Another year has almost gone by since I celebrated New Year’s Eve with the Flaming Lips in Oklahoma City. And like I did at the end of 2007, I’ve compiled a list of my 10 favorite albums of the year. I’m sure there is some excellent music I missed, just like there is a lot of music everyone seemed to love, but wasn’t for me. I’ve included an mp3 from each album that you can download and sample, as well as a video where you can watch the music in action and a link to where you can buy the album. There ended up being a lot of dance-influenced music and several artists who have been haunting my music collection for a while, as well as artists who I’d never heard of before 2008.
10. Cut Copy :: In Ghost Colours
Cut Copy almost perfected the 1980’s electronica, new wave sound that a lot of bands are playing with these days. In Ghost Colours is the second full-length album for the Melbourne, Australia group and they strategically used enough futuristic synthesizing and creative vocals to make it more than just a throwback. The uptempo beats have made this album the one I listen to on my walks and bus rides through the cold, gray days.
Favorite tracks: “Hearts on Fire,” “Lights and Music,” and “So Haunted.”
Listen: “Lights and Music” (click to download)
Watch: “Hearts on Fire” music video
Buy: In Ghost Colours
9. Passion Pit :: Chunk of Change
If I was ranking my favorite new band discoveries of 2008, Boston-based Passion Pit would definitely be first. Chunk of Change is only a 6 song EP, but every one of the songs is exciting and fresh. It even has a good story behind it. Michael Angelakos, the singer/songwriter for Passion Pit, originally created the EP as a Valentine’s Day gift for his girlfriend. It got handed around to friends and eventually made it to the internet and exploded onto every music blog. Passion Pit is coming out with a full-length album in 2009 and I can’t wait to hear how they develop their perfectionist dance pop.
Favorite Tracks: “Sleepyhead,” “I’ve Got Your Number,” and “Better Things.”
Listen: “Sleepyhead” (click to download)
Watch: “Sleepyhead” music video
Buy: Chunk of Change
8. The Hold Steady :: Stay Positive
The Hold Steady first caught my attention back in 2004 with the release of Almost Killed Me, an album full of classic rock-influenced intelligent music, yelled out in Frank Black monotones. Four years later, the Brooklyn-based band is still playing passionate ballads and bar songs about the boys and girls in America. The songs on Stay Positive use the band’s poetic storytelling to follow the stories of the characters from the previous albums as they try to persevere against aging.
Favorite Tracks: “Stay Positive,” “Sequestered in Memphis,” and “Lord, I’m Discouraged.”
Listen: “Sequestered in Memphis” (click to download)
Watch: “Stay Positive” music video
Buy: Stay Positive
7. Chad VanGaalen :: Soft Airplane
I think Chad VanGaalen should commission me for his next album’s art, I could definitely capture his style. Soft Airplane is the Calgary singer/songwriter’s third album and many of its fragile, ghostly songs explore death. Known for being somewhat of an eccentric hermit, VanGaalen recorded the songs in his basement home studio and the album includes some of the recordings he made of the trains that go by his house. And he also animates his own music videos. What’s there not to love?
Favorite Tracks: “City of Electric Light,” “Willow Tree,” and “Rabid Bits of Time.”
Listen: “City of Electric Light” (click to download)
Watch: “Clinically Dead” music video (not off of this album, but it shows his creative animation skills.)
Buy: Soft Airplane
6. mc chris :: mc chris is dead
mc chris‘ latest album is his strongest and shows how far he’s come with vocal arrangements and backing tracks. But don’t worry, the Brooklyn rapper is still as nerdy as ever, referencing video games, the Discovery Channel, the history of Reese’s Pieces, and Six Flags. At the end of his last album, Dungeon Master of Ceremonies, he dies. So at the beginning of mc chris is dead, he comes back as a zombie. Like any good nerd would.
Favorite Tracks: “mc chris Is Dead,” “Falynn,” and “Older Crowd.”
Listen: “mc chris Is Dead” (click to download)
Watch: “Falynn” performed with Pinback at the Nokia Theater in New York
Buy: mc chris is dead
5. Why? :: Alopecia
How could I have missed out on Why? until this year? They’re brilliant, mixing indie music and hip hop into something unique and unclassifiable. The California band’s Alopecia is experimental with genre, while still accessible, and completely refreshing. Their lyrics are creative, including lines like “I sleep on my back because it’s good for the spine and coffin rehearsal” and “In a crowded room, project a debonair aloof impermanence.” This might be weird, but to me Why? sounds what would happen if the character Mark from the musical Rent started a band. If that sentence means anything to you, listen and let me know if I’m completely crazy.
Favorite Tracks: “The Hollows,” “Fatalist Palmistry,” and “The Vowels Pt. 2”
Listen: “The Hollows” (click to download)
Watch: “The Hollows” performed live in Berlin
4. Of Montreal :: Skeletal Lamping
I watched a DVD of David Bowie’s music videos at a friend’s apartment today, and it was impressive how he was able to alter his music and image so dramatically over only a few years. The same can be said of Kevin Barnes, lead singer and songwriter for Of Montreal and a big Bowie fan. In Barnes’ new persona, Georgie Fruit, who appeared in the middle of last year’s Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?, he is a long way from the shy singer from Atlanta, Georgia who created Cherry Peel. Skeletal Lamping is eclectic, manic, primal, melodic, ambitious, beautiful, overwhelming…I could probably use every adjective in my thesaurus. And the band’s stage show has grown in the same way. Last year there were a few props and costumes, now its a full-blown theatrical performance. Did I mention I have tickets to see them in Paris on January 31? I’m so excited!
Favorite Tracks: “Id Engager,” “For Our Elegant Caste,” and “Gallery Piece.”
Listen: “For Our Elegant Cast” (click to download)
Watch: “Id Engager” performed live in North Carolina
Buy: Skeletal Lamping
3. the Mountain Goats :: Heretic Pride
According to my iTunes, I have around 180 songs by the Mountain Goats. I think I’m still missing a few hundred. John Darnielle is one of the best living songwriters and Heretic Pride is one of his most energetic releases, although he still gives us heartbreaking characters on even the most dynamic tracks. This is his 16th album and although the orchestration is still light, its an evolution from Darnielle’s early lo-fi cassette recorder days while maintaining that original emotional intensity. I was lucky enough to see a lot of these songs performed live during my trip to New York City and they worked the large venue where some of the Mountain Goats’ more intimate, early songs might get lost. The other two times I’d seen them was at the Opolis in Norman with about 30 other people, perfect for the songs on Get Lonely or We Shall All Be Healed. Heretic Pride is an album for a crowd and with their ever-expanding fan base, it’s a not a bad direction to take.
Favorite Tracks: “Sax Rohmer #1,” “Lovecraft in Brooklyn,” and “Michael Myers Resplendent.”
Listen: “Sax Rohmer #1” (click to download)
Watch: “Sax Rohmer #1” music video
Buy: Heretic Pride
2. MGMT :: Oracular Spectacular
I first checked out Oracular Spectacular because David Fridmann (producer for The Flaming Lips and member/producer for Mercury Rev) had produced it. I had no idea it was going to be so epic and addictive, easily one of my most-played albums of 2008. MGMT (formerly called The Management) have made a mesmerizing album that’s a soundscape of space age synths and earnest vocals. I love it when good music gets the popularity it deserves, I even heard “Kids” playing in the tourist office here in Valence. Despite its ubiquity, the album isn’t yet stale, and it looks like there’s still more to come. Members of MGMT and Of Montreal recently announced that they’ll be working on an album together. And I imagine it will sound like nothing I’ve heard before.
Favorite Tracks: “Kids,” “Time to Pretend,” and “Electric Feel.”
Listen: “Kids” (click to download)
Watch: “Time to Pretend” music video
Buy: Oracular Spectacular
1. Hot Chip :: Made in the Dark
This album literally did not leave my car stereo for a month. London’s Hot Chip made, in my opinion, the best electropop album of 2008, and there were a lot to compete against. Made in the Dark is their third studio album and while it has many danceable tracks, it also has love ballads. The whole album is a balance between catchy club beats and the sensitive romanticism that appears on the slower tracks, although it lurks in the lyrics of the dance tracks. And there is even a reference to Tim Burton’s Batman in “Ready for the Floor”: “You’re my number one guy.” Plus, I’m a little in love with their geeky fashion style. Apparently Peter Gabriel may be producing their next album, so I’m interested to hear if that is realized. I’ve ranked this as my favorite album of 2008 because this year wasn’t always easy and, like Made in the Dark, sometimes I felt like dancing and others I wanted someone to commiserate with. Hot Chip gave me both and became the perfect accompaniment for my drives around Oklahoma City and now my train trips across France.
Favorite Tracks: “Ready for the Floor,” “Wrestlers,” and “Touch Too Much.”
Listen: “Ready for the Floor” (click to download)
Watch: “Ready for the Floor” music video
Buy: Made in the Dark
Bonnie “Prince” Billy :: Lie Down In The Light
Ratatat :: LP3
Ghostland Observatory :: Robotique Majestique
TV On The Radio :: Dear Science
Wolf Parade :: At Mount Zoomer
Sigur Rós :: Með Suð Í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust
The Roots :: Rising Down
Okkervil River :: The Stand Ins
Horse Feathers :: House With No Name
Frightened Rabbit :: The Midnight Organ Fight
Crystal Castles :: Crystal Castles