Friday, December 12th, 2008
Chromewaves' favourite albums of 2008
2008 has been a curious year. In assembling this obligatory list of my favourite records of the year, I found it a much more difficult task than past years. This was partly because the list of “no-brainer” records that were gimmes for year-end accolades seemed much slimmer than usual, and as such I had to do a lot more thinking about what would make the cut. Not to take anything away from those records who are listed below – all are excellent records that have soundtracked the past twelve months quite nicely – I just usually don’t have to think about things this much.
The other interesting thing is how the records that seem to be topping most everyone else’s lists are conspicuously absent from mine. Your Fleet Foxes, your Bon Ivers, your Vampire Weekends. I spent a goodly amount of time with most of these albums and mostly agree they’re fine albums (Vampire Weekend excepted, that one just bugs me), but they just didn’t move me the way they obviously have others. Curious.
Instead, what I find is a heavy representation from the UK, which doesn’t really surprise me considering this was the year I fully indulged my innate Anglophilia and actually visited London for the first time. I’m surprised there’s only three artists represented that I’d have called myself a fan of prior to this year – hell, six of them I’d never even heard of when 2008 began. The Canadian content is made up of records that were released wholly independently. There’s also a strong folk/roots representation which I should be used to by now, seeing as how it crops up most every year. Maybe my musical tastes aren’t quite as broad as I’d like to think. It really is a bit of a strange list, all things considered, but even though it was assembled a bit hesitantly, I’m very comfortable with how the chips have fallen. So let’s have a look.
And great thanks to Vancouver-based artist and web designer Erin Nicholson, who took my half-assed idea for an artwork meme and turned it into something completely awesome – please do click on all the images to see larger versions. Though I really have no idea how I’m going to top this next year.
|Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds / Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! (Anti)
By the time I’d gotten into Nick Cave a few years back, I had assumed that he’d lost the fire and was settled into a career twilight of piano balladry. This record was a loud, angry and righteous kick in the face that not only showed me how wrong I was, but also how unbelievably great Cave is and remains. He may have stopped to take a breath, but he’s still got the fire and the fury. Hell yes.
MP3: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – “Dig, Lazarus Dig!!!”
|Frightened Rabbit / The Midnight Organ Fight (Fat Cat)
I’m a total sucker for plaintive folk rock, particularly when it’s delivered in a thick Scottish brogue, so there was really no way that I wasn’t going to love Frightened Rabbit. As grandly anthemic as it is introvertedly downcast and gloomy, Organ Fight managed to make being miserable sound absolutely invigorating. An early addition to this list that none were able to supplant.
|Lightspeed Champion / Falling Off The Lavender Bridge (Domino)
This was a year I was swept up almost wholly in the London “anti-folk” scene, and Lightspeed Champion was the gateway drug. Former Test Icicle Dev Hynes crafted an album that could have easily been dismissed as a potty-mouthed joke, but which was actually one of the most heartfelt and melodic records of the year. And it also gets immeasurable thanks for introducing me to Emmy The Great, who contributed many backing vocals on the album.
MP3: Lightspeed Champion – “Everyone I Know Is Listening To Crunk”
|Laura Marling / Alas, I Cannot Swim (Astralwerks)
Many of the accolades that have been lain at Marling’s feet sound cliche – that she’s an old soul, that her lyrics/voice/whatever belie her tender age, etc etc – but they’re also true. Alas would be a remarkable debut from anyone, but that it comes from someone still in her teens is astonishing. Credit also goes to producer Charlie Fink, himself but a young’n, for dressing Marling’s ruminations on love and loss in just the right amount of sonic finery. A slow grower at first but a fast favourite before long.
MP3: Laura Marling – “Ghosts”
|Okkervil River / The Stand-Ins (Jagjaguwar)
There will eventually be a year wherein Okkervil River releases an album that doesn’t automatically make my best-of list. This is not that year. While not as cohesive or triumphant as The Stage Names, this companion record was looser, more rocking and far more than a set of cast-offs. And it gave the band an excuse to tour ever more. It’s just as well that this volume was released separately from the first because if they’d come out together, my head may have exploded.
|The Rural Alberta Advantage / Hometowns (independent)
One of Toronto’s best bands and best-kept secrets finally release a full-length that’s not only as good as anyone could have dared hoped, but a good deal better. A fine example of how less really is more, this three-piece take the simplest musical ingredients and make them into some of the most stirring folk-rock you’ll hear anywhere. To hear them is to love them and finally, it seems, people are listening.
|School Of Seven Bells / Alpinisms (Ghostly)
A late addition to the list but one that I’m glad I made. I’ve said that this record, a mesmerizing bit of dreampop that simultaneously pays homage to and reinvents its forebears, is 1/3 brilliant and 2/3 solid. But I’ve also realized that even the tracks that don’t quite work are still more ambitious and interesting than many bands’ best efforts. And the ones that do work are absolutely sublime, and more than compensate.
|Shearwater / Rook (Matador)
I didn’t think that they could top Palo Santo, but Rook manages to be denser, more mysterious and ultimately more rewarding than its predecessor. It has a dynamicism, drama and confidence that even I, a long-time fan, hadn’t expected. It was sad to see the Okkervil-Shearwater relations finally be officially severed, but is this is the sort of work we get in return, it’s a small price to pay. A stunning piece of prog-folk which also takes the prize for best cover art of the year.
|Sigur Ros / Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust (XL)
Having already mastered the ability to create the sound of space whales simultaneously mating and giving praise to the cosmos, the Icelanders added another devastating trick to their arsenal – the pop hook. Med Sud somehow managed to compact and make accessible their unique sound without compromising that which makes them unlike any other band on the planet (or in space). A record I initially took for granted as “another Sigur Ros album” but soon realized was much more than that.
|Woodpigeon / Treasury Library Canada (independent)
Treasury is a left-field gem, equally ornate and exquisite while at the same time homespun and intimate. It delivers simple, heartfelt sentiments in perfectly-formed, folk-pop trappings that you can’t help but fall in love with. Originally intended as just a limited-edition release, it’s being given a much-deserved proper wide release next February so you can put it on your “best of 2009″ list.