I got up at eleven this morning to do some more job hunting stuff, and it was already 90 degrees out. So needless to say I came home a bit early so I wouldn’t look like a piece of bacon. On my bike ride through the downtown of Boise, I had my MP3 player (a Creative Zen Touch — bit outdated these days but in 2005 it was awesome) set to random, and it played a particular song that brightened my spirits considerably: the techno remix of “Listen to Your Heart” by DHT.
I know what you’re thinking. “Josh,” you’re saying to me, “that’s the gayest thing I’ve ever heard.” But when I say that I like all types of music, I mean it, goddammit. I like dance music, I like classical, I like rock, I like indie. I like a lot of stuff. So get off my back, man. Just get off.
Anyway, I have decided to compile my annual Halfway Through the Year Best of 2008 in light it being, well, the middle of the year.
Top Ten Albums Halfway Through 2008
10. Coldplay – Viva La Vida
I know what you’re thinking, and I may very well be that gay, but I don’t care! The new Coldplay was produced by Brian Eno and it’s a lot more powerful than their last two (three?) albums. What it sacrifices in the atmosphere created in albums like Parachutes (and maybe only Parachutes), it more than makes up for in passion and tightness. I like this political slant that Coldplay is working on — hell, Chris Martin’s “Make Trade Free” Sharpie statement on his face were more interesting than the band for a while there. It’s good to see that they’re using that anger and passion for their album. The government is really shit right now and doing some pretty awful things and no one is singing about them (compared to the 60s, at least).
Favorite songs: Viva la Vida, Strawberry Swing
9. Umbrella Tree – The Church & the Hospital
Talk about going from weird to weirder. Umbrella Tree is a Memphis-based band that I learned about from a friend on the /orate board, and I quickly grew to love their debut, What Kind of Books Do You Read? because of it’s quirkiness and yet general accessibility. I think that’s key in a “quirky” band. If you’re not accessible than you’re not as listenable and therefore not as popular, simple as that. And their debut was very accessible. The Church & the Hospital, on the other hand, is not as accessible, and for that I must dock them points. It is, at a lot of time, very weird, and sometimes is hard to grasp. “Nursing the Patience” is one of those songs (and the title, I can only assume, was meant ironically). Other songs, like “1054” and “A New Job with the Police” are typical Umbrella Tree songs, with interesting rhythms courtesy of Derek and beautiful-if-sometimes-strange harmonies between Jillian and Zach. I can only imagine that this band is incredible live (if they will ever do a national tour…).
Favorite songs: 1054, Schitzophrenia, A New Job with the Police
8. Flight of the Conchords – s/t
I thought twice about putting this on the list, for two reasons. One, a lot of it has already been heard, and two, a lot of it is only funny if you’ve seen the HBO show. But it is only halfway through the year and I don’t have a lot of albums available, so I put it on. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great album, and a lot of the songs that Jemaine and Bret create are not only funny but also just really good, but when the year is over I have a feeling they’ll be swallowed up by … something. Not sure what though. But you owe it to yourself to go but the first season of their HBO show, cause it’s great.
Favorite songs: Foux du Fafa, Ladies of the World, Robots, Inner City Pressure … oh it’s all good.
7. Fleet Foxes – s/t
YAY FLEET FOXES. I first heard them through their Myspace, clicking on a song called “Blue Ridge Mountains,” which immediately made me fall in love with them. They’re some kind of neo -Appalachian mountain folk group, with plenty of lovely harmonies and really cool and interesting chord progressions. They range from full band songs to quiet fingerpicking songs like “Oliver James” with just Robin and a guitar. If last summer was the season for rocking (Spoon, anyone?), then this summer is for nice riverbed folk songs and singalongs, and Fleet Foxes may be leading that singalong.
Favorite songs: White Winter Hymnal, Ragged Wood, He Doesn’t Know Why, Blue Ridge Mountains
6. Vampire Weekend – s/t
I have a lot of self-titled albums on my list. Anyway, Vampire Weekend is the newly hyped band that everyone loves, because their music is just so catchy. Their band name is horrible but at least it sticks in your head. When I first heard this album I though it was pretty quaint, nice but not great, and so I put it aside. And then I saw them play “The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance” on Blogotheque, and I said, “That is the coolest song ever,” and I was a little disappointed that it was the last song on the album. But that made me listen to the whole thing again, and I realized how great the album as a whole was. It’s mellow, which is pretty unusual these days, what with everyone wanting to get their opinions across. If Viva la Vida is a political album, this is a chill out album. But what am I saying, you probably already have it.
Favorite songs: The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance, Oxford Comma
5. Hercules & Love Affair – s/t
I think this is self-titled. I don’t remember there being a title on the album. Anyway, I was wondering when I was going to get to some electronic albums, and here we go. This album is like stepping into 1970s Paris. I don’t really know how else to explain it, other than there are songs on here that I didn’t think I would like, but then I get entranced by them anyway. It’s not a very dancey album, by any means, but it certainly makes you want to groove. I’m not sure how you groove, but once I figure it out I’ll pass it along. It must be a miraculous thing.
Favorite songs: Hercules’ Theme, Blind, You Belong
4. The Mountain Goats – Heretic Pride
Yay for John Darnielle. After a bazillion albums produced by himself with a tape recorder, guitar, and sometimes a Casio keyboard, he’s finally made the big time, with a full band. And Heretic Pride showcases his band skills more than any of his previous studio albums. While there are drums, bass, and sometimes strings and other instruments on those albums, none of them congeal as well as this one does. From the opening strum of “Sax Rohmer #1” to the fantastic buildup of “Michael Myers Resplendent,” this album is fantastic, full of John’s nasally vocals and stories about the kind of people you wish you could meet but never do.
Favorite songs: Sax Rohmer #1, New Zion, Autoclave, Michael Myers Resplendent
3. Lykke Li – Youth Novels
I first heard about Lykke from an ex-girlfriend. Who woulda thought? And to be honest, I only checked her out because my ex said she reminded her of me. That’s how self-centered I am. But anyway, I got this album and was entranced by it. It’s definitely one of those albums you have to sit and listen to with your headphones, the lights off, that sort of thing. It opens with a pseudo-song called “Melodies
& Desires,” where Lykke speaks about what she wants you to do. And like all good Scandinavian artists, the lyrics are just slightly nonsensical. They make sense, but every once and a while she’ll say something and you’ll go, “What?” But after that track comes “Dance Dance Dance,” which will hook you immediately. And the rest are just as catchy. It’s lofi, it’s catchy, and it’s amazingly good. Go get it!
Favorite songs: Dance Dance Dance, I’m Good I’m Gone, Little Bit
2. M83 – Saturdays = Youth
I used to own M83’s other album, Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts, and I never really enjoyed it, other than “Run Into Flowers” (I think that was the one), which was pure bliss. So I didn’t check out Saturdays = Youth for a long time, thinking that it would be the same stuff from before. Eventually, though, I got sucked in, and had a listen. The first track, “You Appearing,” is misleading. It’s an intro track, a buildup track for the rest of the album, and it worried me at first, because I was like, “Yep, same ol’ M83.” But then “Kim & Jessie” came on, and I was hooked. Immediately. Hooked. I’ve never heard a song that beautiful and yet so poppy at the same time. It’s 80s reminiscent, it’s got some weird sounds, and the vocals don’t make any sense, but it’s beautiful. And the rest of the album follows suit. Non-English speakers using English for lyrics is still silly (“Up!” is a good example of that), but it’s all so gorgeous and utterly listenable that it doesn’t matter. Even “Skin of the Night,” which sounds like something Phil Collins might’ve dreamt up, is amazing. This album is great. That’s all I have to say about that. Even “Midnight Souls Still Remain,” which is essentially an 11 minute long trance song, is good. It accentuates the album perfectly. It’s like a cooldown period. Go get it! Right now!
Favorite songs: all of them!
1. The Dodos – Visiter
The Dodos played here in Boise on July 2nd, and I missed the concert because I was at the plasma center all day. That’s another story. I was happy, though, because a number of my friends attended the concert and now they love the Dodos, and that makes me happy because I love the Dodos. Visiter is quite possibly the best example of a perfect freak folk album. They’re better than Animal Collective. That’s right, I said it. I love Animal Collective, but sometimes that shit is hard to listen to, but every single song on Visiter is listenable and good. Really good. Meric Long can play guitar like no one else, and Logan Kroeber, an ex-metal drummer, uses his perfect timing to construct brilliant percussion behind the guitar. The result is gorgeous. How they are able to create such vibrant landscapes out of their guitar and drums, I’ll never know. “Red and Purple” is such a blast of a song, it seems weird that it’s two guys doing all of it. But they are. Meric Long makes me hate playing guitar, because I know I’ll never be as good as him. Even their earlier stuff is great, as is Meric’s Dodo Bird EP. I don’t know what else to say. This is my favorite album of 2008. So far. I recommend it heartily.
Favorite songs: all of them!
Okay, so that’s it. I hope you do yourself a favor and check out these artists, and if you don’t like them, well, I don’t need to know that, okay? Okay.