Santogold (mp3)
18. Gang Gang Dance St. Dymphna
Breakthrough is not the proper word to describe Gang Gang Dance’s year. Many have claimed the group’s latest LP, St. Dymphna, is a not-so-subtle attempt at transcending the inevitable boundaries that would be drawn around the group’s electronic/neo-tribal aesthetic. With that said, anyone – both old fans of experimental works like God’s Money and newer ones alike – would be hard pressed to find fault in this cohesive, masterly crafter wonder. Lead single “House Jam” is sumptuous and familiar. It’s not a copy of ’80s synth-pop, it’s a surreal re-working of the era’s signature sounds to create a dance record of haunting coos. “First Communion,” another charmer, is frenetic, overwhelming you with its fast pace. The album’s strongest, though, is “Princes,” featuring grime musician Tinchy Stryder. Jumping through a number of different genres (including grime, as well as electro, pop, hip-hop, and dub), “Princes” is indicative of the group’s ability to embrace different sounds while perfecting their eclectic aesthetic.
“House Jam” – Gang Gang Dance (mp3)
“Princes” – Gang Gang Dance (mp3)
“Desert Storm” – Gang Gang Dance (mp3)
“Dust” – Gang Gang Dance (mp3)
17. Rachael Yamagata Elephants…Teeth Sinking Into Heart
The upbeat-downtempo Harvey Dent-style double album is attempted thrice a year with varying degrees of success. In Yamagata’s long-awaited LP, she creates something equal parts disturbing and uplifting. There’s enough material for two discs here, considering how long it took Yamagata to prepare this follow-up and the husky eulogy “Elephants” is the Vassar grad’s best ever song. All the lighter concert fare is good fun, and what most singer/songwriters can’t do on their best day, but it’s Yamagata’s morbid fascination with disappointment that overtakes this collection. She is heavy with it.
“Duet” – Rachael Yamagata (mp3)
“Elephants” – Rachael Yamagata (mp3)
“What If I Leave” – Rachael Yamagata (mp3)
“Little Life” – Rachael Yamagata (mp3)
“Elephants (instrumental)” – Rachael Yamagata (mp3)
16. Dungen 4
I think it’s pretty fair to call Dungen “psych rock.” In fact, when I saw them live with Women earlier this month, their set featured a 15 minute flute solo. Yet, despite their jammy tendencies there’s plenty on 4 that will appeal to everyone. The album spans the range of Dungen’s influences, and takes cues from the three previous records from this Stockholm quartet. If you threw Sweden, some LSD, kraut rock and some hippies in a blender then you’d have the makings of 4.
“Ingenting Ar Sig Likt” – Dungen (mp3)
“Finns Det Nagon Mojlighet” – Dungen (mp3)
“Fredag” – Dungen (mp3)
“Satt Att Se” – Dungen (mp3)
15. Common Universal Mind Control
The artist wakes up in the morning. With a mind to step back, he opens his back catalog, like Dexter flipping through his kills. You know, says the greatest rapper in the world, I never really made an awesome dance/techno record. And it’s all well and good enough to say that, but the talent that can go and make that happen, is probably enough to move the world as far as Wall-E did. On Universal Mind Control, the budding film star tries to have fun and enjoy life. There’s no need to find forever when it’s right in front of you.
“Universal Mind Control (Instrumental)” – Common (mp3)
“Universal Mind Control” – Common (mp3)
14. The Kills Midnight Boom
Midnight Boom is an album of hits and frankly, there is not a damn thing wrong with that. VV and Hotel (Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince) are the most sexually frustrated musicians of the decade. Here they abandon their garage rock/post-punk hybrid aesthetic for a drum machine, intent on producing an album completely of the moment. Addictive riffs on new classics like “Tape Song” and “Last Day of Magic” are placed alongside slinky tracks such as lead single “URA Fever” and pep squad gone sour anthem “Cheap and Cheerful.” Along the way, short punches such as “M.E.X. I.C.O.C.U.” and “Alphabet Pony” whets the appetite and help compliment an album that situates itself in your head like an ear worm.
“Hook and Line” – The Kills (mp3)
“Last Day of Magic” – The Kills (mp3)
“Getting Down” – The Kills (mp3)
“Tape Song” – The Kills (mp3)
13. Frightened Rabbit The Midnight Organ Fight
It’s no surprise The Midnight Organ Fight was Biffy Clyro and Death Cab’s favorite album of the year. The record is a rocking mournful wail. Getting dumped is something everyone can connect with and understand. We’ve got a world full of people trying to deal with frustration, and here the other person just doesn’t have the faith required. That’s what all musicians love – to see the devotion made whole in art. “Jesus was just a Spanish’s boy’s name,” the beginning of “Head Rolls Off” suggests, and that’s how basic this record is. He really was just a fucking boy.
“Bright Pink Bookmark” – Frightened Rabbit (mp3)
“The Twist” – Frightened Rabbit (mp3)
“Old Old Fashioned” – Frightened Rabbit (mp3)
“Fast Blood” – Frightened Rabbit (mp3)
12. Women Women
Women are what Times New Viking should sound like. Lo-fi to the core, but owing more to Velvet Underground than Guided By Voices. Perhaps being produced by Chad VanGaalen helps with the pop sensibilities, as their live performances are a little lackluster. But with an ungoogleble name like Women, you can tell these guys are doing this out of love for their craft. There are a few misses here, but the hits like “Black Rice” leave you longing for more. This Calgary outfit manages the year’s best debut.
“Shaking Hands” – Women (mp3)
“Group Transport Hall” – Women (mp3)
“Sag Harbor Bridge” – Women (mp3)
“Black Rice” – Women (mp3)
“Woodbine” – Women (mp3)
11. Department of Eagles In Ear Park
I can’t really tell the difference between this and a Grizzly Bear album, which is awesome, especially in light of the throwaway tracks that comprised DoE’s debut The Cold Nose. In Ear Park is a grand, shimmering soundtrack backing Dan Rossen’s dreamy warble. There’s a lot to suss through here, but mostly you’re just left feeling warm and fuzzy.
“Family Romance” – Department of Eagles (mp3)
“The Piano in the Bathtub” – Department of Eagles (mp3
“Noam Chomsky Spring Break 2002″ – Department of Eagles (mp3)
10. Sigur Rós Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust
Audiences, any audience, tends to get bored of the brilliant. Reviews of endalaust (translated as With A Buzz In Our Ears We Play Endlessly) had to be either a departure or a confirmation that Sigur Ros was “the Michael Bay of melodrama” (Pitchfork’s words). It’s all well and good to ruin our enjoyment of things, but not Sigur Ros. They’ve already made three of the best twenty albums of the decade, and unlike their more popular paramours, the Icelandic group seem to be ready and willing to churn out more. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth – especially if you’re a website.
“Straumnes” – Sigur Rós (mp3)
“Su eyrum” – Sigur Rós (mp3)
“Gobbledigook” – Sigur Rós (mp3)
“Ára bátur” – Sigur Rós (mp3)
9. Jessica Lea Mayfield With Blasphemy So Heartfelt
Jessica Lea Mayfield is 19, but she’s from a musical family, which makes her 56 in those years. She’s no doubt the most talented member of her family – as the singer/songwriter milieu goes, her throaty renditions of her own songs stand out. The industry runs talents like these through the ringer – Cat Power is only able to do covers now, and Feist probably doesn’t know whether to thank Steve Jobs or make him a eunuch. Nothing about the Ohio native Mayfield’s debut, With Blasphemy So Heartfelt, exactly screams commercial, so we may be safe for now. It’s a sad, shoegazing record, like Bon Iver with a vagina and a better sense for melody. It sticks around.
“Hold You Close” – Jessica Lea Mayfield (mp3)
“You’ve Won Me Over” – Jessica Lea Mayfield (mp3)
“Kiss Me Again” – Jessica Lea Mayfield (mp3)
8. These New Puritans Beat Pyramid
Comparisons to post-punk pioneers like The Fall are understandable upon first listen to These New Puritans’ debut. With closer inspection however, the listener numerous layers of dry synths and intricate drumming congeal into something deeper. Tracks “En Papier” and “Elvis” epitomize the group’s disturbingly sound. Each song serves as a tour of the group’s influences with scattered vision. The build-up is nonexistent until that euphoric culmination of cheeky lyrics and rich instrumentation starts again.
“Doppelganger” – These New Puritans (mp3)
“Swords of Truth” – These New Puritans (mp3)
“C 16th” – These New Puritans (mp3)
“Infinity Ytinifni” – These New Puritans (mp3)
“En Papier” – These New Puritans (mp3)
7. Beach House Devotion
Sometimes when I’m listening to Devotion, Beach House’s record from February, I imagine it emerging from a cloud, or a conch shell, or a sarcophagus. It could be coming from anywhere. No, Devotion‘s not music you can shake your ass to – it’s all around you, like a sweater, but flushed from the cold and making the music just to stay warm.
“Some Things Last A Long Time” – Beach House (mp3)
“Home Again” – Beach House (mp3)
6. Deerhunter Microcastle
Bradford Cox is the indie rock Jesus, ready to die for our musical sins. This guy is gay, possibly a virgin, and frighteningly skinny due to Marfan Syndrome which will likely lead to a premature death. Is there anyone you could root for more? On top of that he put out what is arguably the best album of the year, and he helped reinvigorate a genre that was drifting into irrelevance – indie rock. Deerhunter appear to be actively honing their sound into something more poppy, subdued, and accessible. Cox is comfortable leaving his more experimental side to side project Atlas Sound, and as a result we’re left with Microcastle, an album for which you’d be hard pressed to name a single weak link.
“Activa” – Deerhunter (mp3)
“Green Jacket” – Deerhunter (mp3)
“Calvary Scars” – Deerhunter (mp3)
“Little Kids” – Deerhunter (mp3)
“Microcastle” – Deerhunter (mp3)
5. Lil Wayne Tha Carter III
There’s very little that needs to be said about Weezy that hasn’t already been said. The marketing and branding of Lil’ Wayne is nothing if not pure genius. But as much as people would like to attribute his success to hype, the truth is that almost nobody listens to music they don’t actually like! Weezy is a success because people like what he’s putting out. It’s not like drugs and clever lyrics haven’t always been a part of hip hop, but Wayne cannily embraces anything and everything he wants to, and having watched his progression from the Hot Boys days, the progression been nothing short of remarkable. The album didn’t immediately jump out at people as much as Lil’ Wayne’s previous offerings, but after a few days/blog years it really took hold.
“Dr. Carter” – Lil’ Wayne (mp3)
“Comfortable” – Lil’ Wayne ft. Babyface (mp3)
“Got Money” – Lil’ Wayne ft. T-Pain (mp3)
“A Milli” – Lil’ Wayne (mp3)
“Mr. Carter” – Lil’ Wayne ft. Jay-Z (mp3)
4. Nat Baldwin Most Valuable Player
Minimalist. It is a word that nothing bad ever comes out of. Perhaps Carver missed a note or two that might have enhanced “Cathedral,” but he certainly didn’t make it any worse. When you start from the most basic palate, composing from utter silence, it is a more difficult task than fitting the music into a preplanned structure and letting it flow from there. This is a not very fancy way of saying that the flood of classically trained musicians in independent music is what gives us shaggy classics like Dirty Projectors’ Rise Above, and tighter masterpieces like the work of Andrew Bird. With its grim cover and stranger sounding vocals, Most Valuable Player seems to have decided it doesn’t matter exactly which of these it is.
“The Felled Trees” – Nat Baldwin (mp3)
“Only to Find” – Nat Baldwin (mp3)
“Black Square” – Nat Baldwin (mp3)
“Dome Branches” – Nat Baldwin (mp3)
“Lake Erie” – Nat Baldwin (mp3)
3. Lykke Li Youth Novels
Swedish vocalist Li’s brand of future pop – combining elements of electronica, afro-Caribbean rhythms, and r&b – won over a legion of fans. A key component of Li’s charm and accessibility is the simple construction of each song. Singles such as “Little Bit,” “I’m Good, I’m Gone,” and “Breaking it Up,” feature near-perfect harmonies. The production is such that songs can easily be reduced to an a capella styling and still prove memorable. Li, clearly aware of this, has often been filmed doing just that on street corners or in cabs, highlighting the omnipresent fluidity in her songs. Pared with sassy, coquettish lyrics and her signature coos, Youth Novels is impossible to resist.
“Window Blues” – Lykke Li (mp3)
“Time Flies” – Lykke Li (mp3)
“Breaking It Up” – Lykke Li (mp3)
“Complaint Department” – Lykke Li (mp3)
2. Arthur Russell Love Is Overtaking Me
Arthur Russell died of AIDS in 1992, and this retrospective of his country and blues-styled work is the flashback treat of the year. The only thing spookier than Russell’s voice is his cello, and on these tracks he proves that it doesn’t matter what genre or category you classify him in. “Love letters, brief smiles, a touch on the arm, friends, and pets abound; throughout, Russell poignantly captures and echoes life’s ephemeral delights,” Spin wrote. Sure, and pain.
“Goodbye Old Paint” – Arthur Russell (mp3)
“Close My Eyes” – Arthur Russell (mp3)
“Love Comes Back” – Arthur Russell (mp3)
1. Metronomy Nights Out
While this is an “electronic” album to be sure, there are only a few tracks here that you’d want to hear on a dancefloor. In that sense, Nights Out is an electro-pop record. It’s all too rare to hear a track and within seconds know who it’s by, as opposed to being just another throwaway bloghouse track. Joseph Mount’s distinctive style of hitmaking turns out something between catchy pop and real soul. But the reason it’s our album of the year goes beyond hitmaking – Mount’s producing music that hasn’t ever been made before, and it’s your duty to listen.
“On the Motorway” – Metronomy (mp3))
“Heartbreaker” – Metronomy (mp3)
“Radio Ladio” – Metronomy (mp3)
“My Heart Rate Rapid” – Metronomy (mp3)
Danish Aziz is the contributing editor to This Recording, and he tumbls here. Brittany Julious is the senior contributor to This Recording, and she tumbls here. Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording, and he tumbls here.
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