Best Albums of 2008 Revisited. Part 1

>> Tuesday, February 24, 2009

I am going to do a quarterly revisit of my best of the year albums. I am doing this, in part because, it is funny how albums stay the same as you change. You realize that overtime you are listening to some albums more than others, and some you are not listening to at all after the luster wears off. But also, upon reviewing my 2007 list, I would have changed so much in retrospect. So, this is to document how my mind is evolving throughout the year.
Below you will see the album in its new order with the December 18th 2008 ranking in parentheses. I will also keep my original introduction and reviews listed with any new thoughts added to the end in italics. Enjoy.
My life in music took a turn this year. If you know me, you know I am helplessly addicted to what I deem as Pussy Rock. You know, that singer songwriter that guys put on the jukebox to be sensitive and impress the nerdy girl at the bar. And, I have never shy'd away from the persona, I really do love Singersongwriters, and this Best Albums list, will have its fair share, however, my life has been a rollercoaster this year. It’s been a pile of pretty little shambles, and I have expanded my musical tastes to fill the holes whole.

These thirteen albums were released between Oct. 2007 and Dec. 2008. Yes, I realize this is longer than a year, but some albums need a couple months to gain traction, or are possibly released on an indie level and do not quite make their way to the Great Northwest until the following year.

Last year, I afraid to rank them in order, and I took the wuss way out and just did them alphabetical. However this year, I am more of a man, so... enjoy, in order, the Best Albums of 2008.

1. B-Sides and Rarities - The Format. (1)

Ok, so yes, this is an album from last year, but it is the only one on here, I promise. I purchased this release in January because of a song I heard online, "Faith in Fast Cars" on my friends Stevie's Myspace page. This band, and more particularly, this Album (which you will find on my Top 50 Albums, Top 100 Songs [Stevie’s as well] and my Top 50 Artists entries) is a beautiful mix of quirky melodies, insanely well written lyrics and a sorrow-ridden, nursery rhyme enriched vocals.
This album will not move from this spot. It is one of my all time favorite albums and I still listen to it on a weekly basis.
*Tracks Not to Miss – The aforementioned “Faith in Fast Cars”; “For You”; “Seven Digit Pin Code”; “Threes”
*Tracks that Miss – “Does Your Cat Have a Mustache?”; Do You Believe In Magic (Cover)”
2. Hold On Now Youngster! – Los Campesinos! (3)

Whirlwind. Whirl! Wind! This seven piece band out of Cardiff, Wales is the most divisive band that I have exposed to my friends in the last year. I have gotten several, “wow, this is amazing”’s, I have gotten more than a few, “I could not listen to a whole record of this stuff, but I like it”’s, and just as many “No”’s. This is high energy, beat the drums til music comes out, harmonize-like-kindergarten-choir-practice, music. The band has every instrument going full tilt, full time. The two lead singers, sing like bickering brother and sister, and I would not have it any other way. This albums is brilliant, the lyrics are insightful and biting. The melodies would get a paraplegic to tap their toe. And this is only the first appearance of this band on my list.
If I could do a tie for #1, I would do it in a beat. I listen to this album more than any other, and more than likely it will end up somewhere on my top 50 albums of all time when all is said and done. This album only gets better. Tracks I did not LOVE at first are now soaring with their chaotic complexities.
*Tracks Not To Miss – “Death to Los Campesinos”; “You! Me! Dancing!”; “Don’t Tell Me To Do The Math(s)”; “Broken Heartbeats Sound Like Breakbeats”; “This Is How You Spell ‘HAHAHA, We Destroyed the Hopes and Dreams of a Generation of Faux-Romantics’”
*Tracks That Miss – None

3. Visiter – The Dodo’s (9)

This album was a surprise. I fell in love with the track “Fools” and anyone who has had access to my MySpace page, can attest that this song made at least 4 appearances on my playlist. It is driving, urging, steady, sturdy music. But, I, never picked up the album, I figured that “Fools” was such an interesting song by composition standards alone that it was probably an anomaly. I was wrong. This, drum driven band does not disappoint. If someone in a lab would genetically create a cross between African Tribal Drum Circle Music, Folk, and Indie, they would be left with The Dodo’s. Pick up this album, and send me an email for enriching your life.
I think this album makes the biggest jump. I knew when I first put this on that it was something special. However, I did not give it time to sink in. Upon 4th, 5th, 10th, and 18th listenings it only gets better and better. There is a driving freshness to this album, and will be in my rotation for a long time to come.
*Tracks Not To Miss – “Fools”; “Eyelids”; “Walking”; “God?”
*Tracks That Miss – “Red and Purple”

4. Holly – Justin Nozuka (2)

Justin Nozuka is a chameleon. Every song on this beautiful album could be accompanied by a different persona. From the bluesy Johnny Lang like rifts and lyrics on “Be Back Soon,” To the Jason Mraz campfire acoustic bliss on “After Tonight,” and finally to the lyrical heart break in the vein of Damien Rice on “Save Him.” This is a complete album, but, a relatively overlooked one as well. I believe that the same reason I have become so enamored with him, his ability to break the mold of the typical Singersongwriter, is the same reason, so many people missed this slice of gold.
There is nothing wrong with this album. It is solid, and any other year, would have been secure at number 2. I still visit it frequently, it just got surpassed by surprising material.
*Tracks Not To Miss – “Be Back Soon”; “After Tonight”; “Save Him”; “Down In a Cold Dirty Well”
*Tracks That Miss – “Criminal”

5. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend (7)

I fought this band for most of the year. You know, they were the new “it” band, and although I had heard of them, I was not in the know, and I hated that. But eventually, I caved, picked up the album and, like everyone else, was blown away. Biting and clever lyrics litter this album from beginning to end. They do not sing down to us as a band, nor do they dumb themselves down either. They are very happy just being who they are and saying, “like us, or don’t, whatever,” and that, to me is endearing.
To be frank, I only purchased this album about 3 weeks before this list. Yes, it says something that it made this list on such short notice, but it was also not really given a fair shake. I resented it for being the "blog-band" of the year. No artist was as talked about on the indie scene than Vampire Weekend, and I did not want to like them because of it. But you cannot help but love this album.
*Tracks Not To Miss – “A-Punk”; “Oxford Comma”; “M79”; “The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance”
*Tracks That Miss – “Walcott”; “One (Blake’s Got a New Face)”
6. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes (12)

I will be honest, I just got this album last week, and by knowing that, you would think, that it probably has no right to be included on this list. But with in one listen, it made its case. If I would have picked up this record in July, I can almost promise it would be number one on this list. It is that good. Now, I do not know enough to give a proper full review, so I just beg of you, give this band a listen. Judge for yourself.
In my honest non-review, I admitted that it was premature to place them on this list. However, I am guilty of another injustice, placing time 12th. This is the perfect album to listen to when you are doing just about anything. It is life's elevator music in the best way possible. I really dig it.
*Tracks Not To Miss – Check Back. "White Winter Hymnal"; "Oliver James"; "Meadowlarks"; "Tiger Mountain Peasant Song."
*Tracks That Miss – Check Back. None
7. We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things. (Extended iTunes Version) – Jason Mraz (5)

I am not sure this would make my list if the extended version with acoustic and b-sides adaptations of the songs was not released. Yes, the album is solid as a whole, but would it have beat out 13 others in such a good year for music if not for 14 bonus tracks? Doubtful. This is typical Jason Mraz, great wordsmith, nearly perfect vocals, and just right hint of self-deprecating humor. Jason knows himself, and he does not try to be anything he is not. And it’s this kind of quality that will always keep him on my Top Artists of all Time list.
After re-reading my review, I feel I was a little harsh on this album, although I did rank it at number 5. This is a very fine album. From beginning to end it does shine, some tracks brighter than others, but overall it is a gem.
*Tracks Not To Miss – “Butterfly(both the album and bonus version”; “Details in the Fabric w/James Morrison”; “I’m Yours”; “Coyotes”; “Life is Wonderful (Bonus)”; “Man Gave Names to All the Animals(Bonus)”
*Tracks That Miss – None
8. When Life Gives You Lemons, Paint That Shit Gold – Atmosphere (8)

Hip-hop albums do not make standard best of lists. They are often too flawed with throwaway tracks, nonsensical intros, and over reaching beats. However, that is not at all the case with Atmosphere. This is intelligent hip-hop, with rhymes about the state of the economy, family, and real trials and tribulations that we all go thorough. I will let some lyrics do the rest of this review, just to prove my point;
My better half is mad at makin' magic outta can goods
My tax bracket status got her questionin' my manhood
My shorty got caught smokin' weed at a concert
And if I smack 'em everybody treats me like a monster
My neighbors ain't doin' much better
And we makin' competition instead of stickin' together
Can't save no nest egg, in fact this nest is rented
In fact that rent is late, wait

The money ain't here, the raise ain't comin'
Just me and my son and that crazy woman
No change in my feelings on this album. One of the best Hip-Hop albums to be released in the last 3 years.
*Tracks Not To Miss – “Guarantees”; “Her Music Box”; “The Waitress” “Shoulda Known”
*Tracks That Miss – “You”; “The Skinny”
9. For Emma, Forever Ago – Bon Iver (4)

This is the kind of album that you have to take pause with. When listening to, you have to sit back and realize that you are invading on Justin Vernon’s very soul. This album was recorded as basic as they get, in a wooded cabin deep in the Wisconsin wilderness. The subtleness and tenderness of his voice can only be appreciated in doses. Now, that does not at all mean that this is the kind of album that you need to be cautious of, or that you will get sick of easily. In fact, just the opposite, when I say “doses,” it is more of a warning of addiction. This will stick with you.
This album experienced the biggest drop, and it is easy to understand why. Yes, this is a beautiful heartbreak romp of a disc, but I was overvaluing the amazingalities of the song "Skinny Love" which is my favorite song out of any of the discs released in 2008. But one track does not make an album.
*Tracks Not To Miss – “Skinny Love”; “Re:Stacks”; “Blindsided” “Wolves (Act I & II)
*Tracks That Miss – None
10. Songs for You, Truths for Me – James Morrison (11)

I have an unnatural fear of Sophomore Releases. They always disappoint and never live up to the standard that brought the artist into our sights in the first place. I could write a whole blog about sophomore albums that fell short of their freshmen counterparts. However, there are exceptions. James Morrison is not one. His second album, in no way surpasses Undiscovered, but, it does not fall that short. Considering that Undiscovered was tied for my favorite album last year I have to give credit where credit is due. James Morrison is the man. He skillfully blends Singersongwriter/blues/R&B into a beautiful mess of melody and lyric and allows you to just get lost. I will admit, I do enjoy broken hearted James a bit more than this Happy-Go-Lucky guy presented on this disc, but it is still a masterpiece.
I had to switch Ray and James around, it just feels better this way, and I have felt this since the first posting. Oh, and "Broken Strings" has really grown on me.
*Tracks Not To Miss – “You Make It Real”; “Sitting on a Platform”; “Once When I Was Little”; Precious Love”
*Tracks That Miss – “Broken Strings” I really, really want to like this song, and I think acoustic I would love it, but the synth bothers me.
11. Gossip In The Grain – Ray LaMontagne (10)

There are two factions of music people. Damien Rice people and Ray LaMontagne people. And for years, I was all Damien, and fought off the offers of people to “introduce” me to Ray. But then a couple years ago I picked up “Live from the Mountain Music Lounge” a compilation disc that is released annually by KMTT in Seattle (pick it up every year if you can, it is jam packed full of one of a kind tracks) and I fell in love with a song called Trouble with out even knowing who it was. Turns out, that man, was the Bearded Musical Messiah himself. And now, I am still a Damien Rice person, but I have more than made room for Mr. LaMontagne. This album is a slight departure from the previous two. It is on a slightly grander scale musically, but still sung in a breathy whisper. Its beautiful.
There is nothing about this album that deserves it demotion, however, James is just a better album.
*Tracks Not To Miss – “Let It Be Me”; “He me, Hey Mamma”; “You Are The Best Thing”
*Tracks That Miss – “Meg White”

12. We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed – Los Campesinos! (13)

Its rare when a band will release a second album nearly as good as their debut (see James Morrison) Let alone, release it within 7 months. This band just does not let down or slow down for that matter. This album was originally intended to be released as an online “B-Sides” treat, however, it was soon evident that these songs did not belong as the b-side of anything. There is not much that separates this album from Hold On Now Youngster! which made number 3 on this very list. In fact, if both discs were put on shuffle with each other, they would feel very much at home. However, this fact does not detract from the quality of this record as one might think it would. I mean how much would you expect a band to change with in 7 months. If anything else, they have the best song titles in music.
*Tracks Not To Miss – “You'll Need Those Fingers for Crossing”; “Miserabilia”; “We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed”;” It's Never That Easy Though, Is It? (Song for the Other Kurt)”
*Tracks That Miss – None
13. Magic Vs. The Machine – The Nextdoor Neighbors. (6)

This is a local all girl two-piece band that has not had a major release just yet, but Bicycle Records in Olympia, WA, helped them put out this gem of a record. To me, this sound, self-defined by the band as electro-folk-hop, is 100% unique. The dynamic of this band is what makes it so special, the coming together of these two beautifully talented souls is magic. The incredible melodies are sweetened by the haunting vocals and inspired lyrics. I do not know where in the pantheon of radio these girls would fit in, however, this album is hypnotic.
Honestly, when the next quarterly review comes around, I will be surprised if this albums still sits on this list. I loved it when it first came out, but I think I loved it on principle. I had loved this local band, and their EP release "These Songs Wrote Themselves" so much, that I was already enamored with this record before I even really heard it. It does not live up to their demo, at all. It is still good, and if I had never heard that EP I would probably honestly love it.
*Tracks Not To Miss – “Town Full Of Mannequins” (although, the EP version of this song was slightly better); “Liars”; “The Body Song”; “The Train Song”; “Magic Vs. The Machine”
*Tracks That Miss – “We Are The Future”

Just Missed the Cut.
Nick & Norah Infinite Playlist; “Alopecia” – Why?; “Where the Light Is” John Mayer


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