From fluent genre masterpieces to stunning freaks of nature, this years' crop has some brilliant stuff in it so filmmakers, please, step away from that copy of Beggars Banquet for a moment and venture out into the new.
1. Santogold - Santogold (Downtown). This M.I.A./Yeah Yeah Yeahs lovechild made it onto a lot of top ten lists this year, and rightly
so for Santi White packs a metric fuckton
of ferocity and style into every cut. Her urgent, siren (as in squad car) vocals rise and fall in glorious sine waves of swagger on "You'll Find a Way" and "Say Aha," but even when she's taking it down a notch ("Creator" and "Shove It") her delivery drips with attitude and tenacity that few others muster. "L.E.S. Artistes" is evidence of pop genius, a stalwart manifesto of independence, but one clear-eyed enough to acknowledge the personal cost. Meet the real Sascha Fierce.
2. The Renaissance - Q Tip (Motown Universal). This low key hip hop is so charismatic and atmospheric that it's easy to overlook how brilliantly worded it is throughout ("minimum wage in the Internet age"). Q Tip is more cognizant of the rhythm-rhyme connection than any other MC out there, and the way he laces words to beats makes for grooves tighter than a turducken. Parse the lyrics in real time or just get into the bean-bag-hangout vibe. Highlights on this album include "Gettin' Up," "Manwomanboogie," and "You."
3. Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes (Sub Pop). "Americana" doesn't begin to cover it. This sylvan masterpiece sounds like the offspring of a snowy owl and a cirrus cloud. "White Winter Hymnal" is clean and fresh as the landscape it worships, while "He Doesn't Know Why" is a strangely triumphant portrait of a down-and-out brother. "Oliver James" shows off how startlingly pure Robin Pecknold's voice is when stripped of all those angelic layers.
4. Our Delight - James Moody and Hank Jones (IPO). Rich in old school panache, these two jazz veterans joyfully pick up their conversation without ever over-noodling. Tart, structured sax and piano create a smart, tailored sound, yet it's clear that Moody and Jones also take a lot of pleasure doing what they do together too (hence the album title). Amiably, they stroll right past the hotel lobby set to deliver something with infinitely more personality, style, soul.
5. Una Dia - Juana Molina (Domino). Argentinian experimentalist Juana Molina is an absolute virtuoso of highly exotic grooves and remote polyphony, practicing all her strange and elastic arts on Una Dia, rightly called "a rare and beautiful animal" by Allmusic.com. Sounds like Bjork on peyote in the Andes.
6. Los Angeles - Flying Lotus (Warp). Edge-pushingly hip and mostly instrumental, this lo-fi electronic gem is a pulsating, heavily textured artifact from outer space. Urbane neo-soul and trip hop influences float in and out of the downcast beats, but what remains is an unflagging attention to detail and hyper-keen sense of atmosphere.
7. & 8. Saturdays=Youth - M83 (Mute) and Oracular Spectacular - MGMT (Sony). All air and exultation, Saturdays=Youth is a flying dream of an album, with exquisite echoes of Cocteau Twins and Kate Bush throughout, yet somehow fresh and millennial too. (On good speakers, "We Own The Sky" makes full body goosebumps.) Oracular Spectacular is a more psychedelic but an equally airborne transcription of youth. MGMT sound like the Flaming Lips as teenagers. Both zeitgeist-y, both great.
9. Made in Dakar - Orchestra Baobob (Nonesuch). Stylistic masters, these seminal Senegalese musicians move effortlessly from rumba, reggae and highlife to create some of the warmest, most appealing music ever made. "Sunny" is a word often applied to a particular kind of bleached-out California album rock these days, but Orchestra Baobob returns from a 16 year hiatus to remind us of what sunny really sounds like. Featuring guest vocals from Medoune Diallo and Youssou Ndour, who still sounds like God's gift.
10. Midnight Boom - The Kills (Domino). Ferociously sexy, The Kills capitalize on their intense chemistry to create a dirty rock sound that makes you want to shake your hips, maybe even find yourself a nice pole to dance on. The irresistible groove of "Getting Down" is rapidly followed by the tender rocker "Last Day of Magic," both with that big, restless boom-kick sound that gives this album so much forward motion. The closer, "Good Night Bad Morning" is a gorgeous ballad both downcast and hopeful—a lullaby that slowly rocks and rolls you into an unlikely state of grace.
11. Saint Dymphna - Gang Gang Dance (Social Registry). In Catholicsm, Saint Dymphna is the patron saint of mental illness, so it's an apt title for this incredibly eccentric album of free range electronic music. With production chops to match their grandly artistic ambitions, Gang Gang Dance fluidly invoke dub, grime, world, hip hop, trip hop, reggaeton and more. Serious headphone candy.
Some other great 2008 releases to check out:
- Lightbulbs - Fujiya & Miyagi (indie pop)
- Zero Life Night Vision - Kap Bambino (alt rock)
- Alegranza - El Guinchino (experimental world)
- Stop Drop and Roll! - Foxboro Hot Tubs (rock)
- Soul Science - Justin Adams (world / blues)
- Alpinisms - School of Seven Bells (dream pop)
- Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill - Grouper (Americana / freak folk)
- Does You Inspire You - Chairlift (dream pop)
- Youth Novels - Lykke Li (indie pop)
- Heart On - Eagles of Death Metal (rock)
- Hercules and Love Affair - Hercules and Love Affair (disco / dance)
- Microcastle - Deerhunter (alt rock)
- Lay it Down - Al Green (soul / r&b)
- What does it all mean? 1983-2006 Retrospective - Steinski (hip hop / funk / turntablism)