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.