Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Top Ten Albums 2008

Late to the party! Here's my favorite albums of 2008.

1 Fucked Up – The Chemistry of Common Life/Year of the Pig EP. Fucked Up is a monster of a band. Their sound is endlessly creative, but distinctly grown from hardcore punk. Their singer, who has a style somewhere between Hank Rollins and Ian MacKaye (so, yes, very DC), keeps things punkish, while the band has taken the sound and gone all King Crimson on it. The Year of the Pig EP is mostly taken with the 18-odd minute title cut, 3 shortened edits of it (the UK version is my favorite), and a few toss-off tracks. Although Fucked Up has a bunch of prior EPs and one full-length, 2008 was the first year I heard them, and 2008 was the year of Fucked Up. This I say to you on the day that George Bush has left office.

2 Boris – Smile (both US & Japanese versions). I was unprepared for how much I would love Boris, who combine the best in slow Black Sabbath-y metal, psychedelic avant-rock, and a solid rock heart. Smile is one of their most accessible albums yet, but it still brings the rock and the trippy noise. The Japanese version is a little bit better. Although both albums feature mostly the same tracks, the Japanese version features different mixes and different running times for several tracks, which gives it a slight edge.

3 Oneida – Preteen Weaponry. The creative souls in Oneida have brought their experimentalism to bear on Preteen Weaponry, a single-song, three-track album. The sound reflects the band's kitchen-sink aesthetic of krautrock, garage-rock, Brit-folk, no wave, prog-rock, post-rock (which is really just prog-rock redux, right?) and god knows what else. It's immediately arresting.

4 The Instruments – Dark Småland. Echoing Nico and John Cale's early solo albums, the Instruments are Elephant Six psychedelia through the ears of a cellist. It's utterly beautiful.

5 Why? – Alopecia. One of the leaders of the ethereal hip-hop-ish collective cLOUDDEAD, Why? is resistant to genre, to say the least. I wasn't as taken with TV on the Radio's Dear Science as 98% of the other reviewers out there. Alopecia is the album that I suspect many reviewers wanted Dear Science to be: post-genre, post-everything, and creative as hell.

6 Robert Forster – The Evangelist. When this first came out, my friend William Ham talked about how choked up he got on hearing it. I know what he means. Every song aches in the absence of Forster's fellow Go-Between Grant McLennan, who passed away in 2006. Forster's solo work has never been quite as rich as resonant as it is now.

7 The Hold Steady – Stay Positive. Doesn't move the band forward much, but the (slight) sense of adventure in the production is a welcome new chapter for the band.

8 Black Mountain – In the Future. Everything old is new again. Doesn't mean it's bad, but definitely, defiantly retro.

9 The Dexateens – Lost & Found/The Distant Seconds – Spectral Evidence (tie). The Dexateens album was online-only, but it killed. The Distant Seconds album came out at the very end of the year. And it killed.

10 Earth – The Bees Made Honey In The Lion’s Skull. If Samson was Clint Eastwood and he joined a band instead of shooting people.

11 Deerhoof – Offend Maggie. I feel like I should have loved this more than I did. Their previous album, Friend Opportunity, had diminishing returns for me, and I'm afraid some of that rubbed off on my feelings for Offend Maggie.

12 Harvey Milk – Life… The Best Game In Town. A late discovery for me, Harvey Milk plays art-metal that is sometimes something completely different. I like 'em now, and think I'll eventually love them.

13 Destroyer – Trouble In Dreams. Dan Bejar's band continues to get better. Here, they improve on the emotional turmoil of Destroyer's Rubies.

14 The New Year – The New Year. Why is the third New Year album the self-titled one? Perhaps because it's a little more open and naked than any of their past work. The Kadane brothers are getting older, but losing none of their edge.

15 Ponytail – Ice Cream Spiritual. I didn't even know that Captain Beefheart had children.

16 Deerhunter – Microcastle/Weird Era Cont. A mite bit overrated by some, but very good, nonetheless.

17 Earthless – Live At Roadburn. If ZZ Top played krautrock. Not as good as their last two albums, mainly because this album consists of two 30-odd minute live versions of older songs. So points for awesomeness, but points off for stasis.

18 Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes/Sun Giant EP. I like the Fairport Convention and the Band, and I like these, too.

19 Torche – Meanderthal. More metal that's halfway to indie rock. Very entertaining.

20 Vic Chesnutt – Dark Developments. Vic Chesnutt's always a clever and fun songwriter. Having the sometimes-fun/sometimes-profound Elephant Six band Elf Power back him up was a brilliant stroke, and this is his best album in a few years.

honorable mentions

Ruby Suns – Sea Lion
Titus Andronicus – The Airing Of Grievances
Au – Verbs
Dr. Dog – Fate
Los Campesinos! - Hold On Now, Youngster...
Wolf Parade – At Mount Zoomer
Silver Jews – Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea
TV On The Radio – Dear Science

I liked all of these, but I couldn't move any of them into the top 20. Maybe with more time, I'll feel differently.


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