1. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes
· Wow. I have been following Sub Pop new bands for quite some time, but Fleet Foxes took me completely by surprise. It was a good surprise. Their blend of folk, indie rock and near-Mamas and the Papas-esque harmonies was such a breath of fresh air. Their sound was completely their own and this album came out of nowhere. With a set of internet songs out, and the Sun Giant EP, Fleet Foxes have now honed their sound and found their voice. Their sophomore effort will be one of my most anticipated for the next couple years. Top tracks are . . . all of them. Seriously. Here's a couple live tracks via la blogotheque.
2. Sigur Rós - Með suð í eyrum við spilum end
· Mmm. Sigur Ros. I loved Agaetis Byrjun. Takk was a masterpiece. They were albums that I liked to listen to on a nice set of headphones – with all other sounds blocked out. However, for some reason, when they came up on my iPod when on shuffle, I would often skip their tracks. The songs were something to be experienced and enjoyed outside of the shuffle format. Med sud I eyrum vid spilum defies that. On this album, Sigur Ros comes closer than ever before to writing traditional pop-rock songs. I’m not saying that pop-rock is the gold standard for good music (heaven forbid). However, for my shuffling tendancies, there is something to be said for a traceable intro-verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus (or some permutation thereof) format. This album incorporates new sounds as well: a heavier reliance on acoustic guitars, more vibraphone and celesta than ever before, and more brass, more orchestra. This move away from the regular underlying cello-bowed distorted electric guitar allows the band to explore new sounds. I hate the term “soundscapes,” but in the case of Sigur Ros, it might actually be a worthwhile term. Again, Top tracks are all of them. Here's a live concert for your enjoyment.
3. Grand Archives – Grand Archives
· I think this was an underrated album. I loved it. Grand Archives is a fabulous example of straightforward indie-rock. Just some guys making good music. Lots of acoustic guitar and endless layers of vocal harmonies. Contains former members of Band of Horses and Carrissa's Wierd. Top tracks are Torn Blue Foam Couch, Miniature Birds, George Kaminski and Sleepdriving. Here they are on late night TV.
4. Common Market – Tobacco Road
· I find myself listening to this album a lot more than I thought I would. I love that Seatlle has a burgeoning Hip-Hop scene. Two of the premier acts are Blue Scholars and their Massline Media label-mates, Common Market. The two groups share their DJ, Sabzi, but have different MCs. Common Market’s self-titled debut was good, but is overshadowed in everyway by Tobacco Road. MC RA Scion’s new album has a more coherent voice that their previous LP lacked. HE focused heavily on his roots in the agricultural U.S. South, the troubled family life of his childhood and other seemingly autobiographical themes. He finds new cadences and new rhythms as well. DJ Sabzi finds new sounds as well – lots of vibraphone and other instrumentations that seem borrow from his skills as a jazz pianist. Top tracks include Trouble Is, Winter Takes All, Weather Vane and Tobacco Road. In particular, try Weather Vane. Common Market juxtaposes a smooth, almost sleepy, vibraphone track with the album’s grittiest and most disturbing lyrics – focused on domestic violence in small town rural America. Its chilling stuff. Here's their 1st music video.
5. Death Cab for Cutie – Narrow Stairs
· This was a highly anticipated album if there ever was one. I still can’t believe that Death Cab for Cutie – that band that I first heard while growing up in Bellingham, WA, where they were going to college there at Western Washington University. Heck, I used to play them on my radio show at KUGS 89.3 when they were wandering the Western U.S. in beat-up vans. It is unbelievable to see them headlining major festivals, debuting their new album Narrow Stairs at #1 on the Billboard charts and getting Grammy nominations! Wow! Well, maybe I should be surprised, because they ARE amazing. Narrow Stairs finds them in a more stripped down and raw state than on the previously uber-produced Plans. The result is fabulous. Indie rock at its best. Some guys in a room, playing great music. Gibbard lyrics continue to impress me. The music industry has few true poets. Gibbard may be one of them. Top tracks are Cath . . . , Grapevine Fires and Your New Twin Sized Bed. Check out this documentary on the making of Narrow Stairs:
6. The Mountain Goats – Heretic Pride
· Oh the Mountain Goats. John Darnielle is by far my favorite lyricist in the business. On each successive album his oft nasally vocals get more refined and his talent as a musician is more polished. As has been mentioned in some reviews, Darnielle is more a songwriter than a musician. Top tracks are San Bernadino, How to Embrace a Swamp Creature and Michael Myers Resplendent.Here's a video off the album - one of my favorites of the year.
7. Dear and the Headlights – Drunk Like Bible Times
· I found this band via their record producer, Bob Hoag @ the Flying Blanket Studio. On a side note, I’m still waiting for Bob’s The Go Reflex to release a new album. Please Bob, for my sake . . . I need some more Go Reflex. OK, back to Dear and the Headlights . . . This band’s first album, Small Steps, Heavy Hooves was good. I liked it. Drunk Like Bible Times is better. They seem more comfortable with their voice, and claim that this album better represents who they are, whereas their previous LP was outdated and unrepresentative of where the band was. The vocals are more frenetic than ever (if you can believe it), guitars are more noodley and there is a broader instrumentation overall. Top tracks are I’m not Crying, You’re not Crying, Are You?, Saintly Rows (Oh Oh) and I Know. Here's a video from their first album.
8. J. Tillman – Vacilando Territory Blues
· J. Tillman has been putting out some great solo, singer-songwriter material for a few years. I found him via his current gig as the drummer for Fleet Foxes and form my bro-in-law McGreggor. His 2nd release of the year, I like this one better than Minor Works. The production value and sound quality isn’t quite as good as Minor Works, but thankfully, he didn’t lay down the countrified slide guitar as much. Top tracks are Firstborn, James Blues, Barter Blues and Master’s House.
9. R.E.M. – Accelerate
· Hallelujah for a comeback. R.E.M. was probably the most influential band during my adolescent/teenage years. My wife claims I like them simply for the nostalgia, but I disagree. However, as much lamented by myself and other, their last couple efforts have been soooo disappointing. Up, Reveal and Around the Sun . . . I could do without them. So, their latest effort was so exciting. Wow. R.E.M. is back, mad and pumped full of something! This album is full of angst, energy and direction. Accelerate is a good mix of their traditional sensibilities with some of the added energy of Monster and New Adventures in Hi Fi. Top tracks are Living Well is the Best Revenge, Man-Sized Wreath, Hollow Man and Mr. Richards. Here's them on late night
10. Someone Still Loves you Boris Yeltsin – Pershing
· Another good release from Polyvinyl Records! Upbeat, harmony-laden indie rock. I was glad to find it on vinyl for $7 in a discount bin at graywhale records in SLC! Top tracks are Glue Girls, Modern Mystery and Think I Wanna Die. A video.
11. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend
· Overrated? Over exposed? Critical backlash due to all the hype? Blah blah blah. This band and album has receive a lot of blogosphere attention. All of the bickering aside, this is a fun album. Enough said. It is unique, upbeat, has good strings and again, its fun. Just fun. Top Tracks are Mansard Roof, A-Punk and The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance. Another top video of the year for me.
12. J. Tillman – Minor Works
· Previously mentioned, this was J. Tillman’s first release of the year. The sound quality was a vast improvement from his previous 3 releases. However, as many bands do when they have a larger budget for recording, Tillman over did it a bit. Too much slide guitar . . . and at times a bit overproduced. Top tracks are Jesse’s Not a Sleeper, With Wolves, and Restlessness.
13. Okkervil River – The Stand-Ins
· As intended, this is a good follow up to 2007’s The Stage Names. If you liked that, you’ll like this. Top tracks are Lost Coast Lines, Starry Stairs and Bruce Wayne Campell Interviewed on the Roof of The Chelsea Hotel, 1979. Lost Coast Lines video:
14. The Mighty Underdogs – Droppin’ Science Fiction
· The Gift of Gab (Blackalicious), Lateef the Truth Speaker (Latyrx and Maroons) and Headnodic (Crown City Rockers) . . . you can’t go wrong. This is a fun album with great beats that underlie the expected lyrical expertise of the MCs. Top Tracks are Monster, Ill Vacation and Hands in the Air. Gunfhigt Video:
15. Damien Jurado – Caught in the Trees
· I have heard people say that Jurado is poised to be the next Elliott Smith. Hmmm. I don’t know about that. He is great though. Good orchestration on the album. A solid release. Top tracks are Trials, Everything Trying, Paper Kite and Best Dress. Video for Caskets:
16. Panic at the Disco – Pretty. Odd.
· I feel like I need a huge disclaimer for including this on my list. I despised everything this band was on their previous work. The eyeliner, the Fall Out Boy clone vocal styling. All of it – makes me shudder. This album however, was impressive. They were obviously shooting for a Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band type album and sound. The reason it isn’t higher on my list is that the lyrics were abysmal. Honestly. The more I listened to the words, the more I realized how banal they were! The music though, is really impressive. Great instrumentation, great transitions, very fun. Top tracks are Nine in the Afternoon, That Green Gentleman, When the Day Met the Night and Behind the Sea.
17. Conor Oberst – Conor Oberst
· I’m not entirely sure why Bright Eyes frontman (is he a frontman if it has largely been a solo show?) Conor Oberst decided to put out a new album under his own name, but I’m glad he released more music either way. Bright Eyes, or Conor Oberst and the Mystic Vally Band, he puts out some good stuff. The sound is a bit grittier than Cassadaga. It feels more spontaneous and less calculating. Top tracks are Moab, Get-Well-Cards and Souled Out.
18. Joshua James – The Sun is Always Brighter
· Turns out I knew this guys’ sister without putting together the “James” last name connection. Small world. I don’t know why this album hasn’t generated more buzz. Excellent indie-acoustic-rock with great instrumentation, strings, etc . . . James writes good songs and spins a good yarn. Top tracks are The New Love Song, FM Radio and Dangerous. A coupel vids HERE
19. Ben Folds – Way to Normal
· This is not my favorite Ben Folds album. It was a bit noisy for my taste and it lacked two things that many of his previous efforts had: a cohesive thematic voice, and some sort of traceable stride or pacing to the album’s flow. There were also quite a few tracks that I simply could have done without. Top tracks are Hiroshima (honestly one of the catchiest songs of the year), Cologne and Kylie from Connecticut. The fake versions of songs that leaked were quite a treat as well. Another top video of the year:
20. Matt Pryor – Confidence Man
· The New Amsterdams, side project for Matt Pryor, always played 2nd fiddle to his primary gig as the frontman for The Get Up Kids. Nevertheless, they put out some great albums. Worse for the Wear was a masterpiece. The early free internet release versions of Killed or Cured were quick favorite. However, once the Get up Kids broke up and Pryor dedicated himself fulltime to the New Amsterdams (ok . . . and the Terrible Twos), the music took a turn for the worse in 1 awful (Story Like a Scar) and 1 “acceptable” (At the Foot of my Rival) release. Then, out of nowhere, Pryor dropped his Amsterdam moniker and released under his named, Matt Pryor. The resulting LP drives straight back to what The New Amsterdams had started as. Minimalistic, acoustic, harmonicas, singer-songwriter-esque stories to music. I’m glad for this return to roots. Top tracks are Confidence Man, When the World Stops Turning, and the now multiple times redone Dear Lover.
My Favorite EPs of 2008
1. Common Market – Black Patch War [EP]
· This EP got me so ramped up for the Fall 2008 release of Tobacco Road. His Eminence may be my top hip-hop track of the year. Gritty, personal, rooted in southern agricultural and rural roots. Very good.
· John Darnielle’s lyrics + Kaki King’s guitar. Wow!
3. The Mountain Goats – Satanic Messiah [EP]
· More Mountain Goats is always a good thing!
4. Fleet Foxes – Sun Giant [EP]
· Can you think of a better debut EP? I can’t.
5. Colin Meloy – Colin Meloy Sings Sam Cooke [EP]
· Colin Meloy teams up with Zoey Daschelle on backup vocals. The result is my favorite of all of Colin Meloy’s cover EPs. Cupid is great.
6. The Mighty Underdogs – The Prelude [EP]
· This was a tasty teaser!
7. Minus the Bear – Acoustics [EP]
· GUNS & AMMO is a great new track. I also like hearing We Are Not a Football Team acoustic.
8. Conor Oberst – Gentleman’s Pact [EP]
· 4 good tracks.
9. Blue Scholars – BUTTER&GUN$ [EP]
· I can always use some more Blue Scholars. Butter&Guns is the only track worth mentioning though.
10. Josh Ritter – Live at the 9:30 Club [EP]
· I like Josh Ritter. I love Josh Ritter live.
11. Drew Danburry – Mother [EP]
· Hooray for Drew Danburry! Not only is he a great guy and a quality human being, but he makes some very entertaining music.
12. Matt Pond PA – The Freeep [EP]
· Nothing sticks out to me. Good, but not gripping. Much like most of Matt Pond PA’s music.
13. Ben Kweller – How Ya Lookin’ Southbound? Come In . . . [EP]
· This EP worries me. It is supposed to get us ready for next year’s Changing Horses. I don’t hear a lot that I like here. Too county.
Other notable releases:
Amos Lee – Last Days at the Lodge
· Nice and bluesy. Not as good as his self-titled.
Ashton Allen – Wellspring
· I was really excited to hear that Ashton Allen was putting out a new full length. His first album, Dewdrops was really great. It was a mix of the Beatles, Elliott Smith and Ben Kweller. This album, however, didn’t grab me as before. Good, but not great.
Before Braille - Kill the Messenger, Keep the Message
· Has this officially came out yet? Kind of, I think so. Frontman Dave Jensen (also owner of the Sunset Alliance record label) mailed these out for Christmas. A bunch of old tracks from his now defunct band. Some great stuff though. A few tracks honestly among B4B’s finest. You should all buy it from Dave. Try Dave's new bad Art for Starters
Chris Walla – Field Manual
· For a long time, Death Cab for Cutie multi-instrumentalist and producer Chris Walla has been recording songs and putting them up on his website for free. I was glad to see him properly put out an LP. It is really good. His voice is not the strongest, but it is interesting to try to juxtapose his music with that of Death Cab – trying to distill his musical voice from the broader Death Cab sound. Good stuff.
Cold War Kids – Loyalty to Loyalty
· A grittier Maroon 5 with Led Zeppelin vocal crooning. Robbers and Cowards, their previous LP had so many catchy hooks and grooves. This album has much fewer.
Colin Meloy – Colin Meloy Sings Live!
· Decemberists frontman Colin Meloy can (almost) do no wrong. He sounds so great live.
Flight of the Conchords – Flight of the Conchords
· Funny and entertaining, but not something I listen to very often. Season 2 should be good.
Hotel Lights – Firecracker People
· I hope this grows on me. Darren Jesse from Ben Folds Five as frontman.
Hudson River School – Rise & Fall
· A long time coming, this Salt Lake City group offers this as their last effort, simultaneously announcing their breakup. Some good tunes.
Jack Johnson – Sleep Through the Static
· Better than his last couple. Its still not Brushfire Fairytales, but held my interest more than his last couple efforts.
Kaki King – Dreaming of Revenge
· Good, but not great. I like her 1st two better.
Less than Jake – GNV FLA
· Hooray! Less Than Jake got their voice back! The last couple albums strayed too far into mainstream sound for my tastes. It is great to hear them back in their prime.
Lyrics Born – Everywhere at Once
· Very very very very very very disappointing! Man! Lyrics born can be such a good MC, such a lyricist with some of the best flow, breath control and fast syncopated storytelling around! This album was weak sauce. Too much fluff. Too much R&B!
Lyrics Born – The Lyrics Born Variety Show, Season 3
· Some really good tracks. The first 2 seasons were better, but this is a welcome addition to the series.
Mates of State – Re-Arrange Us
· The best release to date by this married couple. Very catchy.
Mike Doughty – Golden Delicious
· Alright Mike Doughty! More tunes from our former Soul Coughing frontmanThis was close to being on the top 20. It had a couple great songs. I just want the girl in the blue dress to keep on dancing was one of my favorite songs of the year! Put it down was also great.
Phantom Planet – Raise the Dead
· I was really disappointed with Phantom Planet’s last self-titled release. REALLY disappointed. In previous releases, Phantom Planet is Missing, The Guest, Polaroid, etc . . . they had carved a unique sound and made some really fun music. Then their last LP seemed to poorly mimic and jump on the garage band – Strokes bandwagon. Boo! This release was significantly better. Top tracks are
Ra Ra Riot - Rhumb Line
- Just barely got this, and it needs some more listens. So far, so good.
Ratatat – LP3
· Their self-titled was better. This album lost my attention, but stayed on my iPod nonetheless.
Reggie and the Full Effect – Last Stop: Crappy Town
· Crappy Town is right. Reggie always had a great quirky sense of humor with some good sounds as well. This just devolved into generic screamo-core way too much! A couple good songs though.
Sun Kill Moon – April
· Also a close contender for my top 20. Kozelek can be great and can be very mediocre. This is one of his better releases.
Thao Nguyen with The Get Down Stay Down – We Brave Bee Stings and All
· Quirky and fun.
The Dodos – Visiter
· A few tracks I could have done without, but come really good stuff.
TV On the Radio - Dear Science,
- I liked this a lot better than their previous work. The vocals are still as erratic as ever, but the underlying music was much improved.