Unequivocally Yours: The Big Year End Music List / by LD

Blitzen Trapper at the Echo

Here we find ourselves in December yet again, which means a great many things to a great many persons. But if you're anything like me, it means all the blogs and websites and music freaks you know and love start posting their year-end lists. To be intentionally trite, it gives new meaning to making a list and checking it twice. 

Still with me?

Good. So you love music, you listen to music, you inhale music like a dog inhales its kibble, and it all inexplicably leads up to a massive mental dump come December when it seems to be imperative that you catalogue and categorize your hits, misses, and meh's. I'm not that far fetched, am I? Because I could throw a stone in any direction and hit at least a dozen blogs who think Vampire Weekend are the shizzzzz and at least four dozen more who think they're yawny and overrated. So I won't be casting any stones, because hell if I'm going to get all Scrooge-like about music and lists and music lists. 

The truth of the matter is, I do love music, and I spend the better part of my time enjoying it. In addition, my mind joyfully caterwauls at the very suggestion of a category or a list or (gasp!) both. So, in the interest of celebrating rather than bemoaning The Year That Almost Was, I'd like to push all pretension (whether real or imagined) aside and simply lurve me some music. Still tracking?

Good.

So without further longwinded ado, here she is:

Unequivocally Yours,
Laurel Dailey's Classifications for the Year 2008.

Albums, in order: 

Fleet Foxes - S/T
I reviewed this album for Neu Black back in June, and I commented that I'd put the CD in my car for a listen, and two weeks later, it was still the only thing I could listen to. I can now say that six months later, it's still a go-to, a default, a choice, a craving.  This album is absolutely, without a doubt, the best album of 2008. And like some of the best albums in my iTunes collection, it's the type of cohesive musical brilliance that isn't specific to one season or to one time; it's as good in the failing light of Fall as it was in the muggy nights of Summer. And I suspect it will remain at the top of my queue for seasons to come. 

Blitzen Trapper - Furr
Not to pimp the Northwest or anything, but here's another band who hails from my old stomping grounds who put out a gorgeously engrossing album this year. Whether they're channeling Dylan, Petty, R.E.M., Young, or Steely Dan, the influences are felt intentionally rather than carelessly. In fact, it's difficult for ol' verbose me to even come up with words that accurately convey how much I love this album. Pitchfork's Rebecca Raber summed it up well: "It would have been hard to follow Wild Mountain Nation with anything as sprawling, expansive, or diverse, so Blitzen Trapper didn't try. Instead, they settled down, focused, and managed to create something even better. This imaginative, heartfelt collection is more intimate than its predecessor, reveling less in boundless stylistic freedom and more in the creativity afforded by structure." Amen, sister.

Okkervil River - The Stand Ins
A stellar followup to last year's The Stage Names, Will Sheff & Co. deliver yet another stimulating collection of loathsome paeans to fame and fortune. For a songwriter as cerebral and elliptical as Will Sheff, it's difficult to describe the sound of The Stand-Ins without sharing some of the albums' finer moments, which aren't really instrumental at all. Rather, it's the way in which Sheff yodels and croons his way through the pages of the various narratives he's brought to life. If anything, the band members exist to cloak those words, to uplift a turn of phrase or bury another, an organic push-pull between the outright braininess of Sheff's prose and straightforward guitar-centric rock.

Girl Talk - Feed the Animals
Gregg "I'm not a DJ" Gilles churns out another winner. Among my favorite moments: Kelly Clarkson belting her soul amidst a dizzying mishmash of past and present soundbites. Each song is less about the sum of its parts and much more about the way Gilles himself is a musician, and rather than using instruments to craft each song, he uses pieces of great music as his guitar, his bass, his drumline. The result is an instant party album whose live show is every bit as eclectic and insane as you'd imagine it to be. 

Deerhunter - Microcastle
Despite hitting a few bumps along the way (accidentally leaking your new album on The Internets, anyone?), everyone's favorite modern shoegazers (Neugazers?) are back with an insanely beautiful album whose tracks are so blisteringly amazing I couldn't help but text everyone I knew within 20 minutes of hearing it: OMG, DEERHUNTER IS THE BESSSSST.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Dig!!! Lazerus, Dig!!!
Nick Cave should be the poster child not for aging gracefully, but aging stubbornly. With his bafflingly dark slick of hair receding from his forehead, Cave spits his lyrics through his impressively bushy mustache like they were venom, imagining Lazerus awakening in modern times, only do discover that he's drunk and broke. The album is one I could listen to on repeat because it's just that good. I won't use the tired and cloying Fine Wine analogy here, but seriously: Some guys really do get better with age. 

Broken Social Scene Presents Brendan Canning - Something For All Of Us
From my Neu Black review: Dirge-like trumpets wail amidst drippy strings and a tangled mass of percussion, the noise of it all punctuated by Canning's smooth-as-milk vocals (slightly less warbled than Kevin Drew's, but no less engaging). And there is no shortage of guest vocalists here, as well. At times it's easy to forget that this is Brendan Canning and not the whole gaggle of Toronto kids he's normally surrounded by.

TV on the Radio - Dear Science, 
Well, they've done it again, and they've done it well. In the words of The Dodos, "These guys just care. They care about writing good songs, they care about good production and they care about having a good time doing it." It's a fuzzy, groovy, blistering album of arty, intelligent songs and their live show is (if you can believe it) even better.

Atlas Sound - Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel
It's not often that a band (or more specifically, one dude and his various side projects) can release an album at the beginning of the year under one moniker and one at the end of the year under another and have both of those albums be stellar, near-perfect examples of what good music sounds like, but dagnabbit all, Bradford Cox has done it. He has perfected dreamy bedroom rock for 2008 and I have nothing to say but "Thank you."

Spiritualized - Songs in A&E
An album written before and after a crippling, near-death bout with pneumonia, it's precisely the separate-but-togetherness of Songs in A & E that works so beautifully. Taken apart, the songs each stand on their own to deliver Pierce's message, but taken as a whole, the album delivers a lush, haunting meditation of life and death and lingers in the mind long after the final track is done.



And because I limited myself to top ten, and because my apparent masochistic tendencies cause me to limit myself when I'd so much rather be hedonistic in times like these: Here are the top five closest contenders. Albums I loved, artists I respect, collections that didn't quite make the top ten: 

Forest Fire - Survival
Jangly, Stones-y boot stompers.

Department of Eagles - In Ear Park
Like Grizzly Bear? Awesome. Me too. Like stuff created by the lead singer of Grizzly Bear that sounds an awful lot like it and yet manages to perfect its own brand of spacey swoony balladry? Awesome. Department of Eagles deliver. 

Islands - Arm's Way
Less cohesive than I'd hoped, but still so full of those incredibly inventive singles that I don't care.

The Dodos - Visiter
It's not every day that an album comes out with songs named after two of my roommates, but these guys somehow managed. 

Ra Ra Riot - The Rhumb Line
Despite personal tragedy within the band, Ra Ra Riot imbue their songs with a certain amount of pathos, yet never tread too heavily in the waters of self-pity. Their noisy chamber theatrics are a haunting reminder that life is brief, but beautiful. 

Whew. 

Tired yet?

Me too. But I'd love to know what music stood out to you this year. So fill my comment thread with lovely thoughts of tunes or albums that made 2008 great. And....GO!