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Top Albums of 2008

There might not be a more divisive category in blog history on The Blogulator than Top Albums. All who voted on this category had wildly (well, okay, only slightly) different entries. That's naturally gonna happen when you increase the number of bloggers on a blog. Still, what makes us all slightly different (after all, Chris named The Mae Shi and its hyper-energetic guitar rock on the top of his list, whereas I named Girl talk and its hyper-energetic music collage on the top of my list) makes our best of the year list all the more comprehensive. These are the albums that rocked the collective Blogulator in 2008.

10. The Cool Kids - The Bake Sale
Within the album's first minute, on "What Up Man," the Chicago duo of Mikey Rocks and Chuck Inglish both construct a modest yet maniacal beat by only saying "tick bass tick tick clack" underneath the line, "the chicken I was eatin' with the mashed potatoes need a little bit of gold / oops wrong song lyric man / a little bit of pepper." Fitting in vividly and comically with a rap style long forgotten by the machismo and testosterone fueled rhymers of today that they aim to bring back to the forefront of music, Rocks and Inglish never go too far overboard with their quirkiness (it peaks on the wacky "Bassment Party") nor get too proud (just majestically silly on "Gold and a Pager" and "Jingling"). Because The Cool Kids are covering a bygone era in hip hop with the technology and self-awareness available and cherished in 2008, they end up not just recontextualizing neon tank tops and references to Do The Right Thing and Sega Genesis, but creating a new, brighter sound for the future of hip hop. --Chris

9. Atmosphere - When Life Gives You Lemons...
Boy, I'm really glad my mom didn't catch me with this record because I don't think she'd approve of the use of the word sh*t in an album title. She would have banned me from listening to it for sure. But aside from the swear, the message is pretty positive. When you're dealt a bad hand, make the most of it. Covering topics ranging from drugs to dead-end jobs to selling out, the message stays positive throughout. I've got to proclaim this one of the best hip hop records of the year. Come on, it's Atmosphere. It's bound to be awesome. --Amy

8. Sigur Ros - Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust
Imagine yourself in a desolate wasteland. It's a frozen tundra. You're cold. You're hungry. You haven't touched a woman in six months. You want to cry. But then, just as you're about to give up on life, you hear a noise. No, not a noise, an anthem. The music creeps in and engulfs you. It seems to completely describe all of the emotions you're experiencing in your isolation. Can you picture it? Then you've just pictured the latest Sigur Ros album. Though you probably can't pronounce the album title (both because of the Icelandic language barrier and because you haven't spoken to another human being in a while), it translates to "With a Buzz in our Ears We Play Endlessly" in English. It is a title which perfectly captures the essence of Sigur Ros' dream-like ambient pop. Plus, their live shows feature confetti! --Amy

7. TV on the Radio - Dear Science
The critical darlings TVOTR takes the haunting simplicity of their 2004 scene-jolting debut Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes and the stormy barn-burners of 2006's Return to Cookie Mountain and smooths both over with thick slabs of golden butter, turning late-night paranoia-fueled freakouts into late-night dance-fueled freakouts. Whether it's revolution aspirations or revved-up perspiration you're looking for in your grooves, this record offers both up in spades. The once-brandishing of cut-up electronics and stilted loops in the listener's face becomes a more fluid and watery affair (the elegance of "Family Tree" astounds and moves unlike any TVOTR track from the past), as if wounds caused by frenzied honesty are now healing in the wake of a hopeful future. Of course not all negativity is lost, as part of looking forward is giving a big middle finger to the past (the vehemence of "DLZ" is invigorating), and the lyrics (rife with tears, sickness, and fear) fight to balance with the tuneful instrumentation. --Chris

6. Why? - Alopecia
Although not as perfect as the Blogulator's album of the year in 2005, Why's third album is perhaps more beautiful and heartbreaking than their breakthrough Elephant Eyelash. Yoni Wolf continually mines his scrapbook of feelins with more of the most inventive, funny, and devastating lyrics around. Second track "Good Friday" details his misadvetures at an art opening, while second to last song "By Torpedo or Crohns" goes deep into detail about the thin line between eating health food and "blowing chunks in the parking lot behind Whole Foods". By the closing track "Exgesis" in which the protagonist is about to hang himself with a phone cord, I feel exhausted. But moments of light blast through the metaphorical clouds, too, with tracks like "A Sky for Shoeing Horses Under". --Qualler

5. Deerhunter - Microcastle/Weird Era Cont.
I've been looking for something to fill the Sonic Youth circa 1988 vibe since I first discovered Daydream Nation. The new record by Deerhunter comes close to filling that role. Not that Deerhunter necessarily sounds anything like Sonic Youth; rarely do their guitars get cranked up to 11. But, the oh-so-heartmelting combination of straight-up rock-pop and dreamy, ambient suites that appear from nowhere are what Deerhunter and Sonic Youth have in common. The album opens with "Cover Me (Agorophobia)", a tune so poppy that it wouldn't be out of place on an early-era R.E.M. record. Things start to get trippy, though, with the retro-ish "Little Kids" that dissolves into a haze of feedback. The herky-jerky title track stuns you with its breakout, while the middle tracks following it are purely meditative. Finally it breaks through again with the rousing "Nothing Ever Happens", which appropriately never really blasts into the next stratosphere. All in all, a modern classic guitar rock album for those who thought guitar rock was losing its relevence. -- Qualler

4. Cut Cupy - In Ghost Colours
It's become clear that the music of the decade in the 00's (aughts? zeros?) is this hybrid of dance and rock music. Cut Copy's record In Ghost Colours, then, is a perfect document for how the notion of getting a million jaded indie scenesters to go from bobbing their heads at concerts a mere eight years ago to full-fledged flailing on the dance floor today. They do it with catchy choruses, driving rhythm, and all-out sexy-jam time. The opening track "Feel the Love" grabs you and doesn't let you go through the rest of the album, which plays like one long dance party with tracks running together. It's like The Postal Service's Give Up, but with less whiny emotions and more dancing. Not that Cut Copy isn't bound for a future of advertising background music not unlike the aforementioned Postal Service. --Qualler

3. The Mae Shi - HILLYH
Monday night, it's almost midnight, and suddenly a man disturbingly close to us opens his mouth and begins to strum a cordless guitar. The progression fills the room and he belts along with shadows interspersed throughout the half-filled club: "I want almost everything / and I want almost everything / and I get almost anything I want!" One attempted to climb a wall, scratching it as if he were determined to knock it all down, and another sprinted to the drum kit to crash along the cymbals with a smiling furor. The songs The Mae Shi played this night was the impetus for me obsessing over HILLYH for the rest of the year. Start with the steadied hand clap crowd-pleaser "Run to Your Grave" or the electronically discombobulated "Young Marks" to get the most immediate tremendous aural pleasure, then stay for the psychologically imbalanced "The Melody" (which cleverly listens to its own call to "stop the melody" and falls apart after the second chorus, only to be revived after some delightful guitar chirps and computer bleeps). These three songs alone make that Monday night the most satisfying decision I've made in recent years. Getting to relive that experience with this touchstone album of bubble-gum ruffian fervor makes HILLYH my personal favorite of 2008, and I hope anyone that gives it a chance would get even a fraction of what I got from it. --Chris

2. Girl Talk - Feed the Animals
Not unlike my favorite band on the planet, The Fiery Furnaces, Girl Talk (i.e. Greg Gillis) throws his listeners into a carnival of changing beats, riffs, and vocals. Only, Girl Talk does it by mashing up modern and classic pop, rock, and hip-hop, blending it into a seamless collage of every favorite song and not-so-favorite song you've ever heard. It's easy to assume that this would come off as heavily ironic, with a knowing wink, the whole "Gotcha! You're listening to Ace of Base!" thing. The difference, though, is that it's obvious that this record is totally free of irony and is a pure celebration of music. Not to mention the fact that the music sounds a lot what it sounds like to be inside my brain -- a constant stream of pop-music jumbled together that is too hard-wired to ever leave. Except that it sounds like something anybody would want to listen to. Yes, this album is all about the joy of music. --Qualler

1. M83 - Saturdays=Youth
The album's title says it all: for those of us still grappling with that whole "growing up" thing, hell and even those out there that have supposedly fully entered adulthood, there will always be a Saturday to look forward to, to dive into and get nostalgic. Sit in your pajamas all day and watch John Hughes movies (quite possibly what Gonzalez does, citing the filmmaker as one of his biggest influences). Stay out late with your friends and make out in public places. There's nothing holding you back, and as the keyboards swell in your headphones while listening to this record, you might actually be moved to do something fun, Saturday or not. "Kim & Jessie" and "Graveyard Girl" are both the album's most immediately gratifying and the ones that you can listen to forever and never get sick of. But hell, the whole album is impossible to get sick of, from airy ballads ("Too Late") to hypnotizing dance epics ("Couleurs") to the 13-minutes closing ambient excursion "Midnight Souls Still Remain". Add M83's first female vocalist to the mix and the definition of a perfect album has officially been met, letting you revisit the past, love the present, and embrace the impending future. --Chris

p.s. Don't forget to check out Chris's Top 100 Songs of 2008, #95-91, below this post!

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  1. Blogger qualler | 11:56 AM |  

    So if not touching a woman for six months is like living without Sigur Ros's new record, is listening to it like the inevitable explosion of pleasure associated with finally gettin' some? I think that's an apt comparison.

  2. Blogger Lady Amy | 2:04 PM |  

    I would say so. Isn't that how you felt at the concert this fall? I know I did! Especially with the confetti. He he he.

  3. Blogger chris | 4:36 PM |  

    I loved that analogy. A+

    And the Whole Foods line in the Why? song is amazing, right up there with the disturbing quip about a guy jerking off underneath basketball bleachers. 2009 has a lot to live up it after this stellar year in music.

  4. Blogger Lady Amy | 10:19 AM |  

    Yay! A+ The blogulator grade point average went from non-existent to 4.0 in no time flat!

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