Top 10 Albums of 2008

28 12 2008

After a WHOLE YEAR of deliberation, I bring you my decisive Top Ten Albums of 2008. I think. Maybe I shouldn’t be so decisive, because I’ve revised this about 15,000 times in the last two weeks. Let me just say this: It was a GOOD year for music. Things started to get really interesting in my two current favorite genres of music: hip-hop and Swedish pop.

Two notes:

1. Spin had a really interesting article (I know, I know: I shouldn’t admit that I read Spin. But I do. I read Spin and I love reading Spin. So whatever, I’m embracing it, let’s move on) about the current state of hip-hop in a world where buying a sample can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars — on in other words, the entire budget of most (even many mainstream) hip-hop albums. So as a result, hip-hop takes less from its hey-day of adeptly mixing samples and rapping over them, and has evolved into a more “street” version of pop music. The result, I think, is really interesting, and I’m crazy about it: Ne-Yo, Beyonce, Ludicris, Jennifer Hudson and T-Pain all released great records this year, none of which fit the customary hip-hop model. On the flip-side, sample-happy Greg Gillis also put out another fucking awesome record this year, in the form of pay-what-you-will, so-infectious-its-masturbatory “Feed The Animals,” which alternately reinvents the genre. But none of those records made my list.

2. I think I might be a lesbian. I have such a freaking hard-on for female vocalists that it’s out of control. And I know it’s not really healthy and that I don’t really look at albums objectively because when a chick is singing I just like it infinitely better. I give you this caveat because my list is composed of 50 percent female vocalists, but the year-end list in my HEART would probably be more like 90 percent. So honorable mentions to Santogold’s self-titled (I listened to this on repeat for months while making bird collages), Kid Sister’s in-fucking-credible “Dream Date,” Love Is All’s “A Hundred Things Keep Me Up At Night” (for the Swedish angsty teenager inside of me), Estelle’s “Shine” (shameless Britpop), and Hello Saferide’s imperfectly beautiful “More Modern Short Stories From…” Cheers, ladies.


10. Kanye West – “808’s and Heartbreak”: Deeply wonderful for everything it is. I have been listening to this exclusively for the last few weeks… it’s the perfect break-up album (well, no. Kelly Clarkson’s Great Hits is the perfect break-up album. But this is the perfect break-up album for people who have pride). It’s weirdly upbeat and catchy; it’s meticulous and experimental and it works. Better than “Graduation,” which topped my list last year. I love that Kanye has eschewed this idea that he needs street cred in favor of the reality that he is the best fucking producer out there.

MP3: Kanye West – Paranoid

9. Ladyhawke – “Ladyhawke”: My friend Kim and I used to make these amazing dance mixes to dance to for an entire hour on Friday nights. The music — mostly Blondie, CSS, and Ladytron — was good enough that we didn’t need company or to be drunk; we just danced our brains out. If this album had existed when we used to do that, we wouldn’t have to make mixes; we could just dance to this all the way through. Every single track is fucking hit.

Mp3: Ladyhawke – Paris Is Burning

8. She & Him – “Volume 1”: It is not fair to the world that I love Zoey Deschanel as much as I do, because I know that my love for her and her little drippy outfits and her big deer eyes skews my judgement on her musical ability. Still, listening to this album makes me feel like it’s summer and I’m in high school and I’m reading Virginia Woolf for the first time and eating slow-churned ice cream. The cover of “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” is hypnotic, and a handful of the other ballads are impossibly heart-breaking in all the right ways. I listened to this too much last year for it to not make my list.

MP3: She & Him – Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?

7. T.I. – “Paper Trail”: I am ready to say it: “Whatever You Like” is my favorite track of 2008. I just couldn’t overplay it. I drove around SEARCHING for it on the radio. If it came on just as I was pulling up to my house, I would sit in front of my house until it ended. Now, really, this is just a song about a glorified hooker. And to me, that makes it all the more endearing. Add to that the productive feat that is “Swagga Like Us,” the underrated “On Top of The World,” and the this-song-is-stuck-in-my-head-FOREVER song of the year that is “Live Ya Life,” and you have an album that competes pretty seriously with “Tha Carter III” for album with the most awesome and awesomely overplayed singles of the year.

MP3: T.I. – “Whatever You Like”

6. Los Campesinos! – “We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed”: It must be cool to be as prolific as Los Campesinos!. I was still spinning “Hold On Now, Youngsters” (which came out in February) when I was literally blown away by the British band’s November effort. It’s raw and bratty and upbeat but totally depressing at the same time. The haste with which this album was released translates into a beautiful, messy urgency, fueling many late-night painting sessions and cigarettes out on the roof. Also, there is a glockenspiel in this band. And it is played BEAUTIFULLY.

MP3: Los Campesinos! – Miserabilia

5. Why? – “Alopecia”: In many ways, “Alopecia” is a perfect album. The only thing is, Why? has this tendency to make perfect albums, so the surprise element is lacking here. See, I didn’t sit down and listen to this album and think, “HOLY SHIT! This album is FUCKING TIGHT!” I sat down and listened to it and thought, “Surprise, surprise: Why?’s latest is fucking tight.” It’s a lyrical masterpiece (as usual), it’s eclectic as ever, it transitions flawlessly between my I-hate-being-single lonely car rides and my I-am-so-happy-to-be-alive morning runs. More than anything, this album is always going to remind me of the happiest time of life — last spring in Walla Walla, perched on the end and the beginning of everything. The first half of the album stands out to me as everything a record could possibly hope to be. I just don’t understand why Why? lacks the kind of international fanaticism it ultimately deserves.

MP3: Why? – These Few Presidents

4. Lykke Li – Youth Novels: This is one of those records that is more like a painting to me than a collection of songs. I prefer to listen to it all the way through, maybe while on the plane or driving to Baton Rouge in my car. It has the ebb and flow of a meticulously-crafted mix CD, setting you up to feel AWESOME and then ten seconds later fall apart in a fit of tears. Gorgeous reinterpretations of jazz and synth and pop… it’s really just a fucking masterpiece. When I first heard this I thought to myself, “This could lend itself to some BOMB-ASS remixes.” Lo and behold…

MP3: Lykke Li – Dance Dance Dance

3. TV on the Radio – Dear Science: Here is the truth about me and TV on the Radio: I don’t really like TV on the Radio. Or rather, I didn’t used to much care for them. It was one of those things where I respected the band (err, I respected people who loved the band), but like Sonic Youth and Yo La Tengo, I’d just put on their records when someone really hip was over in order to earn some cool points. And then “Dear Science” came out and I didn’t listen to it. I read good review after good review and I didn’t listen to it and I didn’t listen to it. Until finally, on a total whim, I bought it from a record store in New Orleans that wasn’t selling anything else I particularly wanted to listen to. I put it in my DiscMan (yes, I still have a DiscMan) AND MY HEAD EXPLODED. I have no idea what kind of deal TV on the Radio had to make with devil in order to create a record that catered to every possible musical impulse a human being might have, but THANK GOD THEY DID. The best surprise on the album is “Family Tree” — the most perfect rainy day song ever written. “Stork & Owl” is likewise beautiful and sad, while “Halfway Home” can only be described as a fusion of awesome and awesomer.

MP3: TV on the Radio – Crying

2. Thao and the Get Down Stay Down – We Brave Bee Stings and All: I picked up a copy of this haphazardly at the recommendation of Andrew Hall (a musical guru of sorts), and was instantly in love. I excommunicated every music crush I was currently juggling and gave all my heart to Thao Ngyuen, the talented frontwoman of this deeply underrated group. My favorite track on the album is the little-played “Travel” (I actually made a thrown-together YouTube project around it), for its perfect simplicity and succinctness. But the whole thing is wonderful, fun, and leagues ahead of Thao’s (also underrated) solo effort from x years ago.

MP3: Thao and the Get Down Stay Down – Bag of Hammers

1. Lil’ Wayne – Tha Carter III: For me, it’s personal. I am personally pretty in debt to Lil’ Wayne. He has earned me a lot of points with my New Orleans students, who love him the way I loved the Spice Girls in the 7th grade. Only they love him MORE. They have him tattooed on their bodies. And it’s every single student — male, female, uptown, downtown, fat, thin, whatever. And they can all sing every single song from this album. I have played this more times than probably any other single record in my personal history. For me, none of it has ever lost its luster. What I really realized about this record when I moved to New Orleans was how perfectly it reflects the Dirty Coast culture. It’s very real. Really breathes new life into a record that could have gone stale in August.

MP3: Lil’ Wayne – Mr. Carter