Saturday, November 29, 2008


Well, it's that time again. Time to crack open the year that was, and what a year this was, and I don't necessarily mean that in a positive way. After a pretty smashing 2007, 2008 began promising, but became rather lackluster pretty fast when it came to music. Maybe it was the economic crash or a lame duck president, but music went on most people's backburner by the time July rolled around, never to fully recover. My list even surprised myself by how weighted toward the early half of 2008 it seems. That is not to say there were not any good releases in the second half of the year--just noticeably fewer. So without further ado, here are my choices for tops of 2008. Grab your knickers as we wade in:

In Ghost Colours

The best album by the end of 2008 was the best album by June 2008. Cut Copy delivered an album that far surpassed their last effort (hell, did anybody really even remember their last album?), stitching together catchy tunes propelled by snappy beats, jangly guitars, and layered keyboards in a way that referenced the 80's while avoiding cliche. "Hearts on Fire" and "Lights and Music" were particularly good songs from this particularly good effort, while "Far Away", "Out There On the Ice", "So Haunted", and "Nobody Lost, Nobody Found" beat New Order hands down at their own game. Opener "Feel the Love" even references the melody from Electric Light Orchestra's "All Over the World". Still, this does not even begin to touch the lovely melancholy that is "Strangers in the Wind". New Order should be very jealous that they haven't been able to turn out a full record this good in nearly 20 years, choosing instead to constantly bicker. Maybe they should just take a tip from Cut Copy and have a good time. Way to go Modular Records!

Seventh Tree

This should not come as a surprise, as Goldfrapp also had my second favorite album of 2005, SUPERNATURE (they registered behind Madonna's CONFESSIONS ON A DANCE FLOOR--Madonna released a new album this year as well, however, she does not appear on this list). A complete shift of instrumentation and approach might derail most groups, but somehow Goldfrapp made the transition seem almost effortless, as if it were a logical progression away from the stark electro beats of their two previous releases. Some things did remain constant: 1)Alison Goldfrapp is a fantastic vocalist, 2)Will Gregory is a great musician and arranger/producer, and 3)They continue to write great original songs. "A&E" may be the most beautiful single of the year (sorry Leona Lewis), while "Caravan Girl" and "Happiness" showed the poppier side of pastoral English folk music. At first listen, it seemed as though "Clowns" had been beamed in from some outer space clone of Alison, but as the song progresses, she slips right into it like a worn shoe. We mustn't forget the lyrics about "titties that go on & on". Heck, they even used harps on this album! Closing with "Monster Love" is an appropriate way to wrap this bon bon up nicely. Now about all those different versions...


What can be said about this that I have not said already except it reminds me at times of Deep Purple. Not the color, the band. An eleven year gap produced some head-turning moments here similar to what Goldfrapp did with their three year gap, but Portishead have a lot more emotional baggage to unleash. For anybody who thought they would just make the same type of album, this came as a shock, but a rather refreshing one. Sure, most of the hip hop beats are gone, but that doesn't mean they can never make a comeback. This was the album P wanted to make in 2008, and there is some pretty visceral material here. There are no radio bangers, nor do they ever sound happy, but would we want them to? Beth Gibbons sounds just as fractured as ever, while the band creates soundscapes ranging from fragile folk to psychedelic sludge. Not for the faint of heart.


The first entry from a late 2008 release comes in the form of a 19-year wait for Grace Jones to return. Unlike the most acclaimed albums of her career, which featured many cover tunes and a scattering of a few original songs, Hurricane is a mission statement that is all Grace. Aided by many first rate musicians (Brian Eno, Sly & Robbie, Tricky, Wendy & Lisa, Ant Genn), these original songs are some of the most personal she has ever committed to record, and at times, they soar. "Williams Blood" in particular chronicles her growing up in a strict religous household, while "I'm Crying (Mother's Tears)" is the more tender side of the same event. Balanced with the more direct "This Is" and "Devil in my Life", alongside the scarier Massive Attack-influenced material of "Hurricane" and "Corporate Cannibal", Grace released an album that may not sell mountains, but she can be very proud that she has released the best album of her career (NIGHTCLUBBING runs a very close second).


This Kiwi girl with Aspergers syndrome really surprised in 2008, working mainly with great producer, Pascal Gabriel, to come up with one of the catchiest, well-written pop records of the year. Coming on like Kim Wilde's dark young stepsister, the songs are 80's influenced, but work as more than just pastiche, featuring some truly original elements (see "Paris is Burning"). This album is one great tune after the next, all disarmingly humble and never too slick, becoming the kind of pop record we need to hear more of in 2009. "Magic", "My Delerium", "Another Runaway", "Back of the Van", and "Dusk Till Dawn" are all great pop records. That's 2 for Modular Records!

Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust

Sigur Ros never really registered with me until this album. I owned the first with the fetus on the cover, and while I enjoyed it, I felt much of the music that followed was simply drawn out rehashes of the same concept. This is the album where the tables really turned. Not only did they discover drums and rhythm, but they actually sing a bit in English! An unconventional video featuring young men & women running around through the countryside did not do much to raise the profile of the album (the cover art seems to be drawn from those shoots), but the music is the most kaleidoscopic in variety Sigur Ros have recorded. The first two tracks alone are absolutely uplifting, with their tribal drums and brass sections, only to be followed later on the record by the lovely "Ara Batur", featuring the London Symphony and Children's Chorus who sang on the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter soundtracks. A gorgeous effort which the band can be proud of.


It seems as though every one of the last three years, an album seems to pop onto my list that has actually been floating around as an import or on the internet for quite some time, and here is this year's entry. I'm not really sure when this album was first officially released (it may have been 2006), but I bought my copy in early 2008, and it was finally issued in the US in November of this year. Similar to what happened with Robyn and Junior Senior's recent releases, Galore may have been around for a while, but it is pop music of the highest order, featuring a smart lyrical bent that never sinks to the banal (sorry Katy Perry and Lady Gaga), yet still maintains a sophisticated humor delivered by an attractive lead singer. "Take it Like a Man" and "Jesus Doesn't Love Me Anymore" are the kind of songs most bands would kill to record, much less for their debut effort. I cannot wait to hear what they come up with next.

Out of Control

I just realized that GA landed in the exact same position on last year's list with TANGLED UP, and here they are again. Another year, and another great album from the TV contest winners who have become so much more than that. I was just looking at Popjustice where the Girls Aloud general discussion page is up to 415 pages! Now that's is a rabid fanbase! That being said, this is a great pop album. A little less dance than the previous one, there may be a bit more variety and growth here, as is evident in the Pet Shop Boys assisted "Loving Kind" and the expansive "Untouchable". Still, the Girls serve up class in songs like the catchy 60's-ish "The Promise", and the Johnny Marr assisted "Rolling Back the Rivers in Time". Spice who? More please!


Another album I feel I have talked about ad nauseum, but damn if this isn't a great electronic pop album. Rather dark & scary at times, these guys are not afraid to take chances, yet can turn out some really great tunes like "This Boy's in Love" and "If I Know You". Their imagery, along with songs like "My People" can also speak to those with more aggressive tastes, putting them in the interesting position of being an alternative electro band with accessible overtones. There has to be more great music to come here, so stay tuned. Way to go Modular--that's number 3!

Vampire Weekend

I heard this numerous times at work this year, and it really stuck with me. Sometimes the hype is just hype, but sometimes there is a reason for it. VW may have more to prove to be a lasting group that isn't tied to just one sound, but for now, this was a highly enjoyable record with humorous references, memorable melodies, and a nice Afro-beat backdrop complimenting their indie sensibilities. Nerd rock never sounded so good (sorry Devo).

Catfights & Spotlights

Their most consistent effort since ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES, and it feels like they are actually enjoying themselves most of the time. Amelle is becoming a great addition. Now if they could only get past the press who hound them for selling fewer records.

Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends/Prospekt's March

A really solid effort from a really solid band. Nothing to complain about except you wish they loosened their self-consciousness a bit more. The PM EP was a nice addition to an already great album.

Exotic Creatures of the Deep

Nearly 40 years of recording and still going strong, with this, their 21st album. It doesn't get much better than this.

Day & Age

Redeeming themselves from that which was Sam's Town (you guys are NOT Bruce Springsteen), Flowers & Co. release a solid effort produced by Stuart Price of Madonna's "Confessions"--fame. Duran Duran called and wants their sax player back.

Bring ya to the Brink

A bad title to a not great title track, the rest of Cyndi's album was the return to form that saw her taking chances on the dancefloor with many up and coming hot producers, not ones that were already flaming out (sorry Madonna). Who knew that Cyndi & electro could make such great partners? "Into the Nightlife", "Echo", "Grab a Hold"!

Age of the Understatement

A side project for Alex of the Arctic Monkeys, this Scott Walker-flavored affair brought back the 60's in an edgy, indie way. It may not have clicked with all the Monkeys fans, but it was a great stopgap, no doubt.


Last year's BLACKOUT was arguably a better album, but Ms. Spears managed to pull herself together (with a lot of help) to record another undeniably fun and catchy pop album of the highest order. How she ever managed to accomplish what she has in one short year is beyond me, and it's not like the cracks don't show, but good for her for trying to get back to what she had. It may not be as great as BLACKOUT, but it will definitely connect more with her fans.

Rocking Horse

A late addition, anybody who remembers Kelli will know that she was the singer on Sneaker Pimps first album, only to be fired shortly after, and release a couple of rather unspecial pop records. ROCKING HORSE is her first album in a few years, and while some may say she is pulling a "copy Goldfrapp" moment, this album has been in the works for over three years, and features no drums. Kelli recruited chamber musicians to play oboe, flute, strings, and some light keyboard to produce a fragile folk record recalling early Kate Bush mixed with Joni Mitchell. Where Kelli differs is in the rather dark subtext of the lyrics and the fractured manner of her delivery. Refreshing.

Hercules & Love Affair

I already said this was one of the best albums of the year. Still is. Antony's contributions are undeniably good, but the rest is good as well. Rarely does a record put you in New York circa 1982 without being cheesy. This one succeeds masterfully.

Off With Their Heads

Just 18 months on from their last effort, this Mark Ronson produced affair may not give them the breakthrough they are looking for, but there are some damn good songs here, and having Lily Allen sing backups doesn't hurt either.

Beautiful Future

This return to form is welcome after their return to trying to be the Rolling Stones. The Scream are always better when experimenting, and this has the looseness of EVIL HEAT, but manages to be much more accessible and memorable from the great tunes.

X Marks Destination

This album will probably never be released in the US anywhere other than iTunes (unless you find an import like me), or it will come out in two years like the Dragonette. In any case, this is a great electro-pop album inspired by bands like New Order, but leaning more to the pure groovy side than Cut Copy. Still, there are some great pop songs like "Frustration" and "Sirens". A very good investment if you can find it.

Sol-Angel & the Hadley St. Dreams

Beyonce's little sister finally comes into her own and beats big sis at her game with this great gem of an album. Serving up retro melodies in a totally current way, there are many highlights here, but any R&B girl who samples from Boards of Canada and Thievery Corporation deserves some serious attention.


Is she new wave? Is she R&B? Is she electro? Santi White, Philly girl extraordinaire, is all of these things and more. Where she goes from here, only she (and maybe M.I.A.) know, but I'll be watching!


A loud return from a band that needed to wake from its slumber, R.E.M. proved they are still a force to be reckoned with. This album had a lot of very good songs. Now if they can keep the energy and write even more GREAT songs, they may go even further. Welcome back guys!

More lists, including my favorite songs and the biggest disappointments of 2008, are around the corner!