My Top 10 Albums of the Year, 2008

I missed out on doing this last year – I don’t recall why, but I’m sure I had a good reason. Or not. Nevertheless, it didn’t happen, and much to my surprise, people complained. So it’s back this year. If you’d like to see my previous “best of” lists, you can find them here: 2006, 2005 & 2004.

This year was a pretty good year for music that I like – a good mixture of rock, pop and techno all came out this year. I also moved, and now have more time to listen to music on my commute, so I’ve been very appreciative of it. So, without further ado, here’s my best albums of the year, in alphabetical (by artist) order:

Beck - Modern Guilt Beck – Modern Guilt

I think that this is the album that “The Information” was trying to be – introspective and serious – meditations on loss and death. With Danger Mouse producing, Beck’s tendancy to play with historical genres never overwhelms the songs themselves. An exquisite disc that rewards a close listen in headphones – both for Beck’s signature imagery as well as the music itself.

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The Bug - London Zoo The Bug – London Zoo

Welcome to dubstep, everyone! A potentially crass cashing-in on the rise in popularity of a sound he helped create, Kevin Martin ends up delivering one of the most polished techno albums in years. While clearly aimed at radio, what with clearly defined 5-minute tracks, it’s a pounding disc that I can’t get enough of. Like much of the music I liked this year, it’s simultaneously a subtle disc, with new layers of sound revealing themselves only with a careful listening. That being said, I defy you to listen to this and NOT want to dance.

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Clark - Turning Dragon Clark – Turning Dragon

Techno of a completely different variety infuses Clark’s ‘Turning Dragon’, possibly some of the most complex techno I’ve heard since Plastikman way back when. Agressively dirty in sound, there’s still seemingly endless strands of loops, clicks, whirrs, bleeps and the like fading in and out of this disc. Played loud on crappy speakers this hearkens back to 90’s industrial (that’s a good thing), but use good headphones/sound system and you’ll be rewarded not only with crunchy techno, but also wasps of much more ephemeral sounds as well, creating a fascinating, but also somewhat unsettling soundscape.

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Fleet Foxes - eponymous Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes

Sweet, nearly choral folk unlike anything else I’ve heard lately, this album, for all its quiet wonderment, exploded into the scene this year. Of all my picks, I suspect that this will a)show up on the most other top 10 lists and b)be the most divisive. I’ll warn you now – if you loathe CSNY or the Beach Boys, you’ll not like Fleet Foxes. That being said, they seem to sum up where a lot of more richly layered folk sounds of late (including the psych-folk types like Devendra Banhart) have been aiming for. Exquisite harmonies and rich, traditional arrangements make this album unmissable.

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Lindstrom - Where you go I go too Lindstrøm – Where you Go I Go Too

This album claims the prize for “most unexpected” this year. I was expecting a mellow, ambient album, and instead, while still in the realm of ambient, it’s got a foot firmly in the world of disco. And somehow, it works. This has quickly become a favourite of mine for when working late – it blends into the background when I need to concentrate, but when I focus on it too, there’s enough going on to reward the ears.

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Santogold - eponymous Santogold – Santogold

Apparently, Santogold comes from A&R, has written tracks for Ashlee Simpson, but Diplo is listed as a producer. Those seeminly irreconcilable worlds come together to great effect on her debut, which is something like a journey through the past – sampling a little bit of new wave, global hip-hop, dance pop and more. Through it all, Santogold holds it together with her voice and excellent songwriting. She reminds me somewhat of “Mutations”-era Beck – playing with different genres to find a wholly new one all her own.

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TV on the Radio - Sounds of Science TV on the Radio – Sounds of Science

I’m not sure I can say anything effusive about this album that hasn’t been said by critics before, but let me just say this: this is a nearly perfect indie-rock album – it’s optimistic, forward-looking, musically dense, lyrically obtuse, both catchy and somehow austere at the same time. This album might like the Pet Shop Boy’s “Very” – so good tht TV on the Radio should never make another album, as it will likely pale in comparison.

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Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend

This album came out early in the year and is already suffering some backlash, but I unabashedly love this album: it’s catchy, you can sing along to it, it has a new(/old) sound and is nerdy – the album contains one of my all-time favourite lines “Who gives a fuck about an oxford comma?”. This album was on repeat more than any other this year in my playlist, and despite hearing it everywhere, I still haven’t tired of it, which bodes well for its future.

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Chad VanGaalen - Soft Airplane Chad VanGaalen – Soft Airplane

CVG reminds me of Neil Young in all the good ways – fragile, plaintive, delicate and dark, yet somehow never depressing, but rather, uplifting. He’s also a master instrumentalist and crafts some of the more elegant soundscapes you’ll likely ever hear, mixing in seemingly a million different instruments, off-beat percussion, and then, just when you think it might overwhelm the song, he pulls it all back until you’re left with just him and his guitar.

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Walkmen - You and Me Walkmen – You & Me

The Walkmen are a band that have slowly, but surely, grown on me – I wasn’t a huge fan when I first heard them, but I’ve liked them more and more with each listen and each album. You & Me was no different. My first reaction was “Meh” – it felt a little like they were channeling The National – and I still think they are to some degree – for a band that was known for devolving (in the best sense) into noise rock on a regular basis, this is an incredibly tight, controlled album. The exquisite production on this album still makes me believe that this songs will travel well, and simply opens up new doors for the Walkmen live – keep it soft and controlled or let loose as they’re known for – this collection certainly supports both directions.

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That’s it for this year! Let me know what albums you think I’ve missed in the comments.