Luke McNaney's Best of 2008: Part One
Let me start the party with a disclaimer: in no way is this list definitive. I like to think I'm the kinda guy who is so enamoured with music that he puts 100% effort and dedication into hunting down must-hear music immediately upon release but, the truth is, I can be well lazy. And, y'know, poor. Long-players I'm assured I will love (TV On the Radio, Bon Iver) have somehow escaped purchase, while albums in my possession by Bloc Party, Duke Special and Death Cab for Cutie are yet to be listened to. Thankfully, I hear Santa is bringing me unheard goodies in the form of records by Joan as a Policewoman and The Killers (oi, don't laugh) so I can hear a couple more of this year's efforts before the curtains close upon it. Needless to say, this first part - and the upcoming second, with you at the stroke of midnight as it is after all an event on par with the baby J's birth - will be based around those albums I have actually heard.
What of those that didn't make the cut? As ever, despite constant whingeing that kidz today don't got the goods, there are so many great albums that have missed out. Pop was in a good state with Ladyhawke and Girls Aloud on the front line, while further feminine magic was conjured by the ever-reliable Jenny Lewis and Cat Power. While the full album struggled to maintain momentum, The Last Shadow Puppets should be commended on giving it a go and giving it a go with style. Let's not forget the malevolent techno presented to us by Presets' Apocalypto album, and the fab job producer Bernard Butler did with Sons & Daughters' album before he tried his luck with Duffy. UK starlets Estelle and Adele cracked America, and in return we got big records by newbies MGMT and old-hats Kings of Leon. The former had crazy-good singles but spoiled it with too much noodling, while KOL aimed for the stadiums and lost more of what made Aha Shake Heartbreak so brilliant; still, Sex is on Fire was the single of the year. Or was it? He may have had a patchy album (understatement) but Sam Sparro created lightning in a bottle with Black and Gold. As did Santogold with L.E.S Artistes. Pretty good year, no?
Should this be the part where I mention I am yet to hear The Seldom Seen Kid? I'm gonna go run and hide so, yeah, enjoy!
The boys have certainly done good this year, with fresh homegrown talent like Lightspeed Champion and Eugene McGuinness impressing as much as ambitious returns from Beck and Ray LaMontagne. Still, Sia is merely the first female soloist to chart in a list as female-friendly as last year's. Some listeners (even some contributors to this site) may take issue with the Aussie's distinct vocal drawl but, heck, hand over the Marmite jar and a spoon and call me won over. Released in early January, Some People... was a promising start to the year and showed Simon Cowell how it should really be done. The shiny sheen afforded songs like Day Too Soon and Death By Chocolate failed to muffle an underlying charm and soul, while the impish Playground and Buttons were the audio equivalent of the album's cartoon artwork. If yer mam's not satisfied, stick on You Have Been Loved or Pretenders' cover I Go To Sleep for some first-class belting. Beat that, Leona.
Best track – Playground
First, they appeared in a self-indulgent promo for smug teen drama Skins. Shortly after that, frontman Yannis (aided by his stupid, stupid hair) made a mug of himself on ...Buzzcocks without any help from Simon Amstell. I was prepared to hate Foals from the get-go. Trust the clever bastards to follow up Balloons, itself an odd mix of shouty chants, battering drums and stinging guitar jabs, with behemoth Cassius. Did it matter that a) the lyrics were nonsensical, and b) it one-handedly kickstarted indie music's revival of the saxophone? My Friday nights certainly didn't seem to care, paying no mind to the silly 'math rock' tag and embracing Antidotes' precision, riffs and ideas with as much fervour as those sweaty teens in Skins. You gotta have faith, 'spose.
Best track – Big Big Love (Fig. 2)
While the fabulously titled I Know You're Married... was not the instant classic Martha delivered with her self-titled debut, it did reveal its abundant charms over repeated listens. There's still nothing to rival Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole (now, I would have paid good money for Alexandra Burke to cover that for her Yuletide number one) but the poppier slant of You Cheated Me and Comin' Tonight gifted us with choruses that grabbed and wouldn't let go. She took a big risk by taking her trademark confessional writing to the next level, and yet there was never really any danger of alienating fans considering the lyrics were always going to be entrusted to that powerful voice. It's given free reign on the twisting and twisted Tower, a song that breaks away from personal heartbreak to consider wordly concerns just as, well, heartbreaking. Tear-stained then, but remember she fitted in her first 'proper' love song in the form of Niger River; this, coupled with the uplifting chord changes of Jimi's big finish, pervades the album with a sense of hope above all.
Best track – You Cheated Me
Friends may have written it off as 'Little Mermaid soundtrack music' but Vampire Weekend were the sound of my summer regardless. The coolest band of lads to come out of NYC since The Strokes, they managed a feat which is seemingly impossible for UK indie bands of late: creating an album that wass experimental, shot through as it is with African backbeats and classical flourishes, but ten times as fun. By namechecking a certain hero on Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa, this preppy bunch weren't exactly hiding their Graceland influences but the infectious quality to songs like One (was I the only one chanting 'Blake's got a new face!' to randomers after a few too many at the discothèque?) made their choices valid. Hopefully, the fun has just begun.
Best track – Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa
When an actor decides to share their musical talent (ahem) with the world, vanity is most likely the primary motivation. However, you get the feeling that kooky indie actress Zooey Deschanel's love of music is the driving force behind her partnership with go-to guy M. Ward, collaborator with Jenny Lewis, Bright Eyes, Cat Power and many more. Receiving its UK release this year, Volume One featured sentimental - but never sickly - love songs that recalled the warmth of early analog recordings. Duffy may have been bang on the money in '08 but Deschanel's voice, a balancing act between Ronnie Spector and Dusty, lent the album a charm that made this one of the most joyous and unpretentious albums of the year.
Best track – I Was Made For You
The youngest female in this year's list also happens to be the creator of its most world-weary album. It's baffling that, still residing in her teens, pixie-featured Laura could have lived through the anguish resulting in songs as personal as My Manic and I, and yet the end result is as mesmerising as it is uneasy. Overall, the mood was morose but Ghosts and Cross Your Fingers showcased her ear for a catchy pop melody. Despite this, I'd wager it was Marling's startling vocal, which imbues Night Terror with its scary intensity, that caught the attention of Mercury judges and her growing legion of fans.
Best track – Night Terror
In a world of reality show 'talent' and corporate Jonas Brothers blandness, it's easy to hold the opinion that our generation is devoid of truly great and potentially iconic pop stars. If that sounds like you, I urge you to look up Pop Levi. In the great tradition of Thriller, Levi's second album features great pop song after great pop song. Building on the promise of debut Return to Form Black Magick Party, his adventurous approach to twisting obvious influences into future-pop grooves was expanded to make room for spiky, minimalist R'n'B (the title track) and, inevitably, a crossover track that was flogged to death by a mobile phone ad (Dita Dimone). The fact that the charisma never lets up once is surely enough to propel you into buying tickets for his impressive live show.
Best track – Love You Straight
Ready for the Floor, for all intents and purposes Over and Over, Pt. II, suggested everyone's favourite geeks were aiming square for the dancefloor where The Warning had previously shimmied over and snogged our faces off. True to form though, the quintet defied expectation by slowing down their Prince influence and delivering an album of sincere ballads that, like the the title track, were largely gimmick-free. That didn't stop them pulling out all the production trickery they could muster on the likes of Shake a Fist, which eclipsed both Over and Over and Ready for the Floor five times over, and the glitchy R'n'B of Wrestlers, which managed to turn preposterously funny lyrics into something strange and beautiful.
Best track - Shake a Fist
Surely they're putting something in the water - or should that be fizzy drinks - over in Sweden? Robyn, Alphabeat, Those Dancing Days - the delay between perfect three minute pop songs was so minimal that the unprepared UK brain was in danger of collapsing under so many heavyweight hooks. Lykke Li showed no mercy. She posed a more peculiar pop star template, coming to our attention with the year's sexiest song A Little Bit and expanding on that song's promise by being a little bit demure, a little bit funny and, as anyone who's seen her live will attest, a lot fucking mental. The gorgeous Time Flies could have been her way in to our isles' ballad-heavy Top 40 but she decided to instead unleash an arsenal of ingenious curios such as I'm Good, I'm Gone, Breaking It Up and Dance, Dance, Dance. Fear not, the handclap is in safe hands with this one.
Best track – Breaking It Up
This time last year, Baltimore duo Beach House were awarded a spot in my 2007 list. Upon hearing their second offering Devotion back in February, I was still so enamoured by their debut that it took me some time to fall completely head over heels once again. It's a testament to their skill as songwriters that Victoria and Alex's dreamy waltzes and lo-fi love songs slowly burnt their way into the heart. Their sound most readily evokes the dark nights of autumn but, every time I hear Gilda and Heart of Chambers, I'm transported back to the summer and wonderful nights spent on Brighton beach. It helps that they're lovely and gracious in person, too. Simply magical.
Best track - Heart of Chambers
Last updated: 18/04/2018 21:17:52