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Monday, June 30, 2008

the 8 best albums in 2008's first half

Yes, yes, the obligatory list to exemplify ones perceived sense of good taste. In all honesty, I do have it--good taste--and it's probably much more refined than yours. So, instead of keeping it all to myself, I thought I'd share with you the best music to be released in this first half of 2008, with absolutely no exceptions. These are the 8 most crucial albums thus far in 2008.

8. Portishead -Third: Portishead came off a ten year hiatus of new material to release their newest album, Third. And although you'd have to find someone in 5th grade to have even been born the last time Portishead released new material, Third does not miss a beat in the slightest. It's fresh and yet still undeniably Portishead, fusing some really great acoustics with crushing electronic beats. Songs "Silence", "The Rip", "Threads", and "Machine Gun" especially stand out in an album full of great tracks.

7. M83 - Saturdays = Youth: M83 took a huge turn from its previous release, Before the Dawn Heals Us, with the most recent album, Saturdays = Youth. Straying from the shoegaze feel of previous works, Anthony Gonzales of M83 has ventured back to his more youthful years. For those who grew up in the 80s, this album sounds like a trip down Memory Lane. The conglomeration of synths, drums, and vocals sound like the brainchild of Berlin and Tears for Fears, with some cameos by Sinead O'Connor and Simple Minds, respectively. This probably sounds awful to a lot of people, but it's not. It just isn't.

6. Flying Lotus - Los Angeles: An awesome trip-hop album that resembles some of the best producers this decade has seen--Madlib, J Dilla, MF Doom, etc. A wonderfully textured album that is electronica, IDM, and hip-hop all at one time. If I were an MC and not an irrelevant blogger, I'd want FL producing my beats.

5. Gnarls Barkley - The Odd Couple: For the record, I didn't like St. Elsewhere at all. I thought it was underdeveloped and shallow; it didn't nearly exploit the true talent of producer Danger Mouse. The Odd Couple, however, is amazing, exploring all sorts of tiny crevices of sounds and textures. Where St. Elsewhere was an attempt at 60s funk and soul that came up short, The Odd Couple takes that same idea and incorporates many more fresh ideas that make the album function much more efficiently in today's world. It's not just some re-imagined cultural artifact; it has reinvented a sound from decades ago and has put the appropriate spin on it. A fantastic album beginning to end.

4. The Black Keys - Attack & Release: Not coincidentally, another album produced by Danger Mouse, and yes The Black Keys needed him. Whereas before the Keys were a solid blues rock band, releasing really only one truly great album, Magic Potion, they have now advanced their sound beyond what most people would have expected from the duo. However, the truth is, they haven't really added anything. No new instruments or crazy sounds to really alter their vibe too much. The real key here is how the album's been mixed, EQ'd, and overall produced--thanks in part to the incorporation of Danger Mouse. The album sounds beautiful and features all the ups and downs that any good blues album should have. The reverb on "Lies" is just unbelievable in setting the mood, and their single "Strange Times" features one of the most memorable drum beats in the past couple years. There's not much you can find wrong with Attack & Release.

3. Kelpe - Ex-Aquarium: Kelpe's most recent release is a lush combination of the two most apparent sides of indie music--pastoral, organic, live instrumentation, and urban, futuristic, computerized blips and beeps. It combines head-bobbing beats and lush synth with live drums and guitar chords. Not to say that other bands don't do this, but I find Ex-Aquarium has balanced the two elements so well that it deserves a spot on this list. The album manages to paint an aquatic landscape and place you in it for the duration. Do not pass this album up.

2. Sigur Rós - Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust: When Takk was released I was very excited; ( ) was one of my favorite albums of all time and it seemed only natural to me that Sigur Rós would advance beyond that. However, Takk, while advancing the sound with the addition of new instruments and such, was not nearly as impressive to me. With the new album I decided that the days of slowly building songs and exploding into incredible crescendos was over for Sigur Rós, and so I looked toward Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust with an open mind. And what a good decision that was; the new album is beautiful and utterly simplistic. The focus here is Jónsi Birgisson's vocals and they shine better than ever. The entire album is stripped down and ethereal, and it reminds you what music is intended to do for the human mind. You'll have to listen to know what I mean.

1. Hol Baumann - Human: Every so often some new musical entity comes my way and aggravates the hierarchy of bands or artists that has been formulated within my brain. When this happens, I will admit, I probably become over-excited about it, subduing myself to extended listening, over listening, and finally obnoxious listening. Hol Baumann has garnered this attention from me, but I have a feeling this album will rest somewhere high in this so-called hierarchy for quite some time. Human is a blend of glitched-out sounds, deep bass, stunning sampled vocals, and a bit of ethnic instrumentation (and so much more). Hol Baumann has seemingly constructed the perfect companion to relaxation. This album is meant to be listened in its entirety; the mesmerizing blend of sounds is something that, on its own, is great, but as a whole is exceptional.


comoprozac said...

This is an interesting list. I'm not a fan of DJ's and anything even remotely considered "electronica," but it's interesting nonetheless.

That said, I like lists that demonstrate someone's musical taste and personality. You certainly like music that aggregates many sounds and genres the same way your blog does with the internets. Also, there does seem to be a particular aesthetic that runs through both your music choices and blog posts.

I do have to take issue with some of your Black Keys comments. (Now, I'm really wishing I had placed them on my list.) Their first two records are incredible, especially when played on vinyl, and "10 AM Automatic", off of their third, is one of the best songs of this decade.

Oh, and you are not an ass clown.

Anonymous said...

I do love the Black Keys, certainly. However, I found Magic Potion to be the only one I thought was on that A level. It may have been because that was the first one I had ever listened to by the Keys and fell in love with it before I really got the chance to listen to their previous releases. The other stuff to me is solid, but not great. And thanks for not regarding me an ass clown.

Anonymous said...

Also--on the electronica thing--that's oddly enough been sort of a recent thing for me, probably manifesting out of my love of Boards of Canada, an electronic duo I sort of rediscovered when I was a freshman in college. So, yeah, that's my headspace right now, but not too long ago a list like this from me would have had something like Arcade Fire, The Microphones, and Band of Horses on it. It's interesting to see the progression and I wonder when, if at all, that will plateau and forever cement my outlooks on music. Like so many middle aged people and above, you find that they just decide, Well, I liked that stuff and I really just don't care about finding anything new anymore. I swear I have a friend whose Mom thinks the Beatles are the best band because of the stuff the released BEFORE Abbey Road, Sgt. Peppers, etc.