Sunday, 14 December 2008

2008 (2): Best Albums Of The Year

Having stated that 2008 was an average year (see part 1), I've still managed to come up with a Top 10. It hasn't been easy and, unfortunately, not because I had so many great albums to choose from. After my list, there are also some of the lists from the main music journalists. Please comment on them, or suggest your own.

10. Amsterdam - Arm In Arm

9. Kings Of Leon - Only By The Night

8. Vetusta Morla - Un Día En El Mundo

7. Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly. - Searching For The Hows And Whys

6. The Teenagers - Reality Check

5. Snow Patrol - A Hundred Million Suns

4. Los Campesinos! We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed

3. The Ting Tings - We Started Nothing

2. R.E.M - Accelerate

1. The Courteeners - St. Jude

See track listings for these albums here.

So, how did I work that out? As far as I'm concerned, to be in the Top 10 it's not enough for an album to have two good singles and a series of fillers. A great album is quality from start to finish and should be valued on the basis of all of its songs.

With this is mind, it was actually quite difficult to find what I consider 10 great albums this year, but (in case anyone's interested), these are the reasons why the chosen ones made it on to my list. I normally wouldn't re-review an album, but as this blog is relatively new....

Let's start with bands who have you thinking "Who?" After hearing the debut album 'The Journey' by Amsterdam, a Liverpool band led by local legend, Ian Prowse (former Pele front man), I was fortunate to witness the presentation gig of their follow up 'Arm In Arm' (CIA) at the Cavern Club (Liverpool) in March. Now this band isn't gonna worry Duffy in terms of sales, but their mix of ballads and pop sounds with a hint of an Irish influence is definitely worth a listen and does Liverpool proud so I certainly recommend this album to all music fans. The Sunday Express hailed Amsterdam as "The best band you haven't heard yet" and it's true. If 'Does this train stop on Merseyside?' from their debut made John Peel cry, then tracks like 'Hey Hilary' and 'Home' aren't far behind. Visit their myspace to hear a few sounds or buy their album here. (I'm lucky enough to have a signed copy!).

A band named after a tortoise from "The Never Ending Story" won't be on many people's Top 10 list this year, but Spanish band Vetusta Morla released the marvellous 'Un Día En El Mundo' early in the year (under record label Pequeno Salto Mortal). Don't worry if your Spanish doesn't go beyond "Dos cervezas, por favor", haunting vocals combined with a variety of melodies (ranging from melancholy to agression) will make you see why this album is so good. In particular, may I recommend 'Sálvase quien pueda' (Everyman for himself), 'Copenhague', 'Valiente' (Brave) and, personal favourite, 'La cuadratura del círculo' (Turning a circle into a square). The tortoises are rated Spain's best new-comers in 2008. See their space here.

As for the other 8 members of the Top 10, only Kings Of Leon's 'Only By The Night' (Nº 9) appears to have been widely accepted as one of the better albums this year. It's definitely not their best, but the unique sound is still there and they at least offered more than just two good songs (please take note Coldplay, Killers, etc.). Special attention should to be paid to 'Closer' and 'Sex on fire'.

Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly.
('Searching For The Hows And Whys', Atlantic) and Snow Patrol ('A Hundred Million Suns', Geffen/Fiction), Nº 7 and 5 respectively, haven't changed their sound either, but who cares! Easily distinguishable vocals and exquisite lyrics mean these two albums are a valuable addition to any Top 10 list. Check out 'Postcards from Cataluyna' by GCWCF and 'Crack the shutters' or 'Please just take these photos from my hands' by the Patrol and be impressed!

Sandwiched, or rather juxtaposed (if it's possible to do that between two things?!), between those smooth albums is The Teenager's 'Reality Check' (XL) at Nº6. Considering this band originally formed as a joke, setting up a myspace page and using the comments they received as the starting point for the lyrics to their songs ('Fuck Nicole' is a result of this), the end product is pretty incredible. Catchy 80s-style synthesizers surrounded with drums and infectious guitars, coupled with ironic, egocentric and often crude lyrics which, appropriately, would appeal to teenagers make this French trio's music an interesting incorporation to this list.

Given that this year has been pretty average, for a band to produce not one but two quality albums is a real achievement. Welsh indie band Los Campesinos! released their debut 'Hold On Now Youngster (Witchita) in February and instantly received quality reviews in the music press. The follow up 'We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed' improves on 'Hold On....' combining eccentric lyrics about everyday things with high-powered, energy-boosted pop tunes, resulting in 10 tracks lasting little more than 30 minutes which leave you wanting more - if 2008 is anything to go by, we won't have to wait too long! Listen to some of their tracks here.

And so, we reach the podium.

Bronze medal goes to The Ting Tings for their feel good indie-dance debut album 'We Started Nothing' (Columbia). This album makes you tap your feet from start to finish (with the possible exception of track 4, 'Traffic light', which gives you a little rest!). The opening track, 'Great DJ' starts things moving and you don't stop until the end of the final song 'We started nothing'. One review complained this was a album full of singles and that was what the band ultimately was - a single producing group, but I'm quite happy to listen to these 10 singles all on one album. You can sample some of their music on their myspace page and decide for yourselves.

A fine runner-up this year is the return to the very best for veteran rockers, R.E.M. with 'Accelerate' (Warner Bros.). Having disappointed with their previous two releases and with many suggesting Mr Stipe had reached the end of his song-writing career, the boys proved everybody wrong with this latest offering. 11 powerful rock tracks in 36 minutes with Stipes' lyrics returning to the top, offer us the hope that R.E.M are back in business.

"And the winner is.....". The honour of being the first band to top the Annual Top 10 on nme-europe goes to The Courteeners with 'St. Jude' (Polydor). Another band from Manchester? Yes. With all the best qualities. Smiths-like lyrics, Stones Roses-esque tunes and Oasis- style vocals give rise to a thoroughly EXCELLENT album (which, surprisingly, doesn't appear on any of the experts' lists). Produced by Stephen Street, who also worked with The Smiths, Morrissey and Blur, among others, tracks like 'Not nineteen forever', 'Aftershow', 'Cavorting' and, in particular 'What took you so long?' (a good bet for my best Track of 2008 list), with it's "I'm like Morrissey with some strings" have meant this album has been in my ears, car, living room since I first heard it. Well done gentlemen - I'm sure you must feel very proud!

So, English, Welsh, French, Spanish, Americans.... a fairly international selection and, judging by the lists below, a fairly original one. In fact, I almost hope that my selection is unique, because that is what makes the music world so cool!

Just in case you want some real opinions from journalists who are obviously very objective with their choices and would never be influenced by how much money they receive from certain record companies (sometimes, I'm too cynical, I know), please read on...

Other Top 10 lists:

1. MGMT – Oracular Spectacular
2. TV On The Radio – Dear Science
3. Glasvegas - Glasvegas
4. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend
5. Foals – Antidotes
6. Metronomy – Nights Out
7. Santogold – Santogold
8. Mystery Jets – 21
9. Kings Of Leon – Only By The Night
10. Friendly Fires – Friendly Fires
1. Coldplay - Viva La Vida or Death And All His Friends
2. MGMT – Oracular Spectacular
3. Portishead - Third
4. Nine Inch Nails – Ghosts I-IV
5. The Ting Tings – We Started Nothing
6. The Kooks - Konk
7. Death Vab For Cutie – Narrow Stairs
8. Hot Chip – Made In The Dark
9. Jack Johnson – Sleep Through The Static
10. Sigur Ros - Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust

1. Kings Of Leon – Only By The Night
2. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes
3. Coldplay – Viva La Vida or Death And All His Friends
4. Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend
5. Glasvegas - Glasvegas
6. Duffy - Rockferry
7. TV On The Radio – Dear Science
8. Elbow – The Seldom Seen Kid
9. Raconteurs – Consolers Of The Lonely
10. Nick Cave – Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!

The Observer
1. Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago
2. Amadou And Mariam – Welcome To Mali
3. Elbow – The Seldom Seen Kid
4. Glasvegas - Glasvegas
5. Kings Of Leon – Only By The Night
6. MGMT – Oracular Spectacular
7. Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend
8. Kanye West – 808s And Heartbreak
9. Portishead – Third
10. TV On The Radio – Dear Science

The Sunday Times
1. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes
2. Cut Copy – In Ghost Colours
3. Paul Weller – 22 Dreams
4. Nick Cave – Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!
5. Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago
6. Aidan John Moffat – I Can Hear Your Heart
7. Al Green – Lay It Down
8. Kanye West – 808s And Heartbreak
9. REM – Accelerate
10. My Morning Jacket – Evil Urges

Please feel free to offer your own Top 10!

Next up, Top Ten Tracks...


Anonymous said...

I'm tired of reading comments from people demanding to differ on others' top album lists ("What?!! No Fleet Foxes?" or "C'mon! What about St Bart's Primary School Choir Yuletide Singalong?")... so let me just congratulate you on managing to compile a fine selection of sounds from a rather drab 2008, full of contractual obligations and stocking fillers from the "big" bands and little in the way of Top 10 material.
A lot of these albums also belong in my own collection and are all worthy contenders.
If I may, and as you suggest, I'd like to propose my own Top 10 of 2008:
1. MGMT - Oracular Spectacular. Not a very original choice, but the most played on my portable stereo this year.
2. Gnarls Barkley - The Odd Couple. SO WHAT?!! I like it. Bit o' boogie, bit o' smooch, and much more fun than Fleet Foxes. I defy you to listen to "Surprise" and not feel the urge to grab yer granny and boogie round the living room!
3. Elbow - The Seldom Seen Kid. Perhaps more a homage to their complete discography than to this single album, but my favourite UK band of the decade deserve to up there.
4. The Gutter Twins - Saturnalia. Excellent debut full-length album. I recommend the first 12 tracks. Or maybe the last 12.
5. The Helio Sequence - Keep Your Eyes Ahead. Back on form after a less inspired last album.
6. Fuck Buttons - Street Horrrsing. I jus' lurrrve "Sweet Love for Planet Earth". Not to everybody's liking, but there's a lot of good soundtrack material in there.
7. Helvetia - The Acrobats. Couldn't believe my luck when I came across this album. Or my surprise when I discovered they'd had one out before and, worse still, one since. Steady on, lads!
8. Lightspeed Champion - Falling Off The Lavender Bridge. Hynes's first album since leaving the Test Icicles. Where does he get these names from?
9. Foals - Antidotes. Repetitive sounds that kinda drill holes in the head. Addictive stuff. Great for playing when the mother-in-law's round!
10. The Ruby Suns - Sea Lion. NZ band with indigenous melodies that make me feel like swaying on a beach in a grass skirt sipping a mojito. Or am I confusing Honolulu with Varadero? Ever wondered what the All Blacks listen to by way of a pre-match chillout?
That's it, then. There are 20 or so more albums that would've made my top 15, but sorry lads, space is tight.
Anyway, if bands bring out an album on average every 2 years, let's hope 2009 is as good as 2007 and just sweep (most of) 2008 under the carpet.
Nick B (the neighbour).

Anonymous said...

hey nick, this blog looks good, i didn't know about the new courteeners album, i'll have a look asap.

i'm going to give the link of your blog to some friends, merry christmas and happy new year, see you soon!!


Nick C said...

First of all, thanks Nick B for an interesting alternative Top 10. There are definitely some fine choices and one or two I have know idea of!

It's always nice to try new things. That's what I hope this blog will achieve - to widen everybody's music horizons.

Secondly, welcome to the blog, Robertstorm. Please feel free to offer your own Top 10 list and keep us up-to-date with the music you like.