My Favorite Albums of 2008

Personally, 2008 was a year that will always stand out. I got married in September, which was closely proceeded by news that we’ll be parents to twin girls. Naturally, music took a back seat to these events this year, but I still found time to write about a crapload of it. These are my 20 favorite new albums I’ve heard since I did this last year:


20. Centro-Matic -- Dual Hawks

Dual Hawks is a rare breed - a split LP released in conjunction from Will Johnson’s two primary songwriting outlets, Centro-Matic and South San Gabriel. The 11 songs that comprise the Centro-Matic half don’t so much employ a unique brand of rock ’n roll as absolutely own a very well-worn form of it - the feedback heavy, Crazy Horse-like sound the band has been perfecting for over a decade now.

MP3 :: I, The Kite
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19. Sigur Rós - Með Suð í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust

The impossibly beautiful voice of Jón Þór Birgisson is one of the most divine instruments in modern music, sort of like a child-alien singing in a cathedral choir. On the Icelandic band’s latest album his vocals soar as high as ever, but it’s the new pop-rock direction the band employs on its first half that excites just as much. The translation of the album’s title, With A Buzz In Our Ears We Play Endlessly, couldn’t be more appropriate.

MP3 :: Gobbledigook
MP3 :: Inní mér syngur vitleysingur
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18. Times New Viking - Rip It Off

The warped fuzz of Rip It Off will assault yer senses, but it’s the sparkling melodies bursting out of the noise that will keep you coming back for more, as they have for me all year.

MP3 :: (my head)
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17. Titus Andronicus - The Airing Of Grievances

As you’d expect from the title, there’s a lot of angst on The Airing Of Grievances - imagine a more muscular, Springsteen-esque take on the pre-I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning Bright Eyes albums (the ones where he tore his throat yelling and cursing into basement microphones) and you‘d have a good idea what these cathartic little anthems sound like.

MP3 :: Titus Andronicus
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16. Gang Gang Dance - Saint Dymphna

Saint Dymphna is an experimental, trancy art-dance record that mixes an inordinate amount of influences within its 45 minutes, and winds up being one of the best off-genre (meaning: not straight rock) releases I’ve heard this year. I don’t really “go out” anymore, but I bet I’d like this album even more if I did.

MP3 :: First Communion
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15. Destroyer - Trouble In Dreams

Trouble In Dreams doesn’t quite equal the career defining epic that was 2006’s masterful Destroyer’s Rubies, but for me it found its legs as the year progressed. Chalk it up to Dan Bejar’s ability to make his surrealistic poetry endlessly compelling (“it's not that I quit/ it's not that my poems are shit/ In the light of the privilege of dreams/ alive she cried once now alive she screams”), and for his band’s ability to frame those words in such grandiose, elegant folk music.

MP3 :: Foam Hands
MP3 :: Dark Leaves Form A Thread
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14. The Black Keys - Attack & Release

Attack & Release is The Black Keys sounding as primal as ever, but the production Danger Mouse lends has led to a crispness not yet heard from Dan Auerbach and Patrick Karney. Attack & Release doesn’t necessarily show a great deal growth in songwriting since their earlier efforts, but it does show more consistency - and in turn is their strongest work to date.

MP3 :: Strange Times
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13. Fuck Buttons - Street Horrrsing

Fuck Buttons stood out among the surplus of inappropriate named “fuck” bands in 2008 by creating a sonic environment that straddles the line between aggressive and tranquil - a world of beautiful noise that’s utterly hypnotizing and impossible to leave.

MP3 :: Sweet Love For Planet Earth
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12. Wolf Parade - At Mount Zoomer

At Mount Zoomer doesn’t go for the throat like Apologies To The Queen Mary, but it’s another very solid record from two songwriters who seem more and more interested in their own solo projects than the band that made them the darlings of the indie world a few years back. Everyone likes to shine the genius spotlight on Spencer Krug, but once again, for me, the best songs comes from Dan Boeckner. The muscular urgency in songs like “Language City” make it hard to wait for the next Handsome Furs album - which is actually just around the corner.

MP3 :: Call It A Ritual
MP3 :: Language City
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11. The War On Drugs - Wagonwheel Blues

Wagonwheel Blues is an exciting mix of sounds and styles - with elements of pure Americana, the 80s American underground, psyche-rock, and electronic flourishes providing a perfect match for Adam Granduciel’s expressive vocals. A truly promising debut rock record.

MP3 :: Taking The Farm
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10. The Sweetbriars - Please Pass The Revolution!

The Sweetbriars keep things pretty simple. Small town folk-rock and power pop influences collide with huge choruses, making Please Pass The Revolution! a blast to play loud and shout along with. Any fan of mid-90s Jayhawks or Tom Petty should fall heads over heals for this record.

Stream :: No Way Home From Here
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9. Gentleman Jesse & His Men - Introducing Gentleman Jesse

Gentlemen Jesse is one of those bands that doesn’t play a single innovative note, but does the same old same old so freakin’ well that it doesn’t even come close to mattering. In this case it’s late 70’s styled power punk that sounds like it’s coming from straight out of a broken down garage on the wrong side of the tracks.

MP3 :: All I Need Tonight (Is You)
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8. Constantines - Kensington Heights

With a mix of bracing, twitchy anthems like “Hard Feelings” and slow building, tension-filled ballads like “Time Can Be Overcome”, Kensington Heights, the fourth straight knockout from Canada’s best rock band, comes together to produce the band’s most accessible album yet. One of the best rock records of the year.

MP3 :: Hard Feelings
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7. Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes / Sun Giant EP

Fleet Foxes’ stunning Sub Pop debut does a fairly common thing - it mixes traditional folk sounds with heavenly vocal harmonies and douses them in reverb. But while the method may not be unique, the results are - the album manages to make each of its small, simple songs sound like widescreen epics.

MP3 :: White Winter Hymnal
MP3 :: He Doesn’t Know Why
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6. Portishead - Third

I only caught up to Third over the past 6 weeks or so, and since then have been completely absorbed in it. But the album itself must have been simmering for a long, long time - what with over 10 years since the trip-hop legend’s last. Third, though, is so much more than a neo-classic band reuniting to cash in on their past. Like Dummy and Portishead, Third is filled with icy cool electro-torch songs - only now they sound eerily futuristic, with harsh blasts of electric guitar and long, spaced-out instrumental passages to embed Beth Gibbons’ otherworldly vocals. Another truly hypnotic record.

MP3 :: Silence
MP3 :: The Rip
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5. Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago

Technically speaking, this was released late in 2007, but as only a handful of songs were on my radar until Jagjaguwar’s February re-release I decided to include it on this list. Scattered throughout the history of rock and roll are a handful of classic albums recorded straight to tape in an artist’s self-prescribed isolation - Nebraska and The Creek Drank The Cradle spring to mind immediately. You can add For Emma, Forever Ago, the result of Justin Vernon’s secluded winter in a Wisconsin cabin, to the list. Thank you Emma.

MP3 :: Skinny Love
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4. TV On The Radio - Dear Science,

Like Microcastle, Dear Science, is an instantly enjoyable album from a band that in the past has sometimes been a bit more challenging than necessary. As those thumping first beats and doo-wop “bom-bom-bom-bom-boms” of “Halfway Home” suggest, Dear Science, foregoes any such games, and the result is a terrific art-pop record from a band that is seemingly predestined for greatness.

MP3 :: Halfway Home
MP3 :: Golden Age
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3. Deerhunter - Microcastle / Weird Era Cont.

Microcastle, as well the Weird Era Cont. bonus disc, strikes a much greater balance between noise and song than did last year’s challenging Cryptograms, finally allowing the genius hiding behind Brandon Cox’s often offsetting cyber-persona to shine. “Nothing Ever Happened” may well be the indie-anthem of the year, an “All My Friends” for its disaffected little brother.

MP3 :: Nothing Ever Happened
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2. The Walkmen - You & Me

Along with 2004’s Bows & Arrows, The Walkmen have now, very quietly, created 2 of my favorite albums of the decade. I think of You & Me as this year’s Boxer, a record that surprised a lot of people who must not have been paying very close attention to what came before. Also like Boxer, You & Me is the band’s most cohesive and beautiful collection yet, and features a singer who has developed a pinpoint command of his words and delivery. Its woozy grandeur and nocturnal aura are the perfect soundtrack for headphones, street lights, and city cement. Just don’t say you were surprised. You & Me was meant to be.

MP3 :: In The New Year
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1. Frightened Rabbit - The Midnight Organ Fight

Scott Hutchinson, bless his soul, doesn’t try to do anything different than what nearly every other great young rock n’roll singer before him has done - document the broken hearts and sexual frustrations of a 20-something male. But the ways his stories unfold - so incredibly visceral and with such a thick Scottish howl - make them unforgettable. I listened to The Midnight Organ Fight more than any other album this year because, quite simply, it’s everything I want in a rock n’ roll record - loud guitars, great songs, and a singer who means it.

MP3 :: The Modern Leper
MP3 :: I Feel Better
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7 comments:

Hanan said...

I fucking love you for your number one album. I was looking for where you placed Frightened Rabbit (I stumbled on your blog via hype machine) and it is most definitely my top record of 2008.

an unforgettable album in every sense.

Wayne said...

Great list James, I will definitely have Frightened Rabbit, The Walkmen and Fleet Foxes very high on my list and the Deerhunter album gets better with every listen. Naturally Wolf Parade will be a bit higher for me, but glad to see it made an appearance.

wendy said...

this is an excellent list. pretty much all my favorites are there. i will definitely check out what i havent heard, thanks!

Simon Jones said...

Great list - Fleet Foxes are really up there for me.

Expect to see This Is Seb Clarke's new album up here next year - heard a promo copy yesterday and its sounding superb.

Morgan said...

Nice List! TV On the Radio is one of my favorite bands, and so are Fleet Foxes.

I like your blog! Maybe you can check mine out? RuinedByMTV.blogspot.com

k said...

Just found this list, a bit late, like anyone cares.

This Frightened Rabbit biz is more like Frightened Oatmeal. So trite and predictable. He even pointedly cussed in the first verse of both of these songs, before the song, errrr, explodes in a predictably "Jeff Mangum's cock is deeply embedded in my mangina" kind of way.

I agree with some of your choices, and not with others. But, to make this complete drivel your number one, tells me that you are an easily-guided indy "jounalist", who should take a chance with his own tastes. Or, just be a good Dad, and hang this racket up.

James said...

Wow, that's harsh k.

If you said I was "an easily guided indy journalist" for Gang Gang Dance being on there then maybe you'd be onto something. But for liking record that got mixed reviews at best?

For what it's worth (nothing), if I were to recompose this list today it would be 1. walkmen 2. bon iver 3. frightened rabbit