Usually T-Sides is a stickler for not releasing any sort of “Best of the Year” list until the year is actually over. However, because I had to write-up my list earlier than that for Bullz-Eye, and perhaps maybe a little bit because I wanted to be part of the Hype Machine Zeitgeist (yeah, I’ll admit it, you guys won), the T-Sides Top 10 lists are ready now. Breaking from the norm once again, I’m starting the year end review with the top albums, which I normally like to end with. So please check back over the next few days for the rest of T-Sides’ 2008 in review featuring best songs, best concerts, and a new category – superlatives!
10. Portishead, Third
As with last year, the last slot was the hardest. This was almost Jenny Lewis, Grouper, Santogold, The Walkmen, Mono in VCF… But it’s difficult to ignore a comeback like the one Portishead made with this album. Forget Chinese Democracy, this was the album that delivered on the long wait for its delivery. Beth Gibbons’ voice is a little rougher now, occasionally slipping out of its smooth purr, and the band uses this to their advantage, doing the same musically. Definitely the weirdest album they’ve delivered thus far – but somehow, just as soothing and beautiful as all the others.
9. Death Cab For Cutie, Narrow Stairs
Read my full review here. Every year, there’s an album that gets the sentimental vote. This year, that album is Narrow Stairs. It’s not that the sixth release from Seattle’s Death Cab For Cutie doesn’t have plenty of merit (it does). But as much as I love this album (and I do), it’s not quite what I was hoping for after hearing “I Will Possess Your Heart” for the first time. Death Cab still need to push the envelope a little more to break out of some of the stereotypes they’ve come to cozily snuggle up in, to showcase more of what they’re so clearly capable of. But it’s not realistic, perhaps, to expect them to jump so far in a single album. Narrow Stairs is a big step in an interesting and new direction. For now, that’s enough.
8. Vampire Weekend, Vampire Weekend
Read my full review here. As much as I would love to deny the hypeiest hyped hype band of the year, the truth is Vampire Weekend’s debut is pretty undeniable. They could still use a little more head and a little more heart – this album is the intellectual and emotional equivalent of the average teen movie – but not every album has to be the music of the thinking man/woman. Sometimes you need something breezy and perky, something to put on at a party, or while you’re cleaning house, or while you’re making out with your sweetie. Vampire Weekend is great for that.
7. The Notwist, The Devil, You + Me
Read my full review here. Speaking of highly anticipated follow ups, waiting six years for a new Notwist album after Neon Golden easily felt twice as long. But the German electro-pop duo delivered an album that was worth the wait, continuing in the same vein as before, but a little more aggressive. Who could ask for anything more?
6. Deerhunter, Microcastle/Weird Era Cont.
Hypnotic and disturbing, this double album gives you two different listening experiences based on whether you choose to pay absurdly close attention, or choose to let it carry you away. Get lost in the repetitions, then find yourself in the breakdowns and freakouts.
5. Wolf Parade, At Mount Zoomer
Read my full review here. Considering that Wolf Parade decided against having a single-friendly sort of album, At Mount Zoomer, the follow-up to their very single-friendly Apologies To The Queen Mary, is immensely listenable. Themes of frustration with modern times abound, and in the desolation of our current landscape, At Mount Zoomer is a cathartic, therapeutic listen.
4. Dengue Fever, Venus On Earth
Read my full review here. For a band based in Los Angeles, Dengue Fever is extremely exotic. Their Cambodian-pop influenced surfer-psych-rock, is spearheaded by singer Chhom Nimol, who sings in Khmer, the official language of Cambodia. Considering it’s comprised of songs most of us can’t completely understand the subject of, Venus on Earth is incredibly communicative.
3. Pattern Is Movement, All Together
Read my full review here. We’re getting into classic, stand-by territory here. The albums I listened to on a weekly basis, at least, if not daily. Pattern is Movement’s All Together is a grower, the kind of album that more firmly establishes itself each time you hear it. Although its modern, avant-pop-rock with classical influences and textures might not be everyone’s piece of pie to the very last bite, even the most closed-minded listeners will find some serious jams here.
2. Fleet Foxes, Fleet Foxes (Ragged Wood + Sun Giant EP)
Read my review of the Sun Giant EP here. The format of this release is a bit confusing. In some places, the album is self-titled. In others, the album is titled Ragged Wood. I’m using the self-titled release here, because the vinyl release consists of the full-length and the EP together as one, and I am counting them together. Is that cheating? I don’t care. Is there anything to be said about the Fleet Foxes that hasn’t already been said? Yeah, they sound like Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, like nature, like spring, summer, fall and winter. It’s mandolins, tear-worthy harmonies, it’s comforting, emotional and sexy, it’s stories of friends, escape, regrets and possibilities. What those who didn’t like this release filled its void with, I’ll never know.
1. TV On The Radio, Dear Science
Read my full review here. It’s easy to get a little smug about having a #1 that not many others do. (Believe me, I know!) But this year, I’m plenty proud to have the album that a ridiculous amount of others have at the tops of – or at least somewhere in – their lists. Even setting aside how great Dear Science is on its own, the fact that TV on the Radio have had three genre-bending, critically acclaimed albums of future music in a row should be enough to silence any contesting mouths. I’ll admit, Dear Science didn’t grab me as immediately as Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes or Return to Cookie Mountain, but now that it’s grabbed me, I’m grabbing it right back and never letting go. Just like a person you can’t get enough of, it’s how I want to start my days and end my nights.
Album I hated that others loved:
Kanye West, 808s & Heartbreak
In the past, I’ve made a separate list of albums I disliked that others were fond of. 2008 was a strange year, because there really weren’t any. Except this one. Everyone who really loves this album is joking, right? Because that’s what 808s & Heartbreak sounds like. A really bad joke, an eight-months-late April Fool’s prank. I love(d) Kanye West. I love electronic pop and ’80s music. I even love cheesy R&B. But the point where those things intersect is full of disappointment and boredom. I’ll give him “Love Lockdown” and “Paranoid.” But the rest of it? Stick to rapping, Yeezy.
Album from 2007 that received the most play in 2008:
Yeasayer, All Hour Cymbals
I still stand by my #1 choice from last year – Cleandenim has appeared a lot in ’08 – and actually, most of them have been regulars. But none so much as Yeasayer’s debut. Perhaps it’s because I saw them more than any other band this year (4x), but more than likely it’s because All Hour Cymbals never gets boring. Its layers upon layers unravel differently every time. Even “2080,” the smash single that admittedly caught my attention in the first place, still sounds exciting after listening to it time and time again. Almost needless to say, the fact that they’re headed back to the studio gives us an easy prediction for at least one album on next year’s list.
EPs I played repeatedly so I could pretend they were albums:
Lilum, The Hello From VT EP – Read my full review here. The second effort from Vermont’s Lilum is ’90s nostalgia in modern form.
Kuroma, Paris EP – Read my full review here. This primarily psychedelic pop project from Whigs founder Hank Sullivant is a little all over the place, but that’s part of what makes it exciting.