Albums of 2008
- Calexico – Carried to Dust
With so many alt-country band holding onto the twang as their link, it’s always refreshing to listen to Calexico. With Carried to Dust, Arizona-based Calexico continues their tradition of capturing the sound of the American Southwest without the awkward twang of country. “Inspiracion” uses the mariachi sound beautifully while “Writer’s Minor Holiday” calmly rocks indie style and “Victor Jara’s Hands” hearkens back to classic Western films. For a band as talented as Calexico this is another near perfect release.
Common – Universal Mind Control
The first notes of rapid discord of Common’s Universal Mind Control are shocking and dissonant, but it quickly makes up for it. Common’s rapping is reasonable at its best (when he’s being political), but it’s the solid beats and interesting samples hat make Universal Mind Control is a solid piece of DJ work. “Punch Drunk Love” is the perfect example of an excellent groove with completely forgettable lyrics. In general, all the songs seem to lack the creativity that has been a staple of Common’s previous recordings. In the end Universal Mind Control is a solid hip hop album at best and good for only a track or two at worst.
- The Cool Kids – The Bake Sale
I smirked as “What Up Man” opened with its strange beats and silly lyrics. “One Two” made me hope the album would increase in complexity and quality as it went on. Unfortunately, it never quite gets there and The Bake Sale sounds firmly stuck in the late 80s, and nowhere near Run DMC’s quality.
- Crystal Castles – Crystal Castles
The Crystal Castles’ name alone evokes 8-bit memories of my childhood, with good reason. Their electronic sounds come from an Atari 5200 chip soldered to a keyboard. Of course, The Crystal Castle is also where He-man lived, so it’s no surprise that the band’s debut album pulls from all types of 80s music and retro dance. Beautifully upbeat and layered to perfection, the entire album has a range that bands like Freezepop and Cookie Galore would envy. Not even Ladytron compares in regards to the differentiation across the album. “Magic Spells” highlights a downtempo feel while “1991” is virtually right out of a video game. And despite the Mars Volta-esque screaming over “Alice Practice,” there not a song that isn’t enjoyable.
- Cut Copy – In Ghost Colors
By the time “Lights & Music” hits its peak, Cut Copy’s In Ghost Colors feels perfectly like a dance release from the Pet Shop Boys or Duran Duran, capturing that excellent 80s new wave feeling. For those who love the Donnie Darko soundtrack and still groove to the hits of the 80s, In Ghost Colors is up there with Felix da Housecat’s Devin Dazzle and the Neon Fever in terms of quality 80s throwbacks. Songs like “Far Away” keep the classic sounds in tact while updates like “So Haunted add a more modern feel.
- Death Cab for Cutie – Narrow Stairs
Despite having seen Death Cab For Cutie play live four times, I’m not what you would call a fan. I find their stage presence weak, their songs repetitive, and their fans insipid. That being said, they’ve always been a reasonably solid studio band and Narrow Stairs continues the trend. Though Narrow Stairs is slower and more melodic than many of their previous offerings, it’s still in the same indie vein. Some people may not be turned on by the fact that their first two songs are their longest, but “I Will Posses Your Heart” may be the best track they’ve ever recorded despite clocking in at nearly nine minutes. Even if you’re not a fan of the band, it may be worth a listen through.
- Deerhoof – Offend Maggie
As always, the Japanese are simply too strange to get a 4+. Still a good album.
- Department of Eagles – In Ear Park
With all the rave reviews of The Department of Eagles’s second album, I was hopeful for a great disc. What I got was something middling and uninspired. With the majority of Grizzly Bear recording on the session, the musicianship is solid, but something seems lacking. At times, In Ear Park mimics the immortal Elliott Smith, and at other it grabs at woven threads much like Beirut. For all it’s failings, “Floating on Lehigh” and “Around the Bay” still rise above the murk to be the most memorable tracks. In the end, the lack of focus and the blase vocals leave much to be desired.
- Dressy Bessy – Holler and Stamp
It’s unclear what happened to the happiness, but Dressy Bessy’s latest release is refreshingly dark and hard… for them. With less of the twee sounds, Holler and Stamp is a big change, featuring music much more in line with the indie scene. Though some might find the darker opening “Automatic” a nice change, I miss the bubblegum roots of the old Dressy Bessy. A few elements remain, as in the lovely “Shoot, I Love You,” but Holler and Stamp falls short overall.