I listen to a lot of music. If my life were an engine, music would be the oil. I decided to begin detailing what I’ve listened to over the course of the year. This is not an original idea, it was taken from Fred Wilson; who, no big surprise has influenced what I listen to. I started listening to Belle & Sebastian, Ben Kweller and a few other artists because of him. Poaching this idea makes it no less relevant IMO.
So what I’m planning on is detailing the most important albums of the year for me. They don’t necessarily have to have been made this year, it’s just a listing of what has been on mipods over the course of the last 12 months. This is actually really difficult. I usually buy about four new albums per month and listen heavily to the stuff that’s good. What’s good gets added to a “favorites” list (or others depending on their sound) and then those lists are used forever. So certain artists and songs will get exponentially more plays if they are good enough to make the cut. Anyway, pulling out the major artists and albums is tough, but Last.fm helps out a ton. The albums are chosen on frequency mostly, but certain qualitative factors are in this as well. Here we go:
#10 Album of 2008: Amy Winehouse, Back to Black
I was late to the party on this, but it’s a great soul album and Winehouse has a distinct and compelling voice. Some of the latter tracks are really impressive, but overall the production and artist ability mix well. It was probably deserving of the grammy for Album of the Year in 2007.
#9 Album of 2008: Cassadaga, Bright Eyes
This album made the list despite not living up to my expectations. Conor Oberst is one of my favorite artists and his past albums (especially “I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning”) have really excelled. Although this is album grows on you over time, initially only a few tracks really seemed to resonate with me (“Four Winds” and “I Must Belong Somewhere”). Yet over time the cohesive value of it grew and made it worth listening to over again. It’s not quite on the level of previous stuff, and it will be interesting to see if his new work is a lot better. I’ve heard good things and plan on buying very soon.
#8 Album of 2008: Pinkerton, Weezer
Odd that a mid 90’s album makes it on this list, but them’s the breaks. My favorite Weezer album, this got a LOT of listening time for a good few months earlier in the year. Starts off great with “Tired of Sex” and finishes well with “Butterfly.” Everything in between is classic grungy Cuomo. Really good, high energy album for a road trip. It’s easy to forget a lot of the bands from a decade ago, but there are some really solid groups there. Sublime, Pixies, Nirvana and Weezer are all good examples.
#7 Album of 2008: Narrow Stairs, Death Cab For Cutie
This was the year of Death Cab for me, I’ve listened to them as much as any other band (other than maybe Dylan, who owns a solid percent of mind share for me any year) in 2008. This album has two really strong songs to start off and then has a myriad of more typical (read: good) songs afterward. This album is definitely up there with their other works. I’m still waiting to see a “masterpiece” from them yet though. Gibbard does well on most everything he touches, but nothing that I’d put up their with all time favorite albums yet. Hopefully that changes in the future.
#6 Album of 2008: Elliot Smith, Elliot Smith
Tragic. Elliot Smith committed suicide some time ago (although some say it was his girlfriend who murdered him) by stabbing himself in the heart. If that’s not symbolic, I don’t know what is. To truly understand this symbolism you’d need to listen to his music as a backdrop. This album is whisper quiet and exudes a pervasive sadness throughout, based on simple guitar strumming and Smith’s ever so quiet song. It grows on you very much. I’ll most certainly be picking up a few more of his albums in the future. Standout tracks are the opener “Needle in the Hay” and the absolutely heart breaking “The Biggest Lie” which has made it on to my favorite songs of all time list (I’ll probably detail this list within the next month, stay tuned.) Anyway, this isn’t for everyone. But for those of you who like to be somewhat sad and reflective of the lives you lead (I’m hopelessly emo in this regard), this could be your ticket.
#5 Album of 2008: Hissing Fauna Are You The Destroyer? Of Montreal
This album received a lot of acclaim in indie circles last year. I’d already had “Satanic Panic in the Attic” and enjoyed it before buying this. It was a big divergence from that kind of music, but it works well. This is heavily electronic indie funk if anything, and in all truth will turn of a lot of more traditional music listeners. For those into indie stuff, it’s a pretty good ride and the first six tracks especially offer a lot. Check out “Heimsdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse,” “Gronlandic Edit,” “A Sentence of Sorts In Kongsvinger” and “Bunny Ain’t No Kind of Rider.” Extremely interesting and differentiated songs all throughout the album. You’ll find yourself singing along with Kevin Barnes‘ crazy up tempo lyrical roller coasters. Fun. Very fun.
#4 Album of 2008: When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold, Atmosphere
Long standing as one of my favorite hip hop groups, nay, favorite artists ever, Atmosphere released their sixth major full length this last year. For those not familiar, Slug and Ant are straight out of Minneapolis and have achieved national recognition as one of the preeminent “underground” hip hop groups. It’s great that they are local (though I think Slug has moved to CA) but these guys are as good as anyone on the planet. Ant produces all the tracks and he has truly become one of the best beat makers in the industry. Slug creates vivid imagery of inner city lives on the Daley. The group is really starting to put together a catalog of music that will be far reaching and epic in scope. This album offers some incredible pieces. Atmosphere offers recurring and cohesive themes on their albums, this one is centered around the difficulties of life and the stories of struggling inner city dwellers, from derelicts to dandies. All in all, it’s a great offering in a long line of winners from the group. Extremely high recommendations go to “Yesterday,” “Me,” and “Wild, Wild Horses.”
#3 Album of 2008: Transatlanticism, Death Cab For Cutie
This album was really a big deal for me simply because it turned me on to DCFC, and they’ve gotten a huge amount of play time from me in the last year. I haven’t been listening to this with regularity for a bit, but earlier this year it was getting play once for every other rotation. As of yet, this is the best of their albums I own and is probably the best way to break into their sound. Yeah, it’s a bit old now (2003), but I still think it’s the best of their albums. Standout tracks are the opener “The New Year,” “Title and Registration” and “Death of an Interior Decorater.” DCFC is a really different sound, it’s softer but still offers some energy. I’d recommend this album to people who really liked The Postal Service or anything similar.
#2 Album of 2008: Shudder, Bayside
This was an incredibly difficult choice. Both the top albums are great and both have gotten a ridiculous amount of rotation from me. The reason that Bayside came in second is probably because I’ve listened to them for a long time now and know what they have to offer. But what an offering! Bayside is an alt/punk band from New York and they’re good. Really good. In a good way. I grew up listening to punk and pop punk bands, mostly SoCal stuff like NOFX, Lagwagon, No Use For A Name, Bad Religion, New Found Glory, The Ataris, Blink, etc. I still enjoy that stuff, but it just hasn’t aged well with me. NOFX still has some amazing albums, but they follow the same pattern for almost everything. Other bands I grew up with have really fallen off comparatively. It’s just not as good as it used to be, probably due to the angst and anger that are so inherent in callow youth distancing itself over the horizon of responsibility. Things changed. I changed.
There are extremely few bands that I listen with regularity in this genre any more. I know there are some good bands out there, but very few hold my attention. Bayside is the real deal though. They offer some ferociously awesome tracks on Shudder. Their earlier stuff was good too, but didn’t offer the polish of this album which just rocks. The opener “Boy” is amazing and crescendos with harmonizing sing along, other tracks such as “What and What Not,” “A Call To Arms,” “I Think I’ll Be OK” and the slower “I Can’t Go On” are driven primarily by the amazing guitar work and Anthony Renari’s unique voice which is the reason this band is as good as it is. There are just so few bands that combine vocals, song writing, guitars and energy the way they do. I was taken aback because there previous albums were good and I expected much of the same. Yet somehow they added a lot to it and made the sound all that much more rich. They switch things up often enough to keep the album fresh and listenable. The bottom line is that this is punkish stuff and a lot of people don’t dig that garden, but if you do, this is a can’t miss. Do it.
#1 Album of 2008: Leaves In The River, Sea Wolf
Well this is it. Sea Wolf dropped his first album and it really knocked my socks off. It’s difficult for me to describe this well, but think of it as a toned down Arcade Fire with fewer goings on during tracks. The entire album is good, with only a few tracks that don’t necessarily have the impact of the work as a whole. The reason this got first is simply because it was a new artist; when someone comes along with this much talent out of nowhere it has a bit more of a dramatic effect. The first song is especially tragic and paints such a lovely picture of lonesome love found during the fall. The simplicity of the first song is remarkable and works perfectly to illustrate the story being told. That first song is easy to fall in love with, after which it’s impossible not to be enamored with everything else offered consequently. The ensuing lineup of “Winter Windows” and “Black Dirt” are more intricate but offer a slightly increased tempo before the profoundly gorgeous “The Rose Captain” and “Middle Distance Runner.” I must be a complete sap. This is a love album, done in a tone that may be impossible to aptly describe. Not quite morose but hardly uplifting; it’s enigmatic yet asks few questions.
“You’re A Wolf” steps up the urgency a bit and then tones down with “Song for the Dead,” followed by a another hugely engrossing track, “The Cold, The Dark & The Silence.” The album finishes off with a slower and simple end in “Free Fall Without a Parachute.” I must have listened to this four times a day for weeks on end. It was impressive and set the bar incredibly high for a sophomore release, of which I’m eagerly anticipating. Few albums are this well put together, and in an initial offering makes it all the more rare. Well done, a must for anyone who enjoys indie music.