Friday, December 12, 2008

My Top 40 Albums of 2008: Numbers 24 Through 17

Welcome back. It's the third installment of the countdown of my top 40 albums of 2008, and by the end of this one, we're over halfways there. Here's a quick reminder of what got to our ears in May and June of this year. May was dominated by releases from Death Cab For Cutie, Spiritualized, No Age, and Alex Turner's latest project, The Last Shadow Puppets; outside of indie-blogland, Amy Winehouse replacement number two, Duffy, made her debut and thus Mercy became the bane of my existence. There were also releases from The Daysleepers, Zombie Zombie, The Very Sexuals, Titus Andronicus, The Delays, The Dandy Warhols, Jeremy Jay, The Futureheads and Booka Shade while The Charlatans rather anti-climactically released You Cross My Path after they had anti-climactically come up with the idea to give it away for free earlier in the year. The old guard was duly represented in May by Elvis Costello and the Imposters, The Wedding Present and Bonnie "Prince" Billy. Even Scarlett Johansson dropped an album.

June had the hipsters slobbering over releases by Fleet Foxes, Sigur Ros and the increasingly annoying and overrated The Ting Tings (to think I thought one of their songs was all right a year and a half ago). Swedish popster Lykke Li also became a bloghold name while albums from The Zutons, Paul Weller, Weezer, The Fratellis, Ladytron, Martha Wainwright, The Virgins, People Noise, Wolf Parade, Allegories, The Kid, Wild Beasts, Don Juan Dracula, Jim Noir associates The Beep Seals, White Denim, Infadels, Stereolab, Volente, Andrea Liuzza, The Subways, and yes, even Sparks, released. There were also albums from artists that have already graced this countdown, including The Notwist and The Presets. Also, in the outside world of music popularity, faux lesbian Katy Perry released her debut album, and so one of the least attractive homages to pin-up girls became a star and a new song became the bane of my existence as it sneaked about malls and episodes of So, You Think You Can Dance. And of course June saw the release of 2008's bestselling album (yes, it's sadly official): Coldplay's Viva La Vida.

Onwards and upwards...

24. Life After Ridge - Twig

I have a feeling this isn't a typical top album of 2008 choice. Maybe because most people haven't heard of the Swedish band Twig, especially because it can be difficult to search and find them when there are other bands with the same name. Or you may just end up with sites on actual twigs. To me, they manage to mash together the feel of The Smiths and New Order behind a flamboyant, Edwin Collinsesque voice. The album ranges from the unbridled jubilance of Ciao Ciao Bomb to the melodical moodiness of Indigo, and they manage to work within a cataclysm of the New Romantic and jangle pop. This is their first official release apart from several singles for Cloudberry Records, where their honest and quirky pop fits perfectly. There is something stubbornly C86/post-punk about them and I am completely disarmed.

Ciao Ciao Bomb - Twig

Constance and Her Cousin - Twig

23. V - Van She

Here's another group from the Modular roster. This debut LP (Van She has previously released an EP) was long awaited and it delivered beyond what I had expected based on the previous work by this Australian foursome. V is full of atmospheric, mind-bending psychedelia in addition to some of the expected 80s-influenced electropop and a gentle hipness reminiscent of retro hipsters Phoenix. The hissing mind explosion of Cat & the Eye, the pumping sophistication of Changes, the pouting slinkiness of Strangers, and the revamped anthemic exhilaration of Kelly push this album into the playlists for cool kid parties all over the world. Refreshing as a turquoise swimming pool.

Strangers - Van She

Kelly - Van She

22. Cut the World - Moscow Olympics

Like Twig's Life After the Ridge, this album by Phillippines-based band Moscow Olympics may seem an odd choice and probably won't appear on anybody else's lists. That's hugely unfortunate because this album is a twinkling gem of a shoegaze album. It's as if the whole album is made of spun sugar, fragile but glittering with grains of sweet luminosity. With a dreaminess reminiscent of The Radio Dept. and New Order's Ceremony, this record hangs in the air like the fragnance of lilacs on a summer day. A truly staggering debut.

Carolyn - Moscow Olympics

Cut the World - Moscow Olympics

21. O My Heart - Mother Mother

This sophomore album from Canadian band Mother Mother is a genre-smashing effort full of offbeat lyrics and phrasing. The band's taut energy alternately bangs its head, croons passionately over folk textures, and spikes holes through pop bubbles - sometimes all in the same song. They've developed that organic several-working-as-one-body aesthetic that they came out with on their debut album; now they are flawlessly combining elements that likely shouldn't belong together, and they do it with an insouciant aplomb. The relatively simple track Ghosting still gives me goosebumps when I listen to it. This album is the sound of a band that doesn't take itself seriously, but who have some serious talent.

O My Heart - Mother Mother

Hayloft - Mother Mother

20. Hold On Now Youngster - Los Campesinos!

As with MGMT, I attempted to resist Los Campesinos! for as long as I could because of their hype, but in the end, I had to admit the Welsh band made a cracking debut album. Their music is as exclamatory as their name and song titles (many of which wordy emo bands would kill to have written), and they feel like a younger, wittier Broken Social Social Scene. Melodies blast forth from within the punky cacophony and their shouty vocals are infectious. Though Los Campesinos! ambitiously released their sophomore album We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed later this year, their debut is the one that has had the most effect on me. They've made an art form of cantering about like verbose children, playfully splashing about in their own stream of consciousness.

Death to Los Campesinos! - Los Campesinos!

Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks - Los Campesinos!

19. Dear Science - TV on the Radio

When TV on the Radio first started getting buzz, including some from David Bowie, years ago, I took note and definitely appreciated their work on EPs and their debut album. However, Dear Science has made this significant band more accessible and memorable for me, and thus connected with me at a deeper level than before. The musical styles have fused beyond gospel, beyond electro, beyond funk, beyond hip hop - Tunde Adebimpe's raspy, soulful falsetto has reached inside me and nestled in my solar plexus. The dexterity in this record's lyrical phrasing is so complex and brilliant, you have to acknowledge the musicality of language itself. Through this lyrical, rhythmic quality, I have also come to realize just how intelligent and poetic TV on the Radio's lyrics are; for example, on Family Tree, the lyrics run, "We're laying in the shadow of your family tree/Your haunted heart and me/Brought down by an old idea whose time has come/And in the shadow of the gallows of your family tree/There's a hundred hearts soar free/Pumping blood to the roots of evil to keep it young." That is art.

Dancing Choose - TV on the Radio

Family Tree - TV on the Radio

18. Saturdays = Youth - M83

Now that Anthony Gonzalez has taken complete control over French musical entity M83, he has managed to produce an airy album in tribute to all those 80s American teen movies, and more importantly, what those movies signify - that belief that the underdog can fight back against the unfairness of the high school pecking order, that belief that impossible romance can culminate at prom, that belief that being a teenager is one of the most tragic and sweet times of one's life. Gonzalez melds all these emotions into a swirling, expansive soundscape of emotional intensity, and with the aid of Morgan Kibby's ethereal vocals, he creates a record of breathy anticipation and latent hopes. One of the songs of the year should surely be Kim & Jessie, a soaring anthem that sounds like how an evening summer breeze would feel against bare legs under a cotton skirt - the pumping synths take you back to unironic, youthful fantasy, prompting memories you wish you had.

Kim & Jessie - M83

Couleurs - M83

17. Aurora - The Deer Tracks

This Swedish duo has created the musical equivalent of lying on your back on a hill and picking out shapes in the clouds. Their shimmering musical palette keeps subtly shifting before you until it creates an entirely new formation of imagination and wispy curliques of curiosity. You can feel the strength of damp, living earth behind your spine as the misty images conjured by synths and keyboards drift dizzyingly above your head, and for a moment, you can tell the Earth is rotating. I also encourage you to watch their breathtaking video for the song Slow Collision. Named for the ephemeral displays of light in the night sky, this album is humming with an unseen magnetism from a parallel dimension where thoughts manifest themselves in the static-filled sky.

Yes, This is My Broken Shield - The Deer Tracks

127 Sex Fyra - The Deer Tracks

The honourable mention for this part of the countdown is Transient Blood by The Kid. It's not a very typical choice - hey, even I was caught a little off-guard. But I can't deny that I love this album's effervescent electropop aesthetic. It is unapologetically catchy, and yes, the track Transient Dance does feel a lot like New Order's Krafty, but they take it somewhere else that I find absolutely blissful. Plus they have a song that goes "Sometimes I scare children and I like it."

Transient Dance - The Kid

Next Friday's installment will crack the top 10 when I cover numbers 16 through 9. And this weekend the Year-End Round-Up for weekly mixes begins.


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