Monday, January 12, 2009

COLUMN: Best 'o 2008

THE BEST RECORDS OF 2008: An annual Shane column that gets about as musically pretentious as I'm allowed, and which you'll probably hate because I'm not keen enough to recognize the majestic talent of Clay Aiken and/or your little brother's band who "totally rock, dude." Still, I have a column and you don't, so nyah-nyah. Point is, you should own these records:

#10 - LIAM FINN - "I'll Be Lightning"

New Zealand brothers Tim and Neil Finn have already reaped musical accolades aplenty, first in the ground-breaking new wave band Split Enz and later in Crowded House. While the latter's reunion tour should have been the dominant musical headline of the Finn family in 2008, the real surprise of the year came from Neil's 25-year-old son. Recorded in homey lo-tech analog at dad's studio, "I'll Be Lightning" shows that the Finn musical legacy carries right down the family line.

#9 - THE CHARLATANS U.K. - "You Cross My Path"


The Charlatans were THE soundtrack to my college years and havent stopped putting out albums since. But after spending most of this decade experimenting with funk, reggae, and falsetto vocals, they kind of lost me. "You Cross My Path" is a triumphant return to form: pounding beats, shivering organ solos, and one of the world's most charismatic frontmen in singer Tim Burgess. Out of everything on this list, I'm happiest to write their name in my Top 10 once again

#8 - GIRL TALK - "Feed the Animals"

Girl Talk is the nom-de-plume of Pittsburgh DJ Gregg Gillis. He's spent the last decade becoming the American leader of the "mash-up" scene, where DJ's take multiple songs, often easily recognizable tunes, and layer them atop one another to light dancefloors up. On "Feed the Animals," it's nothing to hear snippets of Phil Collins underneath a Busta Rhymes rap that suddenly blends into a bassline from The Police. Every mix is seamless, innovative, and genre-spanning. While the legalities of Gillis' "fair use" of samples is likely destined for a courtroom, for the time being you can legally download "Feed the Animals" in its entirety by making a donation at

#7 - MARTIN CARR - "Ye Gods (and little fishes)"

A record that you -- yes, YOU, couch dwelling Quad Citizen, could have a hand in. In 2008, British songwriter Martin Carr celebrated the birth of his first child and the birth of his best solo album since the break-up of his previous band, the seminal Boo Radleys. While most of his post-Boo work mixes rock with textured dub and electronica, "Ye Gods" finds Carr at his best -- stripped down to an intimate setting with acoustic guitars and hushed tones that make his gifted knack for lyrics and pop hooks shine. Bereft of record label support, Carr has turned "Ye Gods" over to the public -- via the innovative website Bandstocks, where fans can invest in shares of the record and possibly reap the fiscal rewards of sales returns. Head to or Martin's Facebook/Myspace for the scoop.

#6 - CREAKY BOARDS - "Brooklyn is Love"

The band that got their 15 megabytes of online fame this year by claiming Coldplay ripped off one of their songs. Whether that's true or not is hazy, but what I DO know is that the band's new album, "Brooklyn is Love," might be the most infectious record of the year. Imagine a garage band of nerds pretending to be the Beach Boys covering the Ronettes and you'll be close.

#5 - SIGUR ROS - "Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust"
("With a Buzz in Our Ears We Play Endlessly")

When Iceland's Sigur Ros went global back in 1999, medical personnel had to spend most of the ensuing year retracting the drooling tongues of every professional music critic on Earth. With their otherworldly ambient soundscapes and lilting foreign-tongued vocals, Sigur Ros truly sounded like no other band living or dead. With their 2008 release (please don't make me type it again,) the band landed squarely on the ground with a collection of real songs, real melodies, and their most accessible record to date.

#4 - ALPHABEAT - "This is Alphabeat"

The term "pop music" usually brings to mind BAD connotations -- manufactured groups, auto-tuned vocals, and corporate greed, right? But what happens when an earnest band sets out on their own to write and record an album of inescapably catchy pop anthems? In 2008, Dutch upstarts Alphabeat did just that, taking the garage-band model of indie rock success but using it to unleash a record of pure pop hedonism not heard since the glory days of ABBA.

#3 - SHUGO TOKUMARU - "Exit"

Sometimes I'd seriously prefer to not WRITE about a record, but just force you to listen to it because it defies description. "Exit" is one of those albums. Imagine any of the critically adored indie songwriters of the past decade -- Sufjan Stevens, Sondre Lerche, Elliott Smith, etc. Now make them Japanese and lock them in a toy store. Never mind the fact that you won't understand a word of the album - it won't matter. You just can't listen to this and be in a bad mood. Trust me and go to iTunes to take a listen.

#2 - OF MONTREAL - "Skeletal Lamping"

Proving that even a mediocre Of Montreal album is still better than the best that other bands can hope to offer. Quite simply, Of Montreal are the greatest and most innovative band making music today. That said, "Skeletal Lamping" doesn't exactly open any ground-breaking new doors for the band. In this case, though, I'm happy with the same-ol', same-ol': A thousand melodies condensed into 15 chaotic songs of pop wonder while frontman Kevin Barnes leaps in and out of his Bowie-like stage persona, Georgie Fruit. No, I'm not kidding.

#1 - FLEET FOXES - "Fleet Foxes"

2008 will go down in music history for a lot of things. It was the year that Kanye sang and Britney decided to be normal again. The year that bands like Hot Chip proved that nerdy white boys could make dancefloor anthems. But out of nowhere, the best record of 2008 comes from a pack of bearded neo-hippies from Seattle who shunned all that was trendy and put out a record whose nearest comparison might just be Crosby Stills & Nash. Perfectly self-described as a "baroque harmonic pop jam band," it's a record so beautiful it might make you cry, I kid you not. Go buy it now. Your life is lacking without it.