Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Grizzly Life's Best Albums of 2008

#10. Zach Hill - Astrological Straits

Hill's first solo endeavor was a good one, but it had some holes in it. I found myself listening to several tracks off the album and loving them to death (almost playing them out), but others just weren't doing it for me. he employed some heavy hitters to accompany him on his journey through all that is weird and technical and challenging to listen to (in a good, inspiring way) and that's why it finds its way on to my list. 

#9. Parenthetical Girls - Entanglements

The (((GRRRLS))) were never on my radar until this year, and I'm certainly glad that I've caught on, but I can't say the same for everyone else. I have seen mixed reactions to this album, and I can imagine why. It challenges a certain sector of things that are beautiful and pushes them to a place that almost ends up ugly, but ends up redeeming itself time and time again. Entanglements can be frustrating to listen to, but the walls of sound the Girls throw at you are beautiful and orchestrated in a way that demands attention and isn't like anything else that came out this year. 

#8. The Dodos - Visiter 

The Dodos worked hard this year, touring their asses off all across the United States and Europe, but a lot of bands did that. I had to tip my hat to the band when I saw their schedule for SXSW, where they played a show practically every day of the festival and even two on several days. They also worked pretty hard to ramp up their music and that's completely evident when listening to their last effort, Beware of the Maniacs, and their latest, Visiter. Their sound is tighter and more precise and Meric Long's writing has matured. 

#7. Marnie Stern - This Is It...

From the jump on This Is It... you might think this album will be just like the next, with the chanting, cryptic lyrics, but this one is so much better than the last. She has taken her music to a new level and it sounds better than last time. She still has the chanting and cryptic lyrics, but the music goes right along with them and they don't overpower the album this time. Zach Hill's drumming is spot on and Marnie Stern's finger tapping is just as good as she has lead us to believe from her past works. 

#6. Department of Eagles - In Ear Park

When I first turned on this album, I felt like it would just be a lesser Grizzly Bear album, feeling like some of the parts of the band were missing. It doesn't feel like that at all upon further listening. The album really comes off, in the end, as a compilation of Daniel Rossen's home recordings. Parts of the album are brilliant, and others I could do without, but the parts that shine, really shine. 

#5. No Age - Nouns

It is such a shame that Nouns already feels played out and over-rated, but it does. Those flaws aside, Nouns is a bright, original album that plays great all the way through. The way they blend everything that came before them and everything they are making up on their own is uncanny. The ambience is never too much and almost welcomed in between the other sharp, biting songs. 

#4. High Places - High Places

High Places should win the award for the most underrated band of 2008. I can't believe they haven't blown up, but in a year full of copy-cat musicians, I guess people aren't ready for these electronic hippie jams. High Places' self-titled debut (not counting the compilation of their previously released material that came out last year) is incredibly refreshing in a world of grey music. 

#3. Beach House - Devotion

Music that can be seen as beautiful in that ethereal, flowing kind of way was in short supply this year, but I guess that's why we have Beach House. Devotion takes what they did on their self-titled debut and expands on their lo-fi sound, turning not into an overproduced mess, but a beautiful piece of work. Putting Baltimore on the indie-map, along with bands like The Death Set and Dan Deacon, they seem to be having a positive impact on the localization of music, while at the same time expanding their lull over the better part of the country. 

#2. Xiu Xiu - Women As Lovers

Jamie Stewart and crew keep finding ways to expand their ever growing sound and Women As Lovers does just that. Their catalogue is already packed full of some of the most original songs of our time, and this album adds to the list. I feel like I might be swayed in their direction a little too much, but this is all about taste right? Stewart's lyrics, partially borrowed from Austrian author and playwright Elfriede Jelinek on one song, continue to push forward, where other bands would have fallen off by now. THe band's sound is also as tight as it has been, making the cohesive bond between the individual members feel more like a band and less like Stewart with a baking group (although it is still very much his). 

#1. Deerhoof - Offend Maggie

Less art and more pop can sum up Offend Maggie when looking at Deerhoof retrospectively, but that's not all the the album s about. It certainly does have another dynamic to it, while dropping some of what has made the band such a hit with the arts-ier crowd, and adding to their sound with throwback riffs and a groovy vibe while still retaining their wackier side. The band as a whole has progressed so much over time that this seems like the logical place for them to be. With thousands of miles logged and tons of songs penned, Offend Maggie feels comfortable, while still challenging the listener. It is something to be said that this album did not get the critical acclaim that I am giving it, but I feel that it certainly is due. It feels like the tightest album of the year and I don't think the band has fallen off a bit. 

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Notes on 2008: Personally, I feel that this year was a weak one for musical releases. This list is comprised of the releases from this year that I listened to the most and I am not excluding anything. These ten records were it, and then I put them in order of how strongly I felt about them and how good they were as albums, from start to finish. Other years, I have had definite #1's and had to keep some off to have a list of ten, but this year just felt weak. Don't let that come off as me saying these aren't good. They are excellent, but I'm just not feeling this year too much as far as releases go though. I just wanted more to pick from. 

That being said, I would like to mention that titles like The Death Set's Worldwide and Bon Iver's For Emma, Forever Ago would have found their ways onto the list, but I excluded them for different reasons. For one, The Death Set had an excellent group of songs on the album, but the ones I enjoyed were ones they had previously released and I was familiar with long before the album was released. The newer material just didn't hit tome with me and that's why it isn't on this list. Also, in the case of Bon Iver, I felt that I couldn't overlook the fact that the material was technically and legitimately available last year (he released the vinyl for the album last year on his own accord), which is a technicality I couldn't bring myself to overlook. if you find in on another list this year, they felt differently about it than I. 

Let's hope 2009 can keep some wonderful music from getting over-hyped. It happens too often and I feel like it might happen next year for several projects I am really looking forward to, but I just don't want to see legitimately good material played out for all the wrong reasons. Keep the hype down in '09 people. Please. 

1 comment:

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