Best and Worst of 2008

It’s that time again. This will probably be a long post, but I’ve spent a lot of time over the past week or so preparing this (estimating about an hour per album, then 37 hours of listening).

Top 10 albums of the year:
1. For Emma, Forever Ago by Bon Iver
2. Some Are Lakes by Land of Talk
3. The Slip by Nine Inch Nails
4. Punch by Punch Brothers
5. At War With Walls and Mazes by Son Lux
6. Third by Portishead
7. Visiter by The Dodos
8. Falling Off the Lavender Bridge by Lightspeed Champion
9. Oracular Spectacular by MGMT
10. Secular Works by Extra Life

Now to make this easier, basically every major top albums of the year list has already come out, so I know what is strange and what isn’t. Bon Iver, Portishead, the Dodos, and MGMT get at least nods from everyone. Land of Talk isn’t too surprising considering Justin Vernon produced it. NIN probably needs some justification. Well, I’m not a NIN fan, but this album released for download for free, so I said, “Why not?” Imagine my surprise when it blew me away. Lyrically it is quite introspective and philosophical. The songs range from hard rock, to electronica, to beautiful soft soundscape. It is truly an album by a virtuoso.

On the other end of the spectrum are the Punch Brothers. They are sort of like a bluegrass band, yet fully compose their music. The first four tracks are a “suite,” and are more intricate and fully developed than most classical music I know (and I started college as a music major). It really deserves the number 4 spot, or maybe even higher.

I’ve raved about Son Lux before. His music is sort of like NIN, but more approachable. The only reason he is lower is that lyrical basically nothing happens. Lightspeed Champion is really amazing and did get some recognition on lesser known lists. He basically is what would happen if you had someone trained in rap and death metal have a revelation and start writing country music. Yes. It is the most unique sounding band on the list. Lastly, Extra Life has the most sophisticated artistic vision on the list. This group uses Renaissance and earlier melodies and incorporates it into modern “math rock.” This one will probably take the most listens to start to understand.

Honorable mentions:
Blue Lambency Downward by Kayo Dot
Fleet Foxes by Fleet Foxes
Dear Science, by TV on the Radio
Keep Your Eyes Ahead by The Helio Sequence

I don’t think anything needs justification there.

Bottom Five:
Conor Oberst by Conor Oberst
The Airborne Toxic Event by The Airborne Toxic Event
808s and Heartbreak by Kanye West
Perfect Symmetry by Keane
Liferz by Blood on the Wall

Let’s start with Blood on the Wall. I only got this because half way through the year, people who had nearly exactly the same list as me also had this. Big mistake. The thing I dreaded most about listening to the year again was the fact that I knew I had to listen to this garbage again. I almost deleted it from my ipod to pretend like I never got it in order to not have to review it again. Keane usually does stuff I like, but this time the lyrics are horrifically cliche and the music your standard pop. Even worse, they try to spice it up with all these random electronic effects which just makes a bad pop song near unlistenable.

The Kanye album is boring…and bad. The Auto-tune thing sounds very outdated and is used on every track. The background music is even worse with minimal drum machines often sticking out like a bad remake of cliche ’80’s music. Most surprising of all is Conor Oberst, though. I love him usually. Again with the awful lyrics. I never use lyrics to judge an album as I am much more musically than verbally inclined, but when they are this bad it is unavoidable. “He’s gonna DO IT. He’s gonna DO IT. He’s gonna DO IT by hand.” (referring to a post man delivering a letter). Or the upbeat country song in which the phrase “I don’t wanna die in a hospital” is repeated almost exclusively.

Enough of that.

Albums that were evaluated that fell somewhere in between:
Pretty Odd by Panic at the Disco, Some People Have Real Problems by Sia, The Seldom Seen Kid by Elbow, Modern Guilt by Beck, Quaristice by Autechre, Lost Wisdom by Mount Eerie, At Mount Zoomer by Wolf Parade, The Stand-Ins by Okkervil River, Viva La Vida by Coldplay, Another World EP by Antony and the Johnsons, Water Curses EP by Animal Collective, Volume One by She & Him, Rearrange Us by Mates of State, Narrow Stairs by Death Cab for Cutie, Attack and Release by The Black Keys, Vampire Weekend by Vampire Weekend, Lucky by Nada Surf, You & Me by The Walkmen

The attentive reader will note that it is not in alphabetical order and thus it actually is in the order that I ranked them (Pretty Odd being the highest non-honorable mention and You & Me being basically awful but not bottom 5).

As for the top 10 individual songs:
1. “Midnight Surprise” by Lightspeed Champion
2. “Head Down” by NIN
3. “Raise” by Son Lux
4. “Future Reflections” by MGMT
5. “Give Me Back My Heart Attack” by Land of Talk
6. “The Wolves (Act I and II)” by Bon Iver
7. “The Season” by The Dodos
8. “Broken Afternoon” by The Helio Sequence
9. “DLZ” by TVotR
10. “The Bones of You” by Elbow

Props go to The Helio Sequence, TV on the Radio, and Elbow for not having an overall top 10 album but having some great individual song. Also note the placement of Bon Iver at 6 despite having the number 1 overall album. I found this interesting. You just can’t beat Midnight Surprise. Look it up on youtube or something. It is an epic (something like 8 minute) song spanning all sorts of genres. Constantly changing keys and tempos and time signatures and styles and textures. Yet it all continues to flow. I hadn’t listened to the album as a whole in probably 8 months, so I was shocked that I forgot how great that song was and had to make it number 1.

Note that many great bands were not reviewed due to time and monetary constrictions. If you have a top band that you think I overlooked please comment! (I’ve gather from other lists that Deerhunter and My Morning Jacket I have to check out).


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