My 10 Favouite Albums Of 2008
(Well, 8 albums and 2 EPs, both of which are longer than some albums in my collection.)
10. M83: Saturdays = Youth
Songs: Kim & Jessie, Couleurs
Thoughts: This is not an album I play in full. It gets tedious. The spoken passages by the emo girl are cringeworthy; Graveyard Girl would be a classic if it weren't for her. However, the important thing here is that the amazing songs are really, truly, amazing. I may only return to four or so songs with a great deal of regularity, but good god, those songs deserve it, and on that basis, Saturdays = Youth sneaks into the top ten ahead of Sculptured's Embodiment, an extremely complex and intelligent progressive metal album that is nonetheless a letdown when held against their previous two avantgarde metal releases, especially the classic The Spear Of The Lily Is Aureoled.
9. Opeth: Watershed
Songs: Coil (yes, I'm serious), The Lotus Eater
Thoughts: I was skeptical. With the departure of Lindgren and his replacement by Akesson of Arch Enemy (not the first band I think of when I think "intelligent, articulate death metal"), I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. Now, my favourite Opeth is early Opeth, from Orchid to Still Life, and that brand of Opeth isn't coming back, but this album certainly delivers a very complex, progressive, and thoughtful brand of death metal. It's not the best thing the band have done, but undoubtedly a good album.
8. Agalloch: The White
Songs: Pantheist, Birch White, Sowilo Rune
Thoughts: Agalloch embrace their dark neofolk side and release a softer, acoustic album without a trace of metal to be heard. Loosely based around samples from the seventies movie The Wickerman, this is bleak, atmospheric, and quite deep. Some passages are extremely beautiful; Sowilo Rune is the most notable example. It concludes with the best sample of the album: "But what of the true god ...?" "He's dead. He had his chance and, in modern parlance, blew it."
7. God Is An Astronaut: God Is An Astronaut
Songs: No Return, Remaining Light
Thoughts: GIAA are one of my favourite post-rock bands. I find that there is something particularly special, soaring, and evocative about their compositions. It's hard to describe, and I have their guitar tones and use of keyboards to thank. This doesn't top All Is Violent, All Is Bright as a full album and no songs quite manage to equal New Years End or Suicide By Star, but this is a magnificent collection of soundscapes all the same.
6. Sleepmakeswaves: In Today Already Walks Tomorrow
Songs: I Will Write Peace On Your Wings And You Will Fly Over The World; It's Dark, It's Cold, It's Winter
Thoughts: Oh hell yes. Post-rock that effortlessly balances the simultaneous objectives of rockin' and crafting utterly beautiful and evocative music that you cannot forget. As an added bonus, their song titles are almost as ridiculous as Red Sparowes' but make a few more modicums of sense! I Will Write Peace On Your Wings And You Will Fly Over The World is the best album opener of the year. (Also, my attempts to see these guys in concert have been thwarted twice! I am not impressed. Third time lucky better happen, and soon.)
5. No-Man: Schoolyard Ghosts
Songs: Pigeon Drummer, Truenorth
Thoughts: I'm not completely sold on No-Man. Tim Bowness's vocals don't always do it for me and I sometimes would be happier if Steven Wilson sung. But on this album, it all works. It's ambient, it's atmospheric, it's artistic - at the very edge of progressive rock. Truenorth is majestic, more an experience than a song, and perhaps that is true of the whole album. Pigeon Drummer is surprisingly intense, yet somehow never loses ambience. SW is masterful in composing and playing the music, while Bowness's voice is integrated ideally.
4. Steven Wilson: Insurgentes
Songs: Harmony Korine, Significant Other, Get All That You Deserve
Thoughts: Speaking of SW singing No-Man ...! This solo release basically brings together all the threads of SW's various bands and projects. Suddenly, the differences between them don't seem so vast and it all makes sense. Veneno Para Las Hadas could almost be a No-Man song, while other passages would be more at home in Porcupine Tree, Blackfield, or Incredible Expanding Mindfuck albums. It's nice to hear such a well-rounded release bringing all of these strands together, and some new sounds too - perhaps a shoegazer or noise rock influence here and there, such as the end of Get All That You Deserve. Perhaps most amusing, however, is something I don't doubt was entirely unintentional on SW's behalf: the first 40 seconds of Harmony Korine are stunningly similar to the first 25 seconds of U2's Spanish Eyes.
3. A Forest Of Stars: The Corpse Of Rebirth
Songs: God, Male
Thoughts: Woah. This is the future of black metal. This offers basically everything I could want from the genre while pulling it in new, exciting directions. All of the ridiculous cliches and grim posturing are gone. The production is impeccable. Dare I say it, some of the riffs are catchy. Most importantly, this is artistic and creative. I find it hard to believe this is a debut, since it is so competent: the ideas seem almost boundless, yet effortlessly managed and arranged. In some ways, this is barely recognisable as black metal; it isn't frantic aggression such as Mayhem and it isn't quite as suffocatingly atmospheric and immense as Wolves In The Throne Room. Perhaps the closest relation here is Ulver's Bergtatt, and that is undoubtedly a high compliment.
2. Cynic: Traced In Air
Thoughts: I'm not naming songs here. I haven't developed any strong favourites here for the simple reason that the album is so astonishingly fluid and cohesive that I begin one song and find myself in the middle of another without even realising it. And yes, this album is indeed by the Cynic, the very same technical death metal band that unleashed Focus on the world in 1993, changed the face of death metal forever, and then disbanded. When I heard they were reforming, I wondered how the fuck they were meant to ever top such an influential album as Focus. Luckily, this is not an attempt to make Focus II, but it is a logical progression and maturation of the band's style. It is far more progressive than metal; the metal serves more to augment the sound than define it. And the more I think about it, the more I come to the conclusion that although Focus tracks How Could I? and Veil Of Maya have not been topped, Traced In Air is the superior album.
1. Russian Circles: Station
Songs: Harper Lewis, Station, Verses
Thoughts: Easily my album of the year. Russian Circles adeptly write instrumental rock that, in its heaviest moments, draws comparisons to the intensity of post-metal, and in its softer moments is nothing short of breathtaking. From 3:40 to about 5:20, the song Verses is quite simply transcendent. The band's 2006 debut, Enter, was extremely promising and exciting, yet Station somehow exceeds expectation. The bass is prominent and powerful, they make good use of their atypical guitar tuning, the drumming is rock-solid, and ultimately, the album is one of the most addictive and memorable music experiences of the last few years.
My 6 Favourite Songs Of 2008
(This was meant to be just five but I wanted to give The Verve a nod somewhere in this entry.)
6. The Verve: Sit And Wonder (from Forth)
5. Steven Wilson: Harmony Korine (from Insurgentes)
4. Fleet Foxes: Your Protector (from Fleet Foxes)
3. No-Man: Truenorth (from Schoolyard Ghosts)
2. M83: Kim & Jessie (from Saturdays = Youth)
1. Russian Circles: Verses (from Station)
Look out, Verses is undoubtedly one of the songs of the decade too. But don't take my over-hype for it!
My 5 Favourite Concerts of 2008
5. 19 September: Laura at the East Brunswick Club, East Brunswick, Victoria
4. 25 April: Porcupine Tree at the Palace, Melbourne, Victoria
3. 16 February: Explosions In The Sky at the Corner Hotel, Richmond, Victoria
2. 2 December: Crowded House at the Forum Theatre, Melbourne, Victoria
1. 27 April: Porcupine Tree at the Tivoli, Brisbane, Queensland
So there you go.