15 — High Places — s/t
“Dude.” — Ben
“Duuuuuuuude.” — Dugan
14 — Oxford Collapse — Bits
If you went to Steer Roast this year, hopefully you got to see this band rock the stage with their brand of high-energy rock. It’s really kind of hard to describe their music as anything but straight-up indie rock, but somehow they manage to stand out and are more fun than most of their contemporaries.
Maybe it’s the vocal harmonies between the guy with a good voice and the guy with a bad voice, or maybe it’s the awesome bass lines that give equal time to all four strings. Either way, the sing-along fun of “Young Love Delivers” and the harder edge of “For the Winter Coats” are standouts, while “I Hate Nobody” managed to lodge itself in my head — in the best way possible — for weeks on end.
13 — Raveonettes — Lust Lust Lust
Who knew Rachel Ray was so damn hip? This Danish duo, handpicked by the chef/donut spokesman for her SXSW party, writes simple rock songs. Then they drown them out in distortion. Together with some filthy lyrics and naive female vocals, it makes a good formula — although I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to look at Rachel Ray the same again after listening to “You Want the Candy.”
12 — TV on the Radio — Dear Science,
Marnie Stern’s chief competition for worst album title of the year, enough has been written about TV on the Radio that we probably don’t have to give you much background — hell, even Entertainment frigin’ Weekly gave this album an A-. So, let’s summarize what we’ve learned from this album: President Bush still sucks, delayed piano is suddenly hip as all hell, and Kyp Malone probably wants to have sex with you. And TV on the Radio still write incredible music.
11 — Lil Wayne — Tha Carter III
It’s about time Lil Wayne deposed Kanye as the biggest name in rap. And he actually has the chops to back up his claim to the title “best rapper alive” — in addition to something like 284 official and unofficial mixtapes this year, Weezy gave us Tha Carter III, a bonus disc of b-sides, and the promise that the other unreleased tracks are coming out next year as a second Tha Carter III. Ok, so maybe that’s kind of weird, but who can argue with such ridiculous prolifigacy when everything he puts out is solid gold? And damn, for someone so monotone, he pulls off vocal dynamics so well just by going from dirty to dirtier.
Wayne pulls off “Dr. Carter” perfectly, turning a track with a concept that would have ended up being a lame skit on anyone else’s record into an ultra-chill groove with perfectly straight-faced humor. The counterpart “Mr. Carter” is another mellow highlight, and “Phone Home” is almost too much fun, but my favorite is “Don’t Get It,” which samples Nina Simone and ends with 7 minutes of Wayne smoking up and talking about racism in the prison system, drug laws, and Al Sharpton. Awesome.
10 — The Fiery Furnaces — Remember
All right, I’ll come out and say it now: this is by far my favorite band ever, and anything they release is, in my mind, better than anything by anyone else. That said, this is a live album, so it wouldn’t be right to put it at the top of this list. But this is unlike any live album you’ve heard before.
The triple LP set boasts 51 songs, and while they are all renditions of album tracks, most have entirely different melodies and instrumentations, leaving only the lyrics of the originals intact. And much like a Fiery Furnaces live show, the songs cut into and out of each other totally unpredictably. So we end up getting the calypso arrangement of the entirety of “Bitter Tea,” the grandmother-less pop arrangement of “Rehearsing My Choir,” and the chopped-up blues-tinged hard-rock arrangement of favorites from their other studio albums. The album art includes the warning “Do not attempt to listen to all at once,” but I’ve broken that rule more times than I can count.
9 — Stereolab — Chemical Chords
So this is supposed to be Stereolab’s Motown record, but I doubt anyone would have thought that if Tim Gane hadn’t said it himself. In practice, that basically means Stereolab with horns and strings, which is pretty awesome when you think about it. “Neon Beanbag” is the crowd-pleaser, but other highlights include the classic French pop sound of “Daisy Click Clack” and the hypnotic drone of the title track, which — similar to their masterpiece “Jenny Ondioline” — is based solely on the slow repetition of two notes on a rich sounding synth.
Laetitia Sadier’s half-French, half-English vocals are in fine form as always, but what really sells this record for me is the return of the instrument that made Dots and Loops so great — the marimba. The marimba hook on “Silver Sands” kills me every time I hear it.
8 — Spiritualized — Songs in A&E
Jason Pierce has a man-crush on Jesus. No, not in the “Lord-and-Savior” sense, but more as a result of total infatuation with gospel music. He also has a pretty big thing for drugs. Mix that up with a near-fatal double pneumonia, and you have Songs in A&E. Spaceman still writes a powerful song, and each cut swells with emotion. A series of instrumental tracks hold it all together, making Songs in A&E one of those rare contemporary albums that works best as a cohesive unit.
7 — Fucked Up — The Chemistry of Common Life
Let’s face it. Punk died the day Dookie came out. But this album may have done more to revive hardcore as a respectable genre than any other since ’94. The lyrics are great, and go back to the old hardcore standards: sex, drugs, and hating religion. Brutal lead vocals and standard power chords are backed by soaring — and, as far as punk goes, unconventional — instrumentation (flutes?!). This is the best thing to happen to hardcore since Jawbreaker came out with Unfun.
6 — No Age — Nouns
“L.A. Art-Punk” is the most annoying sub-genre moniker since “freak folk,” but dammit if No Age doesn’t transcend the awful label. These guys are a drums and guitar duo that inject samples until their music is incredibly dense. Sorting it all out can be a daunting task, but in the end, a rewarding one-it just takes a few listens. Now we can only hope their Grammy nomination doesn’t go to their heads, (The nod is for Best Album … Packaging.)
5 — Thee Oh Sees — The Master’s Bedroom Is Worth Spending a Night In
This one definitely came out of nowhere. John Dwyer, formerly of noise-rock groups Pink and Brown and the Hospitals, decided to transform his solo project Thee Oh Sees into a full band and release — a 1950s rock album? It sure sounds awesome on paper, and it sounds even better on record. Sure, half the songs sound exactly the same, but that’s part of the fun, and trust me, this album is an absurd amount of fun.
Dwyer and Brigid Dawson sing the entire album in duet through what sound like telephones, both of their voices soaked in reverb, while the drummer pounds out killer grooves that never seem to get old. The best part is the awesome effect that Dwyer and Dawson use primarily in “Ghost in the Trees” and “Poison Finger” when they raise the pitch of their voices at the end of a line and let the reverb carry it away.
4 — Be Your Own Pet — Get Awkward/Get Damaged
BYOP (2003-2008, RIP) achieved what every awesome high school garage band dreams of — getting signed by motherfucking Thurston Moore. And then this year they proved just how punk rock they are when a) people were having sex in the audience (!!!) during their Boston show at the Paradise and b) their label executives made them cut songs from their album for being too violent. I guess the idea of the ferocious (and ferociously hot) vocalist Jemina Pearl singing about “wait[ing] with knives after class” and killing her ex-BFF provoked too many images of school violence. Luckily for us the cut tracks were released independently on the Get Damaged EP, and damn, the “Locomotion”-copping half doo-wop, half punk rock revenge anthem “Becky” is by far the best song of the year. And the rest of the record, an energetic and wonderfully immature blast of in-your-face rock, kicks a ton of ass too.
3 — Marnie Stern — This Is It and I Am It and You Are It and So Is That and He Is It and She Is It and It Is It and That Is That
You could argue that this is the worst album title of 2008, and sometimes the lyrics are downright grating (“the future is yours, so fill this part in!”), but that’s neither here nor there — ’cause this chick can SHRED. But, unlike many male-guitarist counterparts, Marnie knows when to use it. The album bursts with energy, and Marnie’s timely restraint makes her solos all the more powerful. Oh, and she has a kissing booth on tour, too. Awesome.
2 — Los Campesinos! — Hold on Now, Youngster …
These guys break so many indie rules, it’s impossible to even keep track. But when it comes down to it, if you love underground rock music and are young, then LC gets you. They wear their influences — all the right ones — on their sleeves, and swirl them up into simultaneously giddy and forlorn songs about, well, the same damn life all of our kind live. Its like High Fidelity, but in album format. Plus they cover my favorite Pavement song. But best of all, Los Campesinos! released not one, but TWO fantastic albums full of this stuff in this year (the other is named We are Miserable, We are Doomed). Incidentally, of the seven of them, six are gorgeous — just watch out for the drummer.
1 — Times New Viking — Rip It Off
Over the summer I was telling people that Times New Viking is the best band in the world. Now that I’ve had time to let the hyperbole subside, I still think they might be. What makes them so great? Well, they write perfect pop songs and then record them on the cheapest equipment possible so everything is surrounded by a ton of noise, fuzz, and tape hiss. The vocals are usually split between the (male) drummer and the (female) keyboard player, who alternate screaming back and forth at each other and singing together in something that vaguely resembles harmony. And when they play live, instead of having a planned setlist, the drummer just shouts out whatever songs he wants to play between taking swigs of Jack Daniels. It really doesn’t get any better than that.
Worst Album Titles
1) Atmosphere — When Life Hands You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold
2) Marnie Stern — This Is It And I Am It And You Are It And So Is That And He Is It And She Is It And It Is It And That Is That
3) TV on the Radio — Dear Science,
4) Portishead — Third
5) Coldplay — Viva La Vida
Best Album Titles
1) Lil Wayne — Tha Carter III
2) Max Tundra — Parallax Error Beheads You
3) Jack Rose — Dr. Ragtime and Pals
4) Kimya Dawson — Alphabutt
5) Deerhunter — Weird Era Cont.
Most Annoying Musical Trends
3 — Crystal Bands
For whatever reason, indie music goes through cycles where every single new band uses one word in its name. This year it’s crystal: Crystal Antlers, Crystal Stilts, Crystal Castles. While I am surprised no one has used Crystal Wolf yet, this needs to stop.
2 — New Disco
How did this even get popular? It sucked in the 70s, and it sucks more now. End of story.
1 — Girl Talk
What could be worse than listening to a bunch of shitty top 40 songs? Hearing a bunch of them played all at once. “Oooh, he’s a biomedical engineer,” you say. “Oooh, hes so edgy — he might even get sued!” Gregg Gillis, we have 4 words for you: STFU. Oh, and put on a goddamn shirt.
Albums We’re Excited for in ’09
5) Fiery Furnaces. Dugan won’t let us not include this.
4) The second Tha Carter III. That’s right, he’s making another one, and naming it the same thing. That’s what you get to do when you’re the best rapper alive.
3) The next three Los Campesinos! albums. If they can put out two in their first year, we expect no fewer than three in ’09.
2) The Thermals. With their new drummer, J.J. Binks.
1) My Bloody Valentine. Reunited and looking to put out their first album since 1991’s INCREDIBLE Loveless, dear god, our hopes are so high for this. Kevin Shields, please don’t disappoint.
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