(feat track. – The Gaslight Anthem – “Meet Me By The River’s Edge”)
Today concludes my reposting of past years’ Top Ten lists, with my Top 10 of 2008. Starting tomorrow, I’ll begin posting my 2009 list, counting it down one album per day.
I went a lot more in depth on my 2008 list, first published in January 2009. I think it’s a trend I’ll carry through to this year.
Looking back at the list, while I would (as always) make my tweaks and changes, I think it mostly still holds true. Though of course there hasn’t been nearly as much time between this list and some of the others – maybe in a couple more years I’ll think otherwise. One thing I’m certain of, though, and that’s that my Top Album of 2008 was the right pick. It’s easily one of my top 5 albums of the decade, and might challenge for the #1 spot.
Alright, time for my yearly top ten. I actually got it out a little sooner than I have in previous years. In part, I think that’s because I’ve simply resigned myself to the fact that there’s a lot of music from 2008 I’m just not going to get around to listening to anytime soon. Which isn’t to say I didn’t listen to much this year; if anything, I think I found myself listening to more, and a wider range of, albums on a regular basis than in the past few years. Like last year, this year was a great year for new music; I think that, as culture has splintered and pop culture (or even counterculture) has been replaced by an endless web of microcultures, the amount of great diverse music out there has grown and grown.
Last year there was a lot of very good music, but no real great standout for me. This year, my number one album stood quite clearly above the heap. Which isn’t to knock anything else on the list; its just that this years top album is probably my favorite record since the 4 or 5 truly stellar releases of 2005.
Before I get started, there are two albums I’ve excluded from my Top Ten list for non-musical reasons. One, Vampire Weekend’s “Vampire Weekend” is being excluded because I included their “Blue CDR” demo on last year’s top 10 list, and “Vampire Weekend” includes all the tracks of that demo. The Second is Thrice’s “The Alchemy Index: Vol. 3 and 4”. Vol. 1 and 2 were released last year, and while each half was released as a standalone disc, they’re meant to be listened to and evaluated as a whole (or perhaps in their four individual parts). So while neither are on my list, both are as good as anything released in 2008.
That said, without further ado, my Top Ten Albums of 2008:
10. Cash Cash – Take It To The Floor – As dance-emo-pop goes (I have no idea what to call this genre, if it’s got a name at all, but it’s definitely its own distinct genre – think Forever The Sickest Kids, HelloGoodbye, PlayRadioPlay!, (newer) The Higher, A Rocket To The Moon, Cobra Starship, etc.), this album is heads and shoulders above the rest. The songs are more fully formed, hookier, and just flat-out better. Predictions are a dodgy business, but I could definitely see these guys becoming the next Metro Station this year.
9.5 Matisyahu – Shattered EP – A stunning turn after his dismal previous release, Youth. Youth was limpid, unsteady, full of weakly formed songs and some of the most pale production I’ve suffered through in ages. Shattered, in contrast, hits hard and fast and strong, with some tremendous beats, solid hooks, and real emotion. Matis crawls through a weird, trippy long-dark-night-of-the-soul on this one, and it’s an epic journey back to relevance.
9. The Academy Is… – Fast Times At Barrington High – Another one that really caught me off guard. I was never a big fan of TAI’s middle-of-the-road emo-pop, but on Fast Times they’ve discovered pathos. There’s a minor-key darkness that runs through the album; not bitter, but sad; not angry, but longing. It’s not a mopey album. It just has real emotional heft that I hadn’t expected from what had previously been as straightforward a pop group as there is.
8. Airiel – The Battle of Sealand – I hesitate to lump Airiel into the nu-gaze scene, because this album stands on par with the best of the classic shoegaze scene like My Bloody Valentine and Ride. No mere aping of genre tropes, Sealand incorporates modern studio wizardry in the best of ways, bringing swirling beats and modern flair to Airiel’s blissed-out guitar and vocal drone. It might be an epic album; it certainly feels like one.
7. The Airborne Toxic Event – The Airborne Toxic Event – The Airborne Toxic Event marry a Strokes-y rawness to sad country-folk (think more “hungover” than “boozy”) without making it feel cobbled together. Add in rambling lyrics that constantly teeter on the edge of a train wreck but always seem to take just the right turn at the last minute and you’ve got one hell of a compelling debut.
6.5 Janelle Monae – Metropolis: The Chase Suite EP – Outkast style r&b, Rhianna-esque pop and the wacky Afro-Futurism of Afrika Bambaataa and George Clinton all run headlong into Janelle Monae’s soaring vocals on this concept EP. It’s weird and wonderful, beautiful and bangin’, affected and infectious.
6. Ludo – You’re Awful, I Love You – Ludo do the sort of off-beat, quirky humorous pop-rock that once ruled the radio during the heyday of Weezer, Harvey Danger and Nada Surf. And they do it just as well as any of those three, if not better.
5. Noah and the Whale – Peaceful. The World Lays Me Down – As twee indie-pop goes, Noah and the Whale have it nailed down. Cute/poignant lyrics, rinky-dink instrumentation, the whole thing has that wonderful tape-and-construction-pape r feel. But unlike a lot of their peers, these guys write songs. Good ones. Sometimes, great ones. Maybe my favorite twee-pop album since the first couple Belle & Sebastian discs.
4. Alkaline Trio – Agony & Irony – By now, we know what to expect from Alkaline Trio. So what to do when you can’t really do things differently? Simple – do them better! Agony & Irony take their dark, Burton-esque melodic pop/rock (not so much punk anymore) and hitch it to the best batch of songs they’re written in years. The Trio have always had a knack for great occasional tracks, but unlike the last few albums there’s no B-material on the B-side of this one. Plus they take what should by all rights be completely worn out tropes and still manage to make them clever.
3. Jack’s Mannequin – The Glass Passenger – Andrew McMahon is free of cancer and, apparently, free of any need to work within constraints any longer. The Glass Passenger is a sprawling piano-pop masterpiece.
2. Old 97’s – Blame It On Gravity – By now, we know what to expect from The Old 97’s. So what to do when you can’t really do things differently? Simple – do them better! (See what I did there? Clever, innit?) No really, this is just the most solid set of tracks they’ve done in years. The Easy Way, Here’s To The Halcyon, and Color Of A Lonely Heart Is Blue went instantly to the top of my “favorite Old 97’s” songs list. Their last album, while unfairly panned, felt a bit perfunctory – a number of the tracks were songs that didn’t make the cut for previous albums. This time out, they feel fully revitalized. Rhett is clearly channeling his best material into the 97s again instead of his solo jaunts, and it makes all the difference.
and this year’s #1 is…
1. The Gaslight Anthem – The ‘59 Sound – Like I said back at the beginning, this was far and away my favorite album of the year. In fact, I pretty much knew it was going to top my year-end list from the first listen I gave it back in June – I’ve been comparing everything I’ve heard since to it, and nothing’s come close. In terms of songwriting, production, instrumentation, track order/flow, thematic strength, it’s nothing short of perfect. It’s 12 tracks, any of which would have been one of my favorite singles of the year, and yet 90% of the time I listen to the whole thing together as an album because it’s so much more than the mere sum of it’s parts. I could run out a list of comparators – Against Me, Social Distortion, John Mellancamp, Springsteen – or of stuff they reference – Audrey Hepburn, Casablanca, sailor tattoos, Springsteen again – but the album is so rich with them all, so fully imbued with their essence, that it’s at once wholly of its antecedents and entirely singular. Just a spectacular triumph.
Honorable Mentions go to:
Parts and Labor – Receivers
Armor for Sleep – The Way Out Is Broken EP
Los Campesinos – Hold On Now, Youngster…
The Matches – A Band In Hope
Ghost Town Trio – Have You Heard EP
The Maine – Can’t Stop Won’t Stop