10. Grouper- Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill
It may be impossible to discern anything Liz Harris says on the awfully titled Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill, but one listen to the album, and it’s pretty clear that her lyrics aren’t too important. Other than the beautiful “Heavy Water/I’d Rather Be Sleeping” (which I’ve adopted as my personal theme song for 2008), Harris’ voice is buried beneath layers upon layers of fuzz and harmonies, and you know what: it works. Dragging a Dear Deer is acoustic shoegaze with tons of emotion in Harris’ melodies harmonies, and it rules. An extremely mesmerizing record.
9. TV On the Radio- Dear Science
This record had me at “Hey Jackboot: Fuck Your War!” There’s a reason this is being hyped by every music publication on the planet: it’s straight up pop gold. The smooth vocals of Kyp Malone and Tunde Adebimpe power the whole thing with a timely sort of poignancy. This album sounds like it was made for 2008 through the incredible accessibility of it all. Strong beats, solid post-punk drive (“Halfway Home” serves as a sick example), and intense amounts of heart make Dear Science one of the strongest records of the year.
Also, it led to this: http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3294/2888500826_cbd670c7ea_o.jpg
8. The Roots- Rising Down
I’ve never really been into hip hop, but The Roots got name dropped so much in indie circles, I figured it was necessary to get into them. It was a good call. Rising Down is one of the darkest, most affecting records I’ve heard all year, regardless of genre. The raps are sick, and the beats are strong and diverse throughout. Whether it’s the haunting guitar of the title track or the bass heavy blasts of “Get Busy,” the construction of Rising Down lays strong foundation for the rhymes of hip hop all stars and relative unknowns en route to a sick album altogether. The record features a political tinge and a dense atmosphere, which makes it slightly impenetrable; but “getting it” is very much worth it.
7. pg.lost- It's Not Me, It's You!
It’s Not Me, It’s You! could have been cool for what it is –standard fare post rock- if it weren’t for the fact it’s so fucking epic. That’s what makes it awesome. John Hanson puts it very well in his review: It’s hard to describe something so brilliant, people. The climaxes on this album are beyond climactic, the beautiful explosions explode more powerfully than your run of the mill, Yndi Halda ripping crap. In It’s Not Me, It’s You!, pg.lost out-Mogwai Mogwai with tunes like “The Day Shift,” “Maquina,” and the gorgeous finale, “Siren.” This is instrumental gold without the frills and pretentious song titles. Few bands around today can match what pg.lost accomplish on It’s Not Me It’s You!, which is to follow the formula perfectly and get the intended results.
6. Have a Nice Life- Deathconciousness
For all the jocking Deathconsciousness has gotten here at sputnik, you'd be forgiven if you went into it expecting the perfect album. It's not; the middle simply goes on too long with occasional stretches of boringness. But there are four moments on Deathconsciousness that make it worth every minute: when the vocals come up at the end of "A Quick One...", the dejected sigh of "Arrowheads" on "Bloodhail," when the bass floods "I Don't Love," and all of "Earthmover." Deathconsciousness is remarkably well put-together conceptually, and this is coming from someone who doesn't know jack about Antiochus or whatever. The aura of this album is one of fuzzy, repressed isolation, and Have a Nice play to it with outstanding results. Epic and occasionally beautiful, Deathconsciousness is admittedly a mixed bag, but it rewards the patient listener. So curl up in the backseat, close your eyes, and lose yourself in one of 2008's most awe-inspiring releases.
5. The Dodos- Visiter
Kind of like if Animal Collective circa Sung Tongs chilled out and had a more pleasing singer, Visiter is an expansive release, complete with the naivety of twee minus the occasional annoyingness. The Dodos are a powerful duo, and their debut is one of the best entries in indie of the year. Pounding drums, charming melodies, and an occasional dip into freak gold (the sudden left turn in “Joes Waltz” and all of “Jodi” are easy highlights) make Visiter special. Plus, a good friend of mine once described the album’s closer, “God,” as the perfect song. Dude knows his stuff.
4. Vessels- White Fields and Open Devices
Post rock with beautiful vocals and asymmetrical time signatures? Count me in! Vessels' White Fields and Open Devices is an impressive debut from the British quintet, boasting ten tracks of scorching instrumentals, pop songs, and piano ballads. No song on the album is weak, and no two songs on the record find their merit with the same tricks, making White Fields an extremely well rounded and rewarding listen. It's chock full of gems: "A Hundred Times in Every Direction" and "Yuki" use the delicately gorgeous voice of Tom Evans to create heart-wrenching tracks, whereas instrumental burners "Altered Beast" and "An Idle Brain and the Devil's Workshop" are excellently crafted post rock tunes that cut the crap and get to the point for 7 minutes. White Fields and Open Devices is a long record, but it's definitely worth it, so just get it. I mean, how often do you come across a ten song post rock record with no skippable tracks?
3. The Flashbulb- Soundtrack to a Vacant Life
This marks the third time I’ll set out to write about how I feel for this album, and for the third straight time, I haven’t the slightest idea of where to start. This album is simply too massive to adequately explain in 5-8 sentences. Thirty-one songs. 70+ minutes. It comes from a bipolar musical virtuoso in Benn Jordan, and it shows. It’s emotional, musically diverse (it features everything from hard rock, abrasive electronica, ambient soundscapes, drum solos, gorgeous piano ballads, spanish guitar suites, and whatever else The Flashbulb decides to incorporate), and above all, awesome. It has to be said a third time: Soundtrack To a Vacant Life is essential for anyone who likes music.
2. Lights Out Asia- Eyes Like Brontide
In many ways, 2008 was a year of huge expansion in post rock for me. In retrospect, I apparently was liable to grab anything with a review that featured the word “epic,” and yet my favorite post rock album of the year, Eyes Like Brontide, is an incredibly relaxed album. Electronica beats and calm, soaring vocals set the theme for the album that just seems so… effortless. From the piano lines to the cold-war samples, everything about Eyes Like Brontide is immaculately crafted. It’s an atmosphere-heavy record, and Lights Out Asia plays to that atmosphere expertly. One thing (among many) to note here: Chris Schafer’s voice is fucking ridiculous. In fact, the only criticism I can think of is that Eyes Like Brontide doesn’t use it enough. He alone makes Eyes Like Brontide an impressive release, and Lights Out Asia's consistency propels the record to the top of 2008's post rock heap. For me, that’s saying a lot.
1. Bon Iver- For Emma, Forever Ago
Like my number one could really be anything else. There was a brief period on Olympus where we were sure we weren’t going to count For Emma, Forever Ago on the staff list, since apparently giving away cds from the back of a truck counts as an “official release.” If that thinking had prevailed, I wasn’t sure what exactly I was going to do. Sure, Lights Out Asia could have been the technical number one, but deep down I’d always consider For Emma, Forever Ago the best album of 2008. Nine songs drenched with the isolated heartbreak only a therapeutic winter spent in a cabin can deliver, Justin Vernon’s debut is a masterpiece in every sense; lyrically, it’s stunning (“There’s a black crow sitting across from me, his wiry legs crossed/ and he’s dangling my keys, he even fakes a toss”), musically, it’s expertly layered, and vocally it’s just shit off the chain. Vernon’s gorgeous falsetto drives every song with a fragile quaver that sounds both like it could crack at any point and like Vernon has total control over everything. There quite simply are no flaws in this record. Depending on the day, any one of the nine tracks could be considered the best, whether it be the hauntingly gospel-tinged “Wolves” or the delicate “re:Stacks,” and while it’s fun to debate which song is the best, for me, it doesn’t really matter. No album from 2008 has affected me as much as For Emma, Forever Ago. This is something truly special.
Five Most Overrated Albums of 2008
1. Kayo Dot- Blue Lambency Downward
The sonic breakdown Toby Driver threatened to fall into finally happened. This album is brimming with ideas thrown together to make little to no sense. There might be some music buried in here somewhere, but I just can’t muster the effort to find it.
2. Protest the Hero- Fortress
Technicality’s cool, but they forgot to write songs.
3. Sun Kil Moon- April
Mark Kozelek may have one of the sweetest voices ever, but April certainly makes it hard to enjoy.
4. Harvey Milk- Life… The Best Game in Town
And death goes to the listener!
5. Deerhunter- Microcastle
I almost put this list onto this feature with a soundoff reading “What Lewis said, but less gay.” Meaning, I like this album, but nowhere near as much as other people seem to.
What You (Or We) May Have Missed
1. Sgt.- Stylus Fantasticus
2. Gregor Samsa- Rest
3. The Envy Corps- Dwell
4. Paavoharju- Laulu Laakson Kukista
5. Hercules and Love Affair- Hercules and Love Affair