Last year's music recap covered a bit of everything. This time around, I'm splitting the categories. Today, I'm only reviewing albums.
It should be noted, preferably by a notary public, that I did not buy many albums this year. I made an effort to shift the money normally spent on CDs toward buying my best gal all the Sonic corndogs she could want. Really, though, I still spent money, but a lot of the budget went into new and used CDs released years ago. No one wants to discuss the $1.99 copy of Soundgarden's "Superunknown" I picked up this summer (except Jeff), so here are the 2008 albums I purchased or heard completely, or heard almost completely**
Death Cab for Cutie – “Narrow Stairs”
When your first radio single (“I Will Possess Your Heart”) sounds better as an instrumental, you know you’re in trouble. The album was flat, lacking the expertly crafted phrases I expect from Ben Gibbard. Similes like “They carried on like long division” were too rare, replaced by on-the-nose clichés about caged birds, thin ice, and a particularly gruesome song titled “Your New Twin Sized Bed”. Worth hearing: Long Division, Cath, Bixby Canyon Bridge
Jenny Lewis – “Acid Tongue”
Jenny made my favorite CD of 2006, but not of 2008. It’s passable when rollicking, and – with the exception of the pretty title track – clumsy when the tempo is slowed. Worth hearing: Acid Tongue, The Next Messiah
Coldplay – “Viva la Vida (or blah blah blah)”
Coldplay – “Prospekt’s March” (EP)
I tried to get into “Viva la Vida” many times with little success, and didn’t enjoy it much until I bought the EP. (Wondering why I’d buy the EP if I didn’t like the LP? It was $.99 via Amazon’s mp3 store, and I can’t pass up a bargain. In ’08, I SHOPPED until I DROPPED.) The EP gives lyrics to the LP’s instrumental opener, adds Jay-Z to “Lost!”, remixes “Lovers in Japan”, and somehow makes you appreciate its mother. Worth hearing: Violet Hill, Lovers in Japan, Viva la Vida
Paul Westerberg – “49:00”
This received a positive review by the Onion’s AV Club, a trusted source, and sold for $.49 via Amazon. I overpaid. It’s a bunch of unrealized songs merged together into one track. Call me a reactionary, but I like my albums to be broken up into units, and each unit to contain both a beginning and an end. Worth hearing? No.
Mates of State – “Re-Arrange Us”
Breaking precedent, MoS exchanged their signature organ for a piano. The effect was minimal; they were very good with the original instrumentation, and they are still very good. Worth hearing? Yes. From top to bottom, this was my favorite album of ’08.
Tilly and the Wall – “O”
Thirty-two minutes long, my only real problem with it is the two-and-a-half minutes (and title) of "Poor Man's Ice Cream". This album had a punk flavor, and it fit them well, but I prefer the less aggressive tones of their previous releases. Worth hearing: Chandelier Lake, Cacophony, Dust Me Off
**Vampire Weekend – s/t
Vampire Weekend made a fun pop record. The songs -- the majority, anyway -- are good. When I read about how their African-infused music is the Next Big Thing, I frown. Sure, when Paul Simon did it, it was mostly good. And it was mostly good when The Police dabbled with reggae. But there were A LOT of clunkers mixed in with that success, so let's not start essing each other's dee's just yet. Worth hearing: Campus, Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa, A-Punk
**Fleet Foxes – s/t
"Baroque Pop". That's the phrase they use to describe themselves, which doubles as the phrase they use to scare away potential fans. Aside from "White Winter Hymnal" (which I do not recommend due to a particularly irritating day or two when I could not eject its repetitive structure from my brain), I don't hear the baroque influence -- AND I TOOK MUSIC LISTENING IN COLLEGE, SO I WOULD KNOW. I hear folk rock; it's pretty, and it's pretty good. Worth hearing: He Doesn't Know Why, Blue Ridge Mountains, Tiger Mountain Peasant Song
**Bon Iver – “For Emma, Forever Ago”
I will pay $5 American to the first journalist/blogger than can write about this album without using the words "Wisconsin", "Cabin", or "Woods". It's like when you read an article about The Shins and they can't bring up the "Garden State" connection quick enough. You know how Hollywood (or whoever) claims it's much harder to make someone cry than to make them laugh? I assume this album's placement on year-end best-of lists is partially due to that bias. As I said in my 2008 soundtrack post, I like the music quite a bit and I am less receptive to his voice. Worth hearing: Skinny Love, For Emma
Okkervil River – “The Stand-Ins”
It's getting harder and harder for me to find straightforward rock bands, bands without extraneous members or superfluous woodwind instruments, bands with DRUMS and GUITARS that sound best when LOUD. And aren't NICKELBACK. Foo Fighters was one of those bands. Spoon is one of these bands. Okkervil River is another. This is my second-favorite album of the year. Worth hearing: Calling and Not Calling My Ex, Singer Songwriter, Bruce Wayne Campbell Interviewed on the Roof of the Chelsea Hotel, 1979, Lost Coastlines