And So It Goes... My Top 50 Albums Of 2008 (Pt. 4)

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30 Dic 2008, 13:37

So, here it is, my Top 20 albums of the past year... I've run out of cute/entertaining/banal things to write so I'm just gonna get right to it. Though I am surprised that "gonna" is able to get through SpellCheck without any naughty red squiggles... hmmm.

20. The Odd Couple
Cee-Lo and DJ DangerMouse may have diverted their attentions to lesser causes this year ranging from the pretty good (Martina Topley-Bird) to the disappointing (Estelle), but they do well to hoard the killer tunes for themselves, even if this more-than-fine companion to St. Elsewhere didn’t hit as commercial a high as their first offering. This is most likely due to the album’s darker atmosphere, where even the lighter moments are tainted by an inescapable melancholy, such as Blind Mary. However, there’s no denying this album’s repeat-play power, particularly on Who’s Gonna Save My Soul (and its literally heartbreaking video) and Run (I’m a Natural Disaster)… Hint: for your next party CD, you’d do a lot worse than putting Run alongside B.O.B. and Boyz for a final ten minutes of paranoid euphoria.

19. Third
Any self-proclaimed misery-guts who doesn’t own at least one Portishead album in their music collection clearly isn’t in touch with their inner turmoil as much as they say they are. And despite being shut-out of a Mercury nomination for their comeback album that had taken all of eleven years to follow their eponymous sophomore LP, Portishead were greeted with open arms by their fans on the release of Third, which is as welcome a return to existential angst in audio form as you’re ever likely to hear.

18. Hurricane
Such is the state of the pop world these days that absence from the charts for little more than a year appears to be long enough for people to start throwing the term “comeback” around once they begin releasing new material again (one magazine even described Leona LewisForgive Me single as such, little more than six months after her last one!) If ever there was a comeback album of the year though, it certainly belongs to Grace Jones’ tenth studio album, not only because it arrives a full nineteen years after her last released effort and a couple of aborted sessions, but because those decades have done phenomenally little to calm her fire. Equal parts soul, reggae, rock and electronica, it is a perfect stepping stone for one of popular culture’s most iconic figures, cementing both her sinister sensuality (Corporate Cannibal) and undeniable passion (william's blood and Devil in My Life).

17. Blood, Looms & Blooms
My first exposure to Leila was at my first ever outing to a concert earlier this year, where she opened for longtime friend Björk with a forty-five minute DJ set that thrillingly juxtaposed IDM metallic synths and sinister static glitch with oldschool soul, hip hop and break-beats. And whilst her third album maybe doesn’t quite match the set she performed that night, it’s still a lovely mix of trip-hop stylings and electronica that reinforces her status as one of the more particularly unsung heroes of the dance music scene. Credit can be bestowed by the likes of Martina Topley-Bird, Luca Santucci and Terry Hall for collaboration duties here, but the solo instrumental works of Mettle, The Exotics and Young Ones are no doubt the brainchild of a prodigious talent who deserves much more praise than she likely receives.

16 Out of Control
Though Girls Aloud have demonstrated masterstroke-after-masterstroke with regards to publicity hoarding all of this year, from Nicola Roberts’ feud with Chris Moyles to Cheryl Cole’s little-seen stint on some “talent” show, the only chink in their armor could have been a dud of an album… But those who have followed the quintet since their debut CD know that, for some reason, they are incapable of delivering a dodgy album and Out Of Control could very well be their best yet. It ticks every single box superlatively enough to not only elevate it as a good pop album, but a great album in general. You have forlorn balladry (The Loving Kind), daffy interludes (Revolution in the Head and Live in the Country), anthems in waiting (Rolling Back the Rivers in Time and Untouchable)… all they need to do is conquer America, then the Reality TV allusion may finally disappear.

15. Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust
Marking their return after their major label debut with Takk..., Sigur Rós were greeted with some of the most detrimental press of their career, many slightly offended by their fifth album’s reliance more on their customary twee and twinkle rather than the tormented feedback epics of earlier albums. At the end of it all though, it’s still as beautiful as any album you are likely to hear this year, even if it does ever-so-slightly worryingly sound like the group are referencing other outfits this time around...

14. Fleet Foxes
These Seattle-based rock-folkers describe their music as "baroque harmonic pop jams", whilst critics are keen to compare them to Animal Collective and The Beach Boys. Whilst most indie outfits wouldn’t be able to survive those kinds of descriptions and comparisons, indeed there is enough truth to be found in them in order to recognize just how bewitchingly haunting and beautiful this debut LP really is. Of course, by the time that the second album arrives more caustic ears will be waiting to pick this five-piece apart, but in the meantime, there is little anyone else can do but be taken in by the warm melodies of White Winter Hymnal or Quiet Houses and the spiritual lament of Your Protector or Blue Ridge Mountains, not to mention the undeniably swoonsome pop sensibility of He Doesn't Know Why.

13. Many Things
It’s pretty evident how important international politics have become in pop music that Jonas Brothers and Miley Cyrus are keen to tell their fans that they would vote Republican in the US election (thank Christ they and most of their fans are all under-age is all I’ll say!!!) With this in mind, if you’re going to find pop politics in the Disney Channel fanzines, you’d do well to look for more authentic reactions to international affairs elsewhere. This year’s most dynamic example belongs to Nigerian singer Seun Kuti, who seems obliged to follow in his dad Fela Kuti’s more-than-prolific footsteps in Afrobeat music, hooking up with his late father’s former band to deliver an angry statement on behalf of his home continent that is made all the more poignant for the fact that it is seriously danceworthy, especially on Don’t Give That Shit To Me and Na Oil.

12. Made in the Dark
After ascertaining breakthrough indie recognition with “Album Of The Year” plaudits and a Mercury nomination for their previous album The Warning, English electro-scamps Hot Chip contended with a lot of anticipation circulating around their third long player, further ignited by a misquote regarding Kylie Minogue and single Ready for the Floor. Upon its release, critics were mildly disappointed at the fact that, whilst still shot through with enough of their customary geeky charisma, the album wasn’t as stylistic a leap as they’d hope, some even calling it maudlin with its introduction of lovelorn ballads. And whilst Shake a Fist and Out at the Pictures suggest the album isn’t necessarily ballad-driven, you’re likely to have a heart of stone if you’re not be moved by the dignified torch-ballads Made in the Dark and Wrestlers anyway… there’s just no pleasing some people!

11. Intimacy
Bloc Party confounded a lot of their fans upon the release of lead single Mercury and the resultant album, crystallizing earlier set fears that they were headed in a different musical direction as per their b-side Flux from their last album. Well, we all know that changes in soundscapes can more often than not get the better of the most popular artists (Madonna even fell at that hurdle this year despite being so good at changing faces earlier in her career), but the Party haters can sit down and shut up because Intimacy is the band’s best album yet. No one can handle relationship angst epics like these guys, evidenced both by the tumultuous assault of the aforementioned single (LOVE the orchestration on that!) and the slower numbers of Signs and Ion Square, and the album stands as the best apology Paul Epworth has made for producing Kate Nash’s debut album.

10. Saint Dymphna
Hip hop has progressed massively over the last few years, the likes of Timbaland, Kanye West and OutKast embracing more and more diverse elements to create often startling work, but they pale in comparison to the soundwork laid down by Gang Gang Dance for their fourth album, the first to be released internationally with Warp Records. Most consider their psychedelic electro stylings to be rooted within experimental rock and neo-tribal rythyms, and the authentic eastern wails of First Communion and the synth-heavy pulse of Vacuum communicate this certainly. However, the group aren’t content enough to get bogged down by genre conventions, so outbursts from Tinchy Stryder on the grime-inflected Princes are more than welcome nestled alongside the digital mysticism of Desert Storm and Dust to help create one of the most galvanizingly eclectic works of 2008.

9. Saturdays = Youth
This being Anthony Gonzalez’s first solo effort under the M83 banner after the departure of Nicolas Fromageau, there is more than enough reason to suggest that this is the electronic outfit’s most commercially accessible LP yet with regards to the poppier meter of the song structures and what not, especially with Ken Thomas on co-production duties, his work including albums with Sigur Rós, The Sugarcubes and Suede. Don’t be dismayed though, as the result is an album of 80s-style pop majesty (and a much-better companion piece to Ladyhawke's eponymous debut).

8. Dear Science
When they’re not busy collaborating with all manner of popular muses at the cooler end of the glitterati spectrum, TV on the Radio are humble enough to give us an album that never ceases to be anything less than exciting, melodic, joyous, funky, mournful and downright unclassifiable. Dear Science has done well with music critics this year, even managing to sway those snooty arseholes at Pitchfork, who seem perennially poised to execute sophomore slump didactics on even the most prolific of outfits. Not so for Messrs Adebimpe, Malone and Sitek, who dance delightfully between jazzy funk on Crying, exultant celebration on Golden Age and understated loveliness on Family Tree, the latter sounding a lot like how Coldplay’s new album would have sounded if it were any good. Sorry Foals, but you definitely missed out on a good thing if Sitek’s version of Antidotes was even a fraction as good as this!

7. Alive
The highest charting non-English language album belongs to this lovely lady, Sa Dingding, yet another artist in the world of music who seems to suffer perennially with tagging disputes on last.fm. Though I have no basis of comparison to anything else I’ve heard in Chinese pop music or traditional music, Sa’s vocals (that sashay between childlike and sultry with mercurial likeability) and compositions truly break through any language barrier to deliver some lovely stuff, mixing culturally indigenous instrumentation as well as various ancient dialects and samples with trip-hop signatures and quirks. Moments such as when the breakbeats first bustle in on the gorgeous orchestrations of Tuo Luo Ni (Sanskrit) or when the delightful children’s choir joins in on the chorus of Lagu Lagu (Self-created Language) are as good as anything from early Massive Attack or Lamb, which isn’t faint praise in the slightest.

6. Stainless Style
The highest entry from a Mercury Prize 2008 nominee also happens to be the most insane slice of disco cool to have been released this year, courtesy of Super Furry Animals front man Gruff Rhys and production extraordinaire Boom Bip. From the album’s unique premise (biography of the life of automobile supremo John De Lorean) to its roster of party guests (among them the inimitable Fat Lip and the dangerously combustible rap duo Yo Majesty), everything shines with the sinister empty glow of an 80s speed racer and moves just as fast. Key examples of the album at its best include disco ballad tribute Raquel and the saucy-as-fuck lothario schtick of Trick For Treat (featuring Har Mar Superstar, no less); or, to put it more simply, listening to this is probably the most pure adulterated fun you’re going to have with an album this year.

5. Feed the Animals
Whilst Girl Talk’s fourth album consists primarily of mash-up dance music, a sub-genre whose name unfortunately lends itself to so many lacklustre efforts from lesser DJs, it defies even the most haughty snobbishness from the more purist naysayers not only through sheer force of ceaselessly replayable danceability, but also for its almost heartfelt celebration of everything music has had to ever offer us so far. Whether you’re playing the musical trainspotter and ticking off each interpolation as they fly past at breakneck pace (cheat sheet can be found here) or simply along for the ride, the appeal of Greg Gillis’ production/mixing skills cannot be denied; let’s just say that I can now actually say I have danced to Avril Lavigne’s Girlfriend and the almighty wretchedness of Whoomp! (There It Is) without the faintest shade of shame… almost(!) X,^{

4. Glasvegas
Whilst it would have taken away from what a truly amazing debut album this is, if every rock album released this year by its present day so-called luminaries was even half as beautiful, awe-inspiring, frightening and sublime as Glasvegas’ eponymous LP… Well, maybe most people would have killed themselves either out of pure anguish or from dehydration from crying so profusely, but the rest of us would have found our lovely little patch of shared misery to start afresh from. It’s hard to pick out a particularly stellar moment from the album, but singer James Allan’s wrenching delivery of It’s My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry (particularly of that very phrase on the crest of the song’s ultimate tsunamic crescendo) eclipses any other rock moment to happen this year.

3. Seventh Tree
It’s fair to say that Goldfrapp mightily miffed a lot of so-called fans with the release of their fourth album for its alleged change of pace. Well, let’s just say that Tree is to Felt Mountain what Supernature was to Black Cherry, as in more mature and accomplished but also lacking a little edge (overdose references in magnificent single A&E notwithstanding). However, such a facile yin-yang analogy is useless, as it also happens to be their most heartfelt LP, featuring Alison and Will in a lovely, leafy idyll far from the previous urban sexual anguish.

2. The Orchard
Formerly my “Album Of The Year Thus Far” little more than six months ago, there’s no particular reason why the lovely Lizz Wright has dropped a space in my chart, nor does this take absolutely anything away from what a gorgeous piece of work it is. A heady, sweaty mix of her own material and standards (Ike and Tina’s I Idolize You and Patsy Cline’s Strange are given thrillingly swoonsome shades for starters), The Orchard shines brighter than many stars released on CD this year, enhanced by low key soul rather than OTT theatrics.

1. ??????????

Well, a guy's gotta hold a little mystique, hasn't he... for those who have made it this far (thanks, Bert!), I applaud you, but the entirely predictable result will be unveiled in time for the New Year's celebrations tomorrow, along with the entirely meaningless Vessalis Awards.

Also, I should really thank all of my friends on this site for introducing me to most of these fine albums, particularly Orange_Anubis and tomstar86, who have compiled their own best of's which are more than well-worth checking out! See you tomorrow guys! And a Happy New Year... XXX

Comentarios

  • Orange_Anubis

    Ooh a cliffhanger! I was checking things off mentally in my head as I went along, thinking 'ah, number one's going to be Lizz or the Frapp, then.' But no! Well I look forward to hearing all about how much you love Hard Candy tomorrow! ;-D Mwa ha ha. Great list, btw, blates. :)

    30 Dic 2008, 16:10
  • CvaldaVessalis

    Nice to know I can still surprise even my closest web-friends... looking forward to your final unveiling too! Mwa ha ha, indeed! ;^)

    30 Dic 2008, 16:25
  • Juddu

    Whoa, pretty nice indeed. I had to try Sa Dingding and wasn't dissapointed. Now I just have to get her album somehow

    30 Dic 2008, 21:19
  • Mimey

    Well I came back round in the hope of discovering your number one, different, I suspect to what I'm crowning top of my pops. Instead I learned a little about ME. Not only am I not in touch with my inner turmoil, I also have a heart of stone. I'm always happy for a little more self knowledge.

    31 Dic 2008, 11:30
  • caaaaaaaaaitlin

    In the past week I've probably looked at thirty different "best of" lists by critics and commoners alike, and yours is my favorite. Thank you!

    31 Dic 2008, 14:58
  • CvaldaVessalis

    Thank you for all of your lovely comments, especially Mimey, because I'm sure there was a compliment in there somewhere... :^/ And Tom, you'll be pleased to know that I have in fact got it up there now... and my Number 1 album can be found on the next entry too! HAPPY NEW YEAR, EVERYONE! x

    1 Ene 2009, 13:34
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