This was a good year for music. But I guess every year is if you’re looking in the right places. Here are my fifteen favorites — top tracks of 2008 to come when I’m bored over Christmas.
15. The Ting Tings – We Started Nothing
I really don’t listen to this album enough — because I always love it when I do. But this is probably the ass-shakingest record I heard this year. Best tracks: That’s Not My Name, Great DJ
14. The Notwist – The Devil, You + Me
The Notwist’s long-awaited return wasn’t a disappointment. Neon Golden is probably one of my all-time favorites, so they set a pretty high bar. And The Devil, You + Me is a more low key affair, but it’s so complicated and developed, it really sounds unlike anything else out there. Plus, I love a singer with an accent — it makes everything seem more exotic. Best tracks: Boneless, Good Lies (download here)
13. The Submarines – Honeysuckle Weeks
The Submarines’ second album builds well off their debut, with Blake taking more of the spotlight this time around. I’m happy they’ve gotten a ton of publicity because of You, Me and the Bourgeoisie getting play in a Mac ad. A reliable pop band. Best tracks: You, Me and the Bourgeoisie, The Wake Up Song
12. Kris Drever, John McCusker and Roddy Woomble – Before the Ruin
This is a collaboration between Idlewild singer Roddy Woomble and two veteran folkies. Lucky for me, Roddy takes most of the vocal duties. It’s a lot like My Secret is My Silence (Roddy’s solo debut). I have this weird streak where I feel like Scottish folk really resonates with me. I don’t know what this says about my German/Eastern European lineage. Best tracks: Into the Blue, Moments Last Forever
11. Talkdemonic – Eyes at Half Mast
I love this fact that there’s no one around quite like Talkdemonic. No vocals. Just viola, drums, and a moody mix of other instruments. Best tracks: Ending the Orange Glow, Shattered Into Dyes
10. Crystal Castles – Crystal Castles
I like it best when Crystal Castles goes insane. Screeching 8-bit noise, hyper beats and Alice Glass’ distorted screams. This is a great album to freak out to. Best tracks: Xxzxcuzx Me, Alice Practice.
9. Mates of State – Re-Arrange Us
The chances of Mates of State ever releasing an album that doesn’t show up on my year-end list is slim. And even though I don’t know that they’ll make anything as good as Team Boo again, I always love how they change. This time, they’ve classed it up a bit with natural piano sounds and more subdued vocals, but it’s still sweet (in all sorts of ways). Best tracks: Help, Help; Jigsaw
8. Ra Ra Riot – The Rhumb Line
I got into them late in the game, but better late than never, right? I’m a sucker for strings in rock songs and Ra Ra Riot’s two full-time players make them one of my favorite chamber pop acts. They haven’t lost the rock, but they give it a great fresh dimension. Best tracks: Ghost Under Rocks, St. Peter’s Day Festival
7. CSS – Donkey
I liked Donkey more than I ever thought I would. Their first album was cute and brash, but felt silly and pop culture-y. This album maintains the fun-loving aesthetic, but brings newfound sophistication and chops. As I can attest from my experience on Saturday night, they also put on a hell of a live show — catsuits and all. Best tracks: Beautiful Song, How I Became Paranoid
6. The Seedy Seeds – Count The Days
To be honest, I was slightly disappointed by The Seedy Seeds debut — Change States. I loved it, of course, but the songs I liked best were the demos I already knew. This time, however, the tracks were almost all new and almost all great. The one song I had heard before, The Push, received a makeover and the result is my favorite song the band’s ever done. Best tracks: The Push, On the Subject of Our Past Selves
5. Hot Lava – Lavalogy
Incorporating humor into music can be a really risky thing. If you don’t do it right, you turn can turn yourself into a joke and no one takes you seriously. But Hot Lava is playful and goofy without being cloying. For my money, “Blue Dragon” is one of the best tracks of the year. Best tracks: Blue Dragon, Brain Ex
4. Land of Talk – Some Are Lakes
Sometimes when I listen to an album or a song, I get a distinct moment or a specific setting stuck in my head. When I listen to this album, I feel like it’s 3 a.m., I’m stone cold sober and I’m getting into a freezing cold car. It’s pretty damn melancholy.
Some Are Lakes is, by far, the most subtle album on my list. I’m not generally a huge fan of subtlety, but these songs have a slow burn to them that makes them much more effective than if they were more aggressive. Their debut full-length is more singer-songwritery than their EP, but I don’t mind at all. It’s intimate, it’s vulnerable and Elizabeth Powell’s voice is both deadpan and expressive. Best tracks: It’s Okay, Young Bridge
3. Johnny Foreigner – Waited Up Til It Was Light
This is not a challenging record. But that’s fine with me. It’s one of those records that I knew I loved from the very first listen when I heard the single “Salt, Pepa and Spinderella.” Johnny Foreigner is a pop hardcore trio with male/female vocals — one could probably call it emo if that didn’t carry the stigma of self-hating teenagers with knit caps and black nailpolish. But the songs are more about youth and dysfunctional romance and delivered with great energy and impressive technical skill. Alexei’s controlled yelp mixes well with Kelly’s pretty shout, coasting above the consistently loud and energetic riffs. Best tracks: Salt, Pepa and Spinderella, Our Bipolar Friends
2. The Big Sleep – Sleep Forever
I first saw The Big Sleep when they opened up for The Thermals at the Black Cat a couple years ago. It’s always a great feeling to go to a show to see one band and leave the show having gained a new favorite. The Big Sleep took a big leap forward with their second record, making a record that feels less experimental and more assured. Their sound is big, dark and brooding — the guitars are heavy and the synths are agressive. And one of the things I really like about them is that each album has a strong contingent of instrumental tracks. That’s not because the vocals are weak (the male singer has a cool, collected howl and the female singer has an ice water drone).
Furthermore, the band has a great live show that makes their music all the more ominous with the use of their own light kit, which lights them from below. Spooky. Also, the drummer’s hot. Best tracks: Pinkies, Tigers in Our Hearts
1. Los Campesinos! – Hold On Now, Youngster
It shouldn’t really come as a surprise that Los Campesinos! emerged at the top of my year-end list — they’ve easily been the band I’ve talked about the most since they released the first of two albums this year. On the surface, they appear to have everything it takes to win me over — rock riffs, male and female vocalists, twee instrumentation (violins, glockenspiels), etc. But it takes more than a glockenspiel to win my heart (<– the name of my hipster memoir).
Site Map The reason I love this album (for more than just its melodic rock) is because of frontman Gareth Campesinos’ smart alec lyrics and attitude. Los Campesinos are an unabashedly young band — early-twentysomethings who are part of Generation Text. And Gareth doesn’t try to be anything else. (I know I’m going to get shit for this, but Gareth Campesinos and the guy from Fleet Foxes are about the same age. I don’t dislike Fleet Foxes, but that band aspires for timelessness. Los Campesinos!, however, are unafraid to date themselves with proper names — talking about LiveJournal and K Records t-shirts. This strikes me as more authentic for what a band of twentysomethings would create. Then again, I’m an Internet-y kind of guy, so I don’t have much of a connection to the mountaintop folk of Fleet Foxes. If I grew up in Washington state, maybe it’d be a different story. I digress…)
Los Campesinos! are bratty and smart. They’re part of this new Internet-obsessed generation who are savvy enough to be skeptical of the triteness of culture. By the same token, they’re cynical enough to feel hopeless. This is a record made by people my age who are candidly speaking for themselves and not being examined by a sociological pundits. Sure, there may have been more important albums this year but, for my money, this is the album that spoke to me the most. Best tracks: My Year in Lists; Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks
Honorable mentions: Juliana Hatfield – How to Walk Away; Oh No! Oh My! – Dmitrij EP; The Raveonettes – Lust, Lust, Lust; She and Him – Volume One; Sigur Ros – Með Suð í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust