Favorite Albums – 2008

This year’s list has a bit of a gamey/outdoorsy theme to it. Rabbits, foxes, eagles, a river, a sun, a moon, some trappers, some foal and some ruffians. Completely inadvertent. Let’s get to it. The following are my favorite 32 (well, technically 33) albums of 2008. As always, pass this along to anyone you think may be interested and please, by all means, post a comment when you’re done reading through. I’d love to know what I missed. Enjoy.

32. The Killers – Day & Age

Just got this album a week before posting. I may regret this by January, but so far it’s good enough for #32.

31. Kings of Leon – Only by the Night

If this was just about any other band, I may have ranked it higher. I dig it, but it’s only my third favorite of their albums. I wanted a little more.

30. Foals – Antidotes

A suggestion from a work friend Tristan who I think said it was a better, fresher Bloc Party. He was right…this album way outdid BP’s ’08 cut.

29. MGMT – Oracular Spectacular

A bit overrated, but a few standout tracks at the beginning – especially Time to Pretend – are good enough to make it inside of 30.

28. Hot Chip – Made in the Dark

These guys don’t slow down, they just get better. Ready for the Floor is one of my favorite club tracks of the year.

27. Blitzen Trapper – Furr

One of the much-hyped of the last quarter of the year. If the whole thing had measured up to the title track and Black River Killer it’d been top ten.

26. Conor Oberst – Conor Oberst

This dude’s excellent, prolific, and not nearly as big a d-bag as Ryan Adams.

25. Calexico – Carried to Dust

A little irresistible, solid, south of the border indie awesomeness.


24. Death Cab for Cutie – Narrow Stairs

It will possess your heart. I mean, not quite as much as albums 1 – 23, but good stuff.


23. Jay Reatard – the Matador Singles ’08

This thing’s less than 30 minutes long and feels like 15. I think it’s what the cool kids call post-punk. He kicked a stage-diver in the head and punched another one in the face so I was afraid not to include him…didn’t want it getting back to him when this blog becomes famous.

22. Santogold – Santogold

She’s a former African American studies student from Pennsylvania who sounds a lot like M.I.A. The more I know about her the more contrived the whole thing seems. Then again, this album is good fun and got me through a murky May…and besides, all music is contrived, right?

21. Atmosphere – When Life Gives you Lemons You Paint that Shit Gold

One of the all time great album names AND track #2 (Puppets) is all these hip hoppers needed to make it on to my list. Thanks Tristan (that’s twice…so this can never happen again).

20. Born Ruffians – Red, Yellow + Blue

Another post-punk indie band from Canada. Toronto, even. How do more and more bands come out of there with big color and sound without sounding the same? Then again, I don’t speak Canadian, so what do I know?

19. Sigur Ros – Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust

I’ve been pronouncing the name of this band “sugar rose” for a couple of years, hoping I might start enough of a movement that nobody would know how wrong I probably was. Even though I don’t understand a thing they’re saying (they’re from Iceland – !?) their music is ethereal, minimalist and way beautiful.

18. Hercules and Love Affair – Hercules and Love Affair

One of a few surprise late 80’s-esque techno dance albums on the list this year. I guess it’s a little trendy or whatever. But not so much I’ll work very hard to get over my affection for it.

17. Beck – Modern Guilt

I really don’t get why this album didn’t get more love than it did this year. The guy’s a freak of music giftedness. I mean, he’s no Jeff Tweedy, but Modern Guilt is some good stuff. A little something from every one of his previous albums.

16. The Ting Tings – We Started Nothing

Never heard of these guys until I showed up mid-afternoon Friday of Lollapalooza this year with my friend, Steve. What a great and fun way to kick off one of the best festivals I’ve ever been to. Really set the tone. My friend Jay thinks this is the worst band in the history of mankind…which certainly helped these guys move up a few more notches in my mind.

15. M83 – Saturdays = Youth

I was lost for how to describe them so I turned to w’pedia who said: “their musical style owes something to the shoegazing genre in its extensive use of reverb effects and lyrics spoken softly over loud instrumentals.” That’s totally what I was going to say.

14. Sun Kil Moon – April

Mark Kozalek – also of Red House Painters – is so devastatingly dependable at delivering a soulful sound you haven’t heard anywhere else without ever letting down. It gets me deep, yo. If you like this, go back and check out Ghosts of the Great Highway from a couple of years ago. Still haunts me.

13. Okkervil River – The Stand Ins

Locked in their place as one of my favorite bands with this album. I never thought I’d dig Will Sheff’s voice, but what can I say? It grew on me. I think of Texas whenever I hear these guys…you might, too. Unless when you think of Texas you think of George W. or something. Then I hope it just reminds you of what a band that writes excellent songs sound like.

12. The Dodos – Visiter

I’ve heard this described as psychedelic folk. I’m not sure what that even means but it’s not a badge I’d generally find appealing…but don’t let it scare you away. I’d call this sort of Shins-y or something…I can’t put my finger on it. (By now you can see this list is about the music, not my pathetic little capsules.)

11. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend

At various different points throughout the year, I’d have ranked this album in my top five or bottom five. It took some distance from it to realize something I come to realize every year thanks to at least one album: don’t let mad hype cloud your own opinions one way or another. If you let the machine get your hopes up too high, you’ll almost certainly be let down. And that would have been a shame with an album as fresh as this.

10. Department of Eagles – In Ear Park

I completely admit that this album is the only thing Daniel Rossen from Grizzly Bear has ever done that I get or like. Which probably means if there are any Grizzly Bear fans out there, you probably hate this album. Anyway, it’s very woodsy or something. Which as you can see from the rest of the list from 10 to 1, seems to be a mood I’m in these days. Not that I want to hang out in the woods…they don’t have the internet.

9. Chad Van Gaalen – Soft Airplane

You won’t find this on many year-end lists, but I was hooked on his sound since the first album two years ago. Sounds like it was made in a barn, just like no. 3 on this year’s list. Except TMNT Mask, which sounds more like it should be on the Hercules album than here, but it’s also very good.

8. Notwist – The Devil, You + Me

Believe it or not, this German electronica band used to be heavy metal band. Their sound now is a little mellow, but quite striking. I think their last album – Neon Golden from 2002 – is also one of my favorite albums this year (but that doesn’t count, does it, now?).

7. Los Campesinos – Hold On Now, Youngster and Los Campesinos – We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed

It’s two albums by the same band in the same year, and I chose not to separate them, but instead to evaluate Los Campesinos (spanish: the peasants…odd for a Canadian band). This is very Broken Social Scene-y; very big sound, lots of big instruments and many many voices. It’s two albums full of #7 goodness.

6. Cut Copy – In Ghost Colours

Australian dance punk/electro pop…very 80s new wave (see Hercules and Love Affair). Sounds like New Order for the post hipster set. All true. Fun. Clubby. Very easy to like. Lights and Music is on many people’s favorite song lists this year.

5. Girl Talk – Feed the Animals

This album is comprised entirely of master mashup artist Greg Gillis sampling dozens of great (and not so great) songs you already know and bringing them all together into 14 surprisingly original and quite layered tracks that wind up embarrassingly irresistible. Don’t over-think it. Good times.
4. The Walkmen – You & Me

Ok, we’ve made it to “cut above the rest” time on the list. The Walkmen rebound here, I think, from a disappointing 2006 follow-up to 2004’s Bows + Arrows (oh, man, remember The Rat?). In the New Year – track 4 – is pure gold. It’s a NY indie sound that’s tough for me to compare to anything else, so if you don’t already love the Walkmen, trust me and take a listen.

3. Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago

Damn this is sweet. Made in a barn in Wisconsin by a guy (Justin Vernon) who I’m going on faith is a Bear (and not a Packer) fan. He broke up with his band and his girl and retreated there on his dad’s land to record something just to get his head right. It turned into this album, so I guess we all benefit from the rough and abrupt changes in his life. Skinny Love was on repeat on my iPod for the entire month of June.

2. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes

Hit no. 1 on many a year-end list and would have gotten there for me on the heels of a great live show at Chicago’s Metro theater in October if not for FR (see no. 1). These guy’s vocal harmonies are like none you’ve heard and make a very fresh sound that truly stood out this year. The song-writing is storytelling at its best.

1. Frightened Rabbit – the Midnight Organ Fight

A Scottish indie rock band I could absolutely not get out of my head this year. I do admit that my affinity for scotch whiskey added a level of romance to my appreciation, but this one stands on it’s own as one of those great albums that just sinks its teeth in there and grows on you. Some of the writing rivals what I loved from the National’s Boxer last year. Start to finish a real pleaser that to me, was the clear cut number one this year in my humble heart.


20 responses to “Favorite Albums – 2008

  1. Everyone knows Los Campesinos are the best band to come out of Wales since…. since… Robert Zimmerman ditched the Z and adopted a name inspired by Welsh poet Dylan Thomas…?

  2. Two things:
    One Los Campesinos are from Wales but point taken it is still a weird name. Other than that there was, a lot of nodding while reading through the list I like M83 more than you do though and the walkmen a little less but both are great albums. In fact here’s my list: http://philliplee.tumblr.com/post/64974917/top-11-albums-of-2008

  3. Probably your best list ever. I don’t even mind the Ryan Adams dig. One album not on the list, is another quiet woodsy thing by Fion Regan. He sings of things like hunters maps and skeletal wings of birds and stuff, good album.

  4. Yo. Nice list. I’ve been in need of new recommendations and there are several on here I’ll be checking out over the holidays. Thank you.

    I probably would have included TV on the Radio, No Age, and Dr Dog. And I can’t wait to hear the new Bonnie Prince Billy record – i hear it’s great.

  5. nice long list, i’m gonna have to check out #1 cause i totally agree with #2-4.

  6. @ Philip L:

    Oh snap! First!!!!!11!!

    (that was for you, Soundbite)

  7. Nice list ya got there! I noticed a few really solid albums that are missing and are definitely worth mentioning.

    Racontuers – Consolers of the Lonely (can listen to it 10x over and still enjoy it)

    The Airborne Toxic Event – Self Titled I believe (fairly new but on my top list for 2008)

    Ryan Adams – Cardiology (much better than his last years release easy tiger)

    Black Keys – Attack and Release (it’s probably in my top 10)

    Elbow – The Seldom Seen Kid (more great tunes from this great group)

    Cinematic Orchestra – Live at the Royal Hall (One of the most well done, well recorded live performances ever! Amazing music!)

    Cold War Kids – Loyalty to Loyalty (follow up to their brilliant first album. This album is equally as good in a different way. Great lyrics and catchy tunes. Buy it if you don’t own it)

    Del the Funky Homosapien – Eleventh Hour (he’s been rapping for like 20 years and he’s still good.) Check it out if you like good hip hop

    Digitalism – Idealism (great electro funk breaks. if you like Cut Copy and Girl Talk then get this)

    Ok so those are my additions. Another really cool thing you guys might want to get if you don’t have it already is

    iLike. http://www.ilike.com it’s a plugin for itunes. It allows you to see what your friends are always listening to plus we can create custom playlists online from each others music and share. it’s way cool. My name is Matthew B. on ilike if you decide to download it.


  8. awesome list. loved it. glasvegas did some good stuff as well.

  9. Lengthy.

    I had a short list for my faves: We didn’t overlap on my number one pick, Delta Spirit-Ode To Sunshine. I also put Elbow-Seldom Seen Kid, The Last Shadow Puppets-The Age of The Understatement and, Broken Social Scene Presents: Kevin Drew-Spirit If on my Top 10. I’d move Kings of Leon ‘up the bracket’ and also feel guilty about how much I love Girl Talk.

    And, don’t tell anyone about Frightened Rabbit at The Empty Bottle on January 24.

  10. After thinking about it, I think I might have included:

    My Morning Jacket – Evil Urges

    The Cool Kids – The Bake Sale

    The Virgins – The Virgins

    The Black Keys – Attack and Release.

    Dr. Dog – Fate

    Maybe I’m not cool enough but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get into Sigur Ros. The made-up language thing kills me.

  11. F-
    Sorry. It’s a tradition.
    And I can’t approve any list that can support the Ting Tings(worst band ever) and the Notwist(best band ever that uses the Wii as an actual instrament)

    Hope all is going well in Chicago homie. Tell Brenda hi.
    Lets work on the freaking Gladiator already.
    Go Cards!

  12. I might actually agree with you for once on number one though, Frightened Rabbit is fucking amazing. I’d say that or Notwist. Well, those would actually fall to 9 and 10 behind the entire Replacements Re-issue catalog.

    • Jay: I changed my Ting Tings blurb in your honor while I was fixing some of the tyops. Glad this thing didn’t totally offend you this time. Hope we’ll see you down there in January or Feb.

  13. Here is my contribution to the list…. since you left these off, I think they deserve and honorable mention:)

    TV on the Radio – Dear Science
    The Black Keys – Attack & Release
    My Morning Jacket – Evil Urges
    Radiohead – In Rainbows
    Klaxons – Myths of the Near Future
    Mates of State – Re-arrange Us

  14. This is easily the most righteous list of the year. I would try to pass it off as my own, but it features way too many albums I have not heard, but now plan to. I may even need to do an eMusic emergency booster pack to get me through to February.

    My favorite album of last year was actually a 2007 release – “New Wave” by Against Me! That disc got more spins than every other album I own – combined – in the past 13 months. The latest Futureheads and Kaiser Chiefs albums also rank sky high. Still trying to figure out where to place Guns & Roses – a few of those tracks rock hard enough to warrant placement even though much of it reeks of Howard Hughes and his pee bottles in the dark room.

  15. I just want to make mention that I am the one the turned you on to Frightened Rabbit. I gave you the album.

    Agreed that Dr. Dog and Mates of State definitely need to be on this list.

    Looks like some of my favorite albums were actually released in the fall of 2007 but I feel are still worth mentioning, plus you need some Swedes on the list:

    Shout Out Louds, Our Ill Wills

    The Cave Singers, Invitation Songs

    Sea Wolf, Leaves in the River

    Anathallo, Canopy Glow

    Haley Bonar, Big Star

    Those Dancing Days, In Our Space Hero Suits. Not the best album but definitely something fun and catchy I think everyone should check out. (Swedish of course!)

  16. OK, so maybe I’m not the quickest on feedback, but here’s my 2 cents:

    I’m with you on the majority of the list . . . particularly Los Camposinos, Sun Kil Moon, Sigur Ros and Fleet Foxes. That said, if you listened to the entire 2008 list back to back you might need a good dose of sunlight and conversation . . . a bit melancholy, eh?

    I have to disagree on M83 except that Track #2 on holds a special place in my heart (even if they did spell my name wrong) so maybe they get a pass. And Ting Tings, really?

    As far as additions, I’m going to agree with some others and go with MMJ-Evil Urges as a great album. Better live, but still great.

    My other two adds would be Portastatic’s Some Small History (does a compilation album count?) and Plants & Animals. And yes, I’ll vote in your poll.

    Aside from that, I was just wondering if anyone else noticed the group discount that Notwist and Death Cab got on their album artwork??

  17. Just stumbled across this list doing image searches for M83 and am inspired to check out a couple of the things that you suggest based merely on association, but…

    Beck- No Jeff Tweedy!??! I’m guessing you’re in your mid twenties or younger. JEFF TWEEDY IS A HACK. Wilco didn’t start churning out electronic pop (for lack of a better descript) until they were inspired by Neutral Milk Hotel. Beck has been doing it since Tweedy was trying to play Americana style rock in Uncle Tupelo and before even.

    As far as sampling mixed with typical song format- where would we be without Beck?

    For every one of Tweedy’s lyrical revelations Beck has ten. Don’t get me started- NO COMPARISON!!

    • I love Beck. But what does he have to do with my post of my favorite albums of 2008? He didn’t put an album out last year. And sorry you don’t like Wilco. Do you not like them because you feel they were influenced by NMHotel? Seems to me all music is influenced by something. NMHotel was influenced, Robert Wyatt, the Minutemen, Neil Young, etc. Beck was obviously influenced by folk and blues. If you don’t like it, cool. That’s your right. But don’t play the “because they were influenced” card. Neil Young was influenced by Woodie Guthrie, Roy Orbison, etc. The list goes on.

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