Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Albums of the Year, 2008 Edition

Ok, so it's not a top 10. Not even a top 11. I aimed for 10, ended up with 12. But here they are, my favorite albums of 2009.

One of my favorite developments of 2008 was the continued progress of live performances on the internets. As such, with the top 12 below are some of the best performances from the albums listed.

12) Wolf Parade - At Mount Zoomer

It's hard to deny that Wolf Parade have their own distinctive sound. It seems that on this album, though, some started wondering if that sound had grown tiresome. To me, At Mount Zoomer, while perhaps lacking the immediate impact of the group's debut album, is a great second album. The single "Language City" remains one of my favorites of the year. You can check the track out over at Sub Pop Records' site.

Mp3: Wolf Parade - Language City

11) Why? - Alopecia

I thought I had essentially written off the marriage of hip-hop and rock to irreconcilable differences after the late 90s brought us some of the most awful music ever. This album makes the case that they may be able to co-exist peacefully after all, if done correctly. Why?'s sound is that of a couple of guys who benefited from growing up in a world where they were exposed to Public Enemy, Pavement, and The Beach Boys. And also probably went to the psychiatrist a lot. Anyway.

Video: Why? - The Vowels pt. 2 (Live)

10) Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago

I think young music fans sometimes associate loudness with intensity of performance. I know that personally, I've learned to appreciate that sometimes softer performances can be just as impactful, if not more so, than ones that try and make your ears ring for days. Bon Iver's For Emma, Forever Ago is an album that is very soft, and rather subtle, but is one of the more powerful records of the year. Check out the video below for a sample.
Bon Iver - "For Emma" from MySpace Transmissions

9) The Walkmen - You & Me

One expectation I didn't have for this album before it came out was for it to sort of creep me out. But it does. Oddly, this is a good thing. After you get a track or two in, you get the feeling that you've wandered into an early 20th-century smoky lounge. This world of sound that The Walkmen created for this new album works to great effect, as it draws upon some of the best moments of their earlier work, but puts it into this unique context. If you give the concert below a listen, try "Canadian Girl," a song that exemplifies the album's sound.

Video: The Walkmen - Live in Concert

8) Chad VanGaalen - Soft Airplane

Prior to 2008, I knew Chad VanGaalen primarily through YouTube, where his work had been featured several times (he has animated a number of music videos for past releases). He also stood out because of his unique vocal style. For Soft Airplane's release, VanGaalen animated several short promo videos, each with about a minute long preview of a song from the album. My favorite is the first one, which uses the song "Willow Tree," one of the best songs on the album. Rather than going overboard in terms of production on the track, it is largely focused on the singer's voice and a steady banjo line. You can check out the preview below.

Video: Chad VanGaalen - Soft Airplane Promo 1 (feat. "Willow Tree")

7) Death Cab for Cutie - Narrow Stairs

Narrow Stairs starts off with what I think may be Death Cab's best written song to date, "Bixby Canyon Bridge." I'm not entirely sure if I would have thought that before reading this great article in Paste Magazine; it made me interested in the track before I had ever heard it. Essentially, Ben Gibbard took a Jack Keroac-inspired trip in hopes of having a life-changing experience, and to put it simply, ended up disapointed. That trip led to the aforementioned lead-off track, which chronicled Gibbard's emotional let-down. I suppose it's a simple concept for a song, but for such a specific experience, it manages to lend itself as relatable.

Bixby Canyon Bridge

6) Blitzen Trapper - Furr

Folk-influenced music had a great year in '08, and front and center is this release by Blitzen Trapper. The band got a lot of critical buzz in 2007 after releasing Wild Mountain Nation (which incidentally only had a few songs that I really enjoyed), but have started to reach a wider audience after months of touring (including a stretch with Fleet Foxes opening for them in the Spring). Furr is an album that ranges between rock and acoustic folk, but remains consistantly enjoyable throughout. One of the album's standouts is below.

Mp3: Blitzen Trapper - Black River Killer

5) Ryan Adams & The Cardinals - Cardinology

Although Ryan Adams has been playing with The Cardinals for awhile now, Cardinology seems to mark a turning point; Adams now is just as much the lead singer for the band as he is a singer with a backing band. The music benefits from this shift, as the moving parts all work together well. Check out an acoustic performance from the band from "Coffee and Cardinals":

4) Islands - Arm's Way

Often times it seems like when a band has a great debut, the sophomore album ends up with better singles, but less overall continuity on the whole (Band of Horses, for instance). With Islands, it almost seems like the reverse. Arm's Way felt like more of a complete album to me than did Return to the Sea (though it did lack a truly great single like RttS's "Rough Gem," which is probably why it didn't quite get the same amount of critical acclaim). Either way, this album was on repeat all year long for me. Second single "Creeper" is below in video form.

Video: Islands - Creeper

3) Thao with the Get Down, Stay Down - We Brave Bee Stings and All

I've gone on quite a bit this year already about these guys and gal, but I would say it's well deserved. Their album is great, their live show is great, and Fall '09 will (likely) be the release of their next full-length. Lots to look forward to with this group.

Mp3: Thao with the Get Down, Stay Down - Yes, So On And So On

2) David Byrne & Brian Eno - Everything That Happens Will Happen Today

Please go into this album with no expectations, but please do listen.

Full Album Stream - David Byrne & Brian Eno - Everything That Happens Will Happen Today

1) Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes

On their MySpace page, under Tour Dates, Fleet Foxes have this entry for next Saturday (seriously):
Upcoming Shows ( view all )
Jan 17 2009 11:30P
Saturday Night Live - scared out of brain Don Pardo’s House, NY
It's hard to imagine a band coming so far in just a year - Exactly 364 days before this upcoming SNL performance, the band was signed to Sub Pop Records to release their first full-length album. That's a scary-fast rise for a folksy band with no real radio-ready singles, but still, a well-deserved trip to the top. Listen below for evidence of pure musical excellence.

Fleet Foxes - A Take Away Show from La Blogotheque on Vimeo.

1 comment:

Matthew said...

Arm's Way was definitely one of my favorites as well.