I’ve had a list brewing for a while but I’m going to attempt to put them into an order now. My top 5 has changed almost on a daily basis but I think I’m settled now. I may do a similar post for movies and games, but I still have about 20 movies I want to see and my Christmas list is full of games so I’ll wait. Anyway, here goes…
15. M83 – Saturdays = Youth
This album is full of ethereal soundscapes and shoegaze epics swathed in pop melodies and fused with an 80’s twinge. When it works, it’s innovative and exciting. Luckily enough it works very well, very often and with zero pretension. A much needed dose of electronic music.
14. The Gaslight Anthem – The ’59 Sound
This band know exactly what they want, and they execute it perfectly. It’s good old fashioned punk, bellowed and emotional and the first new, true, retro-punk band to come along in a long while to perfectly hit those instantly killer choruses without it feeling old-hat, forced and limp.
13. MGMT – Oracular Spectacular
You could hear any one of the first 5 tracks of this album and think you’ve nailed their sound. Hear a second and there will be no doubt in your mind that this album is unpredictable. It is, however, always exciting, colourful and sublimely catchy. Perfect synth riffing, huge drums, and hypnotic, weightless refrains. The second half of the album doesn’t quite live up to the first, but it certainly never gets boring.
13. Los Campesinos! – Hold on Now, Youngster
It’s hard to hate Los Campesinos! but it’s easy to see why one might want to. Their song titles border pretension and the lead (male) singer’s voice can be gratingly obnoxious at times. But the songs for the most part are so fun, so full of hooks and wry, clever lyrics that it’s hard not to like them. Plus glockenspiels are awesome!
11. TV on the Radio – Dear Science
It’s hard to place this album. Funk, soul, electro, shoegaze… it does it all, and more. Bowie meets Prince, or so I read. That turns out to be quite fitting actually. The album is far more urgent, catchy and obvious than it’s predecessor and David Sitek again proves himself as a great producer. This is brilliant, intelligent music and hopefully the record that makes them as popular as they should be.
10. Metallica – Death Magnetic
This may seem like the odd one out on a list containing albums that will likely be on many best of 08 lists, but Metallica are one of the only remaining metal bands that I still listen to from my youth and I can’t help but get excited when they release a new record. It’s just as well then that this is the best thing they’ve produced since ’91’s self titled black album. It doesn’t quite capture the magic of their early material, but its chock full of fast, meaty riffs and hooks and I can’t help but feel relieved after St Anger. It also helps that they can still put on one of the best live shows ever (Leed’s Festival 08).
9. Laura Marling – Alas I Cannot Swim
I took interest in the album upon hearing that it was nominated for the mercury prize this year. Initially I was pretty underwhelmed, but slowly and surely the songs have matured in my mind. They’re understated and intimate, but genuinely great and charming. It’s unbelievable to think that she wrote the album before her 18th birthday. The combination of ‘Cross Your Fingers’ and ‘Crawled Out of the Sea’ is just pure bliss.
8. Sigur Rós – Með Suð í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust
I was worried for Sigur Rós. 2005’s fantastic ‘Takk…’ saw their songs, particularly ‘Hoppípolla’, out in the open for the first time. From the BBC documentary ‘Planet Earth’ to ‘X-Factor’ and even ‘Match of the Day’. While that doesn’t take away from the fact that ‘Takk…’ was a fantastic record, it certainly destroyed a certain intimate charm. The songs were lost to the masses, mutated over time due largely to overplay and association. This typically unpronounceable album isn’t a return to their masterful alien soundscapes; but it still contains that epic, yet subtle, Sigur Ros sound. At times they even sound like a band; creating music that feels like a logical progression, organic and still so very ‘Sigur Ros‘. Songs like ‘Festival’ show that they’ve still got the power to create some of the best music of their career.
7. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend
It’s always great to start off a year with such a bright, sunny pop album. Vampire Weekend scrape away the grit of Indie and Garage rock leaving behind the perfect melodies sun-dried in an African savanna. The album is so refreshing and uncomplicated and I dare anyone to not want to listen to it multiple times a day for months on end. It’s perfect selection of songs are some of the most playable and unpretentious in recent Indie memory.
6. Girl Talk – Feed the Animals
This is the party album. I’m not a huge mash-up fan; every so often I’ll find one with a nice idea which gets boring after a minute or two. This is not a new idea but Gregg Gillis (Girl Talk) combines literally dozens of songs from every genre possible to form single tracks; always changing, nearly always perfect and definitely always awesome. The album is not only going to have you picking the songs apart and grinning nonstop; it’ll have you dancing all night long. It’s the sheer abundance of associative combination’s and the pace that make this album oh so special. Gregg Gillis has created something entirely new, yet totally recognisable and then… he gave it away. Like Radiohead, he decided to allow the buyer to decide the price starting at absolutely nothing. Cheers.
5. Why? – Alopecia
I literally have no idea what genre this album is. It’s not hip-hop, nor electronica, nor indie or rock. Yet it is recognisably all of them without feeling like a lazy or forced attempt at merging genres. This was my first taste of Why? and unlike some other albums on this list, it immediately jumped out at me. Then the next track did the same in a whole other way. The album is full of great ideas, clever, beautiful and dark lyrics that jump out of the songs in ways other artists couldn’t dream of. Yet it all feels so laid back and effortless. Even better is the fact that the album grows stronger as it approached the end. Definitely a band I’m excited to hear more from and an album that I can re-play over and over without it ever feeling old.
4. Deerhunter – Microcastles
There’s a certain nonchalant beauty to the chiseled pop songs on this album. And it is definitely pop. Pop songs melting into noisy shoegaze, but never spiraling out of control; always just a few steps away from Sonic Youth. But no energy is lost; the song-writing is perfect, the melodies strong and there isn’t a single weak track. The title track in particular shows how well Bradford Cox can go from slow motion ballad, to a head first dive into a wall of fuzzy, airy guitar work and a thumping snare. Perfect noise-pop.
3. Portishead – Third
Believe it or not, this is my first time truly listening to Portishead. I’ve always been aware of them, and I’ve heard songs here and there but I’ve never gave a full album the time of day. This was probably not the place to start, but I can’t say I regret it. This album sounds modern and vintage. Electronic and organic. Beth Gibbons voice cuts through the gloom magnificently. At times the sound can be a bit much and in your face; the drums in ‘Machine Gun’, for example. But after a lengthy gestation period it all just makes sense. The album is just brilliant, brilliant stuff and I can’t wait to delve into their much earlier material.
2. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes
For the longest while this album was top of my list. In many ways it still is top. The vocal harmonies are literally perfect, the folksy guitars and the effortless, timeless melodies are all classic. The album is the complete antithesis of mainstream indie, and the critical acclaim and hype surrounding a record like this shows just how far independent music has come forward. Albums like this should be pushed out of the underground. It is likely my most played record this year, never growing old. The melodies are just as rich, haunting and beautiful as the day I first heard them.
1. Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago
So then, my favourite album of the year. It was self-released in 2007, so for that reason it isn’t included on a lot of lists, but I only heard it after it’s official label release in 2008 so I’m allowing myself to use it; and I have to. I couldn’t not include it. Like Fleet Foxes, this album perfectly combines beautiful and haunting vocal melodies with folksy, acoustic guitar work. The album is a lot more intimate than Fleet Foxes effort, and this is the reason the album ultimately won out. This is the work of one man who sat alone in his father’s cabin in the woods for 3 cold months with old recording equipment and a few microphones. No studio, no producer, no session musicians. This is literally a one man band, in virtually every way. Is there something unique about that? No. Plenty of independent artists have released similar self-created efforts. But not many approach the quality and intimacy of this record. It isn’t technically brilliant. The setup is simple; its one guys layered vocal harmonies and his acoustic strumming as backing. There are bits and pieces added later; a flute on ‘Flume’ and horns on ‘For Emma’, but none of the isolation and intimacy are lost. The songs thrive on the ambience; so pretty, so beautiful, soulful and real that it’s hard not to fall in love with them. This album is literally a window to the soul. His diary in the rawest form possible.