Archive for the ‘50 Favorite Albums of 2008’ Category

My 50 Favorite Albums of 2008: #01

January 4, 2009

Number 01

So here the long and winding journey of my 50 favorite albums of the year comes to an end, with M83’s spectacular Saturdays = Youth. There was really no question as to what struck the most powerful chord with me as I was running through all of the terrific albums I heard in 2008 a little over a month ago. From the moment I purchased this record (which was back in April at Tracks record store in Bloomington, just before an Okkervil River concert), and really even before  I played it, I knew it had to be something special. What I didn’t picture was it becoming what it so assuredly is now, some nine months after its release: an instant classic. I have always been an admirer of the talent of Anthony Gonzalez and his bandmates on past M83 records, but with Saturdays they have entered masterful territory, creating an album that encourages its listener to remember all of the endearing, awkward, shy, coming-of-age moments we experienced in our teenage years. They have managed to construct some of the most spacious and ambitiously large ambient records in previous years, which can be seen as acquired-taste projects that only some can come to love, but here they have approached the material with as much simplicity as possible, and even those who couldn’t find anything to get into from M83 in the past, will love some of the singles here. There was no better one-two opening on any record this year than the glorious “You, Appearing” and “Kim & Jessie”; and what’s most impressive about the album is that the rest of it after these two songs completely lives up to the profound statement set by them.

There has been a stab or two here and there on previous records that hint at Gonzalez’s focus on youth, like the breakthrough single “Teen Angst” from 2005’s Before the Dawn Heals Us, and it was obviously only a matter of time before he would incorporate the significance of his teenage years into an entire collection of songs. There is a lot more writing on this album, lyrically speaking, than on any of his previous efforts; and for the first time we can really see how brilliant of an emotional-evoking and personal songwriter Gonzalez is. Saturdays = Youth is a perfect record on any level you choose to analyze it, and if experienced with headphones on extra volume, it will become an inseparable keepsake to your collection. It is first and foremost a love letter to his own time of adolescence in the 80’s, so anyone who grew up in the specific time period could instantly relate. But the wide theme of the album – which is the universal feeling of simply being a teenager – is one anyone can relate to; so the record is bound to sink into your skin, no matter who you are..and if somehow you can’t let it affect you, then I am convinced you have no soul, and I feel sorry for you. Morgan Kibby’s voice dominates the beautiful, “Up!”, and even the songs without words on the record, like “Couleurs”, bleed with the ingenuity of youthful times. Like all of M83’s records, this is a fully realized experience that you never feel cheated on, btu what makes this such an important movie forward for the band is the change in focus, which finds Gonzalez getting extremely personal. There was never any kind of question as to what both the single of the year (“Kim & Jessie”) or album of the year would be. This is just one of my favorite albums, period.

1.You, Appearing
2.Kim & Jessie
3.Skin of the Night
4.Graveyard Girl
7.We Own the Sky
8.Highway of Endless Dreams
9.Too Late
10.Dark Moves of Love
11.Midnight Souls Still Remain


My 50 Favorite Albums of 2008: #02

January 3, 2009

Number 02

It’s virtually impossible to introduce any sort of new, unique sounds if you’re a band in today’s world, with decades upon decades already passed, and countless innovations previously emerging and claiming their stamp.  To be completely unique is something of a myth,  I think, because even our greatest artists are taking from what they admire and know best, tweaking it to enhance their talent. However, there are still those that attempt to develop something they can hold onto, to branch out in ways; maybe in simply using instruments in the most unconventional of circumstances, to make their defining sound. For Dodos, a duo out of San Fransisco that consists of Meric Long and Logan Kroeber, their defining sound begins with the dominating use of the drums. In 2005, Long was playing small solo shows, independently selling his home-recorded EP, Dodo Bird, when he was introduced by a friend to Kroeber. They each had interesting, established talents that they had not been able to incorporate into music yet at that point, but the two were obviously so intrigued by the thought of meshing one’s mastering of West African Ewe drumming (Meric), with the other’s experience in different rhythm-filled bands. Soon after they would become Dodo Bird, and in 2006 released their studio debut, Beware of the Maniacs. The album was instantly a hit locally for them, and after beginning to develop a fan base, their devotees started to regularly refer to them as The Dodos, and later pressings of Beware were labeled that way, and so the name sticks upon the release of their sophmore record.

It is fair to say that Visiter, the sophmore release by these Dodos, is unlike anything I’ve ever heard and is the only album on this list that I even considered for a second to compete with my #1 choice for the year. Long and Kroeber have expanded on the amazing promise of their debut, and it’s obvious that going on months of touring in support of that one had only made them more inseparable this time around. The marriage of acoustic guitar and fiery, energetic drumming is what powers every layer on the record, and accompanied by the fascinating songwriting of Long, this becomes one of those albums I simply cannot live without. There was an ungodly amount of break-up, longing, depression, etc, records released this year (as there always are) but this one was the one that hit me the closest. “Winter” deserves to be singled out and given recognition to, at least for me personally, because it arrived to me at a time in my life that seemed ironic, reminding me that music can do things that really nothing else in the world can. There are many moments of purely psychotic folk, if you can give Dodos a genre, like on the epic “Joe’s Waltz”, live favorite “Paint The Rust”, or on closing “God?”, and mixed in with that are mood-shifting pop pieces like, “Park Song” and “Undeclared”. Long had said in an interview that the name of the album was not inly inspired by a show they played for a class of students in South Central Los Angeles, but actually taken directly from it, album artwork and all. They were so amazed that the children found their music dance-worthy, that they used the actual drawing from one of them as the cover, and so the misspelling of the word is the name of a perfect album, and hopefully one that will see its worthy acclaim over more time.

2.Red and Purple
5.Joe’s Waltz
7.It’s That Time Again
8.Paint That Rust
9.Park Song
12.The Season

My 50 Favorite Albums of 2008: #03

January 2, 2009

Number 03

Coming into this year, Brooklyn’s TV On The Radio were at a point where they didn’t have to prove they could make brilliant music – having already done that with 2006’s Return To Cookie Mountain – but instead they were faced with the hurdle of proving that are indeed one of America’s best bands, by overcoming the  pressure that inevitably comes with following such a resounding critical darling, or Cookie-monster, like that one. It was awarded best album of the year by many publications, most commercially Spin Magazine, and so the daunting task of creating the next album began. Let me tell you, I was certainly a part of the many who fell in love with Cookie Mountain when it came out, and I still continue to revisit it on a regular basis; but their fall-2008 unveiling of Dear Science, leaves that record in the dust. Yes, TV On The Radio is one of the best bands in the world today, and each and every track on this flawless collection is legitimate evidence of that. What makes them such a different group and gives us such an easy reason to label them as one of the premier bands in the world, is that they refuse to settle down on one type of sound or arrangements, shifting multiple directions constantly, and sometimes within the same song (opener “Halfway Home” being a prime example).

First single “Dancing Choose”, and the attention-demanding “Golden Age”, are destined to be embraced by a large set of both fans and critics alike as classics of modern rock; but on a full-spectrum basis, we cannot be so selfish as to forget any track on this Godsend of a record. If you thought this group was setting out to get your ass up off the couch and dance with their past recordings, wait until you give this one a chance; it can get even the shyest of movers to at least tap their feet, especially on underrated numbers like “Red Dress”. Production-extraordinaire and co-found member of the band, David Sitek, has put his stamp on a number of popular indie acts over the last few years, but he saves his most slick tricks for he and his group of fellows, and this time around he has outdone himself, making a record that’s so good that you’ve gotta think he even considers bragging about it at times. There are a number of entirely strange and unique, but fitting, transitions taken on this record. As they declare toward the end of the record, “Lord, if you got lungs…come on and shout me out!”. Let that be known to every living human being – just fucking let it out, and listen to Dear Science.

1.Halfway Home
3.Dancing Choose
4.Stork and Owl
5.Golden Age
6.Family Tree
7.Red Dress
8.Love Dog
9.Shout Me Out
11.Lover’s Day

My 50 Favorite Albums of 2008: #04

January 2, 2009

Number 04

After the release of their 2001 record, Old Ramon, Mark Kozelek and his Red House Painters would soon find themselves no more. In the time they spent together they created some of the most essential music the entire decade of the 90’s would ever see, and although later on it would come to be known as a ridiculous thought to think that Kozelek would not continue to write and record beyond their disbanding, it was impossible not worry that if RHP ends…maybe their founding father does to. Like every group that was so important within their era (and I’d even say groundbreaking), it was difficult to comprehend that they were in fact hanging up their hats; but it wouldn’t be long at all before Kozelek reminded all of us that it doesn’t matter what name he operates under, but only that his emotion and staggering attention to detail would remain. Sun Kil Moon was formed shortly after the breakup of RHP, and with them he brought some familiar faces that continue to accompany him. Their debut from 2003, Ghosts of the Great Highway, was yet another masterwork and a solid piece of evidence that he does indeed deserve to be placed among our greatest songwriters, if for nothing else than for the simple fact that he accomplishes what only the legens have ever seemed to: he bests himself constantly, and never fails to at least meet (but usually exceed) expectations, with each passing set of all-original material. Highway had just enough of a change in sound to be considered different than RHP, but Sun Kil Moon is essentially version 2.0 of the former lineup; which would make it more fathomable to say that they’ve all basically been solo Kozelek, but with pseudonyms. I don’t mean to take anything away from the rest of the band’s contributions, because they are extremely substantial, and especially on Highway.

There was a mountain of acclaim that came with Sun Kil Moon’s debut record, with some even calling it the towering achievement of Kozelek’s entire career. In the five years that would pass before we’d see another album of all new original songs from the group, he did his best to keep the devoted followers satisfied; delivering many live albums, compilations, and cover collections. However, as patient as I can be, I must admit I was beginning to pine for a completely new set of Sun Kil Moon material. Fittingly, it was April 1st, 2008 that their official sophmore album, April, was released. It was evident from the git-go here that Kozelek had resorted back to a more somber tone this time around, with the majority of the record coming off as a blatantly solo project. There were a good amount of people, some of them even Kozelek-devotees, that considered this a setback for the artist. They were calling it flat and dreary, both vocally and musically, but I don’t think they cared to let the album introduce itself enough. If you’re an impatient listener, then don’t even begin to give April a spin, because with its immersive approach and bleeding length, you’re gonna have to dedicate yourself to be along for the ride; because unlike Highway, this record doesn’t have specific standout tracks that you can rely on to skip to at any given moment. From the opening strums of “Lost Verses”, all the way to the drawn-out, subtle departure of “Blue Orchids” some 70 minutes-plus later, this is a complete experience, finding a superb singer/songwriter staying at his peak, never to back down.

1.Lost Verses
2.The Light
3.Lucky Man
4.Unlit Hallway
5.Heron Blue
7.Harper Road
8.Tonight The Sky
9.Like The River
10.Tonight In Bilbao
11.Blue Orchids

My 50 Favorite Albums of 2008: #05

December 30, 2008

Number 05

I discovered Portishead at an extremely early age, all thanks to my good friend, Tony Marshall. I’d say it was somewhere around the release of their second album, 1997’s self-titled affair, that my 13 year-old self was sitting in a dark room, both jamming to and freaking out from their sounds a bit. This trio had only two records (plus a live one) in their run in the 90’s, but I’d say their impact on the direction music would lead from then on was a massive one. It had been a full ten years since they released any type of material, and it seemed as though they had left their stamp and quietly bowed out, and if that were the case things would be fine; but we cannot lie that every once in a while we would always revert back to a pining for a Portishead return, because a world without new creations from a pioneering band such as this, is a lesser one. They have always been a simple and straight-forward and as far as titles are concerned, so when it came time for them to release their return with a third full-length earlier this spring, the set of songs was matter-of-factly called Third. It was such an unspeakably amazing thing – having the chance to open up a new Portishead record and smell it, knowing that you would hear the unique sounds accompanied by the one-and-only voice of Beth Gibbons again – even if the record weren’t to turn out the fantastic way it did, nothing could take away from that first moment of experiencing a grand, unexpected return such as this one.

Being away from the music of this group for such a long time made the listening process of Third a shift-shaping one. When I went through the record for the first two or three times, I was amazed as I knew I would be, but I was stuck on the idea that Portishead were being vintage Portishead, and even with a major absence on the scene. I wasn’t quick at all too realize that not only was this a amazing return, but one with commanding, loud, rebellious reason. It wouldn’t be until about the fifth spin that I caught myself in my premature, naive listening statements, and my ears would be derailed and crushed with the sound of a comeback by a band that we always knew we’re geniuses at what they do but kind of forgot just how much so, and then the recollection of all that eventually culminating in the staggering brilliance of Third. It’s impossible to even begin to nail down the bits and pieces that make this album the masterpiece that it is, but it’s obvious by the kaleidescope of forward change in the full scope of things heard here, that the ten years since their last release was not spent being absent from immersion in the artistry of music. They were always one of the most un-depressing of depressing music-makers…and now they have taken it to a new level.

3.Nylon Smile
4.The Rip
6.We Carry On
7.Deep Water
8.Machine Gun
10.Magic Doors