The Best Albums of 2008

I must admit that, aside from one, I have seen every artist on my top ten list play live this year and that might be manipulating my choices, yet I think the combination of a great album and a great live act only secures their place as not only relevant but highly significant musicians. To go out on a limb, I think that this year has been the best year of music in the last five years. Perhaps this is because I am now much more in to jazz and hip hop, two top ten lists I won’t even include here, but also because the surge of great music from old timers is meeting the younger and recently prolific bands with open arms. Many artists are arising out of the influence older and still working artists had on them, which I find a testament to this, the age of the montage.

(11…whoops) People Under the Stairs—Fun DMC: Even though this album is far from the previous albums, as far as sped up lyrical versatility, and in that they all had amazing single tracks, the sampling here is pristinely old school and shakes up everything. These jokers get younger all the time and the track “Anotha’ BBQ” is not only the funniest but also the best groove song of the rap year.

(10) Dr.Dog—Fate: Some truly charming kicks on this bell. “The Old Days” made this whole album sneak up onto my list. As aside from digging the rest of the album as a whole, TOD is a particularly poignant ditty with intricate singing sneaks and careful movement. Also, a great album to run to.

(9) Cut Copy—In Ghost Colours: “Strangers in the Wind” is a delicious piece. This album was another early contender for top five, but with an early release in a great year it was budged from the list’s elite, but still sits as complete. I really enjoy everything this band does and they have a seminal reach toward quirky dance pop. I was happy to hear this one in the clubs I often found myself nearby or within this year…

(8) The Foals—Antidotes: On a whim I picked up this charged gem on its release date, mostly being convinced that it had to be brilliant if the band members were dressed in tennis gear and referencing bad British literature. Turns out to be more than true, for this album, what critics refer to as math rock, is a bobbing bunkhouse of raucous little guilt. Rarely am I comfortable calling something catchy in liking it, yet this is exactly that—the lyrics are likes frames containing the super sounds and before I mix another metaphor I must say that “Red Socks Pugie” could be a hipster’s god-given love song. If you want to break up briefly with someone only to get back together many dirty minutes later this song’s your go-ahead.

(7) My Morning Jacket—Evil Urges: This was an early contender for the number one slot, with “Touch Me I’m Going To Scream Pt. 2” being arguably one of the best songs of recent years. This particular song reminds me of what it means to follow a thought through until the end, to portion out one’s anxieties and allow clarity to settle into the deep and pungent pang of the future. Jim James is doing startling things with his voice and he is doing so with no fucken worry about what it takes to do so. I am quite happy with this album and, unlike many others, more apt to play this band’s later work than the earlier, despite loving nearly all of it.

(6) M83—Saturdays = Youth: I think that this album somehow escaped from a 1984 vault. I feel permanently lodged in the last scene of Lost in Translations while listening to this. It makes me feel like walking across a barren cold hill but with a tiny bit of love and motivation within each step, like a cat’s stupid traverse across the top of the couch to stare at the damn salamander. I have been listening to this solely on trains and thus I feel more culturally adept and understanding of things like the color blue, and why cars bug me.

(5) Bob Dylan—Bootleg Series Volume VIII: Tell Tales: Everyone knows that anything Dylan affects me more than any other music out there, yet these bootlegs lift a new side of Bobby over to our ears. “Series of Dreams” is an alarmingly fragile and beautiful crescendo. A lot of these songs open up the crack to Dylan’s often masked but brilliant little simultaneous curves of incantation and strum. I’m a sucker for a Dylan song that seems entirely guided by hope, hope for something that does not need definition but is something we recognize as hope.

(4 )Bon Iver—For Emma, Forever Ago: I really don’t need to say much here, for this album has by now hit every country up. The first show of the tour at the Turf Club in Minneapolis secured this dear man’s place as an honest and dedicated musician well indebted to a confrontation with human emotion. I play this at very particular moments, as I’m assuming most do, but in selecting it as chosen times it has the uncanny ability of sounding like it was made for the person listening to it and that person only. Also, it is always a blessing to hear something that makes one feel like they are inside a cabin.

(3) Helio Sequence—Keep Your Eyes Ahead: The back-to-back power of “Back to This” and “Hallelujah” is one of the most moving combos to date, by ANYONE! I want us to do a top ten list of best back-to-back tracks ever, as I am sure this would be close the top of mine. This album carries all the talent these guys have and brings it into a new, invigorating arena of tinkering. It is layered, magnetic, fuguing, patient, and brilliant. Since it was released in January, I have listened to it more than any album this year and I suggest everyone go and do the same, immediately.

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(2) T.V. On the Radio—Dear Science: I was hooked on this treat from the opening riff. I have not heard an album more balanced between its need to release sorrow and maintain joy. Every song seems as though it is getting ready to travel abroad, or to stake out its instruments in a foreign bivouac. “Love Dog” is a masterful groove that feels like the wind through a backseat window on a fast road trip across the Pacific Northwest, the destination some grimy Portland pool hall with women so beautiful we stare right through them. “Family Tree” made two friends of mine cry. I can’t say enough about how important this band is for music right now. They are collecting sounds with each album and they seem to be torching new communities of fanship along the way.

(1) David Byrne & Brian Eno—Everything that Happens Will Happen Today: It is no small wonder that I come against this beast as the best of. Brian Eno has consistently made his mark as producer, yet his own work, specifically Another Green World, Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy, and Before and After Science sit at the top of the list for the albums I have played the most in the last five years. This particular collaboration is so focused and penetrating at the same time—it steals the muse. “Strange Overtones” is undoubtedly the greatest song of the year, a piece that has seen its threads make small children and old men alike move at the same time. What secured this album at the top is Byrne’s phenomenal talent; his is the best male opera voice around; he still dances like a buttery alien, and he doesn’t break for anything. Had I not seen him at the Chicago Lyric Opera House, this year may have meant close to nothing

Notables:

Honorable Mention—Devotchka—A Mad and faithful Telling: This is an example of an album that almost made it into the top ten for one song—“Transliterator,” a storming collage of minutely magnificent instruments catching a wave and messing with everyone. These guys are so freaking amazing live. One is immediately transferred to a distant and inviting place within these songs. They pick at you; the melodies sit in your cupboard and boil in your damn pans. Just pure joyous, inspiring music.

Neil Young—Live at Sugar Canterbury House 1968: I can’t put too many live albums on my top ten list anymore, but this collection and show might be one of the greatest ever.

Hot Chip—Made in the Dark: If only for the way my good friend Scrumplet danced in the car on the way to Chicago, this bonkers beat-em-up is a buoyant bungalow of bliss.

The Walkmen—You and Me: Very good step for these guys. The lyrics are getting better, the voice still needs improvement, yet a very solid background album.

Air France—No Way Down: Fast, slow, funky tempo. Great half-an-hour blast.

Calexico—Carrried to Dust: Wonderful accompaniment to the late summer.

Sonny Rollin’s—Road Shows, Vol. I: Some great unreleased tracks here.

Bonnie Prince Billy—Lie Down in the Light: Will always love his music, yet the female vocals here are weaker than those of past years, which makes me a bit underwhelmed.

Beck—Modern Guilt: Because I always love Beck.

Sun Kil Moon – April : I always enjoy a little Sun Kil.

Raphael Saadiq – The Way I See It: Throw it on at a party.

The Tallest Man on Earth—Shallow Grave: Great Swedish songwriter, with a voice that will either snag or unease one. I dig.

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