The Top 50 Albums of 2008

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The Top 50 Albums of 2008

20. SantogoldSantogold (Downtown)

I don’t know whether or not I should be admitting this, but Santogold’s self-titled album is one of four records in our end-of-year best list that was never originally reviewed. Of course, we are rectifying that now. On the other hand, the inclusion of these four albums proves that we here at Treble keep our ears to the ground (and to the stereo) at all times, not just for assignments. But, the reason we missed Santogold couldn’t have had anything to do with obscurity. With her debut Jam cover on Mark Ronson’s Version, a string of heavily played lead-up singles and a host of songs used for adverts, Santogold was seemingly everywhere. And, unlike most other acts pigeonholed as `dance music,’ Santi White and John Hill were seeing their debut reviewed by the likes of Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone and, that most revered of music mags, Blender (please read with sarcasm). It’s just too bad that most who reviewed it got it completely wrong. – Terrance Terich

Review

19. Of MontrealSkeletal Lamping (Polyvinyl)

Unsurprisingly, Kevin Barnes decided to follow up the success of the widely revered Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? with a trip off the map. Skeletal Lamping has polarized opinion to some degree, but the fact is that Barnes has developed a larger-than-life persona through the band’s live performances and his willingness to work through some pretty heavy shit in his lyrics, and what would have actually been disappointing would have been a failure to challenge, and to some degree perplex, his growing audience. Yeah, things have gotten funkier and freakier and some of the tracks seem like various separate entities arbitrarily spliced together, but even if that’s not your thing (which it should be), “Id Engager,” “An Eluardian Instance,” and “Gallery Piece” are all songs of the superlative and sphinx-like variety. And as far as ambiguously sexual, emotionally resonant white boy soul goes, “St. Exquisite’s Confessions” has got the market cornered. Skeletal Lamping resists easy consumption, but it is also playful and kaleidoscopic, a festival of colors and characters which it is truly pleasurable to become lost in. – Tyler Parks

Review

18. Okkervil RiverThe Stand-Ins (Jagjaguwar)

I’d be surprised if Mick Jagger and Keith Richards solo albums made the same end-of-year best list. The same goes for almost any similar and famous rock pair out there, though maybe Simon & Garfunkel came close on particular years. But over the last few years, both Will Sheff and Jonathan Meiburg seem to do this regularly. Following last year’s astounding The Stage Names is Sheff’s companion album, The Stand-Ins. Originally meant to be paired together as a double album, The Stand-Ins instead became a second album, separated in time but not necessarily in theme. We’re still treated to songs about fame and the ups and downs of being in a rock band, yet with far more pathos, depth and literary insight than, say, Grand Funk Railroad. On top of all of that, Sheff reunites with Meiburg on the amazing “Lost Coastlines,” a ’50s style throwback that ranks up there as one of the best tracks of the year. – Terrance Terich

Review

17. Hot ChipMade In the Dark (Astralwerks)

On their last album (The Warning) Hot Chip succeeded by covering a lot of ground stylistically from their preceding work. Made in the Dark, not making a similarly large leap, builds off the success of The Warning. That is, a slew of highly accessible dance tracks intermittently sprinkled with cheeky lyrics and the signature Hot Chip quirkiness. Among the most appealing qualities of Made in the Dark is the inclusion of a number of love ballads that have Alexis Taylor channeling his inner and outer Sinéad O’Connor. The bulk of the songs address relationships, probably because Taylor was newly married at during the time of its production. That includes the bickering “Wrestlers,” which is part Al Doyle tug-of-war with LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy and part adolescent male nostalgia. Taylor is said to be proud of the album’s lyrics. If I were to assert that “everyone knows Monday night means wrestling,” I’d be proud too. – Tyler Weir

Review

16. The DodosVisiter (Frenchkiss)

The Dodos have become a crown jewel within their San Francisco hometown, where they started in small clubs as Dodo Bird and finished with random local shows in between giant, sprawling world tours. Every piece of buzz surrounding Visiter is absolutely merited, even for people who have been into the band since the beginning (i.e., no jaded “I knew them way back when, but can’t like them now that they’re popular” mentality). One of the most noteworthy aspects of the Dodos’ music is that it will be of the upbeat folk variety in one instant (such as with opening track “Walking”), but every serene turn is accompanied by an extra harsh strum on the acoustic guitar or particularly striking clatter on the drums. It’s called experimental because a band brings together aspects of music genres in less traditional ways—in the Dodos’ case, pop music becomes a new level of melodic psych-folk with Meric Long’s alternate tunings and Logan Kroeber’s metal-influenced percussive style, all the while combined with sweetly smooth vocals that juxtapose any off-putting harmonic elements. Every song is performed with sprawling fervor matched by few others, apparent in both recorded and live settings, yet always with complete control and perfect synchronization. – Anna Gazdowicz

Review

15. Department of EaglesIn Ear Park (4AD)

Daniel Rossen has always come off as the sullen one of the Grizzly Bear quartet, skulking behind his stage-right mic as he wails murky folk flourishes into the band’s orchestral swell. But as his side project Department of Eagles with old college mate Fred Nicolaus shows, Rossen has a wayward musicianship that flirts with as many diverse influences—from folk traditionals to sugary doo-wop—as idiosyncratic twists. The duo’s second LP, In Ear Park, is not just a looking glass into Rossen’s expansive potential when left to his own devices, but is also a jaw-dropping introduction to Nicolaus, who can stake claim to some of the album’s most harrowing songs, such as “Herringbone,” “Teenager,” hefty portions of “No One Does It Like You” and the easily overlooked “Waves of Rye.” Undoubtedly, Department of Eagles have felt the pressure to continue on as a steady project, but due to scant live performances and Rossen’s time constraints with Grizzly Bear, it’s likely Ear Park may be their farewell opus. Either way, here’s hoping these two find some outlet for collaboration; music like this is simply too good to pass up. – Dustin Allen

Review

14. Wolf ParadeAt Mount Zoomer (Sub Pop)

Whatever concessions Wolf Parade may have made with their 2005 debut Apologies to the Queen Mary to appeal to the indie rock crowd—a conventional 12-track structure with quirky but readily absorbed hooks—their slow-but-sure follow-up seems to have shed them all. A thick-skinned, nine-song blast of genius, At Mount Zoomer—or Kissing the Beehive as we finicky purists like to remember it—encompasses every nook of Wolf Parade’s pageantry, with each track ending about where it begins but only after having spanned a great distance to justify its re-arrival. Easily one of the best musicians to have emerged from Montreal’s reputable roster of recent greats, Spencer Krug brazens the album with wiry keys as he and Dan Boeckner swap mic duties, each with curiously similar, quivering vocal styles. For all their similarities, though, they create a quick-hit combo rife with possibility, more than capable of running wild with ideas, without ever wasting a moment. – Dustin Allen

Review

13. Vampire WeekendVampire Weekend (XL)

A band of Ivy League misfits formed through a handful of gigs at Columbia University lawn parties and literary society get-togethers, Vampire Weekend blow the veins of a wavering indie rock scene with their thick injection of Afro-punk blasts. At a time when world beat cross-breeds are all underground music can conjure to stay on the fringe, this New York City foursome find a way to create a sound wholly fresh without abandoning the basic pop template flirted with by greats such as The Police, Clash and Peter Gabriel. For all its apparent counterpoints, though, rarely has a band delved so brazenly into Africa’s rich musical heritage and returned with such relevance. From the harpsichord intro out “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” that bleeds over into the jubilant strings opening “M79,” or call-and-response chorus of “One (Blake’s Got a New Face)” mid-album, not one weak spot surfaces on this self-titled debut after incessant listens. – Dustin Allen

Review

12. ShearwaterRook (Matador)

As you can see, there are a lot of albums that are ranked higher in our year-end writers’ poll than Shearwater’s Rook, but it was at the top my individual list. Yes, to me, Rook was far and away the best album of the year. Jonathan Meiburg has simply outdone himself, and with the majesty that was Palo Santo, that really means something. Dark and gloomy, yet freeing and expansive, Rook has everything. The desolate trumpet of single “Rooks,” the anguished vocal phrasings of “Leviathan, Bound,” the anxious strings of “Home Life” and the Neil Young-style proto-punk guitars “Century Eyes” are all highlights to be cherished. However, you’ll be hard pressed to find another song this year as beautifully dramatic as “The Snow Leopard,” or an album as cohesive and brilliant as Rook. – Terrance Terich

Review

11. Hercules and Love AffairHercules and Love Affair (DFA-Mute)

Whereas many up-and-coming dance acts approach disco with a knowing smirk, Andrew Butler comes to it with a giant grin from ear to ear. And after hearing his troupe’s breakthrough labor of love, you’ll know he means it. With a little help from DFA’s Tim Goldsworthy, and sumptuous vocal contributions from Antony Hegarty, Butler successfully re-ignites disco’s inferno and lets it burn with a brightness and warmth all too rare in the genre. Anyone can move your feet. Butler gets the win for moving your heart. – Robert Huff

Review

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