The Top 50 Albums of 2008

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The Top 50 Albums of 2008

40. Flying LotusLos Angeles (Warp)

It takes a little bit of imagination to visualize the city of Los Angeles through Flying Lotus’ album named for the sprawling Southern California metropolis. The man does work in abstracts, after all. But that doesn’t mean it’s not there. “Beginners Falafel” bubbles with lava lamp psychedelic cool, like LAX’s Encounter restaurant. “Camel” struts and swaggers with an exotic aura, like a hazy jaunt on Sunset before sunrise. But, of course, Steven Ellison amplifies the energy of the nightlife in “Parisian Goldfish,” and even its dark side in “Riot.” In the most curious of ways, by removing the marketed romance and replacing it with an avant garde IDM hip-hop tapestry, Flying Lotus has managed to create one of the most alluring depictions of Los Angeles on record. – Jeff Terich

Review

39. High PlacesHigh Places (Thrill Jockey)

The duo of Mary Pearson and Robert Barber imagine a neon world of whimsy. High Places, in no way a misnomer, attempt an ascent to higher planes (and get there) via tribal rhythms and playful innocence, and kitchen-sink percussion pirouettes with burbling electronics. Pearson’s girlish vocals bathe in aqueous light. High Places invites toe-tapping too, a call to dance ingrained like genetics. Indelible as it feels to the soul, at heart it’s a wash of fervent, fluctuating refreshment, a daring dash to the armor of experimental music’s harshest critics. – Mars Simpson

Review

38. Bonnie “Prince” BillyLie Down in the Light (Drag City)

Will Oldham dropping an album from out of the blue was a grand enough surprise; that that album turned out to be Lie Down in the Light was truly cause for joy. It is probably the most hopeful record he has released, suffused with backwoods charm and wisdom gained the hard way, all of it woven together with that unmistakable, roguish drawl. There is a sense of levity permeating this record, a sense of a human soul’s resistance to the destruction by hardship of life’s strange and shifting beauty. It is present in “For Every Field There’s a Mole,” in an allusion to Hamlet sung in that voice which seems made to carry it, and in the grace of the final verse, hung with angelic harmonies and sleepy horns. It’s there in the duets with Ashley Webber, in the solemn and perishable love that they display, and in the wan outlines of “Willow Trees Bend,” trembling like so many winter-bared trunks, black, backlit silhouettes waving in a stark landscape. But most of all, it is evident on the album-closer, “I’ll Be Glad,” the resigned, holy jubilance of which failed to fully strike me until I saw him perform it live–and which now fails to escape me any time the record comes to a close. – Tyler Parks

Review

37. StereolabChemical Chords (4AD)

If the conflation of genres confounds you—you’re hyphen-averse, maybe—you probably hate Stereolab, defying easy quantification since 1990. (That should be why you love Stereolab, but anyway…) Chemical Chords is (surprise!) a pop record, gently rocked by discernible melodies and actual choruses. It’s also their finest work since the loss of Mary Hansen. Stereolab’s psychological reconstruction since her death is one of rock’s underrated comebacks, but Chemical Chords finds the band in a better place than ever, making ethereal, effusive music that’s still near-impossible to categorize. “Daisy Click Clack” particularly puts the album over as some sort of feelgood apex, a rhombused roil that sent me scrambling for the sonic equivalent of ‘chortle’. – Anthony Strain

Review

36. Blitzen TrapperFurr (Sub Pop)

Blitzen Trapper simply has to be one of Cameron Crowe’s favorite bands of all time. I know that with the release of Furr, they’ve certainly made my list, but this Portland, Oregon band seemingly has everything that Crowe tried to represent with Stillwater in his film Almost Famous. Originally meant to be a fictional amalgamation of the Eagles, the Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Led Zeppelin, Stillwater seems to fall short of that musical mark in comparison to Blitzen Trapper. On Furr, songs seem to resemble not only the work of these ’70s giants, but tracks also tread territories usually occupied by Dylan, Floyd, the Dead, T. Rex, Neil Young, Springsteen and the Band. Every song is a keeper and can alternately become personal favorites, from the Josh Ritter-esque title track to the immediately following stomper “God & Suicide,” and again to the starkness of “Black River Killer” and “Not Your Lover,” before heading into glam territory with “War on Machines.” But I’m not sure that the appeal of Furr is limited to its scope of influence, its spot-on homage to a particular era or its genre mastery. Instead, I think it has something to do with its Muppety goodness. Singer / guitarist Eric Earley seems to make every track sound like it could fit perfectly into a forest tableaux in The Muppet Show with all manner of little critters providing perfect harmony. And, as Joss Whedon might say, “Great Muppety Odin,” that’s good! – Terrance Terich

Review

35. MGMTOracular Spectacular (Columbia)

Shortened from The Management to MGMT, the Brooklyn based duo of Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden hit it big this year with their surprise hit Oracular Spectacular. The album was among the most hyped of 2008, so much so that it became an annoyance. “Time to Pretend” could be among the most winded songs of the year whereas “Kids” is among the best. Many skeptics refused to buy into the buzz and I myself was initially among those. Somewhere among these ten tracks was a diversity, that was unrivaled by any album this year other than say Neon Neon’s Stainless Style. Oracular Spectacular is at times reminiscent of Brit-Pop a la the Rolling Stones or David Bowie, though it’s mostly a barrage of psychedelic electronica. MGMT’s sound feels hard to pinpoint though I’d classify Oracular Spectacular as cocaine-pop meeting glam, music that leaves you feeling dirty yet savory. – Tyler Weir

Review

34. Los Campesinos!Hold On Now, Youngster (Arts & Crafts)

Hold On Now, Youngster is like a load of the most interesting bits of less immediate U.K. and North American indie, exclaimed capital letters and bold type, in full Crayola multicolour. It strikes great balance between shouted and saccharine- co-incidentally morose, frenetic and joyful. There’s an unsuppressed energy throughout that turns feeling slightly wonky into an addictively fizzy experience. Content that might seem like unpalatable despondency in the wrong hands is handled with humour and cutting adeptness. There is no detraction from wonderful melodies and fresh approximation of the likes of Help She Cant Swim, Life Without Buildings and Yo La Tengo. Hold On Now, Youngster takes the listener close to comfort with break neck exuberance. – Tom Lee

Review

33. My Morning JacketEvil Urges (ATO)

Evil Urges is the latest chapter in the evolution of My Morning Jacket. An evolution that has seen the band’s sound go from rootsy to rock and now, with Evil Urges, more bluesy. The band sought to make an album that catered to their live show and with songs like “Smokin’ from Shootin'” and “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Pt. 2” they did just that. The trouble is that those songs are hidden at the back of an album largely devoid of the Jim James falsetto and to get there, one must go through the understatedly polarizing Prince homage, “Highly Suspicious.” The shortcomings of Evil Urges are a direct result of the high expectations that most have set out for the band. And it’s not that the album is a bad, it’s just a step in a new direction—one that some took to and others were ostracized by. Evil Urges will go down as the one that was gentle and warm. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. – Tyler Weir

Review

32. DeerhoofOffend Maggie (Kill Rock Stars)

I don’t know who Maggie is, but I’d really like to shake her hand for pissing off the members of Deerhoof after hearing their retaliation. Restored to a quartet again after Ed Rodriguez took over second guitar duties from the departed Chris Cohen, the band continues to explore the pop sensibilities introduced in last year’s Friend Opportunity within the sprawling domains of the The Runners Four. The end result is a winning consolidation of strengths to commemorate a group’s successful transition to a new chapter in their career. I can’t wait to hear what they sound like when they want to impress Maggie. – Robert Huff

Review

31. Black MountainIn the Future (Jagjaguwar)

I knew some people from British Columbia who, from time to time, would somehow end up in my basement in Jersey and make all sorts of racket. Needless to say it didn’t sound as fuzzed as these guys. It’s difficult for me to accept that a band like Coldplay would ever allow a band such as Black Mountain to open for them, every anvil-heavy riff and mystical lyric screams thunder-stealer. The humanitarian in me wants to say that diehard Coldplay fans are not so self-conscious to avoid sincerely getting into Black Mountain, but it’s more satisfying to assume that they never knew a more profound source of tinnitus than that of the pummeling intro in “Tyrant.” Black Mountain’s dynamic is one of extremes that, while not very new, is well executed. A song going from a startling blast of heavy metal to contemplative elastic prog is not a freak mixture for this band who have no problem seducing a listener with celestial soundscapes while also wanting to hammer them into reality with superhuman precision. – Chris Morgan

Review

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