Forgive me Father, but I have sinned: You know full well how much I love compiling “Top 10 Album of the Year” lists, but this year I simply can’t do it. Nope. The task has become too onerous. Just consider: First, I have to list all the albums released in 2008 that I actually gave a fair spin or two, and whittle the names down to the ones I truly loved. That’s hard enough. But then I have to make sure the finalists are diverse enough that I appear broad-minded and adventurous. Also, I have to make sure it’s a multicultural list—make sure it contains enough women, enough minorities, and encompasses both the low- and highbrow, so that I look neither too boorish nor too snobby.
And once that’s all done, well, then I have to make sure my list doesn’t look like all the other lists posted on Pitchfork or Metacritic or whatever other music blogs might exist in the known universe, because even though I depend on those sites for 95 percent of the music I actually listen to, nevertheless, my final best-of list, my summation of a year in listening, simply has to feel sufficiently individualistic that I can look myself in the mirror and tell myself that I’m not just robotically obeying whatever the powers that be tell me to stuff onto my iPod. Woe! Woe! Woe!
Well, sorry, but the thought of doing all that prickles my sweaty palms, so instead I’m just going to scrap this tradition and instead list 20 albums of 2008 that I liked and want to include on some sort of list or other. In no particular order:
Andreas Scholl and Concerto di viole, Crystal Tears
Various Artists, Urban Rai 2008
Les Amazones Guinees, Wamato
T.I. Paper Trail
Los Campesinos, Hold On Now Youngster…
Franco, Francophonic Vol 1: 1953-1980
Vampire Weekend, Vampire Weekend
Conor Oberst, Conor Oberst
Sian Alice Group, 59’59
The Roots, Rising Down
Orlando Consort, O’Regan: Scattered Rhymes
Jean Grae, Jeanius
Various Artists, Songs of the Broken Hearted, Baghdad 1925-1929
Morton Feldman, The Viola In My Life (I-IV)
Orchestra Baobab, Made in Dakar
Drive-By Truckers, Brighter than Creation’s Dark
Paavoharju, Laulu Laakson Kukista
Raphael Saadiq, The Way I See It
Rudresh Mahanthappa, Kinsmen
And that’s that. You know, I’d been complaining for the last four months that 2008 was a tundra of a year for music, but inspecting that list again, all of those are wonderful albums that I’ll probably still be playing ten years from now (save for T.I., which is possibly a pick of the moment, and rose in my esteem after this spectacularly adorable cover of “Whatever You Like” surfaced late in campaign season).
I also agree with Robert Christgau in Slate that the grandest musical event of the year was the belated recognition that M.I.A.’s 2007 record, Kala, received—it’s easily one of the best records of the decade, and even if it only garnered accolades because “Paper Planes” managed to invade every club, restaurant, and bar (plus, of course, the soundtracks to Pineapple Express and Slumdog Millionaire), well, M.I.A.’s earned the right to be annoyingly ubiquitous. How many other musicians can you say that about?
My quiet disappointment of the year, meanwhile, was the Indelicates’ debut, American Demo. I’d downloaded their Internet demos back in 2005 and thought the Sussex-based male-female duo (sadistic, melodic, and with a self-declared mission to “destroy all art”) were darkly delightful; three years later, the finished album is over-produced, with newer, faster tempos that are waaaay too urgent for anyone’s good. Perhaps that just means the demos were never that grand, either. It’s always possible. Here’s one, from back in the day: