Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Favourites of 2008: My Top 10

Just squeaking in before the end of the year in either country (UK or USA), here are my favourite albums of this uneven year:

10 - Opeth
- Watershed
Another powerful release with glorious shades from acoustic to all out metal thunder. Porcelain Heart showcases the differences exceedingly well in one song but as always it's important to listen to all the songs together to get the real contrasts taking place. An adventurous, exciting album from a band who could create no less.

9 - Murder by Death - Red of Tooth & Claw
Didn't expect this but it has actually been a while since the release of In Bocca al Lupo, at least the Stateside release, so it makes sense and is good this one isn't delayed into the UK CD bins. This one sees the singing going deeper still and really plumbing the influences of Johnny Cash songs, whilst the underlying instrumentation again benefits from Sarah Balliet's rumbling cello to add to the depth. The mix of western, folk, and alt rock all combines extremely well, leading to some rattling cuts like Coming Home, with more restrained and sometimes sinister numbers such as Ash setting them off in a similar style to the outstanding Who Will Survive & What Will Be Left of Them album. All in all, a great album where MBD may be finding their true identity now that all the facets of their previous works have been neatly rolled up into this outing.

8 - Elbow - The Seldom Seen Kid
I intended to purchase this for much of 2008, but only got around to it when they were further pushed by the Mercury Award in September. Fair play to them, because it's a stunning album that deserves to be up their pissing on the likes of Coldplay and Snow Patrol, whatever their own particular charms might be. Grounds For Divorce, Mirrorball, One Day Like This, Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver....the whole album triumphs on both the individuality of the songs and the gently beautiful way they all come together for a charming listen. I've found it suits a variety of moods and will have me delving fully into a back catalogue that I only know by a few choice songs. Thankfully, it looks like many others are doing the same and that these guys will get the widespread respect they have long deserved.

7 - Santogold - s/t
I didn't really enjoy the first songs I heard from Santi White but I've no idea why now, as this album has been appearing regularly on my playlists since I picked it up in May. It's concisely excellent, with an array of styles on display from the alt-pop zeal of L.E.S. Artistes to the jagged funk of Unstoppable, which lends it a certain personality and charm rarely replicated in other releases of the year. Despite the soundtracking of evert advert from cars to hair goo, I didn't hear enough to put me off and I'm glad my first listens weren't the last.

6 - The Hold Steady
- Stay Positive
"Let this be my annual reminder, that we can all be something better" and "Yeah dreams can cost some money, but money costs some dreams" are two of the more memorable lyrics that help place this one so high on my list. Aside from the fact that I love seeing the band live regardless, they do also pen some quality nostalgia-laden rock songs, whilst still managing to look to the future from time to time. This is a more mature take on life from the guys yet retains their verve and love for the good time songs. It's a case of doing what it say on the tin, because this record really does help you keep upbeat about life when your perhaps not having the best day, which is always valuable to have loaded up on your iPod.

5 - Torche - Meanderthal
Two metal albums in the top 5.....I'm so happy! Furthermore, two expansive, 'out there' metal bands with very different approaches to their application of Big Riff. Torche take the hookladen approach - more so than ever - on this very accessible outing, with colossal songs like Grenades and Across the Shields proving that metal needn't be all bluster and no upbeat melodies. Metal for those that don't like really metal? Quite possibly.

4 - This Will Destroy You - s/t
This one came in early in January, providing a similarly thrilling post-rock start to the year as Aereogramme offered in 2007. Though this couldn't quite win the same place in my aural affections as My Heart Has a Wish That You Would Not Go, it does tick many of the same boxes. Fragile passages of intricate guitars, stirring climaxes and dynamic breaks all combine to form a gorgeous album that doesn't need words to communicate its subtle points. I've reviewed elsewhere and all the comments still hold true, this being a huge hughlight of the year.

3 - School of Language -
Sea From Shore
A testament to the joys of indie CD store shopping, I picked this up in Probe Records (Slater Street, Liverpool....cheggidout) because it had an effusive hand written label extolling the virtues of its alt-pop. I thoroughly agree and have had a few sessions where I simply had to spin it again to get my fix of the huge hooks and naggingly catchy rhythms within. This Is No Fun is a good place to start and is quite the opposite of the feeling you come away with after spending some time with the album. Easily the happiest random discovery of the year and all the better for it.

2 - 5ive
- Hesperus
The second of the adventurous metal releases I adored this year, 5ive created a masterpiece of swirling guitar walls and dynamic rhythmic peaks and troughs. It's another one that needs to be taken as a whole to really appreciate what's going on (and I haven't even begun to get into the concepts behind the album yet....although the artwork is tres pretty), though News I is as good a place to start as any. Although standard metal is struggling to win my affections a lot of the time, the experimental side is alive and well with some fantastic releases both now and slated for 09 release.

1 - TV on the Radio -
Dear, Science

I was waiting for this from the start of the year, after playing Return to Cookie Mountain ad infinitum over the last couple of years. I wasn't immediately won over on the new, more positive approach upon hearing Dancing Choose first but now both that song, Golden Age, and the numerous other upbeat, funky beauties on this album have more than taken me in. It's not just happy times either. Shout Me Out and Crying add a more restrained, soulful side to the album and Family Tree is a heart-wrenching slice of melancholy. A glorious return and all the better for being so different to its downbeat forebear, there was simply no other choice for my #1 this year.


sickofmotion said...

This Murder By Death album truly is a great album, I haven't seen it on any music news/magazine/blog "best of 2008" list and it's really a shame. Kudos to you for including it! The 5ive one was pretty good stuff too.

Zidered said...

Much obliged. It did seem to get much less of a fanfare upon its release.....bizarre, as it's probably the most accessible they've been to date.