Wednesday, 17 December 2008

In Review: 2008. Albums. Favourite.

So here's my top 20 albums of 2008. A list of the albums that are still standing once the hyperbole is a distant memory, and all that's left is the music.


20. Squarepusher - Just A Souvenir

Weird, wonderful and without equal in terms of variation of theme and musical direction, all the hallmarks of a Squarepusher album.

From opener Star Time 2 sounding like it could be the theme to some N64 winter sports game, to the post-punk garage balls of Delta-V, it's hard to even speculate as to what goes through Tom Jenkinson's imagination, but when has that ever been a bad thing?


19. Mahjongg - Kontab

Another album that sounds completely different from track to track is the Chicago avante five-piece's sophomore Kontab.

Opener Pontiac reminds me of a broodier version of Atlas by Battles, slowly building into an all out tribal jamming session midway through.

Followed by a distorted guitar meets hip hop beat on Problems, which declares there's a problem with our world because it's so big. Letting that slide, it's the beats that are the strong point on this album and not the lyrics.

All nine tracks are pretty solid, but the full extent of their talent isn't unleashed until final track Rise Rice, 8:31 of an all out aural assault featuring drones, chanting, bells, pipes, drums and more.

Mahjongg - Problems (YSI)


18. Natalie Portman's Shaved Head - Glistening Pleasure

Team Swan

Containing more references to sexual conquest, double-teaming and procreation than an issue of Men Only (do people even buy porn mags these days?), this album never fails to put a smile on my face.

Full of synth-driven pop melodies and outrageous choruses, as well as titles such as Slow Motion Tag Team and Sophisticated Side Ponytail, it's not an album for people who take music too seriously.

Natalie Portman's Shaved Head - Slow Motion Tag Team (YSI)


17. Gang Gang Dance - Saint Dymphna
The Social Registry/Warp

Although I'm still to check out their stuff previous to this, Saint Dymphna is a fantastic album.

Obvious highlights are the more conventional pop of House Jam, and schizophrenic Princes which features UK grime MC Tinchy Stryder.

I'm yet to attempt it, but I think it's definitely one for the headphones, to make full use of the depth of sound in each track.

Gang Gang Dance - Princes feat. Tinchy Stryder (YSI)


16. Laura Marling - Alas, I Cannot Swim

I'm not the biggest fan of folk as most of it bores me to death, but there is the odd exception and Alas, I Cannot Swim is one of them.

One of the things that impresses me most about Laura Marling is just how self-assuredly expressive she can be. A lot has been made of her age in relation to this, but I think it would have the same impact if she were forty five, never mind eighteen at the time of writing.

From opener Ghosts to the stinging Failure, My Manic And I to Night Terror, her song writing and delivery are far superior to that of the five thousand other female singer/songwriters which have flooded the charts this year.


15. The Glimmers - Are Gee Gee Fazzi
Self Released

How do you follow up one of the best opening tracks of any album this year in Frantic? With the only logical choice; a rework of Olivia Newton John's 80's hit Physical.

I think it might have been overlooked upon release due to the fact that they aren't French (they're Belgians), but mostly it would be because it's not on general release anywhere. Instead, it was given away for free at their DJ gigs.

If you can get your hands on a copy however, it's well worth it, as I don't think anyone even told these two that disco even needed reviving.

The Glimmers - Physical (YSI)


14. These New Puritans - Beat Pyramid

I remember having a discussion about Beat Pyramid with Jamila of Fucking Dance and Sahil of Transparent and giving TNP a bit of a slating after giving the album a couple of listens.

However, over time I've realised the error of my ways and have since been made to eat those words. En Papier and Elvis are still catchy as hell, but it's Infinity Ytinifni that's the killer track on what is a perfect album to counter the happy hardcore/niche/bassline wankery blasting out of the adjacent car at the traffic lights.

Let's face it, anyone who can nonchalantly insert lyrics concerning Michael Barrymore masturbating into a song need to be commended.


13. Lykke Li - Youth Novels

It doesn't seem all that long ago that Li Lykke Timotej Zachrisson seemingly came out of nowhere to become one of the most blogged artists of the first half of 2008.

Whether it be the ping pong-esque percussion on Dance Dance Dance, the megaphone effect on I'm Good, I'm Gone or the heartbeat behind Little Bit, this album is as unconventional as it is brilliant.

I had the pleasure of seeing her live earlier on in the year and having included covers of Vampire Weekend and Wendy Rene as well as bursting into a rendition of KRS-One's Sound Of Da Police mid-song, it's the best performance I'd seen before or have seen since in 2008.


12. Free Blood - The Singles


Not an album as such, more a collection of their three EP's, it's just an excuse to include Free Blood, who are probably my favourite discovery of 2008 alongside Hexa.

Leaving such a highly regarded band as !!! (chk chk chk) might have been seen as an unwise move by some, but John Pugh has proved undoubtedly that it was worth it.

Quick and Painful is a definite standout, featuring vocals from both Pugh and Madeline Davy, it starts out relatively quietly before building to a crescendo of groans and glitches, culminating with the question '...did I just destroy your ears?'.

Free Blood - Never Hear Surf Music Again (Barfly Remix) (YSI)


11. Cut Copy - In Ghost Colours

Electro-pop done properly from start to finish, and where others have been sucked in, chewed up and spit out of the in-bred 'blog house' machine, Cut Copy have stuck to their guns and come out on top.

From Feel The Love to Lights And Music, Unforgettable Season to the major hit Hearts On Fire, I could just as well include any track on the album as a favourite, showing the strength of the fifteen tracks on their sophomore album.

However it's the swirling synths and airy tones of Out There On The Ice that builds to a simultaneously euphoric and melancholic mesh of distorted guitars and high end keys that is my favourite of all.


10. Mystery Jets - Twenty One

Having been non-plussed about their debut Making Dens, even I can't deny that this is one of the pop albums of the year.

Lyrically, this album is amazing, exemplified in singles Young Love featuring Laura Marling and Half In Love With Elizabeth.

With the help of producer Erol Alkan, Mystery Jets have succeeded in capturing the highs and lows of relationships and love without turning it into a soppy cliched mess, as much can't be said for many of their peers.

Mystery Jets - Half In Love With Elizabeth (Joe And Will Ask? 11PM Remix) (YSI)


9. As In Rebekkamaria - Queen Of France

A few months back, I was raving about Annie and her latest album. Since then, she's left her label and the release of Don't Stop has been put back to I don't even know when.

Rumours were rife that Island just couldn't handle her, but I'm calling bullshit. There's one reason and one reason only for the delay, and that was the release of Queen Of France.

Lea posted about her last month, and I completely agree, this album pushes pop places it needs to go. Forget Xenomania, forget Girls Aloud, the new queen of pop is here.


8. The Very Best - Esau Mwamwaya & Radioclit Are The Very Best
Self Released

I don't know which is better, this mixtape or the story of how it came about.

As well as Italo, African music has been filtering into the mainstream for a while now with MIA's sophomore album Kala in 2007, and this year with New Zealand's The Ruby Suns and the afrobeat rip offs of Vampire Weekend.

Funnily enough, all three of the above feature on the mixtape as well as Michael Jackson, Architecture in Helsinki, Santogold and BLK JKS amongst others.

It's enjoyable from start to finish, and the covers, remixes and edits are delivered with as much humour as they are skill. Next time you do something as simple as purchase a bike, just bear in mind that things as good as this could happen.

The Very Best (Esau Mwamwaya and Radioclit) - Dinosaur On The Ark (YSI)


7. Air France - No Way Down
Sincerely Yours/Rough Trade

As much of a musical Mecca that Sweden is, two guys from Gothenburg producing some of the best Balearic sounds I've ever heard was not something I was expecting in 2008.

In a stroke of genius, Rough Trade have amalgamated their two EPs which were released on the Swedish label Sincerely Yours, into one 10 track LP.

No Way Down feels more like a collection of field recordings than something that has been constructed in a studio, best summed up by the children on Collapsing At Your Doorstep.

"It's sort of like a dream isn't it?"
"No... better."

Air France - June Evenings (YSI)


6. Late of the pier - Fantasy Black Channel

Now don't get me wrong, Late of the pier are my favourite band of the past five years, and I guess this really should be at number one, but I know the majority of the songs that well that I hardly even listen to it anymore (apart from Random Firl, which I won't ever tire of).

As ridiculous as that may sound, nothing and no one can deny what a fantastic album this is.

Whilst I prefer some of the demos over their album versions, Erol Alkan has brought out the best in the band, magnifying their influences and eccentricities to produce the most flamboyant album of 2008.

The question is now that they've released the album worth of songs that they've been playing for the past two years, can they better it with the next one?


5. Heartbreak - Lies

From the first time I heard Regret, I knew this was something special. Italo has seen a return to cool in 2008 and the pinnacle of that movement must be Heartbreak.

With what could be the most perfect partnership of 2008, Ali Renault's musicianship and Sebastian Muravchix enigmatic dancing and vocal range make sure that this album and their live show are something of a spectacle.

Other than Regret, my personal highlights are the punch the air chorus of Robot's Got The Feeling, the haunting declaration of 'We're back from the disco, to the radio' of We're Back and the 'Dorrrrrrrnaaaaaadooooo' bit in Give Me Action.


4. Metronomy - Nights Out

Right from the off, it's clear that Joseph Mount & Co. are right on the money. Where Pip Paine lacked hooks, cohesion and consistency, Nights Out shows just how far Metronomy have come since 2005.

Mount's decision to bring Oscar Cash and Gabriel Stebbing in full-time has paid dividends, and although some hardcore fans might whinge that it's too poppy, it's done to perfection.

Singles Radio Ladio, Heartbreaker and My Heart Rate Rapid are all fantastic and seminal in their own right, with only Holiday that possibly lets the side down.

Whilst the aforementioned singles will probably prove to be the most popular tracks of the album, it's both A Thing For Me and On Dancefloors that steal the show.


3. Eine Kleine Nacht Musik - Eine Kleine Nacht Musik

Admittedly, I'm not an expert in the genre of Kraut, so I have to take this album on face value, and it's brilliant.

I think it would be foolish of me to even attempt to articulate how this album sounds, as there are no adjectives that could do it justice. What I will say is that it's perfect for long journeys or something to chill out to when laid in bed, which is apt as the title is German for 'A Little Night Music'.

However, I am certain that this is the best thing that Henry Smithson aka Riton has done to date.


2. School Of Seven Bells - Alpinisms
Ghostly International

I love this album because it has a little bit of everything, and not in a confused/doesn't quite know what approach to go for kind of way, but in having a genuinely universal appeal.

Brainchild of ex-Secret Machines Benjamin Curtis and Alejandra and Claudia Deheza of On!Air!Library!, it has another contender for opening track of the year in Iamundernodisguise, it flirts between the conventional and the experimental whilst remaining cohesive.

Although there are no anthems or tracks that stand above the rest, it's not because it's average, it's because each track is as good as the next.

School Of Seven Bells - Wired For Light (YSI)


1. Fuck Buttons - Street Horrrsing

Ethereal pretty much sums this album up, from opener Sweet Love For Planet Earth (which still remains my favourite song of the year) to closing track Colours Move, it's an album of the highest calibre.

Considering I have a real problem listening to "noise" bands, there's something different about Fuck Buttons and I can't quite place it.

Listening to this album is like listening to the future, the stars and all that is awesome, it's just incredible and that's that.

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