of Maine


The Best Albums of 2008 (Honorable Mentions, A-K)

At long last, the list begins. To start, some commentary and qualifications.

I’ve had a number of conversations with friends about how 2008 was the year that I (we, in many cases) began to fall out of the popular zeitgeist. A tsunami of press couldn’t convince me I needed to hear Lil Wayne’s album; I’m satisfied with the three Santogold songs I know. I continue to be unmoved and confused by some indie favorites and upstarts, like the Hold Steady, Fleet Foxes, Girl Talk, Frightened Rabbit, Abe Vigoda, Crystal Castles. I get why people like and/or hate Vampire Weekend, but I don’t understand how anyone could take their album so seriously. Okkervil River’s flying off a meta-critical cliff built from Livejournal entries, and only now are people paying attention to them, calling a B-sidesy LP one of their best. That one Lykke Li song I heard was good, the one with the dance beat.

None of this is to say that the albums below define me as any kind of sage alt-bro. An honest representation of my listening habits this year would leave my pure top 10 filled with late ’07 sad bastard music (Ned Collette’s Future Suture and Phosphorescent’s Pride), along with Department of Eagles, Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson, Arthur Russell, Chad VanGaalen, the Tallest Man on Earth, Grouper, and a few other worthy entries from ’08s SB canon (with a Wolf Parade thrown in for good measure). 2008 wasn’t a personally traumatic year, but I became interested in (perhaps obsessed with) the idea of comfort in music – how it’s can be created, how it can be expressed, how even terribly depressing albums can offer it thanks to a sheer knack for honesty. For months, it was all I wanted from my headphones. Maybe 2008 was The Year I Edged Closer Towards Dad-Rock, But Demanded Of It Idiosyncrisy and Some Whiff of Authenticity, Thereby Managing to Still Dislike Fleet Foxes. More to the point: I expect as years pass, these lists of mine will get nichier and more eccentric, and I’m more than okay with that.

So, I zipped through the old iTunes library and took note of every album I liked this year. The most general qualification to make it onto at least the Honorable Mentions list is consistency, which to me means that, were I a person with different tastes or proclivities, any of those Honorable Mentions would be a worthy top tenner in some year, in some world. The top 25 that will follow, listed alphabetically, is the group of albums that seriously warranted top 10 consideration. This large number isn’t so much an indication that it was a great year for music, but that it’s pretty-goodness was widespread. Seemingly strong albums I never got around to finishing (for whatever reason) are relegated to the Honorable Mentions, for reasons of authorial integrity. There’ll be notes scattered throughout the HMs, but I intend to come up with something useful to say about everything in the top 25. Hope to have all of this published within a week.

Alina Simone, Everyone is Calling Out to Me, Beware – Impassioned rock/folk covers of work by the Siberian cult hero Yanka Dyagileva.
Black Milk, Tronic
Black Mountain, In the Future – Less tongue-in-cheek than their galvanizing debut, but much more coherent and purposeful. Reviewed here.
Blitzen Trapper, Furr – Dismissed this one after half a listen; half a listen later, I was wrong.
Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Lie Down in the Light – Will Oldham sings!
The Constantines, Kensington Heights – Heroic Canadian rockers seem to have shifted gears, from trying to become one of indie rock’s most blistering acts to merely being one of the most undervalued (and annoyingly slightly inconsistent) rock bands around.
The Cool Kids, The Bake Sale EP – For “BASS!” as bass alone.
Crystal Stilts, Alight of Night – Imagine what this band can achieve once they get a personality.
Department of Eagles, In Ear Park – The most (personally) controversial HM here, I’ve docked it a few points despite its great heights, because it really ought to be four or five songs shorter, and it’s not all that long in the first place. Nonetheless, in a year of too little Grizzly Bear, Daniel Rossen’s project provided a fine substitute.
The Dodos, Visiter – Had I seen the Dodos in concert anytime this year, this would be a nearly surefire top 10; with Visiter, the duo (now a trio, I hear) comes tantalizingly close to realizing the effusive kick of their spartan live show on record.
Faun Fables, A Table Forgotten EP
Flying Lotus, Los Angeles
Hauschka, Ferndorf – New addition! See bottom of this page for a good primer.
High Places, s/t – Despite the album art, I don’t hate this. Its density is almost too light not to love. Almost.
The Hospitals, Hairdryer Peace – Project for 2009: finish this album. Alienating and exhilirating in the simplest of ways.
Islands, Arm’s Way – An unexpected and totally underrated, wild-eyed triumph… after a dozen spins.
Johann Johannson, Fordlandia – My go-to ambient artist, for reasons I’ve yet to make up.
Juana Molina, Un Dia – See “High Places,” except the “almost” part. I’m shocked to see iTunes telling me I’ve listened to this 15 times, so quickly and breezily it flirts by.
Kanye West, 808s and Heartbreaks – Of course Kanye’s first interesting album is his most poorly reviewed. Much better than Graduation, and I think the mere promise of West become a genuine “eccentric artist” in the Prince mode is something to get excited about.
Kathleen Edwards, Asking for Flowers – Reviewed here.
Kingdom Shore, …and all the dogs to shark – Starting to buy into the alarming chaos of this four violin onslaught.

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TV on the Radio, Babar, Sam Amidon, and more!
September 22, 2008, 9:43 am
Filed under: Hasty Music Reviews, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , ,

– Seriously folks, seeing illustrations of Babar in the Times and the New Yorker these past couple weeks has warmed my pretending-to-be-cynical heart many, many times. Gush. And, as an aside, all of this coverage makes me wish my memories of Babar were not simply being bored by the HBO cartoon as a child.

– Anyway, today’s main topic of discussion was to be TV on the Radio’s new album, Dear Science, (important question the internet hasn’t answered yet: do you put a comma after an album with a comma in the title?), but fortunately for all of us, Chris Dahlen wrote the Pitchfork review, and as usual he nails an extremely complicated album. It’s worth noting that the 9.2 grade seems slightly at odds with Dahlen’s review, but I understand the sentiment: in moments the album is more interesting (and easier) to think about than to just enjoy, but this seems a case where an album’s Symbolic Importance (as genuinely progressive rock music) outweighs its mere likability. And that said, I’m liking it more every time I listen to it. Popmatters also does a better job with it than they usually do.

– Also worth a look is Chris Dahlen’s blog, Save the Robot. (He is, it turns out, a Portsmouth NH resident.) His blog most often focuses on video games, with occasional sidetracks into movies and music, and he’s an immensely levelheaded and appealing writer. (Heed his notice on Max Tundra. And Shugo Tokumaru.)

– Cokemachineglow’s Eric Sams manages to address most of my beef with the new Okkervil River (the sensation, not the album necessarily) and still come out liking it. Here’s hoping.

– At Shake Your Fist, there’s a nice song by Sam Amidon from Awake My Soul, the Sacred Harp documentary mentioned a few weeks back. We mention this mainly because it was recently announced that Amidon’s coming to One Longfellow Square in Portland in December, which has quickly become my second-most anticipated concert of the year (after Andrew Bird, coming up quickly). I will be promoting the shit out of Amidon’s performance in the coming months. Look back to my Nico Muhly post for a little more on him.

– What would the White House look like if it were designed today?

– From the Department of Hilarious Lack of Imagination, The Shawshank Redemption is to be reissued on DVD, and the cover could scarcely look more like that of a Star Wars film.



Nurture Through Nature Fall News

This is the first edition of “post titles from actual subject lines of emails I receive at work.”

– From the shocking coincidence department, I got around to watching Old Joy last night (which I wrote about yesterday… accurately, it turns out), and discovered that a clip of dialogue from the film is included in Why?’s album Alopecia, which I spent the bulk of Sunday writing about (link to come Thursday). The one unfortunate aspect of this coincidence is that one line of my review is about how all of Why?’s pop-culture references are too weird/specific/on-the-nose to get people to cheer along with them. I would totally cheer for an Old Joy dialogue clip at a show.

– The new album by Megafaun, which is kind of sort of a band that Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon used to be in, sounds great.

– Slate is publishing excerpts from the forthcoming collection State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America (out next week). In it, fifty writers tackle the fifty states (there’s an afterword on Washington, D.C.). Just some of the writers involved: the New Yorker‘s George Packer, William T. Vollmann, Benjamin Kunkel, Rick Moody, current literary heartthrob Joshua Ferris (Then We Came to the End), Dave Eggers, Alexander Payne (director of Election, Sideways, etc.), Susan Orlean, Jhumpa Lahiri. There are other familiar names too. Awesome. The volume is co-edited by Sean Wilsey, who wrote the pretty good memoir Oh the Glory of It All and this excellent essay/diary, which I highly recommend printing out (he also slept in the window of SPACE Gallery for a week the summer I moved to Portland).

– I hereby predict that by the time the next Okkervil River album comes out, the band is going to get even more popular and most of their torch-bearing critics are going to turn on him. They are getting seriously overheated, and these reviews read like old Decemberists praise. Remember liking them? Sure you do. The Stand Ins isn’t bad, though.

– And, bummer of bummers, one of the better music crit sites on the web has shuttered. Visit Paper Thin Walls for their preemptive singles and album of the year, complete with streams.

– I’m taking a week off from the election. Everyone’s talking and thinking crazy and, worse, talking to me about it.