The 6 Best Albums of 2008

December 31, 2008


This was a momentous year for music collections everywhere. That’s because I believe iTunes reached critical mass several years ago, and the fruits of properly recording Dates Added and Ratings are finally paying dividends–in the form of awesome smart playlists and an ongoing musical yearbook. Albums are the placeholders of the iPod generation, and iTunes is the calendar.

Thanks for noticing the obvious–Chucks? is not even a year old, but this is the internet, and there’s no law against backdating. So if you happen to get hit by economic woes and find yourself with an inordinate amount of free time this winter, consider fixing that clumsy library of yours.

You may wonder why this list includes only six albums has changed to include ten albums. There isn’t really a is a good answer to that: I underestimated several albums, and I was impatient with them. More important than the number of albums on this list, is knowing that I don’t believe it excludes a significant record released this year that it’s greater than six. That said, to the slothful and the cynics, I present the first annual Best Albums of 2008 list. Hopefully it will not be the last.

we started nothing
The Ting Tings We Started Nothing – “Traffic Light”

vampire weekend
Vampire Weekend Vampire Weekend – “M79”

modern guilt
Beck Modern Guilt“Gamma Ray”

made in the dark
Hot Chip Made in the Dark – “We’re Looking for a lot of Love”

youth novels
Lykke Li Youth Novels“I’m Good, I’m Gone”

dear science
TV on The Radio Dear Science – “DLZ”

MGMT Oracular Spectacular“The Handshake”

Santogold Santogold“Lights Out”

Thao Nguyen We Brave Bee Stings and All – “Feet Asleep”

Thao Nguyen’s infectious hooks and danceable grooves have (re)defined folk-pop as I know it. The sideways moving guitar rhythms make you move just like Thao would on stage even if you’ve never seen her before. Part of the album’s beauty is Thao’s introspective lyrics that are easily confused with silliness at first listen. For example: “All these years my feet asleep/move them around but they might breathe.” I’m sorry I didn’t listen to those of you who suggested Thao to me years ago, I promise to listen better next time.

acid tongue
Jenny Lewis Acid Tongue“Acid Tongue”

It’s difficult to pay attention to alternative/rock/pop music without at least knowing Rilo Kiley. I knew of them but I’d never before given Rilo, or Jenny Lewis the devoted ear they deserved. I wasn’t drawn in enough until “Silver Lining,” which admittedly isn’t even one of the group’s very best songs. The live versions of “I Love LA” kept me entranced; and once I started paying attention, there wasn’t a voice this year that drew me in and held me so closely*.

So went 2008, the year that I developed a gigantic crush on the woman with a voice that must sound like delicate light shining through clouds. The simple arrangements and basic chord progressions of Acid Tongue allow Jenny Lewis’s voice to dominate. The best example of this is in the title track, which consists of only her, a guitar, and backup singers. Even if you play piano as well as me you could learn a few of the songs off this album, and that is one of the strengths of this recording; it is simplicity executed excellently.

*Except Feist of course.

Hotel Cafe, Part II

November 9, 2008

meiko varsity 1
I went to the Hotel Cafe (again!) after getting completely obsessed with a few songs that I’m going to share below. Meiko played her sensational cover of Fade Into You, and it was just as amazing the second time. Alice Russel, who I had never heard of before Thursday was fine, and her Seven Nation Army cover was awesome. We think of her as a slightly toned-down, whiter version of Sharon Jones. Oh, and Jaymay brought everyone out to middle of the audience and played a song. Enough about this though, it’s already been written about. New music soon, but these photos are too good to keep to myself.

Thao Nguyen – Feet Asleep

Hotel Cafe Brooklyn

November 3, 2008

Most shows I see start with a crappy opening band that is followed by another one that’s slightly less crappy, until you finally get to see the least crappy one that you came to hear. Hotel Cafe this weekend was a solid collection of talented singer-songwriters. All five women were great, even the special guest was good. They all played slightly different styles and together, they made a great combination on stage. The strange thing about the Hotel Cafe format is that no one plays a full set. Each girl played a couple of songs at a time and then came back to the stage later to play a few more. I thought this was terrible for the flow of the show, as soon as you start to get into one singer, she’d leave; and even after three hours I didn’t hear enough of my favorite musicians.

Thao Nguyen was as awesome as my friends had said. She was a great performer with awesome energy and the best guitar parts of the show. Can’t believe I didn’t have any of her music before today. Bag of Hammers was insane.

Thao Nguyen – Beat (Health, Life and Fire)

The first Meiko song I ever heard was a free download on iTunes last fall. I didn’t get into her until I heard the set she played on Morning Becomes Eclectic on KCRW this February. I remember finding her southern accent so endearing in the accompanying interviews with Nic Harcourt. So I think it’s fair to call myself one of the first on that boat. Although some of her songs tend to mold together in my memory, I like them, and I love watching her strum her guitar open-handed. To quote CSS: Meiko is my hot hot….

One of the greatest things I’ve heard live, ever: Meiko’s sensational cover of Mazzy Star’s Fade Into You. I wish someone would record that so I could buy it.

Meiko – You and Onions Make Me Cry

Rachael Yamagata was great, but eight songs for a headliner with now more than two albums of material, is not enough. She played all of her most popular songs, which were all great live, but Elephants was even more amazing than the recording. She sang it without her band or her piano, and it was so good that I wanted her to do it again in the encore. I actually posted a version of this song performed live in my last post without even knowing where it came from. Listen to it again.

Rachael Yamagata – Elephants (live)

PS. What’s up with all of the PDA at concerts lately? I put up with it on the street because it’s in passing, but it’s not acceptable when you grind on your girlfriend and suck on her neck hair during a three-hour acoustic set. You’re gross and I wish you knew it.