Time to break out those "Top 10" or "Best of" lists for 2008! Being the music snob that I am (obviously everything I listen to is far superior to the crap [alternate crap links, i couldn't decide between them, so you get 'em all! Crap,and even more crap!] you listen to), these are my favorite albums of 2008. As of starting to type this, I'll say that I'm aiming for a list of ten, but it may turn out to be more or less. So, in order of release date, this is what I couldn't stop listening to this year. I'll name my favorite after the list. There can be only one...
- Vampire Weekend's Ezra Koenig, Orlando 2008
Vampire Weekend - S/T (XL Recordings; 1/29/08) - Ok, these guys have been on everyone's list since 2007 when an early version of the album leaked, but who cares? They really are that good; and catchy as all hell, too. If the one new song they played in Orlando this year is any indication, their follow-up to this great debut should be even better.
Why? - Alopecia (Anticon; 3/11/08) - This is one of the most cerebral albums I've heard in a while. The lyrics are smart, personal and sometimes quite funny. The instrumentation is somewhat non-traditional (as far as a "rock" band goes) and the music is full of playful and danceable counterpoint rhythms and melodies. Why? are "indie" but not quite "rock"; maybe at little like They Might Be Giants; if TMBG were Rhodes Scholars in addition to being super smart and clever. I caught these guys live this year and they more than delivered the goods in concert. If you get the chance, go see them.
Be Your Own Pet - Get Awkward (Ecstatic Peace; 3/18/08) - BYOP's second album turned out to be their last and no real reason was given for the break up. The fact that their major label distributor pulled three tracks from this album because they were deemed "to violent" coupled with constant touring may have been a few of the nails in the coffin. And that's too bad as this album is raw angst at it's finest; plus it includes a zombie love song!
No Age - Nouns (Sub Pop; 5/6/08) - This album straddles a fine line between noise and pop. You get sucked into the wall of sound created by this two piece and then, out of nowhere, a melodic hook smacks you in the face. I've listened to this album countless times and still find nuggets hidden in the layers of guitar swirl and pounding drums. To top off their very successful year, this album got a Grammy nomination... kind-of.
Bonnie "Prince" Billy - Lie Down in the Light (Drag City; 5/12/08) - William Oldham has been been releasing albums under various names (Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Palace Brothers, Palace Songs, Palace Music) since 1993. His first album in two years is sparse and hauntingly beautiful. Oldham hates labels for his music, but frail Appalachian folk is close. This album is best chased with whiskey at night while sitting on your porch swing.
Burning Brides - Anhedonia (Cobraside Records; 5/27/08) - The Brides' latest album is their most diverse to date, but they don't lose sight of what they do best; which is play rock and roll. No frills or gimmicks to be heard here. In my opinion, they are one of the best rock bands to debut in the last 10 years. They know their roots (The Stooges, The Sonics, Sabbath) and push ahead, taking no prisoners along the way.
Girl Talk - Feed The Animals (Illegal Art; 6/19/08) - Gregg Gillis has perfected his ADD/mash-up/collage stylings with this, his fourth album. This is my soundtrack for weekend (or weeknight) adventures. If I'm going out, this is blasting in the car on the way there and on the way home. It's like there's a party in my iPod and everyone's invited!
- The Hold Steady's Craig Finn, Tampa 2008
The Hold Steady - Stay Positive (Vagrant; 7/15/08) - This is another one that will undoubtedly be on many a "Top 10" list this year, and for good reason. I've been a huge fan of this band since their first album and they just keep getting better. This album is a triumph of rock style and substance. The listener is rewarded for paying attention, and doubly rewarded for knowing their previous albums.
Oxford Collapse - BITS (Sub Pop; 8/5/08) - Played with a blissful sense of abandon, OC's fourth album is a barn burner. For as much as they sound on the verge of falling apart, they are spot-on tight. This is what "independent rock" should sound like.
Vivian Girls - S/T (In The Red; 9/30/08) - Their sweet yet dark vocal harmonies paired with fuzzed out garage/surf guitars would make both Steve Albini and Phil Spector proud. Some folks I know have tried to argue the point that "these are cute girls who play sloppy and that is the only reason people like them." I disagree. Though the playing may be a little loose, it's consistent and intentional. With everything drowning in reverb and all the tracks pushed into the red on the level meter, this album will melt your ear drums.
So there you have it. The list is ten albums long. I had twelve for a hot minute, but knocked a few off for a variety of reasons; none of which were trying to keep the list to just ten. These albums have treated me very well this year and if you haven't heard them, please check them out.
As far as my favorite album of the year goes, it was almost a tie. Of those on my list, I think Why?'s Alopecia could be the best (on technical merits) of the bunch; but it's not my favorite. My favorite has carved out a hole in my heart and now resides there. I truly love this band and this album. I have immersed myself in their folklore. I've followed them since their inception. I saw this band play their first show in the city where they fictionally reside; it ranks high amongst the best shows I've seen. The Hold Steady adopted Ybor City as their home in song, we adopted them into our lives. Craig Finn (singer of THS) commented upon the release of Stay Positive that "A great American philosopher named D. Boon once said Our band could be your life. I think that is true. But Your Life could be Our Band is also a true statement. I know this because we have lived it." I completely identify with their songs and stories. I feel like I've lived them just as they have. Stay Positive has The Hold Steady pushing into new territory, both musically and in subject matter. Though they aren't dramatically breaking new ground, they aren't remaining stagnate either. Old story lines are concluded up and new ones birthed. This album sets the bar higher for rock music. And make no mistake, this is rock music. It's not "indie" or "alternative" or [insert lame category here]. It is popular rock music that is intelligent, engaging and emotive. That's why it is my favorite album of 2008.