17 December 2008

My Iron Lung

Ok, I had to do it. A Top 10 list. Not the definitive best. Not my favorite (although they mostly apply). Simply my attempt at objectively relaying what I found to be the 10 best records of 2008.

Criteria for this list includes instrumentation, lyrics, recording (mixing and mastering), originality and the collection of solid songs throughout the record.

On the list you will not find Bon Iver, She & Him, Lil Wayne, Kanye West, Girl Talk or The Hold Steady (much of what you'll find on lists compiled by Rolling Stone, Paste, Spin and other like and narrow-minded folks. Yeah, I went there).

First let me speak to Relevant selecting Bon Iver, For Emma Forever Ago, as their No. 1 record of 2008. Well, that's just ridiculous. Seriously. Not No. 1. Not number 15. Top 20, maybe. And, while it's a well written, haunting and passionate album, it lacks depth in most songs (the occasional trombone won't cut it) and is overall one-dimensional. Let me point out that I really liked this record, but this is my attempt to be objective even at the risk of putting down something I like.

Second, let me talk about Kanye West's, 808 and Hearbreaks. The only positive about this thing is West' non-superficial lyrics. But his heartfelt and very personal lyrics can't compensate for a very musically poor record and the monotonous tremble of synth and auto-tune. He did stick to his guns, which was bold and requires a tip of the hat, but as a whole, not one of the best of 08.

Now we're ready. On to my Top 10.

10.1) Jenny Lewis - Acid Tongue
Simplicity - both vocally and musically - stripped some of Jenny Lewis' ego out of her music and allowed a strong grouping of songs to really shine. Taking hints from the like of Emmylou Harris and Elvis Costello, Lewis put together a record that will make you pine for the good ole days of music.

10.2) Death Cab For Cutie - Narrow Stairs
Hey, it's my blog and I'll have two number 10's if I like. I just listened to this one again and cannot deny the power behind Ben Gibbard's lyrical composition and generally perfect storytelling. On top of that, DCFC really did what most bands don't: they took all the strongest parts of their last several records and pulled them together to make a series of great tunes.

9) Kings of Leon - Only by the Night
Keep in mind that I have never been a fan of King of Leon. I honestly despised their last two records. I thought they were lame and mildly pretentious. However, 2008's Only By The Night made me a believer. Every song is not only well written and performed but also very enjoyable. The kids from Columbia, TN sure took a turn for the better this year.

8) M83 - Saturdays = Youth
L'homme Francais, Anthony Gonzalez, did this year what many talented artists dare not do: make a thematic, concept record. Based on the film and music of the 1980's, Gonzalez took it upon himself to create a record of songs that walk you through the halls of The Breakfast Club, make you want to slow dance in a shower costume at Daniel Larruso's high school dance and make you feel as though you are giving Molly Ringwald her sweet 16th birthday cake. And, save one track, the entire record consists of amazing and enjoyable songs. And he did it very blatantly with no hidden agenda. If you haven't, pick up this homage to John Hugh's movies and Psychedelic Furs songs.

7) The Raconteurs - Consolers of the Lonely
Jack White and a cast of Greenhornes. It's awesome. Enough said.

6) Norma Jean - The Anti-Mother
This is not a joke, my friends. Perhaps this could fall a bit closer to the 10 spot, but nonetheless, this record is metal-core at its best. Daring chord progressions, collaborations with Chino Moreno and Page Hamilton, and a slew of deep and personally aching lyrics make this one hit my list.

5) Coldplay - Viva la Vida
I'm not too proud and certainly not too indie to say that this legitimately is one of the best records of the year. If you disagree, I would beg to check your ears. Produced by ambient music great, Brian Eno and combining a world of different influences, Viva la Vida hit the nail on the head. Let's not forget that Coldplay is an insanely talented quartet who've composed a comprehensively great record.

4) Portishead - Third
Strange, beautiful and powerful. This record was worth the wait. Oh, and it's really, really great, too.

3) Al Green - Lay It Down
This collection of all new and original material stands out among every other record released this year. You may never assume that hiding behind the drums and the mixing board is ?uestlove - a man whose addition to this record are remarkable. And man does Al Green bring it. His vocal performance is unparalleled in music this year.

2) MGMT - Oracular Spectacular
This one is a stretch for me, because I didn't really fall in love with this record, but in my attempt to be as close to objective as possible, I had to put this one near the top. It's a well-written, well-produced and a really fun record. It definitely stands alone as one of the best of the year, no doubt.

1) Sigur Ros - Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust
An unbelievable departure from their previous recordings and a shift in thinking musically, this record pulled Sigur Ros from their comfort of shoe-gaze, post-rock into a musical world of celebration and praise. The diversity in song styles combined with an impressive collection of compositions are what drive the album. And while - with the exception of the last track "All Alright" - the lyrics are all Icelandic, the vocal progressions and hints of imperfection actually make the record better and truer to form. It just so happens that this great compilation of songs is what I've been enjoying week on end since its release.

We made it. I'm done. Comment or email me to discuss.


At 9:51 AM, December 18, 2008 , Blogger Christopher Copeland said...

Sorry to leave such a long comment, but I love year end lists: This is copied and pasted with a few changes from the list I sent to another blog.
The Caveats: I only listened to both The Hold Steady’s Stay Positive and the Sigur Ros album while they were streaming free on the bands’ websites prior to release. Both albums (despite what you say about the Hold Steady dear brother, because I think it is quite a feat to make bar music intelligent) likely belong on this list, but I haven’t listened to them enough. I haven’t listened to the Coldplay record at all, but the single indicates it should be on here. And the same goes for Ray LaMontagne’s record, which from the snippets I have heard suggest it might be number 2 or 3.

#10 Air France, No Way Down & The Deep Vibrations, Veracruz

A slight cheat here. Because these are EPs I am combining them as one album. These groups couldn’t be more different. Air France is techno pop and very enjoyable. The Deep Vibrations is southern rock (more like Ryan Adams than Lynard Skynard) and if Veracruz had been a full-length record it might have cracked my top 3. These are very well conceived songs.

#9 The Joseph Arthur Cornucopia

Another cheat. Arthur got bit by the Ani DiFranco / Prince / Ryan Adams bug and released A LOT of music this year: 4 EPs, one a month begining in April and then a full-length record in September. Unlike DiFranco though (a few absolutely killer five star songs and a few absolute throwaway one star spngs) these releases are all solid three and four star songs. There is nothing mind blowing here yet nothing bad; just good music and a fun departure on the 2nd EP into psychedelic rock experimentation. The strongest songs actually come on the simple, first EP, Could We Survive, which highlishgts Arthur’s songwriting abilities.

#8 M83, Saturdays=Youth

The sugar cereal of my musical year. Tasty synth-pop straight out of a Molly Ringwald film; the final track is so ballsy it just makes you smile: 11 minutes of two synthesizer chords.

#7 Laura Gibson, If You Come to Greet Me

This record requires a certain mood or environment, but if that mood hits then this is the perfect record. Gibson delivers sparse (most are just her vocal and a classical guitar) but pretty folk songs that just feel complete.

#6 MGMT, Oracular Spectacular

Is it possible to place an album in the top 10 on the strength of one song? If so, this could be it. The opening track, Time to Pretend, I just never want to stop playing. Good thing the rest of the album is excellent as well. Some of the songs sound like they could support an Andy Samberg Digital Short. I like how the album begins as if it is straight out the European club scene and then hits you with a guitar based rock song in the middle as if to say, “We aren’t just some Brooklyn kids with a keyboard: We’re some Brooklyn kids with a keyboard and a guitar and a better record than you’ll ever make.”

#5 The Black Keys, Attack & Release

The hard driving counter to Laura Gibson. These guys sound like they came out of a high schooler’s garage (and as far as a metaphor, Akron, Ohio could be considered the garage of the U.S.), but with the kind of solid songs that elude high schoolers.

#4 David Byrne & Brian Eno; Everything That Happens Will Happen Today

Because of what he has accomplished with U2, Brian Eno is a producer of god-like proportions. But I recently listened to the Talking Heads album Remain in Light (which Eno prooduced with Byrne the year Patrick was born) for the first time and I thought it kind of sucked, despite it’s “seminal” status. I guess the 30 or so years in between was a good time of maturing, because this album has lost none of the experimental sounds and rhythms, yet it is so incredibly listenable. I bought this album on sale “just to see” and it has turned out to be one that stays on the iPod.

#3 TV on the Radio, Dear Science

A great example of a band taking a fantastic record (Return to Cookie Mountain from 2006) and tastefully improving upon it. The songs are tight, the vocals impressive and not overshadowed by the music like some of the cuts on RTCM and the production is clear.

#2 Bon Iver, For Emma, Forever Ago

Just plain awesome. Will become the cliché choice, but who gives a damn? Vernon challenges the status quo of the “breakup grief” album with insightful lyrics and a collection of melancholy but never sad-sack melodies.

#1 Matthew Ryan, Matthew Ryan Vs. the Silver State

My favorite of the year. I wonder how this guy made 10 records before I heard of him. This one is so close to perfect I am scared to delve into the past ones. Doug Lancio (of Patty Griffin fame) played guitars and produced this with the same kind of Daniel Lanois / ethereal thing going on. The songwriting is solid, reminiscent of Ryan Adams, and the music is simple four chord progressions made awesome by the underplayed yet just right backing parts. His band achieves the perfect balance of enhancing rather than overshadowing a singer-songwriter. Ryan’s voice is Dylanesque in that it is texturally bad but fits so well with the songs and he sings and writes his lyrics with the authority of someone who has put his time in. Most notably, he sings of hard things without the grumpiness of Ryan Adams or the self-pity of so many other bands.

At 8:28 PM, December 18, 2008 , Blogger Rachel & Chris Copeland said...

Oh yeah... apparently the Laura Gibson record is from 2006. I remember when I knew the astrological sign and underwear sizes of members of bands I loved, like Pearl Jam. Now I just download and listen to stuff I like without paying enough attention. I found out Gibson indeed has a record release from this year, which I am sure is very good too. I just haven't heard it.


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