Friday, December 19, 2008

My Top 40 Albums of 2008: Numbers 16 Through 9

So, we've come to the second last installment of my Top 40 Albums of 2008. Before plunging into the fray once more, I will attempt to remind you of what music the summer of 2008 brought with it. July kicked off with releases by Beck, The Black Ghosts, Ratatat, The Hold Steady, and an excellent Kitsune remix album by Digitalism. The month ended with albums from post-punk veterans Wire, CSS, Bodies of Water, Little Ones, Friendly Fires, The Black Kids, and The Great Northwest. Of course there was also a rather disappointing new album from Primal Scream and the debut from Ida Maria, whose song Better When You're Naked has drilled a painful hole into the back of my skull.

The latter half of summer, namely August, saw records from Vanilla Swingers, The Faint, Noah and the Whale, Late of the Pier, The Stills, Ra Ra Riot, and Pop Levi. There were also records that have already appeared in this countdown, including those from Van She, The Deer Tracks, and Duchess Says. August also brought the solo debut by Conor Oberst, which I confess confused me since I figured he essentially was Bright Eyes, and The Airbourne Toxic Event released their debut album, culminating in pointless, unwinnable wars with Pitchfork. And there was the seemingly inevitable comeback album from The Verve that I frankly didn't need.

Almost there...

16. We Just Are - The Japanese Popstars

Though this debut from Irish electronic outfit The Japanese Popstars is yet to release in North America, I'm still counting its release as in 2008. It is everything I've been waiting for in an electronic record after the excitement over Justice, Simian Mobile Disco, Boys Noize, and Digitalism last year. There are mind-shattering moments of violent electronics balanced with gentle percolation of synth sound and flashes of laser. In essence, there's a sophistication to the gritty power of the beats - it's a bit like being bloodily taken out by a hitman in a very nice suit.

Sample Whore - The Japanese Popstars

Delboys Revenge - The Japanese Popstars

15. Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! - Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds

I'm not an expert on Nick Cave - I only own some Birthday Party and his From Her to Eternity album. But I like to think I know a fantastic album when I hear one and the latest from Cave and his Bad Seeds is just that. After his Grinderman project, Cave appears to have returned to his older group in fine form with dark, vivid storytelling and his haunting habit of weaving a spell on par with mysterious religions; Cave's rich, raspy voice is that of a worldly preacher who has already seen plenty of fire and brimstone here on Earth, but who has also encountered the ridiculous in humanity's flaws and had a good, smoke-rattled laugh about it. I already included the excellent single that shares its title with the album in a previous mix, but that gives me an opportunity to showcase some of the other great tracks on a record which takes you on a journey through raw rock soundscapes and dusty midnights the colour of loneliness. If anyone can commune with the recently raised from the dead and show them a good time, it's Nick Cave.

Night of the Lotus Eaters - Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds

More News From Nowhere - Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds

14. Do You Like Rock Music? - British Sea Power

British Sea Power's third album seemed to crash through the barricades at the start of this year, raising the Brighton-based band's profile around the world. This record fuses the band's trademark arcane wit with heart-fluttering songs that recall the spiritual intensity of artists like The Arcade Fire. Songs like No Lucifer and Waving Flags took unlikely subject matter of impending apocalypses and immigration and created anthems of inspiring beauty, and then songs like Lights Out For Darkier Skies, Atom, and Down on the Ground justified the record's title a thousand times over. A light aura seems to permeate the entire album with a gentle glow that works its way into your blood until every cell in your body is singing.

Waving Flags - British Sea Power

Atom - British Sea Power

13. Limbo, Panto - Wild Beasts

This record was unexpected in that it completely marches to its own drummer. And the drummer is a fey public school boy with a multiple personality disorder and a touch of satyriasis. The Klaus Nomi-inflected vocals with Finn Andrews-like anguished growls paired with the quirky patchwork of musical styles and equally offbeat, though literate, lyrics made for an endlessly interesting listen. Some may hate this album, but I love it. And I suppose, in the end, it's one of those kind of records.

Vigil For a Fuddy Duddy - Wild Beasts

Woebegone Wanderers - Wild Beasts

12. Surreal Auteur - Allegories

While I may not listen to all that much ambient music on a regular basis, Canadian duo Allegories transcends this particular genre, and all other genres for that matter. The intricate tapestry of this debut album is composed of three major movements that wash over you with unknowable yet familiar sounds, connecting with parts of you that you didn't know existed until its gauzy web tapped into your nervous system. This record reaches inside you and plants roots, ensuring your imagination will blossom with your own narratives.

Grass Toboggan - Allegories

Acro(nym) - Allegories

11. Everything/Everything - Simon Bookish

This album defines the current Information Age where everything comes at you all of the time, and classically-trained songwriter/musician Simon Bookish (real name: Leo Chadburn) has the skills to communicate the hubbub and overload via music perfectly. The jumble of musical styles and tempos convey urgency and apathy in equal turns as it bounds from brass clarion calls to vaudeville chamber pop to electronic whizzbangs. Bookish's hushed baritone is the voice of our times as he ruminates from what sounds like a fortress designed by Roald Dahl.

The Flood - Simon Bookish

Victorinox - Simon Bookish

10. Ladyhawke - Ladyhawke

And so the parade from Modular continues - their A&R people deserve many an accolade. Ladyhawke AKA Pip Brown had been skipping about my radar a long time before her debut album actually released. She has managed to glean and utilize all that was good about 80s electronic music without sounding passé or ironic. The high drama of Magic mingles with the streetwise cool of Manipulating Woman, the disco inferno of Paris is Burning and the driving shimmer of Back of the Van. Her voice has just the right amount of laidback distance and husky attitude and her music is like the solidification of all your favourite, but ephemeral, musical memories.

Magic - Ladyhawke

Professional Suicide - Ladyhawke

9. Velocifero - Ladytron

Another lady, so to speak. This was one of my most anticipated releases of the year, and thankfully, it delivered brilliantly. It will always be difficult to top Destroy Everything You Touch, but this record battles towards that territory with self-assured, measured steps. The fuzzy beats, crisp drum machines and austere synthesizers circle each other in an emotionally taut dance. Highlights include the glam stomp and celtic chant of Ghosts, the clipped rhythm and haughty chords of Deep Blue, and the incessant pulse and infectious groove of Runaway. Named after a stylish Italian scooter, this album projects an atmosphere of clandestine meetings and daring escape. Absolutely mesmerizing.

Ghosts - Ladytron

Deep Blue - Ladytron

The honourable mention this time is the self-titled album from Eugene McGuinness (perhaps I should have made this a countdown of my top albums from slightly eccentric wordy people). This album is full of gleeful jabs of repartee and impish rapiers of drollery while also including melodies bristling with energy and invention. I first became aware of McGuinness via my friend, Lisa, who found a music video on YouTube; his songs about being down a rabbit hole define both of our lives most of the time, so it figures she's the one who found him first. Life is strange and so is this album, which suits me fine.

Moscow State Circus - Eugene McGuinness

Next week the upper echelons of my countdown will be revealed - from what I can tell, I'm not really converging too well with anyone else's list, but you probably already noticed that. Considering there haven't been any more comments for this series one way or another, I will take the silence as agreement, or at the very least, tolerance. Or perhaps indifference. No matter. This weekend also brings the second part of my weekly mix year-end round-up.


Rol said...

It reassures me that the further down your list you go, the more I know! I'm a big Nick Cave fan, but a few stand-out tracks aside, I just couldn't get into Dig!!, though I appreciate his return to ROCK.

JC said...

Great list....looking forward to its conclusion.

And if you read this Rol....its one of those albums where the songs sound far better played live.....

JC said...

Re the lack of comments.....its just the way things go at this time of the year. Fewer hits and fewer comments (put it down to the regular audience not being at work/college etc and when they are at home they have no time to themselves...)

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