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The Top 30 Albums of 2008

By ; December 22, 2008 at 8:24 PM 

10. Sigur Rós
Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust
[EMI, XL Recordings]

A departure from Sigur Rós’s usual slow, atmospheric sound, Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust is bursting with energy. With celebratory horn sections and tribal drums, this certainly is a refreshing direction for Icelandic group. And while Jonsi Birgisson makes his first attempt at singing an all-English song, it is hardly understandable—and yet, it’s one of the most gut wrenching musical moments of the year. –Koepp

Listen to the album on Lala | Sigur Rós | Myspace

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09. The Hold Steady
Stay Positive
[Vagrant, Rough Trade]

The Hold Steady attempt to grow older gracefully on their fourth studio album, the follow-up to 2006s acclaimed Boys and Girls in America. Stay Positive continues the group’s streak of high quality albums which has, so far, lasted their entire career. The Hold Steady haven’t changed much from their previous efforts – Craig Finn is mostly half-singing, the lyrics revolve around the same themes, the sing-along choruses and the classic rock guitars are still there. But Stay Positive avoids being a retread. Finn’s singing grows more melodic, his lyrics darker, and his band more versatile, as shown by the harpsichord on “One For The Cutters” or Tad Kubler’s Slash-solo on “Lord I’m Discouraged.” Thus it turns out that The Hold Steady actually are managing to grow older quite gracefully, at least so far, and with Stay Positive there’s no indication that they won’t continue to be the best bar band in the world. –Alm

Listen to the album on Lala | The Hold Steady | Myspace

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08. Kanye West
808s & Heartbreak
[Roc-A-Fella, Island Def Jam]

The biggest difference between 808s & Heartbreak and Kanye West’s other work is not the lack of rapping, but rather the lack of any overt singles. West’s foray into the world of (heavily AutoTuned) singing is best viewed as an elongated mood piece, in the vein of Smashing Pumpkins’ Adore or Beck’s Sea Change. His frustration in dealing with a bad breakup comes through most strongly in the industrial-pop hybrid “Robocop” and the haunting “Street Lights.” It ends with one of the most affecting songs ‘Ye has ever written, the Tears for Fears interpolation “Coldest Winter”: no AutoTune, no boasts of material wealth—just the biggest pop star on the planet experiencing real heartbreak for the first time through his mother’s death. AutoTune may be played-out, but much in the same way that Appetite for Destruction justified hair-metal’s existence, 808s & Heartbreak legitimizes the ubiquitous vocal-doctoring software, proving robots can have as much of a soul as any of us. –Highkin

Listen to the album on Lala | Kanye West | Myspace

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07. Guns N’ Roses
Chinese Democracy
[Geffen]

After a ridiculous 14-year delay, Axl Rose silenced his critics with an album nearly as great as he had promised. The rockers (”Better,” “I.R.S.,” “Scraped”) swing with the best of Appetite for Destruction and the ballads (”Street of Dreams,” “This I Love”) are so over-the-top they make “November Rain” sound like Pat Boone. The skepticism about the album concerning the delays and the lack of original members besides Rose is not unfounded, but at the core of these songs is the same voice that powered Guns to rock-god status, in better form than even Axl’s biggest apologists could have dared hope. Guns N’ Roses Mach II is a real band now. –Highkin

Guns N’ Roses | Myspace

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06. Wolf Parade
At Mount Zoomer
[Sub Pop]

Wolf Parade is a hard band to place. All of its members are in other bands, so you never know when to expect a new record from them, or whether they’re saving their best for their other bands. However, At Mount Zoomer proves that Wolf Parade’s members haven’t lost sight of their main gig. Dan Boeckner’s contributions are key, hitting us with opener “Soldier’s Grin” immediately, which if you think about it, may even sound like a closer, but here it pretty much has to serve as the opener. Spencer Krug contributes shorter songs, like “Call It a Ritual” and “Bang Your Drum,” but his keyboard fills on Boeckner’s songs and “California Dreamer” are his shining moments. Boeckner’s “Language City” might be the defining moment of the album – that is, until you hit the unstoppable 11-minute closer “Kissing the Beehive.” –Nichols

Listen to the album on Lala | Wolf Parade | Myspace

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05. No Age
Nouns
[Sub Pop]

Randy Randall and Dean Spunt have been knocking out LA crowds for awhile now, but 2008 was their year to break out. Signing onto Sub Pop, the band rocked us with “Eraser” and pretty much had us excited from the get go. Their debut album is a crazy, tripped-out party that all goes down in less than 30 minutes. Spunt’s cryptic lyrics and vocals are lost somewhere in Randall’s washes of guitar. Even the mellower sections, like “Things I Did When I Was Dead” or ambient piece “Keechie,” are almost always followed with knockouts. Nouns was the summer record for a lot of people, and it will probably continue to soundtrack happy moments into the future. –Nichols

Listen to the album on Lala | No Age | No Age blog | Myspace

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04. Deerhunter
Microcastle/Weird Era Cont.
[Kranky Records]

Microcastle/Weird Era Cont. serves the purpose of upending any preconceptions people had of Deerhunter, with the ambience of 2007’s Cryptograms being transformed into the – dare I say – pop songs like “Twilight At Carbon Lake” and “Saved By The Old Times.” Microcastle is immediate, with obvious single “Nothing Ever Happened” being placed on the mantelpiece of the album, appealing to any nay-sayer strolling past. However, the added bonus of second disc Weird Era Cont. is precisely that – an intended gift to those who held out for the physical release of the record following the unfortunate leak months before the due date. However, Weird Era is no throwaway, with the infectious melodies of “Never Stops” and “Operation,” and the dreamy elements within “Green Jacket” being evident once more within “Cicadas.” –Galea

Listen to Microcastle on Lala | Listen to Weird Era Cont. on Last.fm | Deerhunter blog | Myspace

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03. Fleet Foxes
Fleet Foxes
[Sub Pop]

One of the most remarkably self-assured debuts in recent memory, Fleet Foxes effortlessly navigates between eras, sounds, and genres. It’s the kind of record whose influences are easy to point out (vocal harmonies reminiscent of classic Beach Boys and CSN, reverb-heavy folk rock in the vein of Grizzly Bear and My Morning Jacket) but whose sound feels completely new. Fleet Foxes’ crystal-clear vocal interplay and shockingly well-defined musical focus provide a counterpoint to the pop music of a year defined by AutoTune. –Highkin

Listen to the album on Lala | Fleet Foxes | Myspace

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02. TV on the Radio
Dear Science
[4AD/Interscope]

This multiracial Brooklyn crew had already established themselves as one of the most exciting young rock bands in America with 2006’s Return to Cookie Mountain, but their third full-length, Dear Science, both broadens and focuses their sound. Dave Sitek continues to establish himself as a modern-day Robert Fripp-type sonic innovator, while his band tightens into a lean, art-funk monster. Like Cookie Mountain, Dear Science is a textbook “headphone album,” but stronger songwriting (”Dancing Choose,” “Family Tree,” “Shout Me Out”) ensures that Dear Science is also a great pop album. –Highkin

Listen to the album on Lala | TV on the Radio | Myspace

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01. Portishead
Third
[Island]

After an 11-year hiatus, Portishead have ditched the chilled-out trip-hop of their first two albums in favor of a darker, more claustrophobic sound. Beth Gibbons’ voice is at its haunted best, but now takes on an almost nightmarish quality. Portishead bring the groove and big beats on the devastating “Machine Gun” and the krautrock-meets-NIN “We Carry On.” The stunner is “The Rip,” a gorgeous, melancholic ballad so blissfully mournful Radiohead have even taken a stab at covering it. This particular comeback would have seemed inconceivable even just a few years ago, but there is no better time for this band to resurface than now, as we are living the nightmare that is contained in Third. –Nichols

Listen to the album on Lala | Portishead | Myspace

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