A Look Back at the Best Albums of '08

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7 Ene 2009, 3:16

These are my top twenty favourite albums of 2008. These are the albums from the past year that affected me most. And I think there are at least a couple albums on here that not everyone has heard. So, you know, while you’re ripping me apart for having Coldplay and Oasis on here, you can check out Matt Mays and Teddy Thompson at the same time and discover some great new music.

20. Narrow Stairs - Death Cab for Cutie

19. Dig Out Your Soul - Oasis

18. Volume One - She & Him

17. Bring Me Your Love - City and Colour

16. Oracular Spectacular - MGMT

15. Gossip on the Grain - Ray LaMontagne

14. Stop Drop and Roll!!! - Foxboro Hot Tubs

13. Elephant Shell - Tokyo Police Club

12. Cardinology - Ryan Adams & The Cardinals

11. Modern Guilt - Beck

10. Viva la Vida - Coldplay
If you’re a diehard Coldplay hater, nothing that Chris Martin and co. put out will change your mind. And that’s all right – to each his own. But for the rest of us, Viva La Vida is a real treat. The album still sounds indisputably like Coldplay, but they’ve ramped up the epic instrumentation. The album contains a slew of brilliant anthems (“Lost!” gives “Yellow”, “In My Place”, and “Fix You” a run for the title of Coldplay’s most arena-friendly song ever). I can certainly see how people might be annoyed by how radio-ready Coldplay’s music is. “Viva La Vida” is a little too poppy and precious even for my liking. But the throbbing guitar on “Violet Hill” and the hazy swirl of “Cemeteries of London” more than make up for it. After a slight misfire with X&Y, Coldplay are back. And with this stellar line-up of songs, hopefully people will put preconceived ideas behind them.
Key Track: Lost!

9. Terminal Romance - Matt Mays & El Torpedo
Matt Mays is not a name you hear tossed around much outside of Canada. And even in his home country, Mays is underappreciated. Terminal Romance should be the album that blows it all wide open for him, but he seems destined to be another one of Canada’s underground gems. And while some stylistic choices on Terminal Romance seem slightly reminiscent of another country-tinged singer-songwriter, Mays seems like the affable everyman to Ryan Adam’s tortured artiste persona. The album opens with a slew of catchy up-tempo rockers, before getting a little more diverse as the album progresses. The sprawling title track initially seems misplaced, but turns out to be one of the album’s best offerings. Mays’ slightly raspy voice is perfect, and his band, El Torpedo, is a great asset to the music. I can’t tell if Mays is an “old soul”, or if he’s just ahead of his time. But either way, everyone should give this album the attention it deserves.
Key Track: Digital Eyes

8. At Mount Zoomer - Wolf Parade
What a stellar year it’s been for Canadian music. Wolf Parade’s sophomore effort, At Mount Zoomer, is an album that grabbed me immediately, but still manages to seem new and exciting every time I listen to it. “Language City” is undoubtedly one of the standout tracks, but the whole album is fantastic. The sweeping final track – the ten minute-plus track “Kissing the Beehive” – never bores me, which is surprising, seeing as songs over seven minutes can rarely keep my attention. I like that Wolf Parade’s music is both textured and accessible. This can be a difficult thing for bands to master, as musicians often get caught up in complicated, alienating instrumentation, or opt for the obvious and inane. Everyone seems caught up in the Lennon/McCartney-esque friction of Dan Boeckner and Spencer Krug’s music styles, but comparisons and labels don’t serve Wolf Parade’s music well. It’s something you just need to check out for yourself.
Key Track: Language City

7. A Piece Of What You Need - Teddy Thompson
Prior to listening to A Piece of What You Need, all I really knew about Teddy Thompson was that he had famous parents, and did background vocals on some of Rufus Wainwright’s stuff. And while the influences from his buddy Rufus are there, Teddy's album is an entity of its own (and far less theatrical than anything Rufus has ever released). Ranging from reedy to rich, Thompson’s voice adapts easily to the diverse line up of songs on the album. Right from the start, you get the sense that this album is going to be something special. And while the album’s penultimate song, “Turning the Gun on Myself” is every bit as melancholy as the title would suggest, Thompson manages to keep things sparse and haunting, rather than melodramatic. The album feels intimate, but stays away from clichéd singer-songwriter gimmicks, and Thompson proves that he’s a musical force to be reckoned with.
Key Track: Don't Know What I Was Thinking

6. Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes
Considering that this is Fleet Foxes’ full-length debut, and that it is now on sale at Starbucks everywhere, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to feel like Fleet Foxes are another case of internet-age overnight fleeting success. But the young Seattle band paid their dues, and finally caught a huge break after being signed to the legendary Sub Pop label. Fleet Foxes is full of old-fashioned great little songs, and the textured harmonies of the band add to the vintage sound of the album. The songs have hints of fantastic pop sensibility without feeling too kitschy or mainstream. I get excited when I find an album by a new band that is this good, and 2008 was a great year for high-profile debuts that lived up to my expectations. I came to the game a bit late with this one, so I suspect that Fleet Foxes will grow on me even more in the next few months.
Key Track: Ragged Wood

5. Evil Urges - My Morning Jacket
Admittedly, I am not very familiar with My Morning Jacket’s previous work. Apparently Evil Urges is a bit of departure for the band, and some fans seem to have mixed feelings about this. But I really enjoyed this album. Jim James has an amazing, elastic voice that reveals many different facets as the album progresses. The thing I like most about Evil Urges is that it features many different styles, yet remains a cohesive unit. “I’m Amazed” feels like a joyful summertime anthem, while “Librarian” is slow burning and solemn. “Aluminum Park” has a bit of southern-rock feel to it, and might be the best song on the album. All around, Evil Urges feels fresh and well crafted. If some fans consider this album a disappointment, I definitely need to check out MMJ’s previous stuff.
Key Track: Aluminum Park

4. Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend
I would have to say that Vampire Weekend was the most hyped new band of the year (although MGMT have given them a run for their money). But upon checking out Vampire Weekend’s self-titled debut I was not disappointed, as I feared that I might be. Their world music-tinged tunes are captivating. The songs on Vampire Weekend are understated, in a way, and everything seems quite proper. But the infectiously bouncy guitar and yelping vocals are too charming to resist. I kind of consider “A-Punk” to be 2008’s version of The White Stripes’ “Fell In Love With A Girl”. Both are short and catchy, with a guitar part that propels the whole song forward. They both launched their respective bands into the limelight. But now it’s up to Vampire Weekend to prove that they have staying power. And if they keep making music like this, they shouldn’t have too much of a problem.
Key Track: A-Punk

3. Accelerate - R.E.M.
Fan of R.E.M. are quick to dismiss the adult contemporary vibe of 2003’s Around the Sun, and it seems that Michael Stipe and the boys feel the same way. Accelerate is R.E.M.’s fourteenth studio album, and they’re clearly harkening back to a more rollicking time in their career. And with this formula, a few of the album’s songs achieve the ultimate goal – they stand up very well against some of R.E.M.’s top-notch back catalogue. “Living Well Is The Best Revenge” and “Supernatural Superserious” sound like they could have been outtakes from 1986’s Life Rich Pageant. “Until The Day Is Done” is a lovely ballad, while “Hollow Man” expands on Around The Sun with more success. After a small string of sub-par albums, R.E.M. is back in fine form. Michael Stipe’s voice is superb, as always, and the bands sounds as tight as ever. Accelerate is just plain exciting.
Key Track: Supernatural Superserious

2. Consolers of the Lonely - The Raconteurs
Jack White’s “side-project” has certainly upped the ante from 2006’s very promising Broken Boy Soldiers. Although most people focus on the band’s most famous member, it’s co-guitarist and vocalist Brendan Benson who adds the most to the project, in my opinion. He is not given excessive time to shine on Consolers Of The Lonely, but he makes good use of what he has. “Many Shades of Black” is Benson’s biggest moment, and his crooning is sure to break some hearts. The Jack White-led “Top Yourself” is probably the Raconteurs’ best song yet, and “Five on the Five” contains some quintessential Jack White mania. “Rich Kid Blues” is one of Benson and White’s most collaborative tracks, and the balance works perfectly. As the Raconteurs themselves like to say, the band is a gathering of old friends. And when you bring together this bunch of music pros, it’s clear that they’re playing off of each other’s strengths, and making a fantastic album in the process.
Key Track: Top Yourself

1. For Emma, Forever Ago - Bon Iver
(Yes, I realise that this album was technically released in '07, but since most people seem to be counting it as an '08 release, I figured that I might as well, too.)
Okay, most of us know the story: Broken-hearted dude (Justin Vernon, aka Bon Iver) spends a winter alone in a northern-Wisconsin cabin “finding himself”, and also manages to come out with this album. And while the circumstances that For Emma, Forever Ago were recorded under do play a part in what the album is, the songs also speak for themselves. Opener “Flume” sets the stage nicely for the rest of the album with its whispery, one-man choir of vocals, while “Skinny Love” is so emotionally raw and urgent that you can’t help but let it affect you. Vernon jumps (sometimes manic-depressively) between quiet, understated melodies to urgent choruses. This is best shown on the amazing track “Creature Fear”. And while the jump between dynamics can be jarring, you realise that the intensity has been there the whole time, and that Vernon is crafting fantastically intimate, affecting songs. To me, For Emma, Forever Ago seems like an album that has the ability to hold up well over time, and I know that I’ll be listening to it regularly for a long time to come.
Key Track: Creature Fear

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