These all seemed like such no-brainers to me that this list basically wrote itself. My album of the year was pretty much decided by May, everything else was bound to be consolation after the fact. It was that simple for me these last twelve months- when you hear your album, it's over; the list starts from the top and fills itself in on down.
So without further ado, the final ten albums of The Musicologist's Top 20 of 2008:
10. Boris - Smile (March 7th; Southern Lord Records)
Remember that fuzz pedal you were looking for a few years ago that the maker discontinued? Boris has it, in fact- they have all of them. Boris is a rock band, that's indisputable, so all the genres they seem to be grouped into can be thrown out; they just fucking rock. They sound here like an updated version of the Smashing Pumpkins' magnum opus Siamese Dream but with much sharper fangs. There's maximum riffage and searing solos over pounding drums without being in danger of making themselves cliche. Southern Lord Records co-founder Stephen O'Malley, who is also half of the drone-metal duo Sunn 0))) makes an appearance over the song's untitled finale, helping to drone-out towards a bombastic finale. If it's any consolation, this is the Japanese language album of the year. Key Tracks: My Neighbor Satan, Statement, Buzz-In, Laser Beam
9. Beach House - Devotion (February 26th; Carpark Records)
Musical gems are sometimes like diamonds in the rough, so don't be put off by Baltimore duo Alex Scally and Victoria Legrand's shoegazer-esque textures; this is as fine an album as any other "pop" record this year. It's been filtered down to a swampy ambience, giving it an overall dream-like feel, but one I don't want to be waken from any time soon. This album made it easy to wind down the day putting me in the frame of mind to just relax. Key Tracks: Gila, Wedding
8. Why? - Alopecia (March 11th; anticon. Records)
Oakland's Yoni Wolf made a bonafide hip-pop masterpiece this year with the genre-bending Alopecia (a rare disease that causes the afflicted to lose all their hair- eyebrows, and, uh yeah- down there too...) It's basically a therapist's nightmare set to music- some lyrics are downright cringe-worthy: "sucking dick for drink tickets at the free bar at my cousin's bat mitzvah / cutting the punch line and it ain't no joke / devoid of all hope circus mirrors and pot smoke / picking fights on dyke night with shirlies and lokes and snatching purses..." (from Good Friday); existential crises a-plenty: "my dad wore this face in old photographs..." (from A Sky For Shoeing Horses Under) and just plain creepy: "stalker's my whole style and if i get caught i'll deny deny deny..." (from Simeon's Dilemma). As Wolf exorcises his demons for the whole world to witness, the resulting bedlam makes for sensational art. Key Tracks: A Sky For Shoeing Horses Under, Fatalist Palmistry, These Few Presidents, Good Friday
7. Abe Vigoda - Skeleton (July 8th; Post Present Medium Records)
Pleasant surprise of the year- I've never heard of this band but I know they're a huge part of the LA-based collective The Smell, that's probably how they got my attention. But they've managed to hold on to it, however; with a fascinating record that delves into the psyche of what it's like to grow up a disaffected teen in the cultural wasteland that is
6. Deerhunter - Microcastle / Weird Era Cont. (October 28th; Kranky Records)
Microcastle would be the obvious direction that Deerhunter's sound was headed after the Fluorescent Grey EP; I can hear how those four songs act as a natural bridge over the gap from Cryptograms to here. And Weird Era Cont. sort of works as a stop-gap between the afforementioned EP and Microscastle, even though it's been packaged as a complimentary piece (I like how it works as a pre-cursor to the album instead of an after-thought or "extra" release). Either way, two albums put out simultaneously was a risky move- but it ends up paying huge dividends as the Atlanta quintet's conceptual continuity remains undisturbed. All the hub-bub surrounding the release of these records (accidentally leaked by lead singer Bradford Cox, through his blogspot, much like this one!) completely makes up for any "bad vibes" Cox said he felt he was putting out by telling people not to steal his music, lambasting his fans but later retracting his outburst, offering an apology and putting out thirteen extra tracks and calling it Weird Era Cont. for no additional cost. What a rad guy. Anyway, back to the actual music- Deerhunter's sonic architecture is par excellence, earning them much-deserved comparisons to such a vast array of their influences like Velvet Underground, My Bloody Valentine, The Beach Boys, Electrelane- hell, throws those bands in a blender and set to puree and pour out today's pre-eminent autuers in the self-created genre of ambient garage, Deerhunter. Key Tracks: (from Microcastle) Nothing Ever Happened, Saved By Old Times, Agoraphobia, Never Stops, Little Kids. (from Weird Era Cont.) Vox Humana, Operation, Vox Celeste, Focus Group, Backspace Century
The first time I heard this album I gave it a resounding "fuck yeah" after it was over, then I lamented the fact that it's only 24 minutes long. Of what you might be asking? Pure soulful-punk energy. This is the album you want to have on your iPod when you're dropping in at the skatepark, into raw and gnarly, shitty concrete. But Crystal Antlers' EP is like the momentum that carries you over that rough terrain and blasts you out of the quarter past all the rad-dads with their gay grommet kids pushing mongo and kick-turning on the banks. This is the finest EP I've heard all year, too bad it's so short. Or too good it's so short; I'm patiently waiting for the full-length record in early '09. Key Tracks: A Thousand Eyes, Owl, Vexation, fuck- it's a six song EP, everything's fucking good.
4. Girl Talk - Feed The Animals (June 19th; Illegal Art Records)
As if anything can be said about Gregg Gillis' mash-ups that he can't say himself with his sequencers and laptops? Really now, every album this guy puts out is a fucking masterpiece- an ADHD symphony running me back to my youth and into the present, then back, then forward, then... you get the picture. If you've ever wanted to hear Queen over the Beastie Boys with a Phil Collins' drum break into a Busta Rhymes verse over The Police into a... yeah. Artists that don't fit into any "true" genre create their own, and if "mash-up" is too restrictive (which I believe it is), I'd offer this: cut-and-paste experimental glitch-core. Key Tracks: I'd suggest getting it in both formats, the one cut into tracks and the one that's just a 53-minute un-interupted single track, either way, just put it on and hit "play", fool.
3. Bonnie "Prince" Billy - Lie Down In The Light (May 20th; Drag City Records)
Will Oldham. Seriously, I was just going to print those two words for the review because it's that simple: Will Oldham, man. There's really nothing left for him to do, he's pretty much the greatest and if he retired tomorrow his legacy would be beyond untouchable. He's god. He could piss into my ears and I'd say it was the best concert ever. This was the best "Americana" record this year, whatever that means. He likens his approach to "Appalachian post-punk solipsism". Key Tracks: it's a Bonnie "Prince" Billy album- you start at track one and you play it all the way through. Or put it on shuffle. But "You Want That Picture" is quite beautiful though, isn't it?
2. TV On The Radio - Dear Science (September 23rd; Interscope Records)
Dear Science is the only album making the list that's been released on a major label- on Jimmy Iovine's Interscope. I gotta hand it to the man, even though I don't like him because he's part of the corporate music structure, he knows talent when he hears it. As if this band can get any better- I named Return To Cookie Mountain #3 back in my '06 year-end list, (they did) but regretfully I can't give them the top spot this year (and you'll see why in a minute). This is as strong an outing for any band that keeps getting more and more attention from mainstream America, and with all its anger, imagery, sexiness, sparkling production values and critical acclaim, I hope TV On The Radio becomes huge because it's time people started listening to good music. I was watching VH1's Best Videos of 2008 countdown this morning and I swear to god, everything sounds the same- it's a cluster-fuck of watered-down, Starbucks adult contemporary bullshit- everyone wants to sound like those wankers Coldplay. I hope people hear Dear Science and it makes them want to start a band, an original one that doesn't sound like anyone else. Like this band has managed to do over the course of their career. Thank you, TV On The Radio! Key Tracks: Crying, DLZ, Dancing Choose, Halfway Home, Golden Age
How do you explain to someone that you just felt the ground beneath you move- I'm not talking about an earthquake here, I'm talking about an honest, soul-shaking experience; musically speaking of course. No Age's Nouns begs to be listened to through headphones- it asks the listener "Ready?" and hurls you into a wall at the speed of light, at which point you've completely de-materialized into nothing and pass through said wall as sub-atomic particles, free to move about the universe as you please. A sonic exploration is an under-statement; this album is so densely layered and meant to be played at near "just blew out my sub-woofer" levels that you may just blow them speakers, or the record just may cause you to kick them in. In terms of number of listens, it wasn't even close- I probably listened to this about three times as much as all other albums combined this year, and own it in every format AND got the 7" for Teen Creeps (The Musicologist's 2008 Song Of The Year). My favorite band of the last seven months- I am so fucking jazzed on these guys right now it's not even funny. The Little Band That Could Do No Wrong In '08. Key Tracks: the entire album. Period.
Later for now...