24 December 2008

Amazon.com Has the Rent Money

Yeah, there's really no excuse for this

Yeah, so if you've, like, heard of a mainstream major label release this year, you can probably get it for $5 from the Amazon mp3 store, which just about pistol whips iTunes based on the facts that a) there is no DRM, b) its mp3s are 256 kbs vs. 192 kbs AAC files for iTunes, and c) it usually has some pretty insane deals, whereas iTunes occasionally has records you bought two years ago when they came out for $7.99 instead of $9.99. (In other words, Amazon gives you actual incentives to pay for music rather than just stealing it.) So, yeah, I just bought Ne-Yo's Year of the Gentleman because it was on sale, which makes me just about the biggest pussy ever. Ever.

Thou Shalt Not Steal

Land of confusion

NOTE: This was originally written as a comment in response to this thoughtful post re: the Girl Talk phenomenon over at Riff Market. It is neither in full accord nor disagreement with what they have to say; nor is it wholly reliant on their post, but if you're going to bother to read what's below, you might as well read what Nick Sylvester and David Marx have to say, because it's one of the better pieces of music criticism you'll read all year.

Greg Gillis a.k.a. Girl Talk is like PT Barnum: 90% of his success is marketing. By positioning himself as an artist and not a DJ, he raises his product halfway out of the novelty muck and earns a level of consideration not typically accorded to DJ mixes. That other 10% is the problem. There's no argument that Gillis, if he's not doing something completely original (Plunderphonics, Dust Brothers, Jason Forrest, etc.), he's doing it in such a brash, inventive manner that college kids lose their shit when he rolls into town to rock their auditoriums. Most of this is obviously the nostalgia flavor, but I think it would be uncharitable to say that Gillis' ear for recontextualization and his aesthetic bent (repositioning rap lyrics against pop/rock backgrounds to unveil - or invent - emotional subtext) does not constitute a kind of art unto itself. This isn't to say that GT's art is qualitatively identical to the artistry of the people he's repurposing; we can argue all day about whether or not the curatorial can be considered artistic or what level of original contribution is necessary to make someone an artist rather than a DJ.

I also think it's freighting GT with more weight than he can bear to assert that his project, whether accidentally or by design, suggests that pop music is an undifferentiated mass that can be pulled apart and reassembled in whatever formation Gillis prefers and be identical content-wise. If we grant that Gillis' success is attributable in large part to the nostalgic, name-that-tune quality of his work, well, that nostalgia comes from somewhere. Listeners have built up emotional attachments to the songs Gillis is Cuisinarting; hence the ecstatic reaction of his fans to each clever beatjack. I don't think the average GT listener views what he does as much more than a sensationally well-executed parlor trick. In fact, I think that the positioning of Girl Talk as a "serious artist" (the pejorative quotation marks signal disdain for the phrase, not GT) derives mainly from Gillis himself and the critics who see him as both a Fair Use Moses leading the way into a promised land of IP recycling and the celebrant of the ultimate poptimist sacrament - mixing the high with the low and drawing out the undergirding commonalities. These views reek of self-justification, as if his records could not plausibly be considered worthwhile if everyone admitted that Gillis is an extremely gifted spaz whose success is largely attributable to his willingness to run so blatantly afoul of our present copyright regime.

It's tempting to defuse this conversation with a big "so what"; so what if Gillis thinks he's an artist, or so what if you think that he isn't. However, I think it's worthwhile to try and suss out a distinction between the taste-making and the art-making, if only because there must come a point where merely juxtaposing is no longer creating; indeed, the pro-GT counterargument would be that there is a point where juxtaposing does become creating. I appreciate what Gillis is trying to do in terms of elucidating connections between artists and genres; it's an extremely abbreviated version of what Greil Marcus tries to do when he writes a book presenting Pere Ubu, Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, and Twin Peaks as thematically interrelated. However, there's a difference between the guy who paves the road, the one who drives on it, and the one who sells the GPS. Figuring out in which one of these categories, if any, Gillis fits into is all the fun.

23 December 2008

Years Never End

"Your love is what I prefer, what I deserve/ Is a man that makes me, then takes me/ And delivers me to destiny, to infinity and beyond"

A craftier, more dishonest person would have gone back and altered the historical record, Winston Smith-style (or P. Diddy-style: "We Invented the Remix," after all). Yet all I can do is bemoan the fact that making lists having to do with 2008 before the year ends is an inherently disingenuous exercise, certain to lead to redactions, minor embarrassments, and mea culpas. So, first things first.

There was dearth of songs this year that demanded you hear them over and over again, excepting the Hold Steady's fantastic , propulsive (and apparently overlooked) "Stay Positive" and just about the whole damn Cut Copy album. Yet over the last two weeks, two songs have emerged that I feel an irresistible compulsion to play over and over again at deafening volumes. The first is T.I.'s "Live Your Life", an oceanic midtempo banger in the mold of 2006's nonpareil "What You Know" that sounds like the soundtrack to a 2008 highlight reel (look, there's Obama! Again!). With Rhianna co-staring (she does so much more than sing the hook here, more like John the Baptist, you know), T.I. acts like he isn't going to prison on federal weapons charges, but rather like he's showing 2008's enfant terrible Lil Wayne how to craft a real number one single. A truly bizarre c.f.: Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone."

The year's other probable future classic is Beyonce's "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)" which is really a filed down, less psychotic version of last year's "Ring the Alarm" and all the better for it. In Dreamgirls, Beyonce played Diana Ross on film and now she's playing her on record. Not a rehash or an update so much as an evolutionary step forward, it's good to see someone listening to Motown for purposes other than straight plunder. Plus you have to love what might be the most goofy, straight up retarded music video of the year. YouTube isn't just a medium, it's an aesthetic.

And of course there's a ton of worthy albums that I omitted from my year end list because I'm not omniscient, but shouldn't be penalized just because I only have two ears. The Up-Runners:

Eat Skull - Sick to Death (Siltbreeze)
Ponytail - Ice Cream Spiritual (We Are Free)
Clipse - Road to Till the Casket Drops (mixtape)
Lil Wayne - The Drought Is Over Part 6 (mixtape)
Young Jeezy -The Recession (Def Jam)
T.I. - Paper Trail (Atlantic)
Jenny Lewis - Acid Tongue (Warner Bros.)
Wavves - Wavves (Woodsist)
Luomo - Convivial (Huume)
Stereo Image - S/T (Frog Man Jake)
Women - Women (Jagjaguwar)
Thee Oh Sees - The Master's Bedroom Is Worth Spending a Night In (Tomlab)
Tallest Man on Earth - Shallow Grave (Gravitation)
The Fall - Imperial Wax Solvent (Castle)
Elvis Costello - Momofuku (Lost Highway)

Of course, the best record of 2008 that went unmentioned in my original countdown wasn't mentioned because it wasn't released in 2008. That would be The Ramones' Road to Ruin, which in their customary half-hour or so demonstrated the formal possibilities of rock and roll (the all-encompassing Christgauian definition) more fully than anything else that I heard this year. The best and most depressing evidence yet that things don't always have to get better (Wall Street takes second prize).

16 December 2008

Did He Just Say "Figgy Pudding"?

Apparently not this, but close

So Weezer, who used to be worth listening to until they stopped making stone cold classic albums and started making derivative shit-fests like "The Red Album", have recorded an EP's worth of new tracks for an iteration of Tap Tap Revenge, which is basically Guitar Hero for the iPhone, only you look even more like an asshole when you're playing it, because not only are you a Dweebus McGee tapping like a half-chimp manchild, but you're also engaging in that most-favored pastime of the douchebag, showing off your iPhone. (Attention iPhone 3G owners: you are now that kid who got a Starter jacket like two years after everybody else. No one wants to be your friend because you own a $200 cell phone that anyone can get by walking into a Best Buy. Now, if you had a Wii, that would be a different story.)

But back to Weezer. This EP is called Christmas With Weezer and as the title implies, it's six Christmas songs, all of which you should know if you ever bothered to leave your home between Halloween and New Year's. It's also by far the best thing Weezer has recorded since "The Green Album" back in 2001. I hypothesize that this is for three reasons: 1) Rivers Cuomo can't fuck up songs that he didn't write, 2) Weezer stick to that garage-meets-prom rock sweet spot that gave us "Suzanne" and "Buddy Holly", and 3) did I mention that Rivers didn't write any of the songs?

12 December 2008

The Endy of Irony

One of the more underrated aspects of the above photo is the incredible mis-en-scene achieved by the presence of the advertisement behind Chavez; it's as if the caption were already included in the photo. There are two intertwined ironies here: 1) the ad is for AIG, the foundering mega-insurer which has received around $150 billion in government bailouts, and 2) this photo was insufficient on its own to forestall AIG's collapse. Sadly, since Shea Stadium is no more, this ad, which attained a Citgo sign-like landmark status, at least for this Met fan, is likely no more as well. (I doubt AIG will be making the trip over to CitiField.) Hopefully they at least gave Chavez the opportunity to keep the outfield wall; he could put it up in the backyard or something.

11 December 2008

It's Like That Book The Secret Where If You Wish Hard Enough For Something

They're not booing, they're...well, they're booing

The Mets acquired Seattle closer J.J. Putz, presumably to serve as K-Rod's set-up man, in a three team deal with the Mariners and the Indians. The Amazins parted with Endy Chavez, Joe Smith...and AARON HEILMAN!

Yes friends, ding dong, the witch is dead. No longer will the first strains of "London Calling" cause a Pavlovian tightening of Mets fans' sphincters; no longer will we have to see that dead-eyed look in our reliever's eyes as a lead-blowing three run homer sails over the wall. There is no doubt that Heilman was the most hated current Met, a status I ascribe to a) the fact that he sucks, b) all we would hear about was how much he wanted to be a starter (which seemed ludicrous given his inability to routinely get through one inning, and stoked suspicions that he wasn't giving his all because he was unhappy), and c) that Yankee fan-esque complaint that the fact that Heilman sucked didn't seem to bother Heilman all that much (no punching of the water cooler). Simply by offloading him, let alone drastically upgrading their bullpen by adding both Francisco Rodriguez and J.J. Putz inside a 48 hour span, the Mets have radically improved their relations with this particular fan - a tall order considering the Grand Guignol finale to the 2008 season.

On a lighter, sadder note, we would be remiss not to pay tribute to Endy Chavez, the bench player responsible for the greatest Mets moment of the past decade. So here's a warm-up:

And here's the main course:

10 December 2008

Lonely At The Top

Someone's gonna be having a parent-teacher conference

Item: Sabathia conditions bailout of auto industry on development of edible Oscar Mayer Weinermobile prototype.

Eat Skull - Sick to Death (Siltbreeze; 2008): Punk house band from Last Year at Marienbad; stole Times New Viking's bike, will not return. A-

Kanye West - 808s & Heartbreak (Def Jam; 2008): I drunkenly advocated for a song about RoboCop at a Taboo party a few months back, and all I have to say is: "Who's obnoxious now, jerks?" B+

Pavement - Brighten the Corners: Nicene Creedence Ed. (Matador; 1997, r: 2008): Better than the Beatles if you're a contrarian, and if you like Pavement, you're probably a contrarian. A+

Boston - Boston (Epic; 1976): That this album keeps going at all after "More Than a Feeling" and "Piece of Mind" is a testament to its Christ-like genius. A+

Lines - Memory Span (Acute; 2008): Aggregation of singles, EPs, and other errata from fantastic, obscure English post-punk band; basically the same "Sex Pistols to weird Jamaican dubs" story as everyone else, but it may be the greatest story often told. A-

The Replacements - Don't Tell a Soul (Sire; 1987): You be me, and I'll be Paul Westerberg. A-

Fleet Foxes - S/T (Sub Pop; 196...er...2008): I stopped smoking weed a couple years back, but when I did, I was playing James Bond: Agent Under Fire, not listening to - what's the catchall phrase nowadays? - bromantic jammy music. B

Arthur Russell - Love Is Overtaking Me (Audika; 2008): Arthur Russell now rivals Tupac for most posthumous releases; amazing countrified pop music, little disco, he slipped the cello in where he could. A

School of Seven Bells - Alpinisms (Ghostly International; 2008): Pleasant is a good start. B

Freudian Slip

Inconsistently Updated Kaption Kontest! U B the Judge!
a) "Yankee fans, for $140 million, all this can be yours!"
b) "$140 million sure would buy a lot of hot dogs!"

From ESPN.com, "Sources: Yankees, Sabathia Near Deal":

"While a deal is not done, the source said there are 'zero major road blocks' that would prevent the Yankees from reaching agreement with the Yankees."

I'm pretty sure this isn't intentional, but with Hal and Hank Steinbrenner at the helm, one never knows, does one?

09 December 2008

Oh Right I Oh You One

"...and I turn 'round and there you go"

Singles/songs/didn't put too much thought into it/don't read a lot into it:

1. The Hold Steady - "Stay Positive"
2. The Juan MacLean - "Happy House"
3. Ida Maria - "Oh My God"
4. The Dutchess and the Duke - "Strangers"
5. Cat Power - "Metal Heart" (Jukebox version)
6. Cut Copy - "Lights and Music"
7. No Age - "Sleeper Hold"
8. T.I. - "Whatever You Like"
9. Katy Perry - "I Kissed a Girl"
10. Fleet Foxes - "White Winter Hymnal"
11. Estelle feat. Kanye West - "American Boy"
12. Raveonettes - "Aly Walk With Me"
13. Guns N' Roses - "Better"
14. Lil Wayne - "3 Peat"
15. Vampire Weekend - "Wolcott"
16. Hot Chip - "One Pure Thought"
17. Jay Reatard - "See Saw"
18. The Killers - "Spaceman"
19. M83 - "Kim & Jessie"
20. Magnetic Fields - "Courtesans"
21. Santogold - "L.E.S. Artistes"
22. Silver Jews - "Party Barge"
23. Ting Tings - "That's Not My Name"
24. Weezer - "Pork and Beans"
25. Grand Archives - "Sleepdriving"
26. Kanye West - "Paranoid"

05 December 2008

The Best Albums of 2008

Even though there remains roughly a month left, 2008 is straight bodied. So, as we do every year (which is now two years if you can believe it), a rundown of the 50 records we liked best.

50. Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago (Jagjaguwar)

This sad bastard apparently spent a winter holed up in a cabin making this paean to lost love. A certain un-indie like soulfulness, Bon Iver's music sounds bizarrely like an acoustic TV on the Radio. Girl, he misses you.

49. Harvey Milk - Life...The Only Game in Town (Hydra Head)

Whadda year for Harvey Milk: great movie (supposedly), great record...if the man himself had been alive, we might have dodged that Prop 8 bullshit (seriously, California, seriously). HM the band play an amalgam of heavy metal, hardcore, and prog, not merely content with succeeding as an aural assault, but, once you get past the bullshit, a pretty fucking neat classic rock record. "Motown" is damn near My Morning Jacket if you'd a thunk it.

48. Wire - Object 47 (Pinkflag)

I seem to recall Greil Marcus's faux Mick Jagger news conference, wherein the rock icon "said" something along the lines of "We do what we do and we're going to do it forever." Certainly, that sentiment does not apply genre-wise to the famously metamorphic Wire, who went from Sex Pistols acolytes to post-punk obscurantists in under three years. From the perspective of how they make their listeners feel - or, more to the point, intend to make their listeners feel - it's spot on. It's not clear why a band that thinks so little of humanity feels compelled to seek an audience, but I guess using misanthropy to attract a paying crowd is a kind of performance art unto itself.

47. Sic Alps - U.S. EZ (Siltbreeze)

I guess I would call what these guys do "garage deconstructionism." Therefore, if you enjoy fuzztone and incompleteness as much as I do, well, meet the Beatles. Or, if you prefer, Pavement trying even less. With ace tunes.

46. Gentleman Jesse & His Men - Gentleman Jesse & His Men (Douchemaster)

The Exploding Hearts pretty much died when their van flipped over, killing three out of four members. They were a brilliant band with a limited output; if you wanted to hear more, and who didn't, Gentleman Jesse is here to pick up the pop punk slack. Mostly fun for games of name that tune ("Black Hole" = "Summertime Blues"), Jesse's s/t record is like Mom's apple pie: it's a recipe but that shit is delicious as hell.

45. Nine Inch Nails - The Slip (self-released)

Far be it from me to stick up for meat-hooked multi-millionaire pretty boys, but Trent Reznor has gotten suspiciously little credit for a) releasing his best album since The Downward Spiral and b) giving it away for free. No tip jar, no "pay what you want" - free. The A-side, if mp3s can have an A-side, is superior industrial mope rock, but the B-side is where it gets supremely interesting: everybody knows Reznor's a Bowie-worshipper, but is it just me or is it fascinating how closely The Slip's latter-half tracks Low's side 2?

44. Titus Andronicus - The Airing of Grievances (Troubleman Unlimited)

An adamantly Jersey band, Titus Andronicus do sound like a cowpunk Bright Eyes, a comparison they've attempted to refute a fortiori. Well, sometimes you have to call a spade a spade, as TA themselves freely admit - The Airing of Grievances sounds like Lifted (Bright Eyes' best record) on meth, with rattle, clatter, and outright hysteria tumbling over every inch of plastic. Extra props for nicking "Promised Land" on the opening of "Joset of Nazareth's Blues."

43. Flying Lotus - Los Angeles/ L.A. 1x3 EP/ L.A. 2x3 EP (Warp)

Instrumental hip-hop is still mired in back-packer land, cut off from the mainstream by its lack of vocals and preference for outre experimentation. I guess if you don't let a rapper do the talking you've got to let the music do it, and like the brilliant Dilla and DJ Shadow before him, Flying Lotus has carved up a soundscape that does not want for a vocalist because it speaks volumes on its own. Borrowing heavily from the dubstep movement presently flowering on UK shores, FL's jams are somewhat more humanized by his willingness to engage mainstream hip-hop and r&b; it's as if he's holding a dialogue through a one-way mirror. Two EPs (one of remixes) and a great album this year - the choice is yours.

42. Vetiver - Thing of the Past (Fat Cat)/ More of the Past EP (Gnomonsong)

In retreating to the past with this covers album of semi-obscure folk/psych/etc. from the '60s and '70s Andy Cabic and Vetiver put their most forward foot forward. There's nothing "freak" here, just a meandering album made for fireside listening or listening during whatever you do to relax, like reading the newspaper or something.

41. Pop Levi - Never Never Love (Ninja Tune)

In the pages of The New Yorker, pop critic Sasha Frere-Jones opined that Levi was one iPod commercial from hitting it big on these shores. I don't know about that; after all, the straight-ahead T. Rex-ian glam stomp Levi emulates never really did carve out a foothold on these shores until it was polished-up and married to metal by erstwhile Aquanetted practitioners like Poision and Motley Crue. But given Levi's obvious tunesmithing abilities and pop ambitions, he may one day find himself rocking out in silhouette with a pair of white earbuds, and if Chairlift can move units when so situated, well, we're dumb fish if we don't take better bait.

40. Air France - No Way Down EP (Sincerely Yours)

Ah, Gothenberg, Sweden's twee-pop capital. Air France combine elements of techno, hip-hop, and mostly pop to create the aural equivalent of cotton candy skies on a night in June. Basically, if someone made an EP out of the Orb's "Little Fluffy Clouds" besides the Orb.

39. Guns N' Roses - Chinese Democracy (Geffen)

I'm not fucking kidding. After 17 years, Axl Rose emerged with an album that was not only superior to what everyone anticipated, but was actually a legitimate Guns N' Roses album - this is the true heir to the Use Your Illusion records, complicated and messy as they were. Yes, yes, Chinese Democracy has its share of overdubs, overproduction, and hyper-pretension, but if you open your heart, you'll discover that songs like "Shackler's Revenge", "Better", and "There Was a Time" (TWAT, geddit) fulfill the legacy. The return of the king – but where is the throne?

38. Silver Jews - Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea (Drag City)

"Come see a legend while it's still bein' made," intones lead Jew Dave Berman on "Party Barge", the straight-up goofiest track on his latest sojourn into the recesses of his...uh...superego? A welcome respite from the creeping depression the lapped at the edges of 2005's Tanglewood Numbers, Berman comes here with, if not his most accomplished, then at least his most accessible set of rock tunes. Presumably, there's a point where functioning rockers, if they intend to have a longish career, can't treat every record as an opportunity for psychic disgorgement; I can't say if that's the case here (or was Berman's case ever), but if it is, disgorge more please. We're happy when you're happy.

37. Jamie Lidell - Jim (Warp)

More comfortable in his own skin, and with the idea that Warp won't drop him for being a straight-up r&b horndog, Lidell cuts loose on the aptly-titled Jim, giving his love to everyone. A joyous follow up to the skittering schizophrenia to Multiply, and further proof that constructs like genre and identity ought to be perceived less like boundaries and more like school buses to be jumped over with your nitrous-powered rocketbike.

36. Atlas Sound - Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel (Kranky)

Bradford Cox had a good 2008. So good, in fact, that I bet he must greet people, brandy snifter in hand, with a thick 'n' smarmy "So how was your year?" I won't keep you in suspense; the album with Deerhunter, his main gig, appears further down the list a piece. But with LtBLTWCSBCF (it's even a pain in the ass acronym) Cox has one foot in the land of "can do no wrong", a status he is coming to share in my book with Ryan Adams (who, with this year's lazy daisy Cardinology has one foot out of it). As weirdly self indulgent as the record can be, from the title to the opening recording of Cox as a child telling a ghost story, it's never less the 100% musically captivating, moving closer to the gauzy 4AD sound (incidentally, the label that puts out his recs outside the U.S.) than his main gig. Inviting in its opacity.

35. Of Montreal - Skeletal Lamping (Polyvinyl)

I can't figure out the near-venomous reaction to this LP in some quarters. To these ears, it sounds like a funked-up lesser cousin to 2006's Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?, which is like saying that K2 is a lesser mountain next to Everest. The curse of high expectations, I suppose (I'm guilty as well; see no. 31). Ignore all the "Georgie Fruit" gender-bending psychobabble - note to Kevin Barnes: Prince showed where you tell - and latch onto the rhythm, and you find one of the year's richer indie pop efforts.

34. Nachtmystium - Assassins: Black Meddle Pt. 1 (Century Medium)

Goddamn it, whatever happened to boundaries? Not for purists, this is a metal record that features a saxophone dead smack in the middle of a suite of instrumentals. It's like the Dave Matthews Band or something. These guys' pop instincts are too good to stay underground for too much longer.

33. The Killers - Day & Age (Island)

This motherfucker: "Are we human or are we dancer?" is an execrable lyric. Once you get past the embarrassment of listening to the record that prominently features it, you'll find that the Killers are essentially the genius pop-rock band of our time: there is no earworm they will not exploit, no production trick they will not entertain in order to deliver that shot of dopamine your brain is seeking from the Top 40. Given the death of the monoculture, you may escape this record, but it's many, many future singles will do their damndest to hunt you down.

32. Black Mountain - In the Future (Jagjaguwar)

"RIYL Led Zeppelin" is not something that should be scrawled on a CD's shrinkwrap lightly. Too often, what people mean by that is "RIYL Audioslave". Black Mountian, on the otherhand, while not approaching Zep-like levels of maximum cockrock transcendence, do hook into the mothership's more, well, transcendent side, marrying two ton riffage to a far proggier impulse, akin to - dare I say it? - Pink Floyd's massively-underrated Wish You Were Here. No Page, no Plant, and no Roger Waters, but your weed is going to dry out waiting for that soul train. Worthy of a couple bongloads in the interim.

31. TV on the Radio - Dear Science (Interscope)

Probably the only album that made this list that I would categorize as a disappointment, simply because of past performance. Return to Cookie Mountain was good album that augured greatness; Dear Science doesn't deliver greatness. What it does deliver is TV on the Radio at their loosest and most pop-oriented, which, believe me, is not a demerit in my book. The issue is that TVOTR's "most pop-oriented" should be even more pop-oriented; they should be assaulting the charts like Normandy on D-Day. They make this list because Dear Science is still a very, very good album. The problem is that TVOTR is a band from whom we expect very, very great things.

30. Joel Alme - A Master of Ceremonies (Sincerely Yours)

Listening to this yesterday, I was trying to figure out who Alme sounded like, and crossing Lafayette Street, it hit me: Jonathan Richman. Seeing that Alme is Swedish, the temptation is to plug the 'x' in the "Richman + x = Alme" equation with fellow Swede and indie kingpin Jens Lekman (much like every Icelandic act "sounds like Bjork"). Though such a comparison wouldn't be too far off, it's not too far on either; Alme's music is more like a union between Phil Spector, Gamble and Huff, Bruce Springsteen, and Billy Joel, which is to say that it sounds like something you've heard a million times before in the best possible way.

29. Destroyer - Trouble in Dreams (Merge)

Every now and again, Dan Bejar puts down whatever side-project he's embroiled in - New Pornographers, Swan Lake, Hello Blue Roses - to put out a gorgeous solo record. Since Bejar's average is above-average, this record was a lead-pipe cinch for inclusion the day it was laid to plastic, so allow me to take this opportunity to recommend to you 2004's Your Blues and 2006's Destroyer's Rubies as well. This one's another worthy arabesque of seprentine wordplay, pleasant-buzz rocking, and that voice.

28. Diplo & Santogold - Top Ranking (Mad Decent)

Nothing succeeds like excess: global sound collector/impressario Diplo makes a dancehall-heavy mixtape w/ vocals from Santogold's S/T debut sprinkled about. At home he's a tourist; everywhere else he calls it a career.

27. Fucked Up - The Chemistry of Common Life (Matador)

I've already invoked it this year, but "Wish You Were Here + hardcore" is too tempting a description not to set down in writing. It's nice to see a punk band get to that leg-stretching My War phase of their career w/o all of the audience antagonism and angst. No need to engage in the process of weeding out; more like weeding in, this keeps up.

26. Taylor Swift - Fearless (Big Machine)

Much like Miranda Lambert's Crazy Ex-Girlfriend became known as "the token country cross-over album on everyone's year-end list" last year, Fearless seems slated for a similar fate in 2008. Well, you know what? These albums cross over because they're pretty fucking good. In fact, I put it to you that Swift's latest is more of a pop album with country flourishes than the other way around - a claim I would not have made for Lambert. To draw a clumsy analogy, if Tha Carter III is the Purple Rain of 2008, then Fearless is the Born in the U.S.A. Which is to say that 2009 is going to be Swift's year to lose.

25. Lykke Li - Youth Novel (LL)

24. Hercules & Love Affair - Hercules & Love Affair (DFA/Mute)

Brooklyn's Andy Butler has returned sex to disco, which is a lot like saying that someone returned wet to the ocean. Of course, when we say "sex" what we really mean is gay sex, tracing the music back to its true subcultural roots. Normally, I'm not one for cultural politesse or so-called authenticity tropes; erecting barriers is the precise sort of thing music stands irrevocably against. But H&LA aren't about authenticity, but rediscovery - this album is in a sense an excavation of disco for an indie audience who is used to hearing it only as a prefix affixed to "-punk." Thus if we posit former DFAers The Rapture (who themselves went less punk and more disco on 2006's Pieces of the People We Love) as the gateway drug, well, here's the smack. The star here, apart from Butler's widescreen orchestrations, is Antony Hegarty, of Antony and the Johnsons. Recontextualized from his main act's somber tenor, Antony is recast as a full-blown diva, his characteristic emotionalism drawing upon the music's pulse and simultaneously fortifying it, achieving a kind of symbiosis: unitarian disco, if you will.

23. Jay Reatard - Matador Singles '08 (Matador)

What is the Reatard agenda? Here, we have the most accessible set of songs the man has ever done, a pleasing mixture of power pop, punk, and a tinge of country. In fact, Jay was so kind, that he and his record company decided to free these tracks from the six limited-edition 7-inches they were initially released as, and make them available digitally. Yet the man I saw at the P'fork Fest was the misanthrope's misanthrope: I'd never felt the contempt from a performer towards his audience that Reatard positively radiated during his set. I don't know whether or not it's affected, or the consequence of playing before a couple of thousand people after routinely playing for a couple dozen. At the very least, it's confusing. And intriguing. I imagine this is how Guns n' Roses fans felt circa 1991.

22. The Juan MacLean - Happy House 12" (DFA)

Yes, Happy House is not an album; nor is a tomato a vegetable, technically. Yet at 28:02 (the title track plus two remixes), it's pretty damn close, time-wise. Anyway, if you can argue for the inclusion of EPs on album lists, then this discussion is a moot point; anyway, I'm not going to disadvantage the year's best dance track just because of a little thing like nomenclature. This one's got it all: killer piano loop, funky Stevie Wonderesque bassline, Nancy Wang diva-affected vocal. There's no telling how many discotheques have been leveled in the wake of this track. To quote: "So excellent."

21. Gang Gang Dance - St. Dymphna (The Social Registry)

Gang Gang Dance suggests a band that makes music for dancing, and so they did previously, in sort of a tribal, drum circle way. For some, that'll cut the mustard, for others there is St. Dymphna (named for a bar on St. Mark's Place), which introduces pop texturing and structure to the mix. So it's a pop album, but a pop album in the way that Animal Collective makes pop albums, and as a wise message board commenter once said, "Some people treat Animal Collective like they're fucking N'Sync or something." How's that for a cryptic warranty?

20. The Gaslight Anthem - The '59 Sound (SideOneDummy)

For some, the idea of pop-punk mixed with blatant Springsteenisms is catnip. For others, it is akin to ingesting ipecac. For those of us in the former category, I give you New Brunswick's own The Gaslight Anthem, who have cooked up twelve songs that fulfill every breakneck promise this putative microgenre could possibly make to each and every Mary (namechecked) and Bobbie Jean (ditto) out there. So yeah, if you're sitting there in the parking lot of the Menlo Park Mall or trying to pick out which chain to wear over your sweater before heading out to Jenkinson's then, yeah, this is your favorite album ever. Except for, you know, Born to Run.

19. Kanye West - 808s & Heartbreak (Def Jam)

Kanye West + Junior Boys instrumentals + heartbreak. This proposition does not sound inviting for everyone, and the actual result doesn't exactly throw the gates wide to Kanye's built-in audience, which following 2007's Graduation, seemed to be everyone. 808s is retrospective, introspective, maudlin, self-absorbed, spiteful, and ice cold virtually throughout; following the death of his mother and break-up with his fiancee, West was at an emotional nadir, and it shows. Of course, his ego shows too: that's where the dramatic tension comes into play, and why it pays to listen to Kanye's records. Closest thing to a Kid A in mainstream hip-hop yet.

18. Beach House - Devotion (Carpark)

Sad bastard music. Man, I don't know what a Beach House show is like, and I don't want to know. This is bedsit music in the extreme, made for bedsitters by bedsitters. But if you're going to have a genre, you have to have exemplars, and Devotion, in that sense, is canonical. The Beach Boys to Low's slowcore Stones.

17. No Age - Nouns (Sub Pop)

The signature sound of 2008 was sonically-adventurous punk rock and LA's No Age were the vanguard of that movement, dropping the notice-serving EP collection Weirdo Rippers last year and now serving up Nouns, their full-length debut for Seattle's Sub Pop. If this record were "Sleeper Hold"x 12 it woulda made the top 10 if not number one; to paraphrase Judge Ricahrd Posner, my job is to police a range, not a point. This one's a gem, and in a few years (or weeks) I'll look and feel foolish for stuffing it back here closer to the middle of the pack than up front; such is the vagary of the list-making enterprise. Buy w/o reservation.

16. Santogold - Santogold (Downtown)

Santogold, nee Santi White, is having a great, if shamefully under the radar 2008: whoever made the mistake of marketing her to the Pitchfork demographic (are those Converse ads w/ Julian Casablancas fucking serious?) ought to be shot. Fortunately, as M.I.A. has recently proved via "Paper Planes", course correction is available. Not that I want to get into the Santogold vis-a-vis M.I.A. debate, which misses the point a bit, but of the two Santogold is the more Top 40 ready. Indeed, is it that difficult to imagine that with better promotion and different cover art (that spitting gold shit is not moving your Wal-Mart consumer) that this album could float to the upper reaches of the charts based on straight-killers like "L.E.S. Artistes" (ignore the title), "You'll Find a Way", and "I'm a Lady?" I sense a "Maps"/"Paper Planes" type breakthrough down the road a piece.

15. Blood on the Wall - Liferz (The Social Registry)

If the Pixies impregnated Sonic Youth, the resulting offspring would probably sound like Blood on the Wall. (Needless to say, using the Google image search for this band proved nauseating.) Liferz is perhaps the best of a crop of undersung indie rock albums this year that put the rock before the indie. 2008 was a year that saw aggression - or at least loudness - return as virtue on the indie circuit, and Blood on the Wall's destructive musical impulses deliver impeccably dissolute tunes on the crest of a wave of distortion. Probably the least-feted essential album of the year.

14. Paul Westerberg - 49:00 (self-released)

It's true that I've not heard everything put out by the former Replacements front man since that group's unhappy denouement, but I daresay that of what I have heard, 49:00 is his best since 1987's Pleased to Meet Me. Sold as a single, 49¢ mp3 on Amazon, 49:00 is an entire album, programmed to run like a schizophrenic car radio: song fragments, mostly in Westerberg's favored country/punk/classic rock mold, blur into one another in a haze of distortion, or just snap into place instantaneously. The effect is brilliant - a pirate transmission from inside the mind of America's foremost rock and roll never-was. The coup de grace: despite the title, the whole things only runs 43 minutes and change.

13. Deerhunter - Microcastle/New Weird Era Cont. (Kranky)

There is entirely the possibility that Deerhunter may end up being one of those bands with seemingly impenetrable beginnings that spends two or three albums barrel-rolling its way towards the mainstream and Radiohead (or at lest Decemberist) sized audiences. Last year's Cryptograms was gauzy out-pop gem, wherein the songs seemed to eclose from their electronic pupae the longer the album went on. Microcastle starts out in the alternative sweet-spot and stays there for all twelve of its tracks, sounding like the next step on the way to a universally-renowned classic third album. Plus an album length bonus "EP" of pretty much the same quality! The best band in the world whose name starts with "Deerh–".

12. Okkervil River - The Stand-Ins (Jagjaguwar)

Will Sheff and his band are a rambling, emotional wreck, constantly in search of purchase, which only seems to last until the next song, and sometimes not even that long. 2005's Black Sheep Boy was brilliant but slept on; last year's The Stage Names, shorn of a clear concept (though I'm told there was one) seemed to clue more folks in. The Stand-Ins plays Amnesiac to that record's Kid A (check the interlocking cover art): complementary, contemporaneous, but far from afterbirth. "Pop Lie" says it all: "All sweetly sung and succinctly stated/Words and music you calculated/To make you sing along/With your stereo on." Sounds like a plan.

11. Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend (XL)

At the beginning of the year, Vampire Weekend were a battleground in the class war, with Ezra Konig's taste in ridiculous dog sweaters as potent an evaluative tool as actually listening to the record. Most infamous, to my mind at least, was Julianne Sheppard's tart dismissal in the Voice: "Trust-funded or not, VW's music, lyrically and sonically, emits the putrescent stench of old money, of old politics, of old-guard high society." Yes, it's true that VW's brew of bleached out afro-pop and Lacoste communicates a kind of cloistered, naive elitism. ("Old politics" though? Dudes rock for Obama.) But it's also true that to criticize VW on this point alone is to recapitulate tired rockist cliches about "authenticity" - that somehow deprivation breeds "realer" art than wealth. Which may well be true, but I don't think this record is masquerading as art. It's a pop record fueled by a bright, literary energy that manages to avoid pretension by eschewing ponderousness in favor of, well, fun. Yeah, it's polite, but it's not like you're always going around swinging on chandeliers and shit.

10. Portishead - Third (Island)

Well, this one won't be soundtracking any yuppie dinner parties. Before Third's release early this year, Portishead, like their triphop contemporaries, appeared set to fade into the footnotes of pop history; maybe people would recall "Sour Times", but that's about it. Yet absence seems to have made their hearts grow colder. Third is a more direct effort than its two predecessors, less interested in creating a mood than assaulting the listener, as if to suggest that audiences missed the point during the '90s. Whereas back then the form was perhaps a little too sedate to match the emotional content, a song like "Machine Gun", which concludes with an almost-Suicide-esque barrage of hissing percussion, is unlikely to be misunderstood as a mere signifier of good taste. Attention must be paid.

9. The Magnetic Fields - Distortion (Nonesuch)

Its dolorousness and pith are characteristic of creator Stephin Merritt; what makes Distortion special is, well, the distortion and the prominent return of singer Shirley Simms, who was sidelined on the band's last proper effort, 2004's i. Simms is given the album's flat-out best moments - the jauntily vindictive "California Girls" (not a cover), the sacreligeous "The Nun's Littany", and aching album closer "Courtesans" - and she makes the most of her star turns, delivering the everygirl emotionalism that has turned her into Merritt's foremost interpreter. This is not, of course, to detract from Merritt himself, who wrote these wonderful songs, and conceived of the titular conceit - smothering his standard compositions under layers of feedback, an homage to the Jesus and Mary Chain's epochal Psychocandy. Interestingly, Merritt, a tinnitus sufferer, was unable to mix the disc at high volume. Hence, perhaps, the happy accident that Distortion is Merritt's most sonically adventurous release to date without relinquishing any of his typical listenability.

8. Lindstrøm - Where You Go I Go Too (Smalltown Supersound)

I like to listen to this album while food-shopping at the Morton-Williams by school. It makes the supermarket feel like the future, which it kind of is.

7. Lil Wayne - Tha Carter III (Cash Money)

I will be the first to admit that I do not enjoy TC3 as much as last year's Da Drought 3: legitimate product inevitably sheds that illicit, ad hoc flavor that keeps hip-hop bound to the streets in a good way. Still, there was no more glorious moment for rap in 2008 (a bleak proposition, but still) that Wayne's ecstatic precognition on "3peat" that "You watch me!/ You watch me!/Cause I be Weezy/Must see TV!" before selling over a million in week one. He should consider it back pay for the truckload of free music he dropped on fans leading up to TC3, and record labels should consider it an instructive lesson on how to treat their customers.

6. The Hold Steady - Stay Positive (Vagrant)

A couple of slots ago, we reached the point on the list where you could hit "shuffle" and whatever the result, I don't think I'd have a problem. Placing the Hold Steady here, as opposed to the pole position, was an act of calculating cowardice on my part - after all, 2009 could be the year the band release an even better, more worthy album. Consistency, they say, is the hobgoblin of small minds; perhaps even more so, it is the hobgoblin of bands who do what they do so well that the audience takes their craftsmanship for granted. So allow me to say that Stay Positive is a brilliant, biting record from a band that does nothing but release brilliant, biting records. I worship at the alter of Craig Finn. And undoubtedly, I will be back here this time next year, or in 2010, or 2011, telling you the same shit on a different day.

5. Erykah Badu - New Amerykah Part One (4th World War) (Motown/Universal)

New Amerykah is the epitome of difficult art, sonically dense and lyrically complex, part of a rich tradition of avant-garde black political pop traceable to Sly Stone, Miles Davis, George Clinton, and Public Enemy. Badu is widely regarded as one of the progenitors of neo-soul - that is, soul updated with hip-hop signifiers - and New Amerykah persists in that vein, probing at its outer boundaries in search of something ineffably new; tracks that begin as straightforward songs end as sound collages, riven by expropriated dialogue ("Twinkle" concludes with a near-straight lift of Peter Finch's famous monologue from Network) and meditations on the religious philosophy of Clarence 13X Smith, the leader of a Nation of Islam splinter group assassinated in 1969. It's an imposing-sounding work, but thanks to Badu's ear for pop, which here doesn't necessarily translate into hooks, it remains an engaging, satisfying listen throughout.

4. Cut Copy - In Ghost Colours (Modular)

New Order did not release a new record in 2008, and if they did, it probably would have sucked ass anyhow. Cut Copy got tired of waiting for the return of the kings and decided to do it themselves, and frankly, given that NO were never a tremendous album act, In Ghost Colours might just sidle its way up to a Technique or a Low-Life without anyone batting an eye. Surely no one else this year is connecting on a heart-ass level like these guys. Case in point: I stood in the pit at the P'fork Fest this summer through all manner of insane noise band offenders - HEALTH, No Age, King Khan - but not until Cut Copy showed up to play a truncated set (customs issues) did I fear for my life. It was as if someone had set off a 100 megaton groove bomb and the kinetic energy of 5,000 sweaty, tired kids was unleashed in one sustained pulse. Messianic, in a good way.

3. Fennesz - Black Sea (Touch)

Christian Fennesz seems to drop by every few years to shit out a game-changing electronic album. 2001's Endless Summer, 2004's Venice, and now Black Sea - these are not merely great records, but genre-defining signposts. Yet Fennesz is not some kind of enigmatic Madonna acting as a subcultural curator; he's not Columbus, "discovering" a continent were millions of people were already living. He's by himself on another planet, occasionally sending burst transmissions containing his coordinates back to Earth. Not that anyone appears capable of following him. We don't have the technology.

2. The Dutchess and the Duke - She's the Dutchess, He's the Duke (Hardly Art)

A list like this is plainly the product of personal preference, and there's no denying that The Dutchess and the Duke hit a very personal sweet-spot of mine. In this case, they approximate the Rolling Stones circa "Playing With Fire", when they telegraphed menace and sex before trying to distill the concept into a formula a la Windex. So, yes TD&TD practice transparently louche revivalism; then again, so did the White Stripes. So do Cut Copy. Fuck, this is the 21st century! Recycling is good. Especially if you're good at it. So I invite you to think of TD&TD as Andy Warhol silkscreening Campbell's soup cans, as opposed to Snow Patrol photocopying The Joshua Tree. If you require further convincing, head over to their MySpace and listen to "Reservoir Park". If you don't like it, well, you just wasted your time reading the previous 48 blurbs and should close this tab before getting to no. 1.

1. M83 - Saturdays = Youth (Mute)

The truth is there was no true no. 1 album in 2008. Not because it was a bad year for music - which it certainly wasn't - but because unlike (some) previous years where there was a consensus pick (or consensus picks) - 2008 seemed slightly interstitial. A ton of bands came out with ton of great albums suited to the lineage of great albums they'd previously released; newcomers served notice that they had arrived and that even greater goods were on the way. Saturday = Youth is an apt choice because, in a way, it's strangely understated. It's not M83's best album (Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts holds that mantle), and though it's still hyperemotional, it's a step back from the histrionic pyrotechnica of 2005's Before the Dawn Heals Us. Allegedly inspired by the gauzy melodrama of John Hughes' '80s teen flicks, Saturdays = Youth seems a futuristic piece of nostalgia; like Cut Copy, M83 seemed to be reaching for the New Order brass ring, but from a different angle. Where Cut Copy wanted to move your ass, M83, not to be too corny about it, wanted to move you. So where the former made a record of great NO singles, M83 cut to the emotional core of what made its chief influence a great band: humanity co-equal to technology, not subsumed by it.