Friday, December 19, 2008

Best Albums of 2008

In the life cycles of such things as the Economy, the career of Bruce Willis, and Merry-Go-Rounds  there are many peaks and valleys.  I would categorize this year in music as a valley.  I wasn't blown away by too many records, but then again it could be that I'm not looking very hard anymore.  Music continues to be one of my pet obsessions.  I had a conversation with Christy last December about possibly weaning myself a bit from my addiction, which I think I accomplished to some extent this year.  I bought maybe half of what I did in the few years previous.  But despite that Debbie Downer of an intro, here are a few of the bright spots for me from this past year in music:

10. Bowerbirds: Hymns for a Dark Horse
I heard about these guys while reading the blog of John Darnielle, of Mountain Goats fame (a band I'm only so so on). It grew slowly on me, and the more I listened the more these melodies kept getting stuck in my head, which can sometimes drive you bananas, but in this case I liked it. 

9. The Tallest Man On Earth: Shallow Grave
I feel so ashamed to be putting this record on my list, but I just can't help it.  I generally abhor knockoffs and ripoffs.  And with one listen to The Tallest Man on Earth you'll practically be rolling your eyes at a person who must certainly think he's Bob Dylan.  But I'm going to tell you a dirty little secret here, I don't even like Bob Dylan all that much.  There you go.  So why am I putting this record on my list then?  Because these songs are so really very good.   Thats it. Knockoff be damned.  

8. Thao and the Get Down Stay Down: We Brave Bee Stings and All
I first became aware of Thao Nguyen after hearing her Daytrotter Session. Daytrotter is quite possibly the greatest music site on the planet. But I digress. There is something loosey goosey about her delivery that makes it all feel so fluid and natural.

7. The Walkmen: You and Me
A quintessential New York band.  The grittiness and the urgency.  A band that screams.  A band with members who have helplessly pretentious names like "Jonathan Fire*Eater".  A band that will always be better live than not live.  But also a band that recorded one of the best tracks I heard all year "In the New Year".  

6. Throw Me the Statue: Moonbeams
I don't know much about this band, truthfully, except that I stumbled across their debut album, released by Secretly Canadian, and was super impressed by the simple folk pop and easy melodies. Other great songs are "Written in Heart Signs Faintly" and "Conquering Kids".

5. Chad Van Gaalen: Soft Airplane
Chad is Canadian (I love our neighbors to the north). He has that fragile sort of voice, not unlike Daniel Johnston, and to futher the comparison he also does painting/illustrations. I think he finds a good mix between the straightforward songwriter vibe I dig so much and the bumps, beeps, and noises. They combine to make a delicious product.

4. Fleet Foxes: Fleet Foxes
These fellas got a lot of press this year, and for pretty good reason. In a lot of ways it feels like an album that could have been released in the 60's: nice harmonies, plenty of reverb, and beardy faces (Oh what I would give for just a little stubble even!). "Oliver James", "Meadowlark", and "He Doesn't Know Why" have been dominating my playlists for months.

3. Colby Stead: So It Goes
Colby is one of my closest personal friends and is one of the most bright and talented people I know.  His art is sincere and honest, without contrivance or the putting on of airs.  He is joined by the beautiful Amy Robinson and Steven Gertsch on this record, which Christy, Gus, and I played into the ground--a place where most things go when dead, yet where here sprouts only new life.  Have I killed the metaphor yet?  I'm beginning to lose faith in karma, because Colby is not yet selling out theaters across the country, which by all rights he should be.  Please go to his site.  Download some music, and donate to an artist who is giving everything for his expression.  

Listen to "Breathe"

2. Okkervil River: The Stand Ins
Will Sheff and company have become one of my favorite bands over the last few years. He's an amazing lyricist. The Stand Ins is an extention of last years The Stage Names. As a marketing ploy surrounding the album's release Will advertised via YouTube that he had asked musical friends to perform tracks from the new album, as "stand ins" for Okkervil River, and these performances would be released on YouTube. I really liked A.C. Newman's "Lost Coastlines" and Bon Iver's "Blue Tulip".

1. Bon Iver: For Emma, Forever Ago
It may come as no secret to readers of this blog that I was somewhat obsessed with this album this year. I listened to it...a lot.  There was some sort of immediate emotional connection with these songs. Technically it was self released last year, but Jagjaguwar picked it up for widespread release around February. I adore every track on this album, and there aren't a lot of records I can say that about. There is much romanticism around how the album came about, and even after dozens of listens it doesn't get old for me. One of my favorite albums of all time.


laceyJ. said...

Sa-weet list! There are many on here that I have yet to listen to, so thanks for the intro.

Can't wait to dig into these new bands!

Joe said...

I'd take your recommendations in a second, Les. Most of this is new to me. You are a clearinghouse of musical goodness!