10. Battles – Mirrored
If Battles are math rock, then they’re bringing more emotion to the subject than my (thankfully over) sixteen years of immersion in the subject led me to believe it was capable of. Plus, only some of their songs have ridiculous time signatures. So let’s dispense with that. Mirrored is probably the closest thing to progressive music I’ve ever actually enjoyed and it is all pinned around a rock solid core of instrumental virtuosity. Seeing it live at Lowlands opened my eyes properly to Battles, because I could see these four guys standing on the huge stage with instruments in hands, playing really complex and impassioned music at a rate of about 400 notes a second – and staying completely within the lines, so to speak. Tightest band I’ve ever seen. The album drips of that tightness, the live interplay of these four virtuosos. But it is catchy as all fuck too. From Race In to Leyendecker (Side A, in the words of our ancestors), there isn’t a song that doesn’t lodge itself somewhere in the brain. And it will sound original for about 50 years. I guarantee it.
An interview in which Battles describe their music better than anyone else, and their vowelless website which is secretly just a link to their MySpace.
9. Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
Sounding like The Beatles has been a successful and sometimes musically worthwhile endeavour for countless bands from the 1960s onwards. When I first heard Spoon, around the time of Kill The Moonlight (two albums ago) when they were supporting Interpol at the Olympia, I thought they were taking it a little bit too far. Time, though, has revealed their subtleties to me. Britt Daniel has been doing what he does for a long time now without any spectacular innovation, but the songs seem to get slightly better every album, and Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga is their best so far. They’re pretty big in America but I’m not sure how far they’ve pervaded into the indie consciousness around here. It doesn’t really matter. The songs all sound like singles, without exception, and far from being The Texas Beatles, Spoon have pretty much eked out a space for themselves completely outside what other people are doing. It’s hard to pick highlights, but You Got Yr Cherry Bomb was #16 in the American Hot Press’ top 100 songs of the year. High praise for independent band.
Many songs on MySpace (though not the one I just let Rolling Stone recommend) and PopMatters gives a comprehensive (i.e. long) review.
8. Andrew Bird – Armchair Apocrypha
My fourteen year-old brother asked me today if “these bands just make up a load of words and then put music to them”. Ignoring the fact that this is at least the second most common way of writing music in Western culture, I answered “no”. But I understand what he meant. I was listening to Armchair Apocrypha, The whole album, more than any of Bird’s previous stuff, is a testament to how well read he is, how naturally lyrical he is and most of all the sense he has for finding songs in unusual places. Some of the rhymes on Imitosis are more complex than incredibly rich rap stars, and Scythian Empire deserves some sort of prize for best song based on a Pontic tribe ever written. In fact, there should be a Grammy for that category. In seriousness though, Armchair Apocrypha is musically and lyrically complex while staying accessible at all times, and it is a beautifully noble-sounding listen. Perhaps the only album of 2008 that makes you feel like your IQ is higher every time you finish it.
Read up on the actual Scythian Empire on Wikipedia and then fly to Andrew’s website for a well-stocked A/V section.
7. Panda Bear – Person Pitch
Pure as the driven snow. I read somewhere (everywhere) that Panda Bear sounds like Brian Wilson on LSD. Am I the only person in the world that was under the impression that Brian Wilson was on LSD? Maybe he wasn’t. Maybe he was just crazy. Panda Bear’s not crazy though, and he’s also not on LSD. Through sampling, but mostly through his super-soaked vocal layers, he presents the melodies children sing to themselves in playgrounds, the purest, most beautiful music. Animal Collective is Avey Tare’s band, but Person Pitch proves that Panda Bear has his own completely distinct picture to present to the world. It doesn’t sound like Animal Collective in a specific sense, even if they’d be stocked in the same section of a very sub-genred record store. It’s angelic stuff, and it kept me dry and happy on many wet and depressing winter mornings going to college. I have regular revelations listening to this, and it would be higher if not for the slight repetitiveness late on and the quality of some other albums released this year.
MySpace about Panda Bear, and a website about panda bears
6. Liars – Liars
(I’m going to do this one Said The Gramophone style). A Sunday afternoon , waking up hungover, you walk down the stairs, pour a glass of milk and make for your couch. The sun’s shining in the window, so your sore limbs and pinched forehead don’t bother you so much. You lie down and drink your milk. Finishing up, you look for the remote. It’s beside the television. What is the point of a remote control if it’s left beside the TV anyway. Your body has just adjusted to the couch and is refusing to get up, so you sit there quietly. There’s no-one around. Everyone in the house has gone out. The radio is seeping in vaguely from upstairs somewhere. The sunlight is still beaming in at first, but time passes quickly and the short winter afternoon starts to grey. It gets darker and darker, but you stay sitting on your couch, staring at the blank TV. The curtains are open, but you can’t see anything from where you’re lying. It’s raining, probably. That is what this album sounds like.
The video for the tour-de-force first track on YouTube and the website.