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.
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.