With 2008 done and dusted, I think it’s fair to say it’s been a pretty great year. It was the year that saw the launch of this site; an outlet for Joe and I to go from being avid readers and commenters elsewhere to finally having a place of our own. Emerging from our seasonal bout of gluttony and hibernation, we’re very much looking forward to adding to and improving Guess List in 2009.
For me personally; 2008 was a pretty great year, I had a lot of fun got a lot done. Highlights would be the Primavera Sound festival in Barcelona in May, Roskilde, and many Irish adventures; boating on the Shannon, hosteling in West Cork and yet another great year at the Electric Picnic.
In terms of music, here are my Top 30 albums of the year. I’ve thought about this quite a lot, and compiled the list based on how often I listened to and became immersed in their various sounds.
1. James Blackshaw – Litany of Echoes
Following on from last years amazing Cloud of the Unknowing, the London guitarist adds some piano and viola playing to his already considerable skills with beautiful results. The songs are patient; building subtly and slowly through ever-evolving melodies, without ever overstating themselves.
Second track ‘Past Has Not Passed‘ shows Blackshaw at his finest, building upon a long intro of drones which eventually give way to a gorgeous flow of melancholy guitar melodies that interweave sublimely over about 12 minutes. There’s something magical going on amid all those notes, and no words of mine can truely do it all justice… Listen: Past Has Not Passed
2. Jape – Ritual
From rising star to superstar, in national terms anyways – 2008 finally saw Richie Egan’s Jape start to get the kind of attention he deserves. After plenty of incubation on the live circuit, the release of Ritual allowed everyone to witness the slick new sounds of Jape 2.0; synthy pop tunes that were as dancefloor friendly as they were endearing and witty, taking the heartfelt nature of the ‘bedroomy’ sound of past albums and building a big sweaty electro party around it.
After near-disasters with labels and thieves, critical acclaim and excellent live shows at the ‘Picnic and Tripod, 2008 saw Jape rise to the of top Irish music. Now for the rest of the world!
Listen: At The Heart of All of This Strangeness
3. Deerhunter – Microcastle
Deerhunter’s 3rd release in 2 years comes with another new album included for free (the slightly more experimental Wierd Era Cont) ; showing how ridiculously productive Bradford Cox and Co have been of late (in addition to the well-recieved recordings as Atlas Sound). What’s most impressive is just how bloody good it is; perhaps their finest yet. Like 2007’s Cryptograms, the songs are awash with reverb and strange imagery, but the treatment is less menacing and far more melodic than ever before. Standout tracks like Agoraphobia and Nothing Ever Happened display a new pop sensibility to the band’s ambient post-punk sound, making Microcastle their most welcoming record to date. Listen: Nothing Ever Happened
4. The Alps – III
The finest psych record I heard this year was by The Alps, a folkish bunch from San Fran I’d never heard of until I chanced upon their album. Opener A Manhã Na Praia comes on like Fuck Buttons getting the acoustic treatment; splicing the breezy guitar pluckings and keys with sinister waves of noise, alternating between cheery sunshine and creepy shadows with great (un)ease. The album takes in a broad range of sounds, mixing elements of folk, krautrock, prog and electronica in impressive fashion, coming on like a kaleidoscopic summer nightmare. Captivating stuff.
Listen: Cloud One
5. Gang Gang Dance – Saint Dympna
Saint Dympna heralds a bold step towards the mainstream for Gang Gang; they’ve managed to create a captivating, dancey record while holding onto their wierd avant garde roots. The songs lurch about with mathy guitar lines, warm electro swathes and crazed vocals (including a grimey collaboration with Dizzee Rascal), bursting with ideas just crazy enough to work. With a history of being overly-erratic, Saint Dymphna finally sees the New Yorkers relax just enough to keep their songs in focus – and the results are marvelous indeed. Listen: First Communion
6. Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago
Ok, enough about log cabins already. The beauty of ‘For Emma’ lies in the songs, not in their well documented conception. Vernon’s tear-jerking falsetto is completely arresting; lonesome, exposed and honest, and well highlighted by the albums often bare instrumentation. As a live band, Bon Iver are even more engrossing, stripping songs to their basics or lifting them to new heights; they know a thing or two about nurturing the fundamentals of a song to expose it’s emotional core. Listen: For Emma
7. Torche – Meanderthal
Torche may well have simultaneously managed to create the finest pop album and hard rock album of 2008. It’s a monstrous collection of riffage; loud, slick and catchy – initially I was disappointed that the slower, more expanse sound of their previous albums had been bulldozed to make way for something more instanly gratifying – but I was soon won over. The songs on Meanderthal are doomy and anthemic; highly produced to raise roofs and shake foundations. Listen: Grenades
8. Foals – Antidotes
Foals arrived into 2008 plagued with the sort of hype that threatened to overshadow their promise; being heavily praised by the NME, featuring in TV show Skins and being associated with a tiring wave of new UK music. Easily dismissed as another batch of landfill indie, the Oxford group managed to convert many naysayers with Antidotes, an album that manages to occupy a middle-ground between the jangley electro stylings of the Klaxons et al and the dynamic math rock of Battles; varying from crowd-pleasers like Cassius and Balloons to the darker textures of Electric Bloom. Live; they add texture and energy aplenty to their songs, willing to experiment and play with new sounds while knocking out the hits. Foals successfully avoided pigeonholing and in Antidotes have made a very impressive debut. Listen: Red Sock Pugie
9. Chad Van Gaalen – Soft Airplane
Canadian mulit-instrumentalist/producer Chad VanGaalen’s strongest album to date; Soft Airplane is full of heartfelt songs and lo-fi tinkering, with a vocal quality reminiscant of Neil Young. Recorded in his home basement; it’s a bit of a bit all over the place, but it’s a charmily warm mess crammed full of suprises and beautiful songs. Listen: Bones of Man
10. Adebisi Shank – This Is The Album of a Band Called Adebisi Shank
Hurtling along at 100mph, Adebisi Shank sound like a band possessed. The speed and virtuosity with which they play are breathtaking; songs being chewed up and spat out and then chewed up a bit again – you’ll either love it or hate it. Metallic guitar riffs lock into grooves more akin to Daft Punk than Slayer; changing direction sporadically and then collapsing into glitchy noise without warning. It’s not for the feint hearted. With A.D.D. tendacies aplenty, TITAOABCAS captures more moments of blissful chaos in it’s 23 minutes of length than most bands accomplish in a lifetime. Listen: You Me
11. Black Mountain – In The Future | Listen: Tyrants
12. Ponytail – Ice Cream Spiritual | Listen: Late for School
13. Grouper – Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill | Listen: Heavy Water/I’d Rather Be Sleeping
14. Times New Viking – Rip It Off | Listen: My Head
15. The War On Drugs – Wagonwheel Blues | Listen: A Needle In Your Eye #16
16. Hush Arbours – Hush Arbours | Listen: Rue Hollow
17. RSAG – Organic Sampler | Listen: The Climb
18. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes | Listen: Blue Ridge Mountains
19. Beyond The Wizards Sleeve – Ark 1 | Listen: Electric Bananas
20. No Age – Nouns | Listen: Teen Creeps
21. Ancestors – Neptune With Fire | Listen: Neptune With Fire
22. The Dodos – Visiter | Listen: Walking
23. Kaki King – Dreaming of Revenge | Listen: Can Anyone Who Has Heard This Music…
24. Awesome Color – Electric Aborigines | Listen: Eyes of Light
25. A Place to Bury Strangers – A Place to Bury Strangers | Listen: I Know I’ll See You
26. Lykke Li – Youth Novels | Listen: Breaking It Up
27. Paavoharju – Laulu Laakson Kukista | Listen: Kevatrumpu
28. Halfset – Another Way of Being There | Listen: A Place To Stay
29. Chrome Hoof – Pre-Emptive False Rapture | Listen: Tonyte
30. Spook of the 13th Lock – Spook of the 13th Lock | Listen: The Hare
I’d also like to tip my hat to some great 2007 albums that I only really got to grips with in the last 12 months; The Octopus Project – Hello Avalanche, Magik Markers – Boss, and MV & EE with the Golden Road – Gettin’ Gone.