10. The Dears -- Missiles
Some fans have described Montreal’s The Dears in concert as “the sonic equivalent of seeing the face of God.” As outlandish a claim as that may be, listening to a Dears record, you at least get a sense of just what said fans are talking about. Missiles is a magnificent display of melancholy indie-pop where front man and chief songwriter Murray Lightburn flexes his muscles as a mope-rock visionary. Having rescued the writing from what on previous Dears albums was an overt and seemingly unapologetic tipping-of-the-hat to The Smiths, the songs on Missiles are concise and thoughtful, and the end result is a record that verifies that The Dears are one of the planet’s most exciting and important bands.
9. Bob Dylan -- Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Vol. 8
Dylan’s goodness is never ending. The Bootleg Series Vol. 8 comes at the perfect time, too; it’s a collection so comprehensive and thorough in its scope that it’ll keep fans plenty busy until Dylan’s next studio album. These two discs explore and document a wealth of relentlessly captivating unreleased studio and live material that confirms over and over again the fact that we’ve all been immersed in a Bob Dylan renaissance for the last ten years. He just won’t go away, and every time he appears to have disappeared, even for just a moment, Bob Dylan comes back stronger than before with a reminder in hand that he’s the most prolific artist in popular music history.
8. Various Artists -- Disco Italia: Essential Italo Disco Classics 1977-1985
This glorious and alluring little collection flew totally under the radar, and it’s nearly impossible to describe it in a way that makes it sound like something people will want to listen to. ITALIAN DISCO??? Who cares? Strut Records has built an entire label around digging up the world’s most fascinating and forgotten popular music. On Disco Italia we find a sampling of songs from a number of the architects of the Italian disco. Despite Strut Records having put their best musicological foot forward, some of the tunes here are so awesomely low-fi and D.I.Y. that even the most talented of mastering technicians weren’t able to shake all the dust off the completely deteriorated tapes. In the end, this sonic quality (or lack thereof) gives the music a sexy, indigenous feel and makes you wish more than ever that time travel was a realistic possibility.
7. The Smiths -- The Sound Of The Smiths
Yeah, yeah, yeah, this isn’t new music…so what? IT’S THE F***ING SMITHS! Technically, The Sound Of The Smiths ought to be #1 on this -- and every other -- top ten list, because the music packed onto these two discs is far and away better in every single way than anything that’s been released this year. But you can’t give a compilation for a band that’s been defunct for over twenty years the #1 spot, can ya? I think not. Rhino’s done a fine job here, consulting Morrissey on the artwork and the track selection and Johnny Marr on the re-mastering, The Smiths look and sound better than ever on The Sound Of The Smiths.
6. Fleet Foxes -- Fleet Foxes
Extraterrestrial folk freaks Fleet Foxes have taken the world by storm. This is an unbelievably stimulating record. Comparisons with the likes of Band Of Horses or My Morning Jacket, although complimentary, just doesn’t do its goodness justice. On their self-titled debut album, Fleet Foxes have crafted eleven gorgeously haunting and immaculately produced folk songs that do a better job than any other album in recent memory of proving that there is still good new music; new music about which to be excited. Fleet Foxes are folk artisans and a band to keep a very close eye on.
5. Elbow -- The Seldom Seen Kid
Elbow has never made a bad record. Honestly. Given their perpetual goodness, it’s awfully hard to prioritize their albums, but goddamn if The Seldom Seen Kid doesn’t feel and sound like the best Elbow record, their crowning artistic achievement, if you will. Per standard Elbow protocol, there are surprises around every corner and The Seldom Seen Kid is unyielding in its sonic goodness and enormity. More than ever before, Elbow sounds like the most powerful, majestic and dignified band in the world.
4. Beach House -- Devotion
Perhaps the year’s most beautiful record, Devotion does a fine job of substantiating recent claims that popular culture and music is on the up and up in one of America’s oldest, darkest and coldest urban wastelands: Baltimore, Maryland. As much as anyone can be “original” these days, Beach House have indeed created a world on Devotion that sounds like nothing else that’s come before or after it. This deliberately sparse and slow-burning gem makes for some ultra satisfying Sunday morning hangover music, and it leaves you wanting to say something you never thought you’d say before: “Uh, Baltimore? I think I’d like to hear more from you.”
3. Cut Copy -- In Ghost Colours
It’s been a good year for Australia. Wait. No, it hasn’t, not especially -- not even sure what that’s supposed to mean. Cut Copy is from Australia though and although there’s no rulebook that says good dance music can’t come out of Australia, it’s still somehow peculiar that there was an Australian dance record released in 2008 as solid, consistent and coherent as In Ghost Colours. People were slow on the uptake, too; only now are we beginning to hear Cut Copy on indie radio stations. No matter. In Ghost Colours is a tremendous display of crafty songwriting and pop sensibility, a successful merger of indie-rock expertise and ass-shaking party music.
2. M83 -- Saturdays=Youth
Deliberately revivalist, yes…on Saturdays=Youth we find Anthony Gonzalez -- the man behind M83 -- honing in everything he’s done on his past records and blending those techniques with a conscientious and articulate throwback to 1980s popular culture and music. Almost as if to say, “You want to hear the ‘80s all over again, eh? Well, put this in your pipe and smoke it!” Gonzalez embraces the decade for a tour de force of melodrama, teen angst and unrelenting, God-like synth-driven pop music.
1. Hercules & Love Affair -- Hercules & Love Affair
It’s DISCO, baby! A fantastical mash-up of decades and decades of dance music, nights-on-the-town, and New York City club culture, Hercules & Love Affair’s self-titled debut legitimizes all the synth-driven, drum-machine programmed, disco-dance revivalism that’s been gaining momentum over the last few years. It’s smart, it’s sexy, it’s provocative, it’s gay and it’s genius. This is about as good a dance record as anyone with taste could hope for in 2008 -- sort of makes you want to break out your “DISCO SUCKS” t-shirts, but only to be ironical.