Friday, December 19, 2008

Ryan Miller's Top 10 Favorites From 2008

10. Nada Surf - Lucky - Released and received with a lot less fanfare than the last couple of albums, Lucky was set free back in January, and probably forgetten about by a lot of people. This album featured my 1st favorite song of 2008, "See These Bones", which I would play over and over again. I still long for the day that they play Milwaukee again....I think the last time they were in town had to be about 4 years ago at Atomic Records, as they were passing through to either Chicago or Minneapolis. They didn't reinvent themselves on this record, but it was still an outstanding effort, and one of the best of the year for me.

9 Los Campesinos - We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed - While we wait for the new Andrew Bird album, somebody had to keep the glockenspiel in indie rock. Pitchfork, as much as I loathe them sometimes, really hit the nail on the head about these guys, because they really ARE quite the anomoly. Despite breaking a lot of unwritten rules of coolness (don't have punctuation in your name, don't have everyone have the name of the band as their last names...unless your last name is Ramone), they released two records in 2008. One was a lot more cheerful and carefree than the other. And the one that's not so carefree is the one I include in my list. It's like the band did a whole lot of growing up in the time between the two albums. Not necesarrily growing up as musicians, rather growing up as citizens of the world. Life is not a bowl of cherries. I'm typically a music over lyrics guy, but I find the music tone and lyric tone mismatch on a lot of these songs very interesting. The title track...very upbeat. But it also has a whole lot of heartbreak in it. Maybe not Bon Iver style heartbreak, but the art of making relationships work is no easier in Wales, apparently. This was a great end-of-the-year find.

8 She & Him - Volume 1 -- I didn't plan to have them on my list, but the more I listened to the record, the more I appreciated all the subtleties that went into it's creation. I'm happy that Zooey wasn't greeted with a lot of the backlash that seems to follow actors/actresses that trade in scripts for lyrics. This was a great collaboration, and it was obvious that both brought a lot to the table, and found the perfect way not to overpower each other. I enjoyed the Beatles cover that they threw in there. I enjoyed the production of the album that really made it sound like it was from a completely different era. Although, I didn't get the video for "Why Do You Let Me Stay Here" AT ALL. It was pretty morbid.

7 Mates Of State - Re-Arrange Us - Kori and Jason have the same gift of melody that was bestowed upon the likes of AC Newman and John Linnell. They consistantly make it seem so easy. And they have the gifts of harmony that CSN&Y would be jealous of. The string section was a welcome addition on some of the songs from this record. "Get Better" is one of my favorite songs from the whole year.

6 Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago - What hasn't been said about this album? I was introduced to Bon Iver when Ryan from joined me on Indie Soundcheck last year to talk about the best music from 2007, and Bon Iver was on his list (we played "Skinny Love"). Next thing you know, Justin is an indie household name. I still don't know the right way to say "Bon Iver". Bone-ee-vare. Bon-eye-ver. I've heard people on high authority tell me different things are correct. Regardless, the album is a masterpiece, and the Bon Iver show at the Pabst it was THE concert of the year for me.

5 TV On The Radio - Dear Science - My impression is that this didn't get the buzz that "Return To Cookie Mountain" did, but it's still winding up on a lot of top 10 lists this year. Pitchfork readers named it both the best album of the year, and also one of the most over-rated albums of the year. I'm inclined to lean towards the former. These are guys that are on top of their game. I can't wait to see them do some of these new songs live.

4 Hot Chip - Made In The Dark - Sometimes after seeing a band live it shines a new light on the record. While I enjoyed this CD when it came out earlier in the year, after seeing them at Austin City Limits Festival, I was blown away. I honestly had low expectations for them being able to turn a well polished and produced album into the live setting, and I could not have been more wrong. While "Ready For The Floor" was great, "One Pure Thought" is the song that I can't get out of my head as we bring 2008 to a close.

3 Death Cab For Cutie - Narrow Stairs - Most Death Cab For Cutie Fans come in one of two that have been with them forever, and fans that jumped on the bandwagon around the "Plans" CD when they started getting regular radio airplay. While I'm not the bandwagon guy who just knows the singles, Soul Meets Body is about where I started really getting into Death Cab. I've come to know the older CD's way after the fact, and I enjoy them. But I loved "Plans" and I love "Narrow Stairs". The word on the street was that the new CD was going to be 'polarizing', but I found very little to be upset about. Ben Gibbard is great and all, but Chris Walla is really what makes the band, and I don't think he gets nearly enough credit.

2 Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend - I was all set for this to be my #1 CD this year since January. Didn't quite work out that way. That said, this was a great great CD. The band came out with a record that channelled a sound that we haven't heard before....or at least not recently. I think the fact that A-Punk turned into a bona fide hit ended up hurting VW in the end of year polls and brought out a lot of hipster backlash. (A-Punk was the 5th most played song on FM 102/1 this year.) One of the local media-types that co-hosted Indie Soundcheck this month who isn't on the VW bandwagon made a comment questioning what Vampire Weekend is going to do to follow up this record because it won't be unique and fresh and new anymore. My response is that you can ask that about any debut band that made waves this year....what are Fleet Foxes going to do? I'm optimistic about the future for Vampire Weekend, but I'll be the first to say I was wrong if their next CD flops. REGARDLESS... this was an album that I could play from start to finish and enjoy the whole thing. Definitely, without a doubt, my 2nd favorite record of the year.

1 Chromeo - Fancy Footwork -- It's actually Vampire Weekend's fault that Chromeo is my top CD. Ezra from VW co-hosted Indie Soundcheck when they were in town, and we let him pick the playlist for that night. And he played some great records from some friends of the band....stuff like Yacht, Ra Ra Riot, Born Ruffians, and Chromeo. One week later, the Chromeo CD was serviced to specialty radio, and I could not get enough of it. (Technically, it was originally released in 2007...but there was an official re-release in 2008, making it eligible for my list!) The way I describe Chromeo to people is this: Imagine that the people who made the music for Thriller were a band making music in 2008. That's Chromeo. Music that is heavy on synths and blips and boops, and very danceable...if you're in to that sort of thing. They channel the 80's sound with such authenticity. And they're funny, in a similar vein to Electric Six, but not nearly to that extreme. They're totally in on the joke. They're not nearly as gangsta as they may appear. They're just a couple of guys from Canada with high IQ's who LOVED them some Hall & Oates when growing up. This was the most FUN record of the year, and I listened to it a lot more than anything else.

Honorable Mentions:

MGMT -- They wrote three of the best songs of the year (Time To Pretend, Electric Feel, and Kids) and not much else.

Last Shadow Puppets -- So it's the guy from the Arctic Monkey's with string arrangements? Turned out surprisingly well. Again, another one of the CD's that takes you back to a different era.

Songs of the year:

"Baltimore" - Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks
"See These Bones" - Nada Surf
"Lights And Music" - Cut Copy
"Grounds For Divorce" - Elbow

Album that I just don't get:

Fleet Foxes -- When I first heard the album, I thought, oh, this sounds like My Morning Jacket when they aren't rocking. And then the concert at the Pabst didn't do much for me. That may have had something to do with the fact that the concert I saw before FF was Bon Iver, and honestly, what could they have done to top that? Yeah, it's a good album. But me saying that it's a "good album" is probably the worst review it's ever gotten. So yeah... what blasphemy, right?

Albums that I had high hopes for that were underwhelming at best, and awful at worst:

Helio Sequence
Jim Noir
Jenny Lewis

And ending on a happy note....

Shows of the year (jaw-droppingly awesome):

Bon Iver - Pabst Theater
James - Ogden Theater (Denver)
Robert Plant & Allison Krauss - Bonnaroo

Thanks for listening and thanks for reading.


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