Friday, December 19, 2008

Leilani's Top 10 albums of '08

Posted By on Fri, Dec 19, 2008 at 2:45 PM

Lots of great music this year; here's my subjective list of the best. Snider's will be posted later.

1. of Montreal: Skeletal Lamping (Polyvinyl)

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I’ve lauded this album to the moon and back, and I love it for the very reason it turns other people off – the quick and abrupt rhythm changes within the songs, the clever and suggestive lyrics, and the layers upon layers of rainbow-hued sonics. Kevin Barnes’ refusal to dumb down his music for mainstream audiences is commendable and refreshing, especially since the result is a virtual masterpiece. I’ve listened to it at least 100 times over the past three months and I’m still not sick of it, which, in my book, makes it the best album of ’08.

2. Bon Iver: For Emma… Forever Ago (Jagjaguwar)

Bon Iver is Wisconsin singer/songwriter Justin Vernon. His rootsy debut album under this moniker is the sort that takes your breathe away with its stunning, austere beauty -- light drums, acoustic guitar, the occasional wash of background sonics. But the sole element that makes For Emma’s subtleties and well-crafted songs of longing and loss work so well is Vernon’s delicate, soulful falsetto, sometimes multi-tracked to elegant effect and so magnificently expressive it brings a tear to the eye.

3. TV on the Radio: Dear Science (Interscope)

Bumpin’ disco-funk dance music marked by out-of-the-box beats and brimming with sexiness and soul, Dear Science found a rather serious Brooklyn art rock band building upon their dark meditative style by letting loose and having fun with it.

4. MGMT: Oracular Spectacular (Columbia)

People use the word “derivative” a lot when discussing this band. But MGMT does ’70s-style psychedelic

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glam rock right, throws in some funky electro-pop for kicks, and presents it with the sort of cock-strutting confidence you’d expect from a band on its fifth record, not its first (or second, depending on who you're asking). What really makes this album a top 10, however, is the production quality; I’ve heard demos and the songs wouldn’t be nearly so good if they hadn’t been jazzed up in the studio.

5. Icy Demons: Miami Ice (Obey Your Brain)

The experimental Chicago/Philadelphia ensemble departed from their distinctly Zappa-esque-jazzified-prog-rock-meets-New-Wave-pop sound to an album so out there that even I couldn’t wrap my mind around it at first – off-kilter melodies, shifting time-signatures colliding with warm and mellow samba beats, menacing cello and buzzing synthesizers broken up by a xylophone-infused vocal interlude. In the end, the novelty spoke to me.

6. The M’s, Real Close Ones (Polyvinyl)

The Chicago band’s third album is psychedelic pop with personality that culls from a myriad of late ‘60s rock styles. Bouncy and boisterous, ambling and easy, or heavy and distorted, all of it augmented by horns, chiming bells, electronic blips, hand clapping and all-manner of other small but noteworthy

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7. Marco Benevento, Invisible Baby (Hyena)

Marco Benevento of jazz rock twosome Benevento/Russo Duo has managed to rise above the jam band scene’s rather lackluster year with a debut solo studio effort that captures what the masterful keyboardist does best – experimenting with texture to create dense layers of sound, pairing electronic bursts from his hodge-podge of noise-making and circuit-bending gadgets with banjos, drum loops and even a Glockenspiel for some lighthearted dimension, and using clear, lyrical piano notes rather than vocals to convey a feeling.

8. Department of Eagles, In Ear Park (4ad Records)

The third effort of a side project by Grizzly Bear’s Dan Rozzen, In Ear Park is a lovely, surreal work that manages to take the 60’s folk-pop style of Grizzly Bear and combine it with the organic elements of 2007’s The Cold Nose – ghostly vocals, buoyant percussion, acoustic guitar – without losing the inherent electronic touches.

9. Black Keys, Attack & Release (Nonesuch)

I really dig the Black Keys’ rough-and-tumble neo-blues style and was eager to hear what Danger Mouse’s production skills brought to the table. Some critics complained that it wasn’t very much. I think DM managed to enhance what the Keys do best without becoming overbearing; a swell of strings here, spooky gospel-tinged back-up vocals there, hand claps and B3 organ and key-flute and banjo and spacey electro-

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swizz, all of it adding up to a solid, top 10-worthy work.

10. Cloud Cult, Feel Good Ghosts (Tea-Partying Through Tornadoes) (Rebel Group)

I discovered this gem a little less than two weeks ago and liked it on first listen. It’s not quite a concept album, but the bulk of the songs deal with the man/environment life cycle. The Americana-informed chamber pop manages to come off as lighthearted despite the sometimes sinister subject matter, and though the precious lilting vocals and joyous Wes Anderson film score-style moments almost border on cheesy, the album is so goddamn sincere that it makes up for any missteps.

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