Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Best Of '08: Top Ten Albums

The best year for albums so far this decade? It seems likely - when I first heard Alphabeat's debut late last year I thought that when it was released mid-spring 2008 it would be by far the best pop record in my end-of-year charts. When I first heard Goldfrapp's album three months before it's February release I reckoned it would easily top the Best Album category. That now, a mere eight months after the latest of those two releases, neither make my top five speaks volumes about the quality in album releases for 2008. So, without any further ado, my Top Ten:

10: 'Stay Positive' - The Hold Steady
There's no doubt in my mind that The Hold Steady are the best live band in the world today. On top of that, Boys And Girls Of America still maintains my number two spot for Album Of The Decade (or, as the calendar allows, Century). But whilst Stay Positive in an excellent listening experience it lacked the perfect flow that made its predecessor so excellent an album - the tracks were all there, but they didn't always work together.
Key track: 'Lord, I'm Discouraged'

9: 'Silent Movie' - Quiet Village
Don't underestimate for a second the power of an instrumental album - there are two on this list alone. Quiet Village came through as this year's Air, a band who knew how to manufacture a perfect afternoon in musical form. 'Silent Movie' could well be the soundtrack to your summer, as long as your summer only lasted one hour and the most activity you got up to was a gentle game of frisbee.
Key track: 'Victoria's Secret'

8: 'Seventh Tree' - Goldfrapp
Once a competitor for album of the year, Goldfrapp's excellent re-invention as folk-queen defined the Spring on many an mp3 player. The album was a luscious environment of aural swoons and swirls, and there wasn't a weak track from beginning to end. I reckon it was their set at Glastonbury that marked the peak in my love for 'Seventh Tree' - from that moment on I knew the album would never top itself.
Key track: 'Clowns'

7: 'Knee-Deep In The North Sea' - Portico Quartet
Introduced to me by its nomination in this year's Mercury Prize, this album technically was released at the end of 2007. Still, it received the acknowledgement it deserved during the summer of '08, and thus finds a place on my list. Jazz has never been so accessible to the everyday layman, and 'Knee-Deep...' also has the honour of being my 'Best Album To Walk To' award winner.
Key track: 'News From Verona'

6: 'This Is Alphabeat' - Alphabeat
Once a high-runner for album of the year Alphabeat have perhaps suffered from excessive airplay in recent months - that said, the album is still a necessary purchase for anyone wanting a full overview of the year. It taught the English people to have fun again, something we've not really been doing since The Spice Girls first started. Thank you, Denmark.
Key track: 'What Is Happening?'

5. 'Fleet Foxes' - Fleet Foxes
A surprise entry high up on many magazines' lists, Fleet Foxes deserve every compliment they receive - their self-titled album is arguably the best debut folk album of the last twenty years. Mixing harmonies, stunning music and magnificent facial hair, I only wish there was room for them higher on the list. Fleet Foxes are the band that I am most excited about with regard to their future prospects.
Key track: 'Oliver James'

4. 'Chasing Lights' - The Saturdays
I feel a little guilty having such a shamelessly manufactured pop band in my top five - but ultimately this just goes to prove my much-stated opinion that British girl bands are creating the best pop music in the world today. The Saturdays may not write their own songs, but whoever does write them should be lined up for some sort of Pop-based OBE. Just wait til my Songs of the Year lists - you'll see what I mean. By far the biggest surprise of the year, musically.
Key track: 'Issues'

3. 'The Seldom Seen Kid' - Elbow
2008, above all else, will be remembered by me as the year Elbow finally got what was coming to them. And that is a well deserved public following. After aeons of standing in the shadows whilst far inferior bands rocketed past them (Snow Patrol, I'm looking at you...), Elbow's Mercury win set them up for life. And the biggest irony? It's not even their best album! Still, 'The Seldom Seen Kid' is another excellent effort by the Mancunian Sigur Ros - there's not only not a dud track on the album, but better than that, every track is terrific!
Key track: 'One Day Like This'

2. 'Consolers Of The Lonely' - The Raconteurs
A shock release, 'Consolers' took the world by surprise - not only that it's possible to just release an album at will in this day and age, but also that Jack White still had untold amounts of original ideas to play with. The album is ridiculously long, almost twice the length of their debut - and quite possibly twice as good. Every track seeps blues, rock and the sweat and blood of every band member, and it's nigh impossible to choose a single best track - I could have chosen epic-closer 'Carolina Drama', or the unbelievable riffs of 'Rich Kid Blues'. 'Salute Your Solution' got a look in, but in the end I had to settle on the track they recently re-recorded with Adele for her extended album release.
Key track (mp3): 'Many Shades Of Black'

1. 'Volume One' - She & Him
Not necessarily the hardest-hitting album of the year, or the one that most strikes you as excellent on first listen, but M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel's debut collaboration is a slow-burning jazz-vocal classic. When I look up at the list above, 'Volume One' is the album I can most see myself playing on a regular basis ten, twenty years from now. It is effortlessly both timeless and timely, and like all the best albums I cannot possibly recommend one single track, in lieu of recommending the album as a whole, as an experience, as the best album of 2008.
Key track (mp3): 'Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?'

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