Wednesday, December 31, 2008

My Top 10 Albums of 2008

Yes, I still buy CDs. Some people find this surprising given my line of work. This is the CD's Golden Age, and not long from now we will fondly reminisce about 2008 and how you could buy a physical CD with full fidelity of almost anything you wanted for cheap, and how the stamped CD lasts nearly forever, as opposed to your CD-Rs which are silently erasing themselves as you read this.

I am proud to say this year's edition at least feels like it has fewer "old artists" on it. Also you can play a sampler playlist using the embedded player at the bottom!

  1. M83 - "Saturdays = Youth"
    There was no contest - this was my favorite record of 2008. It's perfect - the cover art, the sounds, the words. It reminds me of how intense, embarrassing, painful, and powerful it felt to be a teenager. Each track works on its own and as an album it's even better. Reminiscent of classic 4AD artists but not totally retro.

  2. Neon Neon - "Stainless Style"
  3. Unlike M83, this record is almost totally retro. Neon Neon is comprised of one of the guys from Boom Bip and the singer from Super Furry Animals. I was vaguely familar with the former and not at all with the latter. Regardless, the two of them created a great pop album.

    It's even a concept album about the life of John Delorean, and it obliquely (but chronologically) details his epic rise and fall, in new wave synth-guitar-and-drum-machine glory. Even starts off with a theme that could have opened an early-80s TV show.

    The few hip-hop tracks are fairly weak and feel tacked-on - though I give bonus points for them trying to set Delorean up as sort of the "ur-hustler". The sexy groove behind "Racquel" (Welch) and the melancholy-but-poppy "I Lust U" are also great.

  4. The Roots - "Rising Down"
  5. "My squad's part Mandrill and part Mandela, my band 'bout seventy strong just like Fela, yeah part Melle Mel and part Van Halen and we represent Illadelph...kinda like W.E.B DuBois meets Heavy D and the Boyz"
    Those lyrics open the album, and the best tracks live up to that. Half of the record is strong, melodic, and has enough guest rappers to keep the vocals interesting.

    Some of this record is just awful. The Roots have been making music for a long time, and felt it was important to bracket the record with some screaming telephone messages. I'm sure they found it interesting and relevant. I found it acoustically painful and totally unnecessary. They included a rap recorded when one member was 15. Please no.

  6. Santogold - "Santogold"
  7. Great songwriting, with nods to 60's girl groups, ska, reggae, new wave, and a bunch of other influences. Not a bad song on it. I don't think there are any classics - she's not the new Bob Dylan - but given how many artists these days can't write a melody or even a hook, I am quite pleased to hear someone who knows how to craft a fine song stretch themselves.

    Over time I find I don't much care for the production, which sounds sort of cheap and instantly dated to my ears.

    I was reluctant to try this album due to all the hype around it. My loss. It's very strong, and I look forward to hearing Santogold's next album.

  8. TV On The Radio - "Dear Science"
  9. This album is probably on every hipster's year-end list. But this year's model is actually very listenable, despite extremely dense production. I think the songs could have been a little stronger, but the grooves and feeling are undeniable.

  10. Local H - "12 Angry Months"
  11. My wife said "Aren't these guys always angry?" Exactly.

    This record is another concept album - the singer broke up with his longtime girlfriend, and spent a year (the titular months) detailing his feelings. Some of it is a little forced, but Local H is my epitome of loud rockn'roll. Some great stuff on here - the opening and closing tracks are long epics, which is a nice change from Local H's usual 3-4 minute glittering gems of hatred.

    Plus I'm pretty sure there's some Big Country influence audible on "The Summer of Boats".

  12. Old Fogey Category (3-way tie)
    These 3 old fogey artists all released albums that were as good as anything they did in their prime. I really enjoyed all of them up to some mysterious tipping point, at which point I said "well, why am I listening to this instead of one of their older records?"

    Bauhaus - "Go Away White"
    Bauhaus' new (and absolutely final) album finds them at their most aggressive, hard, and tight. They sound utterly confident and powerful. It makes one wish their other records were as solid. The songs also have a fire and immediacy that reflects their "live in the studio" origins. "Too Much 21st Century" is a great start and there's no stopping. "Endless Summer of the Damned" manages to both comment on environmental destruction and lampoon goth culture. Genius, and a fitting finale to their career.

    Al Green - "Lay It Down"
    I really liked this one at first. Nicely produced and recorded. Sounds classic. Some good guest stars. But eventually I realized it just wasn't as good as his old stuff, and by refusing to even try anything new, the record eventually proves itself completely inessential. Oh well.

    Grace Jones - "Hurricane" (no streams available, import only)
    Watch the video. This is some amazing stuff. Machines stand in for Sly and Robbie, which makes it both different and less compelling than her classic records, but like Bauhaus, there is a confidence and power here only hinted at in her earlier records. Funky and creepy.

  13. Obligatory Harold Budd Record
    Harold Budd & Cliff Wright - "A Song for Lost Blossoms"
  14. He made an album this year, so of course he's on the list!

    A very nice record with awful cover art. My friend Ray Guillette said it made him wonder what Harold Budd's bathroom looks like.

    Nice music for a Sunday, especially when it's cold and/or raining.
  15. Anu - "Cyborg Love Songs"I listened to this a lot, even after I was done making it. People are actually buying this record, making it my most popular non-Pants record since "The Shape of The Universe".
My 2007 picks are here.
My 2006 picks are here.