Friday, November 28, 2008

My Top 40 Albums of 2008: Numbers 40 Through 33

As promised, here's the first installment of my top albums of 2008. At the very beginning, I wanted to do a top 20; then it became a top 25; soon after, I made it a 35; eventually, it ended up as a top 40. Of course it now means that every Friday til the end of the year will feature a rather odd yet even eight albums. I will admit that I was still listening and arranging today. The inherent disclaimer in all this is that this list is of my top albums, in other words my favourites. That means that I didn't listen to every major release this year, let alone every release (even music nerds need some silence once and awhile), so I may either be missing out on some potential top albums or I may just be disinclined toward them in the first place - feel free to let me know what your personal favourites of the year were.

Before I dive into the countdown, I'm going to remind you a little bit about what was released in the first two months of 2008. (I was originally going to go a la The Big Fat Quiz of the Year and review the music events of every few months of the year, but I realized that I'm no match for such an activity, especially when I have difficulty remembering what I ate yesterday.) The year kicked off with releases by British Sea Power, The Magnetic Fields, Cat Power, Lightspeed Champion, Sons & Daughters, Beangrowers, the soundtrack for the hipster film phenomenon Juno, and the infinitely bloggable Vampire Weekend, a band that still leaves me completely cold despite the year seemingly belonging to them. As much as their pretentious, arty lyrics and Afro influences should draw me in, they end up sounding like a watery Paul Simon to me. February brought Hot Chip's highly anticipated third album and Goldfrapp's unexpected pastoral turn along with releases from Robots in Disguise, Dirtbombs, The Mountain Goats, The Raveonettes and another Amy Winehouse substitute, Adele. There were also debut LPs by Antarctica Takes All!, Los Campesinos! and the less exclamatory School of Language. Justin Vernon's first album as Bon Iver also made its official release in February.

On to the countdown:

40. The Penguin League - Anarctica Takes All!

As mentioned in the intro, The Penguin League released early in 2008, though it had been previously self-released by the Santa Cruz band. From the first burst of energy coming off the opening track I'm No Lover (featuring the great line "I'm not a lover, but a fighter"), the album cartwheels over itself like an even more puppyish Sufjan Stevens. Using glockenspiels, accordion, violin, harmonica and brass, the record is an eclectic mixture of folk, twee, and shambolic pop. Despite its rather frozen motif, its heart is warm enough to melt any ice shelf.

39. This Gift - Sons & Daughters

On their third album, the Glaswegian quartet turned to Bernard Butler for their production. The result is a blistering, whirling dervish of an album that takes the slightly dark folky bits evident on their excellent debut Love the Cup and transforms them into buzzsaw riffs and big choruses while the darkness continues to bubble beneath the surface like tar. Adele Bethel and Scott Paterson's vocals play off each other and blend in haunting combinations while the pace never slackens. I was fortunate to see them live early this year and it was an absolutely raucous show that largely showcased this record.

38. Apocalypso - The Presets

It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of the Modular record label - rarely is there an artist on their roster that I'm not excited about. Having said that, I didn't pay quite as close attention to the Australian electro act The Presets as I did to many of their peers. It took their second album to really grab and shake my attention like ripe fruit from my skull. There's a hard edge to their synthpop sensibilities, closer to labelmate MSTRKRFT than Cut Copy or Van She, and there are definitely viral melodies along with the relentless beats. The deep, often overwrought vocals can be both soulful and theatrical while the music leaps from grimy depths to soaring heights of melodrama.

37. Sea From Shore - School of Language

Also mentioned in the intro, this is the Sunderland group's first album, but not exactly. School of Language was born as a side project of the band Field Music, which is composed of David and Peter Brewis and Andrew Moore, a group that had already released two albums of their own. It is also fitting that two of the tracks (Disappointment '99 and Extended Holiday) feature members of The Futureheads not only because one of the Brewis brothers used to play drums for The Futureheads, but also because I detect a similar off-kilter jittery quality in some parts of the record, including the chorus of vowel recitation permeating the Rockist quartet, a group of four songs that bracket the album. Sea From Shore also shares the wry wit and wacky rhythms that seem inherent in bands from the Northeast while adding smoother melodic surfaces and laidback grooves.

36. The Colour of Snow - Polarkreis 18

This album is the fourth from these five friends from Dresden. It shares a similar dramatic, but atmospheric quality to Mew, and electronic elements are fused with gossamer vocals, creating a blinding panorama of translucence and light. There's also a widescreen epic feel to the tracks on this record, ranging from a boundless energy akin to a child on a snow day to melancholic swathes of sound like wind-sculpted drifts. Listening to this record is a bit like staring through the spidery patterns of frost on windowpanes - with one breath it could shift like a kaleidoscope.

35. L'anthologie des 3 perchoirs - Duchess Says

I wrote a review of this album way back around the time of its release and I stand by my opinion of this Montreal band. This record is the perfect blend of violent electro and punk that screams through every bone in your body like electric shock therapy. Daisy Chainsaw-like banshee howls punch and pummel their way through distorted beats and ominous synths. It's like a roller derby on a rink of broken glass.

34. Everything That Happens Will Happen Today - David Byrne and Brian Eno

It was the duo that many music fans wished would team back up again. David Byrne and Brian Eno hadn't worked together since their classic 1981 album My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, a mixture of tribal rhythms and experimental electronics. This time Byrne and Eno tackle gospel and create an uplifting journey, shimmering with reverb and redemption. Byrne's vocals are bold and warm as burnished brass and the lyrics are optimistic yet ambivalent and witty enough for the cynical age we live in. At the same time, Eno's characteristic experimental flourishes are still present. Tentative tendrils of hope poke through this record despite a mundane reality the colour of gunmetal and concrete. This album is the equivalent of a baptismal font for a human race that has just gone on too long.

33. For Emma, Forever Ago - Bon Iver

This particular album is bound to be on many a year-end list. It has been critically acclaimed everywhere you look. Justin Vernon famously wrote this record while spending three months in a remote cabin in Wisconsin. For Emma, Forever Ago is a document of catharsis and healing, and it emanates a profound solitude and gentle desperation. Sung in a raspy falsetto over acoustic guitar, there is an undeniable intimacy and rawness to these songs as though Vernon was slowly chipping away at his pain-clad heart with weary, calloused hands. In the process, he created a universal spark that has now been nourished by thousands of people worldwide, making it a toasty bon hiver indeed.

For each part of this countdown series, I will also include one album that almost made my list. The honourable mention for this installment is Hot Chip's Made in the Dark. Hot Chip's third album was a colourful patchwork of styles, ranging from dancefloor anthems to vulnerable ballads. Notably, Ready For the Floor, with its goofy music video, was an enormous hit that I keep coming back to.

Shake a Fist - Hot Chip

Numbers 32 through 25 will be coming at you next Friday. And this Sunday is the dreaded CTRNR Christmas Mix.


Rol said...

An interesting list so far - some things for me to check out, I reckon. I only own one of them (Bon Iver, but I couldn't really get into it), though I've been meaning to pick up the latest Sons & Daughters for ages.

anglopunk said...

I like Bon Iver and think the album is definitely worthy of being a part of this list, but unlike in most other people's lists, it is sitting comparatively low because I didn't get into it as much as quite a large number of other albums.

Not to mention, I constantly feel the need to re-shuffle my list now that's it's solidified. The doubts of a person who just loves too much music.

Taylor M said...

When you get there, don't forget to submit your Top 10 blog post to Hype Machine:

TOPMAN said...

Great influences throughout.... if I didn't know better, I'd swear YOU were ME!

dona said...

this blog is fantastic and you are an amazing writer. thank you so much for sharing this list! very good choices indeed. i can't wait for the rest! =)

elliusbellius said...

wow, and i was having a hard time with my top 10 list, while you are easily dishing out 35. :O

I can't wait to see what your top choices are. ;)

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