Sunday, January 11, 2009

Kleeb's Top 10 Albums of 2008

Ahh the legendary end of the year albums list. In years past, this was a well-written lengthy article covering the nuances and details of twenty albums, justifying their place on this list. However, I've come to notice that many of the albums that land in the top five will often fizzle out of memory, while albums near the end of the list will sometimes make a lasting impression, solidifying their place in my music library forever.

Therefore, I'm basing this year's list on the albums I can see myself listening to in the future. I've cut this down to ten, and I hope these ten will be cream of the crop for years to come. Some I've been listening to all year, others I just received a few weeks ago. Due to the theft of my laptop, there are many albums I did not get a chance to listen to. Some of these are DJ/Rupture, Nick Cave, Bon Iver, Portishead, The Bug, Deerhunter, and many more. There are other albums that people got really into that I can't seem to like as much. Frightened Rabbit, M83, No Age, Vampire Weekend, and Crystal Castles were some of these. Regardless, I want to represent the ten best without filler. Here we go:

10.Black Mountain – In The Future

This spot had a lot of candidates. Wolf Parade and The Hold Steady were very close. The Islands new album was good, but not half as good as Return To The Sea. Boris is great, as always, but not impressive enough for the top ten. I was impressed with the new Death Cab, and The Black Keys matured a lot on Attack & Release, but both albums just didn't strike me as much as previous work. However, In The Future by Black Mountain is a great record. Reminiscent of Led Zeppelin, but modern enough to avoid the cheesy aspects of Wolfmother. “Tyrants” is enough to make this album worthwhile, clocking in just over eight minutes. Guitar solos and breakdowns aside, this album is pretty great. It has some class that a lot of modern Zeppelin rip-off bands do not have. However, it is still kind of a Zeppelin rip-off. What can you do.

9.Hercules & Love Affair - Hercules & Love Affair

We're going to take this one with a grain of salt. I try not to jump on this bandwagon of retro-dance bands that are causing people to shuffle their feet and shake their shoulders awkwardly. However, I am a DJ occasionally, and I can tell when something is good enough to get people to dance. This is one such album. There's something about the 80's that is present on this album. There's something about Antony Hegarty's voice (Antony & The Johnsons). There's something about the consistent beat and the horns and the synths that really get to me. It's like someone took the overgrown indie-dance genre and infused it with disco or house and came up with Hercules & Love Affair. However, this album is going to spawn a plethora of spin-offs that will drive this sound into the ground, and in a few years I'll probably delete this album because I just can't stand the style anymore. For the moment, though, I can respect this stuff and I'll consistently DJ it until I'm sick of it.

8.Lindstrøm – Where You Go I Go Too

Last year, The Field's From Here We Go Sublime placed at #19, but continued to be one of my favorite albums for most of 2008. The minimalistic trance was always great music to put on while working, hanging out with friends, cleaning, driving, etc. I would call it the dawn of my interest in background music. Lindstrøm works in this vein as well, except with a little bit more punch. Where You Go I Go Too is only three tracks, ranging from 10 to 30 minutes, but it grows and flows in ways the Field does not. Where From Here We Go Sublime broke into different patterns and tracks, Lindstrøm keeps his beat going, embracing a house-style fusion of disco and trance. Where The Field was not quite upbeat enough to play at any dance party I was DJing, Lindstrøm will hold his own among the modern disco hipsters, eager for a synthesizer and a pulsing beat. It is difficult to say one is better than the other, since I have yet to delve deeper into this album, but I am sure this will be a consistent play well into 2009.

7.Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes

Surprise! The Fleet Foxes land on every year-end list for good reason. I even came into this album with a bias against folky, reverb-heavy vocals (see: Band of Horses, My Morning Jacket, The Shins). After hearing “White Winter Hymnal” 800 times, I was sure I was going to get sick of this one. Not so. This one just keeps getting better, and I'm not sure why. Maybe it's the amazing harmonies. Maybe it's the songwriting. In any case, this stuff is addicting. I can't get enough of it, and even “White Winter Hymnal” is still good, 800 times later.

6.Fuck Buttons – Street Horrrsing

I heard this album a few times and wrote it off as a wall-of-mediocre-sound. I think it took a live performance in Chicago at Pitchfork Music Festival to truly appreciate what this duo was doing. This is a new breed of music. Laptops meet various types of synthesizers and MIDI controllers, mixed with gameboy samples and children's toy microphones. “Ribs Out” combines an eerie delayed vocal scream with an interesting percussive beat on a floor tom and random hardware. However, the majestic element of this band is the crushing atmospheric sound exhibited on the opener “Sweet Love For Planet Earth.” The swells and drawn-out pulses of feedback are what drives this album, and it must be listened to in full. The only complaint I have is the performance – exactly the same as the album. I guess you can't do much when you're working with all samples, but I'm interested to see what this duo is going to come up with next.

5.Sigur Rós – Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust

There are a few things I can count on in life. My Nissan Altima will never break down, Israel and Palestine will always be at war, and Sigur Rós will always put me to sleep. Now, that's not necessarily a bad thing. 2002's ( ) is one of the most majestic and beautiful albums I've ever heard. Well, at least the first four songs are. I'm usually out by the fifth. But hey, it always helps to have those bands around. Films like Vanilla Sky and The Life Aquatic wouldn't be nearly as breathtaking without Sigur Rós, so let's give their new album a shot. And in it rolls! Holy shit is this Animal Collective? Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust blasts off with “Gobbledigook,” a jangly percussive track, driven by acoustic guitars and hand claps. The tempo is about forty times what we're used to, and perhaps this time Sigur Rós has taken off in a new direction. They follow this with the glockenspiel-heavy “Inní mér syngur vitleysingur,” complete with horns. However, it seems after the sprawling “Festival” (which would have made a great ender, in my opinion), the band reverts back to their old method. I hardly ever make it through “Ára bátur,” complete with a single vocal and piano line for almost ten minutes. Again, not that this is a bad thing. This is the Sigur Rós we're used to. At least this album shows a lot of promise for the future.

4.TV on the Radio – Dear Science

When I first heard this album, it was the best thing I've ever heard. The second time, it was the best album of 2008. Then it was second best. I wasn't sure why. I think it's the lack of those powerful elements that made 2006's Return to Cookie Mountain so groundbreaking. The driving pace of “Wolf Like Me,” the percussion of “Let The Devil In,” and the aura of “I Was A Lover” are absent from this album. I think it's maybe the angst that is gone. Dear Science is based around “Golden Age,” a time where Obama is president, things are looking optimistic, and the songwriting seems a bit forced. The lyrics are a bit questionable on “Lover's Day” and “Red Dress.” Even my favorite track “Crying” is reminiscent of Prince. Regardless, it's still a great album, but it could have been better. “Family Tree” is a beautiful song. There is a lot of interesting stuff going on in “DLZ” and “Shout Me Out.” I guess I was looking for something on par with Cookie Mountain, and Dear Science seems to just fall short a bit.

3.Spiritualized – Songs in A&E

A front-runner for 2008 since its debut in January, this album is great from beginning to end. I guess it was the right place, right time. I had just rediscovered Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space and was eagerly awaiting a follow-up. The performance at Pitchfork was enough to convince me, with gospel singers on “Soul on Fire” and a very Kill The Lights-esque ending that involved J Spaceman kicking his half stack over and throwing his guitar. The whimsical “Baby, I'm Just A Fool” starts off with a tropical-island xylophone melody. The foreboding “Borrowed Your Gun” is a depressing insight into Spaceman's childhood. In fact, since this entire album was written on his death bed, it's easy to see how Songs in A&E is full of layered emotion and orchestration. A beautiful record indeed.

2.Amadou & Mariam – Welcome to Mali

I know, this is a risky pick at #2, but I'm going to stand by it. I just got this album a few weeks ago, but in a weak year for music, I think this album can hold its own at #2. I don't know much about Amadou & Mariam, but here is what I've learned: They are blind. They are traditional African music, very rhythmic. Much of the album is produced by Damon Albarn. Yeah, THAT Damon Albarn. Plus, this is an albums list, and this is an album I can enjoy thoroughly from beginning to end. It is as if someone took traditional African music, with lots of chanting choruses and driving percussion and added a Western guitar player with a hint of American pop music. I'll admit, there are a few cheesy parts of this album that seem like they were suggested by Justin Timberlake, but these are overshadowed by an overwhelmingly accessible African sound, with traditional instruments involved in a modern, Western project. This truly is the East meets West mashup. Finally, musicians who are rooted in a traditionally communal music culture competing with the producers and pop stars of the West. Maybe Amadou & Mariam will be household names by their next album.

1.The Dodos – Visiter

Of course. The only album that firmly cemented itself as a mainstay of 2008. The only album I can truly say is the best album of the year. The one that was left off of almost every critics' list. The album I introduced to friends who obsessed over it as much as I did. The album that salvaged 2008 from a year of mediocrity. The Dodos. Two guys from San Francisco. Drums and acoustic guitar. Simple. Rhythmically, it's outstanding. Logan Kroeber on drums, with a history of metal bands. Meric Long on guitar, with training in West African Ewe drumming (do we see a pattern here?) As a drummer, this album is groundbreaking. The time signatures change multiple times throughout songs. Tempos speed up and slow down and break into chaos before emerging again in a new pattern. All the while, vocals are split between angelic melodies and reverb-and-distortion heavy screams. And the best part? There are no breaks on this album. Each song flows into the next, so seamlessly and smooth. The opening track “Walking” showcases a mandolin and guitar duet before exploding into “Red and Purple,” a rhythmic orgasm. I could spend at least five more paragraphs dissecting the rest of this album, from the genius of “Fools” to the two-part “Joe's Waltz,” complete with a driving blues guitar. The melancholy “Winter” is followed by the anthemic “It's That Time Again.” This album is a masterpiece, and I'm sure anyone I've introduced to it will say the same. Give this one a shot, it's the sleeper of the year.

For such a great year in music in 2007, 2008 was pretty weak. If you want to suggest any music I may have overlooked, I'll gladly listen to it or tell you why it wasn't included. Otherwise, thank god for 2009. Merriweather Post Pavillion is already one of the best albums I've heard in a long time. Look for a separate post addressing this album once I hear it a few more times.

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