Tag Archives: best albums of 2008

Poll of polls, or, Best of the best-of-2008 album countdowns

A music writer casts his voteConfession: I’ve had some free time lately.

I had to use up the rest of my holiday entitlement before 2008 was out, so I now find myself with nine days of welcome but unproductive home-time in mid-December.

My internet browsing is on the high end of the scale at the busiest of times, so inevitably my modem has been working overtime as I endlessly, inanely surf the web in search of… what?

News, snippets of useless information, Wikipedia facts about minor film actors, the mindnumbing allure of Facebook, the still mystifying appeal of Twitter… and best-of-2008 music polls.

And so I’ve been wondering about year-end polls:

Are they reliable barometers of the very best music created over the past twelve months?

Or…

Are they totally whimsical, subjective, indulgent, show-off lists by various cliques of self-important critics who sneer at mainstream taste?

It’s the latter, of course. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t completely bloody addictive. I have found myself scouring music websites from the other side of the Atlantic desperately seeking out that essential album that somehow escaped my attention.

So to take the poll theme to a whole new level, here’s my poll of the best and worst polls of the year!

The Best

5. Rolling Stone: Props on TV on the Radio, but otherwise a bit tokenistic along the beardy rawk/hip-hop/legends lines. Turned me on to Blitzen Trapper though.

4. Pitchfork Reader’s Poll: Can’t really argue, other than point out its obvious American folksy prejudice.

3. Times: Surprisingly well-informed for a Murdoch rag.

2. Drowned in Sound: Friendly Fires should never be in the top ten, but good to see my #2 choice M83 top a poll.

1. The Skinny: OK, maybe I have to say this, but we really hit the nail on the head again this year, even if my nomination for Late of the Pier unsurprisingly missed the cut! Year of the Rabbit indeed.

The Worst

3. musicOMH: I don’t care how well-intentioned the poll is if they put Elbow at the top.

2. Last FM: Coldplay. Best album of the year? Really?

1. Q magazine: Kings of Leon. Best album of the year? Really?

And is this really the definitive poll of the year, with the top three comprising artists I’ve barely heard of? Surely not!

(I still have a few more days off. Maybe I’ll compile a poll of the best Poles of the year now…)

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Best albums of 2008: TV on the Radio

TV on the Radio - Dear Science,

My other contribution to The Skinny‘s top ten albums of 2008. This made #3 in the collective poll.

The title of TV On The Radio’s third album offers a small insight into the kind of intellectual japes behind their creative process. Dear Science, (the comma is intended, punctuation fans) was the opening gambit of a letter written by guitarist Dave Sitek that he posted on the wall of his Brooklyn studio during recording. It demanded of science itself that it “fix all the things you’re talking about” or shut up. Although playful, it demonstrates the band’s artistic integrity: they may ply their trade on the creative side of the fence, but they’re still looking over to the other side expectantly.

But what of all this talk that TVotR have mellowed since Return to Cookie Mountain? Remnants of that album’s worldly frustration can still be heard on the incendiary Dancing Choose or in the existential numbness of Red Dress:

Hey jackboot, fuck your war / ‘Cause I’m fat and in love And no bombs are fallin’ on me for sure / But I’m scared to death that I’m livin’ a life not worth dyin’ for.”

For the most part Dear Science, loosens the coils of angst and sonic density the band once wound so tight; like Talking Heads before them, TVotR realise that funk stylings don’t necessarily entail dumb fun music. Crying finds Tunde Adebimpe trying on his best Prince falsetto, while Golden Age employs a catchy off-beat guitar hook. This new-found peppiness doesn’t always work – Stork And Owl and Shout Me Out are the only fillers – but this enormously talented quintet have still delivered on the daunting expectation they set themselves in 2006. Dear Indie Rock, you’ve got some catching up to do.

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Best albums of 2008: Fleet Foxes

Fleet Foxes

Last month The Skinny asked us music writers for our annual top ten album choices. I’ll publish my own top ten soon, but in the meantime here’s a reappraisal I wrote for my own nomination for album of the year, Fleet Foxes. (It made #6 in the collective poll.)

Since its June release, Fleet Foxes, by the Seattle band of the same name, has become a coveted artefact in its own right; a tasteful ornament for the discerning music fan’s record shelf, with all its connotations of refined taste and timeless quality. But all the lofty praise and Crosby, Stills and Nash comparisons truly don’t do this record justice. While you buy your own copy and observe the perfectly apt Bruegel scene that graces the cover, let me add yet more needless sycophancy. You place the record on the turntable (a gramophone would be preferable) and drop the needle onto its well-hewn grooves. Red Squirrel, the brief intro track, crackles on like a 1940s field recording from an American religious camp.

There follows the crisp guitars of Sun It Rises and then the defining feature of the Fleet Foxes sound: their glorious three-part vocal harmonies. The next track, White Winter Hymnal, is the keynote example of their pre-pop, pseudo-hymnal songwriting style, while its successor Ragged Wood – at first a straight-up piece of indie – becomes a very different song by its end. Like Midlake’s The Trials of Van Occupanther, lyrically Fleet Foxes really is timeless, pastoral, pre-iPod: were it not for the line ‘I heard that you missed your connecting flight’ in Blue Ridge Mountains it could have been written a century ago. And like Midlake, Fleet Foxes somehow sound better in winter. So when you don your scarf and gloves and head out to the record shop, just be careful not to fall – “and turn the white snow as red as strawberries in the summertime”.

Postscript: One of my friends slagged me off for using the word ‘sycophancy’ in this review. I think it’s a good word, but I would never use it in everyday speech. It would be quite cool to end up in Private Eye’s Pseuds Corner though. What do you think? Is this review too pretentious?

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