Luke McNaney's Best of 2008: Part Two
Quote/unquote: "It's CHRISTMAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAS!" Boo yeah. Happy birthday S.C. And thank you, Noddy Holder. It's been a good run for you guys. And that Jesus fellow, too; how cute is he in that manger, eh?
Enough idle babbling anyhoo. Time for the all-important unveiling of this season's must-have albums. If you ain't got them already, you better hope they're waiting under the tree; alternatively, Zavvi's credit-crunchy meltdown should mean they'll be nice and cheap come Boxing Day. Before gushing over this year's big hitters, it's as traditional as turkey to muse over the possibilities next year brings. I predicted Laura Marling would make an impression this year and, when it comes to 2009, my forecast is similarly oestrogenic. Little Boots may prove to be our very own Lykke Li while The Asteroids Galaxy Tour, fronted by the delectable Mette Lindberg, should expand on the promise of shoulda-been-huge single The Sun Ain't Shining No More. Already though, the year belongs to Florence & the Machine; the titular Ms Welsh has bagged the same newcomer Brit award Adele did last year, only the choice is a bit more radical this time around. Who knew the big suits had it in them to back the most promising UK female act since Bat for Lashes? I am ever so excited.
Guess we'll have to wait and see if my money's safe. I've got a whole year until the aforementioned babes get included in any end-of-year list, so let's focus on the here and now. Make sure your mince pies and sherry are in place, get comfy, and discover who I thought produced this year's best album. Then it's simply a case of simmering with rage until present time in the morning. Yuletide love, folks!
An appearance by Coldplay in any list like this is sure to have as many fans rejoicing as there are naysayers balking at the injustice of the choice. In the case of Viva La Vida... though, the decision is entirely justified. After the soulless X & Y, it was cool and, in many ways, understandable to write Coldplay off. Kudos to Chris Martin then that Violet Hill's proggy dirge was foreboding enough to pique interest all over again; that the album more than lived up to the initial - and obligatory - hype made Coldplay relevant for the first time in five years. Lost's Timbaland-esque beats merited a Jay-Z appearance on the Prospekt's March EP, while the three-part 42 joined Paranoid Android and Biology as one of the great disjointed masterworks of recent times. Their weaknesses were still apparent (Martin's plaintive vocal, the 'big questions' disguised as lyrics) but consciously, and skillfully, reined in enough that they managed to write the title track, a Sigur-Rós-gone-pop string quartet epic revolving around kings, cavalries and revolution. Without hesitation, I would call Viva La Vida... an achievement by any standard.
Best track – 42
Sex bomb Alison Goldfrapp turned part '60s flower child, part Kate Bush spectre for fourth album, Seventh Tree. It was this year's biggest musical U-turn but, in hindsight, one of its most natural. In between the dripping aphrodisiac pleasures of the Black Cherry and Supernature albums was always something more ambient and introspective, while debut Strict Mountain suggests the music of Seventh Tree is where Alison and Will's interests have always lied. While they still managed to do upbeat, albeit in a more summery and less exceptionally sexual approach, on Happiness and Caravan Girl, it was the album's downbeat and often unsettling folk that made it so easy to embrace the lack of anything resembling Strict Machine.
Best track – A & E
This year's most surprising entry and also one of its overlooked gems. In debut Bring Me the Workhorse, My Brightest Diamond's Shara Worden created a trippy pop album that revelled in its left turns and unpredictable flourishes. No doubt fans should have expected something as radical as A Thousand Shark's Teeth from a follow-up. In a world where 'avant garde' is thrown about so much that it could be used to describe something as superfluous as Womanizer, the term genuinely applies here. Daring to mix Trippy samples with orchestral bombast, Worden's operatic vision is guided by her angelic voice, truly one of a kind. Don't be surprised if you don't like it but, believe me, you have to give it a try.
Best track – Inside a Boy
Filling the supermassive black hole that Klaxons left this year, Late of the Pier's fantasy black magic whipped up an album even more bizarre than Myths of the Near Future. Four youths from Castle Donington had their twisted vision shaped by Erol Alkan, frontrunner for the title of 'coolest person on the planet' and helmer of the year's celebrated comebacks by both Mystery Jets and The Long Blondes. The result was a Numan-meets-Flash! retro/futuristic journey to the stars and back with only a bag of ketamine for company. The tribal cyberfunk of The Bears Are Coming, with its visually arresting video, was one of the strangest singles of the year but should have been prescribed listening for anyone with a pulse. Although nothing on the album matched it, the wealth of ideas were only matched by BPM, making tracks like Heartbeat and Bathroom Gurgle the most arresting thing to happen to popular dance music since Justice. Easily the band I'm most looking forward to seeing live next year.
Best track – The Bears Are Coming
Whether her hiatus from punk cabaret duo Dresden Dolls is indefinite or not has yet to be confirmed but, on the basis of Who Killed..., I'm just happy Amanda Palmer is making music at all. Produced by Ben Folds, who also wowed this year with his piano-pop return Way To Normal, Palmer's debut solo album is evidence that, while she may be an unconventional pop princess, she doesn't need to rely on shock tactics to score the win (hey there, Katy Perry!). Ballads like Astronaut, Ampersand and The Point of It All were lush masterclasses in storytelling and resonance, taking the Dolls' softer moments to a new place. When you've got a song called Guitar Hero to your name though, it's clear your arsenal is varied. What made this record so appealing were the new idiosyncrasies; sure, the lyrics still stung and, on the upbeat tracks, the drums (albeit not Brian Viglione's) were still there but the employment of horn sections, string sections, choirs, spoken monologues and guest vocalists ensured there was a lot to get excited about. In a musical landscape where the physical CD release is a dying format, Palmer also showed she could do original in the way her album was released, offering multiple releases that threw in goodies like books, free downloads and T-shirts. Long live Amanda!
Best track – Leeds United
Cherished by many this year, Seattle debutantes Fleet Foxes' record was the little album that could - and did, receiving Jo Whiley playlisting next to Basshunter and everything. Bands made up solely of bearded blokes wearing lumberjack shirts should always set off those alarm bells in your head; that's why it was such a pleasant surprise when the majestic White Winter Hymnal came to our attention. The song had that 'Beach Boys harmonising in a desolate hilltop church back in ye olde Medieval Englande' vibe you don't, erm, hear much these days. Thankfully, it was no fluke. Seeing them play live to a packed out crowd by the seaside - and on the same night as Beach House, no less - was a victory for them, us and the quality Bella Union label combined.
Best track – White Winter Hymnal
Torrini's debut was littered with eccentric pop, but second offering Fisherman's Woman saw her directing her efforts into creating a fragile and chilled-out folk. It was a pleasing return but so committed to achieving a singular sound that nothing could have prepared us for this. Creating buzz for the album with its title track, a stab at Smile-style pop reggae written under the influence of whiskey, Torrini's chameleonic ways surprised once again. Whacked-out pop songs (Jungle Drum, Dead Duck) shared disc space with the Nick Drake-inspired folk of yesteryear (Birds), where musical progression was expected and pleasingly evident. The diverse styles were all held together by Torrini's soft but versatile - check out the thinly veiled vitriol on Ha Ha - vocals. However, the primary reason she is pop's premier lady this year is because, nestled in the back end where most albums tend to fizzle out, are two of 2008's greatest songs. The simply stunning Beggar's Prayer is the only song that had me (big burly man that I am, GRR) close to shedding a tear; I defy anyone not to get the shivers when the humming vocal section kicks in two-thirds of the way in. It is the remarkable Gun though, a raw murder story that builds muscularly towards its electric finish, that really marks her out as Iceland's most vital female export since Björk.
Best track – Gun
2008's bronze medalists are the best rockin' and a-rollin' band to come out of America this decade. When he wasn't making Bond themes with pretty ladies, the ever-prolific Jack White was doing what he does best; it doesn't seem to matter who, on any given day, he might be doing that with. Debut Broken Boy Soldiers was a zippy introduction to 'side project' (pah!) The Raconteurs but Consolers had the self-confidence of four friends who knew they were shit hot and had no-one to answer to. Incorporating fiddly bluegrass (Old Enough), horny soul (Many Shades of Black) and short-breathed rock-outs (Salute Your Solution), the album still managed to find room for White's bluesy inflections. To top it off, Benson never sounded better, their live show was electric, and Carolina Drama did what all album swansongs should do and left the listener gobsmacked.
Best track - Consoler of the Lonely
This year's runner-up is also its best live band. Sigur Rós, eternally synonymous with polar bears thanks to the BBC, shed their reputation as creators of epic, ethereal soundscapes on fifth album Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust. Don't get me wrong, there are still huge orchestral soundtracks-in-waiting - surely, Ára bátur, with its 67-piece orchestra and boys choir, is their boldest creation yet. However, while the Takk-esque moments were undeniably effective, it was the newfound sense of playfulness that made this irresistible. The Icelandic four-piece talked up first single Gobbledigook as their stab at a Eurovision song, only Terry Wogan would have nothing snarky to say about this gloriously uplifting handclaps bonanza. Other tracks aimed for the same celebratory feel without sacrificing the interesting instrumentation they are known for, making their sound more inviting and, considering one song is entitled Festival, summery. Oh, and if I haven't stressed it enough already, seeing them in November provided me with a live experience so unique and life-affirming that only shows by Daft Punk and Tori Amos could hope to compete.
Best track – Ára Bátur
Drum roll please! Or should that be a harsh assault of electronic snare and kick drum? After all, that's what greeted us upon Portishead's return in 2008. Machine Gun was challenging, confrontational and unforgiving. It was get-on-or-get-off time for fans who had been waiting an entire decade for album number three from Beth Gibbons and her cohorts. As someone who was into Spice Girls first time round, I gladly got the fuck on and enjoyed every sinister and scary second. Radiohead fans wept; sure, In Rainbows is solid but it offered nothing as progressive as this. The production was untouchable. The sounds were cold but entrancing. The voice (y'know, Gibbons) was you in your darkest hour. And yet Third was so easy to love, with its propulsive rhythms and, shhhhhhhh, stealthy danceability. It's hard to describe tracks like Nylon Smile and Hunter, such is their wonderful weirdness, but listen to The Rip if you think 'pioneering' can't result in an immensively moving song. Truly essential.
Best track - We Carry On
Last updated: 18/04/2018 21:17:49