Bon Iver – Emma, Forever Ago
This is certainly the album I listened to the most in 2008. First let me start with the back story. A guy named Justin relocates from North Carolina to Wisconsin after the breakup of a relationship and his band. It’s the winter, he’s living in a cabin, and while there, he writes and records the songs on this album. He appropriately chooses the pseudonym Bon Iver (bonne l’hiver, or good winter) for the project. This is a wonderful, intimate recording. The songs are sung in a falsetto and the lyrics are quite personal. As a friend once remarked while listening to it, “You can live inside these songs”. And that just about sums it up. Stand out tracks include “Re:Stacks” and “For Emma”.
Girl Talk – Feed the Animals
Greg Gillis’ latest is more of the same, but in this case, that’s a good thing. My wife Jamie and I listened to this all summer, and if we weren’t the parents of two young children, we would have listened to it more. Due to the fact that most of the samples are from current hip hop releases, the lyrics are profane to say the least. For those unfamiliar with Girl Talk, it is a project by Greg Gillis that mashes up common pop songs with current R & B and Rap. Trust me it works. This is a fun, catchy album that rewards repeated listens by revealing more of the samples with each listen. It is plain to see that Greg Gillis is a pop music enthusiast judging by the sheer volume of samples included on “Feed the Animals”.
Department of Eagles – In Ear Park
I never really LOVED Grizzly Bear until I picked up the “Friend” EP released in 2007. The “Friend” EP turned me, but until that moment, I just wasn’t a fan. It seemed like everyone else couldn’t get enough of them; KEXP, the blogs, the press, I just didn’t see what all the fuss was about. Now, this album is NOT Grizzly Bear, but it does feature Daniel Rossen of Grizzly Bear. And it definitely sounds Grizzly Bearish; only folkier and popier. If you like your folk/pop with the occasional horn coupled with intelligent lyrics, this is for you. If you are already a Grizzly Bear fan, then my guess is you will love this.
MGMT – Oracular Spectacular
This came out in early 2008 and I listened to it daily for at least a month. This is just a fantastic, psychedelic pop album that is heavy on the keyboard and bass. Produced by the Flaming Lips’ producer Dave Fridman, this is an album of very catchy, Bowiesque pop. The first single and opener on the album, “Time to Pretend” is an infectious, pulsating commentary on being a rock star that will have you singing along after repeated listens. Other favorites include “Kids” and “Electric Eel”.
Santogold/Diplo – Top Ranking: A Diplo Dub
Here’s my dirty little secret… I didn’t really dig Santogold’s official debut release at all. Sure I liked the songs “Creator” and “L.E.S. Artistes”, but after listening to the whole album, I was kind of like, “eh”. I was just not feeling it. Then I stumbled on the MP3 for “Guns of Brooklyn” on the Fader Blog. Whoa! This song rocked. After some investigation, I learned that this song would be featured on a mix tape (in other words, not legal) coming out on the Mad Decent label, and get this, being produced by Diplo. The hunt was on. After listening to just that one song, I just knew this album would not disappoint, and it hasn’t. It is killer! It is a dub mix consisting of 35 tracks featuring classic Jamaican riddims all mixed and mashed with Santogold originals by the man behind the controls, none other than Diplo.
Thao with The Get Down Stay Down – We Brave Bee Stings and All
This album is a unique hybrid of folk and indie-pop that just does not quit. Thao Nguyen is the singer and songwriter and the Get Down Stay Down is the band. The musicians are fantastic and the lyrics are quite imaginative. Thao’s expressive voice rings with conviction and emotion that is reminiscent of Chan Marshall of Cat Power. The band does a great job of crafting a sound that is both whimsical and fun, yet at times frenetic and jangly. Recommended tracks include “Swimming Pools”, “Geography” and the title track; which features a most peculiar line – “we splash our eyes full of chemicals, just so there’s none left for little girls”. Seems to me she is speaking of the need to sacrifice for the betterment of the next generation. Heady stuff for a 23 year old.
Bang! Bang! Eche! – Bang! Bang! Eche! (EP)
The first time I heard this band, I loudly proclaimed, “these guys are my new favorite band!”. I had the good luck to hear BBE on the KEXP simulcast from CMJ this year. The band was playing on Cheryl Waters’ show, and I was hooked. This album demands to be played loud and encourages dancing. Disclaimer: Dance-punk is a guilty pleasure and a major weakness for me. These guys do it right; they feature fantastic musicians and a lead vocalist that seems to enunciate each syllable. He seems to “speak” the lyrics, rather than singing them. Somehow this just works. These guys are young, (ages range from 18 – 20) from New Zealand and this EP is available for free download from the band’s MySpace page. What are you waiting for? Go get it and enjoy!
Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend
I think that by this point, most have heard of this band, if not heard them yet. Despite all the press, and all the hype, these guys deserve praise. They are really responsible for bringing the Afro-Pop sound back to a place of prominence in pop music. Like Steely Dan before them, Vampire Weekend write lyrics about what it’s like to be a young, college aged person with a connection to the East Coast. The music is sounds a bit like Paul Simon’s Graceland funneled through a Jonathan Richman soundscape.
No Age – Nouns
It’s hard to believe that two people can create this kind of a sound. This is a sparse, yet noisy melodic punk album. On “Nouns”, No Age has produced an album that is more accessible than their earlier work. The recipe that No Age seems to rely on is the following: take some drums and guitar, create a melody and wrap the whole thing up in loose, thick, wet towel. Distortion and noise are No Age’s friends, and if that is your thing, run right out and pick this up. The standout track and my pick for song of the year is “Eraser”. Go check ‘em out.
Jake One – White Van Music
In a bad year for hip-hop, this is one that stands out. Jake One, beat maker extraordinaire and now resident beat maker for G-Unit owns the title of Best Hip Hop Album of the Year. The beats are fantastic and the list of rappers is impressive. Jake has enlisted all the big names he has worked with in the past for this release. My favorite track on this album is “Glow” featuring Elzhi and Royce Da 5’9” on the mics. Other notable MCs on this are MF Doom, Posdnous, E-40, Prodigy and Freeway. This album harkens back to ’90s hip-hop in terms of production, sounding like something Pete Rock or DJ Premier could have released.