Best Albums of 2008. Look back pt. 2.

>> Monday, June 29, 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 albums ranked in their new order with the 12/2008 and 03/2009 ranking in parentheses. You will also see my original introduction for this list, as well as each original review listed as they were back when first posted. I have put my updated thoughts from March in green, and my current thoughts from June in lilac, yes, lilac. 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 was 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. Hold On Now Youngster! – Los Campesinos! (3 as of 12/2008 & 2 as of 03/2009)

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.

I finally did it, I just had too. As much as I LOVE the format and that album, this album has just surpassed it. I fought it for a while too while writing this list. Just because, when I say an album is the best of the year, I do not want to be considered wishy-washy on that. But screw that, this is one of the best albums I have ever listened too. (pst… their other album moved way up too)

*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

2. B-Sides and Rarities - The Format. (1 as of both 12/2008 & 3/2009)

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.

See, look at me now, I am going back on my word from March. I think in the long run, this album will end up higher on my all time favorite list, but that is not what this list is about.

*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)”

3. Visiter – The Dodo’s (9 as of 12/2008 & 3 as of 03/2009)

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 listening 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.

What I said in March still rings true today. This album is still on a weekly rotation in my iPod. It is my get up and go music.

*Tracks Not To Miss – “Fools”; “Eyelids”; “Walking”; “God?”
*Tracks That Miss – “Red and Purple”

4. Holly – Justin Nozuka (2 as of 12/2008 & 4 as of 3/2009)

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.

I had forgotten about this album, until I started to review this list, for the update. So I gave it a listen to, and good, serious, hand-on-the-chin listening, and I cannot believe I was considering moving this further down. Superb album.

*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 as of both 12/2008 & 5 as of 03/2009)

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.

It’s not so much that this album has aged well, it’s that other albums have aged with liver spots. This move is generated by nothing else really stepping up. Now don’t get me wrong, this is a very, very good album, but 7th was a spot I was comfortable with all along, but I could not justify keeping a couple albums in front of it.

*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 as of 12/2008 & 6 as of 03/2009)

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 within 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.

I think as the year has progressed I have stopped listening to this disc just a little. Not because of anything it did, but because it is just so mellow, and I have been in an admittedly “Shake your ass, rock” mood. So, I still love this album, and I do draw on it when ever I write, but it is not an everyday listen.

*Tracks Not To Miss – Check Back. "White Winter Hymnal"; "Oliver James"; "Meadowlarks"; "Tiger Mountain Peasant Song."
*Tracks That Miss – Check Back. None

7. We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed – Los Campesinos! (13 as of 12/2008 & 12 as of 03/2009)

It’s 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.

Opps, I guess I forgot to add my thoughts to this album in March. My bad. This album is still not as good as its cohort, but, it is clearly climbing. I have fallen in love with the track “All Your Kayfabe Friends” even though I have no clue what a Kayfabe is.

*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

8. For Emma, Forever Ago – Bon Iver (4 as of 12/2008 & 9 as of 03/2009)

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.

This album made a slight comeback, mostly because I started to actually force myself not to start on the song “Skinny Love” when I played the disc, and that made me give the other tracks a fair shake. Now this does not improve the overall quality of the album, but I have found other songs that are worth a shake or two.

*Tracks Not To Miss – “Skinny Love”; “Re:Stacks”; “Blindsided” “Wolves (Act I & II)
*Tracks That Miss – None

9. We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things. (Extended iTunes Version) – Jason Mraz (5 as of 12/2008 & 7 as of 03/2009)

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.

This album continues it drop two spots at a time. It is not because of anything it did, its just other albums that I find myself drawn too more often. This is going to be an album that will undoubtedly hold up over the years, which is something I am not sure I can claim about all the albums listed before this one.

*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

10. When Life Gives You Lemons, Paint That Shit Gold – Atmosphere (8 both as of 12/2008 & 3/2009)

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.

Still not change on my feeling about this record, just others have risen. I wish this one was not a casualty.

*Tracks Not To Miss – “Guarantees”; “Her Music Box”; “The Waitress” “Shoulda Known”
*Tracks That Miss – “You”; “The Skinny”

11. Songs for You, Truths for Me – James Morrison (11 as of 12/2008 & 10 as of 03/2009)

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.

Just another victim of Los Campesinos! crazy rise in the rankings. No hard feelings James.

*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.

12. Alopecia – Why? (Honorable Mention on both lists)

So, one of my honorable mentions actually stepped up and made a big enough impact to get recognized and make the list…. No not really. I have just gotten so sick of The Nextdoor Neighbors that I had to drop them completely from the list, falling from slot 6th in December of 2008 to 13th in March of 2009 to like 19th as of today. Not good staying power. I think I was wrapped up in the fact that I have seen the band live, which they truly rule, and applying that live show to this shallow recording.

Anyways, on to Why?.... This album, well, this band, may be the biggest stretch of the year for me musically. Why? defies all labels and genres, some sites claim them as a “Indie Rock/Hip Hop” band, others claim they are “experimental electronic band.” I look at them as more of a “folk-hop” and I am pretty sure, if the band saw that term, I would be banned from ever listening to their music again. Give this one a good listen to; it really has gone from something interesting to something pretty damn impressive in a matter of 6 months. If for anything else, to try and figure out this band. Entertaining at the very least. But, be warned; do not listen to young or impressionable minds, very dirty and suggestive lyrics.

*Tracks Not To Miss – “A Sky for Shoeing Horses Under”; “The Hollows”; “The Vowels Pt. 2”; “Good Friday”; “The Fall of Mr. Fifths”; “Fatalist Palmistry”
*Tracks That Miss – “Exegesis”; “Simeon's Dilemma”; “Brook & Waxing”

13. Gossip In The Grain – Ray LaMontagne (10 as of 12/2008 & 11 as of 03/2009)

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.

I have grown a bit tired of this album, and when I reach for my Ray fix, I still go back to his first two albums. So that is why it has fallen down to the last spot on this list. I wonder if it will keep this spot in another 3 months.

*Tracks Not To Miss – “Let It Be Me”; “He me, Hey Mamma”; “You Are The Best Thing”
*Tracks That Miss – “Meg White”

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

13. Magic Vs. The Machine – The Nextdoor Neighbors. (6 as of 12/2008 & 13 as of 03/2009)


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