Album sales might be decreasing every year, but that doesn’t mean anything for 2008. Whether you bought them on special edition vinyl, downloaded them, or streamed them off of Seeqpod, the following albums probably made it into your playlist at some point during the course of the year. The past twelve months have given us plenty of important debut albums, career-shifting solo efforts, and also a good handful of reliable releases from well-established acts. You know it’s a great year when campus geeks Vampike Weekend take the world by storm within months of the release of Coldplay’s piéce-de-résistance, “Viva la vida, or Death and All His Friends.”
Pretentious album titles aside, though, 2008’s diversified catalog indicates that the amorphous mass that is the music business might be headed in the right direction again. Self-produced acts are utilizing home recording techniques and pimping the social networking communities to promote themselves to unprecedented degrees. The co-evolution of music and generational movements will always exist, yet these albums may remain relevant to generations beyond our own. At the very least, we hope that they last into the next year.
The Killers — “Day and Age”
I am biased towards this band, having been a fan since the release of “Mr. Brightside” in 2004. The boys have grown, to say the least. Their fourth album, “Day and Age” is more polished, relying less on synthesizer and more bent on creating quite possibly one of the best records of 2008, if not the best. At the same time, they manage to possess the same rawness of emotion and feeling in their lyrics. Certain lyrics, like those for “Human” may lead to questions about vocalist Brando Flowers’ sanity and grammar: “and I’m on my knees, looking for the answer/are we human or are we dancer?” When questioned in an interview, Flowers merely shrugged and claimed he took the original quotation from Hunter S. Thompson and “ran with it”. Truth be told, the whole album feels like just that — an epic rock journey through worlds only conceived in the minds of The Killers. It may not make sense or seem rational, but one cannot resist being swept along by Flowers’ croons and the grandiosity of the music, overlaid with everything from violins to electric guitars.
Vampire Weekend — “Vampire Weekend”
When I heard of the band, I have to admit that the band name made me skeptical. With something so quirky, I almost wondered if the indie band were trying too hard. Their songs are like nothing out there. While other NYC bands like The Strokes and Interpol are lovely they can all be easily categorized as part of the garage-rock/post-punk revival. Vampire Weekend’s roots lie in both Afropop and classical western music, utilizing instruments ranging from African drums to organs. Consisting of Columbia University grads, Vampire Weekend is intellectual, very collegiate and a group of anomaly—preppy, collar-popping white boys playing music that contains a fair share of congo beats. Strange, but a must to check out.
Coldplay — “Viva la Vida, or Death and All His Friends”
The problem of well-established bands that have good music is that they continuously feel the need to prove themselves to be ‘bigger’ and ‘better.’ Coldplay is no exception, promising their fans that with their fourth album, they would reveal a ‘new’ Coldplay. Although Coldplay has quite a number of classic songs, their downfall lies in vocalist Chris Martin’s distinctive lilting tenor and the predictability of guitar chords. While I salute them in their effort to be more experimental on their latest effort, somehow, it doesn’t seem quite genuine. The melodies are grand, sweeping affairs with less of the typical pop/ballad anthems and more of an avant-garde adventure through faster tempos and more instrumentals. Yet, at the end of the day, catchiness and mainstream appeal wins over in “Violet Hill” and “Viva La Vida,” their most popular songs, where the old Coldplay shines through.
Katy Perry — “One of The Boys”
While one may scoff and claim Perry’s a main-stream pop-star, one can’t help but be ensnared by said star’s sickeningly catchy songs. Many may seem faux-ska and alternative, but the fact that Perry’s lyrics do not take herself seriously makes her songs so much the better. No Avril Lavigne and any of her “Sk8ter Boi” adolescent angst here: Perry is in-your-face and unapologetically upfront with lines like “you don’t eat meat/and drive electrical cars/you’re so indie rock it’s almost an art/you need SPF 45 just to stay alive.” Perry oozes sexiness with her 1950’s pinup model looks and throaty voice, but her oddball humor sets her a bit higher than all the other pop princesses out there.
MGMT — “Oracular Spectacular”
MGMT is yet another one of the alternative/indie bands that NYC seems to churn out effortlessly. You would love to hate them but can’t help loving them. They’re young, they’re hip, they’re taking over the indie scene with their psychedelic blend of electric, pop and rock. A bit of 80’s and a bit of their own, MGMT proves to be fantastically shiny and addicting.
Girl Talk — “Feed the Animals”
Girl Talk would not exist in any decade or century except the present. Many would even accuse Gregg Gillis of not really making music, not to mention the numerous copyright laws he’s broken. Calling himself a ‘mashup artist,’ Gregg Gillis cuts snippets of songs to create completely new pieces that mesh charmingly well. In his latest album, “Feed the Animals,” Gillis uses over 300 songs to create 50 minutes of entertainment and dance beats. While there have been many attempts at mashup artists, Gillis proves to be the best. Girl Talk’s performances are said to be all-out raves, all beginning with a man and his computer. Girl Talk sums up his music with this quote: “Software, or computers, is the most punk rock thing that’s happened ever.”