Friday, December 19, 2008

Best of 2008: Music

It's nearing the end of the year (less than two weeks now!) and so it's about time I put some year-end lists together. I love making lists, editing lists, agonising over list-placings, and so forth. This installment is all about MUSIC, and believe me, I agonised over this particular list, switching my top three albums so restlessly that I became a Caravan Girl, ate myself, exploded in a bout of Happiness, and was eventually rushed to A & E. Yet Seventh Tree still didn't top my list. Hmm ... At the risk of sounding like an Alexander Payne speech, music albums evolve in your mind over time. It's totally about longevity... and about making a fifty-minute CD that's a compact bundle of joy that you wouldn't dare remove a song from. I'm sure it ain't easy but these albums (largely) achieve something special.

I've amended last year's list to include albums which I hadn't heard by December, which included M.I.A's masterpiece Kala, Arcade Fire's meditative Neon Bible, and the runaway best album of the year, Roisin Murphy's dance classic, Overpowered. Last year's number one, Girl's Aloud's Tangled Up is now at number five, though I admittedly still listen to a few of the songs on it. The lasting ones: Damn, What You Crying For?, and the still-sublime Call the Shots. It pales in comparison to their amazing effort this year, but there's so much competition (such is the amount of decent music in 2008) that I had a major dilemna tweaking the upper rankings.

As for the singles, well, I've strayed away from the songs released from albums in the 2007 edition, since it's not really championing new music. Instead, it's pretty much the twenty-five (no, I couldn't get the list any smaller) tunes that play with my emotions the most -- whether it be plucking away at my delicate strings or urging me to dance wildly and make a complete fool of myself. They're both of equal worth, right?

Albums of 2008

10. Black Kids - Partie Traumatic

For a start, I love the three singles the Black Kids released this year -- two of which are in my singles list and the other, Look At Me (When I Rock Wichoo) a close omission. This band stands out from all those boring indie bands that are around at the moment, mixing it up musically and crucially bringing the fun factor to an exhausted (of late) style of music.

9. Alphabeat - This Is Alphabeat

I can't stand Rubber Boots either, but if you take that away this is a solid, excellent pop album, filled with plenty of cheese and tons of bite. Go-Go is a favourite (why didn't they release that?!), as well as the addictive Boyfriend. I think they hail from Denmark (or Norway?) so together with Robyn they're really spicing up the Scandinavian pop scene.

8. Burial - Untrue

The Mercury Music Prize can be very pretentious at times, but at the end of the day it does what it says on the tin. I had never heard of Burial, nor Rachel Unthank, and I certainly wouldn't have known about the wonder of Laura Marling. Burial is a mysterious man (Jo Whiley joked that there are only two known photos of him), but whatever his Pimpernel-esque status he crafts an album full of unique sounds that conjure up stark imagery and feel atmospherically dense.

7. Kleerup - Kleerup

Robyn wasn't wholly responsible for last year's incredible With Every Heartbeat, you know? Kleerup featured on it and have now released their own album, showcasing collaborations with Marit Bergman, Neneh Cherry, and fresh-faced Lykke Li herself, who you'll be seeing quite a bit of in the course of this post. It's not the most innovative or intense dance track you've ever heard, but it'll get you revved up no problem.

6. Grace Jones - Hurricane

I totally jumped on the Grace Jones bandwagon this year. I was only a baby when she released her previous album so it ain't shock of the century that I wasn't so familiar with the woman (past Slave to the Rhythm), but trust me, I feel suitably enlightened right now. Hurricane is a little gem; political, generous, epic, mammoth, and most importantly always true to itself. This Is opens the record as unapologetically as any number of novels have done in the past. A major comeback.

5. Will Young - Let It Go

I surprise myself. Not that I don't like Will Young, don't get me wrong. Hell, I voted four times for him when he won Pop Idol. I've paid for his career! But, fine as his songs have been lately (and I usually like the singles he releases) he doesn't do much for me from a musical standpoint. Being honest, there isn't much to get excited about in that way on Let It Go either, but lyrically this album is filled with such grief, pain, and the tumultuous nature of being in love with someone. It's so honest, and as such his voice is as lingering as his words. A good chunk of the album is superb.

4. Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend

Vampire Weekend's music feels so nonchalant... almost like somebody's died and you haven't noticed. But it's amazing that they can make this feel a) captivating, and b) strangely uplifting, even when you haven't got a clue why they're going on about Oxford Uni or Peter Gabriel. It's an absoloute delight, and something that stands out as original without having any entrenched gimmicks or personalities.

3. Goldfrapp - Seventh Tree

Oh, is it really number three? :'( .. I can see myself switching this top three in my head as the year's pass, since they seem to interchange in my CD player like an unrelenting pinwheel. I can say Seventh Tree is a marvel; it's majestic, gorgeous, and yet precocious and shy, spirited, wallowing. It's a paradox. How can listening to songs that proclaim love as "the folly" and have lines so negative as "you don't love me" be so gratuitous? And every song seems to build up and up... from the soaring end of Little Bird (my favourite part of the album) to the emotional breakdown in Eat Yourself and the dramatic end to A & E. What makes it number three (and this is a pretty technically perfect record) is because it feels more modest. I daren't say the word "slight". I maybe feel less generous towards the subtle than the daring, which is to a degree a reversal of my feelings towards Acting. To use an Oscar analogy (why not?) this is the inhibited Catalina Sandino Moreno to the consuming Annette Bening at #2, and the angst-ridden Imelda Staunton at #1.

2. Girls Aloud - Out of Control

I think this says it all.

1. Lykke Li - Youth Novels

It's great to be young. Very few responsibilities... good skin... you can have sex with whoever you want and not fall under an anvil of judgement. Lykke Li is just 22. You can tell this through the subjects she paruses in Youth Novels, the young love in Little Bit, where she sings about being under that familiar spell of only wanting to give an inch of yourself in fear of getting hurt, only to end up declaring yourself as no more than a possession. The line "And for you I keep my legs apart, and forget about my tainted heart" rings true also. Dance, Dance, Dance is about having fun and forgetting your troubles, Let It Fall is an all-out love fest, as she sings "And I love the way tears hit my face". But the music and lyrics often feel really mature in this way, and it's interspersed with such touching moments of sadness, heartbreak and alarming self-doubt. Everybody But Me is particularly self-critical. But what caps the album off are the volatile, aggressive tunes, like I'm Good I'm Gone and the life-changing Breaking It Up, which really encompass what this album is all about: being young, naive, impetuous, ready to blow, but having the absoloute time of your life.

Singles of 2008

1. Black Kids - I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You
2. Kings of Leon - Sex on Fire
3. Lykke Li - Little Bit
4. Janelle Monae - Many Moons
5. Vampire Weekend - A-Punk
6. MGMT - Time To Pretend
7. Laura Marling - Night Terror
8. Pendulum - Propane Nightmares
9. Lykke Li - Breaking It Up
10. Grace Jones - Williams' Blood
11. Jordin Sparks feat. Chris Brown - No Air
12. Girls Aloud - The Promise
13. Goldfrapp - A & E
14. Kylie Minogue - The One (Freemasons Vocal Mix)
15. CSS - Left Behind
16. Kleerup feat. Marit Bergman - 3AM
17. Leona Lewis - Forgive Me
18. Estelle feat. Kanye West - American Boy
19. Burial - Ghost Hardware
20. The Saturdays - Up
21. Alphabeat - Boyfriend
22. The Pussycat Dolls - When I Grow Up
23. Duffy - Rockferry
24. Black Kids - Hurricane Jane
25. Santogold - L.E.S. Artistes

Here's to an amazing year of music in 2009. *Clink" *Clink* *giggle*


Dave said...

I have to say, I didn't like the Black Kids album at all. It totally washed over me. But each to their own. (Can't say I love the Goldfrapp either, but since they did Black Cherry AND Supernature I'll give them a pass.)

Alphabeat are from Denmark; and sadly, they've apparently been dropped by their British label. Why, when their 2nd/3rd singles did far better than Cilmi or Sparro's did, I don't know. I hope they get a new deal.

Love the Vampire Weekend mention, as well as the Laura Marling inclusion. What did you think of her album?

I should really check out Burial's album (although I thought it was 2007?). I got Ghost Hardware as a free download and I love that, so...

Cal said...

How can you not love Seventh Tree? Bitch.

Devastating news about Alphabeat. What are they playing at? "Fascination" was a hit but, yeah, I thought the other two did alright. Weirdddd.

I've heard most of the Marling album and liked it, but wasn't blown away. Night Terror is just so haunting though. I can't believe she's so young.

You should get the Burial album, and :-O ... you're right, it's late 2007. Oops! I didn't even listen to it until November this year, which is like 12 months after its release. Lol.

What do ya think of the singles list?

Dave said...

Meh. :p

I know, Marling's age is just scary. The album grew on me, so I'd recommend another listen.

The list has a lot of good stuff, but I'm afraid it's all in the wrong order. :p (And I still don't 'get' L.E.S. Artistes. Why the adoration? It's one of her weakest.)