My Year in Lists: The Best Albums of 2008 Part II

Originally, I was going to write about my top ten albums of ’08 by discussing two albums per day for the whole week before I depart for vacation in sunny Seattle. Then, I realized that if I condense the writing down to a couple of posts, I can spend more time playing Grand Theft Auto 4. What can I say, I’m going on vacation next week and I want to be lazy this week. Sue me. When we left off, I’d ranked #10 through 5 of my best of the year. To recap:

10. She & Him, Volume One

9. The Whigs, Mission Control

8. Atmosphere, When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint that Shit Gold

7. Santogold, Santogold

6.. The Shaky Hands, Lunglight

5. My Morning Jacket, Evil Urges

That brings us to #4.

4. Frightened Rabbit, The Midnight Organ Fight – Someone ripped Scott Hutchinson’s heart out, trampled on it, set it on fire, shat in the ashes, and buried the whole mess in a shallow grave. The resultant ache inspired much of The Midnight Organ Fight, Frightened Rabbit’s stellar second album. Frightened Rabbit would be run-of-the-mill, Coldplay-esque pop were it not for 2 great assets – Hutchinson’s lyrics (unlike Chris Martin, Hutchinson doesn’t pretty up his pain; rather than singing “I’ll tryyyyyyyyyyyyyy to fix you,” Hutchinson admits “I’m drunk/ I’m drunk/ and you’re probably on pills/ if we’ve both got the same diseases/ it’s irrelevant, girl”) and his wavering, heavily accented voice. Hutchinson and company have crafted the best break-up album of 2008, and one of the most honest (“It takes more than fucking someone to keep yourself warm”). If your heart is aching even a little this holiday season, pour a double shot of your favorite vice and curl up with The Midnight Organ Fight.   But don’t despair, happy people: there’s something for the rest of us too, which is what makes this album so great. It’s for the irreverent as much as the broken-hearted: “Jesus/ is just/ a Spanish boy’s name,” Hutchinson sings on “Head Rolls Off,” taking some time out from hurting to stick his thumb in the eye of the pious.  I earnestly hope Scott Hutchinson finds true love and happiness, so long as he doesn’t lose his jagged edge and start writing songs about how cute his fucking kids are. In any event, The Midnight Organ Fight is phenomenal.

3. TV on the Radio, Dear ScienceSpeaking of phenomenal, TV on the Radio have topped many a best-of list this year, and they fought hard for the largest pieces of my heart as well (for albums, pieces of my heart are doled out according to repeat listenings, which is why the top three albums on my list will make perfect sense to astute readers. All 3 of my favorite albums this year wore out my CD player in my car. Perhaps literally).  And that’s because Dear Science is unlike anything I’ve ever heard. It’s fucking amazing. The band has called it their “dance” record, which I suppose I can believe, since it is a little more poppy than their other work. Whatever you call it, though, “Halfway Home,” “Golden Age,” “Family Tree,” and “Lover’s Day,” (among all the others) constitute an album that is addictive and instantly compelling. Dear Science represents a sort of blueprint for what pop can be in the 21st century. TV on the Radio have blown some serious soul into the genre (along with a blast of funk, as on “Red Dress”) and injected it with much-needed life. This band is going to be around for along time and I’m convinced that they will always be this awesome.

2. Los Camepsinos!, Hold On Now, Youngster – Every year when I make this list, there are two albums that confuse me about their place in the pecking order. This year, those two albums were Dear Science and the debut from Los Campesinos!, Hold On Now, Youngster. I give a slight advantage to Los Campesinos! but if you ask me tomorrow, I might change my mind (don’t ask me tomorrow, I’ll be playing GTA 4). Hold On Now, Youngster was made by a group of seven (!) youngsters from Cardiff and it’s a frantic, clever, and brief burst of awesomeness. The whole thing is a little over half an hour and when it’s done, you’re breathless from lines like “Plunge your hand/ rip out my spine/ replace it with a UV light/ so I can be the beacon of hope/ that you always expected” or “Deer die with their eyes wide open,” or… well, just listen to the fucking album. Gareth and Aleksandra Campesinos! (yeah, I know, everyone having the same last name is so pretentious, but so what? The music matters the most, and their music is fucking great) trade off vocal lines (and sometimes over-lap) when the whole band isn’t shouting in unison at the top of their lungs (as on “We Are All Accelerated Readers”). Most of Los Campesinos! were in their early 20s when they recorded Youngster and they’ve already turned a great second disc (called We are Beautiful, We are Doomed) to end the year. Hold Now, Youngster is a literate, sharp-tongued record of jangly pop and bouncing rock tunes from a band that most desperately needs to come to Los Angeles as soon as possible.

So what’s the best album of 2008?

(insert suspense here)


hold_steady-stay_positive

The Hold Steady, Stay PositiveYou can’t honestly be surprised that my favorite band would make my favorite album of the year. But I’m not just handing it to ’em because I like the cut of their collective jib – they earned this dubious honor (at Bollocks!, most of the honors are dubious). No album this year came close to rocking this hard.  “Constructive Summer,” (my no-surprise favorite song of the year) starts off a set that kicks ass in the good old ways (on songs like “Sequestered in Memphis” and “Yeah, Sapphire”) and some awesome new ways (like “One for the Cutters,” and “Both Crosses,” which features J. Mascis on banjo). Craig Finn’s writing is as sharp as ever (“Raise a toast to Saint Joe Strummer/ I think he might’ve been our only decent teacher”), and this time ’round, he took a moment to write a love note to the Hold Steady fans who have been there from the beginning – the title track points out, quite reverently, “we couldn’t have even done this if it wasn’t for you.” What The Hold Steady built this summer was an album that amplifies all of their best tricks and tosses in some stylistic growth without sounding like they’re experimenting for the sake of experimenting. The truth is, they’re getting really fucking good at what they do. Tad Kubler’s guitar is still at the forefront (as it should be – you can have every single douchebag hack who played on Chinese Democracy – Tad Kubler will blow them away while downing a bottle of Jameson’s.) and Finn, despite the voice lessons, still doesn’t have much of a vocal range (although it’s much improved and songs like “Sequestered in Memphis” benefit from his new-found tunefulness), but prettier voices would diminish the impact of what he’s saying.  I submit to you that, when picking a favorite album for any given year,  you’ve gotta pick the album that made you wanna A) jump around and yell like a drunken fool, B) join/start/continue to play in a band, C) give copies of it to all your friends, despite their repeated protests, or D) all of the above more than any other album.  For me, that album is Stay Positive. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to crank up Stay Positive and get my car-jacking on. Happy whichever holidays you celebrate (I celebrate the death of Cardinal Richlieu on December 4th, Tom Waits’ birthday on December 7th, and I think there are some other holidays this month, but I can’t remember for the life of me what they are) and merry new year!

Got a better list? Post a comment with your ten best albums of 2008. You won’t win anything (I blame the economy), but I know you’re compiling those lists anyway. Might as well share. Blender won’t let you do that.

(Incidentally, before I sign off for the year, I wanna say: I started this blog on a lark, to warm myself up for writing plays and songs and stuff, so I never expected many people to read it. Well, earlier this week, some 71 people stopped  by Bollocks!, which I know is not even close to the number of people who read other blogs, but it’s still our best ever. So thanks, everybody. For serious.)

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