I’m a sucker for those best-of-the-year lists. I can’t help it. I have to unveil my Top 12 albums of the year list. This year was one of the most difficult to narrow down, and while I compiled the list, I axed two worthy bands and added a pair of last-minute replacements.
I’m a sucker for those best-of-the-year lists. I can’t help it. I have to unveil my Top 12 albums of the year list. This year was one of the most difficult to narrow down, and while I compiled the list, I axed two worthy bands and added a pair of last-minute replacements.1. Vampire Weekend – "Vampire Weekend" (XL Recordings)
One year removed from their day jobs – teaching middle school, music archiving, film scoring, etc. – these four recent Columbia University grads put together the best debut album since Interpol’s 2002 gem "Turn on the Bright Lights." Fusing African pop with modern-day rock and a tinge of folk, Vampire Weekend offer radiating tracks such as “Oxford Comma,” a number lifted up by the pure essence of keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij, the beats of drummer Chris Tomson, bassist Chris Baio’s rhythms, and singer/guitarist Ezra Koenig’s chiming solo turns this into an instant classic.2. Ra Ra Riot – "The Rhumb Line" (Barsuk Records)
Slightly outdone by their New York college grad counterparts Vampire Weekend, former Syracuse University students Ra Ra Riot have persevered through some tough times. Its drummer/singer John Pike died unexpectedly in 2007 shortly after this band’s self-released EP came to light. This five-piece band continued on, carrying out a dream they knew Pike wanted them to chase. "The Rhumb Line’s" perfectly crafted backdrop allows singer Wesley Miles to paint pictures with words. The delicate bristles of Miles’ voice brilliantly splash this album with a melancholic melody few singers could turn into something so positively effective. Baroque rock, chamber pop: call it what you want, as long as you say it’s one of the best records of the decade.3. Fleet Foxes – "Fleet Foxes" (Sub Pop)
Packing a strong Pacific Northwest/campfire-feel, Fleet Foxes’ debut is filled with harmonies, well-crafted instrumentation of acoustic guitars, mandolins, and tom drums. They’re all engulfed in a folksy psychedelic atmosphere. Beginning with the deep-rooted tones and the acoustic subtlety of “Sun It Rises,” followed by the gospel-choir sounds of “White Winter Hymnal,” this album sounds like a timeless record from the strong ’60s folk movement collaborative.4. MGMT – "Oracular Spectacular" (Sony)
Although digitally released in late 2007, this album didn’t hit shelves until early 2008. Given the massive awesomeness of this Brooklyn duo’s space age, synth-driven, electro psychedelic pop, the name of the album says it all. The Bowie-esque “Pieces of What,” the shimmying and harmonic “Electric Feel,” and the sheer fun on “Kids” will keep you dancing ‘til you’re an aging hipster.5. Portishead – "Third" (Island Records)
No other band could take a decade off, return, remain relevant, and create an album that’s an instant gem. “Plastic” is classic Portishead with the echoing vocals, dizzying samples, thunderous blasts, and simple cymbal-snare drum dashes. The trio dabbles into new realms on “Nylon Smile,” adding an almost afro-beat percussion run, and on the semi-psychedelic “Magic Doors.” Still fresh even after all these years.6. Little Joy – "Little Joy" (Rough Trade Records)
The first time around, I wasn’t feeling it. The second spin of Strokes’ drummer Fabrizio Moretti’s side project, a Brazilian/American rock trio, also featuring Los Hermanos singer and guitarist Rodrigo Amarante and Binki Shapiro, really got me. The two vocalists have completely different styles. Amarante echoes a José González meets Julian Casablancas vibe, while the sultry sounding Shapiro has this Billie Holiday feel with a touch of Blonde Redhead’s Kazu Makino. Then there’s Moretti, who could drum for public transportation panhandlers and make them sound like superstars.7. Los Campesinos! – "Hold On Now, Youngster" (Wichita/Arts and Crafts)
Hey! The seven-member band from Cardiff, England, jump up and down all over this record! There’s so much addictive and fun energy on "Hold On Now" (re: “Death to Los Campesinos!”) that it makes you want to run around the neighborhood with old friends, merrily skipping down the street while playing guitars, handing out hi-fives like candy at a parade, and having your girlfriends twirl glockenspiel mallets and sing joyous harmonies all in one.8. Bon Iver -– "For Emma, Forever Ago" (Jagjaguwar/4AD)
How many 27-year-olds who go through some tough times only to battle back, hunker down in a cabin in the deep woods of the upper Midwest, and pen a debut album that stops you dead in your tracks? Justin Vernon did it. Known as Bon Iver, Vernon self-released this album last year, but it earned a proper release in early 2008. Driven by Vernon’s haunting falsetto and gripping acoustic guitar play, "For Emma" is one of the most remarkable singer-songwriter albums in quite some time.9. Black Kids – "Partie Traumatic" (Almost Gold/Columbia)
This Jacksonville, Fla., fivesome sounds like an updated version of one of the most influential and phenomenal British new wave bands of all time – The Cure. You quite simply cannot top that. Singer Reggie Youngblood’s voice is so 1980s, it emits neon colors and new romanticism. Start with the album-opener “Hit the Heartbrakes” and you’re hooked.10. Lykke Li – "Youth Novels" (LL Recordings)
Twenty-two-year-old Swedish female pop vocalist Lykke Li mixes an array of tasty tracks together on her debut record. A delicate voice, dance pop melodies, and sprinkles of electronic new wave shine throughout. Top tracks “I’m Good, I’m Gone” and “Little Bit” highlight Lykke Li’s exuberance.11. Monkey: "Journey to the West" (XL Recordings)
It’s no secret I worship Damon Albarn. Everything he touches turns to gold. The Blur front man teams up with Gorillaz mate Jamie Hewlett and Chinese opera director Chen Shi-Zheng to adapt the Chinese folk tale "Monkey" into musical form. The 22-track blending of Albarn’s intricate production and nuances of Gorillaz, combined with Mandarin Chinese vocals and orchestral string arrangements are finely displayed on “The Living Sea,” “Monkey Bee,” and “Heavenly Peach Banquet.”12. Sigur Rós – "Med sud i eyrum vid spilum endalaust" (EMI/XL Recordings)
Iceland’s greatest musical export since Bjork and the Sugarcubes, Sigur Rós return with yet another gem. Tracks like “Vid Spilum Endalaust,” take singer Jónsi on a vocal rollercoaster, testing his range. He works the track so well and takes this post-rock foursome back to its Icelandic roots. As they say in Icelandic, ljómandi. Translation: brilliant.EP of the year: Bell – "EP" (self-released)
This Russian-born, Brooklyn via Alaska via Boston singer is quite simply phenomenal. She is a pure vocalist in every sense of the word. She’s has created her own identity as a singer, but you can hear sprinkles of Bjork, Annie Clark (St. Vincent), and Natasha Khan (Bat for Lashes) here and there. The base of Bell’s disc is built of a passion-fueled arrangement of flickering samples, handclaps, and her most expressive vocalization on “Echinacea.”Ryan Wood is a freelance writer who has contributed to the Community Newspaper Company, Noize Makes Enemies, and The Weekly Dig. Send him an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit his blog, Take Me to Your Music, at http://blogs.townonline.com/planetmusic, for more Best of 2008 winners.