Friday, January 2, 2009

Top Seven Albums of 2008

Two thousand eight (if you begin a sentence with a number you have to write it out; consider this today's grammar lesson; this is very important) has been an incredible year for music. From legendary (Journey, The Police, Neil Diamond, Styx) to epic (Coldplay) to intimate (Jeremy Enigk) to just plain fun (Weezer), my concert experiences did not disappoint. Equally undisappointing has been the quality and quantity of last year's new music. Now, usually these lists come in tens or twenties or some other interval that makes sense. So why only a top seven (spell out numbers when they are less than 10) list? These are the albums destined to be my classics and in my full rotation years from now. So while the amount of great music of this past year has been staggering, the following are the albums destined to leave their musical footprint on my life.

7. Day & Age by The Killers
This album barely makes the list. I would've liked to see it go a little higher actually. The follow-up to Sam's Town, I expected another great rock album. But instead there's less guitar, more synths, a bit of saxophone, and some pretty dancy beats. But that's not to say the album is devoid of rock moments -- check "Spaceman". And at least they didn't succumb to the folk trend. Sure, it's no Sam's Town but just like that album the more I listen to Day & Age, the more I like it.

6. Flight of the Conchords by Flight of the Conchords
I usually don't care for novelty music. But when you do it as well as "New Zealand's fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo" it's hard not to love it.

5. Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust by Sigur Rós
I think this is as close to a convential album as Sigur Rós will get. Not quite as spacy and abstract as their previous work, this disc is easier to listen to on a song by song level where an album like Takk... is best enjoyed in its entirety. And for that reason, Med Sud is probably more accessible and palatable to the general public.

4. Alone II: The Home Recordings of Rivers Cuomo by Rivers Cuomo
Another disc packed full of demo songs by the self-proclaimed Greatest Man That Ever Lived, Alone II is a step up from 2007's Alone I, if only a small one. Where Alone I has more heavy hitters like "Longtime Sunshine" and "Lover in the Snow", Alone II packs more punch track for track. The recordings are lo-fi and very Pinkteron-esque so the overproduction that has plagued Weezer in recent years is simply non-existant here. Another great part of this album is the linear notes, a 32 page booklet giving the background and biography of each song. And the cover art? To know that Rivers was dead serious when this picture was taken makes me love him even more. Alone III in 2009? I certainly hope so.

3. Viva La Vida by Coldplay
As incredible and cohesive as this album is, it could be better in regards to its playability as a theme or concept album. Lyrically, they do a great job -- the themes of life, death, love, and God are dominant through the entire album. But musically, it would have been cool to hear repeating melodies and motifs (maybe a "Viva La Vida" reprise?) -- something more operatic. It's disappointing that the themes of this album repeat only lyrically and not musically. But don't get me wrong, this is a fantastic album. And their live show is amazing -- mostly because a sweaty Chris Martin bears a striking resemblence to immediate post-carbonite Han Solo.

2. Narrow Stairs by Death Cab For Cutie
This album can be summed up in the following equation:
the rockability of The Photo Album + the listenability of Transatlanticism + the intelligent songwriting of Plans - overproduction - gloom = Narrow Stairs
Pretty much everything you and I could ask for in a Death Cab album. And while we're talking math metaphors, how awesome is "Long Division"? How about these lyrics:

And they carried on like long division
And it was clear with every page
That they were further away
From a solution that would play
Without a remainder
Just a sample of the high-caliber song writing found on Narrow Stairs.

1. The Red Album [Deluxe Edition] by Weezer
How does Weezer spell redemption? R-E-D. This album is best explained with an analogy. Let's say you meet guy or a girl, depending on your gender and sexual orientation (I'm just gonna say "girl" from now on to make this easier on all of us). She's happy, smart, and she evokes feelings you haven't felt in a long time -- feelings you rarely, if ever, experienced with other girls. Just like any other girl, though, she has her quirks. However, on occasion her quirks extend to the level of painfully annoying. But there's times where she makes you feel so alive, so you decide to stay with her. Time wears on and you fall in love. After you take a step back you realize that not only are quirks less irksome, but that they have become endearing. You realize that they're an essential part of the woman you love; without them she would no longer be this woman. This is how I feel about The Red Album and a lot of recent Weezer. No matter how many times I feel like Rivers whipped out the rhyming dictionary, I'll always love Weezer.

Rivers explained why The Red Album shines brighter than any post-Pinkerton album:

Our approach was to get into the studio and try to blow our minds with whatever we wanted to do. To just have fun, so that when we pressed play and listened back to what we did, our minds were just blown. That was the goal.
They weren't worried about commercial success. As a result, they created their best album since 1996.

Anyway, these are the soon-to-be timeless albums of 2008. There's still a lot of music from last year I haven't heard yet. So ... gimme your top three.


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  2. I really love the new Death Cab album. I was going through my most listened to songs on iTunes and I had 5 of the new death cab songs in my top 10. I really love Talking Bird and Grapevine Fires. The whole album is put together nicely. I like how every song is a well told story. The first time I listened to it I had to finish every song to see how the story ended.
    Sigur Ros blew my mind. I love how I can enjoy every song and not know a word they are singing.
    I'm not a huge fan of the new Killers album. I loved Sam's Town and this album kinda let me down.
    =W= will always hold a special place in my heart.
    Good list

  3. I have to be honest and admit I haven't listened to any of these albums all the way through yet.
    I usually wait until an album is at least a year old (sometimes two) before I do that.
    I've found that I can listen to music more objectively by myself after the hype has died down. Then it is easier to decide if I like it enough to label it as a favorite without passing a premature judgment.
    The downside to this is that when I discover an album I love, I don't have anyone to talk about it with because its already "so 2006."
    Maybe my "09 make it mine" resolution will be to listen to music when it is still new.

  4. First off I have two(I always thought it was you spelled them out till three,I guess thats why me fail english)
    Quinn is a liar, we listened to weezer yesterday coming home from SLC, I guess he did talk on the phone for a couple of songs.
    Second, I would make sweet sweet love to weezer anyday.

  5. I have been soaking in Narrow Stairs since Christmas, and I am enjoying it thoroughly. I wish I had listened to enough music this year to make an intelligent comment, but alas...

  6. Great analogy Myke. Only you could exaplain Weezer's new album that way and have it make sense.