Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Best of 2008

After much thought and deliberation, and a good deal of slacking off, here is my list of top ten albums of the year. These are the ones that never left the iPod, that never left the heavy rotation, the ones whose melodies played in my head before I fell asleep. I've tried to link streamable tracks or mp3s where I could find them.

1. Son Lux - At War with Walls and Mazes
This was an astonishing debut album. Son Lux - real name: Ryan Lott - is an classically trained electronic producer with soul. The songs on this album are all as simple as hymns - there's not much more than a sentence or two of lyrics in each song. But the songs are emotional symphonies, explosions of passion and despair and hopefulness. I played this one all year.

More about Son Lux here. Go get his record. Seriously. You will not be disappointed.

Sample: Raise

2. My Brightest Diamond - A Thousand Shark's Teeth
You all know about my obsession with Shara Worden. She makes good on the promise of her first album with this deeper, more complex, and more layered album. From the crunch of Inside a Boy to the playful kalimba-fueled dance of Apples to the heartbreaking sweep of Ice and the Storm, this is a magnificent record.

Sample: Inside a Boy

3. Shearwater - Rook
A breathtaking album. Jonathan Meiburg's songwriting has never been better, the music never more effective. Wow.

Sample: Leviathan, Bound

4. Cloud Cult - Feel Good Ghosts (Tea-Partying Through Tornadoes)

I already knew I was going to love this when I read this review. Playful and creative songs and a constant theme of wonder and joy.

Sample (video): Everybody Here is a Cloud

5. Juana Molina - Un Día

Juana Molina sings cryptic dazzling songs in Spanish. I have no idea what she's saying. She's completely comfortable with me not knowing what she's saying. She creates her own music with stacks of keyboards, her own guitar, and her looped voice singing mad choruses over and over. This is great stuff.

Sample: Un Día

6. The Fireman - Electric Arguments

Paul McCartney - wow. This record is fuzzy, scuzzy, loud, danceable, and challenging. And beautiful. A great album by an artist I thought was done making great albums.

Sample: Nothing Too Much Out of Sight

7. She & Him - Volume One

If you haven't already caught this bug, I don't know where you've been. Catchy songs, multitracked girl-group vocals, tasteful music. Can't wait for Volume Two.

Sample: Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?

8. Girl Talk - Feed the Animals

This is my first real exposure to Girl Talk, and I was blown away. He takes the last thirty years of popular music, throws it in a blender, pours out the results, and makes it all danceable. Brilliant.

Sample: In Step

9. David Byrne & Brian Eno - Everything That Happens Will Happen Today

This is really all about David Byrne's soaring, inspirational vocals. The music is just a backdrop for his clever lyrics and amazing performance. Unexpectedly moving.

Sample: Strange Overtones

10. Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago

If you haven't heard this, brace yourself. It's quiet, introspective, and absolutely devastating. Listen to it on headphones, in a dark room, while thinking of your last conversation with the first person who broke your heart.

Sample: Flume

Honorable Mentions - Mercury Rev, Snowflake Midnight; Shelby Lynne, Just a Little Lovin', the Hold Steady, Stay Positive; Adele, 19; Esperanza Spaulding, Esperanza; Nine Inch Nails, The Slip; the Ting Tings, We Started Nothing, Fleet Foxes, Fleet Foxes (this would have been higher probably, but I haven't heard the whole record yet).

Song of the Year

Tie: "Inside a Boy" by My Brightest Diamond. Both the original and the remix by Son Lux.

Both songs are amazing. The roaring song by MBD was one of the highlights of her new album. Son Lux' swirling, pulsing reconstruction of the song is one of the best remixes I've ever heard by any artist, and it made me want to hear more of his music.

Biggest Surprise of the Year

The Fireman - Electric Arguments. I thought about naming Son Lux' album here, too, but I can believe that there is a unknown yet brilliant twentysomething composer/producer out there. I did not believe that Paul McCartney would ever make an album this good and this challenging again.

Biggest Disappointment of the Year

My Morning Jacket - Evil Urges. I loved their performance on SNL, and I had such high hopes for this album. But it was just weird in all the wrong ways - an erratic, tragic misfire. I listen to four or five songs off the album and fast-forward the rest. And as for "Highly Suspicious?" I don't even know what to do with that song.

Let me know in the comments what albums I missed or what I got wrong. Have a happy new year, everyone.

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