2008 shaped up to be a pretty decent year for music. Over this year I’ve probably listened to more music than ever before, producing a substantial shuffling in my favorite music. I fell in and out of love with countless artists (In: Silver Jews, Drive-by Truckers. Out: The Decemberists, Band of Horses), discoved fresh bands and dusted off old legends (Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones) I’d never had the chance to get properly acquainted with. Here’s my list of favorite albums of 2008. This list is unranked other than the top two spots, mainly because I feel the top two albums really stuck out above the rest of the competition.
1. Dear Science- TV on the Radio
Towering far above the rest of the albums released in 2008, Dear Science struck me harder upon first listen than any other album since OK Computer. David Sitek removed the fuzz and cacophony of Return to Cookie Mountain, letting the band’s songs flourish in the company of horn and string sections. Every song on the album has its own unmistakable sound, from the funkiness of “Crying” to the horn-filled celebration of “Golden Age” to the emotional resonance of “Family Tree” to the Bush-fueled rage of “Red Dress” finally concluding with the sensuous and optimistic “Lover’s Day.” At its core, Dear Science is a great rock album from one of the most talented and innovative groups today, and also my favorite album of 2008.
2. S/T- Fleet Foxes
My favorite album of the year until the October release of Dear Science, Fleet Foxes’ self-titled album is an excellent collection of songs that evoke the American wilderness and ethos both lyrically and musically with beautiful harmonies and rustic instrumentation. Robin Pecknold’s incredible voice dominates this album; a perfect companion for a spring morning, a summer stroll through a forest, an autumn drive, or a winter night reading beside the fire.
Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea- Silver Jews
When I first heard the opening track on Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea I was disconcerted. Why did David Berman’s voice sound so strange? Where was the sly, witty wordplay I fell in love with on American Water? By the third track, “Suffering Jukebox” my fears were allayed with Berman firing off classic lines over great alt-country sounds. Although, in my opinion one of the weaker albums in the Joos’ catalog, Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea is still a treat to listen to, continuing Berman’s streak of quality songwriting and finding him tweaking his style as he ages.
The Stand-Ins- Okkervil River
Originally intended to comprise a double album with 2007’s The Stage Names, The Stand-Ins displays Will Sheff’s skill at characterization in song writing, and Okkervil’s continued maturation into a full-on rock band. This aborted twin isn’t as fully formed as its sister but still has plenty of great moments, especially the epic farewell song for Jonathan Meiburg, “Lost Coastlines.”
Stay Positive- The Hold Steady
Stay Positive is different from the other Hold Steady albums. It rushes out the gates with two great rock songs, “Constructive Summer” and “Sequestered in Memphis”, then explores the darker aspects of drinking and the party life, an area touched upon in other albums but never allowed to become the overriding focus of songs. A hint of age and weariness creeps into Craig Finn’s voice during these songs, suggesting some doubt and disillusionment, worried that life may be just "excuses and half-truths and fortified wine." These down and out ballads coexist along with Finn’s own self-referential rockers to form another solid album from The Hold Steady, one of the best rock and roll bands in America.
Feed the Animals- Girl Talk
Sample-master Greg Gillis deserves all the acclaim he gets merely for this album’s ability to turn drab boring parties into wild dance affairs. Never has an entire album been this danceable for so many different people of varied musical tastes. This album is also fully responsible for my recent obsession with Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone.”
The Evening Descends- Evangelicals
The Evening Descends alternates its sound between that of a pleasant trippy dream and a terrifying nightmare, one that I found myself visiting time and time again in 2008. Utilizing samples and strange sound effects, Evangelicals’ The Evening Descends is an atmospheric and frequently catchy album of psychedelic rock.
S/T- Vampire Weekend
I like catchy pop songs. Vampire Weekend’s got ‘em, along with enough semi-obscure references to keep me interested in the lyrics. Although these guys may not be the capital “I” important band some sources labeled them as, they know how to put together a pop song, something that shouldn’t be overlooked. Any band that tosses in an homage to Lil Jon’s “Get Low” is okay by me.