Thursday, December 18, 2008

Best Albums of 2008

I am aware that I write primarily about cinema, but I feel ill-suited to make any sort of "best of 2008" lists for films because I haven't seen a great deal of 2008 films this year. I tend to simply watch whatever comes my way; perhaps next year I will attempt to follow the new releases a bit more and finish with an end of the year list. However, I do indeed listen to a multitude of music, so I am ready as ever to deliver a list of the Best Albums of 2008 and a couple of major disappointments (within my opinion and range of tastes of course).

1. The Walkmen: "You and Me"

A more subdued, melancholy album than most of their work, this set of tunes from The Walkmen is more evocative than ever. I could do no better this year than to swoon in the reverb-soaked guitar lines set to Hamilton Leithauser's ethereal screech that continuously alternates between shockingly high pitches and drunken romantic longing.

2. Fleet Foxes: "Fleet Foxes"

I saw Fleet Foxes a few months back and was absolutely floored. There is no better emerging band out there, and this LP, their debut, is persistently heavenly.

3. Department of Eagles: "In Ear Park"

With great help from a soaringly dreamy opening track, I found myself unable to stop listening to Department of Eagles for two weeks upon my discovery of them. This album is even more impressive than Grizzly Bear's "Yellow House", and Department is their side project. I sure can't wait for Grizzly Bear's new disk, because this group of creative musicians seems incapable of failure.

4. Conor Oberst: "Conor Oberst"

Oberst enjoyed a relaxed recording session for this effort and because of his ability to avoid the pressures of the music industry, he produced an album that is ripe with freedom and festivity. This collection is a fine response to the style of alt-country that he emerged with on his recent album, "Cassadaga". Hearing Oberst's brilliant lyrics is always a pleasure, and fortunately I can stick to my belief that he is the greatest living lyricist.

5. Sigur Ros “Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust”

Upon my first listen to Sigur Ros' latest album, I was disheartened by their shift away from the colossal lugubriousness of their previous work and towards a new, spontaneously joyous, almost Animal Collective-style sound. However, eventually I realized that Sigur Ros can never go wrong, and in fact as well as being the most emotionally and spiritually draining band, they can also be the most uplifting. "Gobbledigook" makes me yearn to be another member of the music video.

6. Why?: "Alopecia"

His satirically imbued spoken word poetry is indicative of a true artist with a knack for not only writing sentences that will flabbergast you with their in-your-face rhetoric, but also for creating tantalizingly gloomy beats.

7. Frightened Rabbit: "The Midnight Organ Flight"

I have to thank Shawn over at A Blog Ain't Too Much to Love for bringing this stellar album to my attention through his end of the year list. Never before have I enjoyed a Scottish accent in a vocalist.

8. The Acorn: "Glory Hope Mountain"

A thumping and clicking percussion section is what sticks in the mind with "Glory Hope Mountain", The Acorn's debut. The band's oneness with the natural world peppers this set of chanting, acoustic-based ditties.

9. Talkdemonic: "Eyes at Half Mast"

Routine stuff from this talented two-piece; smooth melodic refrains with super tasteful drumming. "Eyes at Half Mast" doesn't one-up "Beat Romantic" or "Mutiny Sunshine", but it does sustain their wonderful streak.

10. Wolf Parade: "At Mount Zoomer"

If anything, this is the album that I was skeptical of placing here. Although their music satisfies me very much, I have a difficult time attributing their from-the-gut style to seriousness; instead they sound like a band that would always greatly prefer rocking out wildly in a cramped room to crafting interesting songs. Nonetheless, "At Mount Zoomer" does make me happy, and if anything, "Kissing the Beehive" brushes with musical genius when it climaxes.


Kings of Leon: "Only by the Night"
Kings of Leon completely abandoned their dirty Southern roots and set their sights on the corporate world. Honestly, there are probably a solid three good songs on this whole album; most of them are grossly sentimental and recall the status quo work of rock and roll superstars like Snow Patrol. Despite the flawless production and the fact that Caleb Followill's voice is still substantially unique, "Only by the Night" is the biggest disappointment of 2008.

My Morning Jacket: "Evil Urges"
The epic, rootsy "Z" could never have prepared listeners for this amateur AC-DC/Prince collision. Unlike Kings of Leon, they took not a commercial direction but an extremely odd, trivial one.

Of Montreal: "Skeletal Lampings"
What I heard of this album did not please me and when I saw them this year for the fourth time, I was bored out of my mind. "The Sunlandic Twins" and "Hissing Fauna" were sophisticated pop albums; this is just an irresponsibly silly trifle.

Cold War Kids: "Loyalty to Loyalty"
Cold War Kids' second effort is by no means bad. About half of the album lives up to the interesting clumsy sound they introduced with their great "Robbers and Cowards". However, songs like "Avalanche in B" and "Cryptomnesia" showcase lazy songwriting too bent on being rambling and lo-fi. Also, the catchy tracks tend to die right when they're beginning to get going.

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