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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