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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Few of my Favorite Things (2008 Edition)

So another year has come and gone (and then some . . . sorry). And it was a pretty wild one at that: Obama thrashing McCain; The Not-So-Great Depression; discovering that Tom Brady is mortal after all. A wild, wild year, indeed.

It was also an impressive year for music, in general. Although, when has anyone ever looked back at the previous 365 days (or in this case, 378 . . . ahem) and said, "Wow. That was a really shitty year of music?" Still, we were introduced to remarkable array of tunes in 2008, including some that will likely, or perhaps already have become classics, at least for me.

So here, after at least a modicum of serious consideration and in no particular order, are my favorite (non-local) albums of 2008. In some cases, these are albums I found, or that found me, in 2008 and were not necessarily released last year. And just so we're clear, they aren't presented in a "professional" context. Rather, just as one music fan to another, personal biases intact. I'd love to hear about your favorites too.

(Note: If you missed my "official" top-10 list of local albums of the year, click here.)

Bon Iver, For Emma, Forever Ago

In a recent e-mail exchange with another critic, I mentioned that I was searching for a tactful way to express my unbridled love for all things Bon Iver in this post. It turns out that I can't. Simply put, For Emma was love at first listen. And my appreciation for the album has only deepened over time, both for the remarkable material found within and for the unexpected personal significance it would eventually carry — you can read about the latter here. I've only recently begun being able to listen to "Flume" again.

I feel the same way about this disc that I did the first time I heard Ryan Adam's Heartbreaker or Wilco's Summerteeth or Built to Spill's Perfect From Now On or Spoon's Gimme Fiction or any number of personal classics. For me, these are not albums. They're revelations; works of art so powerful and complete that they either inspire you to new depths of creativity, or to give up altogether because you know you'll never be that good. Everyone has some equivalent — and if you don't, you're not listening hard enough. Personally, Bon Iver is on that level. So much so that I almost don't want them to make another album. How could it possibly live up? Chances are that it can't — although the few leaked tracks from their forthcoming EP are pretty solid. But even if it doesn't, this album is enough. And so is this Outfield cover . . .

The Low Anthem, Oh My God, Charlie Darwin

A completely unexpected delight. Those with their ears more finely tuned to larger media outlets such as Paste magazine or NPR might be familiar with the album as it has garnered some solid press in recent months. But I actually beat those cats to the punch with a review of the disc in early September. Though in all honesty, that was more a product of fortuitous timing. The band had a Monkey House show that week and sent me the disc in advance for review. It's not like I actually sought this one out. (Incidentally, I think that review is my favorite piece from 2008.)

Much like Justin Vernon retreated to the Wisconsin woods for a winter to create For Emma, this Providence-based outfit holed up on Block Island, a small resort island in between Rhode Island and the northeastern tip of Long Island for a winter to record Oh My God. And the results are similarly potent. Seriously, I gotta try the recluse thing some winter.

Starfucker, S********r

Ahh, Portland, Oregon! Hipster Eden. Is it bad that most of my current favorite bands hail from, or have some connection to, the Strip Club Capitol of the US? I swear it's a coincidence. Really.

In any event, Portland's Starfucker get a nod not only for having my unquestioned favorite band name of 2008, but because their self-titled debut — honestly, they should just name all of their albums eponymously — is pure, electro indie-pop fun. Thanks to Mr. Steve Hadeka for pointing me in the direction of a post on Hipster Runoff featuring the band.

Lost Gospel: STARFUCKER POOL PARTY Rawnald Gregory Erickson II from Lost Gospel on Vimeo.

Pretty & Nice, Get Young!
I mentioned this album in my VT-made CD roundup last month. But I didn't feel comfortable including it in the top-10 because Pretty & Nice aren't really a VT band, even though they've got B-Town roots. Regardless, this album knocked me out. In particular, "Piranha" might be my favorite song of the year. Elvis Costello fans, take note.

Delta Spirit, Ode To Sunshine

Higher Ground's Alex Crothers highly recommended this band to me over the summer. And I'm glad he did. The retro indie-rock thing has been all the rage of late — and is perhaps a little played out. But these guys put a gritty spin on the genre and really crank it up live. "People C'mon" has earned a regular slot in my iPod Bowling Mix rotation.

Some other albums of note that struck my fancy in 2008:

MGMT, Oracular Spectacular: To borrow a phrase, both kinds of music. Indie and rock.

Fleet Foxes, Fleet Foxes: Answers the question: What would happen if My Morning Jacket played psychedelic chamber-folk?

Grand Archives, Grand Archives: From the same stable as Band of Horses and Horse Feathers.

The Boat People, Chandeliers: Indie-pop from Down Under, mate. Lucksmiths fans, take note.

Vetiver, Thing of the Past:  The songs that made a songwriter. Simply gorgeous.

Horse Feathers, House With No Home: Not as strong as their debut, Words are Dead. Still, more gripping chamber-folk from one the Pacific Northwest's most under-appreciated bands.

Women, Women: Thank you, Tick Tick! Is there anything you can't do?

The Powder Kegs, You and Your Right Now: Stickin' it to disgruntled newgrass fans since 2008. A remarkable evolution. And pseudo-local, no less!

The Everybodyfields, Nothing Is Okay: Actually released in 2007. From Ramseur Records, home of punk-grass darlings The Avett Brothers. If you dug Caitlin Cary & Thad Cockrell's Begonias, give this disc a shot.

And finally, some albums for which I wish I'd kept the receipt:

Cold War Kids, Loyalty To Loyalty: Sophomore slump, perhaps? Here's hoping.

Vampire Weekend, Vampire Weekend: I. Don't. Get. It. How are these guys good, exactly? Milquetoast meets vanilla. 

My Morning Jacket, Evil Urges: Don't get me wrong. I love this band and have for years. But this album? Well, let's just say "I'm amazed." And not like I had hoped to be.

The Ravonettes, Lust Lust Lust: Zzzzzzzzz . . .

And that, dear friends, is that. I'm sure I left out some albums — from both lists, actually. Though you'd think since I've been promising this thing for the last week-and-a-half, I could have been a little more thorough. (And you'd be wrong.) In any event, I know it's a little late in the game, but feel free to share some of your favorites below.

Here's to a rockin' 2009.


Tyler Machado

Ahhh I love Evil Urges! Ever since I heard their cover of Tyrone on that demos CD a few years ago I hoped that they'd go full-out R&B for an album. There are definitely a couple clunkers on there, but that's typical of every MMJ album, and there are far more tracks that I love: Evil Urges, Touch Me Pt. 2, even Highly Suspicious. It's silly, but the world of indie rock needs more shameless fun dammit.

MGMT, on the other hand, makes me sick. Pure hipster bullshit tailor-made for shitty parties with shittier beer. Good thing they'll fall off the face of the earth in a couple months.

Artists I fell in love with this year: High Places, Bon Iver, Kaki King, Land of Talk, She & Him...


Thanks for finally posting your list, Dan!

I've been doing a new music show on WRUV for the past 2 years or so and I finally got my shit together to do a "best of '08" show and "top 50 albums" list (10 or 20 just felt too exclusive...). I figured this would be a good place to share. You can check out both on my blog - (As it goes, Bon Iver's '08 release is the only one we both seem to love... amazing is almost an understatement...)

As a side note, I can't believe the Smittens new album didn't make your top 10 local albums list! I LOVE their new release (yes, I have a weakness for sugar-coated indie-pop at times...)

Anyways, thanks again, and keep up the awesome work in '09!

Fresh Tracks, Tuesdays 6-9am



Thanks for the list and your column - always enjoy it. Also, thanks for turning me on to Starfucker! Wow! So damn good...

Here is my top 11 from 2008 - Spinal Tap approved - in no particular order:

Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes
Benji Hughes - A Love Extreme
Blitzen Trapper - Furr
Department of Eagles - In Ear Park
The Dodos - Visiter
Bon Iver - For Emma, Foerever Ago
Deerhunter - Microcastle
TV on the Radio - Dear Science
The Hold Steady - Stay Postive
Johnny Cash - Folsom Prison Legacy Edition
Radiohead - In Rainbows

And, I agree -- Vampire Weekend sucks. 2009 is off to a great start with Animal Collective, Heartless Bastards, and Andrew Bird.

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