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Best of 2008: Top 20 Albums (10-1)

December 15, 2008

Throw Me The Statue

#10 Throw Me The Statue – Moonbeams

Seattle’s Throw Me The Statue are an unassuming band.  They’re not prone to grandiose statements or big sweeping arrangements.  No, they’re the latest in a long line of North American DIY diehards.  Moonbeams is a delightful smashing-together of indie rock past and present, from spiky pop songs (“This Is How We Kiss”, “Groundswell”) to ambling tweecore (“Young Sensualists”, “Your Best Friends Car”) to woozy late night torch songs (“Moonbeams”).  For such a low key album, it’s pleasingly overloaded with joys for the listener.

Throw Me The Statue – “Groundswell”

Adem

#9 Adem – Takes

Acoustic covers albums very rarely set the world on fire.  Luckily, Adem Ilhan brings to the equation a grab-bag of inspired song choices and a gift for reinterpretation.  Mining the nineties and early-oughties, Adem never goes for the obvious choice, even when covering well-known artists like Björk (“Unravel”) or The Smashing Pumpkins (“Starla”).  Even with a limited pallette of sounds – mostly voice, acoustic guitar, xylophone – it’s never same-ish or bland.  Instead, we’re treated to an array of heartfelt, adventurous folk tunes.  It’s a cliché to say that a covers artist makes a tune his own, but in Adem’s case it’s never been more true.

Adem – “To Cure A Weakling Child + Boy/Girl Song”

Frightened Rabbit

#8 Frightened Rabbit – The Midnight Organ Fight

Black comedy and indie rock have never felt so well suited as in Frightened Rabbit’s opus The Midnight Organ Fight.  Listening to this album for the first time, the lyrics catch you off guard – you’re never quite sure whether to believe your ears.  Did he really say that?  Scott Hutchison’s wordplay is hilarious, frequently obscene and often uncomfortably personal.  The music is uniformly excellent as well: melding indie rock anthems with spiralling folk rhythms and melodies.  Frightened Rabbit will have you shaking your head, tapping your feet and thanking your lucky stars for their existence.

Frightened Rabbit – “Good Arms Vs. Bad Arms”

Raveonettes

#7 The Raveonettes – Lust Lust Lust

The Raveonettes have fine-tuned their modus operandi nicely over the course of four albums – Phil Spector-helmed girl groups meet Jesus and Mary Chain distortion, seeped in illicit sex and substances.  It’s amazing that there is still so much potential in the formula.  Their filthy, pretty, euphoric sound is a heady concoction.  It’s blatantly addictive, because The Raveonettes always keep you coming back for more.  This is not an album for overthinking – it’s an album for giving you a blissful head rush and it does it like no other.

The Raveonettes – “Sad Transmission”

Horse Feathers

#6 Horse Feathers – House With No Name

Minimalist folk music has a new standard bearer in Horse Feathers.  They make pristine and wondrous songs using mostly voice and stringed instruments, pulling beauty out of simplicity.  House With No Name is down-home and rustic in the most satisying way.  The gentle vocal harmonies and lightly plucked instrumentations sound like a family making music together, the way it has been done for centuries.  In its evocation of lost eras and fleeting emotions, this album is peerless.

Horse Feathers – “Rude To Rile”

Opeth

#5 Opeth – Watershed

Despite substantial lineup changes since 2006’s Ghost Reveries, Opeth sound like much the same band they have for years: that is to say, terrifying, virtuosic and majestic.  As one of extreme metal’s most forward-looking bands, they are also one of the most accessible.  Watershed is easily their least “metallic” album since the acoustic Damnation.  Most of the time it plays like a supremely heavy take on progressive rock: bringing death metal’s portentous blasts of sound to the pomp and genre-melding of classic Floyd, Yes or Genesis.  Few bands can pull off this kind of thing with a straight face.  Opeth do it like it’s the only thing that matters.

Opeth – “Hex Omega”

Cut Off Your Hands

#4 Cut Off Your Hands – You and I

Winning fans galore with an explosive live show and two hit-heavy EPs, Cut Off Your Hands have been edging steadily toward the big time.  Now these energetic Kiwis have dropped their debut album and it’s an instant classic.  Infusing their jerky new wave pop songs with Pet Sounds-like drama and romance, You and I is an anthemic and ornate album.  Bernard Butler’s production layers the band’s locked-tight interplay, giving it a sonic depth only hinted at on early discs.  Fortunately some of their best early work is here – “Oh Girl”, “Expectations” and “Still Fond” – but curiously not the song that shares the album’s name.  They’re definitely a “singles” band at this point, but when you’ve got enough perfect singles to fill a long player, no one is going to complain.

Cut Off Your Hands – “Let’s Get Out Of Here”

Sigur Ros

#3 Sigur Ros – Með Suð Í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust

The clue that Sigur Rós’ new album was going to be a little bit different was there in the opening track, “Gobbledigook”: all tribal drummings and naked (in the video, literally) abandon.  Where were the sweeping soundtracks to icy landscapes?  Turns out the album had plenty of those, but the band has expanded its sound.  It’s more percussive, more upbeat and more immediate.  There are short, catchy-as-hell songs here, interspersed with Sigur Rós’ trademark slow-burn epics.  When you’ve singlehandedly created a genre and a language, you don’t need to do much to stay ahead of the competition.  Sigur Rós are racing themselves and they’re taking their quest for supremacy very seriously indeed.

Sigur Rós – “Gobbledigook”

Pivot

#2 Pivot – O Soundtrack My Heart

With a stripped-back lineup and a new contract with Warp Records, Sydney’s Pivot are ready for the (almost) Big Time.  This, their sophomore disc, is a lot closer in sound and spirit to their bludgeoning live shows than 2005’s delicate Make Me Love You.  With vintage synths galore, Richard Pike’s scratchy guitar work and Laurence Pike’s thunderous drumming, these are instrumental pieces to be reckoned with.  Whether the rest of the world will embrace them remains to be seen, but they deserve your attention.  Many instrumental bands are slowly slipping into polite waiting room music.  Pivot are showing the rest how to remain vital and explode minds year after year.

Pivot – “O Soundtrack My Heart”

Tamas Wells

#1 Tamas Wells – Two Weeks In April

Recorded at his home in Yangon, Myanmar, ex-pat Aussie Tamas Wells’ new album is his most stripped back yet.  In fact, with his usual bandmates back in Melbourne, Wells plays and sings almost everything.  As a result, it’s a much more folky affair than the twee masterwork of 2006’s A Plea En Vendredi.  Wells is still singing whimsical little songs, but these have a more meditative, hypnotic feel than before.  Like Sam Beam or Sufjan Stevens, Wells often sounds like he’s singing for himself alone.  This album is a peek into his life and it’s an enriching experience.  You walk away from the Wells’ house with a feeling of deep serenity.

Tamas Wells – “I Want You To Know It’s Now Or Never”

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2 comments

  1. […] Believer Just another WordPress.com weblog « Best of 2008: Top 10 Singles Best of 2008: Top 20 Albums (10-1) » Best of 2008: Top 20 Albums (20-11) December 14, […]


  2. So glad to see Tamas Wells and Horse Feathers here, although neither quite made my list… I’d almost forgotten about the former (good, but not nearly as good as A Plea en Vendredi, in my opinion) and the latter has unjustly suffered from the fact that I just play “Helen” over and over and overandoverandover and thus am not yet that familiar with the rest of it.



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