Friday, December 5, 2008

My Top 40 Albums of 2008: Numbers 32 Through 25

Okay, here's the second installment of my Top 40 Albums of 2008. Before we dive into the countdown, I'll jiggle your memory over some of this year's releases in March and April. March came in like a lion with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!, Billy Bragg's Mr. Love and Justice, The Boxing Lesson's Wild Streaks & Windy Days, The Young Knives' Superabundance, Supergrass's Diamond Hoo Ha Man and Hercules & Love Affair's debut self-titled album. March seemed to go out like a lion as well with releases from Crystal Castles, Fuck Buttons, We Are Scientists, These New Puritans, Neon Neon, The Kills, The Dodos, Devotchka and The Raconteurs. This was also the month we saw the release of Elbow's Mercury Prize-winning The Seldom Seen Kid and the hugely overrated Foals' Antidotes (what happened to that math rock fad anyway?).

April saw the return of some heavy hitters like REM and Portishead in addition to sophomore albums from Frightened Rabbit, Jim Noir, Cut Copy, The Kooks (why in the name of all that is pure and sacred?) and The Long Blondes ("Couples" being one of my bigger disappointments this year). There were also releases from Clinic, Tindersticks, Polysics, Tokyo Police Club, The Indelicates, M83, The Black Keys, and Moscow Olympics. Lastly, there was also the release of a double disc from Apparat full of remixes by and of the German artist.

And so we forge ahead to the list...

32. Seventh Tree - Goldfrapp

This album was one of the surprises of the year when it released in February. Gone were the sleazy glam beats; instead, a gentle, vulnerable psychedelic-folk stood in their place. Perhaps it was a bit of a return to Felt Mountain, and it could seem like a regressive trajectory when most artists have started with psychedelic-folk before leaping headlong into glam, but it is a refreshing rebirth. With Alison Goldfrapp's soaring, spine-tingling vocals and a warm, sensual beauty to the music, Seventh Tree still retains the ambient side of electro. Seventh Tree feels like climbing into an old, dusty wardrobe and finding yourself in a pastoral world full of speaking beasts and dryads or like slipping through the shivering surface of a looking-glass and revelling in a flower garden that can converse with you. It is innocent and frothy, yet it commands like a gypsy circus come to steal you away.

Clowns - Goldfrapp

A&E - Goldfrapp

31. Die Off Songbird - Maps of Norway

This is the Minneapolis band's sophomore album and it is an incredibly efferevescent piece of post-punk, full of propulsive guitars and singer Rebecca Leigh's dynamic vocals awash in a disorienting reverb. Leigh wavers from Debbie Harry to Elizabeth Fraser against an insistent moody background of driven rhythm and glacial accents. Often, Leigh's vocals are exotically incomprehensible, but the cadences and tone make you not want to bog yourself down in lyrical detail. There is a patience to this album, a willingness to submit to a brilliant few bars and repeat them until they build into a monumental payoff of magic spell-like proportions.

Cage the Lions - Maps of Norway

The Runout - Maps of Norway

30. Hercules & Love Affair - Hercules & Love Affair

I was a little perplexed to hear that Antony Hegarty from Antony and the Johnsons would be helping to front a disco band. Then when I heard the result, I was sold. In fact, Blind should be one of the top singles of the year. Hegarty's warbliness, which usually puts me off, transforms into a sorrowful soulfulness that works perfectly with the disco-influenced electronics. The combination of the other two vocalists, Kim Ann Foxman and Nomi, adds a breathier, funkier counterpoint to Hegarty. To me, this album is more about loss than celebration; at the same time, it pulses with a streetwise will to survive and to move on to a retro bassline. Hercules & Love Affair will definitely enter the mythology and pantheon of electronic music.

Time Will - Hercules & Love Affair

Athene - Hercules & Love Affair

29. The Devil, You + Me - The Notwist

It has taken this German band six years to follow up their indie hit Neon Golden, and it was worth the wait. It still has the moody shoegaze atmosphere to it that Neon Golden had, but it has shed the warm quirks for a metallic spinning. The record reminds me of a swiftly tilting planet, a balletic behemoth singing to itself as it makes its way through the vacuum of space. The lyrics seem more haunted and dwell more on the fallibility of people. The wobbly dissonance of songs like Where in This World projects an image of hurtling through frozen space and drifting through the grinding friction caused by the music of the spheres.

Gloomy Planets - The Notwist

Gravity - The Notwist

28. The Jade Motel - Zeigeist

Despite the fact Zeigeist has been rumoured to be connected to fellow Swedish electronic act The Knife, this album seemed to come out of nowhere for me, and it smacked me in the face. Pretty hard. It is just one of those perfect electro albums that mixes caustic, but sexy vocals with hard-hitting beats and buzzy synths. The unhinged performance of tracks like Tar Heart runs up and down your body like fizzy electricity, and tracks like Bunny make you feel like you're trying to keep your balance in a funhouse. There's a hint of violence and insanity about this record - something JG Ballard about it - and it makes you want to spend the night.

Tar Heart - Zeigeist

Wrecked Metal - Zeigeist

27. The Stand-Ins - Okkervil River

I hadn't really gotten into Okkervil River until this year, but I'm so thankful that I have. They aren't just straight-ahead folk - there's an unexpected wit and propensity for expansive pop-rock sensibilities. Their latest album is just as amazing with its variety of bitter ballads and humourous upbeat tracks. The itchy impatience of Lost Coastlines is a fantastic piece of storytelling, depicting the mental state of someone unsure of the future. Its music canters about in unpredictable, yet familiar, ways as vocals switch back and forth. And songs like Singer Songwriter are worthy of Morrissey or Luke Haines in their articulate barbs: "You come from wealth/Yeah, you got wealth/What a bitch, they didn't give you much else/I heard cuts by The Kinks on your speakers/I saw Poe and Artaud on your shelves/While The Last Laugh's first scene on your flat panel screen/Lit Chanel that you've wrapped around yourself/You've got outsider art by an artist you arguably kidnapped to pin on the wall/Your designers have slyly directed the eye down pink lines here and your well lit pawn." It speaks for itself really.

Lost Coastlines - Okkervil River

Singer Songwriter - Okkervil River

26. Evolutionary Sunset Call - stanleylucasrevolution

I was thrown off guard by this truly independent album from California-based Sean Robertson's enigmatic project stanleylucasrevolution. It manages to compress self-loathing, self-belief, courage and fear into an uncomprising, truly experimental album. It's difficult to pin down the style as Evolutionary Sunset Call blends elements from country, spaghetti western, electro, trip hop, glam rock and psychedelia while adding vocal samples. Expertly stitched together with musical interludes, it tells the story of living in the shadows, but longing for change and a way out without succumbing to the safety of sliding back in. It's a bit like witnessing someone come to terms with him/herself after several bouts with the broken mirror.

25. Oracular Spectacular - MGMT

I tried to ignore MGMT for a very long time - the hipster hype behind them was overwhelming (already beginning last year), which always sets off warning bells for me. After an inadvertent listen to Time to Pretend, I had to admit they had one good song. Then after a begrudging listen to Electric Feel, I had to acknowledge they had two really good songs. Then after a more open listen to Kids, I came to see that they had three great songs. Finally, later this year, I realized they had a rather splendid album. There's something both wide-eyed technicolour dreamer and prococious glam slut about Oracular Spectacular. At the same time, it struts along with a self-assured funky falsetto and a hippie LSD sway. It's an album that the youth of 2008 will look back at and remember with fondness.

The Youth - MGMT

Kids - MGMT

The honourable mention for this post is Midnight Boom by The Kills. It's a punchy, raw album with short blasts of bolshy, fuzzed-out songs and minimalist ticking tracks. While Alison Mosshart's vocals range from tough to breathless, the yelps on one of the best songs of Midnight Boom, Tape Song, are interestingly reminiscent of Tegan and Sara. With this record, The Kills are everything The Ting Tings wish they could be.

What New York Used to Be - The Kills

Stay tuned for next Friday's rundown of numbers 24 through 17. And thank you for all of your comments thus far.


Baron von Wasteland said...

Hi! Some really good choices you've made here. My name's Baron von Wasteland. I know the owner of Stanleylucasrevolution's label, Stroboscopic Records. He's a pretty nice guy, and has given my band Distant Neighbor some much-needed and -appreciated support. Anyway, Stanleylucasrevolution's pretty great, I agree. Well, that's it. If you're so inclined, please feel free to drop me a line at Take care.

Baron von Wasteland said...

Hi! Some really good choices you've made here. My name's Baron von Wasteland. I'm a MySpace friend of Ian's, the owner of Stanleylucasrevolution's label, Stroboscopic Records. He's a pretty nice guy, and has given my band Distant Neighbor some much-needed and -appreciated support. Anyway, Stanleylucasrevolution's pretty great, I agree. Well, that's it. If you're so inclined, please feel free to drop me a line at Thanks, and take care.

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