Monday, December 22, 2008

Best Albums of 2008 - Part 5 - #5-1

Although this list has shifted a lot, there's never been any doubt that these five albums would top it. They are not only the best of 2008, they are a full head and shoulders above everything else.

Part 1 - Rules and Runners Up
Part 2 - #20-16
Part 3 - #15-11
Part 4 - #10-6


Gang Gang Dance - Saint Dymphna
The Social Registry

I have searched and searched for some criticism to make of this album, but I haven't come up with much. Gang Gang Dance have always been innovators, but in this release, which fleshes out their club/dance tendencies, the band has at last fully lived up to their immense potential. Saint Dymphna is one of the only true masterpieces of 2008, and if this were not explicitly a rock/pop list, this album might have placed even higher than #5.

An epic electronic album, Saint Dymphna draws on influences from My Bloody Valentine and Brian Eno to "world-beat" (in the rawest, most "tribal" sense) to trip-hop, and uses elements from each style so smoothly, you could swear each one was invented specifically to be a tool in the dub toolbox. Of all the electronic acts who are supposed to be lovable to rock critics (Aphex Twin, DJ Shadow, Mouse on Mars, etc.), this is the first one to really win me over. I'm not sure why, but I think it's because the music has genuine feeling but none of the machismo that usually accompanies it in the genre. In any case, the album shows brilliance in inspiration and meticulous care in execution. It's as close to perfect as 2008 has to offer.

Tinchy Stryder, guest rapper on "Princes," puts it best: "Oh shit! Gang Gang!"

Track picks: "Blue Nile," "Desert Storm"


Titus Andronicus - The Airing of Grievances
Troubleman Unlimited

For all of us who thought the twenty-first century and hardcore punk would never really find a meeting point, Titus Andronicus has proven us wrong. The subversive edginess of hardcore is alive and well in Grievances, but the album is as far as you can get from revivalist - the punk of Titus Andronicus is fresh and original, smart, innovative and unrestricted by convention. It takes into account the important musical developments of the last few decades, borrowing guitar techniques from shoegazers, songwriting ideals from British indie popsters and experimentalist cues from post-hardcore burners. Punk, meet 2008. 2008, meet punk.

Track pick: "Titus Andronicus"


Wavves - Wavves

I think what's most compelling about Wavves is that its only member, Nathan Williams, delivers his songs with the confident ease of someone who knows his music could kick anyone else's music's ass. It's dope to the point where if you don't like it, everyone will know it's because you're not cool enough, not because there's anything wrong with the music. Yeah, that's not fair to say about any band, but Wavves are the best candidate for getting away with such cooler-than-you trickery since Sonic Youth's heyday.

But it's not really trickery, because the album really is that good. Wavves sounds like it may have been recorded through a jet engine - the guitars are distorted, the drums are distorted, the vocals are distorted, absolutely everything is distorted. But the pseudo-surf, pseudo-punk numbers are short and catchy, if you can make them out through the roar of static. Most importantly, the album is fiercely independent, fearless and self-assured to an degree very few bands have ever achieved.

Track picks: "Teenage Super Party," "Wavves"


Los Campesinos! - Hold On Now, Youngster...
Wichita Recordings / Arts & Crafts

I can't possibly tell you how obsessed I am with this album. Los Campesinos!'s second album of the year, We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed placed at #15 on this list, so I've already said a little about the band. While Hold On Now is a less refined effort, it won out for top spot because it's got the best songs and the higher level of originality of the two releases.

Los Campesinos! are a manic Welsh pop band that boasts seven or eight members - who all together generate a hella lot of noise. They play ping-pong with melodies, passing them back and forth, at times by the word, and there's always a half-dozen different parts at once, making this an album worth hearing many times through.

Most importantly, the melodies and hooks are hands-down the best pop music offered up in 2008. Keeping in mind I don't even nod my head at most concerts, you can take as evidence of the album's catchiness the fact that I've been seen jumping up and down like a maniac on subway platforms because this was playing in my headphones. True, the band goes right up to the very brink of overly self-aware, puke-inducing preciousness, but just when you think you're going to start hating them, they pull something else awesome out of their hat and you're back to being madly in love again. In the world of straight-up pop, this album is not only the best of the year, it's one of the best of the decade.

Track picks: "My Year In Lists" (how appropriate!), "Death to Los Campesinos!"


Marnie Stern - This Is It and I Am It and You Are It and So Is That and He Is It and She Is It and It Is It and That Is That
Kill Rock Stars

No, this isn't a "worst album title" list, though This Is It would score just as well in that competition. But this is a "Best of 2008" list and this album is the best of the year. To be honest, I ignored Marnie Stern for a long time because I saw the individual name and wrote it off as "boring solo project" without giving it a try. But I heard so much about Stern this fall that I decided to give the album a fair chance - and it was not remotely like anything I might have expected. It's a high-speed riot-grrrl-inspired noise-rock explosion featuring a dozen tracks of non-stop shredding, lightspeed drumming and raging, enveloping melodies. It's like nothing I've ever heard.

I put a lot of consideration into the placement of This Is It at the top of the list, and I feel confident that this is where it belongs. The reason is simple: while most of the standout albums of 2008 will be surpassed and fade into the background of their respective genres with time, I really believe in ten or twenty years, Marnie Stern's record will still sound fresh, and that it will still have the power to move and inspire. Time might prove me wrong, but of anything released this year, it's the most worthy of becoming a classic in the world of rock and roll.

Track picks: "Transformer," "Steely"

That's it! Comments welcome!

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