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A Retrospective Top 33 and 1/3: Best Albums of 2008

Best Albums of 2008

When I compiled my original Best Of 2008 list last December, it was a snow day. The sky dropped about a foot, maybe a foot and a half of fluffy white stuff and we lowly sub-compact drivers could go nowhere. Between ranking albums and locating album art, I took a stroll around town with my camera. The above image comes from that trek. Overall, I was pretty happy with last year’s list but, in revisiting all the albums from 2008, I now see quite a few that I left out.


Sub Pop dominated the year with a total of 4 albums in the top ten with a fifth just outside. A few albums are now on this list that weren’t on my radar last year, or that I left off for some reason or another. And because of that, some albums have dropped in rank; but that’s not because they’re no longer as valid.

All albums on this list are great, and you should check them out. I’m going to begin with a few honorary EPs (in alphabetical order). Three to be exact.

Let’s begin…


Honorary EP #1. Crystal Antlers EP by Crystal Antlers (Previously #17)

Influenced, in my opinion, by bands like Comets On Fire, Crystal Antlers blend experimentation with psychedelic noise. Wild solos and epic squeals made their self-titled EP more than worthy of checking out.


Honorary EP #2. Weepy EP by Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band (Previously #26)

Four powerful songs which ultimately led to one of 2009’s most anticipated debut albums, Weepy EP is brilliant in every form possible. Plus it features an outstanding homemade cover.


Honorary EP #3. Love Yourself EP by Thunder Power

Love Yourself is without question bouncy mid-western pop. Songs like “(Why Don’t You Go) Take A Hike?” and “Cassanova” launched Thunder Power into one of the year’s most promising acts. Yeah, we’re still waiting for that debut LP, but this EP is worthy of keeping us company until that happens.


1/3. Topps 7-Inch Single by BOAT

Topps remains the top single of 2008. It’s hard to beat with trading cards and 80s-style baseball card chewing gum. “Topps” and “Three Beds For Boat” are both excellent portrayals of the band and their dreams.


33. Who Killed Harry Houdini? by I’m From Barcelona (Previously #19)

In last year’s Best Of list I noted that this album held together better than I’m From Barcelona‘s debut, and that statement holds. I also mentioned that it didn’t have those standout tracks like “We’re From Barcelona” and “Oversleeping”. Also true. Still, I’m pretty obsessed with the track “Andy” for obvious reasons.


32. Partie Traumatic by Black Kids (Previously #28)

In many ways, the best parts of Partie Traumatic were the songs that were originally released on Wizards Of Ahhhs. Still, revisiting the album there are plenty of new tunes that were just as enjoyable (well, almost).


31. Moonbeams by Throw Me The Statue (Previously N/A)

Of all the bands that dub themselves tropical, none hold the weight as well as Throw Me The Statue. For the longest time, I didn’t care for “Lolita”, but the song grew on me. Moonbeams is a strong debut from one of Seattle’s most cherished new groups.


30. Glistening Pleasure by Natalie Portman’s Shaved Head (Previously N/A)

A local hype band of sorts, Natalie Portman’s Shaved Head took Seattle by storm. Especially the young. It’s easy to hear why – songs like “Me + Yr Daughter” and “Iceage Babeland” are easy songs to obsess over with their glam-like dance-worthiness.


29. In Case We Lose What We Have by Letters (Previously #23)

I just found out my neighbor knows the parents of one of Letters’ members. It’s an odd coincidence. In Case We lose What We Have is one of this list’s more eclectic artists, and one of the least known. But they should be known, as the songs on this album are pretty astounding.


28. Trouble In Dreams by Destroyer (Previously #33)

Following power albums like Rubies and Your Blues is a damn near impossible feat. Trouble In Dreams didn’t achieve the greatness of those albums, but it had plenty of excellence to drop it right behind them as Destroyer’s third best album.


27. Cove by A Weather (Previously N/A)

Portland’s A Weather brought back bedroom pop with their debut LP Cove. Soft lullabies and whispered harmony vocals can lead a band to bore, but A Weather never approaches that point thanks to songs like “Oh My Stars” and “Spiders/Snakes”.


26. Falling Off The Lavender Bridge by Lightspeed Champion (Previously #25)

Acoustic guitars, light strings, and bouncy melodies aren’t exactly what you’d expect from rock music, let along rock music fronted by a hefty British accent, yet here they are. Lightspeed Champion made rock music beautiful.


25. First Frost by The Lucksmiths (Previously #22)

In 2009, after a decade-and-a-half tenure as Australia’s greatest pop group, The Lucksmiths called it quits. First Frost was their final full-length and, in reality, it is one of their best.


24. The Stand Ins by Okkervil River (Previously #12)

Over the past few years, Okkervil River has really grown into their sound, and with it they’ve strengthened their abilities, from the instruments they perform to the songs they write. This rang true throughout The Stand Ins just as it had in 2007’s The Stage Names.


23. Forfeit / Fortune by Crooked Fingers (Previously N/A)

After their self-titled debut, Crooked Fingers seemed to lag a bit. I didn’t really get into the albums they released after that outstanding debut. It wasn’t until Forfeit / Fortune was released that I began to see merit return to the Eric Bachman-fronted group. And there is plenty here to enjoy, from the Tilly & The Wall-esque “Luisa’s Bones” to the Ricky Martin (WHAT? Yes!) musical styling in “Phony Revolutions”.


22. Fear Of Flying by David Karsten Daniels (Previously #21)

“Falling Down” is one of the coolest songs of 2008. David Karsten Daniels is a storyteller that has the uncanny ability to translate narrative into song, and he does so perfectly on Fear Of Flying.


21. Huggable Dust by Okay (Previously #20)

A curious mix of Electric President, Page France, and Bright Eyes for its oft electro-pop meets psychedelic-pop with simple mopey lyrics, Huggable Dust is truly a unique piece of work. A wonderful album!


20. The Plum Album by Haakon Ellingsen (Previously #18)

Looking back over the past year, there have been a few truly underground artists that have made a splash with folks at work. These artists are ones that deserve an exponentially greater audience. Two from 2009 include We Swim You Jump and The Banyans. From 2008, the most prominent of the artists is Haakon Ellingsen. The Plum Album could have been how The Beatles would sound had they originated in Scandinavia.


19. Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea by Silver Jews (Previously #32)

2008 was really my introduction to Silver Jews. It’s sad, really, as they recently called it quits. Like David Karsten Daniels, Silver Jews’ David Berman is a phenomenal wordsmith whose ability to craft a damn good song nears par none.


18. If Children by Wye Oak (Previously #13)

Simplicity and complexity are both descriptive terms you can associate with If Children by Wye Oak. From minimalist moments to insanely epic heights, this duo’s modern version of post-shoegaze rock-pop demanded to be heard. Listening again to songs like “Please Concrete” and “Family Glue” I’m reminded at just how great this album is.


17. She’s The Dutchess And He’s The Duke by The Dutchess And The Duke (Previously N/A)

Another shocker in that it wasn’t on my original list, The Dutchess And The Duke’s lo-fi sounds were fit for the 70s. The male/female vocals and heavy guitar strums put forth a sound that is as infectious as the swine flu, but without need for vaccine.


16. In Field & Town by Hayden (Previously #10)

What makes In Field & Town such a great album is it’s shock value. Similar to that found in Hayden’s video for “Where And When”, this album was startling. No longer were Hayden’s lyrics and songs utterly depressing. He had matured and with it was able to craft a wonderful album; not that the prior albums weren’t excellent on their own, just that this new direction was what Hayden needed in order to continue in the path of progression.


15. Second To The Last Frontier by Feral Children (Previously #15)

One of the few albums to keep its ranking outside the top 10, Second To The Last Frontier is truly wild. A local favorite, Feral Children effortlessly translates these crazy sounds into one of the best live performances around.


14. Everything Is Alive by Pomegranates (Previously #11)

Pomegranates’ Everything Is Alive is so unbelievably catchy, it has the instant ability to put a bounce in your step and a smile on your face. This is an easy band to love, one with graceful pop melodies and outstanding songwriting to boot.


13. We Brave Bee Stings And All by Thao With The Get Down Stay Down (Previously N/A)

This is a hard album not to love. Entirely made of bouncy pop riffs, but inundated with folk sensibilities, Thao With The Get Down Stay Down really proved with We Brave Bee Stings And All that they are one of today’s most promising artists. “Beat”, “Bag Of Hammers”, “Geography” – this album has so many great tunes, it’s hard to pick a favorite.


12. Hospital Blossom by The Wailing Wall (Previously #9)

A unique songwriter, Jesse Rifkin deserves indie fame. Hospital Blossom is an experimental folk album like no other, featuring plenty of eccentricities and a fair share of praise-worthy lyrics. The performances all around are near perfect.


11. At Mount Zoomer by Wolf Parade (Previously N/A)

How At Mount Zoomer didn’t make the list last year is beyond me. The year’s best lengthy track goes to album closer “Kissing The Beehive”. Once thought not possible, Wolf Parade topped their debut with ease. At Mount Zoomer is a must-have album.


10. Eight Golden Greats by The Old Believers (Previously #8)

Listen to The Old Believers and your first impression might be that it’s something both you and your grandparents would enjoy. Eight Golden Greats fits that old-time-y sound perfectly, yet has a strange modernity to it that makes it more than appropriate for today’s youthful music fans.


9. Nothing Is Precious Enough For Us by Death Vessel (Previously #14)

What I like about these retrospectives is that I can re-categorize the albums in a way they should have been organized originally. In the months after creating my original Best Of 2008 list, Nothing Is Precious Enough For Us took on a new light. “Peninsula” remains one of my favorite songs from 2008, and the album remains an integral part of my playlist.


8. This Is Ivy League by This Is Ivy League (Previously #7)

This album, in my opinion, channels four historic artists: The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Simon & Garfunkel, and Kings Of Convenience. Blending the best parts of each artist and concocting various recipes of these influences, This Is Ivy League progressed folk-pop while giving a hefty nod to the genre’s past.


7. Grand Archives by Grand Archives (Previously #6)

Grand Archives‘ debut LP was easily my most anticipated release of 2008 and it lived up to all expectations. “George Kaminski” was reworked beautifully and “The Crime Window” was the epic album climax. Few weak points on the album and several phenomenal live performances, Grand Archives quickly rose to be one of my favorite bands.


6. A Certain Feeling by Bodies Of Water (Previously #5)

A Certain Feeling remained a constant on my playlist for quite some time after I discovered it in 2009. These songs are filled with the perfect amounts of vocal harmonies and plush instrumentation, all of it anthem-worthy. Truly one of 2008’s most cherished releases.


5. Soft Airplane by Chad VanGaalen (Previously #4)

Soft Airplane remains an obscure but brilliant album. You just cannot deny the power of “TMNT Mask”, with its erratic solo and the outstanding cartoon video of “Molten Light” that VanGaalen did himself. Truly a master of odd things; odd but brilliant.


4. Fleet Foxes by Fleet Foxes (Previously #5)

When they debuted on the national scene in 2008, Fleet Foxes could do no wrong. Their sound brought all the great elements from the folk-rock of the 60s and 70s into modern times. With four-part harmonies and epic instrumentation, this self-titled release may ultimately go down as one of the all-time greats.


3. Lost Wisdom by Mount Eerie (Previously N/A)

On Lost Wisdom, Mount Eerie strips down his occasional dissonant distortion and wild erraticism for a fully acoustic sound. Title track “Lost Wisdom” is a true masterpiece. Phil Elverum has proved over and over again that he is one of most clever and brilliant minds when it comes to modern songwriting.


2. Bury The Cynics by The Lovely Sparrows (Previously #2)

Also no movement in The Lovely Sparrows’ Bury The Cynics. This album remains a folk-pop masterpiece, filled with some great tunes like “Wraith” and “Bury The Cynics”. Just this past week we posted a new video from the band; it is with great anticipation I await Shawn Jones’ follow-up to this album.


1. Na Na Ni by Fredrik (Previously #1)

Fredrik remains at #1 with Na Na Ni, my favorite album from 2008. Words cannot describe how excited I am for their follow up, Trilogy, due out early next year on The Kora Records. “Black Fur” and “11 Years” top this album, chalk full of great tunes. Close behind are “Evil And I” and “1986”.

hand-picked vinyl recommendations

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