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Archive for December 17th, 2008

My Top Albums of 2008 (and Podcasts too)

Posted by Peder on 17 December 2008

Photo by Mahesh Habarakada

Photo by Mahesh Habarakada

I was recently reading yet another magazine’s listing of the top albums of 2008 – this one from Spin – and thought it might be fun to see what new music I’ve been listening to this year. So I concocted a quick smart play list on iTunes and found the following list (in no particular order):

  • R.E.M.Accelerate – When I heard Michael Stipe say this album was politically charged I knew I had to get it.  And when I got it, it took me back to a happy place I once had with their albums of the late 80s and early 90s.  Style and substance:  It rocks, it has innuendo, it’s a great album.  The album plays so well as a set, but some of my favorite songs include “Accelerate,” “Mr. Richards,” and “Red Head Walking.”
  • TV On The RadioDear Science – Holy crap this album blew my socks off.  Like their previous releases, it gets better as it grows on you, but they way they go between percussive jet fuel and tender ballads made me a hard core fan on first listen.  Seeing them live was easily one of, if not the best, show I saw all year.  (Other big one was Radiohead at Outside Lands)  Fave songs include “Halfway Home,” “Family Tree,” and “Shout Me Out.”
  • AtmosphereWhen Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold – I didn’t realize how much I listened to this album until I checked iTunes, but I cranked it a lot.  I suspect some of that came from the fact that I spent a good chunk of the year prepping to come back to Minnesota and these guys are a local favorite, but the album is just good Rhymesayer’s hip hop.  Fave’s include “Puppets,” “The Skinny” and “The Waitress.”
  • BeckModern Guilt – Just good Beck, plain and simple.  I’m a fan of Beck, have liked most of his albums, and have seen him twice in concert.  This album was also a no-brainer for me to get, and it did not disappoint.  Fave tracks include “Gamma Rays,” “Modern Guilt,” and “Profanity Prayers.”
  • The NotwistThe Devil, You + Me – So here’s a sleeper pick, if not for the fact it’s a great late night listen.  For a band that’s really switched it’s style up a lot, this album stayed satisfyingly close to its predecessor Neon Golden, which I also love.  This German laptop rock just has a spot in my heart.  Fave songs include “Where In This World,” “The Devil, You + Me,” and “Good Lies.”
  • Vampire WeekendVampire Weekend – Early, early in 2008 I started hearing about this band from Columbia University and thought I’d give it a go.  So fun and upbeat, each song comes off with a youthful innocence captured by the clean guitar riffs.  Funnest songs include “A-Punk,” “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa,” and “Walcott.”
  • The Ting TingsWe Started Nothing – When a buddy told me to get this album I kinda laughed in his cyber chat face.  But then I listened — first calling it a guilty pleasure, then bringing others for the ride.  It’s infectious, upbeat and perhaps a bit overplayed on the local radio station, but that doesn’t mean it’s not good.  Guiltiest pleasures include “Great DJ,” “Shut Up and Let Me Go,” and “Keep Your Head.”
  • MGMTOracular Spectacular – I felt a bit late to this party cuz I didn’t really get into this album until after I heard them on the air and read about them in Spin.  But I’m here now and this is an album I don’t really go more than a day without hearing at least one of these tracks:  “Time to Pretend,” “Electric Feels,” or “Kids”
  • Kings of LeonOnly By The Night – Having been mildly impressed with their debut album, I picked up this album in a bout of drunken downloading and for once am happy with the results!  It’s well-produced and finally gives the singer the official position as band frontman, letting the guitar take its more appropriate role behind the vocals.  I love the songs “This Sex is On Fire,” “Use Somebody,” and “Be Somebody.”  I brought some other thoughts on this album to bear at the end of this post.
  • David Byrne and Brian EnoEverything That Happens Will Happen Today – It only came out recently but man is it good!  I’ve listened to these grooves a lot over the last couple weeks and have to put the album among my faves for the year.  Particular tracks I love are “Home,” “Everything That Happens,” “Life Is Long” and “Strange Overtones.”
  • Raphael SaadiqThe Way I See It – Waiting for a double half-caf Americano at Starbucks (You can take the boy out of California …) I saw one of those free iTunes download cards they give away there.  It was “100 Yard Dash” off this album.  Smooth, Motown melodies that call back to an earlier time.  Woah, we have something here.  Then I put it on when I helped my mom paint her laundry room and it was a hit.  Finally I heard an interview with the Raphael on The Sound of Young America and was impressed with the person behind this great sound.  Give yourself the pleasure of an album you probably wouldn’t have heard otherwise and get this one.  The whole album plays well, but I recommend “100 Yard Dash,” “Just One Kiss,” and “Staying in Love.”  Nah, really just throw that disc on start to finish!

Like I say, these albums were the ones with the highest play counts on my iTunes, which is an admittedly imperfect science.  That count doesn’t take into consideration what I played on my iPod, on CD in my car or on other people’s systems.  But they’re the albums of 2008 that have had a positive influence on this crazy, crazy year of mine.

2008 was also the Year of the Podcast for me, and I listened to a lot of these as well.  I can only see this “radio on-demand” technology growing and having an increased role in my life in 2009.  So, in alphabetical order, here are some of my favorite podcasts of the last year:

  • The Bugle – John Oliver from the Daily Show and his commedy partner Andy Zaltzman have a good English go at the lighter side of the weekly news.
  • Common Sense with Dan Carlin – A guy in Oregon gets political and *thankfully* doesn’t take sides.  “Your independent alternative to the partisan voices you normally hear.”  He makes a lot of sense too, and was a refreshing source of insight during this politically-charged year.
  • Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History – A fan of history rather than a professional historian, Dan has a very compelling way of sharing stories and insights from history to his audience in this, his second show.  He’s a lot more fun to listen to than pretty much all of the other history podcasts I’ve tried out.
  • Dear Amber – Insider’s Guide to Chinese Culture – Run by the school I used to teach for (proud much?) and, this podcast goes over Chinese culture from the perspective of expats.  Kinda fits me, and I love to listen and reminisce
  • The Moth – Stories told live without notes.  Very good, interesting tales.  The art of storytelling is not dead!
  • On Point with Tom Ashbrook – Part of the NPR network, On Point provides depth behind current news stories.  Plus Tom Ashbrook is a great interviewer, and it’s great to listen to him work difficult interviewees.
  • The Sound of Young America – I only recently discovered this one but love it for interviewing interesting people.  It’s where I learned a lot about Raphael Saddiq.  Score.
  • WNYC’s Radio Lab – This is a fun show that takes on a different random, interesting topic each episode.  They talk about it, interview people about it, make jokes about it.  And I really like their storytelling/interview style where they stick bits of commentary between parts of the guest’s interviews.  It provides context and adds to the impact of the interviews.  Guess that’s where the “lab” part comes from.

Here’s hoping 2009 will be half as cool as 2008 has been.  I suspect it will!

Edited to Add: I had a look back at my account (which I’m really not using anymore) to see what bands in general I had listened to in 2008.  Here are the top 10 bands I rocked out to, regardless of whether or not they had a new album in 2008:

  1. Arctic Monkeys
  2. Shiny Toy Guns
  3. The Notwist
  4. The Lovemakers
  5. Radiohead
  6. Boards of Canada
  7. Vampire Weekend
  8. TV on the Radio
  9. Beck
  10. Hellogoodbye

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