December 24, 2008

The Best Albums of the Year

This year has been an incredible one for music. I don’t know if it was the full year of blogging about it, but I have learned and heard so much during the past year, making it incredibly difficult at times to really narrow down what was the best of the good. Looking back over the year, there were some clear choices, some not so clear, and a couple that surprised me. Already, 2009 is shaping up to look like a good year already.

Runners up: Always the Bridesmaid: Decemberists, Human: Civil Twilight, A Hundred Million Suns: Snow Patrol, Let It Go: Jon Regen, View from the Root: Adam Ezra Group, A Good Day: Priscilla Ahn.

10 - The Fairline Parkway, Memory of Open Spaces / The Weepies, Hideaway

Memory of Open Spaces is a light affair, and carries a quiet grace from its opening song, Westward Bound, that is sustained throughout the album with a soft and balanced sound. I like it because it's soft, reflective and interesting throughout with a great sound and good lyrics.

Tied with this album is Hideaway by the Weepies. Like the Fairline Parkway, this album is soft, rythmic and interesting. The sound is evenly balanced between the two vocalists with a sweet and relaxing sound to it.

9 - Bombadil, A Buzz, A Buzz

From the first bars of Bombadil's debut album A Buzz A Buzz, you'll know that there's something very different about their sound. Trip Out West starts out soft but strong, before launching into a series of incredibly diverse, lyrically unique and tight songs. There's a wide range of sounds here, and seeing these guys life is an experience in and of itself, as they move around the stage, often switching instruments.

8 - Oren Lavie, The Opposite Side of the Sea

Oren Lavie's first CD Opposite Side of the Sea is a labor of love, and has been getting a wider audience from the use of several songs in a commercial. While overall, this album is on the softer side, there's a rich variety of themes throughout the album, helped along by his rich voice and lyrics.

7 - Tina Dico, Count To Ten / Sia, Some People Have Real Problems

Ironically, these two singers have a common link: the Electronic/Pop outfits Zero 7, whom both have collaborated with for several songs over their three albums.

Tina Dico's album Count To Ten is the good sort of pop music. She starts off with an incredible voice and beat and sustains it throughout the course of the album with a number of absolutely fantastic songs that continue to impress me numerous listens later.

Sia's latest album, Some People Have Real Problems is easily her finest album to date, with an electro-popish sound with an urgent, yet at the same time relaxed feel to it. The tracks slow down and speed up but each one is just fantastic.

6 - Death Cab for Cutie, Narrow Stairs

This album got lot of nay Sayers when released - a lot of this "The band has turned their backs on their fans/roots/style" crap. Bullshit. This album is easily their strongest, with the same strong lyrical style that we've come to expect from these guys, with a richer and far more refined sound throughout. This new album is emotional, intense and rich with sound.

5 - Goodtimes Goodtimes, Glue

Technically, this came out in 2008, but I really got their album in January, so this makes the list. Goodtimes Goodtimes blew me away when I first heard their first track, Kids, with it's bright and optimistic beat that still gets me moving fifty listens later. The rest of the album is just as good too. Each song here sounds fantastic, with some excellent guitar work and lyrics. Every time I pop this into my car's CD player, I sing along, and feel good afterwards.

4 - Coldplay, Viva La Vida/Prospekt's March

I'm counting both of these albums together, along with Lhuna, as one package. Coldplay, after the commercially friendly A Rush of Blood To the Head and disappointing X&Y, proved to be an extremely fresh breath from these guys, proving that they still have the talent to not only produce a good record, but to produce one that drastically refines, changes and exceeds expectations. Viva La Vida is a tight and cohesive affair, with some of their best works to date. Prospekt's March is likewise as good, with several tracks that didn't make it on the album, but carry much of the same feel or talent along with it. Already, there's talk of a follow-up - let's hope that it's a good one.

3 - Amos Lee, Last Days at the Lodge

Amos Lee has come a very, very long way since his first, self titled debut. His second album exceeded that one, and Last Days at the Lodge likewise exceeded that one. Where Supply and Demand really changed around his sound, Last Days brings Lee back to some of his root sounds, revisits some familiar ground and breaks anew, infusing a distinct blend of soul, R&B and folk-rock into the eleven fantastic tracks. The album is intimate and emotional at times, while blatant and fresh at others.

2 - Ray LaMontagne, Gossip in the Grain

Like Amos Lee, Ray LaMontagne has improved upon his sound over his past two albums, really redefining his sound each time. Gossip in the Grain has done much of the same, giving us a new look at this singer as he's refined and honed his skills. His voice isn't as raspy as it was in Trouble, and the backing band here absolutely blows each song away. This album is emotional, touching, personal, romantic and somber all at the same time. It is easily his strongest and best work to date.

1 - Bon Iver, For Emma, Forever Ago

Bon Iver's For Emma Forever Ago is my favorite album of the year, and I knew it from the moment I heard the first track, Flume. Recorded in a cabin in the woods during a troubling time for Justin Vernon, what we get is an album that is a mix of raw emotions that is honest, thrilling and simply beautiful to listen to. Each time that I listen to this album, I get chills throughout at the intensity and reflection presented here in the songwriting. Bon Iver has done with this album something that I thought was impossible - show me that there are still huge surprises waiting out there in the music world, and even after listening to it literally hundreds of times, it still shakes and invokes the same emotion and thrill that is present in the notes.