J's Indie/Rock Mayhem

Playlists, podcasts and music from WQFS Greensboro's J's Indie/Rock Mayhem

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

J's Indie/Rock Mayhem - 17th December 2008
Top 25 Albums of 2008

[Ah, the year review. What has 2008 meant to me? Well, it's meant a lot of great music, per usual. But I don't know that that's enough really. 2008 has meant dueling notions of cynicism and hope. 2008 has meant bombastic victory and disheartening defeat. 2008 has meant the black and the white and the grey all over. 2008 has been a great year for music.

The later we get into this decade, the more consistently uplifting the years' musical output has been. The last three years, '06-'08, have each been really triumphant years for the music industry, art wise at least, and I hope that the decade will close out with a year just as powerful in 2009.

What you have below are the records I feel, right now, were the 25 best albums released in 2008. These are my opinions, just like every word I put up about every song I play weekly is also my opinion. There are some obvious things missing. TV on the Radio's Dear Science for one - frankly, I just didn't get to listen to it this year, even if every single I heard off of it sounded amazing. But I wasn't going to stick something on for the sake of having it there. Just because everyone and there mother had it on the list doesn't mean I have to. These are the 25 records I found myself listening to and playing the most both on this radio show and off of it. Leave your thoughts in the comments below and have a fantastic holiday season.]

J's Indie/Rock Podcast: Top 25 Albums of 2008 Show

25. Slim Cessna's Auto Club - Cipher : If you are still lamenting the loss of 16 Horsepower (and who isn't) and haven't heard Slim Cessna's Auto Club, who has been around just as long as David Eugene Edwards' aforementioned outfit, then lament no longer. Fiery gospel pulled through punk and americana strands, this is music that seems like it's emanating from a bully pulpit of gigantic proportions with the hottest backing band this side of the Rockies backing it up. Tight, focused, haunting, irreverent and playful, this is American music at its finest. Played - "This Land is Our Land Redux"

24. Calexico - Carried to Dust : It's Calexico, so I don't know that it's any surprise that they're on this list. Creating aching, soulful music that skitters amongst genres and time periods, Carried to Dust is just another in a line of amazing records by a continuously amazing band. You either know what these guys sound like at this point - the haunted desert sounds of tex-mex, alt-country, folk, norteña, etc. - or you need to find out. Click here for Aquarium Drunkard's interview with Calexico's Joey Burns from back in September when the album was released. Played - "Writer's Minor Holiday"

23. Big Ditch Road – The Jackson Whites : Big Ditch Road is the band that your alt-country loving cousin digs out of his cassette/CD/mp3 collection to foist on you. He puts a copy of The Jackson Whites in your hand and says, "Seriously, Steve, these guys are awesome. Raw roots rock with touches of all sorts of things floating about. You have to give this a listen." You'll take it home and pop it in, sit back and let it wash over you. Then you go out and find everything the band has ever put out and realize it's just as good. Thanks, Cousin Paul. Click here and here for my January interview with Big Ditch Road's Darin Wald. Also: My original review of The Jackson Whites Played - "All the Way to Idaho"

22. Birdmonster - From the Mountain to the Sea : Rooted in an easy, folksy rock, Birdmonster plow muscular rock conventions through that filter and come out with heart-felt music that seems made for mixtapes. There's a reason that "Born to Be Your Man" was one of my top ten singles of the year - this is an album full of winning songs that create a longing, hopeful feel. I can only imagine how this works up live, but on record at least, it's as fascinating as it is repeatable. Played - "Lost at Sea"

21. Julie Ocean - Long Gone and Nearly There : In a way, it's almost appropriate that Julie Ocean is gone now. The brilliant, saccharine pop of this album is rooted in the sounds echoed in so many flash-in-the-pan groups of time past that it would almost be weird to see them put out more of it. That said, I was heartbroken when it happened. Long Gone and Nearly There was hands down one of the best power pop records of the 2000s - a blast of high-octane pop, harmonies and hooks for days. This record did not leave my head all year and I doubt it will for a long time still. Click here for my interview with Julie Ocean's Terry Banks from back in June over at Aquarium Drunkard. Played - "Ten Lonely Words"

20. the Strugglers - Latest Rights : The first North Carolina band on the list emerged from the murk earlier this year. A friend had tried to get me to listen to previous output by the Strugglers, but I just hadn't followed along. Then on the recommendation of another friend, I got it. This is gorgeous, melancholic music that gives guitars, drums, horns and Richard Buckner-esque vocals a place to play around a sepia-toned landscape of sound. "Limerance" is one of the most perfect songs I heard this year - I literally said, while listening to it, "If this song is perfect, it'll end right here." And it did. It's all in the timing, David Ives, and the Strugglers are hitting their marks in style. Played - "Morningside Heights"

19. the Roots - Rising Down : Patrick will disagree with me, as I've found we often do over the Roots' post-Things Fall Apart oeuvre, but Rising Down is a continuing evolution in the Roots that shows some serious muscle. This is not as good as the preceeding Game Theory, a record that I think literally saved the artistic career of this band following the (IMHO) floundering morass of The Tipping Point. But the political points here are sharper, the guest vocalists feel seemlessly part of the vision of the record and it was a perfect record for an election year - angry, cynical and in spots hopeful and breathtaking. Played - "Criminal"

18. the Black Angels - Directions to See a Ghost : There were two records this year that really seemed to grab the spectre of hypnotic psychedelic music by the horns and rode it into the future. Directions to See a Ghost is one of them (see Black Mountain below for the other). If there are words to describe the hazy, disheveling music of the Black Angels, they are difficult to grasp. This is not party music. It's not driving music. It's something that soundtracks simmering confusion, long dark nights of the soul, intensity of purpose. It's no wonder a bit of their earlier music ended up on the No Country for Old Men soundtrack. Played - "You On the Run"

17. Citified - The Meeting After the Meeting : You have to wonder how bands this good float by without some serious attention. But Citified's second EP (or mini-LP or whatever continuingly less relevant name you want to apply to a collection of individual tracks) is such a huge improvement over their already stellar debut that it makes the mind reel. Whether it's the note perfect "Read Like a Number," the hauntingly familiar "Weddings," or the floating, gauzy "KL Gala," The Meeting After the Meeting is the sound of a newly purposed band. The mix of indie-styles long pushed aside to create something winningly new and unique in a sometimes stagnant music scene is hopefully only the beginning. Played - "Weddings"

16. Paul Westerberg - 49:00 : Man makes a comeback with some inspiring, simplified music. Man makes a couple of records after with similar but diminishing returns. Man puts screwdriver through hand and nearly ends his guitar playing career. Man secretly (and suddenly) releases the most originally marketed and one of the most thoroughly enjoyable albums of his career. Man gets in legal tangle over unlicensed cover medly. Man releases short five minute song mocking the whole situation. Blogger hails the whole situation as inspired and one of his favorite albums of the year. Westerberg fans who haven't heard it get off their duffs and go find one of the best albums of the year. Click here for my original review of 49:00 over at Aquarium Drunkard. Played - "Tell Me Who You Gonna Marry"

15. Megafaun - Bury the Square : It was sometime in 2007 when I first saw Megafaun live and it was their chaotic mix of rustic americana and powerful rock tropes that immediately grabbed my attention. How could a band sound so much like a group of old time musicians, a Salvation Army band, a choir of hobos and a taut, focused rock band from one moment to the next? Though only an EP, Bury the Square is a transformative record and begs for more. Played - "Find Your Mark"

14. Alejandro Escovedo - Real Animal : Truly accomplished artists will make great records well into their careers - fewer still will do so without resorting to some ploy to make it interesting. Real Animal is just another notch in the belt of an artist who has released thoughtful, hypnotic albums since 1992 under his own name and even further back with other bands. That this album also, seriously, rocks is another testament to the new fire that seems lit under Escovedo in the years following his health scares. The simply gorgeous "Swallows of San Juan" is in a lot of ways the album's most endearing moment - something so broad grinned and sad voiced that it begs for repeated listens. Click here for my interview with Alejandro Escovedo from back in July over at Aquarium Drunkard.Played - "Always a Friend"

13. The Rosebuds – Life Like : The Rosebuds are something completely above the fray of everyday music. They've been in a constant state of reinventive flux since Birds Make Good Neighbors and the New Order-driven Night of the Furies flummoxed as many listeners as it won over. Life Like is a record full of moments that echo the past of the band and show their continued evolution as well. The price of entry is worth it for "Nice Fox" alone, but the title track, "Bow to the Middle" and "Another Way In" are all effortless, graceful pop music that aches with reality. Played - "Another Way In"

12. The Broken West – Now Or Heaven : I initially did not like this record. Why? Because it wasn't their previous album. More specifically, it wasn't "Down in the Valley." I was aghast at how different this band sounded. Then I dug into the album. Not only is Now or Heaven the sound of a band firing on all creative cynlinders, it's the sound of a band that will obviously continue to do the same. "Perfect Games" and "Auctioneer" are as catchy as it comes and the gorgeous "Ambuscade" is addictive in its own right. Click here for Aquarium Drunkard's interview with the Broken West from back in September. Played - "Ambuscade"

11. Black Mountain – In the Future : Prog rock takes its knocks, and deservedly so sometimes, for being pompous and overwrought and overlong and, heaven forbid, somewhat hokey. It's a rough genre to take your cues from, but when you do it as well as Black Mountain does on In the Future, you kind of want to give all those albums a second chance. Not that that's the only card being played here - there's a Sabbath-esque crawl, folky psychedelia and even the electric thump of Hendrix. All of this on an album that even manages a hook or two weaving across the frontier. Played - "Wucan"

10. Kathleen Edwards – Asking for Flowers : Sharper. That's the only way to describe the evolution of Kathleen Edwards. Her lyrical precision is much more deft than her debut, Failer, much more clear in its greyscale depictions of the world than Back to Me. Asking for Flowers is not as immediately accessable as her previous attempts - it's more subtle, more ingratiating, and with limitless payoff. Her playful sense of humor shows its tongue as it always does, but the dark moments are darker ("Oh Canada," "Alicia Ross,") and the melancholy deeper ("Run," "Goodnight California"). Skill wise, this is her finest hour to date. Click here for my interview with Kathleen Edwards from back in April for Aquarium Drunkard Played - "I Make the Dough, You Get the Glory"

9. The Hold Steady – Stay Positive : This is ranked lower than Boys and Girls in America, their previous album, was ranked in my list that year. Not that it's a worse record - in fact, Stay Positive is probably every bit its equal in many ways. "Constructive Summer," "Sequestered in Memphis," "Lord, I'm Discouraged," "Slapped Actress." All are testaments to the redeeming, story-telling power of rock and roll, god bless its hoary soul. This is a record for summer, for daunting tasks, for wasted nights and nights wasted. Played - "Constructive Summer"

8. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes : Fleet Foxes were the most unique sounding band to emerge this year - a cross somewhere between the sunny 60s pop of California and the wintery folk of England's trad-folk movement in the 60s and 70s. This fusion works wonders and results in an EP and this LP that created a timeless record. Albums like this are accused of simply mining the past, but there is a reason these albums stand out and last - they have tapped into something universal, something lasting. Played - "Quiet Houses"

7. Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago : The spectre of American music turning in on itself has been all over indie music in the past several years. Bon Iver continues this tradition of introspective looks at the American hymnal. Soft, plaintive and haunting, For Emma, Forever Ago represents something far more than its minimalist parts. It will be interesting to see what he does with his future, but for a debut, this album is just about as flawless as they come. Played - "Re: Stacks"

6. Jim White – Transnormal Skiperoo : Jim White commented that this album represents sort of a new feeling for him – happiness. As much as the album treads in similar notions of insecurity and the beautiful, fractured world, there is truly something magical going on underneath the surface. For me, it was the transcendent "Diamonds to Coal" that summed up this album - simmering with the emotions of White's oeuvre and turning away from the dark past, embracing a brighter future. Ain't no dark 'til somethin' shines - and indeed, this shines. Click here and here for my two-part interview with Jim White from back in May for Aquarium Drunkard.Played - "Diamonds to Coal"

5. Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks – Real Emotional Trash : The burden of longevity – especially if that includes a sting fronting one of the most genre-defining and influential bands of the past 15 years. It was obvious that Stephen Malkmus was trying both to escape the mantle of Pavement and the yolk of being a ‘solo artist’ – thus his insistence (and apparent failure) of titling some of his records under just the ‘Jicks’ moniker. Real Emotional Trash is the first post-Pavement record that truly puts Malkmus’ past to rest. It harnesses the jammier elements of Malkmus without the needlessly messy parts. These songs wander on paths, not fields, and their focused sound gives his lyrics new room to breathe and truly engage. As odd as it sounds to say this, Mr. Malkmus has finally arrived. Played - "Cold Son"

4. The Whigs – Mission Control : It could be that it just doesn’t pay to rock anymore. That truly creative, up-tempo rock and roll ust isn’t in vogue. Return the Whigs, possibly the best power trio circulating in the indie scene at the moment. Their debut was a blast of the liberating rock that indie hadn’t exactly had in spades. Their sophomore efford, Mission Control, is a toughening and diversifying move – creating some of this year’s most raucous music. Laser precision is the key. These are musicians who know their aim is true. Played - "I Never Want to Go Home"

3. Drive-by Truckers – Brighter Than Creation’s Dark : As fascinating as it was to see Drive-by Truckers Mach 3 step up to the plate, it was worrisome. Sure, the band had existed in fine fettle before Jason Isbell’s entry, but the band had put out its finest albums with him as a member. A 19 song, borderline flawless album is hardly what anyone expected. But from "Two Daughters and a Beautiful Wife" to "A Ghost to Most" and the introduction of Shonna Tucker as a writing contributor, this is one of the Truckers’ most thorough albums to date. Every time this band ups the ante, they continue to impress. Click here for my interview with Patterson Hood from back in May for Aquarium Drunkard. Played - "A Ghost to Most"

2. Blitzen Trapper – Furr : So many bands have pulled from the nebulous ‘world music’ stash over the years that it’s refreshing to see people beginning to treat American music the same – as one big palate from which to pull colors. Furr is a hybrid above hybrids – channeling Dylan, the Dead and Pavement, it’s a fusion like little other. That it comes off as honest evolution and not studied homage is its true masterstroke. Click here for my interview with Blitzen Trapper's Eric Earley from back in September for Aquarium Drunkard. Played - "Black River Killer"

1. Portishead – Third : Bands don’t disappear for a decade and return so thrillingly every day. Third sounds as if Portishead was making records the entire time – this isn’t a record that picks up where they left off in 1997. It acts like a fifth or sixth album, not their third. This is the sound of a band who never stopped growing, even if the entire evolution happened off camera. The cinematic scope of Portishead’s music, the oppressive and redemptive paranoia and catharsis, the hazy hope and happiness buried within it all, is as astounding today as it was when they first emerged, seeming fully formed, fourteen years ago. Instead, they trump all aces, all the cards played up until now and change the game into something much larger than the table we all thought it was being played upon. Played - "Silence"

Here are some of the near-misses from the list - albums that were really awesome and deserve honorable mention and that also didn't get any mention on the singles list from last week:

TV on the Radio - Dear Science; Atmosphere - When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint that Shit Gold; Crooked Fingers - Forfeit / Fortune; Cut Copy - In Ghost Colours; Dead Confederate - Wrecking Ball; Destroyer - Trouble in Dreams; Horse Feathers - House with No Home; Okkervil River - The Stand-Ins; Oneida - Preteen Weaponry; Robert Forster - The Evangelist; Silver Jews - Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea; The Breeders - Mountain Battles; All the Saints - Fire in Corridor X; Bombadil - A buzz, a buzz; Dawn Chorus - Florida St. Serenade; Jolie Holland - The Living and the Dead; Langhorne Slim - Langhorne Slim; Le Switch - And now..Le Switch; Liam Finn - I'll Be Lightning; Sera Cahoone - Only as the Day is Long; She & Him - Vol. 1; Sun Kil Moon - April; Susu - Win; the Henry Clay People - For Cheap or For Free; the World Record - The World Record; Travel by Sea - Days of My Escape; White Hinterland - Phylactery Factory; Wye Oak - If Children.

Sorry about the week delay on getting this up. I will be back for a three hour show next Wednesday, December 31st from 6pm - 9pm. I will most likely not podcast next week's show just to make my New Year's eve just a bit easier, so look for the next podcast upload for the Wednesday, January 7th, 2009 show. I'll also post something about my interview with Monkeywhale.com here in the next few days.

Thanks readers and listeners for another fantastic year. After nine and a half years of DJing for WQFS, I'm still as psyched as I was at the beginning to come up and play music every week. Thank you for your comments, emails, requests, good wishes, critical call-outs and everything in between. You are the reason I love doing this so much. Have a Happy Holiday season and a great New Year!

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  • At 12:03 AM, December 30, 2008, Anonymous Sierra Benton said…

    Great End of the Year Show, Mr. Indie/Rock Mayhem! I treated myself to the podcast this evening and was thrilled that your good taste glittered and gleamed throughout the show and you created an end of the year list that makes a hell of a lot more sense than most. I mean really, Paste, She & Him for Album of the Year?! I'd rather listen to cats singing Christmas carols while getting my hair crimped by a monkey, thank you very much. And I must say, I was dismayed at Okkervil River and Silver Jews not making the list but once I listened to The Strugglers and gave The Hold Steady another chance all was forgiven. That being said, I swear on every Fraser Fir needle littering my floor that I don't get the Portishead album. I tried and tried but it just never clicked. Here's to a happy and healthy New Year!


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