Monday, December 29, 2008

The Best Albums of 2008 Part 2

8) Stephen Malkmus- Real Emotional Trash
Call me a super fan. Say that I have a man-crush on Stephen Malkmus. Whatever. Much as I love Pavement and wish Malkmus would get the boys back together, I'm not a fool. Those days are gone and Malkmus is wisely following his own muse from album to album. Real Emotional Trash takes Malkmus's flirtations with guitar heroics and the jam scene to its inevitable conclusion, adding ex-Sleater-Kinney drummer Janet Weiss to level out the bottom end. The result is less Phish or the extended moments of Led Zepplin than it is the Malkmus-ian aesthetic we've come to love but with even more emphasis on guitar-led improvisation than Pig Lib. The lengthy title track was one of this year's best joyrides.

7) Bon Iver- For Emma, Forever Ago
I think I said it best in my review: "It's always easy for me to forget albums like this when I'm discussing my 'best of the year' lists with the other music nerds and obsessives. These kinds of records, well, they don't change the world, create new genres, or instantly make scenes and sound-alikes sprout up in their wake. No, For Emma, Forever Ago is a familiar but fantastic pleasure, like spending a day off with a pot of tea, a new novel, and a rainstorm. The environment is well known but the novel is not. So it is with this album. It's one of the 2008's best (though technically it was self-released in 2007, so...) and a low key, strongly human piece of loss, pain, and recovery."

6) Portishead- Third
While I mostly fixated on the "comeback of the year!!" aspect of this release, one thing that's been sticking in the back of my mind has finally come out. Third reminded me of why I love electronic music. If accused of favoring rock above all other forms of music, I would concede the point. But albums like Third drop into my lap like a needy cat and whaddya know, I love electronic music, too. Using the tried and true "drum/synth loops with a vocalist" style as set in stone during the trip hop era, Third takes everything in a darker, more overtly synthetic direction while still remaining true to the band's feel and way with a song. Darker, more's like the soundtrack to Children of Men.

5) Wolf Parade- At Mount Zoomer
I wrote a really clumsy, music critic navel gazing kind of review for this album, but I think my point still stands: this album is every bit as good as their debut if you give it enough time. At Mount Zoomer seemed to be a pretty divisive release and while I fully understand why, I still think it's great if taken on its own terms. It doesn't have any songs as immediately stunning and memorable as 'I'll Believe In Anything', but it's got more variety and takes more chances. That counts for something in my book.

4) Sun Kil Moon- April
Had I ever listened to a Red House Painters or Sun Kil Moon (or even a Mark Kozelek solo release) album before April, I'm not sure I would have thought this album was so good. Maybe it was his worst release?? Well, having now gone back and picked up a good deal of Kozelek's work under those various monikers, I can safely say that April is still one of my favorites of the year. There's just something about his voice, his way with words, and the Neil Young-esque combination of skeletal acoustic ballads and extended guitar rockers that I can't get enough of. That the album is so long and I don't get bored halfway through speaks to its quality.

3) TV On The Radio- Dear Science
If Return To Cookie Mountain was the breakout release that Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes should have been, then Dear Science firmly entrenches TV On The Radio in the upper echelons of the indie rock world. The album is poppier, more polished, and more accessible than previous releases yet none of these are knocks against it. If anything, TV On The Radio have improved their way with vocals and their trademark hard-to-describe production, mixing hip hop, electronic, experimental, jazz, and indie rock textures, melodies, and rhythms into a magnificent soup. There's something quintessentially American about the band, at least the "classless, colorless" America that I hold as an ideal; between these guys and Barack Obama winning the election, this suburban white boy is happy to see that this country isn't as racist, conservative, and racially divisive as I thought.

2) Deerhunter- Microcastle/Weird Era Cont.
Yes, I haven't reviewed the "bonus album" that comes with Microcastle. But that doesn't change the fact that Microcastle itself is an incredible achievement for the band. As with the above TV On The Radio release, it polished and opened up the band's pop influences while still being very Deerhunter-y. Were I a lazy critic, I would say that all the pop songs ended up on the album while all the psychedelic/shoegazer stuff ended up on Weird Era Cont. But that's not entirely true. Weird Era Cont. is more like a midway point between Cryptograms and Microcastle. But I digress. As a one-two punch, the twin release from Deerhunter is brilliant noise pop and 2008's best bang-for-the-buck.

1) Fleet Foxes- Fleet Foxes (and the Sun Giant EP)
While Deerhunter officially paired their two releases from this year, the Fleet Foxes indirectly paired their EP with the self titled debut. As good as Sun Giant is, it can't help but feel like an appetizer for the album. I'm trying to keep my hyperbole in check here, but Fleet Foxes is the most fully formed and brilliant debut in recent memory. We're talking Surfer Rosa "fully formed and brilliant debut" territory here. If this were 2003 or 2004, Fleet Foxes would have been lumped in with the psych-folk movement. As it is, the band's phenomenally gorgeous vocal harmonies (here comes the Beach Boys comparison...!!) recall the old masters the Beach Boys while their music gathers from old Americana staples like folk and country as well as the tried and true classic rock and singer/songwriter soundscapes. Yet for as many reference points as you might have for the band, it doesn't change the fact that these songs are good beyond description. Well, there's that hyperbole sneaking in. So: album of the year. The end.

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