The year’s not over yet, but now is as good a time as any to look back on the past 12 11 months of music and highlight the stuff that shone the brightest for me this year. After a huge star-power filled 2007 that brought out releases from some of my favourite bands like Radiohead, Arcade Fire, Spoon, and Interpol, 2008 was largely a blank slate for me. Outside of the new Death Cab for Cutie album, I wasn’t particularly anticipating anything, so the void was filled with a variety of releases from bands both new and old I discovered throughout the year. Mind you, I’ve likely missed out on a lot so far, so consider this list fairly fluid. Without further ado, the best of what I’ve heard in ’08.
Admittedly, I found Born Ruffians hard to get into at first. My first exposure was a cover of Grizzly Bear’s Knife, after which I checked out their Myspace and was promptly driven away. For whatever reason, I decided to give them a second chance and never looked back. This is excellently quirky rock and a thrill to see live with an audience that’s into it.
British Sea Power – Do You Like Rock Music?
Why do I like British Sea Power? Occasionally I need something to get me going, and Waving Flags and No Lucifer accomplish that nicely. On the flipside, there’s plenty of slower dreamy tracks reminiscent of their prior album, Open Season, without disrupting the balance. Your answer to the album’s title is pretty indicative of whether or not you’d enjoy it. My only criticism is the totally unnecessary intro added onto Atom. The song was perfect on the Krankenhaus EP, why mess with it?
Chris Walla – Field Manual
Perhaps lost in the shuffle when it was released during the lead up to his band’s new album, Chris Walla’s solo debut is worth a second look. Taking center stage, he performs admirably, experimenting with a variety of sounds not found in Death Cab’s work, and a few that are. Everyone Needs a Home is the standout track for me.
Death Cab for Cutie – Narrow Stairs
I hesitated when putting Death Cab on the list, as I wasn’t entirely sure whether it was about enjoying the album or due to devotion to the band. Sure it’s not the Photo Album or Something About Airplanes, but I realize those days are long gone. What we do have is a collection of enjoyable songs, still maintaining the Gibbardisms (where did I pick up that word?) of days gone by. I can safely hold songs like Long Division and Cath… up to their back catalogue.
Cut Copy – In Ghost Colours
This is the closest thing to a summer album on this list. Yet another catchy, danceable batch of songs, stuff like Out There on the Ice and Lights and Music gets in your head and does not stop.
Hot Chip – Made in the Dark
Continuing the electronic vibe, Hot Chip’s third album has served as a reliable source of party music for this year and likely going forward into the future. It’s truly an album to get you ready for the floor. (Do you get it?)
Laura Marling – Alas, I Cannot Swim
An intimate collection of songs written by an eighteen year old girl has managed to touch me more deeply than nearly every other recording this year. Beautiful and haunting at once, this is album is a promising start to a career.
Los Campesinos! – Hold On Now Youngster/We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed
How often does a band issue not one, but two stellar albums in the same year? Los Campesinos! did just that, releasing both their debut and follow-up LPs within the span of eight months. Obviously I’ve spent much less time with the new one, but it carries on the spirit of the first, with whimsical, unrestrained lyrics and catchy riffs creating some of the most irresistible guitar-pop available today.
M83 – Saturdays = Youth
A few weeks ago, my only exposure to this album was hearing Kim & Jessie played on Beck’s XM Radio show. As is often the case, I was most struck by the atmosphere the song created. That dreamy atmosphere carries onto the actual album. There’s a heart to this collection of songs, and it’s been played heavily over the last few days.
Mates of State – Re-Arrange Us
Sure it’s more of the same, but when more of the same is more endearing boy-girl harmonies, catchy tunes, synthesizers and pianos, I’m satisfied.
Mystery Jets – Twenty One
Discovered on the random recommendation of a friend, this is an album filled with uptempo Brit-rock. Simple, straightforward and enjoyable.
Plants and Animals – Parc Avenue
I picked it up for the awesomeness that is Good Friend, kept listening for the whistling in Feedback in the Field, and stayed with it for the rest of the solid folk-rock tunes. This really should have won the Polaris Prize this year.
The Stills – Oceans Will Rise
A fairly triumphant return to the success of Logic Will Break Your Heart, as I’ve written several times before.
Woodhands – Heart Attack
I’m generally no dancer, so anything that inspires me to get moving is worthy of a mention. I’m still kicking myself for missing their return to London a few weeks ago. This is solid synth-dance rock from an entertaining duo.
Soundtrack – Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog
Yes, the soundtrack to everyone’s favourite Neil Patrick Harris-starring supervillain musical is on this list. Perhaps it’s the mad scientist in me, but songs like My Eyes and Brand New Day are no less catchy when taken out of the show itself.
There you have it.
And now, a compilation of selected tracks from the previously mentioned albums. Enjoy.