Plumbiferous Media

Top Ten Albums of 2008

Jan 1st 2009
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2008 is over, and what better way to celebrate the new year and the launch of Plumbiferous Media than reviews? As a sort of introduction, we’re Plumbiferous Media, a small music review site composed of a few friends with strong opinions about music. We’ve decided to start off our (hopefully) long tenure as music reviewers with a quick retrospective of the last year in rock music. It’s been an interesting year, but, after a good bit of discussion (argument) we’ve managed to choose what we think are the best 10 albums released this year.

#10: HLLLYH – The Mae Shi

HLLLYH - The Mae ShiIf you asked most people whether spastic guitar, plenty of synth, and slightly out of tune screaming would make for good music, they would probably just look at you funny. But the members of The Mae Shi aren’t most people, and somehow they’ve managed to make quite a successful album out of those components. While it’s easy to think of HLLLYH as just that, it has quite a lot more to it. Take “Pwnd”: yes, it has the occasional screaming interjection, but the entire track is carefully thought out, with intricate interlacing of synth, drums, and multiple vocal lines that build into those screaming fits. “Run to Your Grave,” in contrast, is an incredibly simple track, yet that only serves to bring out the lyrics. We have no idea why The Mae Shi is singing so cheerily about such a morbid subject, but it somehow works. While some songs do simply devolve into unmanageable noise, the many good tracks earn it a place in this list.

#9: We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed – Los Campesinos!

We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed - Los CampesinosLos Campesinos! could easily have been exactly like 100 other alt-rock-indie-whatever bands. But they’re not, and we’re all better off for it. We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed is blessed with excellent intros and instrumentation, interesting lyrics and constant energy through even slow songs.  Musically, the album is excellent. The lyrics are simple (but carry emotional weight if you’re paying attention). Though Los Campesinos! has consistently put out good albums, this makes Los Campesinos!’s third album their best – an even more impressive feat as this is the second full-length album they’ve put out this year. The only real low point to We Are Beautiful is the vocals, which occasionally seem to be less singing as much as talking melodically, and from time to time are a bit out of tune. But this is eventually forgivable, as they fit well with the music.  Everything considered, We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed is well done.

#8: Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend

Vampire Weekend - Vampire WeekendIf 2008 was a hit year for any band, that band was Vampire Weekend. Its self-titled album garnered attention from magazines including Spin and Rolling Stones, was certified gold in the UK and reached #17 on the Billboard 200. Not an easy feat for a first album, but it deserves it. The instruments always maintain creative, simple lines that support the clear, on point tone of Ezra Koenig, which in turn brings out the subjects Koenig has chosen: original ones, such as Oxford commas and Cape Cod. Some tracks are significantly weaker than the hits in the album, but even still, Vampire Weekend does an excellent job throughout the album of remaining in its Afro-college-indie niche, yet keeping every song different enough to make an interesting album.

#7: Pershing – Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin

Pershing - Someone Still Loves You Boris YeltsinSomeone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin’s second full-length album, Pershing, starts off strong. Every section of “Glue Girls” has very simple instrumentals, but taken as a whole, the song is as diverse as one could rightly expect an entire album to be. The vocals through the track, and the rest of the album as well, are always exactly on point, and even though the lyrics are very difficult to decipher when laid out in print, they sound good. Even though Philip Dickey manages to always sound laid back and cheery, even in “Think I Wanna Die,” you can tell what he’s singing about, and that’s all that’s necessary. This vocal consistency brings us, however, to the album’s largest flaw: while some tracks like “Glue Girls,” “Think I Wanna Die,” and “Oceanographer” stand out – and are excellent tracks – others just fall into the background, and really are barely worth listening to. Overall, however, this album is still good enough to make the top ten for the year.

#6: Dear Science – TV on the Radio

Dear Science - TV on the RadioLet’s put it this way – there’s a reason every other reviewer loves Dear Science, and as much as we love to buck trends, this is a good album. Dear Science combines an excellent, complex baseline and melody with great vocals which span the entire spectrum in a way that keeps the entire album interesting and engaging. In fact, the variation of the vocals is a fundamental part of the album. From the buzz of “Halfway Home” (a great example of the draw of the album and an energetic, exciting way to begin the album), to the slight croon of “Crying,” to the rhythmic vocals of “Dancing Choose” and on, Tunde Adebimpe’s (TVotR’s lead vocalist) tonal range is quite impressive. Dear Science never stops being interesting, and it’s another example of a great 2008 album.

#5: Modern Guilt – Beck

Modern Guilt - BeckModern Guilt is a return to Beck’s earlier style – more like Sea Change than Guero or The Information. However, unlike Sea Change, Modern Guilt isn’t too slow or uninteresting. Beck uses complex baselines and intros to keep his tracks interesting, and succeeds for the most part, though a few tracks run out of steam by the end. “Gamma Ray” stands out here – it’s catchy, fast, and full of energy. Beck’s indecipherable lyrics are back, but it’s not a problem, as they complement the trance-like atmosphere around many of the tracks. When the tracks get faster and where the baselines are stronger, they’re excellent. Some of the slower tracks aren’t especially notable, but they’re certainly not terrible and the faster tracks handily make up for any weakness here. Modern Guilt is a solid, decent album and another good release by Beck.

#4: Consolers of the Lonely – The Raconteurs

Consolers of the Lonely - The RaconteursAt first glance, Consolers of the Lonely might seem like The White Stripes with a decent drummer, and indeed, the first track, “Consoler of the Lonely,” really is just that. But Consolers of the Lonely is a much greater improvement than just that. Even in the first track, the vocals are noticeably richer than the hoarse vocals normally associated with Jack White. The rest of the album continues to grow, from the lighter, more musical “You Don’t Understand Me,” to the musical depth and ingenuity of “The Switch and the Spur,” and to tracks like “These Stones Will Shout” which make the album truly diverse. And yet, the sounds of the myriad bands from which each of the members originates are still recognizable. The Raconteurs is often thought of as a side project, but Consolers of the Lonely is not an album anyone can ignore.

#3: Out of It – Brad Sucks

Out of It - Brad Sucks

Some might discount Brad Sucks as just an indie version of Beck, but all of Turcotte’s songs are original, and hey, if it sounds good, why not? Brad Sucks’s September release, Out of It, is filled with the distorted vocals Turcotte has mastered, matched perfectly with great instrumentals that really make the tracks accessible. In fact, the instrumentals, which switch between processed and acoustic can throughout the album only be described as spot on, and that holds for the lyrics as well. The fact is, if the biggest problems the album has are that the birds chirping to the rhythm of “Bad Sign” is somewhat mawkish and that some of the tracks, while still very good, were not as interesting or original as many of the others, the album must be excellent. Out of It is an incredible album, and fully deserves its place as third best of 2008.

#2: Narrow Stairs – Death Cab for Cutie

Narrow Stairs - Death Cab for Cutie

Narrow Stairs isn’t exactly a departure from style for Death Cab for Cutie. Nevertheless, it’s an excellent album. Ben Gibbard’s vocals are as distinctive as ever, and they fit with the well-written if occasionally clichéd lyrics. Narrow Stairs has extremely strong intros and tempo shifts, and uses a slower, contemplative speed to build a solid album. It’s a great testament to Death Cab’s appeal that radio stations would even consider playing all eight minutes and twenty-six seconds of “I Will Possess Your Heart” – and it’s worth it. Death Cab manages to use a gradual buildup to lead into an excellent (if slightly creepy) tale of unrequited love. Narrow Stairs takes everything Death Cab is best at and makes it even better. This is one of Death Cab’s best albums, and it’s certainly one of the best albums this year.

#1: Rook – Shearwater

Rook - ShearwaterAt the top of our list is Shearwater’s fifth album, Rook. Not only does it stand out at the top of a list of outstanding music, but it’s completely different from everything else on this list, and quite compelling. As compared to our other selections, Rook is a softer and deeper album.  Shearwater uses a few instruments to do a huge amount, and it works very well with the almost plaintive vocals.
Rook‘s lyrics are among the best of any album on our list, especially in the title track, which weaves an apocalyptic tale intertwined with appropriate avian imagery.  Rook‘s slower pace, rather than becoming at all tiresome, in fact further emphasizes the delicate facets of the music. Every part of this album has been put together well, from the lyrics to the vocals to the melody, and it shows. Rook is excellent, and there’s no better way we can think of to finish off our top 10 list.

Thanks for reading our list, and if you don’t hate us yet, be sure to check in on Sundays for new reviews. We’ll post our first real review on the 11th.

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