10 "Best" Albums of 2008

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Feb 18 2009, 9:32

Every year, the music critics around the globe sift through their piles of CDs and concoct their list of top albums of the year. While I cannot boast such a musical knowledge, dissect each chord progression so accurately, or spend countless hours examining each genre, I have compiled my tentative Top 10 Albums for 2008. However lackluster this musical year may have been, or incomplete my knowledge may be, let the kudos begin.

#10: Ra Ra Riot - The Rhumb Line


Sometimes the greatest creations spawn from one's greatest losses. Such is the case for Ra Ra Riot's debut album, The Rhumb Line. The Syracuse sextet garnered quick praise and fellowship from their acclaimed Ra Ra Riot EP and genuine live performances. In 2007, however, the band suffered tragedy as their drummer drowned following a show afterparty. It is this incident, though, which imbues The Rhumb Line with life. Each song springs to life in a semi-somber celebration of life - or rather the loss of it. An audience can simultaneously dance to the spiky indie-dance drum beats and stream tears (of sorrow or joy?) at the delicate, tasteful string work. Ghost Under Rocks, Oh, La, and Run My Mouth exemplify the band's ability to manipulate both the listener's feelings and their feet. The Rhumb Line is a joyous celebration of our lives - a dance in the dark dedicated to what we've kept and have lost.


#9: Coldplay - Viva La Vida Or Death And All Of His Friends


Let's get the initial concerns out of the way. Yes, this album is overplayed. Yes, every single person on planet Earth probably owns it. Yes, Parachutes and A Rush of Blood to the Head are better. And yes, if I hear the single Viva la Vida one more time, I will be forced to unleash my fists of fury upon the closest individual (that one's for you, Nick). Given all this, however, the quality and caliber of Coldplay's 4th album cannot be disputed. From start to finish, Viva la Vida is a creative, polished work of art. The album has produced 4 chart-topping hits. The simple "soft rock" underpinnings of albums past remain, but edginess and growth are omnipresent. The beefier song lengths of Lovers in Japan/Reign of Love and Yes, may deter casual listeners, but patience and a general affinity for good music will attract any fan. The instrumental sections may be the best, as Life in Technicolor may just be the best intro song of 2008, with Chris Martin himself saying he didn't want to "spoil" the song with lyrics. The recurring passages of Life in Technicolor and Death and all of his friends serve as bookends, providing a sense of unity and maturity to the album. In all, Viva la Vida provides another solid sequel in the Coldplay discography. Once the hype dies down, serious listeners will begin to truly appreciate the genius and relevance of this album.


#8: The Verve - Forth


Forth forever etches The Verve as the best later-Britpop era band. While Blur has explored its famously eclectic tastes (no disrespect to Blur, Damon Albarn, or his side projects), The Verve has managed to remain rooted in their style while simultaneously evolving. Compared to Oasis? The Gallaghers' 2008 counterpart Dig Out Your Soul feels bloated, lackluster and over-digitalized compared to Forth. Their first album since 1998's smash Urban Hymns, the downsized quartet picks up flawlessly where they left off. Listeners will be greeted by the similar soundscapes of Sit And Wonder and Rather Be. Several songs hearken back to the more psychedelic days of A Storm In Heaven, while Noise Epic, Columbo, and Appalachian Springs are bound to be stoner favorites. Only the lead single Love Is Noise disappoints, with an annoying hook and less-than-genuine lyrics. All in all, however, Forth fails to disappoint the Verve listener: a solid album with all the stoner spaciness and late-driving car tunes a listener could want.


#7: Bloc Party - Intimacy


I am at once hesitant and confident to reveal Intimacy as a key album of 2008. Following the footsteps of fellow Brits Radiohead, Bloc Party opted for minimal advertising and publicity for their album. In fact, the album was announced only a few short days before the online release. Just as they have opted for this mainstream skittishness in business, their music hardly resembles the BP of years past. The whirlwind of Silent Alarm and pensiveness of A Weekend In The City are replaced by a more spiky and punctuated Intimacy. On many songs, traditional instruments are replaced with electronics and beats. In perhaps the best song, Signs, Gordon Moakes trades his bass for a glockenspiel, and Matt Tong programs big beat into a drum machine. On Halo and Talons, the band reverts to guitars and bass, producing solid indie-rock reminiscent of Silent Alarm. All this change does have its hindrances, though. Biko and Zepherus endeavor to cross genre lines, but come off as over-indulgent or trying too hard. And Ares and Mercury are just downright annoying. Given this, it's clear that Bloc Party wants to distance itself from the typical structures of indie-rock. While Intimacy is imperfect and at times frustrating, the listener can't help but listen in anticipation of that "perfected" sound. For their indifference to mainstream appeal, desire for progress, and ever-changing album content: cheers to Kele and the gang.


#6: The Gaslight Anthem - The '59 Sound


I've never been a fan of Jersey Shore music. Bruce Springsteen. Bon Jovi. Never dug them all too much. And I'm from the Jersey shore. With this in mind, enter The Gaslight Anthem. This New Brunswick, NJ quartet revives what Springsteen and company did back in their heydays. The '59 Sound offers little in terms of ground-breaking material: breakups, love songs, all the norms. Their track Meet Me By The River's Edge even contains direct references to Springsteen works. However, here it is beauty in simplicity that prevails. Great Expectations, The '59 Sound, and The Patient Ferris Wheel are all solid tracks, despite lacking any specific distinguishing features. Even still, its hard to pinpoint why I like The Gaslight Anthem. Maybe it's because they started up in the same college town where I now study at Rutgers. Maybe it's because they're played the same bars and locals that my current band does. Maybe it's because they're from here, they're from near to home. Whatever the reason may be, The Gaslight Anthem does not disappoint. I've no witty observances to point out, no pun on lyrics, or clever play on words to pull: they are simple, they are fresh, and they're what we all need.


#5: Omar A. Rodriguez-Lopez - Old Money


One of the most prolific artists of the decade, Omar Rodriguez is simply...insane. In 2008 alone, Rodriguez released over 7 solo albums, in addition to 1 album with his band. While the majority of his solo work is a jumble of field recordings, abstract musical ideas, and the result of overworking, brilliance shines through on Old Money. On the album, Rodriguez is able to mesh soundscape/noise into the workings and limitations of true songs. Unlike his other work, Rodriguez takes a direct approach to the themes through song titles and mood. This is not to say the music is in any way conventional (or at times, digestible). How to Bill the Bilderberg Group and I Like the Rockefeller's First Two Albums but After That... border on purely nonsensical. Overall though, the balance is maintained. The latin-jazz-prog fusion of The Power of the Myth, Private Fortunes, and Family War Funding achieve a good balance between the noise rock and latin rhythms of Rodriguez's other works. The true genius of Old Money shines through on the final song, the title track. The song Old Money is far and away Rodriguez's best song as a solo musician, combining clarity, definition, and an atmosphere that draws the listener into his guitar work. Overall, while Old Money can be a cacophonous mess, it is the combination of clarity and mayhem which proves that genius is a double-edged sword.


#4: The Last Shadow Puppets - The Age of the Understatement


Had the Arctic Monkeys released an album in 2008, it surely would have peaked my top 3. Despite this, Alex Turner's side project is by no means a pushover. Turner and pal Miles Kane experimented with a unique arrangement for this album. In conjunction to a 3-piece band, The Last Shadow Puppets employ a 22-piece orchestra led by Owen Pallett (The Arcade Fire, Beirut). The result is a truly grandiose experience for those used to the simple riffs and guitars of Turner's Monkeys. The first song, and title track, is a driving victorious melody lead by the Pallett's orchestra. The most polished track remains the bass-driven My Mistakes Were Made for You. In contrast, the final song on the album, The Time Has Come Again, features only vocals and an acoustic guitar. All the while, Turner's punchy observant lyrics pepper each song with bite and relevance. The defining nature of this album is not it's orchestra or big production, but the premise. The Age of the Understatement cements Alex Turner as one of the premier songwriters of our time, whose credibility stands up to his hype and popularity. Indeed, all the disbelievers' "faces seem to need a slap."

#3: Foals - Antidotes


Like their American counterparts at #10, Foals specialize in dance-beat exploitation. Nearly every song, at one point or another, features drum-bass syncopation to drive the song forward. The difference between Foals and Ra Ra Riot is in the implementation and maturity of their songs. While both Antidotes and The Rhumb Line are debuts, Antidotes proposes a much more focused sound. Nearly every track contains Yannis Philippakis' quirky, nearly-unintelligible vocals juxtaposed against sparky, bright guitars, climbing basslines, subtle keyboard accents, and unrelenting drum beats. Antidotes' main success streams from its manipulation of its environment. On Red Socks Pugie and Olympic Airways, the guitars and keys conjure an echoing texture similar to the sounds of a cave or atop a mountain peak. This technique is developed further in Two Steps Twice, resulting in a blazing fast dance beat bound to tear up the dancefloor. In Tron, arguably the album's best song, keyboard builds into guitar which builds upon bass and drum, resulting in a fantastic buildup of energy and tension unlike any other song on the album. The album's only weaknesses are The French Open and Electric Bloom, two songs that never really reach their full tension or capacity in order to leave any significant impact upon the listener. With these observances in mind, the beauty of Antidotes is obvious. Antidotes' songs swell with depth and ambiance, creating an atmosphere unlike any other indie band of our time.

#2: The Kooks - Konk


Chords, chords, chords. Such a simple premise, but so well executed. On The Kooks sophomore album, Luke Pritchard's rhythm once again forms the basis of each song. The result is overwhelmingly positive. Gap and Sway, are crowd favorites driven by strong chords, supportive lead, intelligent bass and tasteful drumming. The development, though, is what sets this album apart. While The Kooks have avowed to only write love songs, the overall quality of Pritchard's lyrics has improved. The best example of improved songwriting is the first track, See the Sun. The lyrics show great signs of improvement in rhyming and metaphor, and the initial chord progression is simply one of the most satisfying moments of any album this year. The Kooks thrive under this new environment and employ varying song structures, such as the acoustic-and-drums One Last Time. While Konk contains a few typical sappy numbers (Love It All, Shine On), it overall maintains a serious note. While for some this album may appear mediocre or only a marginal improvement, it is this album's nostalgia that elevates this album to my #2 spot. The album conjures images of high school senior year: the memories of friends, places, and times that cannot be replicated. While Konk's love songs may be aimed at some arbitrary long-gone woman, to me the songs are a love for what was - what was had. Times go, and everything changes, and that is to be expected and greeted with open arms. But sometimes, and only sometimes, its good to reminisce. Konk not only opens those closed doors of time, but provides a small way to look back and say, Do You Wanna?


#1: The Mars Volta - The Bedlam in Goliath


Now, was this even a surprise? My favorite band, honoring the top position of 2008? It's not so simple. The dynamic of this band and the songwriting are unparalleled to any album previously listed. The Mars Volta is the only band on this list that has consistently re-invented itself from album to album, while still maintaining some sort of homage to their past. Omar Rodriguez, guitarist and mastermind behind The Mars Volta, graces my list twice for his sheer persistence and ability to keep an audience's attention from one work to the next. The most recent Volta album is born of a Ouija board-turned-spiritual-terminal that inhibited the band's ability to function and compose music. However strange the story may seem, the resulting album reflects its resistant birth. The chief reason, thus for TBIG's placement at #1 is its relevance to society today - whether intentional or not. TBIG is an amalgam of tight music writing and organized chaos, tearing through its 75+ minutes of material. From start to finish, the album rages through each song. Aberinkula, Askepios, Tourniquet Man, and Cavalettas seem to ramble at times, making little to no sense - musically or lyrically. Other songs such as Goliath, Ouroborous, and Conjugal Burns almost burst at the seams with energy and tension. The only moment of respite is Soothsayer, the 9+ minute opus. Here, the listener can digest the album: the subtle, haunting instrumentation of strings, background noise from Jerusalem, and clear crisp guitar and vocal work all provide a simultaneously eerie and comforting atmosphere. After listening to The Bedlam in Goliath, one begins to understand its meaning. TBIG parallels our current political and socioeconomic situation: the tumbling economy, deteriorating foreign relations, increased hostility from terrorists, and personal insecurity. Whether or not The Mars Volta realizes the meaning of this creation, they have crafted an album typifying the chaos and detriment 21st century life has upon our world. A cacophonous masterpiece, The Bedlam in Goliath may not be the best album by The Mars Volta, but it is certainly one of the most relevant to our world today.


Honorable Mentions
One Day as a Lion - One Day As A Lion EP
An unusual combination of Zach de la Rocha (Rage Against the Machine) and Jon Theodore (The Mars Volta) as a political rap/rock duo. One of the most refreshing EPs of 2008.
My Morning Jacket - Evil Urges
The follow-up to one of my favorite albums of 2005, Z, Evil Urges is another improvement on the MMJ front.

Dishonorable Mentions
Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend
Sorry guys, I just could not get into this quartet from Columbia University. I found the songs to be too airy, and felt the songs never really made a point. Maybe I'll get into it some day, but I don't anticipate that anytime soon.
Oasis - Dig Out Your Soul
Overproduced, shaky songwriting, and overall poor coordination. Evidence of a band that should have quit while they were ahead. Snide comments and superiority complexes are only entertaining for a while. See entry #8 for more information.

Commenti

  • c0untchocula52

    I'm gonna write a concept album about a band writing a concept album using an ouija board.

    Feb 18 2009, 11:37
  • intheflesh1539

    Yo this is some well written shit right here. I've only really given good listens to 2 of the albums up there but I think you've convinced me to give the others a listen.

    Feb 18 2009, 22:55
  • baconbits89

    antidotes and the '59 sound are just great..and if you can get past the pretty shitty lyrics of the kooks then konk is awesome too...you best be lettin a brotha know what you think of em

    Feb 19 2009, 2:12
  • stevo796

    great list, like the choices although in my opinion, the new oasis album is probably their best since morning glory. will you be doing another one of these lists for 2009?

    Apr 22 2009, 21:55
  • baconbits89

    you know it.

    Apr 23 2009, 3:40
  • pnw13

    You lose all credibility by giving dishonorable mentions to Vampire Weekend and Dig Out Your Soul. If you had any credibility left you'd lose it by putting Mars Volta at #1... seriously, Mars Volta? Laughable. At least you have Ra Ra Riot and The Verve in there.

    Mag 1 2009, 7:10
  • c0untchocula52

    Yeah Tom, you lose all credibility for giving dishonorable mentions to garbage.

    Mag 3 2009, 21:45
  • pnw13

    Yeah, because Vampire Weekend hasn't been universally praised by critics... (sarcasm if you can't sense it)

    Mag 5 2009, 2:36
  • c0untchocula52

    That doesn't mean they don't suck.

    Mag 5 2009, 3:40
  • pnw13

    It means it's probably not "garbage" and probably nowhere near a "dishonorable mention" in the mind of people who actually know all kinds of music, which was your point in the first place; that Vampire Weekend is "garbage."

    Mag 6 2009, 3:52
  • c0untchocula52

    Do you always rely on other critic's opinions to tell you what is good and what is not? Quality is in the eyes and ears of the beholder, critical opinion be damned. The point is that to say someone has no credibility because they do not like something, and then to cite the reason that an artist is good is because of overwhelming critical approval proves nothing besides your inability to form your own opinion. Furthermore, "in the mind of people who actually know all kinds of music" is a bullshit statement. Who gives this band praise? Writers for magazines that usually review bands that encompass a limited variety of musical genres? A dude on Pitchfork? How do you know they listen to all kinds of music? Are you friends with them? Do you unquestionably accept their approval? The only person you need to form your own opinion on whether or not music is pleasing to listen to and is of quality caliber from a song writing standpoint is yourself. So here's the point if it's tl;dr for you, We think Vampire Weekend suck, you do not. We do not care that you like them, it doesn't make a difference to me, or I know, to the original poster. Just don't try to say that having an opinion that doesn't conform to what "people who actually know all kinds of music" say instantly discredits someone. Especially just because you yourself love the band oh so much.

    Mag 6 2009, 19:48
  • pnw13

    And saying you think Vampire Weekend suck is indeed in the eyes and ears of the beholder, critical opinion be damned. So when you criticized me for liking them (not loving as you seem to think, they're a good band, nothing more), by calling them "garbage," I simply defended my taste in music. Indeed, I said the original poster of the journal lost credibility and I said this because of my taste in music, which is entirely subjective. For you to call them "garbage," another entirely subjective statement, and then me defending my taste in music, really sums up what just happened. We could both use many different arguments to defend bands we like and we could both just as easily knock those arguments down since listening to music is, again, subjective. Apologies that I commented on an opinion with an opinion of my own. The author of the journal posted his opinion, publicly, and I responded with my opinion, which I have every right to do. Since you criticized my opinion, I defended myself... although it's clear that with music any argument will just go around and around and never really end. Overall, it'd probably be better if you let it go in the first place, since all I wrote were a few harmless sentences.

    Mag 7 2009, 4:30
  • c0untchocula52

    I wasn't criticizing you for liking the band, I was criticizing you for saying someone loses credibility because they said something you disagree with. There are plenty of people with opinions I disagree with, but that in and of itself does not mean they are unreliable and not credible.

    Mag 7 2009, 15:21
  • komarpower727

    Hey Tom, I just discovered this. I think I should post mine. EXCEPT WITH 20 ALBUMS. YOU JUST BEEN OWNED. I have my qualms about this list.

    Mag 11 2009, 4:29
  • Floydfreakinfan

    This is a pretty good list. Very solid.

    Lug 20 2009, 16:08
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