Top Albums of 2008


For the past few years I’ve compiled a list of my top 10 albums of the year. Here, I present to you my Top 10 albums of 2008

10. Norma Jean – The Anti-Mother

Norma Jean haven’t made the same album twice and The Anti-Mother is a perfect example of this. This time around they’ve taken a more experimental and melodic direction but without sacrificing the ferocity. There are a few musical missteps but where this album really shines is in the lyrics and the emotion behind them. As if the pain of divorce wasn’t evident enough, singer/lyricist Corey Brandon spells it out loud in clear as he laments the end of his marriage. In the album’s final track “And There Will Be a Swarm of Hornets” he screams, “I AM RUINED!” You can’t make your feelings any more clear than that.

9. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend

This album is just plain fun. I don’t really care what they’re singing about I just like the unique sound Vampire Weekend have created with their debut that is at times reminiscent of Paul Simon.

8. Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago

Listening to this album you’d never guess Justin Vernon, the man behind Bon Iver recorded it entirely by himself in a cabin in northern Wisconsin with limited recording equipment. The resulting sound is rich and filled with emotion. Every time I listen to it I have this romanticized image of Vernon siting in the cabin with a fire going, deep in thought and piecing together these beautiful songs.

7. Jon Foreman – Fall/Winter

Fall/Winter
is the first half of Foreman’s (Switchfoot frontman) solo effort comprised of four EPs named for each of the four seasons. Compared to Switchfoot these songs are much more stripped down but on their own are very full. The acoustic guitar provides the foundation upon which a number of varied instruments such as the harmonica, trumpet and clarinet are built. Lyrically Foreman hasn’t been any more person or spiritual.

6. Jenny Lewis – Acid Tongue

The She & Him album Volume One featuring Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward got a lot of buzz this year and even made some top lists of 2008. Now Zooey Deschanel is arguably a better actress than Jenny Lewis but when it comes to singing and song writing, Lewis blows Deschanel out of the water. I’ll take Acid Tongue over Volume One any day of the week (oddly enough both Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward contributed to Acid Tongue). What I love about this album is how spontaneous it sounds. It’s as if Lewis got a bunch of her friends together and they just started jamming. The result is a fun countryesque album fronted by Lewis’ brilliant voice.

5. Thrice – The Alchemy Index Vol. III: Air & Vol. IV: Earth

This is the second half of Thrice’s ambitious Alchemy Index featuring four EPs, each stylistically, musically, and lyrically themed after one of the four elements. Thrice does pretty well with this effort considering it’s complexity and the fact that they recorded, produced, and mixed this album themselves in a house. The Air disk is my favorite of the four, mainly because of it’s straight forward driving rock sound but also because I really enjoy the overall tone, both musically and lyrically. Earth has a folk/country sound somewhat similar to singer Dustin Kensrue’s solo work but not quite as well executed.

4. Sigur Rós – Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust

Had my only criteria for this list been based on musicianship this album my have easily taken the top spot. Simple put Sigur Rós know how to create some incredible music and this album features some of the most beautifully composed songs I’ve ever heard. However, I felt it didn’t entirely work for me as an album. The album begins with these two great upbeat, dare I say poppy numbers, then the album becomes gradually subdued. Because of this I find it’s hard to take in all at once. With that said this is still a wonderful album.

3. Jon Foreman – Spring/Summer

This is the second half of Foreman’s seasons EPs as mentioned earlier. I really enjoyed this project as a whole but I was particularly fond of Spring and Summer. What really makes these songs so great is how genuine they are. It’s clear that Foreman was often inspired directly from the Scriptures. For example his take on the 23rd Psalm on the song “The House of God Forever” is quite powerful. That song also features a lovely female vocalist as do a number of other songs. The music Foreman has created for this project has both a feeling of simplicity and depth and is, I believe the best of his career thus far.

2. Right Away, Great Captain! – The Eventually Home

Right Away, Great Captain! is the side project of Manchester Orchestra frontman Andy Hull. “Right Away, Great Captain!” serves more as the title of a story rather than a moniker and The Eventually Home is chapter two, while the first album The Bitter End was chapter one. This time around Hull has abandoned the stripped, low-fi sound of The Bitter End for a more lushly produced sound. The Eventually Home at it’s core is still a folk album but the addition of layered vocals and a slightly broader use of instrumentation really give it depth. The use of the piano throughout is phenomenal. Lyrically the album follows the story of a sailor home from sea to confront his unfaithful wife. Hull puts the listener in the shoes of sailor with his suburb song writing. I’m excited for what he has in store for the final chapter of the Right Away, Great Captian! saga and also looking forward to the new Manchester Orchestra album out later this year.

1. Anathallo – Canopy Glow

Anathallo went with a more traditional album with this release and it totally worked. Canopy Glow in my mind is nearly perfect with it’s clean production, bold sound, and excellent song writing. Somehow these six guys and one girl are able to compose some of the most genius songs I’ve heard. Each one is unique from beginning to end. There are moments that are fun, exhilarating, haunting, sad, joyful, and even bizarre. Anathallo are known for using a wide range of instruments and again they don’t disappoint. Their use of percussion is particularly delightful. Vocally singers Matt Joynt and Erica Froman have never sounded better. The harmonies are especially to die for not to mention the backing vocals of the other band members. The lyrics are abstract and yet intriguing, it’s easy to get lost in them. Mostly though, words do little to describe this album. I’ll simply end by saying Canopy Glow is more than deserving of my top album of 2008.

A few runners up in no particular order:

Ra Ra Riot – The Rhumb Line
Cloud Cult – Feel Good Ghosts (Tea-Partying Through Tornadoes)
Conor Oberst – Conor Oberst
Mates of State – Re-Arrange Us
Annuals – Such Fun
Relient K – The Nashville Tennis EP/The Bird and the Bee Sides

Had I bought these albums earlier they my have made my top 10:

The Out_Circuit – Pierce the Empire With a Sound
Atmosphere – When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold
The Fireman – Electric Arguments

Biggest Disappointments:

playradioplay! – Texas (this album was a steaming pile…)
Death Cab for Cutie – Narrow Stairs (totally overrated)

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Anathallo: Canopy Glow

http://video.pitchfork.tv/mediaplayer.swf

Anathallo is not what you’d call a conventional band by any means. Each of their releases has a unique quality, a quality that can be seen in not only the music but in the inspiration behind the music and even in the album art work. Canopy Glow however is structured in a much more conventional way than anything Anathallo has done before. It comes packaged in the typical jewel case, it features ten tracks and the songs have the usual verse and chorus arrangement. But lets face it, what makes an album is the music, and when it comes to the music Anathallo always has something very special up their sleeves.

When I first listened to Canopy Glow the thing that jumped out at me the most was the vocals, particularly that of Erica Froman. Froman wasn’t even a member of the band on their last album, she simply provided guest vocals. I assume she was then asked to join sometime soon after. Now that she’s a full fledged member her vocals are used extensively providing beautiful harmonies reminiscent of Eisley and she even lays down a few lead vocals as well. Lead singer Matt Joynt also adds something new with his vocals. There are a number of tracks in which Joynt utilizes the lower range of his voice, which is something he hasn’t explored much in past releases.

One of Anathallo’s biggest strengths is their ability to use a wide range of instrumentation and ability to construct some incredible arrangements. On Canopy Glow I feel they’ve pulled the reigns in a bit but still managed to achieve a rich layered sound. Two always present aspects of Anathallo’s sound is their use of percussion and horns. The horns aren’t as prominent this time around but the percussion shines as always, I especially enjoyed their use of the piano throughout. It provides a happy splashy sort of sound in songs like “Noni’s Field” and “The River.” A new instrument Anathallo has added to their arsenal are a set of hand bells. The band found the bells in their practice space at an old Church in Chicago, and sure enough they ended up incorporating them into the album. In fact, the appropriately named song, “Bells” almost exclusively features the hand bells along with vocals. I’ve posted the music video of the song at the top of the post and I’m sure you’ll agree it is a uniquely beautiful song.

Lyically Canopy Glow is pretty abstract. I’m sure there is a deep meaning behind many of the songs but to be honest I haven’t had enough time to really delve into the lyrics. There is on song I would like to highlight though, called “The River.” I’ve read a few articles and interviews in which the band discusses the story behind this song. Singer Matt Joynt has this to say about it, “…the song The River is about Erica’s mom, when she was crossing a river and the current picked her up and swept her away, and she thought she was going to die, and just resigned herself to it. She found a total sense of peace looking up at the trees overhead, and the canopy of leaves and the light coming through them.” I thought that was such an amazing story and they did a great job of really capturing the profound nature of that situation, both in the music and in the lyrics. It easily one of Anathallo’s best songs to date.

This has been a difficult review to write and I realized it was because Anathallo has so much going on that is hard to describe. I’m not even sure if I was able to clearly communicate how I felt about this album but I will say this; Canopy Glow is a wonderful album, one of the best of the year. If you like music in any way you should really check it out, it’s more than worth a listen.

I give it five stars.