Friday, December 12, 2008

2009, Oh So Close

As I get older, time has started going so fast. Remember when we were tiny children and 8 weeks of summer vacation felt like a lifetime? I can practically sleep through 8 weeks nowadays.

I can't believe I'm seeing year-end lists. Are we there already?

Blender Magazine released its list of the 33 Best Albums of 2008. Strange timing, as some of the year's hottest releases are just coming out now (Beyoncé, Kanye, Britney) and I must say, there are some odd picks listed. I already expressed my feelings about Coldplay's Viva la Vida, and the rundown also includes Deathcab's latest (Narrow Stairs) which has got to be the least exciting release in recent years, Santogold's hit-and-miss self-titled, and Katy Perry's vapid attempt at "edge". No Estelle, no Aimee Mann, no Adele or Duffy even and they're the poster girls for 2008. I was happy, however, to see appearances by Robyn, Hot Chip, and Jenny Lewis. Rollingstone put out their list this week, a far more diverse list, everyone from Ne-Yo to Stephen Malkmus represented.

Here's my year-end roundup.

Kicking off 2008, a quirky Australian released her third album, Some People Have Real Problems. Save for a couple of tracks ("Academia" and lyrical-cringe-city "Little Black Sandals") Sia Furler doesn't miss with her mix of Sinead O'Connor wailing and organic, lush arrangements. Standouts are "You Have Been Loved" and "Lentil". I spent all of our trip to Mexico on the beach, her songs blasting in my ears.

The UK seems to be a breeding ground for the Old School Chanteuse, with Amy Winehouse, Duffy, and Adele making a mark this year. The latter has hit me the hardest with a fantastic album and even greater live performances (Conan, SNL, Ellen, to name a few). The whole record could have been a capella, her voice so incredible on its own. Listen to her version of Dylan's "Make You Feel My Love" and try not to plan a wedding around it.

Much of the spring was given up to one album, Estelle's Shine. "American Boy" was one of the hottest singles of the year and it took a surprisingly long time to get sick of. A near-perfect album (my skip buttons entirely ignored), they managed to produce a current record with just the right touches of old-school. In a year of throw-backs and vintage sounds, Shine walked a careful balance.

If ever the word "fierce" was an apt description, Sam Sparro's self-titled debut never hurt a party. There's not a whole lot to say about it. Standouts: "Black and Gold" and the sass-loaded secret song "Still Hungry".

Hercules and Love Affair fit somewhere into this category, though slightly more cerebral. Antony Hegarty (of and the Johnsons) provides his special brand of vocals on these amazing disco-inspired dance songs.

Canadian pianist and DJ, Gonzales (AKA Jason Beck) is a friend and collaborator of Feist, among others. He opened for her at Massey Hall last year and I was blown away by his amazing skills and quirk-factor. I bought his 2004 album Solo Piano at that show and awaited more. He released Soft Power this year, a sort-of 70s era piano-pop album. At times harkening the Bee Gees, early Elton John, and some Billy Joel, it's perfect for a quiet dinner party.

An album with roots as far back as 2006, Robyn's self-titled international blockbuster really came to life in North America in 2008. I wrote thoroughly about it in May and it's one I continuously go back to. If I had to choose, it might be the album of the year.

Since discovering her in Magnolia, Aimee Mann hasn't disappointed. She released, perhaps, her greatest album to-date this year; the perfectly titled @#%&*! Smilers brought just enough of the concept angle from her previous The Forgotten Arm, and mixed it with her classic stand-alone storytelling. She gets better with age, her voice deepening the way of Joni Mitchell. If you haven't climbed onboard yet, start with 1993's "4th of July" (from the albu, Whatever) and go from there.

Summer brought us She & Him. Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward put their heads together to create what could be a one-off lark if it weren't for the title, Volume I. They've had massive success with the album, touring constantly and gathering fans all over North America. Definitely part of that throw-back category, this beach party doowop record never feels forced or inauthentic.

Speaking of, Jenny Lewis released the much-anticipated follow-up to her first solo album, Rabbit Fur Coat. The Rilo Kiley frontwoman turned a corner and left behind a pile of gimmicks on Acid Tongue. "Tryin' My Best" is one of the greatest songs of the year and wouldn't sound out of place on a Dusty Springfield record.

An album I keep going back to is Martina Topley-Bird's The Blue God. It reminds me of an electronic version of Emily Haines' (Metric) solo material. It's not perfect and hasn't drawn me in completely, but it's atmospheric and perfect for a cocktail party.

Jazmine Sullivan's first album Fearless was released in September. Some kind of mix between Lauryn Hill and Alicia Keys, she's only twenty-one and under the wing of Missy Elliot. Another album where the skip button goes unused.

A couple of late-2008 discoveries have made a massive impression in very little time. Ray LaMontagne (where have I been?) has been around a while, producing slightly-Southern-sounding folk rock. His whisky-soaked vocals are lived-in and gorgeous. Fleet Foxes made #11 on Rollingstone's Albums of the Year prompting me to say "Who?!", which led to a quick download, and then constant play for the last several days. It might seem premature, but I'm putting them on my list. Something about them takes me back to days spent in the back of my parents' car, the local soft rock station playing CCR and Chicago. Iron and Wine comes to mind too. Wall-of-sound harmonies and swelling music. Works for me.

I know it's just an EP, but 5 tracks from him are better than 12 from almost anyone else: Antony and the Johnson's New World EP is fantastic. "Another World" is a beautiful, quiet meditation on global warming. Or about anything, really.

Rachael Yamagata finally released her sophomore album this year, Elephants . . . Teeth Sinking Into Heart. Her first album, Happenstance, is, perhaps, the most-played album in my entire collection. The follow-up was divided into two parts: the typical RY stuff on the first: melancholy, sweeping songs about love, and then more upbeat, rockier songs on the second part. Needless to say, I don't listen to that back-bit very much. Luckily it's a 2:1.

An admission: I'm an Alanis Morissette fan. Like, a real fan. Like, I read message boards and anticipate releases months and months in advance. She really divides people. Mostly to the side that find her incredibly irritating. I do not, but I see where you're coming from. Her new album Flavours of Entanglement (yes, annoying, I know) is actually good. Perhaps because it's hot on the heels of her breakup with Ryan Reynolds (hubba-hubba) and some of that rage people can't seem to let go of is back. Guy Sigsworth (Madonna, Imogen Heap, Robyn) is to thank, surely, for his production. Electronic and sometimes-epic, the album is cohesive and dynamic in a way she isn't always.

Wrapping up my list is Kanye West and his divisive 808s & Heartbreaks. I wrote about it recently, so will keep this short. If he wants to be the voice of a generation, I think an album like this will get him there. No one makes an impact by producing the same great album over and over again. A departure like this may be remembered by some as a great mistake, but history may reveal it as his own Sgt. Pepper.

Who made your list?


  1. Geeze. We need to talk music so quick.

  2. Okay, I read this one before. But recently, I think. I remember being shocked that you had JUST found about Ray LaMontagne. I'm still shocked...