Saturday, December 20, 2008

The 10 Best Albums of 2008 - #'s 10 - 6

10. The Walkmen - You & Me: You & Me is certainly not a breakthrough, but it doesn't have to be to be considered a great record. Instead, it captures a band coming to grips with a transitional phase in their lives. Being in your 30's means things start to get more serious, which is almost antithetical to being an interesting rock band. Lead vocalist Hamilton Leithauser decides to cope with this by romanticizing days gone by and past lovers before deciding that it is time to move on. Thankfully, precision percussion, flickering guitars, sulky horns and organs provide the perfect melancholic backdrop for this self-realization.

When music critics try to answer the question of who the best rock band in America is, usually names like Kings of Leon, The Hold Steady, and My Morning Jacket get tossed around, while The Walkmen rarely ever get mentioned. I'm not sure if they're the "best", but their steady output of compelling music definitely warrants them being included in the discussion.

9. Nine Inch Nails - The Slip: I can't think of anyone who worked harder in 2008 than Trent Reznor. The man had time to release two albums (free of charge), embark on a massive visually stunning world tour, create a social network, and release a massively popular (free) iPhone app. You'd think all that quantity would come at the sacrifice of quality, but you'd be wrong.

The Slip is easily the best Nine Inch Nails album since The Downward Spiral. If for no other reason than it says what it needs to say and doesn't waste time with anything else (two problems which plagued The Fragile and With Teeth). Now that he is free from the chains of the record labels, Reznor is able to do whatever he fucking pleases. On The Slip he dabbles in dance-rock ("Discipline"), aggro-Industrial ("Letting You"), ambient ("Corona Radiata", "The Four of Us Are Dying"), and even belts out a beautiful ballad ("Lights in the Sky") other words, it's a brief survey of everything good NIN has done over the last 15 years.

8. Hercules and Love Affair - Hercules and Love Affair: 2008 was certainly a banner year for disco music and perhaps no other band was more responsible for that than Hercules and Love Affair. With help from the best dance producer on the planet, Tim Goldsworthy (see, Cut Copy later in this list), and Antony Hegarty's sad whine, DJ/producer Andrew Butler gave us one of the most decadent records of the year. With obvious nods to Arthur Russell and Giorgio Moroder, Butler and his guest vocalists ( including Kim Ann Foxmann and Nomi) reimagine the best elements of late 70’s/early 80’s American and Ital-Disco into something that is undeniably contemporary. “Blind” might be the best single of the year, while “Rise Me Up” and “You Belong” could spice up any party without fail. If burning calories on the dance floor isn’t always your thing, songs like “Athene” and “Easy” have their place as the perfect soundtrack for the late night comedown.

7. Atlas Sound – Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See but Cannot Feel: What list of my favorite music would be complete without an appearance by Bradford Cox? It’s hard to ignore his prolific output with his first love, Deerhunter, but in 2008 his solo project Atlas Sound proved that he doesn’t reserve all his compelling musical ideas for Deerhunter. Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See but Cannot Feel is definitely more subdued and lethargic than any of the Deerhunter releases, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As with most solo projects, Let the Blind… is an inwardly focused album, with deeply personal references to Cox’s tortured adolescence set atop Krautrock-inspired soundscapes and haunting reverberations. Songs like “River Card” and “Quarantined” shine as glimmers of hope atop a pile of sadness, while others (“On Guard”, “Cold As Ice” and the title track) are simply beautifully arranged compositions that would make even Brian Eno proud. Let the Blind… is most definitely an arty record that (much like Deerhunter) scrapes the line between being profound and overwrought, but luckily never crosses it.

6. No Age – Nouns: Sometimes the most refreshing and inspiring music is the most direct in its intentions. This has always been the allure of Punk, yet it seems that not many bands succeed in capturing that essence…or they simply try too hard to artificially recreate such urgency. Los Angeles duo No Age has no problem avoiding these pratfalls on Nouns, as they display a hyperactive brand of cacophony that propels many of the songs from mere noise fodder to full-fledged anthems. Without question “Sleeper Hold” and “Here Should Be My Home” fall into that category, while “Eraser” and “Cappo” filter pop through a haze of distortion. Nouns, like the indie punk scene that birthed No Age to the rest of the world, is immediate in its passion and promise—a common quality among all great punk music.

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