The 25 Best Albums of 2008

1. TV on the Radio, Dear Science
The latest release from TV on the Radio is a sonic and lyrical masterpiece, one of the truly great rock albums of this decade. While I thought 2006’s Return to Cookie Mountain was their high-point, here in Dear Science this New York-based group has refined their post-rock songcraft even further. Where their previous album died out somewhat in the last half, their latest grips you from beginning to end. Moreover, their two closing songs, “DLZ” and “Lover’s Day,” are perhaps their greatest achievements—a haunting and beautiful duo that solidifies TV on the Radio as one of the best bands creating music today.

2. Cut Copy, In Ghost Colours
Hailing from Melbourne, Australia, Cut Copy exploded seemingly out of nowhere this year with In Ghost Colours. For me, this is without question the catchiest pop album of the year, and unlike Santogold’s justly popular album, Cut Copy is able to sustain this catchiness from start to finish. Whereas Santogold is all about singles, Cut Copy has created a true album that refuses to be divided into individual songs.

3. Spiritualized, Songs in A&E
The return of Spiritualized after a five-year silence is a joyous occasion indeed. While Songs in A&E doesn’t break much new ground, J. Spaceman has proved once again that he is a consummate composer, capable of making songs that strike at the heart while overwhelming the ears in waves of orchestral rock. The notable feature of this latest album is the use of six instrumental interludes, called “harmonies,” which connect the album together and create a seamless listening experience.

4. Deerhunter, Microcastle
Deerhunter really broke onto the music scene with last year’s Cryptograms, but Microcastle (and its bonus disc, Weird Era Cont.) is their first truly great album. Singles like “Never Stops” and “Nothing Ever Happened” are deserving of their praise, but even the more mellow middle section of the album sparkles with moments of genius. Microcastle is proof that we can expect a lot of great things from this young band.

5. Fleet Foxes, Fleet Foxes
With their beautifully simple combination of art pop and folk rock, Fleet Foxes have been the talk of the town all year, and justifiably so. After releasing the Sun Giant EP early in the year to critical acclaim, they firmly established their mark on the American indie scene with their self-titled debut and its musical centerpiece, “White Winter Hymnal.”

6. Hercules and Love Affair, Hercules and Love Affair
Everyone knows that Antony Hegarty (of Antony and the Johnsons) can sing, but no could have guessed that his voice, when combined with the “euphoric disco” of DJ Andy Butler, would be pure magic. Hercules and Love Affair, one of the many surprising debuts of 2008, has given new life to disco music. And while the band is really just Butler, Hegarty’s vocals almost steal the show, particularly on the brilliant single, “Blind.”

7. Bon Iver, For Emma, Forever Ago
Bon Iver is my number one pick for music to listen to while studying. Justin Vernon’s latest project is the third debut album to make my top 10 list, and I can only hope he continues producing albums as poignant as For Emma, Forever Ago. Vernon has made his voice into an instrument all its own, more evocative than any guitar. If there’s one album I could have playing during a cold winter’s night, this would be it.

8. Kanye West, 808s and Heartbreak
Critics may think I’m backwards, but this is the first Kanye album that has made it into my top 10. I certainly enjoy his other albums, which have marked him as our generation’s greatest hip-hop artist. But this latest album—which is more like an electro-pop album infused with elements of hip-hop (rather than the converse)—is completely different from his other records. Unlike past hits like “Gold Digger” and “Stronger,” the songs on 808s and Heartbreak are darker, colder, subdued. You almost wouldn’t know this was a Kanye West album. And while West has been criticized for using Auto-Tune for the whole album, he has transformed this gimmick into an instrument all its own.

9. Los Campesinos!, Hold On Now, Youngster…
Los Campesinos!, an indie pop band from Wales, is the fourth and final debut band in the top 10, and like Fleet Foxes, they have been very busy in 2008. In February they released their debut album, Hold On Now, Youngster…, and then in October they released their second album, We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed. Los Campesinos! combine infectious pop-punk melodies with a large, almost anthemic, rock sound. While the second album is somewhat disappointing in comparison to the debut, the debut is so strong and so enjoyable that you end up forgetting whatever missteps they made in the follow-up.

10. Department of Eagles, In Ear Park
Department of Eagles is the side-project of Daniel Rossen, better known as the lead member in Grizzly Bear. Not surprisingly, then, Department of Eagles sounds a lot like Grizzly Bear, but there are distinct differences: more folk influences, electronica beats and samples, and a more experimental feel. The result is one of the most unique albums of the year. If you’re a fan of Grizzly Bear (which you should be), then this album will come as a welcome addition to your musical catalog.

11. Vampire Weekend, Vampire Weekend

12. Santogold, Santogold

13. Girl Talk, Feed the Animals

14. No Age, Nouns

15. Grand Archives, The Grand Archives

16. DJ/rupture, Uproot

17. The Hold Steady, Stay Positive

18. Lykke Li, Youth Novels

19. Portishead, Third

20. Love Is All, A Hundred Things Keep Me Up At Night

21. M83, Saturdays = Youth

22. School of Seven Bells, Alpinisms

23. Beach House, Devotion

24. The Bug, London Zoo

25. Subtle, ExitingARM

Honorable Mentions:
  • Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Dig Lazarus Dig
  • Sigur Rós, Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust
  • Health, HEALTH//DISCO
  • Hot Chip, Made in the Dark
  • Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Lie Down in the Light
  • James Blackshaw, Liturgy of Echoes
  • Marnie Stern, This Is It and I Am It and You Are It and So Is That and He Is It and She Is It and It Is It and That Is That
  • High Places, High Places
  • Elbow, The Seldom Seen Kid
  • Mates of State, Re-Arrange Us
  • Dr. Dog, Fate
  • Plants and Animals, Parc Avenue

Most Disappointing Albums of 2008:

  • Death Cab for Cutie, Narrow Stairs
  • Ben Folds, Way to Normal


IndieFaith said…
Agreed on Death Cab. It is not a bad album but I had tremendously high expectations after their last.

No nod for Sun Kil Moon?

I have to disagree. I thought this latest Deathcab album was awful, and the last one possibly even worse.

Sun Kil Moon is all right, I guess, but never really caught my attention.
IndieFaith said…
Wow! Perhaps I am too 'popular' but almost every track on that album made me want to swoon!
dan said…
I'm with David on the Death Cab issue.

That said, I'm surprised Devotchka didn't get at least an honourable mention. "A Mad and Faithful Telling" isn't their best album, but it's damn good and, IMO, better than a lot of the others listed above.

Then again, I'm not really a fan of a number of the bands listed... I've been listening (of all things) to a lot of Eastern European folk music these days... so I'm open to admitting that it's my tastes that are off!
nate kerr said…

I am entirely in agreement regarding the disappointment with Death Cab for Cutie and Ben Folds. Perhaps more so with Ben Folds because I expect more from him.

On a related note, I was hoping to have seen Of Montreal's album Skeletal Lamping show up on either your's or Ben's list of the year's best.

I really like Of Montreal, and while I enjoyed Skeletal Lamping, it just didn't have the magic for me the way Hissing Fauna did.