20. Death Vessel - Nothing is Precious Enough for Us
Here is an album that I didn't expect to like. Twee-folk with a dude who sings pretty much like a lady. I wonder if it helps that I have never seen what the dude who calls himself, Death Vessel, looks like, but his voice never really bothered me. In fact, I think I wouldn't like the album as much if there were a different voice emoting out over those plucked strings. Good stuff, massively under appreciated. This is my folk album of the year (if you don't count Megafaun - more on that later).
19. Bound Stems - The Family Afloat
This Chicago five-piece has had my attention for a couple years now. Their first album, Appreciation Night was one of my favorite albums from 2006. The Family Afloat picks up where that album left off with another 10 tracks of quirky, poignant Indie (note the capital I) pop. This is a much more polished and confident album than Appreciation Night. The in-song transitions are smoother, the hooks bigger, the small moments more touching. That being said, Appreciation Night's rawness is what, I think, appealed to me. This is still a great record. In what will probably be a theme of this list, these guys are massively underrated. They will hit some radars eventually and I'll be there singing along.
18. Dr. Dog - Fate
These guys are derivative to the max...Pitchfork hates them...The one guy who tries to sound like a soul singer is trying way too hard...Yadda Yadda Yadda. STFU! This album rules and you're stupid idiot. Say what you will about originality - Dr. Dog executes their influences very, very well. They sound like the Beatles and the Beach Boys got together and made a motown record. How could that possibly be bad!? Great album for a sunny drive to wherever. Pitchfork be damned. (I love you, don't hit me.)
17. Love is All - A Hundred Things Keep Me Up All Night
Something strange is going on. Typically, when an album gets a good review from the almighty 'Fork, that band will go on to sell (or have stolen) a ton of albums, sell out every venue in the land, etc. So what's going on here? Nine Times That Same Song was a phenomenal album that got a great review from the 'Fork and then was 16 on their Best of 2005. This time around, A Hundred Things Keep Me Up All Night gets a recommended tag from the 'Fork and this record just disappeared. I have seen it on only a few Best of 2008 lists and any buzz swirling around these guys seems to have dissipated. Well whatever is going on - I've got their back. While this might be Nine Times That Same Song, Volume II, the formula is still working for me. For those who don't know - spazzed out swedish indie rock with a cute as buttons singer who has a quaint little accent when she sings.
16. Ra Ra Riot - The Rhumb Line
I hate the phrase Chamber Pop. Can't we just call it indie rock with string instruments? Too long? How about orchindie rock? Not doing it for you? Fine. We'll stick with chamber pop (or baroque pop which is what wikipedia calls it - that's even worse). At any rate, this is the first album from this Syracuse, NY band who wrote this album after the death of their drummer who drowned in Buzzards Bay, off the coast of Massachusetts. Maybe it's because I lived in dreary Syracuse for a year, but I connected with this album in a way that I didn't think I would. I dismissed it on first listen, but it has kept calling me back. I first heard "Ghosts Under Rocks" on influential Seattle radio station KEXP while I was driving through a foggy forest on Bainbridge Island across the Puget Sound from Seattle. That's a good place to hear that song for the first time. You should set up a similar scenario for the best effect. Or not.
15. Ponytail - Ice Cream Spiritual
Listen to this at a very high volume or don't listen to it at all. Description: Frenetic indie rock with no singing. Not really anyway. There is definitely some yelping and yelling of random words and phrases ("FAJITA!"). Lead "singer" Molly Seigel sounds like Satomi from Deerhoof. Like Satomi with epilepsy...mid-seizure. If that doesn't sound like your thing - you should try this anyway. It's just a flat out good time. Their live show? Forget about it. This album would be amazing if they captured half of the energy of their live show - but they did and then some.
14. Department of Eagles - In Ear Park
I realize this is essentially Grizzly Bear with someone other than Ed Droste singing the songs that Daniel doesn't...So what if the live incarnation is Grizzly Bear minus Ed and plus Fred? First of all, I love me some Grizzly Bear and second, you're wrong anyway. It's got more of a pop bent than Grizzly Bear (for now - GB's new album is going to be like a doowop album with more fuzzy bass). It's more traditionally structured than Grizzly Bear. [Other arguments one could make should be inserted here (in your head - don't embarrass me)]. At any rate, I've been waiting for this for a long time. I heard "No One Does It Like You" in demo form a few years ago and have been foaming at the mouth for this ever since. Daniel's voice just makes me feel so...calm. He somehow also makes me feel taller too. Strange.
13. Megafaun - Bury the Square
Have you heard of this bearded dude, Bon Iver? Whatevs. Sounds like a fruit to me.* So this bearded fellow knew these guys and they were in some band together and then they moved to North Carolina and then they broke up and then bearded fellow releases For Emma, Forever Ago and the rest is, as they say, history. Well the dudes who were not the bearded fellow (who may or may not have beards themselves (hint: they do)) also released a record this year under the name, Megafaun, and you know what? It's really good. Remember "freak folk?" Well it's like that, but less "freak" and more "folk." Gorgeous harmonies, some tape looping, some dissonance. It came out early in the year but it managed to hang on to my interest throughout the year and it now it's here...in my all-important list. Good work fellas.
*Bon Iver, while not eligible for my list due to his presence (#5) last year, is my vote for Band/Artist of the Year (in a hypothetical award ceremony will call "The Kylies"). I saw him three times this year with the new band and they are pretty f'n captivating. Do you like goose bumps? Watch their Take Away Show. Good lord.)
12. Titus Andronicus - The Airing of Grievances
Have you guys ever been to New Jersey? I have and I can't recommend it. Titus Andronicus is from New Jersey and I think I understand why they create music that could be unoriginally described as "raucous." The first time I listened to this album was on a plane to the Land O' Lakes and there was this incessant squealing sound coming from who-knows-where. To drown out the sound, I put on some Titus Andronicus. They succeeded admirably. Living in NY, I sometimes like to imagine the music I'm listening to is suddenly blasted over some loudspeakers and everyone around me is shocked and horrified at the noise I'm broadcasting. Well on that plane, I'm glad I have some good headphones because I have a good feeling they would have drowned out the squealing for everyone else too.
11. Sigur Rós - Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust
The first two songs on this album are two of my favorite songs of the year. Frankly, the rest of the album could have been "Jesus is My Friend" (look it up) over and over again and this still would have cracked my top 20. That being said, the rest of the album is pretty damn good too. Had they made a full album of the new Sigur Ros pop goodness, this would have been my album of the year easily. Maybe the next one?
10. Plants and Animals - Parc Avenue
In my best Casey Kasem voice: "Welcome Back. We're up to our Long Distance Dedication. This one comes from a man from New York, NY. He writes: Dear Casey, My brother and I live on opposite coasts of the United States and we only get to see each other about twice a year. Recently, my brother started this blog as a sort of resurrection of the old MTV (the one with videos). At any rate, I was wondering if you'd play some Plants & Animals for my brother as a sign of thanks for all the hard work he's put in to hunting down all the best videos the indie world has to offer. I know that he really likes this Montreal three piece and, man, so do I. Sincerely, Kyle from Minnesota. Well Kyle, I hope Clay is listening. Here is Plants & Aminal...awww fuck! I fucked it up! Can we do that again? Fuck!"
9. The Dodos - Vister
Crazy acoustic guitar/percussion duo from San Francisco craft an incredibly confident and energetic album that quietly sneaks into my top 10 of the year. This came out in March and I didn't realize until about 3 weeks ago that I had listened to this album at least a couple times a week for the entire year. I can't wait to see these guys live. Like Daniel Rossen (see above) Meric Long's voice is incredibly easy on the ears. On the other hand, Logan Kroeber's drumming is quietly frenetic throughout the album but remains nicely mixed and never overwhelms.
8. TV on the Radio - Dear, Science
When I put together my lists, I generally start with a pool of albums that I've liked that year (around 75-80 albums). Little by little, I cut away albums based on, admittedly, pretty arbitrary reasons. It's amazing to me that this album made it this far along in the game. You see, there are a couple songs on this album that I actively dislike. I can't say that about any other album in this top 20. Sure, there are songs that I will skip over out of boredom or for the sake of time, but this is the only album where there are songs (I'll leave the identity of those songs a mystery so as not to offend) where I cringe when these particular songs come on. That being said, the majority of this album is a solid TVOTR album (which is to say a very, very good album). It's not as good as Return to Cookie Mountain, but I also didn't burn out on it like I did with RTCM (probably due to the fact that I listened to RTCM about 100 times). In summary, there is no good reason this isn't lower - but this is where it landed.
7. Wolf Parade - At Mount Zoomer
I'll be honest - I wanted this to be Apologies to the Queen Mary 2. I think a lot of people did. When it turned out not to be ATTQM 2, I felt betrayed.* I felt like a dog (Kramer) who was coaxed into going for a car ride and then brought to the vet (Doctor). Out of resentment, I put this album aside (read: it's in the W's on my ipod and therefore pretty easy to avoid). It took me a while, but I came back to it and while it still frustrated me that there weren't the tight little rock songs from the first album, it was growing on me. It all gelled when I saw them live later in the year. Seeing the new stuff live helped me understand the buildups that are present on the album, but just seem to take too long to get there. It's a grower of an album in every sense of the word. Be patient with each listen, be patient with each song. It'll click.
*"Soldier's Grin" was the exception. I loved that song from the first listen.
6. Frightened Rabbit - The Midnight Organ Fight
This is my guilty pleasure of the year. Like Scotty said, I put this on when I'm too shy to listen to Counting Crows in front of company (August and Everything After though? Seriously? That shit is so good.) I think I listened to this more than anything else this year if only becomes it's so highly digestible. There is rarely a situation in which this wasn't going to be a nice soundtrack to what I was doing. "It takes more than fucking someone you don't know to keep warm." Whoa.
1. Fucked Up - The Chemistry of Common Life/The Walkmen - You & Me/Los Campesinos! - Hold on Now, Youngster.../Shearwater - Rook/Okkervil River - The Stand Ins
*Sorry about the pictures - I tried teaching myself HTML - but it obviously didn't work.
2008 was a strange year for me musically. I felt it coming all along. This ever increasing notion that there was not a single album that stood out from the pack. I've been making year-end lists for 4 years now and there has always been at least one album, if not two, that stood out as my far and away favorite albums of a given year. That never happened for me this year. That's not to say that there wasn't good music this year. To the contrary, it was an incredibly deep year with any number of albums rising to the top of year end lists (although Fleet Foxes and TVOTR seem to be staking their claims for the "IT" album of 2008). These five albums represent my somewhat bewildered state. Yes, this is a cop out. But isn't ranking albums an arbitrary and entirely subjective practice as it is? So I choose not to rank these albums.
Musically, they couldn't be further apart. The best punk album I've heard since my hay day. A matured output from one of the now elder statesmen of indie rock. A clever, energetic debut from some of the most prolific Welsh kids this side of the Supper Furry Animals. A gorgeous, haunting collection of songs from an ex-Okkervil River guy/Ornithologist. Another classic from Will Sheff and friends. These albums are all worth your time in one form or another.
Thanks for your time, you guys! Happy Holidays! Happy New Year! I'll be posting more on ClayTV in the future!