Getting closer to the end. Let's just keep it moving.
10. The Tallest Man On Earth - Shallow Grave
Rank in 2008: 21-50
I have this weird love/hate relationship with Kristian Matsson, aka The Tallest Man On Earth. On one hand, I love that he is doing bare bones, heart on the sleeve folk music with his rasp and swedish accent and just fucking put himself out there, no frills, just hooks. On the other hand, I sometimes get pissed off or embarrassed that I even listen to him in the first place. Some of the lyrics are truly atrocious (not TOO BAD), and the general sound is something that I don't want people around me knowing I listen to...loudly. But there lies the conundrum. I've found that the best place to listen to TMOE's music is in my car, volume turned all the way up so that I can sing those very same lyrics at the top of my lung, pretend I'm a folksinger and tell the world my story. Do I do it with the windows up or down? He's fun - sort of. Take it in small doses and it's the best thing there is, in large doses - well...I probably don't want to know you.
9. Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend
Rank in 2008: N/A
At this point it's probably ok to freely admit just how fucking fun this record is and always has been. Back when Ezra and co. jumped/splashed on the scene and were the biggest thing since the Arctic Monkeys, I was a bit hesitant to reveal how much I liked them, my mistake. Perfectly fun, capably, pop music. The whole thing about NPR saying it's world music is a joke, sure they have African rhythms, sure much of the albums sounds like it wants to be a "Graceland" b-side, but guess what? "Graceland" is one of the best albums ever - and this is just really fuckin fun. It's sunny, its hot, you're with people, put on Vampire Weekend, open some beers, stop being pretentious and just fucking move around, have a conversation, sing along. Good chillout music, good beach music, good driving music. A really fun band and here I'll say it: a landmark record.
8. Small Sur - We Live In Houses Made Of Wood
(Tender Loving Empire)
Rank in 2008: 8
Since I've ceased listening to music when going to bed, I've listened to Small Sur a whole lot less. Due to an obsession and almost a "need" to listen to this album before/while falling asleep, it became one of the most played albums in my entire collection. The lushness of it all, always close, but never quite bubbling up over the calm. It's eerie, it's pretty, it's dark. It's one of my very favorite folk records in a decade filled with weird, slow folk music. It's a shame this release didn't get more press or positive reactions, because just about everyone I've introduced it to has enjoyed it a great deal. It's not something to listen to during the day time, unless you find yourself constantly surrounded by overwhelming trees or perhaps intense desert, but it is a great nighttime record, perfect for the comedown, or relaxing, drinking, reading. One of those albums where you don't want to admit quite how much you truly love it, but know that it's going to stick around in your rotation for a very, very long time.
7. Juana Molina - Un Dia
Rank in 2008: N/A
One of the most overused words that amateur music critics like myself employ is "ethereal". Due to a lack of ability to accurately describe music that is so unlike anything else out there, yet gives the listener a sense of calm, we use this word. Other-worldly, beautiful, extravagant, dream-like. All of these things describe Juana Molina, an artist who should be among our most important and critically acclaimed, yet somehow remains the status of being looked over when all boils down. Her songs often revolve around her spanish-sung vocal loops, using her voice as percussion, filling the spectrum of sound with seemingly dozens of vocal tracks playing off of each other. There is always a groove, there is always hints of instruments that keep the music rooted in the real world. It doesn't sound bizarre or futuristic, it doesn't sound archaic either, despite the chanting. It seems to be the sound of now, a constant experiment in sound and a true joy to listen to.
6. Flying Lotus - Los Angeles
Rank in 2008: 21-50
In which, in 43 minutes Flying Lotus creates the most exciting subgenre currently in electronic music. Various dj's had been experimenting around LA for a couple years, mixing 70s funk and jazz with truly abstract rhythms, cranking up the drums, maxing out the synths, giving us a new wave of psychedelic music that we can groove to. But Flying Lotus is the master, a role he well deserves. It took me a while to get into this album when it first came out, due primarily to its density, just how hard it hits - but that's the greatness of it. It's far out, it's a trip and it's just terribly exciting. Upon first listen, many of the tracks can sound repetitive, but once you start to learn the album, learn what to look for - where the songs are going, where the interludes are - it really reveals itself as a complete work. Just a very exciting direction for electronic music that has since spawned dozens of other great dj's mixing techno, dubstep, broken beat, jazz, hip hop, trip hop, etc.
5. Fennesz - Black Sea
Rank in 2008: 3
There is something about much of the music that Christian Fennesz is a part of that really makes my ears prick up. "Endless Summer" was a legendary album, "Venice" was comforting, I just underplay it and "Black Sea", since it's release has become some sort of "safety blanket" record for me. I mean this in two ways: back when it came out, I foolishly, though truthfully claimed that the sounds on this album were some of the first that I truly felt a blanket effect with. It's droning ambient soundscapes, some cold, some warm - but somehow the compositions on this record just were so right for me, they just warmed me - they sounded like the best thing I could possibly hear. The other way this record effect me stems from this - it has slowly become a near comfort record. One that is almost always on my Ipod for those times when I need to drown out everything - work, the day, the hustle and bustle of people on a train, whatever and just zone out - listen to something I can compare with my breath. Somehow, one of Fennesz's darkest records has become a record that comforts me. I still love it.
4. Q-Tip - The Renaissance
Rank in 2008: 2
The reason this record succeeds as one of my favorite hip hop records of the past decade is in fact due to it nearly reaching a plateau of too much of a feel good record. It sounds hopelessly out of place among hip hop music in the 2000s, both underground and mainstream - everything considered. It's jazzy, but not too much, it's smooth, but not too much. It's positive - it's not very political, it has r&b hooks. It's Q-Tip doing hip hop that could almost find its way to adult contemporary radio - and I say this all as praise. This is a hip hop record I can just throw on it's dope - but it doesn't require a lot. Obviously Tip's voice is one of a kind, so smooth (and funny), and the beats on this record are just smooth enough. Jack Johnson rap? I don't know - terrible description. The fact remains that this is a hip hop album that doesn't belong to 2008, it's just out of place. It also happens to be the best hip hop record of 2008 and one of the very best of the entire decade. Smooth.
3. Erykah Badu - New Amerykah Pt. 1 (4th World War)
Rank in 2008: 10
I've said many times that just about everything Erykah Badu puts out is amazing. She is unquestionably one of the rawest, most inventive and most important female musicians of the last two decades, becoming someone who is looked at with an almost diety-like awe. She is a queen, the only true superstar in soul music since soul music was a real genre. And with only a few albums officially released, she has nevertheless remained important, untouchable and always pushed the envelope. "New Amerykah Pt. 1" definitely pushes the envelope, and the reason why this isn't an album I wouldn't immediatly consider among the very best of the entire past decade is because it often pushes it a little too far, veering into the same awkwardly abstract territories that make records by Georgia-Anne Muldrow "almost good". But let's be frank here: most of this album is on another plane. When New Amerykah was released, it was such a breath of fresh air into the whole "neo-soul" scene, sounding unlike anything else before it. It's out there, it's influenced by many of our best acts and its political. It's a daunting listen, and it's almost pure genius. But not quite.
2. Shed - Shedding The Past
Rank in 2008: 6
When I try to review techno albums I really enjoy, I start to speak in a level of hyperbole that really only makes sense to me. Without the skills and knowledge to be able to describe the music accurately, I basically judge dance music on a scale of "I like it a lot" to "This sucks." "Shedding the Past" by Shed, for the most part happens to be the best full length techno album in my collection. Without an appreciation for the art of dancing in a club, not taking drugs, not being versed in even having many LPs, there is not really anything in my entire techno collection that has revealed itself time and time again like Shed has on this album. Mixing some far out dub and ambient techno with some hard hitting drums (I mean, the drums really hit) and just straight up coasting through what seems like all the essential techno albums that I have, Shed has created an album that works as just that. In a genre where it seems like LPs are often a collection of individual tracks or are so centered around a theme that the music gets lost, "Shedding the Past" works the same way that all great albums work. It has it's quiet moments, it has great tracks that built to epic tracks, it mixes a lot of different influences, resulting in tracks that sound unique from one another but the album is still held together. Every track is sequenced in its proper place. It's a masterful album, one that keeps growing on me.
1. Sam Amidon - All Is Well
Rank in 2008: 1
"All Is Well" might very well be the prettiest record I've ever heard. The songs aren't Sam Amidon's, the arrangements are only partially his, but his voice, his renditions of these classic American folk songs just take my breath away every single time. It's ridiculous, it's a ridiculous concept, but it is just so good. There is no doubt in my mind that "All is Well" is one of my favorite records of the past decade, one of the most personal records I have in my collection, it just conjures up images in my head - whether they are memories of mine or memories I wish were mine. Strikingly beautiful and heartbreaking. I've probably listened to "Saro" close to 200 times and "Wedding Dress" about the same. I've thought about playing his rendition of "O Death" at my fantasy funeral. I just love everything about this record and I don't see my opinion changing on that ever. It's one of those records where I just know it's mine. It may not be for you, but it's definitely for me.
Bonus Comparison For Laughs: Top 20 of 2008
1. Sam Amidon - All Is Well
2. Q-Tip - The Renaissance
3. Fennesz - The Black Sea
4. Ulaan Kohl - I and II
5. Cadence Weapon - Afterparty Babies
6. Shed - Shedding the Past
7. Raphael Saadiq - The Way I See It
8. Small Sur - We Live in Houses Made of Wood
9. Posessed By Paul James - Cold & Blind
10. Erykah Badu - New Amerykah Pt. 1
11. Esbjorn Svensson Trio - Leucocyte
12. Gang Gang Dance - Saint Dymphna
13. Ellen Allien - Sool
14. The Dodos - Visiter
15. Charlie Haden - Family & Friends: Rambling Boy
16. Marilyn Mazur & Jan Garabek - Elixir
17. Nico Muhly - Mothertongue
18. Gentleman Jesse & His Men - Gentleman Jesse & His Men
19. Blueprint - Blueprint Vs. Funkadelic
20. Paavoharju - Laulu Laakson Kukista