Saturday, December 20, 2008

Best of 2008: Albums

At last, here follows the albums of the year as decided by certain NQL contributors and a few guests. So here's to a good year of music, and to another one just on the horizon...

Ryan Bigg
1. MGMT Oracular Spectacular - Following in the footsteps of other great bands that have chosen to use shorthand to identify themselves such as BTO, BAD, and GNR, MGMT had some big shoes to fill. Fill them, they did. Three spectacular singles surrounded by adequate, if not great, filler, I fell in love with this album from listen #1.

2. TV on The Radio Dear Science, – I'll go ahead and continue this letter.
Dear Science,

Evolution is a myth. I, too, have never seen a crocoduck.


TV on The Radio

3. Vampire Weekend S/T - A fine album to listen to in a new sweater and a pair of chinos, this album would have been a bit closer to number one until I heard "A-Punk" at The Gap. Hearing music I found appealing and then realizing I was at The Gap made me feel old....until I saw them in concert, then I felt really old.

4. Frightened Rabbit The Midnight Organ Fight - By far, the best thing to come across the pond in the past 12 months, add Glasvegas's album to this and the music scene in Scotland is having quite a purple patch.

5. Ra Ra Riot The Rhumb Line - I would like to apologize to Ra Ra Riot for not seeing them when they came to Louisville a couple weeks ago. That being said, please come back and this time, don't play at the alterna-church where I can't enjoy a beer and am instead encouraged to sip on a cup of hot cocoa and you'll sell more albums in the Bluegrass State.

6. Albert Hammond, Jr. Como Te Llama? - Me llamo Jonathan. Me gusta tortugas.

7. Fleet Foxes Fleet Foxes - This is the My Morning Jacket album that My Morning Jacket wishes they had released.

8. Blitzen Trapper Furr - This is the Bob Dylan album that Kate Blanchett wishes she had starred in.

9. Sigur Rós (The new one)- Being from Iceland I decided I would do most of my review in their native tongue:


10. Islands Arm's Way – Actually being 'of Montreal', Islands took offense at the piece of drivel that the aforementioned band released this year and put out something far superior.

Alex Crisafulli
This is a list from 10-1. I probably should have just listed them in no particular order, but I find a mindless and arbitrary numerical order to be much more meaningful. Make no mistake about it, these are albums I listened to this past year. I didn’t listen to thousands of new records, but I did listen to a lot. Maybe five years from now I will fall ass-backwards into a record that blows every single one of those below out of the water, but until that day comes…

10. MGMT Oracular Spectacular
This record is overproduced almost to the point of being obnoxious. But, so what, like Die Hard III, you'll love it anyway. Yippee ki-yay, MFKR.
Recommended Tracks: "Time to Pretend," "The Youth," "Electric Feel," and "Pieces of What"

9. The Hold Steady Stay Positive
The first time I heard Finn sing, "Raise a toast to St. Joe Strummer/I think he might have been our only decent teacher" I got chills, which is telling since I was six when the Clash released their last studio album. But the Hold Steady possesses an unrivaled ability to make you feel like you're one of them, and they are one of you, their stories are your stories, you know, all that crap. Stay Positive is not their best album, but it’s still another very listenable chapter from a band that could be in the process of compiling a legendary discography. And, in the face of the current economic crisis, Blagopalooza, and the Bears excruciating loss to the Atlanta Falcons on October 12th, it has never been more important to stay positive.
Recommended Tracks: "Constructive Summer," "Sequestered in Memphis," "Lord, I'm Discouraged," and "Stay Positive"

Jeff Tweedy..err, I mean, Blago, tells us we gotta stay positive.

8. Oxford Collapse Bits
I don’t like writing record reviews. I find the whole thing to be rather self-aggrandizing. I hate putting myself inside the head of such-and-such band and trying to pretend I can interpret their motives and intentions with each track. This is especially true for a band like Oxford Collapse. They are meant to be listened to and enjoyed; not dissected with your friends and colleagues like some book club. Save that for the next Decemberists record. (If you agree, just quit reading now and go listen to Bits. If not, continue reading the next part, and pretend I didn’t write this part.)

On Bits, the tone is set immediately when opening track “Electric Arc” starts with the sound of a car engine turning over immediately recalling the Minutemen’s “D’s Car Jam” from Double Nickels on the Dime. This song has a tempo reminiscent of “In Your Volcano”, the closer from Remember the Night Parties. That was a good way to end, and “Electric Arc” was a good way to start, as it was one of the best rock songs written this year. (I can’t believe not a single one of these idiots included it in their best songs of 2008.) The buildup for each song typically begins in the opening seconds, save for the string duet on “A Wedding.” Had someone told before I listened that the new Oxford Collapse record would have a track that features strings, I would have rolled my eyes, banged my head against the table three or four times, put one of those PIRG kids in a headlock, and then rolled my eyes again. I would have been rushing to judgment, though; they pull it off. In all, the most overlooked and underrated album of the year.
Recommended Tracks: “Electric Arc,” “The Birthday Wars,” “A Wedding,” and “Men & Their Ideas”

7. Wolf Parade At Mount Zoomer
We had our office Christmas party last night, and afterwards I went out with some friends to a bar. I was trying to impress this girl by quoting Jim Carrey’s movie The Mask. For instance, one time I said something along the lines of, “I might get another beer. You watch, I just might do it. SOMEBODY STOP ME!” She didn’t even crack a smile. Nothing worse than a girl with a bad sense of humor.
Recommended Tracks: “Soldiers Grin,” “California Dreamer,” “The Grey Estates,” and “Kissing the Beehive”

6. Los Campesinos! Hold On Now, Youngster…
I first thought Los Campesinos! had all the making of a band that would be fun for a couple of weeks, and then never heard from again: They’re unisex. There are about ten of them. They are young. And, their debut LP was filled with quick and quirky pop songs that seemed to all follow the same blueprint. However, I don’t think it’s a crime if every song follows relatively the same blueprint, if that original blueprint is awesome. (I do think it’s a crime to be caught on videotape engaging in sexual acts with underage girls, but hey, that’s just me.)
Recommended Tracks: “Death to Los Campesinos!,” “Don’t Tell Me To Do the Math(s),” “You! Me! Dancing!”, and “Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks”

5. The Dodos Visiter
First off, props to Ian Cohen for being the first person in America to write about this record and not mention Animal Collective. Second, “Fools” seemed to get all the attention, but there is not a lazy song on this record. I remember giving it a spin from the beginning and “Jodi” showed up well past the half-way point and just thinking, “Really, another great song? Another one?!” Third, did these guys choose the name “The Dodos” before realizing they were going to pen a hit record and be stuck with that moniker? Horrible name, fellas. Next thing you know someone is going to tell me there is a band that calls themselves Frightened Rabbit.
Recommended Tracks: “Walking,” “Fools,” “Jodi,” and “God?”

4. Cut Copy In Ghost Colours
One summer in grade school, I attended a basketball camp and Joe Dumars was supposed to be there. Although he was a member of the hated “Bad Boys” (albeit, the “good” Bad Boy), the opportunity to see an NBA superstar in person was a big deal. Because of scheduling conflicts Dumars couldn’t make it, and I remember the harrowing announcement being made by camp officials, immediately followed with, “But hey, how about that great camp t-shirt?!”, as if that somehow made up for it. I was reminded of this incident this past summer at the Pitchfork Music Festival. Rumor spread that airport issues were preventing Cut Copy from making their festival-closing set on Sunday night, but festival officials quickly reminded us, “But hey, how about that Spoon on the main stage?!” Congratulations Spoon, you’re the camp t-shirt. (Quick note: I am being slightly unfair. For one, we all had a great time that weekend and Cut Copy eventually did show and played three songs. Second, I love Spoon. I have just seen them numerous times to the point of boredom. Third, I wasn’t even that into Cut Copy at the time, and was planning on watching Spoon anyway. So, not only is this slightly unfair, it’s bordering on being an outright lie. But, I have since fallen in love with In Ghost Colours, and if this incident were to play out again today, there is no doubt in my mind that Spoon would be the camp t-shirt.)
Recommended Tracks: “Feel the Love,” “Lights & Music,” “We Fight For Diamonds,” and “Hearts on Fire”

Hey, Joe, thanks for showing up.

3. TV on the Radio Dear Science,
Only because I have to.
Recommended Tracks: “Halfway Home,” “Golden Age,” “Family Tree,” and “Lover’s Day”

2. The Walkmen You & Me
The other day I was walking to the DC Metro and listening to this album on my iPod. I walked by a storefront with a large window, and in the reflection I caught myself making really bizarre facial expressions. However, if you could have heard what I was hearing, the expressions would have made perfect sense. But only I could hear what I was hearing (folks, keep your volume level under 60%), so I looked like an absolute lunatic. That’s what this album does to me. I can’t sit still while listening to it. I get engulfed in it. It’s not white noise. It’s not an album that can be played in the background while trying to read Infinite Jest. It’s an album that demands my utmost attention. And that’s because You & Me might be the most consistent album of the year in terms of start-to-finish snarling good rock tunes and dive-bar hooks. Or, more specifically, the Walkmen’s glacially jutting arrangements and the scenery chewing of singer Hamilton Leithauser make them sound like an uptown version of U2, with prep-school smarm subbing for ecopolitical earnestness and Brooks Brothers peacoats for wraparound shades. Is that more clear? Good.
Recommended Tracks: “In the New Year,” “Red Moon,” “Four Provinces,” and “I Lost You”

1. Frightened Rabbit The Midnight Organ Fight
Classic poetic samples of love, and lust, and trying to talk your way into someone else’s heart:

To show me worthy of thy sweet respect,
Then may I dare to boast how I do love thee,
Till then, not show my head where thou mayst prove me.
(from Shakespeare’s Sonnett #26)

Let's live
I love you
There's nothing wrong with me
Loving you, baby no no.
(from Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On”)

I’m drunk, I’m drunk
And you’re probably on pills.
If we both got the same diseases,
It’s irrelevant, girl.
(from Frightened Rabbit’s “Keep Yourself Warm”)

I’ll give all the guys out there time to grab a pen to write that down before we continue: ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………… Alright, here we go with the album of the year. The Midnight Organ Fight had me with the first track, “The Modern Leper,” where vocalist and guitarist Scott Hutchinson essentially taunts a girl who keeps coming back to see him even though he warns he hasn’t changed: “Well, is that you in front of me?/ Coming back for even more of exactly the same/You must be a masochist to love a modern leper / On his last leg.” Moving along to the next track, Hutchinson throws down the gauntlet and declares to presumably the same girl that this will be the last time he will sing about her. If you listen closely to the rest of the album, you’ll get the joke as nearly every song after that is about her. In “The Twist” the protagonist finds himself looking for any random hookup just to quell his loneliness, but later in the record, he concedes the folly of this thinking in the aforementioned “Keep Yourself Warm”, when he not-so-romantically declares, “You can’t find love in a hole.”

I don’t know if this is a classic break-up, revenge, or moving-on-with-your-life record, but I get the sense it was meant to be all three. And it addresses all of these stages with humor and not a bass guitar to be found. I saw Frightened Rabbit play this past spring. I left early because I had the flu, but five songs in they had played the album from the beginning. I don’t know if this continued, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it did. I remember being confused at the time, but after I spent more time with this record it made perfect sense. The Midnight Organ Fight is a classic boy/girl story that’s best told in chronological order—from selfishness, to anger, to revenge, back to anger, and finally to some semblance of acceptance. I would try and explain it more, but if you get the chance, just have a listen for yourself and I think you’ll see what I mean.
Recommended Tracks: “The Modern Leper,” “Good Arms Vs. Bad Arms,” “Keep Yourself Warm,” and “Floating In the Forth"

Other Albums I enjoyed this year: She & Him Volume 1, Midnight Juggernauts Dystopia, Shearwater Rook, Okkervil River The Stand Ins, Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks Real Emotional Trash

Matt Farra
I realize I am getting older. I now have less time to devote to music and even less time to spend trying to find new music. Regardless, I feel that the year was highly disappointing.

Jimmy Valpo was none too pleased with the amount of crap released this year.

Needless to say, there were several albums that I actually listened to more than once. What follows is a list of albums/EPs I remember liking/not deleting from my iPod (in no particular order):

The Walkmen You & Me
MGMT Oracular Spectacular
Bonnie “Prince” Billy Lie Down in the Light
The Mountain Goats Heretic Pride
Portishead Third
The Hold Steady Stay Positive
Los Campesinos! Hold on Now, Youngster…
Fleet Foxes Sun Giant EP
Vampire Weekend S/T
Dodos Visiter
Bon Iver For Emma, Forever Ago
Wolf Parade At Mount Zoomer

And the following are my top three for 2008:
T.V. on the Radio Dear Science,
Islands Arm’s Way
Titus Andronicus The Airing of Grievances

Should have WYSWM’d earlier this year: Frightened Rabbit The Midnight Organ Fight; Hercules and Love Affair Hercules and Love Affair; and T.I. Paper Trail.

Jim Hanke from Kid, You’ll Move Mountains
10 (+ 1) of my favorite 2008 albums:
Okkervil River The Stand Ins
Tilly & the Wall O
Atmosphere Strictly Leakage
Fleet Foxes Fleet Foxes
John The Savage Kitchen Voodoo
Girl Talk Feed The Animals
Nada Surf Lucky
My Morning Jacket Evil Urges
Todd Barry From Heaven
Headlights Some Racing, Some Stopping
She & Him Volume 1

Brian Herrmann
One day, many years from now, when our children ask us what the musical landscape was like in 2008, we'll look them directly in their curious, innocent eyes and be able to answer in truth: "It was pretty good." Here, alphabetically, is why.

Bonnie Prince Billy Lie Down in the Light: It can be hard to square prolificacy with quality (cough, Ryan Adams, cough), but how often do incredible albums spring from Will Oldham's head. Beginning with the easy shuffle of "Easy Does It" and progressing through a set of pristine left-field folk songs about blowjobs, conservation and family, and man's general insignificance, Lie Down in the Light stands up with the Bonnie Prince's best work.

David Byrne and Brian Eno Everything That Happens Will Happen Today: As if this album had any chance at all of being bad. Rife with midlife contentment yet still current and questioning, Everything That Happens is as uplifting as anything released this year. Listen to "One Fine Day" and just try not to get goosebumps.

Constantines Kensington Heights: Constantines didn't reinvent the wheel with Kensington Heights, they just made a really good wheel.

The Cool Kids Bake Sale EP: The Cool Kids are the Vampire Weekend of indie rap: hyped to death on basically no real output by virtue of touring their asses off and getting their name on the lips and their music in the ears of the people with clout. I believe back in the day this was called "hustling." Good thing, then, that the Cool Kids back up that hustle with muscle--tinny, minimal, atrophied muscles. Good thing, too, that they're not above joking around, or so serious that they avoid spitting about their haircuts, their fly-ass Dynos, and being broke. All rap should be this funny and observant; all rap should feel this effortless.

Deerhunter Microcastle: Microcastle = Macroawesome.

Fuck Buttons Street Horrrsing: Heart of Darkness translated into music: the farther you steam downriver, the less able you are to turn around, even though you want to, because deep down you know it's fun being a little scared.

Fucked Up The Chemistry of Common Life: Art-rock masquerading as hardcore. Blending big riffage, furious drumming, washes of static, cheese-gratered vocals, layer upon layer of overdub, and even bongos, Fucked Up crafted an album that's both immediate and distant, hard-edged and tender, hirsute and sleek. Chemistry's literal and figurative heart--"Crooked Head" and "No Epiphany"--towers over a towering record. My friend Schuhmann was surprised that I liked Chemistry so much. My retort: How could I not? Rarely does cacophony sound this elegant.

Hercules and Love Affair Hercules and Love Affair: Last year The Field outed me as a techno fan. This year Hercules and Love Affair outed me as a disco fan. Finally I can tell people how much I loved the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack as a kid. And of course Antony sounds amazing on a disco album.

M83 Saturdays = Youth: Pick an 80s touchstone--The Smiths, Cocteau Twins, My Bloody Valentine, New Order--and Saturdays = Youth touches them all. But S=Y isn't only a simple nostalgia trip or reverent homage (though it is both those things), it is itself a statement, grand and sweeping and simultaneously intimate--a headphones record that's stadium sized.

No Age Nouns: Washes the charm, er, scuzz off Weirdo Rippers only to reveal the band's limitations, which are (1) Dean Spunt can't sing, (2) bad lyrics, and (3) tracklist padded with instrumentals to compensate, one presumes, for (1) and (2). Turns out that earnestness and enthusiasm still trump limitations, and Nouns rips start to finish. Spunt and Randy Randall make such a racket (cf. "Here Should Be My Home") it's difficult to believe they're the only two guys in the band. It's equally difficult to believe they make that racket sound like something approaching beauty.

Portishead Third: The first time I played Third for my wife, a huge Portishead fan, she said, "It's no Dummy," and she was right. Third is better: more mature and direct, still somber but less so. When I listen to "Machine Gun," I duck for cover. When I listen to "The Rip," words escape me. If this is what happens during a Portishead hiatus, take eighteen years next time.

Q-Tip The Renaissance: Renaissance, indeed, though not necessarily the reinvention we might've expected after a nine years of label limbo. A decade removed from Phife and Ali, Q-Tip is as vital and on point as he was in the Native Tongues heyday. On The Renaissance, the Abstract delivers a set of understated grooves ("Manwomanboogie"), and absolutely murders the album's two Dilla-produced and best tracks, "Gettin' Up" and "Move." The Renaissance's thunderous, fluid basslines and Tip's flow, still impeccable after twenty years in the game, should serve as a fakebook for up-and-comers.

Titus Andronicus The Airing of Grievances: As long as there are smart, frustrated young people and music, smart, frustrated young people will make music like this.

TV on the Radio Dear Science,: Jittery, jubilant soundtrack for New America.

The Walkmen You & Me: The main complaint against You & Me is that, unlike their previous albums, it doesn't have an immediate high point (or a number of them, depending on which album is under discussion). I fail to see how this is a negative, and You & Me is all the better for it--slow and steady wins the race, or so the saying goes. The relative mellowness of You & Me signals a maturity that lets the anger that birthed "The Rat" simmer down and produce "Donde Esta La Playa" or "Seven Years of Holidays" or "Canadian Girl" or "New Country." Instead of finger-pointing, the Walkmen are navel-gazing; instead of "how dare you" it's "no problem, I was thinking of road-tripping anyway." They have realized that from loss comes possibility. How peculiarly grown up.

Wolf Parade At Mount Zoomer: Apologies to the Queen Mary might have been impossible to follow up properly, so Wolf Parade decided to spill their guts all over At Mount Zoomer and in the process they forged an entirely new direction for themselves. Brutally honest and leaving no emotion unconsidered, on At Mount Zoomer, Krug, Boeckner, et al., engage convenient love ("An Animal in Your Care"), rebuke ("California Dreamer"), disenchantment ("The Grey Estates"), and control ("Call It a Ritual"), and end it all with an eleven-minute free-associative acid jam that I wish would go on forever. If At Mount Zoomer doesn't cement Wolf Parade as a once-in-a-generation band, their next album will.

Honorable Mention:
Antony & the Johnsons Another World EP: Oh, Antony, ya big, beautiful trannie ya.

Black Mountain In the Future: Thirty years from now, dirty metal kids will be wearing tattered black Black Mountain t-shirts.

The Clientele That Night, a Forest Grew EP: Of course they still sound good without reverb.

Dizzee Rascal Maths + English: Released stateside in '08. It counts.

Elbow The Seldom Seen Kid: Music for wusses like me.

Evangelicals The Evening Descends: Almost buckles under pretense but manages, somehow, not to.

Fleet Foxes Sun Giant EP/Fleet Foxes: Probably a vagrant used it as a toilet and then moved on.

Flying Lotus Los Angeles: Post-Dilla mutant mindfuck glitch-hop that curls once around the house and goes to sleep.

The Streets Everything Is Borrowed: Sue me.

The Tallest Man on Earth Shallow Grave: "I grow a diamond in my chest / I make reflections as the moon shines on." Same here, dude, same here.

Vampire Weekend S/T: Privileged, talented, good-looking motherfuckers. I hate you. No, wait, come back. I love you.

Wale & Nick Catchdubs The Mixtape About Nothing: Rap + Seinfeld = I'm interested in your mixtape. PS: No way that's really Julia Louis-Dreyfus on there, no way. PPS: Someone please send me a tracked version of this mixtape.

Wild Beasts Limbo, Panto: Wild Beasts should make tons more records and then have tons of babies and teach them how to make records.

Wilderness K(N)o(W)here: Deals in subtle gradation and variation, freer and more democratic than their previous work.

2008 albums I'm most looking forward to enjoying in 2009: Fennesz Black Sea; The Nerves One Way Ticket; DJ/rupture Uproot; Super Furry Animals Hey Venus!; Tindersticks The Hungry Saw; Cut Copy In Ghost Colours; anything by a band with a conjugation of "to fuck" in their name--bring it, fuck-bands.

Disappointments and Overrateds:
High Places - Everything they've done: Simply put, High Places don't write good songs, and they are terrible live. Sorry, the internet. They get some anti-hate points because the girl is funny.

The Hold Steady Stay Positive: I'm still waiting for Craig Finn to make a grown-up record. I know he's got it in him. It pains me to say this, too, because I love THS. They reduce me to the fanboyest fanboy, so I'm really disappointed by how damn average Stay Positive is. We'll call this a bump in the road. Points for the wicked logo. Bring on the Hold Steady-branded sneakers, wallet chains, mead flagons, etc.

Of Montreal Skeletal Lamping: This creative abortion gets a 71 on Metacritic, and was voted sixth-best album of the year by Stereogum readers, which is flummoxing. After Alex and I reviewed Skeletal Lamping, I was going to let my hatred die, but I just couldn't. I hate this record so much. It makes me want to scream and set fires. I want to grab Kevin Barnes by his (hopefully clothed) shoulders and say, "Let your ideas gestate a while! You don't have to release a record every year! I know you're creative and shit but damn dude parse your songs some next time, shit!" You know? And Kevin would be all, "yeah," and his next album would be tits.

Times New Viking Rip It Off: This album is unlistenable, and I actively hate it. The songs underneath the muddy mess might be good, but you'd never know it because of a silly aesthetic choice. There is a right way to do lo-fi noise punk, and there's a wrong way to do lo-fi noise-punk. Times New Viking chose the wrong way. Listen to Nouns and take notes, guys. (Update: A few days ago I forced myself to listen to Rip It Off again, just to see if maybe I might have been too hasty in my assessment. I wasn't, but apparently it's my fault that this music is horrible, apparently I'm just "unconverted." Whatever. As they say, one man's challenging yet rewarding record is another man's I can't delete this horseshit from my hard drive fast enough.)

Travis Newman
Honorable Mention: This year it seemed that a mainstream album might crack my top ten, possibly lowering my level of music snobiness. Alas, though I enjoyed these albums, it would be disingenuous of me to rank them above any on my list:

Beck Modern Age, R.E.M. Accelerate, Coldplay Viva La Vida, and Guns n’ Roses Chinese Democracy.

Best Albums of 2008:
10. Dodos Visiter
The shout-out backup vocals on “Fools” alone could be enough to secure this album on my list.

9. Times New Viking Rip It Off
Alex, I am working on the affidavits, but our firm’s notary has left for the day. I will admit that initially, I too called bullshit on anyone who claimed to enjoy this album. I played it on my hi-fi and only made it about five minutes through what sounded like a tweeter and woofer abortion. Months later, while listening to my iPod through earphones a TNV song came up on random and it was good. So I gave Rip It Off another chance, through earphones, and discovered that not only is there a great GBVesque indie pop album behind all that distortion, the distortion is actually well-employed.

8. Destroyer Trouble In Dreams
La la la la la It’s tough following up Destroyer’s Rubies la la la la la Absent this juxtaposition though, Trouble In Dreams is a very good Bejar album la la la la la which makes it an excellent album la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la.

La la la la la la-la-la-la.

7. No Age Nouns
There are not a lot of nouns on this album. Or verbs, adverbs, or adjectives for that matter. Doesn’t need them, though the tracks with vocals are some of the best songs of the year.

6. Black Mountain In the Future

5. Titus Andronicus The Airing of Grievances
Somewhat pretentious. Somewhat whiny. Somewhat Obersty. Somehow excellent.

4. Deerhunter Microcastle
Pitchfork cannot get enough of Bradford Cox. (Read that again, I really didn’t do anything with that statement. Admire my restraint). Although I think his Atlas Sound stuff and the ambient instrumentals on Cryptograms amount to little more than boring boards and knobs wankery, I’m a believer in this album. A strong start anchored by “Never Stops” is euthanized when Bradford and the boys decide for the band (and the listeners) to take a nap through tracks 6-8. However the Dan Deaconish “Nothing Ever Happened” then begins one of the most impressive three song runs of the year.

3. Wolf Parade At Mount Zoomer
Spencer Krug’s obligatory appearance on my year-end list, although it’s cool to mention that Dan really shines on this one. I’m cool.

2. TV On the Radio Dear Science,
In almost any other year, this album would be my favorite. “Lover’s Day” is maybe the best love song since Pantera’s “This Love”. Unfortunately for TVOTR they ran into the juggernaut that is my number 1. However, I will make this claim: TV On The Radio is currently at the top of the Game That Is Music. No other band displays the level of studio brilliance, while at its core, just f’n rocks. If you don’t believe me, listen to their albums, then see them live.

1. The Walkmen You & Me
You & Me is as much a jazz record as it is an indie rock album. This album is meant to be listened to in a dark bar, relaxing on red leather couches, collar loosened, 5 o’clock shadow rocking, and preferably drinking scotch. The Walkmen have managed to do here something few bands are able to accomplish; capture a mood and keep it both consistent and interesting for an entire full-length album. An album I truly see myself coming back to 5, 10, 15 years down the road.

Jim Powers
10. Fleet Foxes Fleet Foxes
I don’t really have much to say about this album other than it’s really nice to listen to. Also there’s a song on the album called “Meadowlarks”, which makes me thing of Meadowlark Lemon, which is one of the best names ever, right up there with Zebulon Pike. But seriously, I didn’t listen to this album as much as I would have liked this year, but I know I’ll come back to it at some point.
Favorite Track - “Mykonos” (shut up, I know it’s on the EP)

9. Portishead Third
This is just an excellent out of nowhere comeback album. Even though it’s not really a comeback album or out of nowhere. Here, Portishead establish a very different sound from the familiar Dummy-era Gibbons-plus-dub-plus-scratching while still sounding entirely like Portishead. Kind of like what Radiohead did on Kid A. That was the first of likely thousands of Radiohead references that will appear in this list. Thousands.
Favorite Track - “The Rip” (which was covered this year by….wait for it…Radiohead)

8. Vivian Girls Vivian Girls
This is a headphones album, and a good one. It sounds amateurish, like these three girls got some shitty equipment and used it to lay down some stuff they kind of thought about once. But it’s amateurish in a good way. It’s one of those albums that sounds easy to make, but when you listen to it more, you realize that this is a very talented band with a keen sense of how to put together a song.
Favorite Track - “Never See Me Again”

7. Los Campesinos! Hold On Now, Youngster...
I think this came out in 2008. If not, I hereby decree that any albums called Hold On Now, Youngster that came out in 2007 are now deemed to have come out in 2008. Usually I have a problem with bands whose names include an exclamation point, but I’ll make an exception for bands with songs as catchy as those on this album. I’ve had “Death to Los Campesinos!” in my head for about six months now. They also get extra points for releasing a second album less than a year after their first. (Hear that, Radiohead?) I haven’t listened to the second one (We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed) yet, but I look forward to including it on my list of best albums from next year.
Favorite Track - “Death to Los Campesinos!”

6. Jay Reatard Matador Singles ‘08
This is kind of a make-up pick because I only started listening to Reatard this year and I like his other two singles collections (Blood Visions and Singles 06-07) a little better than this one. But this one is still pretty fucking awesome. In the first two collections, Reatard sounds like the perfect combination of traditional ‘70s punk + Wire + Guided by Voices. In this collection, Reatard sounds a whole lot like The Buzzcocks, which is not at all a bad thing. I’m a little worried that he’s getting too polished, but I think he’s smart enough to know where his bread is buttered. His first real LP (coming sometime in ’09) is one of the albums I’m most looking forward to.
Favorite Track - “See Saw”

5. Crystal Stilts Alight of Night
I saw Crystal Stilts open for Love Is All earlier this year and thought they had a lot of potential hidden in what I thought was a messy live show. After writing a review of that show, I got in a blog fight with their guitarist, bought (and liked) their self-titled EP, and ultimately ended up really looking forward to their full length.

The potential I saw months ago is realized in Alight of Night in spades. This is an excellent album. The Jesus and Mary Chain and Joy Division influences are obvious, but what sets these guys apart from the other million new bands with those same influences are two things. First, the decision to bury the lead vocals and to use them as more of an instrument than as traditional singing. The buried vocals were one of my problems with their live show but the vocals on the album are a little clearer while staying true to the band’s sound-- it’s the perfect balance. Second, the guitar is basically the lead singer. The guitar sound, a sort of surf-rock throwback, is at the forefront of the sound mix and cuts the droning background like a laser. The rhythm section along with the keyboards keep the backbone straight and hold everything together, as a good rhythm section should. This is a solid debut for a band who should keep refining their sound and getting better.
Favorite Track - “Crystal Stilts”

4. Wild Beasts Limbo, Panto
I wouldn’t be surprised if most people who listen to this album hate it within the first 15 seconds. This is because, within 15 seconds, the listener is introduced to Hayden Thorpe’s voice--a high and loud falsetto that’s either interesting and impressive or grating and unlistenable depending on the listener’s taste. I, obviously, love it and I love the band behind him lurching along, switching up, and providing a great frame to cage that voice. Of course, a voice and a band are nothing without songs, and Wild Beasts certainly deliver in that regard. Limbo, Panto is, on the whole, excitingly original--it’s the most impressive debut of the year.
Favorite Track - “Vigil for a Fuddy Duddy”

3. The Last Shadow Puppets The Age of the Understatement
This is just a really fun album. Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner joined with The Rascals’ Miles Kane and, with a dime from Final Fantasy, set out to make a record that sounds like the ‘60s. Not only did they succeed with that specific sound, they crafted a great collection of songs. I hope these two make another album together.

All right, why the hell doesn’t Alex Turner get the respect he deserves as a really good songwriter? Arctic Monkeys got unfairly pigeonholed as just another NME-hyped Brit-pop band, but if you look past that, they have some really, really good songs. “A Certain Romance” is one of the better songs of the past few years. The rest of Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not is, stupid name aside, full of good songs. Even the completely ignored follow up Favourite Worst Nightmare is top-to-bottom excellent. Turner is good. Really good. The Age of the Understatement just proves it. All of you jerks who’ve dismissed him because you think he’s just another Brit-pop fad of the week need to listen again. For your own benefit.
Favorite Track: “Separate and Ever Deadly”

2. Wolf Parade At Mount Zoomer
It was a tough call between this and The Age of the Understatement for number two, but this one wins out because it includes “Kissing the Beehive”. I felt differently about this album than I did about Apologies to the Queen Mary in that, this time, I enjoy Dan’s songs more than Spencer’s. “Soldier’s Grin” is a great momentum-establishing opener, and “The Grey Estates” and “Fine Young Cannibals” are both really solid. Not to say that Spencer’s songs aren’t good - “California Dreamer” is up there with the band’s best, and “An Animal in your Care” has a terrific last few minutes.

But the star here is clearly “Kissing the Beehive”, the best song of the year and one that I consider to be a “Paranoid Android”-level masterpiece (coming from me, there is no greater compliment). I love the back and forth between Spencer and Dan, I love the parts, I love the uncomfortable time signature at the end. But most of all, I love one detail: how the chanting at around the 3:45 mark comes back at the very end. It’s brilliant song structure and it gives me cold chills every time.
Favorite Track: “Kissing your mom the Beehive”

1. The Walkmen You & Me
This is kind of an upset. A few weeks ago, there was little chance that I would have ranked this album any higher than third. I thought it was very good, but that it lacked a killer song like “Kissing the Beehive” and wasn’t as, I don’t know, exciting as The Age of the Understatement. Then, last Sunday, I put it on as I was cleaning up my apartment and realized, about half way through the album, that I had been standing in the same spot for about 10 minutes just listening.

While the album lacks a single standout track like “The Rat”, each song fits perfectly into place within the sprawling whole. The tone set right off the bat with “Donde Esta La Playa”, the music is completely all over the place. It seems unfocused at first, but after repeated listens it becomes clear that the focus is the sprawl. Leithauser just absolutely kills it on every song. I love how he sounds (and, live, looks) like he’s trying as hard as he can to hit the right note, succeeding most of the time.

The number one reason why this is my number one is that I know that, years from now, I can pretty much guarantee that this will be my favorite album from way back in 2008. It’s really a remarkable achievement for a band that always had it in them and that finally put it all together in such an unexpected and exhilarating way.
Favorite Track: “In the New Year”

Scott Rudolph
It has been a busy year at my desk here at NQL doing a lot of things that require me to not listen to music. Because music makes me listen to it, I cannot have it on while I am writing anything academic; therefore, it was a slow year in music consumption down this pallet. So, I have offered a list of things that I heard,;however, I completely discredit myself and my list by recounting the albums that I have either spun only once or not at all. What this means is that I will have a very confusing time next year for my 2009 list, because I will think all the albums on my “not heard” list below were released in 2008. So, here ‘tis:

Top 10 Albums I heard
10. Jenny Lewis Acid Tongue
9. Devotchka A Mad and Faithful Telling
8. TV on the Radio Dear Science
7. Sun Kil Moon April
6. The Black Keys Attack & Release
5. Hercules and Love Affair Hercules and Love Affair
4. Fleet Foxes Fleet Foxes
3. MGMT Oracular Spectacular
2. Vampire Weekend Vampire Weekend
1. Brian Eno / David Byrne Everything That Happens Will Happen Today

Top 13 Albums I haven’t heard or didn’t have proper time with:
13. Jamie Lidell Jim
12. Blitzen Trapper Furr
11. Jack Johnson Sleep Through the Static
10. Ray LaMontagne Gossip in the Grain
9. Buena Vista Social Club Buena Vista Social Club At Carnegie Hall Concert
8. The Dodos Visiter
7. Man Man Rabbit Habits
6. Bonnie "Prince" Billy Lie Down In the Light
5. Deerhunter Microcastle
4. Okkervil River The Stand-Ins
3. Portishead Third
2. She & Him Volume One
1 . Bon Iver For Emma, Forever Ago

Matthew Schuhmann
9. Krallice Krallice
Mick Barr rulezzz.
8. Disfear Live the Storm
My friend Ryan Bigg got me into this Swedish hardcore/metal band because he liked it so much. Thanks.
7. Harvey Milk Life ... The Best Game in Town
If albums could grow facial hair, this one would have a really thick Tom Selleck moustache . . . possibly foul smelling.
6. No Age Nouns
This album gave me ADD and scabies.
5. Tv on the Radio Dear Science,
Meet Wally Sparks ... the album.
4. The Hold Steady Stay Positive
Rock, yes please.
3. Fucked Up The Chemistry of Common Life
They should have called this band "Fricked Up" because it's nicer.
2. Black Tide Light from Above
I keep getting older, but wicked guitar soloists stay the same age.
1. The Sword Gods of the Earth
As followup to Age of Winters this album had a lot to live up to and it didn't disappoint. I like it with ice cream.

Would've made the list had it come out in 2008:
Trailer Park Boys Seasons 1-7; ASG Win Us Over (2007); Early Man Closing In (2005); Ungdomskulen Cry Baby (2007); Mahavishnu Orchestra The Inner Mounting Flame (1971); The Advantage Elf-Titled (2006); Cathedral The Carnival Bizarre (1995)

2008 Honorable Mention: Torche Meanderthal, Saviours Into Abandon, Made Out of Babies The Ruiner, These Arms are Snakes Tail Swallower and Dove, Genghis Tron Board up the House, Foals Antidotes

Jimmy Valpo
Jimmy Valpo has been very busy this year. Therefore, Jimmy Valpo did not listen to much new stuff. Jimmy Valpo wishes to ask you for his apology. Jimmy Valpo is prepared for a new, better year of music listening and attending concerts. Jimmy Valpo is sorry for everything. Jimmy Valpo plans to have a firm grasp on reality by the end of 2009. Tune in at this time next year to see if Jimmy Valpo succeeds. Jimmy Valpo will never bother you with hipster blather and his philosophical music ramblings. Jimmy Valpo does not analyze music, he just rocks out when appropriate.

1. T.V. on the Radio Dear Science,
2. Wolf Parade At Mount Zoomer
3. No Age Nouns
4. The Hold Steady Stay Positive
5. Frightened Rabbit The Midnight Organ Fight
6. Portishead Third
7. Titus Andronicus The Airing of Grievances
8. Deer Hunter Microcastle
9. Dodos Visiter
10. M83 Saturdays=Youth

*We would certainly like to thank everyone who took the time reading not only this (ridiculously long) post, but also any post from the past year. Please keep coming back. Have a great holiday and we will see you next year.

--NQL Staff


Alex said...

Damn it, we all listen to too much of the same crap. We need new writers. Are there any writers out there that have a penchant for jam-bands? Thank God for Schuhmann's list. And he's right, that Sword album is great.

To Brian/Jim Powers: I don't understand all this about the main complaint about You & Me being that it lacks the "single" that the other albums had. Uhh, "In the New Year" says 'hello.' Other than "the Rat," that's as good of single as any the Walkmen have ever put out.

To Travis: I'm glad you stuck up for Times New Viking. I still think that album is horrible, but we have been taking way too many pot-shots at them.

Alex said...

Alright, I screwed up and forgot to add Audrey's list to the post. She made me aware of this with a few "f-bombs" lobbed my way. Not really, but, well, sort of. Anyway, here is Ms. Wen's best-of for 2008:

10. Re-release of Exile in Guyville, Liz Phair.
I dismissed this album as a teenager and in dredging it up from the past in this anniversary year I realized that this was a time capsule of songs that only now are age-appropriate. Phair’s biting, unapologetic lyrics scream and claw for attention, respect and affection in a sausage-dominated world.
9. We Brave Bee Stings and All, Thao Nguyen and the Get Down Stay Down.
Little. Yellow. Edie Brickell-like. Better.
8. Keep reading.
7. Midnight Organ Fight, Frightened Rabbit.
In May, these guys upstaged headliners Oxford Collapse at the Empty Bottle as the opening act. The crowd cleared to an embarrassingly near empty before Oxford Collapse came on. In subsequent shows the billing got reversed. Talk about an ego check. All night long lead singer Scott Hutchison’s flannel clung uncomfortably to his drenched bod and I could see a long string of saliva connecting his lips to the mike from my distant position by the bar. You may call it a disgusting overrun of bodily fluids. I call it passion.
6. The Stand-Ins, Okkervil River
5. Keep reading…
4. Re-Arrange Us, Mates of State
3. You & Me, The Walkmen
2. Oracular Spectacular, MGMT (Digital release in 2007 *)
This album made too big a splash this year to be left off any list. Time is one giant continuum anyway and years are just arbitrary markers invented by humans in order for civilization to function, right? So please don’t burn me on a technicality. This album plain rocked and I will forever associate it with the summer of 2008
1. Visiter, the Dodos.
The Dodos had me at “Fools” and by the time I got to “the Season” it was downright abusive. In trying to get our arms around a band we often draw comparisons as a way to somehow get a handle of the music. Anchor it to something familiar and we suddenly know what to do with it. I haven’t been able to do that with the Dodos. I simply can’t tie them down and tame them. They are unnerving when they scream, refreshing for their ingenuity, and irresistibly rhythmic. Over and over I have found myself drawn to this album when I can’t find a taste for anything else in my music collection. That wily index finger always loops its way back to Visiter on my iPod. This one was too easy. A cupcake.

* I would also try to sneak in Rogue Wave’s 2007 Asleep at Heaven’s Gate and Animal Collective’s Strawberry Jam for the same reason as my MGMT pick, but I won’t push it. It takes the general public and myself a little while to warm up to and possibly go ape-shit over an album. By the time festival season hits often it’s the previous year’s albums that become the anthems for this summer. So I find it hard to completely fail to mention some of the best music I heard this year purely for the fact that the official release date was in the previous calendar year. It’s an interesting lag time phenomenon. Maybe that lag time shortens the more guru your indie rock status becomes. As a rockist you will have such refined and discriminating taste that you will identify a great album upon first listen! So I concede that I’m a novice and my list, well frankly, is a little retarded. With that in mind, please feel free to guess which yearling phantom albums made numbers 5 and 8.

--Audrey Wen

Jim P. said...

I didn't really mean that as a complaint - more of a comment. Also, I guess I need to listen to this Frightened Rabbit album.

Brian said...

Alex, I've read a bunch of stuff about You & Me that's like "nothing immediately stands out like 'The Rat'", and I would agree. "In the New Year" is a great song, the album is full of great songs, but Travis is right when he says You & Me creates and sustains a mood, whereas Bows + Arrows has definite high points and definite lulls. Same with Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone. On Bows and Everyone, it's easy to pick the couple-three best tracks; on You & Me, it's almost impossible.

Brian said...

I also agree with Jim Powers. My remark wasn't a strike against the band or the album. That You & Me lacks an immediate big hitter works to its advantage.

Alex said...

I would agree with both of your comments. And since you both had that record in your top 5, I certainly knew the comments were not meant as a complaint.

Matt said...

The best thing about You & Me is that The Walkmen made an album that was nothing like their last two shatputs. I applaud The Walkmen for making a very solid album after two catastrophies. Not too many indie rock bands have been able to recover from such fateful decisions---so kudos to The Walkmen for their inevitable comeback album of the year Grammy.

As for your adding a jamband critic Alex--wasn't Rudolph's placing Jack Johnson on his list sufficient?

Brian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jim P. said...

So I'm at work and no one is here so I have a lot of time on my hands. I decided to spend it applying a complex formula to determine our composite top 10. For each list (including Ms. Wen's), #1 got 15 points, #2 got9, #3 gets 8, etc. For Farra's, I gave his top 3 8 points each and the rest 5. For Brian's, they all got 6. Here are the results:

9-11 (tie): M83, Deerhunter, Eno & Byrne (21 points)
8. Vampire Weekend (22)
7. Titus Andronicus (27)
6. Frightened Rabbit (31)
5. Wolf Parade (34)
4. Dodos (36)
3. MGMT (38)
2. TVOTR (49)
1. The Walkmen (58)

If anyone else needs any math done, I'm here all week.

Brian said...

Hey wait--I just noticed that Audrey scrolls her iPod with her index finger. What a weirdo. Dear Audrey Wen, That's what thumbs are for. Your friend, Brian. I mean, seriously, right?

Travis said...

I'm going to guess that Audrey's phantom 5 and 8 are that non-Jordy rapping baby album ( that everyone seems to love and Schuhmann's pick Krallice, respectively. Because it is unfathomable to think that Krallice is only represented once in our lists.

Also, I like to think that Krallice came up with their name by saying, "Hey, why don't we just add a 'Kr' to 'Alice'? That's kinda metal, right? Oh and let's throw another 'L' in there too."

Either that or they are ubiquitous AAA artist Diana Krall's grindcore side project.

Audrey said...

Nice catch, Brian. That was a test to see if someone actually reads my shit. The first challenge was just to get it posted, and it only made it onto the comments. I can see that tiny crack in the glass ceiling, thanks to you, Brian. But you are an editor by trade, right? So you are just doing your job. Oh and Alex, I don't care to receive a response from you. I'll accept your formal apology when you see the ass kicking NQL t-shirts.

Brian said...

Alas, I cannot overcome my training.

What I want to know is, once Alex realized he left out your list, why he didn't just tack it into its appropriate spot in the big list, right after Valpo, Jimmy? Gentlemen, we can rebuild it. We have the technology...

And I've been meaning to say this for a while: I was glad to see some folks repping for that Islands record. It's really good.

Audrey said...

I can't find the exact comment after scrolling through the litany of songs and albums posted, but someone mentioned "Smokin' from Shootin'". I gave it another whirl and I've been listening to it a lot the past few days, in preparation for them at the Chicago Theater. So I'm going to say that this album maybe deserves a little more attention. "Evil Urges", "Smokin from Shootin", "Touch Me I'm Going to Scream Part 2", "I'm Amazed", "Look at You". Wildly inconsistent, agreed. But still very solid. I've gone from thinking it was just a wierd album, to thinking it's not so bad, to really kinda liking it.

Audrey said...

Yeah, isn't there an "edit" button on the blog? There's also a cutty pastey feature on most computers these days. I'll cool it now. Alex had a bad headache the day of posting the best albums, so I'll trade in my second-rate music blog status for a little sympathy for now.

Brian said...

I think "wildly inconsistent" is part of making an album-album, which Evil Urges most definitely is. As listeners we have to take the good with the bad and love it anyway. There are songs on Double Nickels on the Dime that I hate, but it's still my all-time favorite record.

Audrey said...

Yeah, I didn't mean for "wildly inconsistent" to be a bad thing. I can't wait to see My Morning Jacket this weekend. Jimmy falling off the stage in Iowa may be the best thing that happened to me all year!

eXTReMe Tracker