I recently wrote a column
for Local iQ magazine listing my favorite albums or 2008 (excluding jazz and classical).
I want to share it. Obviously, these type of lists say more about the listener than music within, but maybe you'll find something new. There were a handful of artists that didn't make it on my list that I feel a little guilty about -- namely MGMT, Of Montreal, Fleet Foxes and Gnarls Barkley -- but hey, that's they way love goes.
I'll spare you my fluffy anecdotal intro in the Local iQ article
; here's the list:
20) Recapturing the Banjo
File under: African-Roots Modern Banjo Blues
I’ve heard the argument go like this: Black guys created blues, rock and jazz, then the white guys swooped in and stole it. On Recapturing the Banjo, bluesman Otis Taylor, along with an all-star cast of bluesmen that includes Alvin Youngblood Hart, Guy Davis, Corey Harris and Keb’ Mo,’ makes the same argument for the banjo, an instrument that has origins in Africa. Never one to shy from controversy, Taylor explores modern blues and African and folk roots with penetrating insight and an anthropological devotion towards reclaiming his often misunderstood instrument of choice.
19) What Does It All Mean? 1983-2006 Retrospective
File under: Eccentric Godfather of Turntablism, Anthologized
Hip hop producer Steinski (along with Double Dee) rose to underground hip hop stardom with a series of early-’80s sample-based musical collages called the Lessons. Over the decades, the Steinski myth grew through bootlegs and eventually inspired countless hip hop artists including DJ Shadow, Coldcut and Cut Chemist. At one time extremely rare and barely legal, the music on this two-disc compilation is proof that Steinski remains one of the unsung progenitors of turntablism and sample-based music. Get it while it’s still legal.
18) Modern Guilt
File under: Junk Pop-Culture Psychedelic Postmodern Rock
The pairing of Beck and super producer Danger Mouse had many fans salivating at the possibility of an Odelay II. We were mistaken. Modern Guilt is a psychologically dark and brooding album, one that delves deep into neo-psychedelia and singer/songwriter postmodern paranoia, while somehow remaining fun. This is Beck all grown up and finally churning out music where his strengths lie.
17) Off Track Betting
File under: Wandering Alt.Country/Folk Troubadour
Hailing from New Mexico and currently residing in Brooklyn, singer/songwriter Nels Andrews is earning international recognition with Off Track Betting, his sophomore album that boasts the talents of Ani DiFranco, bassist and producer Todd Sickafoose and Wilco keyboardist Michael Jorgensen. Beneath its earthy, minimalist songwriting, the album employs waves of ambient soundscapes, resulting in Andrews’ strongest work to date and a recording that commands repeated listens.
16) Hercules and Love Affair
Hercules and Love Affair
File under: Left-Field Soundtrack to the Gay Soirée
For the group Hercules and Love Affair, disco isn’t just a genre, it’s a piece of clay, a medium to be molded and manipulated in new and creative ways. But in addition to the excellent dance music on this self-titled album are the top-notch vocal performances of Nomi, Kim Ann Foxman and the spellbinding, sexually-ambiguous vocal stylings of Antony Hegarty. House-cum-disco never sounded so current.
15) Made in the Dark
File under: Electronic Dance Pop for the Wallflower
Hot Chip and its unique brand of electronic pop have always made for some fine tracks, but seldom fine albums. In 2008, the band broke the trend with this electrifying magnum opus, a work that seamlessly melds intelligent dance music and irreverent pop.
14) For Emma, Forever Ago
File under: A Lonely Singer/Songwriter Discovers His Walden Pond
Justin Vernon, the man behind Bon Iver, spent nearly four months locked in a remote Wisconsin cabin recording For Emma, Forever Ago, an album that has been flooring music critics with its cadre of lush, introspective compositions and heart-wrenching falsetto vocal melodies.
13) Attack and Release
The Black Keys
File under: Punk Blues and the Cosmic Cowboys
For its 2008 release, the minimalist-blues duo eschews its stripped down and thrashy punk roots approach for a more polished wall of sound, compliments of producer Danger Mouse. The result is indie-blues that’s as spacey as it is rock solid.
12) Flight of the Conchords
Flight of the Conchords
File under: Irreverent Kiwi Comedy for the Inner-Beta Male
HBO’s comedy music group Flight of the Conchords describes itself as, “Formerly New Zealand’s fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo,” which is an apt breakdown of its music. What the description doesn’t cover, however, is that, unlike most comedy albums, the music on this one doesn’t suck. In fact, steered by the super-hip and retro-tinged production of Mickey Petrelia (Beck’s Midnight Vultures), the album is one of the few records of its kind, a comedy album that transcends its genre.
11) Feed the Animals
File under: ADHD Monster Mash-Up to End All Mix-Tapes
Girl Talk is actually one man — DJ, remixer and mash-up master Greg Gillis. Feed the Animals is a mash-up album that mixes so many genres and pop hits into its 14 tracks that it makes listeners’ heads spin. Not for the faint of heart, the album maneuvers frenetically through as many as three-dozen or more samples on each track, never skipping a beat and elevating the mash-up genre to news heights in the process.
File under: Dancehall, Punk Rock, Hip-Hop, Reggae Sonic Melange
The debut single, “Creator”, spurred some to label Santogold simply another M.I.A. knockoff. The subsequent album — a wild mishmash of styles ranging from club and hip hop to new wave punk and dub — proves Santogold is no clone and the eponymous album, no fluke.
9) London Zoo
File under: Transgressive Lo-Fi British Electronica and Dancehall
In the dark world of Kevin Martin, a.k.a. The Bug, the world is a ghetto, one in which MCs spit venomous Jamaican patois to the tune of sinister themes (“Angry,” “Murder Me,” “Insane,” a few titles) and impossibly bass-heavy production. For fans of hip hop and dancehall, this under-the-radar album is not to be missed.
8) Acid Tongue
File under: Indie-Appalachian Folk in Hollywood Rhinestones
Jenny Lewis is the undisputed princess of indie-alternative country and Acid Tongue ensures fans that the tiara will remain on Lewis’ strawberry-blond head for years to come. Over the course of 11 tracks, Lewis freewheels through Americana, rock, country and gospel to create an album that’s as Appalachian grit as it is Nashville sparkle.
7) Vampire Weekend
File under: Afro-Pop in Polo Shirts and Plaid Shorts
Relying as heavily on preppy chamber pop as it does afro-beat rhythm and melody — the band describes itself as, “Upper West Side Soweto.” Vampire Weekend and its self-titled album took the country by storm earlier this year. The band’s cheerful and intelligent songs stop just short of sounding cloying and contrived and deserve a spot in music history next to both Paul Simon’s Graceland and the Talking Heads’ Remain in the Light.
6) You Have No Idea What You’re Getting Yourself Into
Does It Offend You, Yeah?
File under: Raucous Disco-Punk Pumped Through a Vocoder
Like many of their British contemporaries, DIOY,Y?’s amalgamation of electro-pop, dance rock and post-punk is nothing new. But in 2008, no artist did it better than the quartet from Reading, England. Equally driven by synthesizers and electric guitars, this debut album tops the countdown in terms of raw explosiveness.
5) Rising Down
File under: Organic Revolutionary Hip Hop for the Soul
After 15 years of creating uncompromising live and recorded output, Philadelphia hip hop unit The Roots has amassed a large and intensely loyal cult following and remains the trailblazer of the jazz-influenced, organic and street-smart hip hop sound. Rising Down won’t skyrocket The Roots into mainstream success, but for longtime fans, it is yet another worthy addition to the canon. Along with a cast of guest MCs and singers, lead MC Black Thought and company explore the realms of afro-beat, neo-soul, alternative hip hop and rock ‘n’ roll, all the while maintaining their trademark sound.
4) Silent Movie
File under: Aural Cinematic Exotica for Crate Diggers
The two-man production team that makes up Quiet Village creates music that is equal parts obscure electronica and spaced-out psychedelia. The music is atmospheric, introspective and relies heavily on rare samples, resulting in a unique album that resides somewhere between DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing... and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. The breezy, lush meditations found on Silent Movie make this album the year’s most cerebral sample-based album.
File under: Late-Night Trip-Hop Soundtrack to the Post-Apocalypse
Fans of British-based trip-hop luminaries Portishead were forced to wait 11 years between 1997’s self-titled album and Third. Fans feared a flop. The group delivered a demon. Here, Portishead trades the now-cliché break beats and synth pads of ’90s trip hop for a more sullen, rough and punk-inspired approach, all while maintaining its signature electronic core and mysterious pathos. Amidst the record’s stark production, singer Beth Gibbons’ voice recalls a forlorn angel trapped in a claustrophobic nightmare. For the group’s ever-patient fans, nothing could be better.
2) Stainless Style
File under: Conceptual Don Johnson Electro Pop Hop
A concept album based on the infamous automotive industry mogul-turned-drug trafficker John DeLorean, Stainless Style s a kaleidoscope of ‘80s-inspired electro-pop, hip hop and alternative sounds. The album is a collaboration between West Coast underground hip hop producer Boom Bip and Gruff Rhys, front man of Welsh rock band Super Furry Animals. Combining all the glitz and bounce of ’80s electronic pop with the angst and subversiveness of underground hip hop, Neon Neon produced a genre-juggling masterpiece and one of the finest albums of the year.
1) Dear Science
TV on the Radio
File under: Afro-Electronic Avant-Art Rock for the Masses
The Brooklyn-based TVotR is best known for pairing harrowed art-rock with haunted vocal melodies. On Dear Science, TVotR trades in some of the experimental indie hubris of its past albums for tighter song construction, big brass, electronic loops and (dare I say?) funky guitars. The result is career-defining music, electronic art rock that is as satisfying for the musical layman as it is for the indie-art-rock snob. Hands down the musical triumph of 2008.