Saturday, December 27, 2008

HAD's Top Eleven Of 2008

Yes, eleven. At the end of the day, we just couldn't bring ourselves to pare it down to ten, and what's the point of normalcy, anyway? Instead we decided to just give you the unfettered list of our favorite records of the year, count be damned.

This list is really our best effort to point out the records that caught our attention, and held on to it for a good long time. There are lots of other great records out there, but these are the discs that stayed with us through the year. On headphones and speakers, at home and on the road, these are albums that not only held our attention, but also changed our perspective on music and opened our eyes to a new perspective.

1. Frightened Rabbit - Midnight Organ Fight:
To anyone who's a regular reader of HAD, this record's place at number one should come as no surprise. We're simply addicted to it, in every sense of the word. The desperate vocals, the layered guitars, the outstanding songwriting, and the clever lyricism - all of them contribute to make Frightened Rabbit's latest our number one record of the year. Some pigeonhole it as emo or depressing, but we're of the opinion of their missing the humor behind the record. Its songs are a shot at the unbelievable nature of love and life in the modern world, and struggling to find some semblance of reason amongst the chaos.

 2. Plants And Animals - Parc Avenue:
This Canadian trio hit us out of the blue with a record that captures so many elements that it's painfully hard to characterize, aside from the fact that it's very, very, good. The album's tracks contain a vast range of styles, rhythms, and melodies. More than anything, they serve to lay a foundation for a band that is clearly adept at doing whatever they please. From the anthemic opener "Bye Bye", to the record's frenetic closer "Guru", this album simply begs to be listened to on repeat - what's hiding in the nooks and crannies gives more and more with each listen.

 3. MGMT - Oracular Spectacular:
Sure, it's debateable as to when this record came out. If you're a "when did the public get it" purist, then sure, it was released in digital form last year. For us, though, the record hit the streets in January, and a release is a release. But enough about technicality: this record is rock and roll brilliance. An amazingly clever tongue and cheek look at disillusionment in the face of commercialism and social norms. It's a record about finding your own way, discovering yourself, and wondering what on earth people are doing following the crowd. It doesn't hurt that the melodies are ridiculously catchy and memorable, and that Dave Friddman did a fantastic job with the production duties. The whole record comes together to be a pop masterpiece that also manages to take a stab at everything and anything conventional.

4. Evangelicals - The Evening Descends:
It's difficult to pull of experimental psychedelica in a way that's accessible to your average listener. It's even more difficult to dose that experimental psychedelica with just enough pop sensibility that your record transcends genre and defines you completely. On this record, that's exactly what Evangelicals have done: the album is a cacophonic dose of measured chaos that seems almost incomprehensible, but at the same time demands that the listener sing (or at least attempt to sing) along. Every time we pop in this disc, we have to smile at its amazing ability to unite melody with off the wall production - this is the sound of people having fun with music.

5. David Byrne And Brian Eno - Everything That Happens Will Happen Today:
To say that David Byrne and Brian Eno pose each other with inspiration is an understatement: the two have collaborated on some of the most influential and amazing records of the modern era. Given that, it makes sense that the music community at large was more than a little excited to see what this collaboration would yield: the experimentalism of My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts? The disjunct art rock of the Talking Heads? In the end, it was something different althogether: Byrne brought the influence of his recent work to the table, and Eno laid down some of his most song based work in years. The result is a record that has all the melodic and lyrical rewards of Byrne's solo career, with an underpinning of Eno's instrumentals that push Byrne ever so slightly back to the world of rock music - and it's a very good thing.

6. The Sea And Cake - Car Alarm:
Given its similarity in production and writing to last year's Everybody (our #1 of the year), it should come as no surprise to find this record in our top 10. Even the press release for Car Alarm name checked it as the clear successor to Everybody. The band was happy with what they were doing, happy to be on the road, and wanted to capture the sound for round two. In the end, they did exactly that: the album presents the same measured, well crafted pop, with some ever-so-slight tweaks that separate it from its sibling. The guitars are tougher, the percussion more varied, and the vocals more pointed. We're glad The Sea And Cake managed to get another disc out the door this quickly, and given the result we hope they don't slow down any time soon.

  7. The Heavenly States - Delayer:
It's a pretty unique experience to see a band three nights in a row, having never heard anything they've done previously.  In the case of The Heavenly States, that's exactly what happened: we caught them opening for Spoon on a killer 3 night run at the Fillmore, and were on board thereafter.  The band manages to take a degree of earnest lyricism and melody that doesn't always suit our fancy  (think Springsteen), and then temper it with just enough balls to the wall musicianship that all of a sudden we're perfectly happy to be earnestly rocking.  This record is loaded with infectious melodies, gorgeous guitar hooks, and most importantly, the soul of rock and roll.  We're waiting on the next one, States.

8. TV On The Radio - Dear Science, :
We've been fans of TVOTR since way back in their pre-album-release days, so this one was on our radar from the get go.  The thing is, while previous releases have always been great, this one takes it to a new level.  The band has managed to unify their sound in a way that perfects it, and the same time minimizes it.  Songs are more artfully layered, and the band seems less intent to be constantly firing on all cylinders.  Rather, this is a record with a solid ebb and flow, that comes together in the way a great record really should: it feels distinctly as though it should be enjoyed in one satisfying listen.  That isn't to say the record is without catchiness: the songs on the album hold their own, and frankly, it gets us thinking that TVOTR's next record could be the one that puts them solidly into the arena as both an artistic stalwart, and a favorite of the mainstream.  Next Radiohead, anyone?

9. Port O'Brien - All We Could Do Is Sing:
Port O'Brien, on their face, is something of a folk band:  many of their lyrics are sentimental, biographical, or downright excerpts from a story telling session.  Yet even in the face of all that folk sensibility, the thing that really wins us over is the fact that the band isn't afraid to rock.  Even this most sensitive moments are laced with something of an iron grip, and the band's live experience takes the album's rock sensibility and takes it to another level.  It's tough to think about them and not mention Neil Young in the same breath, except that Neil's voice (quite frankly) doesn't measure up to what Port O'Brien has to offer.   Judging by the band's live set, the next record will be a step further in the direction of searing rock and roll, but in the meantime, we're content to enjoy this gem any time we're looking for a taste.

10. Stephen Malkmus + Jicks - Real Emotional Trash:
This record's a tad difficult for us to even think of as an '08 release, as most of its songs had been heavily, heavily road tested by the time it came out.  That being said, this is a record that really needs to be recognized:  it's really the first time the Jicks have come together and released a solid record as a band.  2005's Face The Truth was clearly (and admittedly) a Stephen Malkmus basement project, that wore all the hallmarks of the singer and guitarist's idiosyncrasies.  By sharp contrast, Real Emotional Trash unifies the band (including newcomer Janet Weiss) under the guidance of Malkmus, and then allows them to truly shine.  We have to admit, we're a fan of anything Malkmus rolls out the door, so we're curious to see what the next record will bring.  Regardless of what it does bring, this record is a clear testament to the Jicks abilities, and the fact that they have graduated far beyond the simple moniker of "Stephen Malkmus' backing band".

11. The Walkmen - You And Me:
This record is the one that kept us from sticking to a simple "top ten", and with good reason: The Walkmen have released a record that manages to draw from (and learn the lessons of) every record in their catalog.  While many have hailed this release as a "return to form", we here at HAD are inclined to disagree.  While You And Me does contain many of the hallmarks of the band's first two records, it also contains a certain sensibility that is unquestionably reminiscent of the bands oft-criticized (and frankly, well-loved around here) release A Hundred Miles Off.  The band's ethereal, haunting rock has been solidly laced with a newfound pop sensibility, and what's more, many of the songs have managed to chip out a genre that is even more distinctively "Walkmen" than any of their previous releases.  In short, this is a record that realizes the promise of the band's greatness, but also manages to illustrate the journey it took to get there.

So, there you have it folks: Our top records of 2008!  Enjoy your New Year's, and we'll be sure to see you back here next Monday.  In the meantime, stay safe, and if you missed any of these records, get out there and grab them.  You wouldn't want to get behind with 2009 just around the corner!


Hanan said...

nice list...the Frightened Rabbit was at the top of my list too, it's genius.

also, I love the Walkmen, glad you included them as #11

Benjo said...

A very good list. Nice to finally see a list that not only has Parc Avenue, but doesn't have the Fleet Foxes album. A perfectly fine piece of work, but best of the year? Hard to understand.

The others I'd nominate that didn't make your cut are Portishead, Man Man, and Jamie Lidell.

Andrea said...

I need to check Frightened Rabbit out.

Stranger Jay said...

Nice list. Once again, our tastes intersect a fair amount. Glad someone liked the Plants and Animals album as much as I did.