This is the first January to January that I have spent living in New York City. The job market is scary and unstable, though luckily I’m employed and still paying my bills. (Actually I may have just been fired so please give me a job if you are reading this living in New York and can give me some money.) It has been a long time since I left the city and realize that I am in need of a vacation. I don’t sleep much lately, spending long hours staring out of windows, wandering cold streets, or staring at glowing screens. It is too cold to sleep with the window open now and most days I don’t wake up before noon unless work or other extraordinary circumstances are at hand. All this said, I’m having a better time in the city than I was in the fall. I’ve just been reunited with one of my best friends in the world who moved here a few weeks ago from Africa and has been living on my floor. I have also met one of the more special friends I’ve made since moving here and it turns out that she’s my neighbor. My neighborhood is changing quickly and it’s inspiring and scary to bare witness to. There are possibilities for our country I’m excited about for the first time in my lifetime, and the beginning of an era of reconsideration seems to be at hand.
With this in mind, I take on a list of my favorite albums to be released this year. Though not particularly reflective of the mass opinion, or of our collective culture, my best of list is extremely specific to me and my year. I in no way attempt with this list to say that these are the best albums that have been released this year, they are just the ones that are still resonating and being revisited by me as the new year begins. These are the best albums released this year in my world. I hope they can please your wherever you are at in yours.
I have posted a downloadable mp3 for each album to be played back while reading about each album in true Disney book on tape style, though the tracks may also be downloaded and listened to on your own time as you sit in traffic or close yours eyes on your bus or subway ventures.
So, without any further adu, MY TEN (or so) FAVORITE ALBUMS OF THE YEAR!!!!
(in no particular order)
I know that this album came out a long time ago, at least in regards to this year, but come on people! I haven’t seen this on anyone’s top albums of the year list except for mine. What the hell is the matter with all of you? It’s totally the underdog album of the year! It’s got the world music playfulness that bands like Vampire Weekend and El Guincho have tried to make their own, but it doesn’t settle for one trick pony-dom like both of those albums do. Instead it careens confidently through a cornucopia of styles ranging from trippy 80′s and psychedelic sounds to Beach Boys style summer harmonies and Animal Collective lite soundscapes. Things never seem random or forced however because this album is actually just as playful as it is focused. Unfortunately it seems that coming out at the beginning of the year is a kiss of death for an album that should have come out in the spring or summertime, but listening to “Sea Lion” is a satisfying and even joyful occasion in spite of whatever season you may be in and in spite of what amnesiac critics proclaim.
If Daniel Rossen and his bandmate Fred Nicolaus had released this album under the Grizzly Bear name, people would most likely be foaming at the mouth and jumping about. Everyone would be blabbing and I wouldn’t have to vent about how strange the lack of buzz surrounding “In Ear Park” has been. I know however that this isn’t technically what it sounds like (ie a new Grizzly Bear album) and that the lack of their name on the cover seems to have resulted in people taking a longer time to catch on to the goodness. “In Ear Park” comes across kind of like Grizzly Bear on uppers. The songs here are a bit gentler and more shuffle-like than on “Horn of Plenty” or “Yellow House”, tossed around with more summer time abandon than what we’ve heard from Rossen in the past. At its best, it sounds like a Grizzly Bear record if it were to be produced in collaboration with legendary California composer and songwriter Van Dyke Parks, expanding upon the pop sensibilities that bubbled up on popular tracks like “Yellow House’s” “Knife.” If this doesn’t sound good to you then we can stop talking right now, you can roll your eyes and go on to the next record and I will pretend like I didn’t notice, but if you are like me dear reader and that thought presents to you the possibility of bliss, then most likely friend, this album for you.
SHUGO TOKUMARU – EXIT
Shugo Tokumaru – La La Radio
Tokyo’s wondrous Shugo Tokumaru has been making his own version of happy-bedroom-whimsy-pop for a while now, but with his third album “Exit”, he really has hit the nail on the head. It’s not to say that his past two albums have been mediocre, but with “Exit” it seems as though his aesthetic has at last fully met up with his gift for writing catchy and unique pop songs. The album plays sort of like a less gimmicky, more Japanese Sufjan Stevens, gallivanting about in a spring time filled with cherry blossoms. Tokumaru plays almost every instrument here by himself and pulls melodies and rhythms out of multitudes of hats, while somehow managing to never once come off sounding stale, pretentious or overly precious. While I’m sure that singing everything in a language I don’t speak adds to my sense of awe, I’m also positive that if I was fluent in Japanese I’d still be entranced and wide eyed.
LOS CAMPESINOS! – HOLD ON NOW YOUNGSTER/WE ARE BEAUTIFUL, WE ARE DOOMED
Los Campesinos! – My Year In Lists
I know it’s totally taboo to include two albums as one entry, or to involve ties on any sort of list. I’m aware that this is cheating and taking an easy out but I am left with no choice. Los Campesinos! didn’t take any sort of easy out this year and released two fantastic albums in 2008, exploding onto the music scene with a force to be reckoned with. Though this is ridiculously awesome, it’s also seemingly kind of insane and impossible. Los Campesinos! get away with a lot of things that you wouldn’t think they would though, keeping both pleasant surprises and their name synonymous over the course of the year. The band is made up of seven members (!) and hail from Cardiff Wales, which would make you think it’s tricky to get tours and albums together on any sort of regular basis, but somehow they have managed to not only play music all over the globe this year, but to also be drawing fans from multiple countries the world over. This all sounds fairly far fetched until you actually get around to listening to their music. It’s kind of like a punk/twee fuck fest but please don’t take that the wrong way. Their music doesn’t just work, it soars. If Art Brut got over being so constantly ironic that you find it hard to believe what they are saying and if Architecture in Helsinki released the album that you wanted them to last year instead of diving off the deep end of obnoxiousness, you would begin to understand where Los Campesinos! are coming from musically. Their lyrics however, come from somewhere else entirely. Though extremely desperate and self obsessed, there is a sense of world wide youthful anxiety here. Everything comes off as highly literate and smart, while still existing fully in youths emoish indulgences. In other words, though I love this band at where I’m at currently, if i was still in high school or early college this year Los Campesinos! would probably be ruling my life right about now. If you are in high school or college, or if you don’t feel guilty bopping around like you are, you most likely know about Los Campesinos! already, if for some strange reason you don’t however, it’s time to jump on the fucking bandwagon.
CUT COPY – IN GHOST COLORS
Cut Copy – So Haunted
Though synth/electro-like bands are a dime a dozen, showing up in multitudes every year since the revival started near the end of the last decade, we still all seem to be really digging this type of music. Maybe it’s the fact that our generation has yet to materialize something truly new and unique of our own, or maybe it’s the keen sense of nostalgia and irony that we hardly even realize is inherent to our nature, but for now at least synth pop is here and I doubt it will be going away for at least a little while longer.
Cut Copy surely rise to the top of the “bands who kick ass at this sort of thing” list and along with The Tough Alliance have released a prime example of what electronic pop should sound like in 2008. The songs tend to be lyrically earnest and energetically orchestrated, with rhythms and melodies bouncing off the wall the way that you wish they could have back when this kind of sound was still brand new, but technology wasn’t quite up to date. The influence of multitudes of electronic music help to keep things exciting and unpredictable, which is hard to do on an album you can pretty much dance to from beginning to end. Though “Lights and Music” and ” Hearts on Fire” are favorites and the stand out singles here, I have a total hard on for “So Haunted” which starts out like a lost 90′s alt-rock anthem but changes swiftly towards its ending to a blissed out, morning after, electro comedown. It’s beautiful, unexpected and perfectly shows off why there is still room to dabble in eighties inspired sounds almost twenty years after that decade gave way to The Gap and Nirvana.
NOTE: For some reason someone has put up an embedding code block for all of Cut Copies official videos on youtube. I don’t know if this is the band’s doing or what, but it’s pretty lame. I’d link you to their videos on youtube, but that would be just supporting the lameness, so instead I’ll leave it up to you if you want to watch their videos, which aren’t that awesome anyhow.
TO BE CONTINUED…