Friday, February 06, 2009

assistant blog top ten records of 2008

It's taken me SO long to do this. Ben's just posted his top ten records of the year over on his Silent Words Speak Loudest blog, and I'm pleased he has because he's shamed me into finally posting mine.

Here you go - the ten best records of 2008, according to me. Buy them all.

10. CARL CRAIG - Sessions
It often looks tokenistic to include a hip hop or techno record in a list which is inevitably going to be dominated by indie rock acts, but there's no sense of Carl Craig's momentous collection of recent mixes being undeserving of a place in my top ten albums of the year. The sheer versatility, complexity and perfection of his mixes made this a delight - every song a slow-unfolding, spellbinding micro-symphony. And custom-built for dancing.

9. NEIL HALSTEAD - Oh, Mighty Engine
Funny that nearly twenty years ago I used to swoon to Halstead's lush guitar work with his first band, Slowdive, then lost track of him altogether - I wasn't a fan of Mojave 3 - before rediscovering him in 2008. Oh, Mighty Engine is an album I would have hated when I sixteen; it's a collection of lazy, quiet folk songs about surfing and wearing a beard. Summoning up echoes of Nick Drake and Syd Barrett, this album was my summer record of 2008.

No, I didn't escape this album eiher, and nor did I want to. In many ways there's something off-putting about how perfectly - and apparently effortlessly - Vampire Weekend composed this set of songs, but there's no denying that Oxford Comma, A Punk, Mansard Roof, Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa and The Kids Don't Stand A Chance were breezy mini-classics, focusing the tight songwriting of the early Strokes with the melodic ear of, er, Paul Simon. In the end, like pretty much everyone else, I simply couldn't resist.

7. PEGGY SUE - The Body Parts / The First Aid
Bit of a cheat this, as Brighton's Peggy Sue didn't release an album this year; but they did bring out two gorgeously packaged EPs for Broken Sound, which combined added up to nine new songs which stitched a gorgeous tapestry of sounds. Much of Peggy Sue's charm derives from the slapdash nature of their instrumentation and relaxed stage demeanour, but their recordings are surprisingly adept and considered, and the vocal interplay between Rosa Rex and Katy Klaw is deeply impressive. I saw them live a lot this year, and was teased by all of my friends for being transparently in love with them. Their confident, irreverent anti-folk is stripped down and raw, made sparkling by lyrical complexity and a lot of style.

6. FRIGHTENED RABBIT - The Midnight Organ Flight
Yet another slow-burner, I mistakenly identified Frightened Rabbit's second album as a tuneful, post-Elbow rock record on first listen, and filed it away unimpressed. Months later, I'm amazed I didn't hear the undercurrent of fury and passion that sweeps through this bitter, brilliant album. The loose, bass-less indie-rock still has fleeting moments of Elbow's majesty, but filtered through a vivid layer of noise and some amazing lyrics; better comparisons are perhaps Lou Barlow's battered, bruised Sebadoh and fellow Scots The Twilight Sad. Ace record.

5. STEPHEN MALKMUS - Real Emotional Trash
Pig Lib is still my favourite solo Malkmus record, but the critical consensus on Real Emotional Trash is impossible to dispute; Steve has made his most rounded, consistent album in over a decade. This glorious LP contains a heap of beautiful songs - notably 'Gardenia', as lovely as anything he's ever written - but it's really a collection of set pieces constructed for Malkmus to let loose his guitar on. Fans of his lackadaisical playing back in the day might on first listen be disappointed by the rounded, progressive licks he unleashes, but it's impossible not to admire his skill. Most importantly, however, the tunes shine through. For the first time in many years, Malkmus is not looking awkward or disaffected, but rather deeply comfortable in his own skin. So this is easily a top-five record, and I'm rapidly talking myself into placing it higher.

What an enthusiastic, colourful and unexpected contribution Thomas Tantrum made to 2008. Their debut album was a marvellously fizzy affair, powered by Megan Thomas's love-it-or-hate-it squeals, a host of tempo changes, and a bunch of buzzy, brilliant art rock songs which sounded like an explosion of Blondie, Sonic Youth and Blur. Lead single 'Shake It Shake It' sounded brilliant all year long, but 'Pshandy' and 'Why The English Are Rubbish' were the biggest treats.

3. LYKKE LI - Youth Novels
I seem, almost every year, to become interested in another Scandinavian singer who makes electro-pop, and yet no record of that ilk (except Bjork's Vespertine) ever stayed with me as long as this one. I first saw Lykke on Jools Holland, playing a mesmerising, stripped down take on 'Little Bit', but was put off buying her album as I imagined it diluted by layers of orchestration. When I eventually picked it up, I was delighted to find it not only full of brilliant, dark and sexy songs, but brilliantly, sparingly constructed - it contains swathes of juddering bass, periods of near silence and spare clicks, bells, off-screen sounds. The constant is Lykke Li's childlike, beguiling voice and her mesmeric self-belief. For the last two months of the year, I found it practically impossible to listen to anything but this fantastic collection of songs; it is a haunting, incredibly rewarding debut album. Really looking forward to hearing what she does next.

2. LAURA MARLING - Alas I Cannot Swim
I'd determined myself that I wouldn't use this space to wax on about Laura's age and how startlingly mature her first album is, but it's impossible to do it justice without noting with wonder the contrast between the youthfulness of its creator and the incredible depth of the songs which populate it. Credit must go to Charlie Fink, whose production is deeply lovely, but it's Marling's record - as complex, romantic and grown-up record as one could possibly desire, and simply chock-a-block full of wondrous songs. Marling's musical ear is superb, her ability to create soaring melodic hooks set against simple, evocative playing, and her lyrics are excellent. If I could only keep one song from every album released this year, it would be 'Your Only Doll', the best song on this terrific, super-consistent record.

1. THE WAVE PICTURES - Instant Coffee Baby
Easily my favourite record of the year. It took me ages to work out the order of the other albums in the top ten (and beyond) but this album's placing was apparent from the day I bought Instant Coffee Baby - it's easily the best record of the year. Given that the Wave Pics have been distributing their music on CD-r for years, it's perhaps a bit much to wax lyrical about how this is a 'debut album', but the fact remains that it came pretty much out of nowhere and contains a chastening lesson in the art of writing vibrant, heart-felt left-field pop. The musical reference points are perfectly straightforward - Hefner, Jonathan Richman and early Dire Straits - but Dave Tattersal's lyrics are what really set the album apart; he's a charming, playful, inventive lyricist, always taking gambles and playing with words, focusing on small events, observations and ideas. He brings the same good-humoured creativity to his lyric-writing as he does to his guitar solos; they're high-spirited, deeply intelligent and terrific fun.

Wave Pictures are my band of the year, and this is the best record of 2008.

Bands who released records that nearly made the list:
Brian Borchedt, Claro Intelecto, Color Cassette, Deerhunter, Desolation Wilderness, Dodos, Elbow, Grouper, High Places, Idle Tigers, Kail, Les Amazones De Guinee, M83, Max Tundra, Portishead, Robert Forster, Roots Manuva, School of Language, Shearwater, Talons, The Week That Was, Tony Allen, Toumani Diabate, Vivian Girls,

Bands who released records that I liked a lot:
The Acorn, Anni Rossi, Black Spade, Bon Iver, Breeders, Brighton MA, British Sea Power, Cause Co-Motion, Don Cavalli, Fleet Foxes, Frokost, Gable, Hercules & Love Affair, Hjaltalin, Hush Arbors, Let's Wrestle, Monkey, Mt Eerie, No Age, Noah & The Whale, Paavaharju, Port O'Brien, Seagull, Stanley Brinks, Walter Becker, Windsurf.

My Top ten of 2007:
1. Field Music - Tones of Town
2. The Good, the Bad and the Queen – s/t
3. Scout Niblett - This Fool Can Die Now
4. PJ Harvey – White Chalk
5. Jeff Lewis – 12 Crass Songs
6. Electrelane - No Shouts, No Calls
7. Burial - Untrue
8. Seabear – The Ghost That Carried Me Away
9. Dinosaur Jr - Beyond
10. Cribs – Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever


Ben said...

Oh I do like shaming people - especially when I get a good read out of it!

As I think I've said here before, I saw The Wave Pictures back in 2006 and was only mildly impressed - should give them a chance, while Thomas Tantrum and Frightened Rabbit both sound as though they might float my boat.

Re Malkmus - there seems to be a school of thought that, in stylistic terms, groups Pig Lib and Real Emotional Trash together, as opposed to the s/t debut and Face The Truth which are also grouped together. Just don't hear it myself - Pig Lib's actually my least favourite of his solo albums. I enjoyed the s/t album a lot when it came out, but now think that I probably prefer Face The Truth (took me a while to get a handle on it, and 'Pencil Rot' in particular). Your comments on RET say exactly what I was trying to say much more elegantly, BTW - couldn't agree more.

dave said...

i couldn't believe how LOUD the wave pics songs are on itunes. although C2 may be the obligatory techno/remix album at least it is rock solid- this guy has some stellar remixes, including a goldfrapp one of fly me away. although it is not included on the compilation, it is a good segue into my fave album of 2008: seventh tree, goldfrapp. (criminally underrated)

kt said...