While Clash’s Top 40 albums of 2008 collected together a great number of the year’s best albums, there were inevitable oversights.
That said, perhaps oversights is the wrong word – all 40 albums listed by Clash in issue 33 represent the cream of what 2008 had to offer on an album front. However, the year that was presented far more than 40 great records to the fore across its twelve months.
So, to highlight a clutch more great long-players from last year, before we get stuck into 2009 properly, here ClashMusic.com ed’ Mike Diver runs through 20 ‘also ace’ albums that you might want to spend those Christmas vouchers on*. And there’s far more out there, too – scan over our reviews section for reminders of excellent LPs you might’ve missed, and check the additional 20 at the end of the article for future discoveries.
*Here’s hoping your grandma didn’t give you £20 at Zavvi…
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M83 – ‘Saturdays = Youth’
Anthony Gonzalez (pictured, above) has long been respected in dance circles, but his 2008 album as M83, ‘Saturdays = Youth’, saw the Frenchman break through into new audiences with a sound drawing as much from ‘80s soundtracks as it did future floor-fillers. The year ended with him supporting Kings of Leon on their massive UK dates – expect further creeping into the mainstream in 2009 as killer singles ‘Kim & Jessie’ and ‘Graveyard Girl’ reach ears anew.
(Read our interview with Anthony Gonzalez HERE)
Rolo Tomassi – ‘Hysterics’
One of Britain’s best breakthrough acts, frenetic hardcore five-piece Rolo Tomassi, barely of school-leaving age, have set themselves up for a great 2009 (they’re soon to tour alongside Fucked Up and The Bronx – a bill to get moist over) by releasing a brain-bending debut that fuses jazz-minded ambition with punk-rock aggression. It’s a blistering record that sets the skin electric, and live the band can light up any stage, of any size. They do a mean At The Drive-In cover, too, if you ask ‘em nicely. Sheffield’s long been seen as a hotbed of indie talent – could Rolo Tomassi begin a wave of revered hardcore acts from the Steel City?
(Read our exclusive Rolo Tomassi tour diary HERE)
Lovvers – ‘THINK’
Modern, intelligent punk-rock at its finest – no frills, just raw but focused energy and enthusiasm set to a backing of taut instrumentation… plus the odd pop-savvy riff for that necessary balance between light and the deepest blackness. Live, Lovvers can leave onlookers stunned dumb; on record, their exquisite mix of accessibility and angst is equally breathtaking.
(Watch our Lovvers video exclusive HERE)
The Ruby Suns – ‘Sea Lion’
Sunshine pop never sounds as bright and brilliant as it does when Ryan McPhun’s at its helm, and his second LP as lynchpin of The Ruby Suns saw the Californian musician – now a resident of New Zealand – refine the sound of 2005’s self-titled debut into a truly beguiling assortment of tropical motifs and sublime indie-pop. Need a pick-me-up? Pop this on.
(Read our interview with The Ruby Suns HERE)
Frightened Rabbit – ‘The Midnight Organ Fight’
Clash favourites featured in our Best Newcomers list of 2008, Selkirk’s Frightened Rabbit’s second album topped year-end album charts elsewhere on the ‘net, yet missed out on a top 40 spot here due to its makers’ inclusion in another list. Well, here’s where we say: worry not that ‘The Midnight Organ Fight’ missed a Top 40 slot, because it IS a superb album that deserves to be heard by many. Attracting acclaim from across the board – NME agreed with DiS, who agreed with Pitchfork, who agreed with Q – it’s the kind of record where every track’s an anthem in the making, every song a should-be single. With great support slots with Death Cab For Cutie and Biffy Clyro under their belts, don’t be surprised if this is the last Frightened Rabbit album to slip under the radar of the mainstream. Will they do a Snow Patrol? With offerings like ‘The Modern Leper’, ‘Heads Roll Off’ and ‘Fast Blood’ (the latter as close to a title track as the album has) in their arsenal… quite possibly.
(Read our interview with Frightened Rabbit HERE)
Eugene McGuinness – ‘Eugene McGuinness’
Another of our newcomers, Eugene’s debut album’s a treasure and no mistake, showcasing the wittiness and sharp lyrical twists of one of the country’s best young songwriters. Never afraid of a bold arrangement, and blessed with an enrapturing voice, Eugene set the tone for this album superbly with ‘Moscow State Circus’, a single with a catchiness factor off the scale. The rest is just as loveable.
(Read our interview with Eugene McGuinness HERE)
Times New Viking – ‘Rip It Off’
How low can lo-fi go? Times New Viking take their recording very seriously… and plunge the quality down beneath the deepest basement to produce a racket unprecedented. But don’t be put off by the scratchiness of what’s on offer here on ‘Rip It Off’, the band’s first album for Matador after a couple of underground long-players – there are pop tunes aplenty if you focus your listening gear and dive through the fog. Unlikely to be an immediate hit though they are, the Ohio threesome’s material rewards patience, and those who rise out indifference will discover an album to cherish.
(Read our interview with Times New Viking HERE)
Fuck Buttons – ‘Street Horrrsing’
Noise than breaks through barriers, soundscapes that smash down resistance with slabs of volume that leave the listener crushed – the output of London-based duo Fuck Buttons is basic of construction in so much as it’s fairly singular of dimension from an outsider’s perspective, but look closer at the design and nuances, glittering facets of shifting melody, emerge, giving debut album ‘Street Horrrsing’ an accessibility initially absent. Listed amongst our Best Newcomers, Fuck Buttons will develop their sound further in 2009, through a series of live shows (they play Australia and Japan) and the recording of their second album. Expect their special play on out-of-body euphoria to find new followers as the year progresses.
(Read our interview with Fuck Buttons HERE)
Fucked Up – ‘The Chemistry Of Common Life’
Many lessons are taught to the individual through experience; many further arrive in a slew in youth, forgotten or compartmentalised rarely to emerge again. Fucked Up’s literate hardcore is teaching for the open-minded and body-blooded: it’s furious, but packs a message rather than a fist. Through references to intelligent cultures long destroyed, religious uncertainty and hierarchies there to be questioned – and personal exploration of a psyche battling on all fronts – it’s a powerfully affecting listen both lyrically and, of course, musically. For every killer riff there’s a word in your ear you’ll not easily ignore.
(Find Fucked Up in our Track of the Day archive HERE)
The Dodos – ‘Visiter’
While Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver soaked up most of the Americana plaudits in 2008 (and both featured in Clash’s Top 40 of the year), San Francisco duo The Dodos quietly went about their business and promoted ‘Visiter’ to crowds not quite as grand as their third album so clearly deserves. Admittedly the record doesn’t quite fit the mould occupied by the aforementioned critical darlings, featuring as it does out-there and almost Animal Collective-like slants uncommon with typical Americana, but at its core ‘Visiter’ (deliberately misspelled – the title comes from a kid’s drawing – see the album artwork) taps into similar creative and conceptual veins. Vocally rich, lyrically intimate, it’s a record to curl up beside on these bitter winter nights and return to whenever one’s disposition slides south.
Torche – ‘Meanderthal’
Without doubt the loudest record of the year. It’s also packed full of sweet hooks and lyrics you can’t help but pump a fist to. When Clash saw the Florida outfit play in their founding four-piece formation for the final time at ATP in December we as good as shat ourselves with excitement. But even as a trio – as seen but a day earlier at London’s Scala – they pack one hell of a punch: it’s metal of old meets pop of the now with cleverness of design that won’t be fully understood ‘til the future’s done with. If your ears are craving something that’ll sting them good, get this as soon as – the band’s second full-length (discounting the phenomenal ‘In Return’ seven-tracker) really does not disappoint.
Youthmovies – ‘Good Nature’
(Drowned in Sound)
Foals assaulted the charts, but Oxford brethren Youthmovies played the prog angles with better success, their long-awaited ‘Good Nature’ debut sprawling like unfolding an origami ocean floor, each turn revealing more to delight in. At its most immediate the album played pop hooks off against wayward guitar motifs constructed to confuse and comfort in equal measure; when it gets weird, it’s clear no British band does contemporary progressive-rock quite as magically as this always forward-thinking quintet.
(Read our interview with Youthmovies HERE)
Nadja – ‘Skin Turns To Glass’
(The End Records)
Three tracks, almost an hour of music: ‘Skin Turns To Glass’ is the sound of intensity turned way up past typical tolerance, a record that drifts slow through sheets of noise and low-hanging static that crackles up around the listener, always altering its shape but doing do in a manner so subtle that telegraphed patterns are untraceable, predictions unwise and quite probably dangerous. The band is Toronto duo Aidan Baker and Leah Buckareff. They rarely stay creatively still long enough for fans to truly get a grasp on what they do, but genres such as shoegaze, post-rock and ambient have been thrown at the pair over the course of their release career. Each sticks, but only for passages, many of which present themselves to the fore throughout this soothingly cacophonous release, informed by the likes of Coil, Swans and Jesu. Listen on headphones and disappear.
Black Mountain – ‘In The Future’
Presenting a very modern-day take on retrospective pyschedelic rock, Canadian five-piece Black Mountain’s second LP saw them embraced by the music press on both sides of the Atlantic as torchbearers for a genre gone but far from forgotten. Across ten tracks the band explore texturally invigorating territories, calling upon influences ranging from Zeppelin to Blue Cheer but also incorporating almost folk-like sidesteps that showcased the record’s makers’ many directions outside of Black Mountain – associated projects include Pink Mountaintops, Lightning Dust and Blood Meridian. Previous touring buddies of Coldplay, Black Mountain’s trajectory remains an upward one as we step into 2009.
Atlas Sound – ‘Let The Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel’
Deerhunter frontman Bradford Cox’s debut solo album under the Atlas Sound moniker, released in the spring, was forgotten by some in the wake of his band’s sensational ‘Microcastle’ album, which rightly featured in almost every year-end chart these eyes have seen. But ‘Let The Blind…’ is an engrossing album that deserves to be selected as one of the year’s best alongside the aforementioned classic-to-be. Ambient to the point of full immersion at times, this album’s tone is understated, vocals left to drift in the mix as instrumentation floats in on breezes so slight you barely notice them at all. Closer inspection reveals personal lyrical content, relating to many an aspect of its maker’s life (and losses), but it’s the record’s surface aesthetic of comforting melodious drones and gentle percussion that scoops the listener up and makes this such a wonderfully warm experience.
Errors – ‘It’s Not Something But It Is Like Whatever’
Glasgow-based four-piece Errors spent much of their pre-album career categorised as something of a British Battles, but ‘It’s Not Something…’ revealed their truest side, as a band whose love of dance music outshines any math-rock overtones. Replete with bleeps enough to craft a dozen more Crystal Castles albums, beats insistent and breakdowns enticing, its mostly instrumental content is of a quality consistent enough to pick an effort at random and get a dancefloor moving. Apparently Alan McGee is tipping them for great things in 2009… A blessing or a curse, we await the result of.
(read our exclusive Errors tour diary HERE)
Harvey Milk – ‘Life… The Best Game In Town’
The second loudest album of 2008, with considerably fewer melodies than Torche’s ‘Meanderthal’ but more raw power at its heart than all the records here put together. Something of a cult act in the 1990s, the Athens (Georgia) outfit’s return in 2006 was received in some quarters like the very Second Coming itself. ‘Life…’ is the band’s fifth full-length, and something of a sludge-rock masterpiece to put it simply, featuring as it does the dirtiest riffs this side of The Jesus Lizard’s ’99 implosion. If you’ve ever been wowed by the Melvins but Harvey Milk are new to you, do rush out and correct this oversight immediately. Starting with ‘Life…’ and working backwards won’t see you stray.
Johnny Foreigner – ‘Waited Up ‘Til It Was Light’
Few albums of 2008 filled this writer with the joy felt while this plays – it’s spiky indie-pop with sharp twists and lyrical bite, its creators a trio well-schooled in slaving away for their art with little return in the past, but now (hopefully) reaping some reward. ‘Waited Up…’ is city discontent set to music most dynamic; the collapse of relationships professional and personal, as well as highs dizzying, set against a backdrop of stimulating percussive prowess. The Birmingham-based band have spent much of 2008 on the road home and abroad, in preparation and promotion for this, and 2009 seems likely to follow a similar pattern as they build towards album number two. Catch them live and experience the sort of sugar-rush glee you thought you’d forgotten around the age of 13, and expect to sweat.
(Read our exclusive Year According To Johnny Foreigner article HERE)
Pyramids – ‘Pyramids’
Little is known of these Texans, as biographical content on the ‘net is in short supply and they don’t really do interviews. They number five (says MySpace), and are said to “capture the cacophonies of the great unknown, one song at a time”. What I hear is entrancing avant-metal with shoegaze and doom overtones. Yet to state that and that alone is to sell ‘Pyramids’ well short – this is an album that gets under the skin, into the blood; listen enough and its myriad drones and textures, some sublime while others terrify, become background hum for the everyday. It’s the sound of the universe spinning, maybe; at times wholly alien but occasionally familiar like the purring of a pet, the slamming of a door. In truth, after so many listens, still this record presents forth sounds startlingly fresh. It’s a wondrous, intoxicating thing of a singular beauty hard to like but effortless to love.
Jaguar Love – ‘Take Me To The Sea’
2008 saw the fractured members of sadly defunct Seattle art-punks The Blood Brothers release material from their new projects – Jordan Blilie, Morgan Henderson and Mark Gajadhar joined with Devin Welch to form Past Lives and release the excellent ‘Strange Symmetry’ EP (review HERE), but it was Johnny Whitney and Cody Votolato, alongside former Pretty Girls Make Graves member J Clark, who drew first album blood with Jaguar Love’s ‘Take Me To The Sea’. While Whitney’s high-pitched vocals remained as Marmite-toned as they were with The Blood Brothers, conceptually his lyrics were more adventurous than ever before, and the instrumentation they were surrounded by developed and matured, quite unlike the acerbic punk-rock of before. This was pop, just not as anyone knew it before, drawing upon everything from Beefheart to Queen via Fugazi: weird, and mostly wonderful.
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And 20 more? Before we move on from 2008 for good, these are all worth our (and your) belated respect… Roll on 2009 and a crop as bumper as last year's!
Clark – ‘Turning Dragon’ (Warp)
Remember Remember – ‘Remember Remember’ (Rock Action)
HEALTH – ‘HEALTH//DISCO’ (Lovepump)
Charlottefield – ‘What Are Friends For’ (FatCat)
Pluxus – ‘Solid State’ (Kompakt)
Ponytail – ‘Ice Cream Spiritual’ (We Are Free)
Parts & Labor – ‘Receivers’ (Jagjaguwar)
The War On Drugs – ‘Wagonwheel Blues’ (Secretly Canadian)
Wetnurse – ‘Invisible City’ (Seventh Rule)
Mudhoney – ‘The Lucky Ones’ (Sub Pop)
Max Tundra – ‘Parallax Error Beheads You’ (Domino)
Mogwai – ‘The Hawk Is Howling’ (Wall of Sound)
This Will Destroy You – ‘This Will Destroy You’ (Magic Bullet)
High Places – ‘High Places’ (Thrill Jockey)
Wooden Shjips – ‘Vol 1’ (Holy Mountain)
Department Of Eagles – ‘In Ear Park’ (4AD)
Hammock – ‘Maybe They Will Sing For Us Tomorrow’ (Darla)
Plush – ‘Fed’ (Broken Horse)
The Week That Was – ‘The Week That Was’ (Memphis Industries)
The Futureheads – ‘This Is Not The World’ (Nul)
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