My Favorite Records of 2008

I’m a nerd, so by default I love Year End lists. And I’m nerdy enough to make my own (although, in my defense, I had to do this already for Grimey’s…)

So the year in summary?  First, I was so busy this year I feel like I missed a lot of stuff. I didn’t find myself with the time this year to dig much beyond the perpetually-growing list of artists I already have interest in. I scaled back this year, too — whereas 2007 saw me buying something like 200 records, this year I bought about half as many.

Secondly, I found myself disappointed by a lot of records this year (precisely why I have a list of “Disappointments” below).  It’s funny to look at 2008 in contrast to 2007 — in retrospect, I felt like every record that come out in 2007 was vying for best record of the year, while I found myself feeling very “meh” about a lot of the 2008 lineup.

Third, I spent a lot of my musical energy in 2008 digging backward and discovering music I had missed. Some of the musical highlights of ’08 for me included finally getting around to Sun Kil Moon, digesting all of the Beulah back-catalog (and falling deep in love with it), digging into Fela Kuti, afrobeat, and Ethiopian jazz, and an awful lot of post-punk.

Anyhow, on to the lists:

Favorite Records of the Year in a Hastily Put-Together and Mostly Inconsequential Order That Changes Slighlty Every Time I Re-Make This List

  1. Fleet Foxes – s/t
    Sure, they sound a little bit like My Morning Jacket playing a Renaissance Festival. But My Morning Jacket put out a terrible record this year, and the Fleet Foxes record (and EP) is completely brilliant. So who’s derivative now? There’s so much joy and “love of music” in this record, I can’t help but call this my favorite of the year.
  2. Bon Iver – For Emma Forever Ago
    The middle section of this one is still a little flimsy, but as far as “sound” goes, For Emma is flawless from beginning to end. I feel like I’m in that cabin with him when I listen.
  3. Department of Eagles – In Ear Park
    Staggering headphone music. A Grizzly Bear side project, and one of those rare side projects that doesn’t feel also-rans in comparison to the lead project. Very Grizzly Bear-esque but different enough to have its own thing going on.
  4. British Sea Power – Do You Like Rock Music?
    I do like rock music, and I especially like it epic and anthemic. That I loved this album this year should be a surprise, then.
  5. Okkervil River – The Stand Ins
    The companion to last year’s amazing The Stage Names is basically just as good and almost as flawless.
  6. The Walkmen – You and Me
    I love how patiently this record unfolds. Woozy, swaggering, and hopeful from beginning to end, this probably deserves to be higher on my list.
  7. Vampire Weekend – s/t
    This is overhyped and I’d likely wager money that their next one is a disappointment. But this was the most fun record of the year for me — a great left-of-center pop record that never takes itself too seriously.
  8. TV on the Radio – Dear Science
    TV on the Radio still don’t sound like anyone else. This is their most consistent record yet — a fun and paranoid post-punk dance record.
  9. Elvis Costello – Momofuku
    Elvis Costello is in his fourth decade of making music, and I’d argue that his last few records are on par with those he made when he was younger and had more to prove.  Momofuku is my favorite of those he’s put out this decade, and I love the immediate, off-the-cuff sort of vibe. I also love that I have a signed copy given to me by the man himself.
  10. R.E.M. – Accelerate
    Did it hold up beyond the initial rush of excitement I got from having a new, decent R.E.M. record?  Not entirely. It’s not perfect: “Hollow Man” is still an embarrassment, and some of it (the title track and “Until the Day is Done”) feels formulaic and flimsy.  The bottom line:  R.E.M. in this decade is still a much different and less appealing band than the R.E.M. of IRS Records, or even R.E.M. before the year 1999. But I can’t deny that one of my biggest musical thrills of this year was hearing this record for the first time and realizing that, if even to a small degree, the first band I ever loved was back in form.

    The rest:

  11. French Kicks – Swimming
  12. Destroyer – Trouble in Dreams
  13. Portishead – Third
  14. Dr. Dog – Fate
  15. The Features – Some Kind of Salvation
  16. Hotpipes – Future Bolt
  17. Caribou – Andora
  18. Beck – Modern Guilt
  19. The Dodos — Visiter
  20. Dungen – 4
  21. Neil Halstead – Oh! Mighty Engine


Favorite Shows of the Year:

  1. Grizzly Bear at the Mercy Lounge
    Easily one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. I e-mailed friends immediately afterward and told them that this was the kind of show that made me want to sell my stuff and go on the road to follow the band. If the next Grizzly Bear record isn’t a masterpiece, I’ll eat my hat.
  2. The Walkmen at the Basement
    One of the finest musical moments of my life was seeing a complete enraptured crowd singing along to “Louisiana” with The Walkmen, their horns, and a totally-blown-away Grimey’s staff.
  3. Radiohead in Charlotte, NC
    I haven’t seen Radiohead live since the OK Computer tour in ’97 (yeah, that’s me bragging a bit). Somewhere along the way they evolved into an art-rock act that plays an amazing arena show.
  4. British Sea Power at the Mercy Lounge
    Unhinged and epic (again, this works for me). And for some reason the band threw vegetables at us.
  5. Wilco at the Ryman
    Not the finest Wilco show I’ve ever seen, but this makes the list because they played “Pieholden Suite.”
  6. Metallica at the Basement
    It happened. I saw it.

Biggest Disappointments:

  1. My Morning Jacket – Evil Urges
    Terrible, terrible soul-crushing record that throws everything great about the band out the window and leaves only the embarrassing garbage.
  2. Bloc Party — Intimacy
    Their last album was terrible, but I excused it as a sophomore misstep. This album is so bad it counts as two strikes. Bloc Party is officially over.
  3. Calexico — Carried To Dust
    Yawn. Calexico put out a new record?
  4. Dr. Dog – Fate
    OK, I put this in my top twenty. But this record didn’t live up to my expectations after the now-classic-to-me We All Belong. Mainly, because there’s a song that rhymes “choo choo train” with “choo choo rain.”  And no matter how much I like the rest of the album, I cannot let something that ridiculous slide.
  5. Sigur Ros – (Long Icelanding title that, even if I bothered to type it all out, wouldn’t really matter now would it?)
    I guess I’m kind of over it. I liked the first track, and the rest just felt like 60 minutes of pretentious dirges.

Most Highly Anticpated of 2009:

  1. The new Grizzly Bear record
  2. Neko Case, and the Greatest Album Cover of All Time:
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4 thoughts on “My Favorite Records of 2008”

  1. Lots of things on this list I need to check out.. Bon Iver among them, since basically every one I know is drooling over them..

    I didn’t even know elvis costello had a new album..

  2. I think you would agree with me that placing Accelerate in your actual, “for real” top 10 is a bit crazy. I know you _want_ it to be there, just as I do … but better than Portishead? Beck? Or some things that didn’t make your list, like Nick Cave (which kills), M83, Wolf Parade, Sun Kil Moon, Silver Jews, Hercules and Love Affair or the Black Keys?

    I wish it were that good … I really do …

  3. No, I agree with you. But the thing is, the more I thought about it, the more I felt like I couldn’t take it out. I know it’s really not THAT great a record, but in 2008 I didn’t really enjoy the release of many records more than I enjoyed that one — long list of flaws and all.

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