Monday, December 15, 2008

Sonically Speaking - Best of '08

Top 10 albums lists never bode well with me. Although I listen to a fair share of music throughout the year, I don’t come close to listening to the amount that “real” critics encounter. Therefore, my last few albums tend to be solid albums but not necessarily all time favorites of mine. I also discover a lot more music that has not been released in 2008 but would represent my year of listening much better such as Menomena or Rogue Wave. With all those clarifiers out of the way though, I can’t help but make a “best of 2008” list because let’s be serious, who doesn’t love lists? And this time I’m going to stick to albums released in 2008.

10. Sam Amidon – All is Well

This guy from New York came to Taylor for an IFC concert and although I could only stay for half of his live performance, I was convinced that this guy was … well, weird. Amidst his songs, he rambled on about inane philosophies and enjoyed showing us his chicken impression. Suffice it to say, I was left wanting more. I did pick up his album simply because I had heard a few bits on iTunes and liked what I heard. I’m thankful I did. Relying on old Appalachian folk songs, the simple guitar plucking supported by strings and other assorted instruments make for some hauntingly good music.

9. The Cool Kids – The Bake Sale

That’s right, a rap album made it to my top 10 … but then again, I’ve always had a soft spot for well produced rap music. The Cool Kids, a collaborative effort with a guy from Chicago and Detroit, make some old school beats that you can’t help but nod your head to. I originally heard about them from RELEVANT Magazine’s editor (Cameron Strang) via their podcast. I downloaded the album, thought it decent but put it on the backburner for a while. But within the last month or so, Morgan and I have officially made them the soundtrack to Mario Kart 64 (try it sometime) and considering the amount of MK64 we play, they’ve quickly become favorites. With relatively zero sustenance to their lyrics (although void of much profanity as well), The Cool Kids bring a good time, anytime.

8. MGMT – Purchased Music

These guys write pop songs. To be honest, I don’t have a bunch of stories or reasons why I like these guys so much other than their music is catchy so I keep listening.

7. Fleet Foxes – [self-titled]

Beautiful harmonies. Beautiful music. Take a listen. I need to sit down and listen to the lyrics a bit more but these guys rule. Signed to SupPop, I’ve come to realize those guys don’t produce a whole lot of crappy bands.

6. Son Lux – At War with Walls & Mazes

Electronica? (Is that what this is classified as?) I first heard Son Lux off a sampler I got from Calvin College’s Faith & Music conference. I only had two songs to listen to so when the full length came out in the spring, I was quick to purchase this one. With simple phrases often repeated alongside electronically produced music, one might think it alike all other electronic albums. My answer to that would be that Son Lux’s lyrics are more like a spiritual repetition of words to engrain them in one’s soul rather than a catchphrase to accompany repetitive techno beats. Also, Andy Whitman from Paste Magazine and Johnmark Hatfield (my musically inclined cousin) think Son Lux is great.

5. Death Cab for Cutie – Narrow Stairs

I listened to the single “I will possess your heart” to death before the actual album came out but it remains one of my favorite tracks off the album. I had rather high expectations for this album considering Death Cab’s last three albums would all most likely make my top 25. Although I can’t say that I was completely blown away by their second major label production, Narrow Stairs definitely has its high points. Bixby Canyon Bridge” is a near perfect opener with lyrics reflecting Gibbard’s inner struggles alongside crunching guitars and “Cath…” proves that DCFC still rules the “lost love” category of song writing. A few of the tracks (Talking Bird) lose my attention and others hover around mediocrity but I’m glad to say that Death Cab has not “sold” themselves over the mainstream. From what I can tell, they still have plenty of steam left.

4. Vampire Weekend – [self-titled]

Preppy, ivy-league pop music that occasionally utilizes a few African instruments. Why would Vampire Weekend not be in my top 10? Some may say their music is too simple or whatever but I think they’re missing the point. This is a pop album. The guys may all be rich and go to ivy league schools where they are probably pampered and disconnected with life (at least that’s the impression I get from what I’ve seen) but they write music that makes you feel good. I think they accomplished what they set out to do.

3. Coldplay – Viva la Vida

I had low expectations for this one after X&Y. Although X&Y wasn’t a let down, it wasn’t exactly a progression for Coldplay and they kind of claimed their spot in the music world by making music that everyone could like. Gorgeous vocals from Martin etc, easy chord progressions, and it was all so listenable. So when I bought Viva la Vida, I was thrilled to hear a variety of sounds coming from the band. Their two singles were decent but have quickly become two of my least favorite on the album. “Lovers in Japan” and “Yes” each clock in at over six minutes but use the long time length to split the song in two. I personally loved this move, the piano outro on “Japan” is beautiful and the second half of “Yes” reminds me of an m83 song except with Martin crooning in the background. Predictably, this album has sold a bunch and hasn’t broken any musical boundaries but I do think that they are open to other influences and changes in their style. Good job, boys.

2. Sigur Ros – Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust

My Icelandic friends have done it once again. I only found out that Sigur Ros was releasing another album about a week before it dropped so it definitely made a pleasant summer surprise. Where as the quartet has relied on slow building, angelic devices for the large part of their previous albums, Med Sud shows Sigur Ros’s more upbeat, happier side with their opener “Goobledigook” showcasing quick guitar strums and an up-tempo drum. That’s not to say that the entire album is an upbeat ruckus of tunes but the slower building songs deliver as well as any previous album of theirs. Seeing them in concert (which has been a life goal for a few years now) also made me realize that these foreign speaking dudes might make the most beautiful sound in popular music. [One last note – check out their music video for naked people running through the forest.]

1. Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago

The story is over-told but important: Bon Iver (French for good winter) recorded “For Emma” in a Wisconsin cottage after breaking up with his previous band and after dealing with a lengthy sickness. The sound resulting is one more heartfelt and genuine than any emo album put out (suck it Chris Carabba) in the last ten years. They performed at Taylor for what I must say is the best performance I’ve seen at Taylor and the best intimate concert I’ve ever been to. Although restricted to a guitar, drums, bass (and a few other assorted instruments) the simple harmonies and sounds easily earn this album my best of 2008. “Skinny Love” probably received the most plays this year although the entire album is a solid, introspective piece of goodness.


Ben said...

I am pleased to see that I had the presence of mind to have five of these at least... but couldn't you have come out with this list before I got music from you? ;-)

Anonymous said...

I love year end lists, yet share your apprehension about my own - there are a bunch of albums (some of them even on your list) that I'm certain I would enjoy, I just haven't heard them yet. That won't stop me from listing, though.