Ian Sandwell's Best of 2008

Seeing as I’ve been quite frankly rubbish with the timing of my 2008 perspective, I figured I should give more back in return. Therefore not only will you get the insight into my favourite albums of the year, but also my favourite singles and gigs of the year. Aren’t I good to you?

To start off with however, I’ve decided to name and shame one of 2008’s supposedly ‘best albums’ and mark it as my biggest musical disappointment of the year. That album is…

Kings Of Leon - Only By The Night

Anyone who says that Kings Of Leon’s Only By The Night is the band’s best ever album deserves to be shot. OK maybe not shot but at least forced to listen to the pure raw genius that is Youth And Young Manhood, and then given a minor beating for ever uttering that Only By The Night rules all. Seeing the band go from creating rock classics such as Molly’s Chambers and Red Morning Light to creating sub-par Snow Patrol-esque tracks like Use Somebody (it’s there in the intro, listen to it again after reading this and you’ll agree) is the biggest disappointment for me rather than the actual standard of the album. I hate being too ‘indie’ but, quite frankly, Kings Of Leon have sold out big time by creating the stadium and money-friendly piece of pap that is Only By The Night.

Favourite Singles of 2008

And so after getting that negative rant off my chest, it’s on to my favourite singles of the year and at number five…

5. The Subways – I Won’t Let You Down

The single that best defined the harder rock edge that The Subways had developed ever since their three year hiatus, and without doubt 2008’s most brutally honest track. Even a corpse would head bang to the chorus.

4. Bookhouse Boys – I Can’t Help Myself

Not only did it enlighten me to the best new band of 2008, but the track itself is a 3 minute powerhouse of mariachi brass and unadulterated rock music. A joy to listen to and remarkably manages to stay fresh with each listen.

3. Noah And The Whale – Five Years Time

This is as close to a perfect pop single as you could get, with its ridiculously catchy chorus and unrelentingly happy instrumental right down to the whistling. It should be annoying and yet it works so well.

2. MGMT – Kids

MGMT are very much a singles band for me and that’s no bad thing when they are able to create such corking dance floor tracks as Kids. Equipped with some fantastic synth riffs, it’s guaranteed to get even the staunchest music critic dancing along.

1. Biffy Clyro – Mountains

So this may well be a bold decision but I love this single so much that it just had to be number one. Like all good singles it brings back fun memories, in particular of a Summer trip to Clacton and one friend mentioning its similarities to a certain R Kelly track. OK it could be argued that Biffy Clyro have followed the same blatant mainstream formula as Kings Of Leon, but they’ve done while remaining quintessentially Biffy. It’s powerful. It’s catchy. It’s brilliant.

Honourable mentions in this category go to the MGMT’s Electric Feel, Calvin Harris and Dizzee Rascal’s Dance Wiv Me, Black KidsI’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You and finally Mystery Jets wonderful 80s-esque Two Doors Down. Much like with Kings Of Leon’s album, anyone who mentions Katy Perry’s I Kissed A Girl as a single of the year deserves to be shot.

Favourite Albums of 2008

The one decision I had to make when deciding my favourite albums was what to base it on and I settled on an album’s replay-ability (not a word but it works). This immediately ruled out albums such as Glasvegas’ self-titled debut and Natty’s Man Like I which even though I rate them both highly; I’ve just rarely re-visited them since the initial listens. The following top five probably wouldn’t feature on most critics’ best of 2008 lists, but then again, I have always liked to be different.

5. Fall Out Boy – Folie A Deux

Never did I think that I’d ever include a FOB album on a favourite albums list, but with Folie A Deux, they have crafted a wonderfully OTT pop rock album. Pete Wentz’s song writing ability has improved dramatically, and it pains me to say that as I generally think he’s a twat. It’s as though the band have finally realised how terribly serious the whole genre of emo pop has become and they have rebelled and created an extremely fun album to listen to. Wish they’d get rid of the rubbish song titles though.

4. The Bronx – The Bronx III

I’ve waxed lyrically about this album on this very site so I’ll keep it short and simple. It’s loud. It’s unrelenting. It’s an astonishing album.

3. Noah And The Whale – Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down

While Five Years Time may have been a massive hit for the band, it’s no indication of the musical genius that is evident on their debut album. The band are capable of so much more than just creating a barnstormer of a pop track, and it is that variety that makes this album such a delight to listen to. It’s certainly does not have the same kind of instant impact as The Bronx’s album does, but persevere with it and you’ll discover 2008’s best debut album.

2. Mystery Jets – Twenty One

After a break of three years, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Mystery Jets had given up after their patchy but exciting debut album Making Dens. However they returned with a synth-filled bang this year with Twenty One, an album filled with enough ideas to create ten more. The band have never been afraid to be different, just listen to the utter insanity of Zoo Time from their debut album, and they manage to retain their quirkiness while also crafting songs that can be appreciated by anyone with a heartbeat. And who couldn’t fall in love with an album that is bold enough to have a saxophone solo?!

1. The Subways – All Or Nothing

This will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me, but The Subways follow up to their 2005 debut album has been way out in front of the field ever since I first listened to its crunching riffs. The album showcases the band’s growing maturity in both Billy’s song writing and the band’s ability to craft a top quality rock song. My favourite thing about this album is the way that even though most tracks follow the same kind of formula, each track manages to sound fresh, exciting and, most important of all, catchy. It’s quite simply a brilliant album and one I never thought the band would be capable of when I first heard their debut in 2005.

Favourite Gigs of 2008

For me, the live performance is the single most important thing for a band. You may be able to create an album of sheer genius but I would never fully love a band that couldn’t recreate that live and give something a bit extra. That may be considered harsh by some, but I just have high standards. The following five gigs were chosen either based on the band’s performance or the enjoyment of the gig and in most, those two standards came hand in hand.

5. We Are Scientists – Soho Revue Bar – 22nd February

This is definitely one gig in the list for pure enjoyment as I don’t think I’ve laughed so much at a gig and probably never will again. The intimate setting allowed lead singer Keith and bassist Chris to interact and banter with the crowd incessantly from the benefits of a McDonalds breakfast to the advantages of different mobile phone networks. Witnessing an acoustic We Are Scientists set was also pretty special but it was the laughs that made the night so memorable.

4. Cage The Elephant – Scala – 18th November

If you can guarantee one thing from a Cage The Elephant gig then it would be that you’d witness a band enjoying what they do and giving it their all on stage. This night at the Scala was no different with it culminating in Matt Schulz crowd surfing to the back of the venue and then jumping into the baying fans from the top of the sound stage during a frenetic encore. No one should go to a Cage gig expecting a flawless performance as they are rarely ever better than just a shambles on stage, but no one can fault the energy and excitement that witnessing them live creates.

3. Blondie – Latitude Festival – 20th July

OK, so perhaps not a gig given that I didn’t specifically pay to see the band, but I couldn’t ignore what was one of 2008’s greatest live surprises for me. I never expected Blondie to be great, just went to see them at the Uncut stage to say that I’d seen Blondie, but they just blew me away. I’ve reviewed it in bigger depth in my Latitude review, so I’ll just conclude by saying that Blondie are one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen. A bold statement perhaps, but one I fully believe in.

2. The Wombats – Royal Albert Hall – 23rd May

Now I know The Wombats are clearly not liked by everyone but who couldn’t respect them having the cohones to tackle the most prestigious of venues with a full blown orchestra as backing instrumental? Their music is not the kind you’d expect to hear within the Royal Albert Hall and yet they pulled it off with so much confidence that it seemed as though they had played there every week. A brilliant live performance and experience if just for the look of sheer horror on the Royal Albert Hall’s staff as 1,000 indie fans started to stand on the chairs and jump around at the request of lead singer Murph.

1. The Subways – Harlow Square – 20th December

A band that hasn’t forgotten their roots is a rare one in today’s music industry, but that is exactly what The Subways did when they returned in December to the tiny 200 capacity venue that gave them their first gigs. I had already seen The Subways three times prior to this gig and while they certainly had performed better musically at Brixton than at the Square, the sheer intensity of the gig within the small surroundings made this my favourite gig of the year. It incorporated everything that a gig should be in my opinion from the mass sing alongs to the band’s biggest hits to the band’s interaction with the crowd throughout the set. It all ended with Billy scaling the Square’s rigging and falling into the crowd and crowd surf to the top level only to jump straight back in. It summed up the entire gig. Carnage, but beautiful carnage.

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