After much thought and deliberation (and changing the order about 10 times an hour), here it is: My top 10 albums of 2008:
10. Ane Brun – Changing of the Seasons
Had the next 9 albums not been released, my love affair with Ane Brun would be all the more evident. A voice reminiscent of Dolly Parton, mixed with the indie and acoustic sensibilities of Feist and Cat Power, Ane (pronounced Ah-na) stirs with emotion and devastation. The culmination of these being the title track, “Changing of the Seasons”, about a man who cannot commit, needing to move on to his next conquest. Although, she manages to sneak in a semi-happy ending. Understanding the common plight of unfound love, her afflicted tone, and fairytale acoustic and string arangements ultimitely leave you with a little hope, even if hope is all you can hope for.
9. Headlights – Some Racing, Some Stopping
Albums released early in the year often get lost in the mix, forgotten about, but Headlights became my musical pallet cleanser throughout the year. Often overwhelmed with the sheer amount of music released during the year, and sifting through some drudge, Headlights were always there to refresh with their sincere indie pop. They come across like Arcade Fire-light, but that is a genuine compliment. This is ever the most evident on the track “School Boys”, with the driving riff is never compromised through the song’s entirety. Even when the pace slows on the title track “Some Racing, Some Stopping”, a longing heart’s memoir set to a sweet and simple synth track, they still seem to grab your attention. A promising sophomore effort.
8. Mates of State – Re-Arrange Us
I am unapologetic while continuing down the woman-fronted path this top 10 is taking. Up until now, Mates of State have been known for their weaving husband and wife vocals and jumpy organ. Re-arrange themselves they have, to an extent; absent is the organ, but the dual vocals remain. Call them tween-pop, call them cutesy, call them guilty-pleasure status worthy, but I say they have released one of the perfect pop albums of the last 5 years. This album is full of sing-a-long choruses, hooks galore, and that makes every song as memorable as the last.
7. She & Him – Volume One
This should not have worked. Simply stated, matter of fact. Comprised of M. Ward, acclaimed indie singer-songwriter, and Zooey Deschanel, an acclaimed actress with no previous musical pedigree. An actress turned singer almost never works (i.e. Lindsey Lohan, the only example needed), but there is such an earnest tone to Zooey’s voice; a breathy, quirky, and rich alto. Surprisingly, she wrote 9 of the 13 songs on the album all by her lonesome; apparently she has been a bedroom-only musician for many years, penning tracks that only she and close friends and family have heard until now. M. Ward provides his musical prowess, but this is the Zooey Deschanel show, with Mr. Ward only lending his vocals to a couple tracks, including the creepily solemn cover of The Miracles’ “You Really Got A Hold On Me.” Already insinuating another record collaboration by naming the record Volume One, Volume Two is eagerly awaited.
6. Death Cab for Cutie – Narrow Stairs
My love affair with Death Cab is no secret, but I will be the first to say, after the 2005 release of the tired Plans, though considered their most accessible album, the band needed a shake up. We received it this year with the release of Narrow Stairs, critically acclaimed, and critically dubbed: dark. I have always hated that term, but it fits, and musically and lyrically. Gibbard sounds like a man with a chip on his shoulder in the opener “Bixby Canyon Bridge”, who figures out after his excursion that he is “No closer to any kind of truth.” The album also produced some of my favorite Death Cab songs ever penned: the settling in “Cath…”, the longing in “Your New Twin Sized Bed”, and the burden of over-thinking in “Long Division.”
5. MGMT – Oracular Spectacular
There seems to be a theme with a third of my top 10, they came out of nowhere. Like Vampire Weekend, another young band to come out of New York, they offer fresh takes on indie pop and adding the rock stardom (i.e. taking themselves too seriously, drugs,trippy music videos) that has been missing from music, almost Rolling Stones-esque (in attitude, mind you). The album begins with the 20-something anthem “Time To Pretend”, weary of living a life of boredom and mediocrity in the form of a morning commute to a desk job, they dream of becoming rock stars. How fitting. Some later songs delve into psychedelia, but are fun, and how can we forget the lyric of the year within the disco-era “Electric Feel”:
“Said oh, girl
Shock me like an electric eel
Turn me on with your electric feel.”
4. Vampire Weekend – S/T
What can you say about four Ivy league chaps from New York that hasn’t already been said. Some consider them over-rated, over-hyped preppy brats, but consider this, they made an album that I came back to throughout the year. Almost every song has a memorable line, hook, or chorus; what else would you want from fresh indie pop? Employing the use of traditional African drum beats, some call it a gimmick, but it adds something unorthodox; playfulness that could only match their ridiculous moniker. Who knows if this was beginners luck, we may just have a new heir to the yacht rock of the 80’s. I will embrace it, after all, we will know if it was fluke soon enough.
3. The Botticellis – Old Home Movies
Seemingly coming out of nowhere, The Botticellis were my biggest surprise of the year. I think they were vastly overlooked even in the prided indie circles, and if more people had actually heard this album, it would be in a lot of year-end lists. An amalgam of 60’s surf pop, and dreamy chamber pop, they will reel you in with their charming melodies, meticulous percussion, and honest hooks. A perfect debut for a band that will have many people saying in 2009, “How did I miss that?”
2. Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago
If Sigur Ros’ sound is grandiose, Bon Iver is the antithesis. We are all familiar with the story by now, Justin Vernon became a hermit in a woody cabin after a bad break-up, pouring those emotions into this stripped-down opus. Knowing this back-story makes each song hit even harder. I remember when I first heard this album, how distinct his voice was, how you could hear the pain in his wavy warble. I can always gauge the strength of art (music, film, physical) by its ability to change your mood. Justin’s transparent lyrics are inherently angry and sad. The erratic percussion at the end of “The Wolves” is the biggest tell, while Justin sings “Someday my pain, someday my pain will mark you.” This album will mark you.
1. Sigur Ros – Með Suð í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust
Before I sat down to write this list, I agonized about what should be my number one, but once I started binge listening to my top picks, it became as clear as waking up this morning. The truth is, I have always been an observer of obsession with Sigur Ros; they created beautiful music while lyrically being non-existent. Once I realized that his voice is used much more like another instrument in the mix, combined with emotions invoked by merely sitting down and giving a couple focused listens to this record, I finally “got” Sigur Ros. This is a MASSIVE record. With orchestral elements, driving rhythms, and the distinctive vocal croon in the indiscernible “hopelandic” language (as well as their first song in English), I could not deny that Sigur Ros had created a masterpiece. Sit down, and immerse yourself in this album.
Well, there you have it! Gripes? Complaints? Albums that were grossly overlooked? Hit the replies. Thanks for reading and Happy New Year!