Monday, January 25, 2010

Top 12 Albums of 2008/2009

Here's my take from the Countdown on January 26th's show. Enjoy!


Top Twelve Albums of 2008/2009

12. Tokyo Police Club - Elephant Shell (April 22, 2008)

Tokyo Police Club's sophomore album has all the ingredients -- great figurative lyrics, simple but effective hooks, interesting vocals, and a fairly cohesive album in Elephant Shell. The biggest issue: its a case of steak and smarties. Though the ingredients are great, not necessarily together. Its a good indie album from some good Canadian boys, and its full of handclaps. That is a major plus, and some of the tracks are just too good to leave this album alone.
(See "Tessellate" and "Your English is Good")

11. K'naan - Troubadour (February 24, 2009)

K'naan is amazing. He holds spoken word, rap, and hip-hop in tension with what i'd typically call "real music". K'naan's success is absolutely amazing. I've never seen anyone's career take off in the same way his has recently. I saw him opening at a small club in December of 2008. By December of 2009, he had an album sell 40, 000 copies and a multi-million dollar deal with Coca-Cola to use his song "Waving Flag" as their advertising anthem for the South Africa World Cup. That's pretty major. He's got one of the most amazing stories i've ever heard as far as musicians go. ( The wikipedia article doesn't mention some of the things he went through, but he does in some of his songs. A great album with some great songs, but some of the tracks are too mainstream-hip-hop for my tastes. "Wavin' Flag" and "Take a Minute" are both highlights of the album.

10. The Kooks - Konk (April 14, 2008)

When i was compiling this list, i almost overlooked this album, mostly because it is so great, i assumed it was from '06 or '07. It isn't, however. The album is LONG (24 songs), and each song is full of the Kooks. Something about the album doesn't quite achieve what Inside In/Inside Out did, but Konk is still a hit in my books.
(See "Gap", "Love it All" and "Shine On")

9. Bon Iver- For Emma, Forever Ago (February 2008)

This Album is spectacular. I will get its only major flaw out of the way quickly - his voice may not appeal to all audiences, and it is ever present. Though the album is short, it doesn't feel too short. "Skinny Love" is a masterpiece of simplicity. The arrangement of Bon Iver's airy voice, the pulsating guitar and banjo and the lyricism really creates the feeling of the album perfectly, with "Skinny Love" as the undisputed best track off the album. What hoists this above other albums (including some that didn't make the list) is how cohesive the album is. It is borderline Rush-style concept album cohesive, which is something i really enjoy about it.

8. Elbow- The Seldom Seen Kid (March 17, 2008)

WOW. This was the first album by Elbow i had ever heard, but in comparison with the earlier albums, this band has near-perfected their craft of country/folk/rock. Not many artists can book a tour with Coldplay, but Elbow nearly stole the show when i saw them both in July of 2009. Literally bone chilling vocals in "On A Day Like This" and one of the best guitar hooks i've ever heard in "Grounds For Divorce", this album really holds itself together by spacing the tracks out nicely and bringing back musical and lyrical themes in every track. Definitely worth a thorough listen.

7. Sam Roberts- Love at the End of the World (May 20, 2008)

Debatably Sam Roberts' best, Love doesn't quite have the flow of 2006's Chemical City, but pretty darn close. The album starts with high speed on the title track, and pretty much zips on to the ending in superb fashion. The album never drops too far below medium speed and medium energy, with every song riddled with Roberts' enigmatic lyrics about the old days and how "them kids don't know how to dance to rock and roll". A downside: he probably doesn't either.
(See "Them Kids" "Detroit '67" and "Fixed to Ruin")

6. Regina Spektor- Far (June 22, 2009)

FUN and Games! Really, really depressing fun and games. In my opinion, Spektor's indisputable best. "The Calculation" starts things off the way an album should, with great aplomb. Each subsequent fits a loose theme, making the overall cohesion of the album a little lacking. Far makes up for this by having only one track that is sub-par. Every other track is strong enough to be a single, and that makes for a really pleasant, engaging listen. Every single song is heavy business though. Not one song is really all that uplifting or happy. I hear the kids like that these days, however. An easy 10/10 for Regina Spektor. (See "Dance Anthem of the 80's", "Laughing With" and Every other song on the album.)

5. Jack Johnson- Sleep Through the Static (February 5, 2008)

The oldest album on the list definitely never lost momentum up to this point. Every track hangs together in a strong unit without every song being the same. There are slow and fast, dark and light, fun and serious tracks on the album. All this in 14 tracks makes for a pretty strong album. The guitar work entrances me - Johnson is a master of the acoustic guitar; he then decided to not play one and showed us he's got a penchant for serious tone - both in his electric guitar-acoustic rock, and in his strong lyrical voice. His lyrical structures are unique to him, and that not only give Sleep Through the Static cohesion on its own, but with the entire Jack Johnson Discography.

4. Coldplay- Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends/Prospekt's March/LeftRightLeftRightLeft (June 11, 2008; November 21, 2008; May 15, 2009)

Yup. Three albums by one artist share the fourth spot. These three albums show Coldplay's genius. Viva La Vida is an enigmatic, fully cohesive album. Not only does it flow from track to track, but if you put it on repeat, it flows right from the end of the final track into the beginning again! You could literally never know it was over. Such a strong, very successful album. They followed it up with Prospekt's March. An EP with a cover design that fit quite well with Viva La Vida's, something not seen since Muse's Absolution series of Albums/DVDs. Prospekt's introduces new songs, songs re-imagined, and much more (See "Lost+"). Following the great success of the Album and EP, Coldplay released (gave away for free) LeftRightLeftRightLeft. Oh. did i mention this free live album is awesome? Coldplay holds a triple threat here - every single one flows well, they all fit together remarkably, and to top it all off, they are likely the last things we will ever hear from Coldplay. too bad, but i'm glad we got these from them first. Really great, strong albums.

3. Hey Rosetta!- Into Your Lungs [and around in your heart, and on through your blood] (June 3, 08)

Holy Moly. Underdogs for the win. Well, third place. This album blows my mind. Hey Rosetta! are really finding success now, largely due to Cineplex entertainment and the CBC Radio 2 family of stations. The album doesn't have a song i don't love on it. Strong Vocals with Harmonies? Check. Eclectic but strong instrumentation? check. Brilliant lyrics? check. And, to top it off, the album is so strongly held together, it is nearly a single song. I really can't stress enough how much you need to buy this album and listen to it for the rest of your life. I'm a man of bold claims, but anyone who has listened to Into Your Lungs will tell you that this album is so worth every minute you spend listening to it. East-coast music that isn't about fishing or Cape Breton coal mines? I love it. Canadian independent music has really taken off, but Hey Rosetta!, in my opinion ought to lead the charge. The only thing keeping them out of first place is the amount of time i've spend with the album. Despite its age, i only discovered it fairly recently. Still a very strong 11/10.
(See "There's an Arc" "Handshake the Gangster" "Red Heart" and "We Made a Pact")

2. State Radio- Let it Go (September 29, 2009)

Let me start by saying that i have a full album review posted here, and you can look at that to supplement this. State Radio gets this spot due to a little bias, a great deal of hard work, and, in my opinion, the fact that this album will be their biggest breakthrough yet. Every song is very socially conscious, reflective of the band's views on political situations and world issues. From start to finish, ballads and rock-out epics, Let it Go is essentially the perfect album. Winner of my personal "Great Value Award" with 41 tracks on the digital version, one of the better albums of its genre in terms of cohesive ideas, and a total blend of lyricism, punk, folk, and hard rock. Yes, i suggest you read the previous review. Yes, listen to this album. Most of all, Yes, Let it Go really does rock out in a perfect way.
(See "Doctor Ron the Actor" and "Knights of Bostonia")

1. Manchester Orchestra- Mean Everything to Nothing (April 21, 2009)

Well, number one. This album is FLAWLESS. I daresay it is the best album released during my life to date. It is honestly contesting with Abbey Road and other classics for a top spot as an all time favorite. The songs flow perfectly, the lyrics are heartfelt and when combined with frontman Andy Hull's vocals, you pretty much have to say yes to a second listen. The themes on the album are strong, and it isn't just the big things. Sleigh Bells feature on the album semi-prominently, and you don't even notice that it isn't christmas. I mean, yeah, that last comment made no sense, but the album is just undeniably awesome. The first track sets the album up, and then moves through what would make a splendid A-side for a vinyl (i'm unsure of whether there is a vinyl version), finishing with "100 Dollars". What would be the B-side begins with "I Can Feel A Hot One". This song is possibly the best on the album, but it is difficult to choose with any real sense of accomplishment, ask me now, i could say any one of the 12 tracks (even the bonus track is spectacular!) I would wholeheartedly suggest anyone who likes music in the style of music worth liking pick this album up. Six Stars! 12/10!

Honorable Mentions and Why they're 13+

Fall/Winter/Spring/Summer- Jon Foreman: A great 4 EP set that flows really nicely, possibly a tie for 12th. The instrumentation is really eclectic though, which is a little over the top. Ask me another day, and i might put in the top ten, though.

Day and Age- The Killers: Simply not their best effort. "Spaceman" and "Human" are good tracks, and the rest of the album is pretty good. Not perfect enough to breach the top twelve.

Unfamiliar Faces- Matt Costa: A really great album with multiple versions (North American, UK, iTunes, etc). If there were one album with all of them, it'd be great, but the album on its own isn't cohesive enough, nor does it have the same uniqueness the other albums have.

The Resistance - Muse: United States of Eurasia. The Album is pretty cheesy at points. But it is still awesome. Just not awesome enough.

Bring Me Your Love- City and Colour: The album is good, but not very flowing and in my opinion, only two songs i keep coming back to. "Sleeping Sickness" featuring The Tragically Hip's Gordon Downie is a hit though. Close to breaking the top 12.

Fleet Foxes-Fleet Foxes: Great album, really unique songs, but simply too indie/hipster to be viable for any sort of success beyond people looking for unsuccessful bands. "White Winter Hymnal" is a must hear and must sing around Christmastime. Otherwise, a good album, but not quite enough.

Not Animal - Margot & The Nuclear So and So's: Straight up, Margot & ... whatever whatever is too weird. They are trying to be Neutral Milk Hotel. Reason for getting an Honorable Mention? They succeed very easily. Check out "A Children's Crusade on Acid"

This is Blue- Trevor Hall: Admittedly, a partial oversight. I don't own this album, and i ought to. "Giri's Song" and "Jago Ma" are the standout songs to me, but the album is really great overall. A pity i didn't get to it in time. *Winner: Best Artwork Award

Crystal Castles- Crystal Castles: Canadians who played too many DOS games. The meat of Crystal Castles is essential 16-bit sound card music with really intense female vocals. Really fun music, but gets, in all honesty, really annoying. "Alice Practice" is a favorite. *Winner: Most Likely to Induce A Seizure

Red, Yellow and Blue - Born Ruffians: Unique and genuinely Canadian, but just a bit too tame to breach the top twelve. I think that "Badonkadonkey" might be the most fun i've ever had singing along though. "Little Garcon" is a masterpiece of party vocals as well.

We Sing.We Dance. We Steal Things- Jason Mraz: Great album, but essentially uninteresting. Some nice horn parts that were appreciated, and "I'm Yours" delivers cutesy charm your girlfriend will love for you to sing to you. You'll do it, because the music is uncomplicated and simple. Salvaged, however, by Mr. Mraz's powerful sarcastic Lyrics and killer pop vocals.

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