Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Best Albums of 2008

In addition to all the reasons I listed last year, this list is inherently flawed because in the Lizabethan Calendar, 2008 was "The Year of the Sinus Infection." I had four, am currently fighting a fifth, and I’ve tripped the life pharmaceutical for much of the past 12 months as a result. This may have skewed my judgment.

With that in mind, here are The Top Ten Albums Liz Heard in 2008. As always, feel free to mock, judge, and tell us your own favs! (And yes, I acknowledge the irreconcilable whiteness of my picks).

10) The Hold Steady: Stay Positive - The best bar band since the E Street, the Hold Steady’s big, classic rock sound is still going strong on their fourth album. Despite the title, Stay Positive is a slightly darker record than the band’s previous efforts, showing the un-fun side of all those townie parties they love to sing about. While Stay Positive unfortunately peters out towards the end, if you’ve ever found yourself wishing they’d make a movie of On the Road with a soundtrack by AC/DC, this is totally your scene.

9) Jenny Lewis: Acid Tongue Rilo Kiley’s last album Under the Blacklight was under whelming, and I think it’s because the band’s main singer/songwriter Jenny Lewis is putting more effort into her solo work these days. While that makes me murmur disapprovingly like Marge Simpson, it hasn’t stopped me from enjoying Lewis’ second solo effort, Acid Tongue. There are a few missteps, but Acid Tongue is largely chock full of goodies that showcase Lewis’ crystal vase of a voice and her ever-increasing songwriting capabilities. Rockabilly rave-up “See Fernando” and roadhouse stomper “Jack Killed Mom” are worth the price of purchase/time of pirated download alone.

8) Ra Ra Riot: The Rhumb Line - Take one part new wave, one and a half parts Arcade Fire, half a part Belle and Sebastian, two parts mind-numbing cold of Syracuse, NY and voilá, you have this record of intimate anthems by an exciting new band. The song “Winter ’05” - which might be about their drummer who mysteriously drowned last year - is one of the prettiest/saddest songs on the year.

7) The Walkmen: You & Me -
This whole album sounds like it was recorded in a bomb shelter, which makes sense in a way, because so many of the songs start off kind of muddled and murky and then explode into a caterwaul of uplifting fuzz. People have been trying to get me into The Walkmen for years, this album finally did it.

6) Sigur Rós: med sud I eyrum vid spilum endalaust This Icelandic band writes what appear to be mini rock operas for woodland gnomes in a made-up language. And it’s awesome! I have no idea what they’re saying, but they speak to my soul. Definitely not for everyone, but I urge you to check them out and give them a chance.

5) Okkervil River: The Stand Ins - Okkervil River wins the award for “Most Self-Loathing Band,” and we’re all the better for it. On last year’s The Stage Names and this year’s The Stand Ins, the band chronicles the downsides of playing music and touring (isolation, disconnect, fraying relationships, etc.) but covers these themes in catchy, witty, folksy rock songs that have you gleefully humming along to someone else’s misery. And ain’t that what pop is all about?

4) She & Him: Vol. I Not only does she have gorgeous eyes, cool bangs and decent acting chops, it turns out Zooey Deschanel is also a good singer/songwriter. I officially hate her. But I sure do like this album she did with M. Ward. It’s a fleeting record with sparse arrangements rooted in country, folk and ‘60s girl group, but there’s something about it that’s more than the sum of its parts. Listening to it reminds me of taking a leisurely drive through the countryside on a sunny day in a convertible, which – it should be noted – I’ve never done. But this sounds like what that should feel like, you know?

3) The Helio Sequence: Keep your Eyes Ahead Back before they finally got kind of a big, I could never understand why Spoon wasn’t more popular. Not in that music snob, “Why do people only like simple, poppy junk?” kind of way, but specifically because Spoon was poppy and catchy. I have similar feelings about the Helio Sequence. There are so many bands out there borrowing from Pearl Jam, Death Cab for Cutie and Bob Dylan, but none seem to do it as well as this deceptively unassuming group. Keep your Eyes Ahead will not blow your mind, unless you thought riffs and chords could never be interesting again.

2) TV on the Radio: Dear Science - TVotR’s first album gave me a headache. I liked their second album, but not as much as most people did. With their third album, the band finally achieves its lifelong goal: impressing me. Dear Science is a poetic, hard-rocking dance record that is perfect for parties, driving, grocery shopping and sitting in your room being mad at the world. In other words, a classic.

1) Los Campesinos!: Hold on now, youngster… - Everyone has a musical wheelhouse; that sweet spot that just gets you every time. If you love smoky R&B, you probably can’t resist Mary J. Blige. If you love smack-induced, mid-century jazz, Miles Davis is your idea of an audio homerun. Personally, I’m a sucker for distorted power chords driving lyrics that sound inspired by a hyper-literate teenager’s journal. And so it follows that I love Los Campesinos! The Welsh band remarkably released two full-length albums in 2008, and both are quite good, but it’s the first that made it to the top of this shelf. Hold on Now, Youngster... begins at a break-neck pace and never lets up over 12 songs, pumping out melody after melody, and choice phrase after choice phrase (“You looked less like the Venus De Milo/And more like your mother in a straightjacket”). I’m sure there were more innovative, groundbreaking works of minstrelship released this year, but none I enjoyed listening to more.

Honorable Mentions:

Cut off Your Hands: You and I - A band from New Zealand makes the record The Smiths would have written had Prozac been available in Manchester circa 1982.

Death Cab for Cutie: Narrow Stairs - All those O.C. name checks may have killed their cred, but I think Death Cab is still one of the most consistent exporters of good music working today.

The Gaslight Anthem: Spirit of ’59 - Punk rock from New Jersey with a Springsteen bent (natch).


red said...

You are so cool, Liz. She & Him, Jenny Lewis and Ra Ra Riot would be on my list, too. Plus, I'd add Ben Folds: Way to Normal and Black Kids: Partie Traumatic.

MichelleSG said...

What no Metallica? They finally came out with an album that sounds like the old them, pre-therapy. Their first post therapy album sucked, this one? It's the good stuff again.

Dr Zibbs said...

I've got to get that Jenny Lewis album!

K and/or K said...

The Hold Steady and Sigur Ros are favorites of ours! Love it.

Thanks for the post, I'm stocking up the ipod before I fly to Bangkok and totally need these recommendations now that I know we share taste in tunes.

McGone said...

Yep, I got none of these. This is just like that feeling I got when I scrolled through the Onion Av Club's album of the year picks this morning. At best I can say I have a copy of "Under the Blacklight" which got a passing mention in this list. That hardly counts (and "underwhelming" is an accurate description of that one).

pistols at dawn said...

I think it's laudable that you keep giving a lot of these bands a chance. After seeing the Walkmen and hearing how great they were for the past five years, I wouldn't listen to anything they do. TV on the Radio was similarly underwhelming (as were the other bands I remember from that era, like Forget Cassettes).

I will check out that #1 stunna, though, since it seems promising. After all, I can only listen to that Hold Steady record for so long, and since the Gaslight Anthem are roughly as punk as Billy Joel, I'll need something else to underscore the touching montage that will sum up my year.

Garney said...

A lot of these I haven't listened to yet and will have to check em out since all of them sound good, though I'm not a very big fan of The Walkmen.

Here's my list of what I would call my Favorite Albums of 2008:
1. Dr. Dog - Fate
2. TV On the Radio - Dear Science
3. Coldplay - Viva La Vida
4. Ben Folds - Way To Normal
5. Counting Crows - Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings
6. Beck - Modern Guilt
7. Cold War Kids - Loyalty To Loyalty
8. Weezer - Weezer (Red)
9. Death Cab For Cutie - Narrow Stairs
10. R.E.M. - Accelerate
Honorable Mentions: Al Green - Lay It Down / Gnarls Barkley - The Odd Couple / Jason Mraz - We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things

Del-V said...

I went to middle school with David Sitek (the white guy) from TVotR.

My pick for album of the year is the Raconteurs - Consolers of the Lonely.

danielle970 said...

I fully intend to check out every single album you all listed. Thanks for the suggestions!!

Oh, and I'm pleased to see that the Black Kids made Red's cut, mostly b/c it validates my random song pick the other day. And I'm surprised no one chose Vampire Weekend for their list! Too mainstream? What do I know, I'm horrible with what's cool these days.

The Imaginary Reviewer said...

I'd add the new Mogwai album, The Hawk is Howling, as well as Tindersticks, The Hungry Saw. Oh, and The Seldom Seen Kid by Elbow.

Haven't heard the Walkmen album, but I'm glad it's good. Bows and Arrows is superb; The Rat is one of my favourite songs ever.

BeckEye said...

Hmm. No songs from any of these albums made my Top 20 song list that will be forthcoming. Well, "Godspeed" and "Carpetbaggers" from "Acid Tongue" almost did, but they lost out to Jenny Lewis' song from "Bolt." And no, it has nothing to do with John Travolta. I just really like the song.

Oh wait, something from "Narrow Stairs" made it.

words words words said...

I didn't get to buy many albums this year, so my sample size is small, but my favorites were by far Consolers of the Lonely by The Raconteurs and Evil Urges by My Morning Jacket.

I have been meaning to listen to The Hold Steady and The Walkmen for some time now. My tastes run toward anything that will make the neighbors call the police. I also just heard The Gaslight Anthem on Conan last night and liked them, even if I immediately thought they were trying to be Bruce.

Falwless said...

You people are way too hip for me. I feel like I'm in sixth grade again, wearing my hand-me-down sneakers at recess while you all snicker.

Eff you all.

Liz said...

I swear I'm not trying to ingratiate myself with the Pitchfork crowd with my pics here, this is just what I listen to. No one likes a hipster.

I must admitt, I haven't heard the new Metallica or the new Rancontuers. And Danielle, a lot of year end lists are giving Vampire Weekend a lot of fun. I like them, but not "Top Ten" like them.

Liz said...

Did I say "giving Vampire Weekend a lot of fun"? I meant "a lot of love"

words words words said...

Fal, everyone will be hipper than you as long as Starland Vocal Band and the Archies remain in your rotation.

Sharon said...

I can't believe TVOTR is your #2. Seriously? I think that record sucks.

Otherwise, good picks, although I'd knock Hold Steady and your Jenny L. off the Top 10 in favor of some other hepcats...also, Ra Ra Riot is probably in my Top 5. Perfect pop record, truly.

d said...

Ra Ra Riot and Okkervil River, yes. Amazing albums. I have a girl crush on Jenny Lewis.

Sigur Ros, however, makes my ears bleed. I just cannot get into it. Don't know why.

Anonymous said...

The Walkmen's "You & Me" was my fave album of the year, hands down. And I dug organist Walt Martin's awesome choices for best of 2008.

His top 10 is a featured list on, you gotta check it out.

Anonymous said...

Great list Liz, but what does it say about my taste in music that I don’t own even one of these albums? I thought I would reply to your list with my top five list of the best guilty pleasure songs of 2008. I have also included one choice lyrics from each song:

5. Low - Flo Rida
Them Baggy sweat pants
And the rebocks with the straps, with the straps
She turned around and gave that big booty a slap

4. 'Touch My Body' - Mariah Carey
If it’s a camera up in here
Then I best not catch this flick on YouTube, YouTube

3. 'I Kissed a Girl' - Katy Perry,
I kissed a girl and I liked it
The taste of her cherry chap stick
I kissed a girl just to try it
I hope my boyfriend don't mind it

2. Independent Chick – Webbie
She cook, she clean, never smell like onion ring

1.Sensual Seduction – Snoop Dogg
She might be with him, but she’s thinking bout me, me, meee,
We gonna go to the mall, we gonna go out to eat, eat, eat,


LYDIA said...

Yeah for Jenny Lewis, Sigur Ros and She & Him!

Nathaniel said...

Where is the Black Kids!

red clay said...

no bon iver?

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