Friday, December 26, 2008

Top 10 Albums of 2008

10. DeVotchKa : A Mad and Faithful Retelling

Folksy, punky, and full of Slavic, Iberian, and Balkan influences, DeVotchKa's fifth album is as spectacular as the last. One song can jump from Spanish influences, the next can be an entirely instrumental Ukrainian ballad. Amazing that it's only a quartet, as opposed to Beirut's similarly themed 7+ person ensemble. The top track is of course their polished Head Honcho, while Comrade Z adds a certain playfulness. Undone and Strizzalo are romantic and accordion-heavy, evoking provincial France and Italy. Definitely a perfect travelling album.

9. Ratatat: LP3

I can't me more enthusiastic about this album, and the only reason it is no.9 as opposed to 3 or 2 is because of its slight inaccessibility (no lyrics and slightly ADD). Regardless, every song is powerful and has a particular spirit of its own. One is Indian influenced, another Japanese, a third electric-guitar heavy, a fourth drums. The compilation is brilliant, the "hits" spread out evenly rather than lumped into the beginning like with many well-established bands (this is, alas, the fate of the Raconteurs). And as I've said before, Ratatat are best appreciated live, as loud and vibration-heavy as humanly possible. Top tracks: Schiller, Mi Viejo, Mirando, Shempi, Mumtaz Khan.

8. Flogging Molly: Float

You can't go wrong with Celtic Punk! Float succeeds by floating (PUN!) on the strength of two incredible tracks: Paddy's Lament and Float. Which is of course not to say that other songs aren't fantastic as well: Requiem for a Dying Song, Lightning Storm, and Punch Drunk Grinning Soul are just a few of the amazing tracks in this album. If Flogging Molly learned anything from their long career, you can't beat long ballads about Irish nationalism, anti-government sentiments, general melancholy, and of course getting drunk drunk drunk. A toast to fiddles and electric guitars!

7. The Black Keys: Attack and Release
Guitar heavy and formed of only two members, the Black Keys sound like a divine indie rock combo of Jack White and Led Zeppelin. Perfectly packaged, Attack and Release-- their fifth album-- got intense radio play and is undoubtedly one of the best albums of their career. Strange Times and I Got Mine are powerful hits. Other great songs include Same Old Thing and He Won't Break. Attack and Release is the ideal chilling out-music, a type of blues-for-beginners for the indie rock world. Plus, it was produced by Danger Mouse (of Gnarls Barkley fame). Cool? Most definitely.

6. Coldplay: Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends

Hold your criticism, folks: Coldplay came out with a fantastic album! No, I'm not kidding! And the songs don't sound exactly the same for once (the cruel fate of the poorly viewed X & Y)! Before you commence with the scoffing, think about this: Rolling Stone recently wrote that Viva La Vida was the first Coldplay produced by Brian Eno, who proceeded by telling Chris Martin that his songs are monotonous, simple, and conform to the same basic hit-making structure. Thus, Coldplay added bells, violins, more complex melodies, and more profound (and thus less gay) lyrics. And thus Brian Eno has saved another band! Viva la Vida is a veritable wonder. My favorites are the haunting Cemeteries of London, and of course major radio hits Viva la Vida and Violet Hill. And yet every song on this album is unimitatable and just grand; just give Lost, 42, or Strawberry Swing a listen. Plus, I saw Coldplay play this live, and it is just plain magical.

5. The Raconteurs: Consolers of the Lonely

Jack White's 2nd band the Raconteurs have yet another album under their belt, and quite a good one at that. A 2nd album, but no sophomoric attempt. Many think Consolers of the Lonely is even better than the first, Broken Boy Soldiers. The Raconteurs are also no longer hidden under the irresistible aura of Jack White; in concert, White shares the spotlight with his bandmates, and especially Brendon Benson, with whom he originally formed the band. Best hits: the catchy Consoler of the Lonely, Salute Your Solution, and especially the epic The Switch and the Spur. Somewhat Western-influenced, and filled with the sound of trumpets and tambourines, there's nothing better to compliment a hot summer day. Or a blustery Chicago winter, for that matter.

4. Vampire Weekend: Vampire Weekend

A debut album at number 4? Get outta town! And no, I'm not putting Vampire Weekend up here just because I go to Columbia, although it often seems as if Vampire Weekend is just one enormous reference to college life. Just look at the lyrics to the song Campus and you'll see what I mean. Point of the matter is, Vampire Weekend is undoubtedly one of the most original bands to surface in the ubiquitous land of indie pop in years. And the arrangement of the tracks is quite perfect for a stroll around NYC. Even the song M79 is named after the NY bus. The only problem (or perhaps it isn't a problem but a solution?) with Vampire Weekend is its lack of enormous hits; all songs are catchy, from the sweet Oxford Comma to drum-heavy I Stand Corrected. A very cute and very simple album, but there's nothing wrong with being cute in the world of indie pop.

3. MGMT: Oracular Spectacular

Another debut! Nobody-- and I mean nobody-- can possibly say that MGMT isn't one of the most exciting new acts of the year. Time to Pretend was an enormous hit, but I actually prefer electronica-heavy Kids and Electric Feel. The lyrics to The Youth say it all: This is a call of arms to live and love and sleep together/We could flood the streets with love or light or heat whatever/Lock the parents out, cut a rug, twist and shout. MGMT is very conscious of its status in modern hipsterdom, and seems at times a manifesto of modern youth. Of course, this might all be over-analysis, and in that case MGMT's (previously named The Management) Oracular Spectacular is fun, danceable, and totally idiosyncratic... and totally weird. But hey, nothing wrong with being weird.

2. TV on the Radio: Dear Science

This fourth album by TV on the Radio was named the year's best by Spin Magazine, and the only reason I don't put it at #1 is my current obsession with the Fleet Foxes. In any case, Dear Science has some of my favorite tracks of the year, and a gorgeous and highly sentimental compilation. Favorites include Halfway Home, Family Tree, and Love Dog (although I don't quite understand Rolling Stone Magazine's obsession with the bizarre song Golden Age-- they ranked it as one of the best songs of the year!). In my opinion, this is one of the most romantic of all TV on the Radio albums. Especially Love Dog, with its melancholic and adorable lyrics.

1. Fleet Foxes: Fleet Foxes

I LOVE THIS ALBUM. Yes, it is a debut, but it is brilliant. Listening to the Fleet Foxes is akin to running through the woods in autumn, something like Henry David Thoreau mated with a Grimm's Fairy Tale. Just look at the cover art-- a Bruegel illustrating children's games. For a debut, it is definitely refined, and extremely lyrical. Your Protector is my favorite track-- haunting and full of longing and desire. Ragged Wood is remarkably upbeat for its somewhat bizzare and enigmatic lyrics, while White Winter Hymnal is just spectacular. The music video shows a claymation of three bearded men spinning the Wheel of Time. Can this band be any more poetic? I advise any indie devotee to buy/download this album pronto, and spend an evening sipping tea and daydreaming about summer and love.

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