Albums of 2008
- M83 – Saturdays = Youth
At times reminiscent of the Cure, M83s chilled out album is a testament to the power of mood. “Kim & Jessie” and “Couleurs” could be Cure songs with their retro synth sounds. But with songs like “Up!” and their Black Box Recorder-esque vocals, they delve into an equally successful, yet very different style.
- Magnetic Fields – Distortion
The second track, “California Girls,” is fantastic, but Distortion simply doesn’t live up to the high bar Stephen Merritt set with 69 Love Songs. Occasionally Elephant Six-ish (“Xavier Says”), Distortion has its moments, but it’s slow and plodding echoes are hard to take for the full lenth of the album and don’t have the clever tweeness of Magnetic Fields’s previous releases.
- Marié Digby – Unfold
I’m sure I’ll be criticized by my indie-loving friends for falling in love with an MTV artist who’s been featured on The Hills, but while Marié Digby’s music may be typically mainstream in that Michelle Branch/Lisa Loeb style, it’s also whimsical, lovely, and, perhaps most importantly, polished. “Fool” and “Miss Invisible” both stand out from the pack, but nearly every song on Unfold is a wonderful example of what the best female singer/songwriters should be able to do.
- Mates of State – Re-Arrange Us
With violins swelling in the background of the opening “Get Better,” it’s easy to see how far Mates of State have come since I started listening to them on WHRV in high school. Gone is the harsh grittiness that contrasted so strangely from their beautiful harmonies, instead replaced by catchy licks and clever keyboards. Which isn’t to say they’ve lost their edge. It’s plainly still visible on “Jigsaw.” What’s even more amazing is that Mates of State is still just two people: drummer Jason Hammel and Keyboardist Kori Gardner. Re-Arrange Us may be different from their previous outings, but it’s for exactly that reason that it ranks as one of my favorite albums of the year.
- Max Tundra – Parallax Error Beheads You
In middle school, I fell in love with the strange sounds of Steely Dan. Their incredible Rock N Roll Hall of Fame induction speech only solidified them as amazing in my mind. Max Tundra, in many ways, is a lesser version of Steely Dan with his lounge sounds and convoluted songs. Sadly, this does nothing to ingratiate this album to me. “Will Get Fooled Again” is more entertaining for its play on the classic Who song than it is for its strange click-hop sounds. Like some of the other bands using sequenced synthesizers in this year’s hot trend, Max Tundra’s music would probably be better with real instruments. There are a few great tracks, though: “Which Song” harkens back to the perfect 80s tracks and “Number Our Days” is an excellent selection from Parallax Error Beheads You.
- MGMT – Oracular Spectacular
As the current darlings of the electroclash movement, MGMT was popular enough (or had a record company with enough money) to warrant getting play in major retailers and movie theaters across the country. Unfortunately, once you get passed the wonderful opening tracks of “Weekend Wars” and the standout “Time to Pretend,” there isn’t a whole lot there worth writing home about. Still, MGMT does have promise, and if they’re good and lucky, their next album could be great start to finish.
- Michael Forrest – Majectical Electrical
It really surprised me to find that one of my favorite albums of 2008 was by an artist that isn’t even signed to an indie label. But when Michael Forrest, a physicist and computer programmer, offered his album Majectical Electrical up for free download, I figured I’d take a chance. There isn’t a bad song on the LP (now available on iTunes), but “The Waltz” playfully grooves and the lyrics to “Why You Want A Record Deal?” are right out of Reel Big Fish’s playbook. Forrest mixes interesting tones with a solid electronica sound across the board, making Majectical Electrical a viable best of 2008 pick.
- Mogwai – The Hawk Is Howling
The beauty of Mogwai’s latest release is their return to instrumentals. While they’ve kept a few on every album, it’s been several releases since they’ve had a truly vocal-less LP. While some of the tracks offer mellow soundscapes, others like “Batcat” really rock out. “The Smells Too Loud” is a catchy collection of layers. Though not their best album, The Hawk Is Howling is still a solid effort for Mogwai.