Let's face it, 2008 hasn't been a great year for popular music. Whilst sales don't equate to great music, compiling this list we found little of merit with a platinum/gold/silver disc to its name. After years of bands from 'our world' breaking through (Arctic Monkeys, Franz, Outkast, Strokes, Bloc Party, Gnarls, Arcade Fire, etc...), it was a stark but healthy reminder just how clogged up the current mainstream is with the derivative and the unexceptional. We made a rather gargantuan list and tripled checked it but there was no undeniably brilliant pop to be found, bar singular glory for MGMT and Vampire Weekend, both of whom managed to credibly crawl out of nowhere and turned the world of TV-friendly pop on its chubby head for a moment or two. Perhaps these past few years the notion of what it means to be a succesful underground act from'our world' has been elevated somehwhat by the achievements of the Artic Monkeys etc. 2008 saw the independently-minded likes of Foals, Santogold and Friendly Fires also gain some footing on the crossover ladder and make a notable splash in the mainstream
What we did notice, especially when we went peaking at other publications' year-end lists, was the music business and mainstream media's continued obsession with new-new-NEW (doesn't seem to matter if it's all-that) which has led to a cul-de-sac overflowing with throwaway and less-than-great new music. Many end o' year lists are riddled with beardies who, sitting atop greying dinosaurs, strut off into the horizon, too rich, stubborn and/or boring-in-the-first-place to have made an exceptional album, despite the huge amounts of money and time at their disposal.
For the sake of balance, 2008 slung its saddle on unhealthily young shoulders. Development (read also: co-writes) have ensured 'credible' hit singles to keep radio execs and shareholders happy(ish), whilst the full-lengths paled in comparison, with influences and reference points clunkily clanging all over the place. The result of this short-sighted buzz-chasing has left little in the way of phenomena, nor music which will involve, inspire and excite those without the time to investigate and explore. A lot of great records have been overshadowed or in many cases overlooked in favour of some demo-waving drama school rejects or half-arsed side-projects, which is a sad and sorry state of affairs for an industry desperately seeking 'something'.
However, it would be impossible to say that 2008 has been a terrible year for music. Inventive, life-affirming and more-likely-than-not independently released music has had a triumphant twelve months, following years of technology helping expand the tastebuds of a generation. Combine that rich palette of musical understanding with an unending enthusiasm fed by the web and you soon realise that 2008 was less about them big everyone-has-a-pub-stool-opinion-on-'em records or mass moments of historical hysteria but more about the need for the inclination and ability to rummage in the very depths of every niche, to find your own personal favourites. When compiling this list, it was fascinating to spot how the internet - this ultra-modern mongrel of love and exploration - has helped many of these acts to find their audience via mediums which didn't exist in the previous decade (and in some cases weren't even in beta technologies three years ago).
We decree that 2008 belonged to the lone, computer-toting musician and a few good (guitar-wielding) people. It may not have been as much about era-defining renegades of potent pop as years gone by but rejoice, safe in the knowledge that the promised land, with its never-ending maze of great music to discover, explore, share and cherish, is here. It's ours and for as long as we respect and remunerate it in some form, it will live on.
So, without further ado, here are our top fifty albums. These are the records which we (writers and regular readers alike, which were triangulated by the site's editor) spent the last twelve months lost within. These are the albums we found ourselves coming back to again and again ... These are Drowned in Sound's 50 albums of 2008.
Growing up in the '80s makes nostalgia an incredibly complex and muddled minefield. Our 'back in the day' culture, from The Jetsons and Gameboys to Quantum Leap, lurched into the future that we now find ourselves living in. Whereas many of the comfort-food records which have resonated with the masses in recent times took influence from the fifties, sixties and seventies, Anthony Gonzalez (aka M83) has somehow managed to perfectly re-soundtrack the '80s, whilst also capturing the essence of 'now'.
Every time I've tried to explain this album, I've found myself scribbling pretentious notes about it being "not unlike treading water and time-travel (with lush synths)" but that's because writing about any truly great record is like trying to pin a pot of gold on a rainbow. Time and time again, Saturdays=Youth has had me diving into Baudrillard desperately trying to find the neat 'ization or string of words to make sense of this; a puzzle piece to explain these globalised, hyper-digitalised times we find ourselves living in. S=Y is often overwhelming, it dips back and forth, reawakening memories and sensations, leaving you trickling with the self-referential goo that is the is the trademark of the post-modern generation.
This album, more so than anything else we've heard this year, could have been released sometime in the mid '80s but all the while it manages to race beyond the apex of modern music (whatever that is). Saturdays=Youth has a sci-fi fuzz, an other-worldly aura and an eyes-shut, headphones on, childish joy. It's impossible to summarise this album without drifting toward journo clichés like "shoegaze texturescapes", "dizzying digitalised daydreams from a dug up ZX Spectrum", "the moment the apocalypse reaches Ibiza" and "bedroom-electronica genius" but these wafer thin, sound-bitten pigeonholes are easily shrugged off, as the faint outlines of known genres melt and mutate at every turn. The only thing which may have made some wary of this record is the fact that, at times, it's gloriously overblown. But even the casual listener will find this a gorgeous, dew-covered joy. It is as supple as it is a wondrous and a sophisticated embrace of technology; every listen reveals a new sensation or triggers another memory. Combine all of this with its masterclass in loops and sweet vocals and you have an addictive combination which no algorithmic cleverness could recreate. For these and so many more reasons, it's our album of the year 2008. By Sean Adams
Frightened Rabbit The Midnight Organ Fight
So, lyrics don’t matter, then? It’s a bonus if they’re better than "live your life / be free." Fact: Casual Listeners will buy what they’re told, if it’s got tunes and a catchphrase, which means the airwaves are always polluted with inanities, and we assume the norm is natural... but Word-of-Mouth means something, it means you're kept listening, maybe it means you loved that album, you felt like it was yours, and the votes you chose to send-in tell us the Not-So-Casual listener does care for the words s/he listens to; in this case, an album about breaking-up and f*cking-up, with the grisliest imagery since Arab Strap (yes, Midnight Organ Fight = Sex), and a moral complexity eclipsing Belle & Sebastian.
Not that the music didn’t help – short, punchy folk-rock songs with the impact of Idlewild, the occasional echo of an Arcade Fire melody or arrangement, plus an album-climax that’s a Scots take on Sugar’s ‘Hoover Dam’ with the Forth Road Bridge as the suicide venue… if the singer can be arsed. Put it one way: F Rabbit sound like the best ceilidh imaginable, where the music’s an endless drunken reel, you manage to take the fittest bridesmaid home... and she gives you herpes. Put it another: this got more 4-star and 5-star ratings, track by track, than anything all year, and (live) had me singing along, eyes closed to lines like "you won’t find love in a / won’t find love in a hole / it takes more than fucking someone to keep yourself warm."
For those new to the band: the Hutchison brothers (Scott: vocals/guitar; Grant: vocals/drums) are hardly Burial but the fact they were cagey about their identities, so long, really underscores what a Word-of-Mouth triumph this is. A home-recorded album sold out in 2006 (Sings the Greys), got re-released in 2007, and then a tour with The Twilight Sad brought F. Rabbit to the attention of a lot of people (including the staff at Edinburgh’s legendary Avalanche shop, who foisted the follow-up on this writer, back in Spring).
Is this going to last though? Take Stuart Murdoch: he loves his characters, regardless of sex or sexuality, in a way Morrissey doesn’t come close. He’s got a knack for surrealism that makes everything slightly prettier – but also sadder – than life. You can say the same about Scott, but whereas Stuart’s (frankly) crass and cloying when he gets onto "the Man Upstairs", Scott struggles and questions and mocks with a deceptive intelligence, like God’s a mate down the pub but also knows he has to die, and "while I’m alive / I’ll make tiny changes for us" By Alexander Tudor
Cut Copy In Ghost Colours
Cut Copy vocalist Dan Whitford has said that In Ghost Colours is the closest they've ever got to the sound they're after. If you're looking for an approximation of that whole indie/dance crossover phenomenon we journalists love writing about so much in one handy album-sized package, this is perhaps the most perfect and potent vile of the formula yet.
The Australian trio scored a number 1 in their home country with In Ghost Colours, but for many on these shores it was our first exposure to the Cut Copy sound, which - on this record at least - goes far beyond merely mixing treated guitars with a few processed beats. Sure, it's 'dance' music being played by a live band, and that's certainly been done before (New Order? Depeche Mode?), but the precision with which the tracks ebb and flow from one ecstatic peak to the next and from one into another is what makes this such a compelling, life-affirming listen.
If 'Hearts On Fire' doesn't get your pulse racing, you're probably dead already. It's the sound of falling in love on the 'floor, of dancing all night and sweating all morning, of waiting, hoping, expecting, wishing for something - anything - to get you through the day. Or it's just an amazing party album, one that you'd also put on before going out and afterwards, as well as at the club itself. DiS has been doing just that all year. By Rob Webb
Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds DIG, LAZARUS, DIG!!!
There's no such thing as a best album from Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds and it would be foolish to say they've reached their zenith just yet. However, this is perhaps their most instant and infectious collection to date. DIG, LAZARUS, DIG!!! could easily have topped this list and may just be the finest rock record ever committed to tape just for these lyrics alone:
'We Call Upon the Author' by Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds
"Our myxomatoid kids spraddle the streets, we've shunned them from the greasy-grind. The poor little things, they look so sad and old as they mount us from behind... There is a planetary conspiracy against the likes of you and me in this idiot constituency of the moon...
Well, I go guruing down the street, young people gather round my feet. Ask me things, but I don't know where to start.... Who is this great burdensome slavering dog-thing that mediocres my every thought? I feel like a vacuum cleaner, a complete sucker, it's fucked up and he is a fucker. But what an enormous and encyclopaedic brain.
I call upon the author to explain."
Jim Sclavunos, drummer for The Bad Seeds had this to say on entering the upper echelons of our list:
It's been a fantastic year for The Bad Seeds! We're really pleased DIG, LAZARUS, DIG!!! was so fervently embraced by our fans and we've played to totally gung-ho crowds on our tours around the UK, Europe and the US. For me, headlining the Hollywood Bowl was a personal milestone; it's a stunning venue, and Spiritualized and Cat Power made it an awesome bill.
Sometimes a couple of months is enough time to make up your mind, and even though Deerhunter only physically released Microcastle at the end of October (it leaked way, way earlier... obviously), it's a record that's sounding more and more like a noughties classic with every listen. Marrying their prior tendency for experimentation, searing fuzz and droning psychedelia with pop song structures and some of Bradford Cox's most inspired, introspective and plain honest lyrics, it's also their most emotionally affecting work to date.
This is music as anaesthetic, summed up perfectly on 'Agoraphobia': "Come for me/Cover me/Come for me/Comfort me" croons Lockett Pundt, who takes lead vocal duties here, as his bandmates wrap us up in so much cotton wool noise. This might well be music that evokes a sense of the pain ('Never Stops', for instance, sounds like one long paranoid headache) that wracks the mind and body of its chief protagonist, but, with such a fierce intelligence and sensitivity driving it all, not to mention a plethora of fantastic melodies, it winds up sounding like their most hopeful, optimistic output yet. And if Cox was talking about the price of fame when he wrote "I had a dream/No longer to be free", then he should probably stop writing such fantastically textured, cathartic alt.rock as this. By Rob Webb
DiS' Top 50 of 2008 in full:
- M83 Saturdays=Youth (Review / Interview)
- Frightened Rabbit The Midnight Organ Fight (Review / Interview)
- Cut Copy In Ghost Colours (Review)
- Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds DIG, LAZARUS, DIG!!! (Review / Interview)
- Deerhunter Microcastle (Review / Interview)
- Portishead Third (Review / Interview 1 | 2)
- Why? Alopecia (Review / Interview)
- Friendly Fires Friendly Fires (Review / Track-by-Track / Interview)
- The Kills Midnight Boom (Review / Interview)
- Bon Iver For Emma, Forever Ago (Review / Interview)
- Fuck Buttons Street Horrrsing (Review / Interview / Tour Diary)
- Foals Antidotes (Review / Interview)
- Gang Gang Dance Saint Dymphna (Review / Interview)
- Elbow The Seldom Seen Kid (Review / Interview)
- Crystal Castles Crystal Castles (Review)
- Shearwater Rook (Review/ Track-by-Track)
- Sigur Rós Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust (Review)
- Of Montreal Skeletal Lamping (Review)
- Los Campesinos! Hold On Now, Youngster (Review) / We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed (Review)
- These New Puritans Beat Pyramid (Review / Interview)
- No Age Nouns (Review / Track-by-Track)
- Santogold Santogold (Review / Interview)
- Nine Inch Nails The Slip (Review)
- Okkervil River The Stand Ins (Review / Interview 1 / 2)
- Late Of The Pier Fantasy Black Channel (Review / Track-by-Track)
- Hauschka Ferndorf (Review)
- TV On The Radio Dear Science (Review)
- MGMT Oracular Spectacular (Review / Interview)
- Wild Beasts Limbo, Panto (Review / Interview 1 / 2)
- Atlas Sound Let The Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel (Review / Interview)
- White Williams Smoke (Review)
- The Stills Oceans Will Rise (Review)
- Mogwai The Hawk Is Howling (Review / Interview)
- Vampire Weekend Vampire Weekend (Review)
- The Futureheads This Is Not The World ( Review / Track-by-Track)
- Bloc Party Intimacy (Review)
- The Raveonettes Lust, Lust, Lust (Review)
- Johnny Foreigner Waited Up 'Til It Was Light (Review / Track-by-Track)
- El Guincho Alegranza (Review)
- Metronomy Nights Out (Review)
- Lykke Li Youth Novels (Review / Interview)
- Islands Arms Way (Review)
- British Sea Power Do You Like Rock Music? (Review/ Interview)
- Fucked Up The Chemistry of Common Life (Review)
- Fleet Foxes Fleet Foxes (Review / Interview)
- Blood Red Shoes Box Of Secrets (Review / Track-by-Track)
- Rolo Tomassi Hysterics (Review/ Interview)
- Times New Viking Rip It Off (Review / Interview)
- Diamanda Galas Guilty Guilty Guilty (Review)
- I Was A Cub Scout I Want You To Know That There Is Always Hope (Review / Interview)
Disagree? Vote in Rough Trade's Peoples Voice Prize here and/or submit your top 5 albums in the 4th Annual DiSers Album of the Year poll on the music forum.
DiScuss: How many and which of these do you own? What might you finally get around to investigating? A great year for independent and niche music? Too indie? Too electronic? Not enough raaawwwkk? Who was robbed? Anything surprise you? Everything in its right place? Did you love 50 albums this year? What no Kings of Leon, Man Man, Torche, Britney, Kanye, Youthmovies (would have been nepotistic wouldn't it?), Abe Vigoda, Hot Chip, Glass Candy, Laura Maring, Flying Lotus, Panic at the Disco, Tilly & the Wall, Conor Oberst, Jenny Lewis, Ting Tings, Benga, Beck, Breeders, The Bug, Coldplay, Xiu Xiu, Death Cab, Mystery Jets, Hold Steady, dEUS, Forward Russia, Mae Shi, Metallica, G 'N R, Adele, Wave Pictures, Sebastian Tellier, Rihanna, Wolf Parade, Tricky, Guillemots, The Fall, Dido, Lightspeed Champion, Boris, Mars Volta, Magnetic Fields, and several thousand other records released this year?