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.
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