December 18, 2008
by Martin Wilson
1. Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago
An album seemingly designed specifically for me: haunting, sad, melodic. The backstory helps a lot, but I would be just as captivated by this album if I never knew any of that. In a tough year for rankings, this was a runaway for me. It is impossible to stop listening to, and even harder to stop thinking about.
2. Ray LaMontagne - Gossip In The Grain
It was a good year for weird, bearded folkies! I love both Ray LaMontagne's previous releases, Trouble and Till the Sun Turns Black, but this one has the widest range of song types, sounds, and moods, without losing that trademark raspy intensity.
3. MGMT - Oracular Spectacular
MGMT would top the list of "catchiest, hottest, most fun jams of the year," but solidly rests at #3 overall for me. I have a sneaking suspicion, however, that I will never like anything else these guys do.
4. Tift Merritt - Another Country
A beautiful, catchy, solid album from beginning to end. Unlike LaMontagne, Tift Merritt's previous two releases (which I love: Bramble Rose and Tambourine) were wide-ranging, while this album is focused, simple, and well-written.
5. She & Him - Volume One
I couldn't stop listening to this album when it came out, but then I cooled on it and didn't come back to it. Then eventually I came back to it and still liked it a lot, but not as much as I remembered. The production is great and the songs are catchy, but sometimes I get annoyed with Zooey Deschanel's voice. Other times I love her voice along with everything else. Anyway, I didn't know quite what to do, so I put it at #5. It's still a great record.
6. Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes
The Americana-iest, harmony-iest, beard-iest album of the year, which is certainly saying something this year, right? It helps that these guys sound like nobody else, while evoking all kinds of great sounds that I love (a pinch of The Eagles, a dash of early-period My Morning Jacket, a dose of the Byrds, a dollop of Midlake, among others).
7. Ane Brun - Changing of the Seasons
Plaintive, delicate, haunting songwriting, with soft, gentle melodies galore. A really surprising album that holds up better than I would ever have expected. Ane Brun just kept creeping up further and further my list until she landed here. This is a real breakthrough record, for me.
8. Calexico - Carried to Dust
A sweeping album that manages to be cool and current while still feeling dusty and well-worn. Not in a bad way: "well-worn" like a comfortable pair of Levis that you love. Calexico is one of those bands I have heard here and there (and also heard about) for years without really feeling very strongly towards them. But this is a super strong batch of songs, with some evocative, south-of-the-border sounds behind them.
9. The Weepies - Hideaway
At first I considered this album something of a disappointment, having loved The Weepies' first album, Say I Am You, and the preceeding EP, Happiness SO MUCH. Then I realized that if I had never heard those records, this album would have been even higher up this list. It stands on its own merits, even if it doesn't quite measure up to their debut.
10. Mates of State - Re-Arrange Us
A late entry into my list, but Mates of State (think The Weepies + Ben Folds) forced their way in by sheer force of catchiness. The hooks per second (h/s) ratio is nearly impossible to calculate. This concludes the math references for the rest of my life.
And, because lists are both fun and hard, I present my five runners-up for '08. Honestly, any of these five could be in my top ten this year, but lists being what they are, these are the albums that just barely couldn't make the cut in the end:
11. Okkervil River - The Stand Ins
12. Martha Wainwright - I Know You're Married But I've Got Feelings Too
13. Kathleen Edwards - Asking for Flowers
14. Conor Oberst - Conor Oberst
15. Ryan Adams & The Cardinals - Cardinology