An alphabetical listing of thirty CDs I listened to more than a little last year.
Aesop Rock: None Shall Pass
One of the very few albums I listened to start to finish, multiple times. Mostly I listen to music via an iPod set to shuffle. As a result I tend these days to listen more to songs than albums. None Shall Pass is the exception to prove the rule. I had this in steady shuffle for the last half of 2007 and early winter of 2008, but rather than falling out of rotation as newer music was added in I found myself returning to Aesop Rock over and over again. Eventually I would spend entire listening sessions with this disc playing start to finish. A brilliant, near perfect hip hop album.
Ben Folds: Way to Normal
Ben Folds is a staple good in my audio pantry, always there in the back shelf, comfort food for the ears, even as he muddled through a span of hardly-worth-it middle aged releases. I wasn't expecting much different from this year's offering, so I was pleasantly astounded to plug it in and hear Ben from the old days, back in form, all the angst and verve and women-done-wrong once again perfectly pitched. Ben should get divorced more often.
Dear & The Headlights: Drunk Like Bible Times
Maybe the best new band of the year. I hear new reasons to love this album every listen.
Elbow: The Seldom Seen Kid
One of my five favorite albums of the year. Every track is pitch perfect Brit pop. The single that got radio play, Grounds for Divorce, while great, is regularly outperformed by other tracks. A great, great disc.
Elvis Perkins: Ash Wednesday
Singer songwriter stuff. The second half is just depressing as hell. In a good way.
Firewater: The Golden Hour
Caught this off of the listening stations at Criminal Records. Reminds me of why I liked punk rock, back when I had the energy to be all punk rock.
Fink: Distance and Time
It wouldn't be unfair to compare Fink's sound to Jack Johnson, but Fink doesn't annoy the hell out of me.
Ha Ha Tonka: Buckle in the Bible Belt
I'll get one or two "just rock music" albums every year. This is this year's option. A great, riff-heavy, church-choir harmonizing southern rock piece. Lots of play this year.
Swedish indie rock duo that aren't really playing metal riffs, except that they are.
Jukebox The Ghost: Let Live & Let Ghosts
I wouldn't know anything about these guys, except they opened for Say Hi at The Drunken Unicorn last fall. I was floored by the live set and bought the disc sight unseen at the show. Not a moment's disappointment from that decision.
Leila: Blood, Looms and Blooms
A Persian-born UK DJ with guest vocals all over the place. I would have called this trip-hop in the 90s. I have no idea what it's labeled these days. All I know is I came back to it time and time again, all year long.
Malcolm Middleton: A Brighter Beat
Fourth release from former Arab Strap guitarist. Don't let the name fool you as Malcolm is as depressing as ever.
Martin Atkins' China Dub Sounds: Made In China
Martin Atkins took a break from his work with PiIL and Pigface to tour China's underground music scene. He came back with an insane mash-up of traditional Buddhist drumming and dueling Chinese MCs spun together in his own particular idiom. It requires a mood, but when the mood hits, it's a hammer to just the right part of the skull.
Menomena: Friend and Foe
High quality indie rock.
Michael Franti & Spearhead: All Rebel Rockers
The best thing from these guys since Spearhead's debut from way back when. Franti's political bent is subdued in traditional dance-hall beats, thanks in large part to the album being produced in the islands.
Mike Farris: Salvation In Lights
I don't buy a lot of gospel albums, but, by God, Mike Farris can just wail.
Nicole Atkins: Neptune City
Speaking of wailing, Atkins belts out indie rock anthems in a sultry, blues inspired contralto that shivers the bones. I wouldn't own this album if not for my wife making a rare outing to the record stores with me. Thank goodness for small favors. One of my five favorite albums of the year.
A band like Portishead could be content to rest on its laurels, turning out the occasional re-make of their famous debut every few years. But if they did that, they wouldn't be a band much like Portishead at all. Third is a lot more abrasive and experimental with a lot more industrial elements than their trip-hop sweet spot. But come to think of it, back when they broke trip hop in America, that was sort of weird and experimental too. Another mood record, to be sure, but a great listen with songs that hold up any time.
Ravens & Chimes: Reichenbach Falls
Probably the indiest rock for me this year that I picked up from the Criminal listening stations. Gorgeous, atmospheric melodies with strings and all sorts of portentous wrappings, a twee little vocal fellow meeping out heart-strung lyrics. Most of the reviews I scanned afterwards mention Arcade Fire in some way. Maybe that's appropriate, but I've never listened to Arcade Fire so I can't say one way or the other. I do know that I was always happy when a Ravens & Chimes song spun up on the playlist.
Say Hi: The Wishes and The Glitch
My favorite album of 2007-08. Everything about Say Hi is good.
It seems inappropriate to refer to Shearwater as an Okkervil River spin-off these days. Brutally sparse, yet majestic art rock.
The Futureheads: This Is Not The World
You know what? I really like The Futureheads.
The Hold Steady: Stay Positive
I joined the bandwagon in 2005, back when I would annoy everyone I knew by playing Separation Sunday ear-achingly loud every chance I got. So I'm allowed.
The Last Shadow Puppets: The Age of Understatement
A collaboration between Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner and fellow UK indie rocker Miles Kane (The Rascals), this is a lovely little paean to mid-sixties era lounge rock. Every listen makes me think I'm in a Bond film starring Sean Connery. (That's a compliment.)
The Old Believers: Eight Golden Greats
From PopMatters: "Eight Golden Great's debts to country, soul, folk, gospel, and bluegrass are clear, but the Old Believers are not traditionalists, and their songs shuck the customary instrumentation and song structure of those genres. They instead present a grab bag of Americana elements, presented in unexpected combinations and in concert with drum machines and synthesized keyboards. But over the inventive instrumentation and arrangements, the duo douses the album in reverb the sonic equivalent to soft focus and a diffusion filter in photography to give a hazy, nostalgic sound....The resulting feel to Eight Golden Greats is akin to a vision of the future given by a movie about the year 2000 produced in the year 1960." That about sums it up.
The Spinto Band: Moonwink
Maybe the most musically creative band working today. Perfectly compact indie rock standards with slight hints of Talking Heads in the aftertaste. One of my five favorite albums of 2008.
The Submarines: Honeysuckle Weeks
Much, much more than just that single from the Apple commercial, although that single is real damned catchy. The whole album is full of those hooks.
The Wedding Present: El Rey
David Gedge is the best songwriter working today. Discuss. One of my five favorite albums of 2008.
Tilly & The Wall: O
A more expansive sound, but still with the really cool tap-percussion. I was a fan already. I still am.
There are any number of anticon (or Doomtree, now that I think about it) releases I could list here. Alopecia got the most play along and along, so it gets the nod. (Anathallo released too late in the year to displace Why? on the "times played" board.) The Hollows and These Few Presidents still stand out, a year later.