It’s the last day of the year so it’s time to write up the obligatory “best of” list.
If you’re anything like me, the last 365 days have had you listening to loads of songs by both new and veteran musicians. 2008 will go down as a year with a number of fantastic album releases, but really, like all “top” lists, we really just want to know what the number one album is, don’t we? To whet your appetite a little, I’ve also listed the next best four. They all deserve to be spoken about, debated and heard and heard and heard again.
I’ve included links to standout tracks from their respective albums – which also happen to be some of the best songs of the year.
Without further ado then, here are my top five albums of 2008, ranked in descending order, of course:
It’s rare for a debut pop album to contain more than two bona fide singles. To have four on a ten track album is rarefied brilliance indeed. This Jacksonville, Florida based band found their groove straight away. Instantly hummable, singable and danceable, the pop sounds of Partie Traumatic hide the fact that the band writes clever lyrics to echo clever hooks. “If I ever bother to tell you the truth, oh, baby, you’re too much sugar for my sweet tooth” wails lead singer Reggie Youngblood before I’ve Underestimated My Charm (Again) shifts gears into ba-ba-beep-beep-boo melodies. Sure, there are moments that sound like Electric Light Orchestra or New Order or Duran Duran or Pulp but those influences meld into an entirely singular sound that reminisces funk, soul, alt-garage, emo and electronica.
No one else is making music like this right now.
Listen to: Hurricane Jane from Black Kids’ Partie Traumatic
Coldplay took a chance. They recruited producer Brian Eno to push them in a new direction. They wrote lyrics that spoke more about our world, our politics and our philosophies than simply writing melancholy about failed relationships. They ultimately became true artists, crafting an album for the ages. Listen to the piano on Lovers In Japan. That sound is strings being hit by nails. Note the lack of guitar, the stark beauty of the title track. Pay attention to the “fish” lyric in Lost!
It could have all gone horribly awry. Instead, they created something brilliant.
Sure, we may have fond memories of Yellow. We may even hear Clocks on the radio every other hour or discover that The Scientist is background music on some teen drama television series. Mark my words: in five, ten, even twenty years from now, it’s Viva La Vida that we’ll all collectively agree is the bands strongest.
And we’ll still be listening to it then like we are today – like it was just released. And that’s reason enough to be on this list.
Listen to: Lost from Coldplay’s Viva La Vida or Death And All His Friends
3. Wolf Parade – At Mount Zoomer
The sophomore recording from this Montreal-based band saw them grow to new heights as musicians. They told their record company “no singles!” and indeed what we got instead was simply a brilliant whole of an album.
At times, one might mistake their sounds for seventies legends Television, but Wolf Parade never let you forget who they are. Their arty-indie sounds are still evident throughout At Mount Zoomer – which probably means they share even more with Television than the swirling, jingly guitars and driving drum beats would suggest. Fine Young Cannibals is a highlight of interplay between piano and electric guitar while An Animal In Your Care reaches for the stars, guitar becoming more frenetic with each passing moment. Make no mistake – the album is still Wolf Parade through and through. Both Soldier’s Grin and Bang Your Drum evoke the pop brilliance of their debut album.
Still, there aren’t many bands that can get away with an eleven-minute rock epic to end a nine-track album while still keeping an audience thoroughly enthralled for the entire duration of that song. Wolf Parade does it with ease. You don’t want the dazzling, the special, Kissing the Beehive to ever end.
And luckily for us, it doesn’t.
Listen to: Kissing the Beehive from Wolf Parade’s At Mount Zoomer
The fourth offering from Elbow, the Mercury Prize winning The Seldom Seen Kid, sees an encapsulation of the band’s entire musical career. It is a defining album of eleven beautifully crafted songs that range in scope from the delicate lullaby sounds of Weather To Fly to the raucous and venomous Grounds For Divorce. These are the sounds of a band at the height of their powers.
Praised by critics and fans alike, the release was, for the first time, entirely self-produced and the results are startling. The band has lost none of their indie leanings with sharp guitars that pierce the tranquil soundscapes on Starlings that sees Guy Garvey whispering “Darling is this love?” and they’ve not lost their sense of humour either, as evidenced on the scoundrel-as-protagonist song, The Fix.
Stadium-sized sing-along, the glorious One Day Like This is the big finish. Elbow has always had a way with an epic-sized track and this effort does not disappoint. With lyrics like “Holy cow I love your eyes” it is, perhaps, one of the most heart-warming, inspirational and truthful songs ever written.
A magnificent finish to an extraordinary recording.
Listen to: One Day Like This from Elbow’s The Seldom Seen Kid
Although the album was released via download-only in late 2007, the physical release of Radiohead’s In Rainbows was not until early 2008, making it eligible, in my mind, to fit into this “Best Of 2008” list. Posterity will remember the album for the pay-what-you-want business model but listeners will remember it as the bands strongest offering since the acclaimed OK Computer. It’s an example of shimmering brilliance through and through.
In Rainbows sees the band stretch their creative legs once again, sounding fresh and accessible, yet still distinctly Radiohead. The band is playing in their very own sandbox and the castles they are constructing are truly astounding. Jazz-tinged guitar elements flit throughout opener 12 Step while symbols pick up that same feel on Reckoner, one of the greatest songs ever recorded.
There are components of electronica here, of course, coupled with rocking beats and atmospheric strings, all elements that play in unison with Thom Yorke’s angelic voice. Radiohead, it would seem, want you to be able to sing their songs once again. No sounds are wasted here. There are no extraneous notes. In Rainbows is a perfect, timeless recording.
One for the ages.
Listen to: Reckoner from Radiohead’s In Rainbows
As mentioned, 2008 was a year of great releases. Here are a few of the other, more memorable albums:
Death Cab For Cutie – Narrow Stairs
Only Death Cab could make melancholy so pop-memorable. The eight-minute prog epic I Will Possess Your Heart is a standout as is the two and a half minute gem No Sunlight. Everything in-between those lengths is great too.
Hey Rosetta! – Into Your Lungs
There’s An Arc and Red Heart are stand-out tracks on an album full of stand-out stadium-sized tracks by this east-coast Canadian band.
Ryan Adams And The Cardinals – Cardinology