Written by Nathan Mattise
Maybe this list won’t be showing up on hip blogs (i.e. largehearted boy or Fimoculous) like dozens of other year end lists . So what? Everyone is entitled to an opinion and if you want to be a music writer one day, isn’t a year end album list among your most basic debates? I’ve reviewed music in Albuquerque, Stroudsburg and Syracuse and throughout college… but it’s time for my first year end list.
A few guidelines to start:
- If I’ve seen an act perform live it will inherently increase the value of the corresponding album (pending that I enjoyed their performance – apologies to The Walkmen).
- If the album released in 2008 doesn’t get any plays on my iPod over a previous album, the album’s value significantly decreases (sorry Bloc Party, Coldplay, etc.)
- If I haven’t fully heard the album, I can’t rank it. I listen to a decent amount of online radio and college radio then proceed to download entire albums based off that. Not to mention I use Music Rescue for iPod recommendations off friends. (Translation: I would hope to hear things at least once and then desire to download them if engaging. Sorry Fleet Foxes).
- Finally, an album can be included in the best of list without necessarily being a “complete” album – meaning two or three tracks that require repeating can carry an album past tracks you always skip (this rule would infinitely help something like Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible).
With that out of the way, it’s time for the list. In descending order…
8. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend
Their blog-darling status is well-documented (even by rival ivy schools). No matter what status you give Vampire Weekend – everything from “Band to Watch” to “Overrated” within one site – give them credit. They went from playing homemade tunes about Peter Gabriel in Syracuse Waffle shops to having Peter Gabriel cover them in the course of a year. The album has straight up indie rock tracks like A-Punk and plenty of the afro-pop influenced / dubbed “Paul Simon”-esque stuff like Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa. Listen to decide for yourself but Vampire Weekend has certainly made people at least listen.
7. Re-Arrange Us – Mates of State
The much advertised husband and wife duo made another album full of irresistible indie pop. The top half of the album is tough to ignore. The (potentially) election year charged Get Better, Conan-track My Only Offer and the title track all before the album’s midway point. Recommendations from KCRW’s Nic Harcourt and usage on This American Life are characteristic of their sound: upbeat, extremely melodic, simple arrangements. Characteristics that lead to singing along and tapping your foot.
6. The Rhumb Line – Ra Ra Riot
Disclaimer: I am permanently hot for Ra Ra Riot. I’ve watched the band since their inception because they started at my alma mater. The Rhumb Line marks an album at least two years in the making. It’s filled with their unique indie ensemble sound and filled with lots of emotion and deep reflection to honor their lost bandmate John Pike. Sounds like a dark album right? Despite all that goes into it the music is upbeat, filled with the band’s signature unmatched level of energy. Rolling Stone said they were one of 6 acts shaping rock today, hear for yourself.
5. Circus – Britney Spears
Go ahead and laugh, but every year end list should include a major Top 40 record. The music is unavoidable (and it’s Top 40 for a reason – so many people like it. Means someone is doing something right). Britney gets the nod over Sasha Fierce for me for a few reasons. Spears is still the most searched person alive. She’s battled through such ridiculous critical negativity in recent years. But despite all the additional baggage her career has she continues to make incredibly catchy, dancehall friendly albums. Womanizer has to be the song in clubs for the last portion of 2008 and if the title track is any indication, Spears will continue to dominate the landscape in ’09.
4. Tha Carter III – Lil’ Wayne
Similarly, year end lists have been quick to find the it mainstream rap, R&B or hip-hop album of the year and sing its praises as of late (see Timbaland in ’07, Kanye in ’05). No one comes close to taking that crown from Weezy this year. He was on SNL, he sells out stadiums across the country and even turned Kevin Rudolf into a chart topper. Lil’ Wayne’s knack for a beat, title of best rapper alive and attention to pop-culture made him an unstoppable force in ’08.
3. Oracular Spectacular – MGMT
I CANNOT STOP LISTENING TO THE ELECTRIC FEEL. I don’t think I’m the only one. The duo turned band opened for Beck on tour and also made Wayne Coyne’s year end recommendations. They capitalized on the resurgence of synth-based dance music (i.e. JUSTICE) and gave it a harder edge with tunes like the aforementioned Feel, Time to Pretend and Of Moons, Birds and Monsters. Toss in experimental filler tracks like Weekend Wars and the album can serve as a full entity or just a vehicle f0r the three to four tracks you can’t help repeating.
2. Feed The Animals – Girl Talk
He simply produces a musical entity unlike anything else and this is his most audience friendly album yet. In the past hardcore fans would flock to his shows despite the jerkiness of some of his more experimental tracks. Now the party has only intensified because crowds are bigger and more diverse because Girl Talk’s mashup abilities are now produced and more polished. On Feed the Animals he has seamless tracks that combine everything from Heart and The Guess Who to Young Jeezy and the Ying Yang Twins. Listen to the whole album for non-stop dancing, select individual tracks to dissect the intricacies of his genius sample combinations. It’s arguably the one album you must hear in 2008.
1. Elephant Shell – Tokyo Police Club
This is the great forgotten album of 2008 – lost amidst everyone’s (justified) love for MGMT, Lil’ Wayne, Girl Talk, TV on the Radio, Fleet Foxes and the rest of the year end chart toppers. It’s 13 songs in less than a half hour with no track reaching 3 minutes in length. Tokyo Police Club took the short, compact, edgy alt-rock song to heights not seen since Green Day’s prime. The music is bass and guitar riff heavy, think “uptempo” on speed with a subtle knack for lyrics that would have lead singer Dave Monks in Gibbard or Finn territory if not for his occasional affinity for robots and sci-fi. Try Your English is Good for the rock jist of the album and Tessilate for Monks’ ability to shine through (FYI: He made the word up because it fit and now it’s been thrown around on at least college campuses).
Others in serious consideration: I Am… Sasha Fierce – Beyonce Knowles | Narrow Stairs – Death Cab for Cutie | Viva La Vida – Coldplay | In Ghost Colours – Cut Copy
(Links today from MySpace, YouTube, Stereogum, Wikipedia and ABC News)