Monday, December 1, 2008

December 2008

Christmas Edition

Perhaps a coincidence or perhaps not, but the shameless consumerism of Christmas is perfectly timed to coincide with endless year end "Best of" lists. This enables all manner of media and distribution outlets to help holiday season sales by trying to convince consumers that they have missed buying some of their best offerings during the year.

The Nevstar Music Guide, of course, rises above such tasteless low class shameless consumerism. It exists as an unsullied beacon of pure appreciation of the art of music without catering to product pushing corporate types. Thus my annual Top Ten list merely seeks to introduce yet more albums to your arena of awareness. If you happen to think one might be a good purchase for your kid sister, then I take pleasure in helping solve your present buying unease.

So in this special edition, the December Nevstar Music Guide consists of a Top Ten list only, showcasing the absolute best albums of 2008.

Top Ten List

2007 was a fantastic year for music. As thus, last years Top Ten was packed with essential releases. Similarly this year, I had quite a bit of an effort to reduce it down to a mere ten. Any top ten list for the year is of course hugely subjective. Firstly everyone has different tastes, but more importantly, no two people are exposed to the exact same group of albums each year. You can only rate those you actually listened to. My net is usually pretty wide; but for example, I have only heard 24 of Q Magazine's Top 50 albums for 2008. Thus there are probably some very fine albums which I might have missed including great releases from, amongst others, The Verve, Jenny Lewis, Adele, Keane, Coldplay, and The Hold Steady. Some even have suggested the latest Oasis album is a welcome return to form!

Anyway, with these limitations in mind, and without further ado, here are :

Nevstar Top Ten Albums of 2008

10. The Golden Age : American Music Club

The album of the month way back in March has remained in my good graces throughout the year to make the Top Ten for 2008. American Music Club led by singer / songwriter Mark Eitzel have crafted a set of gorgeous, quiet, introspective songs each containing equal measures of heart and soul. Sort of album which warrants putting a reminder alert on your Outlook to prompt yourself to listen to this scintillating music at least once a month.
See March review in full here :

Best Track : Decibels and Little Pills

Try it if you like : Grant Lee Buffalo, Elliott Smith, Neil Young (in his quieter moments)

Listen or buy here

9. Seventh Tree : Goldfrapp

Interesting to note that the iTunes lists Goldfrapp's first two albums as electronica and this latest release as part of the pop genre. But its right on the mark. In a noticeable change of pace, this latest album from the former dance floor queen consists more of charming acoustic numbers accompanied by her plaintive, earnest vocals. However it remains challenging and rewarding. The album is like a long hot bath enticing the listener to delve into its depths and luxuriate in its warmth.

Best Track : Little Bird

Try this if you like : Beth Gibbons, Portishead, Beck

Listen to or buy here

8. Dear Science : TV On The Radio

Dear Science,
is the third album from TV On The Radio whose core is a talented duo, Tunde Adepimbe and Kyp Malone. Hailing from New York, these two provide the hypnotic vocals which dominate some of the songs, but are servants to the sound on others. The album is difficult to describe as it efficiently and effectively mixes a variety of styles into a stylish whole. Elements of atmospheric pop, punk, reggae and electronica wizardry make up the second effort of TV on The Radio. You could compare it to watching a bonfire filled with firecrackers. It initially lulls and mesmerises with continual movement, never repetitive or predictable before shocking and surprising with spectacular bursts of colours. One of the better tracks is Red Dress, which starts with a sexy reggae beat before branching out with horns and organ as the chorus sustains and amplifies the funky beat.

Best Track : Red Dress

Listen To It If You Like : Supergroove, Phoenix Foundation, Mercury Rev

Listen or buy here

7. Weezer : Weezer

This is the third eponymous album from Weezer, and shall forever be known as the Red Album following the debut Blue album and the Green album (their third). Whether deliberate or not (and one would think it is), the eponymous albums are generally sunnier slices of intelligent pop music whereas their other albums (Pinkerton, Maladroit and Make Believe) are darker in tone and feel. The Red Album is a welcome addition to the former collection replete with their razor sharp wit and fast moving melodies. They are fully aware that, as rockstars, they exist to be full of themselves. If you liked Weezers earlier recordings, you will definitely like this. Charming.

Best Track : Pork and Beans

Try this if if you like : Supergrass, Elvis Costello

Listen or buy here

6. You and I : Cut Off Your Hands

Hailing from kiwi-land, Cut Off Your Hands have been based in London working hard on the live circuit to establish themselves. This is their debut album which is a gem incorporating various elements of indie based alternative music. The songs have a freshness and vigour bouncing along enthusiastically before finishing after about three minutes. Their rather eclectic name is a result of a threatened lawsuit from a band called The Shaky Hands which was their original moniker. Never mind, they are a welcome addition to the burgeoning list of talented kiwi bands.

Best Track : Happy As Can Be

Try this if you like : The Strokes, Franz Ferdinand

Listen or buy here.

In The Future : Black Mountain

When compiling the Top Ten for 2008 I almost overlooked this effort which came out very early in the year. Probably a deliberate oversight as this album sounds like it should be in the Top Ten for 2014 ! In The Future is Black Mountain's ambitious attempt to combine soaring space age progressive rock with hardcore heavy metal rock. The outcome is glorious; generating intimidating moments of sheer power and majesty before charming the listener with baroque movements of discernment and disdain. Quiet a beguiling combination.
See April review in full here :

Best Track : Wucan

Try it if you like : Pink Floyd, David Bowie, Dandy Warhols

Listen or buy here

4. Rockferry : Duffy

With the very public implosion of Amy Winehouse, someone had to inherit the title of UK's soul queen. And Duffy is a more than adequate replacement. While the single Mercy was ubiquitous in 2008, the rest of the album is filled with other soulful brooding tracks giving full range to a talented band and her wonderful voice. My personal favourite is the title track, Rockferry, which opens the album. It has a wonderful relaxed feel as if the singer is contemplating the world with a weary tear stained eye. It reminded me of Marianne Faithfulls best work. Tremendous album which sustains multiple listens.

Best Track : Rockferry

Try this if you like : Aretha Franklin, Amy Winehouse, Joss Stone

Listen or buy here

3. Narrow Stairs : Death Cab For Cutie

The Nevstar album of the month in July, Narrow Stairs is the latest slice of accomplished art from the understated yet underrated Death Cab For Cutie. Following on from the quiet introspection of 2003's Transatlanticism and the morbidity of 2005's Plans, this years release Narrow Stairs incorporates elements of both, while also expanding into rockier territory particularly on No Sunlight and the 70s inspired Cath. But the strength of the band are the minimalist numbers with Ben Gibbards unique vocals complemented by one or two instruments quietly strumming a delicate melody. Examples include Grapevine Fires, Pity and Fear, and the highlight of the album, the eight minute long I Will Possess Your Heart, perhaps the single of the year.

Best Track : I Will Possess Your Heart

Try this if you like : Jeff Buckley, Arcade Fire

Listen or buy here

2. Only By Night : Kings of Leon

Simply put, this is the sound of a band simultaneously recording their best album while reaching the apogee of the fame. Some have derided it as too 'commercial', and others have uncharitably labelled it as nothing less than fully fledged 'stadium rock' which is a euphemism for bloated corporate rock. Whats amusing is that it is both commercial and suited to stadiums but thats not necessarily a bad thing. They have become far more than the one trick southern blues boogie boys from their first album. The songs are sharp and insightful, rewarding and fulfilling, amidst crunching guitars and fully developed vocals. The widely played single Sex on Fire is a brilliant track, and its ably accompanied by the sultry Closer, the hipster cool of I Want You and the atmospheric final track, Cold Desert.

Best Track : Closer

Try this if you like : Ryan Adams, REM

Listen or buy here

1. Glasvegas : Glasvegas

A very difficult choice for album of the year between Kings of Leon and Glasvegas for the year but the tiebreaker was decided in the favour of this likely band of Scots. Whats the tiebreaker? I simply asked myself, which album I played more. And I played Glasvegas a lot. An awful lot. Employing a wall of sound approach complemented with smart, streetwise lyrics, Glasvegas satisfy both sides of your brain, simultaneously stimulating and delighting. From the anthem sized Daddys Gone talking about absent fathers to the monotone delivery of Stabbed outlining a gang fight, this is simply a magnificent album and a deserved winner of the ultimate accolade; the Nevstar Music Guide Album of The Year.

Best Track : Daddys Gone

Try this if you like : Joy Division, Interpol

Listen or buy here

The next best ten albums in alphabetical order were:

The Black Keys : Attack & Release
British Sea Power : Do You Like Rock Music
Elbow : Seldom Seen Kid
MGMT : Oracular Spectacular
Nick Cave and Bad Seeds : Dig! Lazarus Dig!!!
Portishead : Third
Raconteurs : Consolers Of The Lonely
REM : Accelerate
Supergrass : Diamond Hoo Ha
Vampire Weekend : Vampire Weekend

Previous Nevstar Albums Of The Year :

This is the seventh year of compiling my Top Ten of the year. Email me if you would like the lists from previous years. In the meantime, here were the top albums from the last six years according to the Nevstar.

2007 : The Shins : Wincing The Night Away
2006 : The Beatles : Love
2005 : Kaiser Chiefs : Employment
2004 : Franz Ferdinand : Franz Ferdinand
2003 : British Sea Power : The Decline Of British Sea Power
2002 : The Doves : Last Broadcast

Hope you enjoyed this Christmas edition of the Nevstar Music Guide. May your stocking be filled with all the best releases from 2008.

Merry Christmas


1 comment:

Razor said...

Hi Nev

Agreed with many of your top 10 over at my blog.

I just can't appreciate The Kings of Leon though, they just sound so formulaic and whiney now.

Glasvegas was certainly a treat, Nick Cave made number one over my way though