Sound Bites Best of 2008 | Albums

2008 was a great year for good music and a pretty good year for great music. I kept expanding my list from 20 to 25 to 30, and then back down to 20 (sort of). Deciding what would be my #10 took forever. (The top #9 have been there for a while, with the order shuffling around till seconds from this posting.) And actually my Top 5 were as close as they've been in ages. My rules: whatever year an album is first made available in any legally obtainable format (CD, vinyl, digital, etc), that is the year it's eligible. No compilations of previously-released material. So no MGMT (came out last year), no Bon Iver (wouldn't have made it anyway). Without further ado, my favorite albums of 2008:


1. MetronomyNights Out (Because Music) | A couple things take Nights Out to the top slot of '08. They've worked out a distinct sound that is instantly recognizable whether it's their own tracks or the remixes they do for other artists. It's manic, with a water-damaged quality to it that sounds like what it feels to be up for 36 hours straight, buzzing on espressos (or whatever) but dead tired. In a good way, obviously. It sounds like nothing else. Plus, whistling! Above all else, it's my favorite of the year because it's almost all hits. Nights Out contains at least seven single-worthy tracks and absolutely no bad songs. How many albums can you say that about this year? 

MP3: Heartbreaker | A Thing for Me

Myspace | Buy it on Amazon

2. Mystery Jets – Twenty One
(679 Recordings) | If you'd told me two years ago that Mystery Jets would make one of the best pop albums of 2008, I think I would've scoffed. Here was a band who claimed King Crimson to be a primary influence, and who never met 17 disparate musical ideas that they didn't like and want to put all into the same song. Not that they didn't have some good songs before but The Mystery Jets were just too damn inclusive. But there's no denying the pop smarts and inventive arrangements found all over their new album, Twenty One, a highly enjoyable statement about being young by people who actually are young. And like Metronomy, nearly every song could be a single. It seems unfathomable that this didn't get released in America.

MP3Young Love | Two Doors Down

Myspace | Buy It 

3. Deerhunter – Microcastle / Wierd Era Continued
(Kranky / 4AD) | What a year Bradford Cox has had. Two Deerhunter albums, plus an album and six EPs under the Atlas Sound moniker. All of it good, some of it was amazing. Microcastle was the crowning achievement.  I liked Cryptograms but this is a stellar album, indie rock with a pop sensibility, and showcase for Cox's songwriting abilites and studio ingenuity. And that the suprise bonus album, Wierd Era, was nearly as good is all the more amazing. May 2009 be as fruitful for him.

MP3Deerhunter – Never Stops 

Myspace | Insound | Emusic

4. Crystal Stilts – Alight of Night
(Slumberland) | The band I became more obsessed with in 2008 than any other, probably because they gave me seemingly endless chances to see them live, most of which I took advantage of. (I think I saw them 10 times at least.) Somewhere between Bo Diddly, JAMC, and The Chills lie Crystal Stilts' moody, twangy, echo-drenched sound which is even sweeter on vinyl. So many great songs, and seemingly sprouted fully-formed. According to lore, Alight of Night has been sitting around completed for four years waiting to be released! Seriously guys what were you waiting for? On the plus side: hopefully this will mean a second album will come sooner than later. 

MP3Crystal Stilts – Departure 

Myspace | Buy it 

5. The Week That Was – S/T (Memphis Industries) | Field Music may have disolved but the Brewis brothers remain some of the most creative  – and prolific — artists working today. 2008 provided twice as much music. David Brewis gave us School of Language, which was good but a bit too clinical for my taste. But Peter Brewis' The Week That Was is a brilliant look at our obsession with media and instant information, inspired by Paul Auster and glistening like an '80s Trevor Horn production. If that all sounds overly heady, the album is resplendent with lovely melodies and big rhythms. And with brother David and Andrew Moore in the band too, the big headline is Field Music kinda never really broke up.

MP3The Week That Was – The Airport Line 

MySpace | Buy It 

6. The Muslims – S/T
(1928 Recordings) | They may be now calling themselves The Soft Pack, but whatever the name this is one hot record. Like I've said before, these San Diegans aren't trying to reinvent the wheel. But they write great songs, sound raw and alive  and have mountains of the one thing you can't fake: attitude. The bullet-riddled vinyl EP you see here (which included a CD with three more tracks) has sold out two runs but will be reissued under The Soft Pack name as a 10-song LP in 2009.

MP3:   The Muslims – On My Time 

MySpace | 1928 Recordings

7. Lykke Li – Youth Novels
(Atlantic Records) | Of all the Scandinavian pop singers out there (Annie, Robyn, et al), I think Lykke Li has the best chance of sustaining a career. Especially if she continues to work with colaborator/producer Björn Yttling who helped her craft such a distictive organic sound to go along with all those catchy hooks. Li's voice — fragile, understated — makes Youth Novels all the more human.

MP3Lykke Li – Let It Fall 

MySpace | Buy It

8. TV on the Radio – Dear Science
(DGC) | Finally, TVotR deliver on the promise they made with that first EP back in 2003. Much like what The Associates, ABC, and Scritti Politti attempted in the mid-'80s, Dear Science is the post-punk asthetic applied to pop ideals. This is the sound of them really going for it — and succeeding spectacularly.

MP3TV on the Radio – Crying 

MySpace | Buy It

9. Late of the Pier – Fantasy Black Channel (Parlophone) | The craziest record of the year that still manages to hold it together somewhat within pop boundaries. Within its grooves, Fantasy Black Channel offers up post punk guitars, synth pop, g-funk, glam hystrionics, prog… often wthin the same song. Take "Bathroom Gurgle" which melds Gary Numan and Queen like it was the most natural thing in the world. Just maybe not Earth.

Fantasy Black Channel gets a U.S. release through Astralwerks on January 13, 2009.

MP3: Late of the Pier – Heartbeat 

MySpace | Insound

10. The High Dials – Moon Country
(self-released) | A late entry in the 2008 race, Montreal's High Dials exell at country-tinged psych-shoegaze (a sound that is timeless for me) and even though they no longer have a full-time sitar player, the songwriting remains top notch. This double-CD is only six minutes longer than thier 2005 album War of the Waking Phantoms but splitting it onto two discs makes it easier to take it all in. Plus, a sound this big kinda needs two discs. What it really needs is vinyl, but it's CDs and digital for now.

MP3: My Heart is Pinned to Your Sleeve | Invisible Choirs 

MySpace | Buy It

11 – 20, and more after the jump….

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A Dog Dressed in Clothes is Still a Dog

When last this site checked in with The Shortwave Set, back in November 2006, they’d just released their excellent single "Casual Use" and were promising their second album in Spring 2007, although they had just been dropped by their label, Independiente.

The London trio were actually on track to do so, creatively at least, having recorded in their home studio 25 or so songs for the follow-up to their debut, The Debt Collection (which made my Best of 2005 list). But then they got a call from Brian Burton, aka Danger Mouse, who The Shortwave Set met when they toured Gnarls Barkley in 2006. Having been a fan of their debut, he said he was interested in producing their next record. The band (songwriter/singer/guitarist Andrew Pettitt, singer/guitarist Ulrika Bjorsne, sample-master David Farrell) could hardly say no to such an offer, so they set aside the tracks they’d finished, trekked to Los Angeles to start all over again.

The results of their collaboration can be heard on Replica Sun Machine and it’s not the album I was expecting. "Casual Use"seemed to point to a dancier direction and one might think that working with someone like Danger Mouse might push it further in that direction but, as his work on the Black Keys album also shows, Burton is more interested in working to hone an band’s sound than forcing his aesthetic onto them. Not that his aesthetic is that different than The Shortwave Set’s, given the sound of this and The Odd Couple. It’s an ambitious album of sweeping psychedelic pop that shows them growing leaps and bounds, aiming high and more often than not hitting the mark.

Sampling, which was a big element of the first album and the core of the "Casual Use" single, has been replaced with real musicians. It takes a bit of the modern element out of their sound (which the band used to call "Victorian Funk") in favor of Beatles and Bowie, but there’s no denying the end product’s greatness. And while it’s definitely informed by the past, Replica Sun Machine is firmly rooted in the now. It’s truly an album, with a deliberate flow; in fact nearly every song segues into the next.
Lyrically, weary and deep-set cynicism abounds and is apparent from song titles like "House of Lies," "The Downer Song" and "Distant Daze." The most affecting song, though, is probably the gorgeous  "Yesterdays to Come" that is both wistful yet completly anti-nostalgia. That song also benefits from a stunning string arrangement by Van Dyke Parks. John Cale who plays viola on some of the songs, too, though I’m not sure which ones to be honest.

The first single is "No Social" and as close to a dance number as Replica Sun Machine gets. There’s something the rhythm that reminds me of both The Propellerheads’ "History Repeating" and, um, Smashmouth’s "Walking on the Sun" but is better than either, most certainly on the lyrical end. Here’s the video:

The Daily Growl has the Optimo remix which is worth checking out, but what I really like is the b-side, "White Lie" is just as good, and with it’s funky, dubby, laptoppy sounds I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s from the pre-Dangermouse sessions.

MP3: The Shortwave Set – White Lie

"No Social" is out April 21 in England and Replica Sun Machine is out May 5, though 7 Digital seems to have it available now (make that a pre-order now) to download. If you buy it through Rough Trade you get a bonus disc including four remixes and a video documentary. No word on an American release but yanks can use 7 Digital which come out to about $16 for 320kbs MP3s.

From what I can tell, "Casual Use" is out of print/unavailable to download from anywhere, so here it is again. It was my #9 single of 2006:

MP3: The Shortwave Set – Casual Use

And if you’ve never heard The Debt Collection, you can download the whole shebang from The Shortwave Set’s website for free.

SoundBites Best of 2006 | Singles + Tracks


I probably could’ve done a Top 50. It was a good year for great songs…

  1. "Over and Over" – Hot Chip (video)
  2. "Young Folks" – Peter Bjorn and John (video)
  3. "Crazy" – Gnarls Barkley (video)
  4. "Let’s Make Love and Listen to Death From Above" – CSS (video)
  5. "Supervitesse" – Mahogany (MP3)
  6. "Love It When You Call" – The Feeling (video)
  7. "Rehab" – Amy Winehouse (video)
  8. "You Only Live Once" – The Strokes (video)
  9. "Casual Use" – The Shortwave Set (MP3)
  10. "Moving To New York" – The Wombats (MP3)
  11. "Roscoe" – Midlake (video)
  12. "When I Wake" – The Changes (MP3)
  13. "Lloyd, I’m Ready to Be Heartbroken" –  Camera Obscura (video)
  14. "Parentheses" – The Blow (video)
  15. "Boy From School" – Hot Chip (video)
  16. "Consolation Prizes" – Phoenix (video)
  17. "If You Fail We All Fail" – Fields (MP3)
  18. "O Valencia" – The Decemberists (video)
  19. "Rough Gem" – Islands (video)
  20. "She’s Attracted To" – The Young Knives (video)
  21. "God Knows" – El Perro Del Mar (MP3)
  22. "45:33: Nike + Original Run" – LCD Soundsystem
  23. "Lust in the Movies" – The Long Blondes (MP3)
  24. "LDN" – Lily Allen (video)
  25. "Gravity’s Rainbow" – The Klaxons (video)

…If There’s Enough to Go Around

When was the last time you were so taken by a song that you just played it over and over and over? For me it was last Wednesday when I heard "Casual Use," the new single from Brit-Swede trio The Shortwave Set. Today alone I’ve listened to it maybe 15 times. I’m not sure exactly why it has this hold on me. The Shortwave Set’s debut, The Debt Collection, made my Best Albums of 2005 list, but "Casual Use" eclipses anything they’ve done yet.

I love any artist that can take a sample, repurpose it, and create something new out of it while still retaining a tie to the original recording. In this case it’s the opening chords to Madness‘ 1980 single "My Girl" and what The Shortwave Set do with it is nothing short of spellbinding. You can dance to it too.

MP3: The Shortwave Set – Casual Use

and for comparison…

MP3: Madness – My Girl

"Casual Use" is available as a 7" only. Get it at Rough Trade Shops. The Shortwave Set’s second album is due sometime next spring. This will have to hold you till then.

SoundBites Best of 2005 | Albums

Don’t let anyone say 2005 was a crummy year for music. I coulda done a Top 50. But that takes too much time. Here’s my Top 20 Albums of 2005, which probably changed more than NME‘s lineup right down to posting.

ElbowLeaders of the Free World (V2) | Elbow‘s third album is not only the best thing they’ve ever done, it was the best thing I heard anyone do in 2005. Gorgeous melodies, inventive arrangements and musicianship, and some of the most heartfelt (without treacle) lyrics around. And Guy Garvey‘s amazing voice on top of it all. Album of the Year by a mile. Best songs: "Station Approach," "The Stops," "Mexican Standoff," "The Everthere."

Art BrutBang Bang Rock and Roll
(Fierce Panda) | The year’s most flat-out enjoyable record. The humor
in singer Eddie Argos‘ lyrics hits you first ("I’ve seen her
naked…TWICE!") but these are songs that are funny, not novelty rock.
(Some may disagree.) And, as Argos sings on their manifesto "Formed a
Band," this is not irony. "We’re just talking to the kids!" The hits
keep coming through all 12 tracks, from "My Little Brother" through
"18,000 Lira."


New PornographersTwin Cinema (Matador) | Not as immediate and crammed with hooks as either The Electric Version or Mass Romantic, album number three for this mostly-Canadian supergroup seemed like a bit of a dud on arrival. Weeks of play, however, and songs constantly coming up on shuffle on the iPod, have proven Twin Cinema to be another batch of winning songs with perhaps the most staying power of them all. Dig new New breed: "Sing Me Spanish Techno," "These Are the Fables," "The Jessica Numbers."

Of MontrealThe Sunlandic Twins
(Polyvinyl) I remember seeing Of Montreal back in 1999, playing with
Ladybug Transistor. There were props and slide-flutes and other twee
type things. I didn’t like them. But somewhere down the line they
transformed from utter whimsy into a band capable of filtering poppy,
’60s-inspired melodies through Eno-esque new wave. I was hooked. One of
2005’s earlier releases (well, April), The Sunlandic Twins has
stayed with me for most of the year. Get some Sun:"Requiem for
O.M.M.2," "Wraith Pinned to the Mist (And Other Games)," "Forecast
Fascist Future."

The RakesCapture/Release
(V2) | These guys have, so
far, been met mostly with shrugs in America (the record’s not out yet here), dismissed as the latest
post-punk whatever. There may be a little disco hi-hat in the drumming,
but The Rakes are miles better than any of the others and actually
remind me of Pink Flag-era Wire with a working-class attitude
and an articulate grasp of late-20s ennui. "Might as well go out for a
fifth night in a row" indeed. Capture/Release is genius from start-to-finish and has some of the year’s
best singles, too, including "Work Work Work (Pub, Club, Sleep)," "22
Grand Job," and "Strasbourg."

Field MusicField Music (Memphis Industries) | Despite having ties to both the Futureheads (singer Andrew Moore used to be in them) and Maximo Park (they share a drummer), Sunderland, England’s Field Music sound nothing like them. It’s all delicate, sparse arrangements (not unlike Spoon), nods to ’60s baroque pop, and a cut-the-fat approach to album making. Debut album of the year, rock division. Choice cuts: "If Only the Moon Were Up," "Shorter Shorter," "Got to Write a Letter"

LCD SoundsystemLCD Soundsystem (DFA/Capitol) | When LCD Soundsystem‘s debut got two Grammy noms, I began to question my own taste for including this on my best-of list but no, dammit, this is a great album. It still sounds great after having it for nearly a year, and being played at every party, before every show, and on The O.C. It will be interesting to see what James Murphy does next. Killer jams: "Daft Punk is Playing in My House," "Tribulations," "Beat Connection"

My Morning JacketZ (ATO) | Like The Clientele, My Morning Jacket dare to drop one of their calling cards (the gallons of reverb), then drop a key band member and pull a 180 musically. The result being the best album they’ve ever done and the first one I’ve truly liked start-to-finish. And yet they still sound like My Morning Jacket, thanks in no small part to Jim James voice-of-heaven vocals. Prime cuts: "Wordless Chorus," "Into the Woods," "Anytime"

Richard HawleyColes Corner (Mute) |
Third album’s the charm for this former axeman for Longpigs and Pulp,
who once again leaves indie stylings behind in favor of full-on crooner
mode, a la Roy Orbison, Burt Bacharach, Marty Robbins, or even
Morrissey. Even though it was written about Sheffield, England, Coles Corner
makes a gorgeous soundtrack for NYC too, and sounds even better after
midnight. Swoon: "The Ocean," "Hotel Room," "Born Under a Bad Sign,"
"Coles Corner"

Malcolm MiddletonInto the Woods (Chemikal Underground) | If you read the lyrics sheet, you may wonder about the state of mind of Arab Strap‘s Malcolm Middleton
on his second solo album. For example, on "A Happy Medium" he sings,
"Woke up again today/Realized I hate myself/My Brain is a disease." But
Into the Woods is not a dreary exercise in woe-is-me-isms. Like so many
before him, Middleton turns his pain, fear and doubts into something
beautiful. Even those who have never had any time for Arab Strap should
give this one a chance. Get into: "My Loneliness Shines," "You’re Gonna
Break My Heart," "A Happy Medium"

The other 10 after the jump…

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