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Ranking the best albums of 2008

Ryan Raffin | Monday, January 19, 2009

10. Dance Club Massacre: Circle of Death

Though not easy listening by any means, the Chicago metal quintet deliver a sophomore album that is fast, hard and filled with off-kilter humor.

Their 2006 debut showed promise, but also featured clunky synthesizer riffs and was occasionally derivative. “Circle of Death” refines their sound by playing at a breakneck pace, incorporating subtle synths and maintaining a light-hearted lyrical viewpoint.

9. The Bronx: The Bronx

After being dropped by Island Records, the L.A.-based hard rockers responded with this album-length ode to independence.

Opener “Knifeman” digs at their former label, saying, “This isn’t music, it’s a pyramid scheme,” while “Young Bloods” shouts out rebels and iconoclasts everywhere.

On this album, The Bronx show punk is more a mindset than a sound.

8. The Last Shadow Puppets: The Age of the Understatement

The side project of Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner, along with Miles Kane of the Rascals, treads no new ground, but is a loving nod to classic Britrock.

With an orchestra backing them, the duo make sweeping gestures about girls and, well, that’s about it. Singular lyrical focus aside, the music sounds epic, like the score to an old spy movie.

7. These New Puritans: Beat Pyramid

The British group incorporate electronics and hip-hop beats into their dense post-punk debut, conjuring up images of paranoia ripe for these media-obsessed, ever-connected times.

If you can get beyond the occasional pretentiousness, there is a rewarding core to the music that insists on being both pop and progressive.

Songs like “Elvis” and “MKK3” are catchy while being unlike anything else released in 2008.

6. Cat Power: Jukebox

On her second covers album, Chan Marshall delivers the perfect late night soundtrack. With her breathy vocals and piano accompaniment, songs like “Ramblin’ (Wo) man” and “Blue” become her own. The real heartbreaker is the single original song, “Song to Bobby,” a fan’s ode to Bob Dylan. 

5. F**ked Up: The Chemistry of Common Life

This Toronto band’s name is the least provocative thing about them. Instead, their extremely forward-thinking brand of punk rock is their most compelling feature. Incorporating atmospherics, extensive overdubs and intricate song structures into their second full-length album, the group succeeds by questioning what punk music should and can be.

4. United Nations: United Nations

Controversial for their album art and the questionable legality of their promotional tactics – apparently another organization uses the United Nations name – the group serves up an uncompromising vision of punk rock as a nihilistic vehicle for social change. The 11-song album whizzes by in a frantic 25 minutes, with the all-star cast of the band playing harder and faster than ever before.

3. The Hold Steady: Stay Positive

Four albums in, the Brooklyn rock group show no signs of letting up. With lyrics centered on religion, aging and murder, this is their most expansive effort yet. Incorporating instruments like the harpsichord while staying true to their stripped-down roots seems like an impossible task, yet in 44 minutes the album never loses focus. Almost perfectly paced, with very little filler, Stay Positive continues the Hold Steady’s tradition of excellence.

2. Vampire Weekend: Vampire Weekend

Vampire Weekend could easily have been crushed by the weight of expectation for their debut. Instead, they turned out a pop album that never fails to have hooks, while displaying influences ranging from classical to Afropop. Most promising is the exuberance and optimism of the record, where the lyrics seem to turn away cynicism in all its forms. A light record that is neither forgettable nor ignorable.

1. The Gaslight Anthem: The ’59 Sound

In a year with so much genre-experimentation, why is a straightforward rock and roll album the year’s best? Because no one has made rock music this good in years. Passionate as can be, the New Jersey group can sing about all the old clichés – cars, old movies, Tom Petty – without seeming contrived for a second. “The ’59 Sound” is a record that feels instantly worn-in. It would have sounded just as great 20 years ago, and it’s hard to imagine it won’t sound fantastic a decade or two into the future.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Ryan Raffin at [email protected]


The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



Ranking the best albums of 2008

Stephanie DePrez | Monday, January 19, 2009

Flight of the Concords: Flight of the Concords

The third most popular comedy-folk group from New Zealand came out of nowhere with a release of pure genre-jumping pleasure. Ranging from Pet Shop Boys-style 80’s electronica to acoustic funk to rap-core, Bret and Jemaine managed to wax ironic about everything from their duty to please women, to the daily problem homeless people face of being stabbed with utensils, to the inevitable robot take-over of the world. 

Coldplay: Viva La Vida

All bow and acknowledge this year’s Critical Album Beast. The world was expecting fireworks, and instead we got explosions. It really is a very good album, and the band must have thought so, too, because “Vida” was re-released with different cuts and extra tracks as a two-disc collector’s set. 

Dido: Safe Trip Home

This British chanteuse managed to stay within her lines so as not to displease loyal followers, but still stretch enough that she’s not repeating herself. Though not particularly touted across the covers of magazines, this album is full of delightful gems that make for perfect homework music, especially when snowbound.

Shiny Toy Guns: Season of Poison

STG’s impossible blend of electronica, pop, metal, and male and female voices continues to astound. Their sophomore release took the band to darker, heavier levels while still staying “pop”-enough to dance to. Imagine Kelly Clarkson going Goth. It’s really quite lovely. 

Fleet Foxes: Fleet Foxes

They stepped out of the 60’s and right into indie-pop.

Unabashedly choral-based, their sweet, lilting melodies give the album the air of a bookend for the indie movement and are different enough to feel unique. 

Kings of Leon: Only By the Night

These guys were last year’s Cool New Breakout British Indie Band.

Something about their sound is a little off, familiar but not too much, and the kind of music that grows. The first time through it’s all right, but by the third time through, you’re addicted. 

Vampire Weekend: Vampire Weekend

Is Columbia University’s law school its biggest appeal? No way. It’s these guys, four collar-popping rock stars who went from their dorm to the cover of Spin in 10 seconds flat. The album was something of a flash in the pan last January, but still quality enough to warrant these kids sticking around.

Kate Nash: Made of Bricks

Addicting, lyrical, witty, sweet and danceable. Lily Allen played big sis to Nash and ended up in the back seat as Nash took over the title of Edgy British Song Queen. Nothing really beats blasting English white-girl R&B with a cockney accent from your car.

Death Cab For Cutie: Narrow Stairs

Not as brilliant as their first album, “Plans,” this album still hit all the right spots as the perfect musical setting of what is undeniably poetry. If Shubert were alive today, he would be listening to Death Cab.

Though some songs feel a bit out of place, the flow as a whole works, and “Narrow Stairs” is a most rewarding experience when heard straight through.

The Police: Certifiable: Live in Buenos Aires

This two-disc record of their world tour is all-out perfection. Their songs are still magnificent, but thirty years of letting these artists simmer and ripen has afforded a whole new experience. Sting is always at his best when with Andy Summers and Stuart Copeland.

Listening to these three musicians, who have each gone and done different things for the last three decades, finally come back together to revisit the music that launched them is life affirming.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Stephanie DePrez at [email protected]