Best of 2008: Favorite Songs

To finish up Animal Noises' countdown of the Best of 2008, I've compiled a list of my 50 favorite songs from this year.  Feel free to agree or disagree, but either way, enjoy.

Have a Happy New Year!

50 Favorites of 2008:

50. "Born Into a Light", Ryan Adams & the Cardinals
49. "Cappo", No Age
48. "I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance With You", Black Kids
47. "Why Do You Let Me Stay?", She & Him
46. "Golden Age", TV on the Radio
45. "You Me and the Bourgeoisie", The Submarines
44. "I'm Not Crying.  You're Not Crying, Are You?", Dear and the Headlights
43. "Pork and Beans", Weezer
42, "Pop Lie", Okkervil River
41. "Heaven", Brett Dennen
40. "Use Somebody", Kings of Leon
39. "Viva La Vida", Coldplay
38. "Sixties Remake", Tokyo Police Club
37. "Father Brian Finn", Right Away, Great Captain!
36. "Ara Batur", Sigur Ros 
35. "This Is Not A Test", She & Him
34. "Galaxy of the Lost", Lightspeed Champion
33. "Happy", N*E*R*D
32. "Your English Is Good", Tokyo Police Club
31. "Let It Be Me", Ray LaMontagne
30. "Gamma Ray", Beck
29. "Coldest Winter", Kanye West
28. "3 Peat", Lil' Wayne
27. "Lost Coastlines", Okkervil River
26. "Whatever You Like", T.I.
25. "In the New Year", The Walkmen
24. "Robocop", Kanye West
23. "Swagga Like Us", T.I.
22. "You Are the Best Thing", Ray LaMontagne
21. "Can You Tell", Ra Ra Riot
20. "One Red Thread", Blind Pilot
19. "Going On", Gnarls Barkley
18. "Colors", Portugal. The Man
17. "No Sunlight", Death Cab for Cutie
16. "The Story I Heard", Blind Pilot
15. "Water Curses", Animal Collective
14. "No One Does It Like You", Department of Eagles
13. "Furr", Blitzen Trapper
12. "Midnight Surprise", Lightspeed Champion
11. "Canadian Girl", The Walkmen 
10. "Danny Callahan", Conor Oberst
9. "Modern Guilt", Beck
8. "Sex On Fire", Kings of Leon
7. "Dying Is Fine", Ra Ra Riot
6. "Gobbledigook", Sigur Ros
5. "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa", Vampire Weekend
4. "Run", Gnarls Barkley
3. "Mr. Carter", Lil' Wayne
2. "1989", Portugal. The Man
1. "Oxford Comma", Vampire Weekend

Best of 2008: A Recap

I just wanted to thank everyone for stopping in and reading for the past month.  It's been fun getting the blog back on its feet, and don't worry- this is not the end of it.  My brother, Matt, who was a contributor in the early stages of the site, will be back on as a contributor.  Today, we'll have two posts: one recapping the best albums of 2008, and another naming my 50 favorite tracks of the year.  Then, to ring in the New Year, a review of Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavillion.  Get excited.

To recap our Top 25 Albums of 2008:

25. Nouns, No Age
24. Seeing Sounds, N*E*R*D
23. Feed the Animals, Girl Talk
22. Gossip in the Grain, Ray LaMontagne
21. Cardinology, Ryan Adams & the Cardinals
20. Tha Carter III, Lil' Wayne
19. The Eventually Home, Right Away, Great Captain!
18. In Ear Park, Department of Eagles
17. The Odd Couple, Gnarls Barkley
16. 808s & Heartbreak, Kanye West
15. Volume One, She & Him
14. Paper Trail, T.I.
13. Elephant Shell, Tokyo Police Club
12. The Stand-Ins, Okkervil River
11. Only By the Night, Kings of Leon
10. Furr, Blitzen Trapper
9. The Rhumb Line, Ra Ra Riot
8. Three Rounds and a Sound, Blind Pilot
7. Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust, Sigur Rós
6. Modern Guilt, Beck
5. Vampire Weekend, Vampire Weekend
4. Narrow Stairs, Death Cab for Cutie
3. Conor Oberst, Conor Oberst
2. You & Me, The Walkmen
1. Censored Colors, Portugal. The Man

Somehow, I completely forgot to include my 5 honorable mention spots, which are awarded to the albums that just missed the countdown.  This year, they are:
-Arm's Way, Islands
-Dear Science, TV on the Radio
-Falling Off the Lavender Bridge, Lightspeed Champion
-Welcome to the Welcome Wagon, The Welcome Wagon
-Visiter, The Dodos


Best of 2008: #1, Portugal. The Man

Rank: #1
Album: Censored Colors
Artist: Portugal. The Man
Label: Approaching AIRballoons/Equal Vision 

Here we are.  The #1 album of the year 2008, according to Animal Noises, Portugal. The Man's Censored Colors.  From the first sounds of the album, a chorus of sung discordant noise, you are set up for something truly different from anything else you've heard this year.  No, it may not be groundbreaking, but like I said, nothing really was this year.  This is exclusively Portugal. The Man, however, in that they do have their own sound which evolves within the confines of the band's original aesthetic.  Censored Colors opens you up to an array of sounds and textures, as they blend indie rock, noises and their past experimental aspects, to create a thought-provoking sonic display.  As I said in my initial review of this record, this immediately hit me as one of the best of 2008, and indeed, it ended up with that distinction, and more.  The colors you see and hear are, without a doubt, there, but also censored, to a degree, as the title suggests.  Each track possesses the full spectrum of shades and hues, but they're continually muting each other in an entertaining struggle from song to song.

Thoughtful, artistic and long (15 songs), Censored Colors never wears on you, but instead encourages you to read deeper, and look forward to what comes next.  Each year, everyone has an album or two which hooks them from the first second, grabbing their attention almost immediately as something worth listening to, and listening to repeatedly.  I'm happy to say that this year, you are looking at the record that earned that distinction from me.  From the powerful to mellow switches of the opener, "Lay Me Back Down," to the mourning brass of "New Orleans," and the closer, "Our Way," which reflects upon "never finding our way"; Portugal. The Man keeps a constant soulfulness alive in a large blend of sounds.  The album seems to exist in chapters.  Chapter one is tracks 1-6, all of which keep a similar, jazzy feel.  Next, "Intermission" leads us into the middle tracks, which have little in common with the rest from a sound perspective.  Lastly, we encounter one of the better album-ending sequences since Abbey Road (I'm referring to the last 5 tracks' continuity of course).  From 11 to 15, you can feel the album slowing, and reflecting gradually, but rarely is the listener conscious of a track change, making for one extended and enjoyable end to the experience.  For comparisons, check out The Sound of Animals Fighting, Minus the Bear and Wolf Parade; but these guys are extremely hard to pigeonhole, so take that with a grain of salt.

Best Track: "1989"


Best of 2008: #2, The Walkmen

Rank: #2
Album: You & Me
Artist: The Walkmen
Label: Gigantic Records

We've got just two albums left to go on our countdown.  At #2, The Walkmen's You & Me.  The band's fourth original studio album to-date, You & Me is different from previous recordings, as is usually the case.  However, what remains a constant for The Walkmen is their established sense of nostalgia, enhanced by their use of vintage instrumentation.  This album in particular sounds so distant, so entrenched in the past, you can't help but feel it is actually a less recent batch of recordings.  Each track seems to be enveloped in a haze of good times gone by and regret, the epitome of the "smokey bar" sound which my brother and I will often discuss.  Admittedly, you may not get it on the first listen.  In fact, it may even seem to crawl during that first impression.  However, each successive listen brings you closer and closer to the record, closer and closer to getting it.  Every time I hear You & Me, it just gets better.

Does lead singer Hamilton Leithauser hate December or Christmas?  He's got a solid collection of songs showing some angst against the month and holiday, and this album adds to that group with opener "Donde Esta la Playa".  Leithauser wails through this one, as he does with many of the tracks on You & Me, setting the scene for the struggle with his past and future that ensues.  This record is all about realization, a coming of age album if you will.  To wake up one day and suddenly realize that everyone around you has grown up and moved on, or perhaps you have, is unsettling, for anyone.  The Walkmen try to use these tracks here to put those feelings into motion, and really exemplify how hopeless the situation really is.  The songs blend seamlessly, each becoming a chapter in the longer book.  From the lamenting of standout, "In the New Year," to my personal favorite, "Canadian Girl," to the very appropriate closer, "If Only It Were True," you can feel what they're feeling, and maybe even relate a bit yourself.  The visual created by this record is something which I have rarely seen recently, but is definitely welcome.  For comparisons, check out Department of Eagles, Wolf Parade and The Dodos.

Best Track: "Canadian Girl"


Best of 2008: #3, Conor Oberst

Rank: #3
Album: Conor Oberst
Artist: Conor Oberst
Label: Merge Records

And then there were three.  Our countdown has reached the best of the best for 2008.  Today is #3, Conor Oberst's self-titled album.  You all know Oberst of Bright Eyes fame, but believe me, this is not Bright Eyes.  Conor Oberst was recorded with the help of The Mystic Valley band (named for where the album was recorded- Valle Mistico in Mexico), and possesses a southwestern sound reflective of its creation.  The more folksy twang of Bright Eyes' later work is laid on thick with every track, and at the onset, it seems, that abandoned is some of the talk of sex and drinking (slightly)- ultimately not true, just different.  Here, Oberst talks of life, death and regret; leaning hard on the inspirations for 2007's Cassadaga, while still creating a piece of art that is exclusive to him as a solo artist.

Though this album can, at times, claim to be some of Oberst's slowest work, it can, at other times, prove to be some of his most fun and lively work.  The opener, "Cape Canaveral," remains calm, lamenting on destiny, while speaking of atonement.  "Sausalito" picks up from there, as the desert jam increases the tempo, and infuses Conor's usual discussion of women with some real bluesy western guitar.  Harmonica would have worked in this song, but sadly was not present.  Still, it's effective and maintains the frontier theme.  I've touched on themes quite a bit in this countdown, and I'll do so again here.  If you establish a theme and stay with it, I will be much more likely to appreciate your album.  This record, in particular, was so enjoyable because of how fun and genuine it seemed.  It wasn't fun in the sense of dance pop energy, but rather, that Oberst was exploring some inspirations he may not have before and seemed to enjoy making the music he was recording.  Songs such as "Get-Well-Cards," "I Don't Wanna Die (In the Hospital)" and "NYC- Gone, Gone" seem to really exemplify this entertaining and playful nature.  For comparisons to this album, I'd consult Bob Dylan, M. Ward and Rocky Votolato.

Best Track: "Danny Callahan"


Best of 2008: #4, Death Cab for Cutie

Rank: #4
Album: Narrow Stairs
Artist: Death Cab for Cutie
Label: Atlantic

Welcome back!  I hope everyone had a very Merry Christmas, and for those who don't celebrate, a happy holiday season.  At #4 in our countdown, we've got Death Cab for Cutie, and their new album, Narrow Stairs.  In my opinion, this is their best work since Transatlanticism, mixing their usual, mellow instrumentation with a brighter demeanor here.  I may just be alone in that assessment of the sound however.  Others have cited this as a record of despair, and darkness.  I think the content reflects on aspects of life which one may wish could be redone in a different way.  The sound in the background, to me at least, seems less melancholy than usual, but I suppose I'd agree that the lyrical content reflects on some more unhappy feelings that the band may be accustomed to.  Regardless, people like this record.  It was number one the week it was released, and has two Grammy nominations.  

The album opens with the energetic disappointment of "Bixby Canyon Bridge".  Here, as in many of the tracks, lead singer Ben Gibbard does reflecting about growing older and living his life, while his friends around him have families and can no longer hang out and do things as they used to.  He's also expressing disappointment about an epiphany, involving Jack Kerouac, which never came.  I think this is a pretty intense intro by Death Cab standards, but maybe it's just me.  After this track, the album continues to roll.  The eight-and-a-half minute stalker track, "I Will Possess Your Heart" provides a creepy, up-tempo and relaxing atmosphere- very good for a transition into the rest of the record.  From there, each track is vintage Death Cab, slightly poppy tracks, all clocking in at times between three to four and a half minutes.  The difference is that they are more polished than usual, but I don't find it to be a bad thing.  The band hasn't really been that raw in a few albums, and the production quality here reflects upon their continued maturity as a band.  For comparisons, check out Stars, Rogue Wave and Pedro the Lion.

Best Track: "No Sunlight"


Best of 2008: #5, Vampire Weekend

Rank: #5
Album: Vampire Weekend
Artist: Vampire Weekend
Label: XL Recordings

We've finally arrived at the top five of our countdown.  At #5 is Vampire Weekend's self-titled debut.  Now I'm sure nearly everyone reading this knows at least something about these guys, but I suppose I'll explain anyway. These guys reached a fever pitch here on the interweb over the past year, as most blogs, and even Spin magazine were hyping them up before they even released an album.  After meeting up at Columbia University, the four-member group started making their enjoyable brand of indie, baroque-inspired, afro-beat pop, or as they'd rather refer to it, Upper West Side Soweto.  No matter what you call it though, Vampire Weekend is one fun record.

From the opening notes of "Mansard Roof," you can sense the afro-pop influences, soon followed by more caribbean sounds, and lastly, Ezra Koening's made-for-indie voice.  The fun and different sound continues thereafter, with each of Vampire Weekend's quick pop songs.  Each track fills itself with witty observations and some entertaining cultural references at times, too.  The record's second track, "Oxford Comma," sees a discussion about rapper Lil' Jon, paraphrasing his hit song "Get Low"'s signature line, "to the window, to the wall".  The building energy here is probably what I most enjoy.  Each song starts off lively, then comes to fast and noisy peak, then drops back down.  Repeat as necessary for basically all 11 tracks.  It actually surprised me that the album saw no Grammy nods, but then again, we can only ask so much of the mostly out-of-touch music awards.  They've taken such large steps this year.  You can't expect them to catch everything.  For similar artists to Vampire Weekend, I'd suggest Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Islands and Ra Ra Riot.

Best Track: "Campus"

P.S.-I'd like to wish everyone a Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas.  We'll be taking a two-day break here at Animal Noises, and will be resuming the countdown on 12/26.  Be sure to stop back in.


Best of 2008: #6, Beck

Rank: #6
Album: Modern Guilt
Artist: Beck
Label: Interscope Records

As we continue our countdown, we arrive at #6, Beck's Modern Guilt.  Typically with any Beck record, you can expect something different than the last one.  This does not disappoint those expectations.  With the help of producer Danger Mouse, Beck has seemingly reinvented his sound again, this time going for what I heard as a very raw, sort of rock and roll sound, with less experimentation than in the past.  Still, this 10-track, few frills rock album is a very straightforward piece of work, especially for Beck, and it's made clear just by looking at the cover art.  Does Beck feel that we should all be guilty for the modern world we live in?  Should he be guilty?  Or is it just a statement about paranoia to the modern world?  Perhaps all of the above.  Even though I've referred to Modern Guilt as a rock and roll album, the Grammys still consider it alternative music.  Though I may disagree, I'm fairly impressed by the amount of nominations albums on this list got.  

From the onset, the album seems distant, as if you're hearing it from either the past or future.  Intentional, I'm sure, as it promotes introspection- a partial goal of the record.  With the subject matter in mind, it doesn't mean that this fairly short album (33 minutes) is without energy.  As I said before, it's all rock and roll, and that's what drives it forward.  See tracks such as "Gamma Ray" as well as "Youthless," for examples.  Not until the final song, "Volcano," does the album give in to the weight of this "modern guilt" and grind to a stop.  Up to that point though, feel free to enjoy the other tracks, especially the first four, which are the best, at least in my opinion.  For comparisons, I'd recommend checking out The Flaming Lips, The White Stripes and Arcade Fire.

Best Track: "Modern Guilt"

P.S.- I'd like to wish everyone Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas.  We'll be taking a two day break here at Animal Noises, and resuming the countdown on 12/26.  Be sure to stop in.


Best of 2008: #7, Sigur Rós

Rank: #7
AlbumMeð suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust
ArtistSigur Rós
Label: EMI/XL Recordings

Coming in at #7 on our countdown is Sigur Rós Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust.  A departure from the band's previous, less-accessible work, Meo suo has brought Sigur Rós to the masses, or at least a larger base than before.  The new material infuses folk rock with more traditional instrumentation and theatrical sound, to move the Icelandic quartet into more tribal/freak folk territory at times.  For those who aren't familiar, Sigur Rós confines most of their lyrics to a fictional language, Hopelandic.  Some of their song names are also in this language, as well as album names, including this one, which, according to the band, means "With Buzzing In Our Ears We Play Endlessly".  This newer direction is more playful, and as I mentioned earlier, more theatrical, lending to the increased appeal.

The album starts with the infectious and fun "Gobbledigook".  I'm sure everyone's heard this comparison before, but without a doubt, this song sounds like Animal Collective covering Dave Matthews.  The wacky, delightful nature of the song is symbolic of the album's mood as a whole, and pairs well with the cover art's err...freedom.  From there, the record soars, with a fantastic array of dynamics and energy.  Each song, or even the entire album, could easily pass for a full professional orchestra playing a soundtrack for a major motion picture.  What makes these peaks and valleys so great is their haunting, moving nature.  These tracks are meant to evoke emotion, and each successfully achieves this in its own right- perhaps best exemplified by "Ára bátur".  For a comparison to this album, the band's previous work is probably your best choice.  However, external sources may be Explosions in the Sky, Mogwai and Stafrænn Hákon.

Best Track"Ára bátur" (Sorry, nothing from the new album up on imeem)


Best of 2008: #8, Blind Pilot

Rank: #8
Album: Three Rounds and a Sound
Artist: Blind Pilot
Label: Expunged Records

We've reached #8 on our countdown, which happens to be Blind Pilot's 3 Rounds and a Sound.  What makes this album worthy of such a high rating?  I think in this case, it's less groundbreaking music, and more a sense of familiarity.  The first time I heard this record, I was reminded of most of the good moments in my life.  I have no idea why, or how, but I felt as if I'd heard these tracks a thousand times over.  It's a warm familiarity which cannot be matched by any other collection of songs that came out this year, so for that alone, I'm putting it as high as I am.  Listen to 3 Rounds once, and I can almost guarantee you'll sense something.  It may not be the familiarity that I did, but it will be something good.

The album begins with the warm, folksy "Oviedo".  The warmth is a result of the closeness you feel here, not necessarily the subject matter.  That, actually, focuses on some regret, as well as a fair amount of advice for life.  A common theme throughout this record is trying to draw a lesson from life experiences, be it yours' or someone else's.  A lot of it seems to focus on what was once good, but now may not be.  I guess that's how I'm transported back to my own positive moments.  As far as continuity goes, the album's two best tracks, "The Story I Heard" and "One Red Thread" have a lot in common, from the up tempo folk sound, to the look-on-the-brightside demeanor.  By the end, however, it's as if the album wants to go back to the start, which you almost assuredly will want to do as well, to listen again.  Similar artists may include Iron & Wine, Blitzen Trapper and The Format (acoustic material only).

Best Track: "The Story I Heard"