(In case you don't visit the Post Rockist, and any music lover should, here are my favorite albums of the year 2008. And make sure to check out the other Post Rockist writers' lists for some stellar musical insights.)
Bryan's 2008 Music Picks
It bugs me when I hear people saying 2008 was a bad year for music. It didn't have the stunners last year did, but there were thirty albums that could have been on this list. Spiritualized and Portishead made rejuvenated returns, TV On The Radio and Hot Chip cemented their bigger-than-indie status, and those Vampire Weekend kids managed to sound great to anyone over 34 or under 22. There was so much good music that I lumped some albums into categories. So there you go, let's get to the good stuff.
10. AFRO-FUNK compilations: African Scream Contest; Nigeria Special series; Nigeria 70: Lagos Jump
None of this stuff was recorded anywhere near 2008, but its cool and innovative sounds had me anxiously waiting the each one's release. My love for soul and funk can never be fully satisfied, so I was ecstatic to see a slew of 1970s afro-funk tracks unearthed. The Nigeria Special series continued to give us some Disco Funk and Rock gems, building last year's fantastic collection. But if you can only buy one, African Scream Contest is the best, hands down. Below is the opening track, and in it you'll hear obvious Highlife influences and some mesmerizing guitar work that brings an energy even Sly Stone would have trouble keeping up with.
SONG: Lokonon Andre & Les Volcans – "Mi Kple Dogbekpo"
9. FUCK BUTTONS – Street Horrrsing
For me, one of the most beautiful and difficult accomplishments in music is holding someone's attention for 9 minutes and building on the sound so what started out good culminates in a stirring crescendo (see "Paranoid Android," "The Past Is A Grotesque Animal," "Think I'm In Love," et al.). Fuck Buttons' occasional fuzzed-out screams and yelps add a primal feeling to some pretty electronic melodies. It was fun getting lost in its drone as I shared a subway car with aggressive panhandlers, unapologetic blowhards, and forget-about-it guys from Queens. It was the enthralling buffer between my tired, 6pm mind and a world of chaos.
SONG: "Bright Tomorrow"
8. SUPER EPs: Crystal Stilts – Crystal Stilts; Air France – No Way Down; Simian Mobile Disco - Clock
Each of these has every right to be placed next full length LPs. Crystal Stilts ended up releasing their solid debut, but was comprised mostly of songs from the EP. It sounds like a beach rock-obsessed Ian Curtis rose from the dead to fill us in on the future of garage rock. Air France's No Way Down EP is cheesy and beautiful, like meadows and butterflies and lazy Saturdays and necking with your favorite gal. But it's just that beautiful and sunny, like an aural version of MDMA without the comedown. Simian Mobile Disco released a pair if EPs in '08, but had they expanded Clock's 4 songs into a full-length, it would have been the best dance album of the year.
SONG: Crystal Stilts – "Converging In The Quiet"
7. NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS – Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!
You won't find a piano balladeer on this Cave album. It's all rock and it never stops. Some of it is cock-rock, some is Suicide meets Lou Reed, and it's all grimy and seamy and reeks of cigarettes. The end of days isn't a new subject for Cave, but he and The Seeds pump blood and guts back into a world that appears to be on life support. Common themes are dive bars, prostitutes, impending doom, drugs, vengeance, and lust. If none of that sounds intriguing, you need to hang with Nick Cave for a while.
SONG: "Albert Goes West"
6. MIX TAPES: Esau Mwamwaya & Radioclit - The Very Best; Diplo & Santogold - Top Ranking; Girl Talk – Feed The Animals
These three albums each offer a different case for the validity of remixes. On The Very Best (still free to download), Radioclit takes the instrumentals from his favorite tracks and lets Esau Mwamwaya sing in his native Chichewa. He adds a ton of fun to "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa" as he erases its original ties of college and Paul Simon. On Top Ranking, Diplo essentially re-produces Santogold's debut into an 80-minute island thumper, filling it out with Aretha Franklin, Cutty Ranks, the B52s, and others. Lastly, Girl Talk takes a scalpel to songs and sounds unforgettable to any music junkie and creates brand new tunes by laying them beneath rap vocals. At a poker game a couple months ago, someone called him the musical equivalent of The Family Guy – nothing is really new, but you can't help waiting for the next reference. This happens about every 3 seconds on Feed The Animals.
SONG: Esau Mwamwaya – "Kamphopo"
5. DREAM POP: Beach House – Devotion; Grouper – Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill
The new Beach House album feels like it's been forced to make a decision between staying with its current lover and moving on to new but uncertain things. The eerie organ gives it a haunted feeling, but Victoria Legrand's breathy, hardened voice knows exactly where her heart lies. Dragging A Dead Deer is like waking up from a dream and sifting through the hazy half-sleep phantasmagoria - you might vaguely remember where you were or what you were doing but mostly you just remember how you felt. Liz Harris's voice seems to be lurking a mile under water, giving you quick glimpses of forgotten memories.
SONG: Beach House – "Holy Dances"
4. DEPARTMENT OF EAGLES – In Ear Park
In Ear Park is Daniel Rossen's warm and beautiful ode to his late father. While many Grizzly Bear tunes leave me a little bored, here Rossen packs each song with vivid scenes of going to work, funerals, and parental advice. The album is instantly accessible and has grown on me even more throughout the year. Plus it delivers my favorite song of '08 in "No One Does It Like You." Rossen's sound is so universally enjoyable that friends, mothers, brothers, and even fathers should have no problem appreciating it.
SONG: "No One Does It Like You"
3. DEERHUNTER – Microcastle / Weird Era Cont.
Bradford Cox was officially THE man of '08. After releasing a stellar solo album as Atlas Sound, the Deerhunter frontman tightened the band's sound, making it more personal in the process. Cox has openly had a complex childhood and Microcastle reflects his fragility and elegance with a confidence that should excite any Deerhunter haters. And anyone who's visited a music blog knows the album leaked 4 months too soon, so Cox and friends gave us another album. Weird Era Cont. takes any sort of mope out of shoegaze and is evidence that whatever leaking /online / personal drama Cox has gone through made him the man to watch for the next few years.
SONG: "Nothing Ever Happened"
2. CHAD VANGAALEN – Soft Airplane
This album wins the award for most diverse song collection. VanGaalen starts with a sweet banjo ditty about a Viking funeral and maneuvers his way through straightforward pop-rock, Crazy Horse-era Neil Young stompers, an electronic song involving TMNT, dark acoustic ballads, and ends with dissonant guitar feedback. And somehow it never loses steam or feels disjointed. His boyish obsession with death and loss is the unifying theme, yet this was a huge summer album for me. Maybe that makes me a little weird, but more than anything it shows this album manages to deliver an endless stream of deep subjects without taxing your emotions.
SONG: "City Of Electric Light"
1. CUT COPY – In Ghost Colours
After their first album, I expected Cut Copy to get comfortable making moody but hollow pop, but In Ghost Colours' opening track shatters that notion - it's full and warm and sugary sweet, like a post-hangover sunny day where food tastes better, the birds are chirping, and you're glad to have your wits about you. There's quite a bit of guitar, both electric and acoustic, but, as usual, their catchiest diamonds are saved for the dance floor ("Lights And Music," "Hearts On Fire," "Far Away"). The lyrics are not quite happy, but always stay positive, and the music behind them never deliver a wrong note. This is an album club kids make when they mature and decide to focus not just on the present, but also the future. See them live, you won't be disappointed.
SONG: "Far Away"