by Dan Bolles
So another year has come and gone (and then some . . . sorry). And it was a pretty wild one at that: Obama thrashing McCain; The Not-So-Great Depression; discovering that Tom Brady is mortal after all. A wild, wild year, indeed.
It was also an impressive year for music, in general. Although, when has anyone ever looked back at the previous 365 days (or in this case, 378 . . . ahem) and said, "Wow. That was a really shitty year of music?" Still, we were introduced to remarkable array of tunes in 2008, including some that will likely, or perhaps already have become classics, at least for me.
So here, after at least a modicum of serious consideration and in no particular order, are my favorite (non-local) albums of 2008. In some cases, these are albums I found, or that found me, in 2008 and were not necessarily released last year. And just so we're clear, they aren't presented in a "professional" context. Rather, just as one music fan to another, personal biases intact. I'd love to hear about your favorites too.
(Note: If you missed my "official" top-10 list of local albums of the year, click here.)
Bon Iver, For Emma, Forever Ago
In a recent e-mail exchange with another critic, I mentioned that I was searching for a tactful way to express my unbridled love for all things Bon Iver in this post. It turns out that I can't. Simply put, For Emma was love at first listen. And my appreciation for the album has only deepened over time, both for the remarkable material found within and for the unexpected personal significance it would eventually carry — you can read about the latter here. I've only recently begun being able to listen to "Flume" again.
I feel the same way about this disc that I did the first time I heard Ryan Adam's Heartbreaker or Wilco's Summerteeth or Built to Spill's Perfect From Now On or Spoon's Gimme Fiction or any number of personal classics. For me, these are not albums. They're revelations; works of art so powerful and complete that they either inspire you to new depths of creativity, or to give up altogether because you know you'll never be that good. Everyone has some equivalent — and if you don't, you're not listening hard enough. Personally, Bon Iver is on that level. So much so that I almost don't want them to make another album. How could it possibly live up? Chances are that it can't — although the few leaked tracks from their forthcoming EP are pretty solid. But even if it doesn't, this album is enough. And so is this Outfield cover . . .
The Low Anthem, Oh My God, Charlie Darwin
A completely unexpected delight. Those with their ears more finely tuned to larger media outlets such as Paste magazine or NPR might be familiar with the album as it has garnered some solid press in recent months. But I actually beat those cats to the punch with a review of the disc in early September. Though in all honesty, that was more a product of fortuitous timing. The band had a Monkey House show that week and sent me the disc in advance for review. It's not like I actually sought this one out. (Incidentally, I think that review is my favorite piece from 2008.)
Much like Justin Vernon retreated to the Wisconsin woods for a winter to create For Emma, this Providence-based outfit holed up on Block Island, a small resort island in between Rhode Island and the northeastern tip of Long Island for a winter to record Oh My God. And the results are similarly potent. Seriously, I gotta try the recluse thing some winter.
Ahh, Portland, Oregon! Hipster Eden. Is it bad that most of my current favorite bands hail from, or have some connection to, the Strip Club Capitol of the US? I swear it's a coincidence. Really.
In any event, Portland's Starfucker get a nod not only for having my unquestioned favorite band name of 2008, but because their self-titled debut — honestly, they should just name all of their albums eponymously — is pure, electro indie-pop fun. Thanks to Mr. Steve Hadeka for pointing me in the direction of a post on Hipster Runoff featuring the band.
Pretty & Nice, Get Young!
I mentioned this album in my VT-made CD roundup last month. But I didn't feel comfortable including it in the top-10 because Pretty & Nice aren't really a VT band, even though they've got B-Town roots. Regardless, this album knocked me out. In particular, "Piranha" might be my favorite song of the year. Elvis Costello fans, take note.