1. My Morning Jacket – Evil Urges
This year’s release from MMJ is a bonafide tour de force. The band had begun experimenting with drum machines and interesting sonic textures on Z but on this album they just ran with it and created a truly remarkable artistic achievement. They continued to experiment with drum machines, synthesizers and electronics but they also managed to push every song to its awesomeness-breaking point.
Each song on the album is perfectly composed but they’re never satisfied simply with a well-rounded pop song. They’ll play around with the songs, adding interesting little parts or sections, building the song’s grandiosity as much as they can without ever coming off as pompous. For instance there’s the sort of weird jam bridge at the middle eight point on the title track which comes off as brilliant rather than indulgent simply because it rocks as much as the rest of the song.
Musically the band tries out various different styles, ranging from the cartoonish “Highly Suspicious” to the soaring, gorgeous “Smokin’ From Shootin”. They try their hand at Southern Rock, Prince-style sexiness, hard rock, acoustic ballad, ethereal prog-rock and dance-rock and succeed at each while still never sounding like anything other than themselves.
Lyrically Jim James continues to impress, writing interesting tales of seduction in “Librarian”, musing about life and age in “Two Halves” and just being plain adorable in “Thank You Too”. His durable tenor seemingly has no bounds as he adapts his voice perfectly to each song, cooing, squealing and drawl-ing when necessary.
Evil Urges is a modern masterpiece, fully deserving it’s place alongside others like Ok Computer and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and it is easily my top pick of 2008.
2. TV On The Radio – Dear Science,
TOTR always fucking rock and they’ve been getting better with each release. While Dear Science, isn’t as mysterious and dense as Return to Cookie Mountain its accessibility and stronger pop appeal make the album a different animal, in many ways better than its predecessor. Not only that, but the songs are more consistent and catchier. “Halfway Home”, “Dancing Choose”, “Golden Age”, “Stork And Owl” and (my favorite) “Family Tree” are all among their most incredible songs and the lyrics are stunning.
Dave Sitek’s production is incredible as usual, and while I do miss the lovely noise-murk of Return to Cookie Mountain, the beautiful palette he uses here continues to display the man’s absolute mastery of his craft. In Sitek’s world, the mix of strings, synths, drum machines, electronics, acoustics and vocals all meld to form a strangely beautiful hybrid of technology and humanity.
Combining brilliant compositions with brilliant performance and production, Dear Science, is another great album from one of the best bands around.
3. Beck – Modern Guilt
Beck’s teaming with Dangermouse was a clever one. On Modern Guilt both draw on their love of classic Psyche and 60’s pop and meld it with modern beat-based production to create what a retro-leaning album should sound like.
While Beck’s songwriting and singing are fantastic as usual, it’s Dangermouse’s production that makes this release truly noteworthy. Dangermouse manages to capture that classic 60’s sound in the record’s mix, its bass sounds, its drums sounds and its guitar sounds, yet looking closely, his choice of sound is always perfect. He never picks the sounds of the period that sound dated but rather he managers to attain their classic elements but present them in a way that still sounds contemporary.
Through Beck, Dangermouse managed to create the third best album of ’08, and a great modern psyche record.
4. Deerhunter – Microcastle
Deerhunter finally fulfils their pop potential on Microcastle, their best and most accessible album to date. On it, Bradford Cox and company have created a fantastic neo-shoegaze sound while never skimping on well-written, well-composed pop songs. As usual, Cox’s lyrics detail the most interesting of the weird thoughts in his head regarding sexuality, pain and escape. With an interesting lead personality and a tight band behind him, Deerhunter’s Microcastle is a great album from one of the most exciting bands around.
5. Black Kids – Partie Traumatic
The backlash this album received, particularly from Pitchfork, was absolutely appalling. Black Kids fully delivered on the promise of their Wizard of Ahhhs EP with a great album of wonderful pop tunes wrapped in a dense 80’s-leaning sound indebted greatly to The Cure. Not only were songs like “Hit The Heartbreaks”, “I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You” and “Love Me Already” insanely catchy and sugary sweet but also their lyrics were often witty and charming.
Partie Traumatic is a fantastic debut from a great, young band and one of my favorite releases of the year.