Friday, December 12th, 2008


Chromewaves' favourite albums of 2008

Art By Erin NicholsonErin Nicholson

2008 has been a curious year. In assembling this obligatory list of my favourite records of the year, I found it a much more difficult task than past years. This was partly because the list of “no-brainer” records that were gimmes for year-end accolades seemed much slimmer than usual, and as such I had to do a lot more thinking about what would make the cut. Not to take anything away from those records who are listed below – all are excellent records that have soundtracked the past twelve months quite nicely – I just usually don’t have to think about things this much.

The other interesting thing is how the records that seem to be topping most everyone else’s lists are conspicuously absent from mine. Your Fleet Foxes, your Bon Ivers, your Vampire Weekends. I spent a goodly amount of time with most of these albums and mostly agree they’re fine albums (Vampire Weekend excepted, that one just bugs me), but they just didn’t move me the way they obviously have others. Curious.

Instead, what I find is a heavy representation from the UK, which doesn’t really surprise me considering this was the year I fully indulged my innate Anglophilia and actually visited London for the first time. I’m surprised there’s only three artists represented that I’d have called myself a fan of prior to this year – hell, six of them I’d never even heard of when 2008 began. The Canadian content is made up of records that were released wholly independently. There’s also a strong folk/roots representation which I should be used to by now, seeing as how it crops up most every year. Maybe my musical tastes aren’t quite as broad as I’d like to think. It really is a bit of a strange list, all things considered, but even though it was assembled a bit hesitantly, I’m very comfortable with how the chips have fallen. So let’s have a look.

And great thanks to Vancouver-based artist and web designer Erin Nicholson, who took my half-assed idea for an artwork meme and turned it into something completely awesome – please do click on all the images to see larger versions. Though I really have no idea how I’m going to top this next year.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds / Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! (Anti)

By the time I’d gotten into Nick Cave a few years back, I had assumed that he’d lost the fire and was settled into a career twilight of piano balladry. This record was a loud, angry and righteous kick in the face that not only showed me how wrong I was, but also how unbelievably great Cave is and remains. He may have stopped to take a breath, but he’s still got the fire and the fury. Hell yes.

MP3: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – “Dig, Lazarus Dig!!!”
Video: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – “Dig, Lazarus Dig!!!”
Video: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – “Night Of The Lotus Eaters”
Video: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – “More News From Nowhere”
Video: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – “Midnight Man”
MySpace: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

Frightened Rabbit / The Midnight Organ Fight (Fat Cat)

I’m a total sucker for plaintive folk rock, particularly when it’s delivered in a thick Scottish brogue, so there was really no way that I wasn’t going to love Frightened Rabbit. As grandly anthemic as it is introvertedly downcast and gloomy, Organ Fight managed to make being miserable sound absolutely invigorating. An early addition to this list that none were able to supplant.

MP3: Frightened Rabbit – “The Modern Leper”
MP3: Frightened Rabbit – “Head Rolls Off”
MP3: Frightened Rabbit – “Old Old Fashioned” (live)
Video: Frightened Rabbit – “Heads Roll Off”

Lightspeed Champion / Falling Off The Lavender Bridge (Domino)

This was a year I was swept up almost wholly in the London “anti-folk” scene, and Lightspeed Champion was the gateway drug. Former Test Icicle Dev Hynes crafted an album that could have easily been dismissed as a potty-mouthed joke, but which was actually one of the most heartfelt and melodic records of the year. And it also gets immeasurable thanks for introducing me to Emmy The Great, who contributed many backing vocals on the album.

MP3: Lightspeed Champion – “Everyone I Know Is Listening To Crunk”
Video: Lightspeed Champion – “Galaxy Of The Lost”
Video: Lightspeed Champion – “Tell Me What It’s Worth”
Video: Lightspeed Champion – “Midnight Surprise”
MySpace: Lightspeed Champion

Laura Marling / Alas, I Cannot Swim (Astralwerks)

Many of the accolades that have been lain at Marling’s feet sound cliche – that she’s an old soul, that her lyrics/voice/whatever belie her tender age, etc etc – but they’re also true. Alas would be a remarkable debut from anyone, but that it comes from someone still in her teens is astonishing. Credit also goes to producer Charlie Fink, himself but a young’n, for dressing Marling’s ruminations on love and loss in just the right amount of sonic finery. A slow grower at first but a fast favourite before long.

MP3: Laura Marling – “Ghosts”
Video: Laura Marling – “Night Terror”
Video: Laura Marling – “New Romantic”
Video: Laura Marling – “Ghosts”
Video: Laura Marling – “My Manic & I”
Video: Laura Marling – “Cross Your Fingers”
MySpace: Laura Marling

Okkervil River / The Stand-Ins (Jagjaguwar)

There will eventually be a year wherein Okkervil River releases an album that doesn’t automatically make my best-of list. This is not that year. While not as cohesive or triumphant as The Stage Names, this companion record was looser, more rocking and far more than a set of cast-offs. And it gave the band an excuse to tour ever more. It’s just as well that this volume was released separately from the first because if they’d come out together, my head may have exploded.

MP3: Okkervil River – “Lost Coastlines”
Video: Okkervil River – “Lost Coastlines”
MySpace: Okkervil River

The Rural Alberta Advantage / Hometowns (independent)

One of Toronto’s best bands and best-kept secrets finally release a full-length that’s not only as good as anyone could have dared hoped, but a good deal better. A fine example of how less really is more, this three-piece take the simplest musical ingredients and make them into some of the most stirring folk-rock you’ll hear anywhere. To hear them is to love them and finally, it seems, people are listening.

MP3: The Rural Alberta Advantage – “Don’t Haunt This Place”
MP3: The Rural Alberta Advantage – “Frank, AB”
MySpace: The Rural Alberta Advantage

School Of Seven Bells / Alpinisms (Ghostly)

A late addition to the list but one that I’m glad I made. I’ve said that this record, a mesmerizing bit of dreampop that simultaneously pays homage to and reinvents its forebears, is 1/3 brilliant and 2/3 solid. But I’ve also realized that even the tracks that don’t quite work are still more ambitious and interesting than many bands’ best efforts. And the ones that do work are absolutely sublime, and more than compensate.

MP3: School Of Seven Bells – “Connjur”
MP3: School Of Seven Bells – “Half Asleep”
MP3: School Of Seven Bells – “Chain”
MySpace: School Of Seven Bells

Shearwater / Rook (Matador)

I didn’t think that they could top Palo Santo, but Rook manages to be denser, more mysterious and ultimately more rewarding than its predecessor. It has a dynamicism, drama and confidence that even I, a long-time fan, hadn’t expected. It was sad to see the Okkervil-Shearwater relations finally be officially severed, but is this is the sort of work we get in return, it’s a small price to pay. A stunning piece of prog-folk which also takes the prize for best cover art of the year.

MP3: Shearwater – “Rooks”
MP3: Shearwater – “Leviathan, Bound”
MP3: Shearwater – “The Snow Leopard”
MySpace: Shearwater

Sigur Ros / Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust (XL)

Having already mastered the ability to create the sound of space whales simultaneously mating and giving praise to the cosmos, the Icelanders added another devastating trick to their arsenal – the pop hook. Med Sud somehow managed to compact and make accessible their unique sound without compromising that which makes them unlike any other band on the planet (or in space). A record I initially took for granted as “another Sigur Ros album” but soon realized was much more than that.

MP3: Sigur Ros – “Gobbledigook”
Video: Sigur Ros – “Gobbledigook”
Video: Sigur Ros – “Inni Mer Syngur Vitleysingur”
MySpace: Sigur Ros

Woodpigeon / Treasury Library Canada (independent)

Treasury is a left-field gem, equally ornate and exquisite while at the same time homespun and intimate. It delivers simple, heartfelt sentiments in perfectly-formed, folk-pop trappings that you can’t help but fall in love with. Originally intended as just a limited-edition release, it’s being given a much-deserved proper wide release next February so you can put it on your “best of 2009” list.

MP3: Woodpigeon – “Knock Knock”
MP3: Woodpigeon – “I Live A Lot Of Places”
MySpace: Woodpigeon

By : Frank Yang at 8:23 am
Category: Year-End List

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

RSS Feed for this post33 Responses.
  1. Kelly says:

    Nice!! I totally agree with Frightened Rabbit, the RAA, and Sigur Ros.

    I love the images!

  2. Scott says:

    None of the “biggies” made my Top 40 this year either… and I agree with the irritation factor of Vampire Weekend (and I really WANT to like them – they seem scrappy).

    Solid list… with your listening patterns, I am a tad surprised not to see Elbow, though maybe you’re just not a fan [smirk].

    Good reading – good list. Thanks!

  3. herohill says:

    I think that the reason people continually read Chromewaves is summed up by perfectly by one sentence you wrote. “The other interesting thing is how the records that seem to be topping most everyone else’s lists are conspicuously absent from mine.”

    These lists are supposed to be personal, and trying to fit in all the cool kids takes away from everything real about the process.

    Another great year for Chromewaves.

  4. Dan says:

    Great List!

    I do think that people can hate on the hype that Vampire Weekend received all the want, but “A Punk” is a superb single.

    And I couldn’t agree more, 2008 was a letdown after the embarrassment of riches we’ve come to expect from years past. I don’t think any one artist really blew me out of the water or dominated my turntable for longer than a week. Thus, I’ve been turning toward the past and finding far more to love. Maybe in a couple of decades, 2008 will reveal far more than we thought.

    Also, the images are genius.

  5. bill p says:

    I was at the 1982 Worlds Fair in Knoxville, TV and I have that plate. It’s weird I never noticed it was Lightspeed on there before.

  6. Jeff says:

    Where’s the Sun sphere?

    But seriously, great list. Shearwater’s album still blows me away. Great commemorative plate design, btw.

  7. meegs says:

    Beautiful beautiful ‘dishes’, Frank! & the list is pretty okay, too;) Need to give Lightspeed Champion another spin, because it just didn’t put any fire in my belly this summer….hmmm

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  9. matthew says:

    I’m glad I’m not the only person who’s had trouble coming up with a list of surefire best full-lengths of the year…it seems like 2008 was great for EPs, but as far as LPs go, very little blew me away.

  10. Chris says:

    You have done a wonderful job. The crockery, the selections — awesome. I just ordered two copies of the Rural Alberta Advantage, too. You finally broke me down, Frank. You were right all along. I…I’m sorry.

    Oh but there is a small problem. I was trying to listen to the Woodpigeon songs? But? Both of the embedded tracks are someone — possibly Woodpigeon — performing “Vampire Blues” by Neil Young. Part of it. Then it stops. And since your recommendations have been gold, or at the very least a pretty colour, I was hoping to hear those songs…

    Thanks for everything.

  11. Frank Yang says:

    I think the yahoo player was freaking out. I’ve killed it till I can sort it out.

  12. dB says:

    I agree with Matthew, there were a few good singles this year but 2008 was mediocre at best for full albums outside of the Nick Cave/Bad Seeds effort. 2007 was just as bad if not worse so here’s hoping 2009 will bring another revolutionary record from say My Bloody Valentine or something.

  13. Scott says:

    Great picks Frank. I wish I had a full set of School of Seven Bells dinnerware.

  14. Bruce says:

    My first thought on seeing your list was that you had somehow forgotten “Do You Like Rock Music?” — could it possibly have missed the cut? Otherwise, it all makes perfect sense.

    Kudos to Erin for the great graphics, who seems to have a soft spot for the Dutch (unlike Michael Caine). I too would buy the SVIIB plates. The Deheza sisters look like they’re cropped from a Victorian photo of European village girls.

  15. Emma says:

    Fantastic list. The plate thing…Awesome.


  16. Rob says:

    Plates are a lot of fun.

    Good to see Lightspeed Champion here, as it was my #2. Take a look at my best of list of 25 at

  17. heebiejeebie says:

    This is the first list that I’ve seen in which I share nothing in common with.


    Frightened rabbit frightens me with their yelling and moaning

  18. Mark P says:

    So pleased to Shearwater on there; that was my favorite album of the year, and it has been getting largely ignored. Also a big fan of Sigur Ros and Okkervil River’s albums. Not such a huge fan of Frightened Rabbit. I like Midnight Organ Fight, but frankly found it predictable (soft…soft… oh here’s the build… back to soft…) and the pain a bit contrived. Then again, I totally was suckered by Bon Iver, so….

    Give your picks, I imagine you’d like Breathe Owl Breathe — their 30-min EP made it on the lower half of my ten favorite albums — but it doesn’t look like they’ve been covered here.

  19. Craig says:

    Oh, thank gawd. I was beginning to think I was the only person in the world who wasn’t getting the whole Vampire Weekend thing.

  20. harry says:

    So glad to see Laura Marling on your list, i loved her album. Another of my favorites was Lightspeed Champion.

  21. 2008 Favorites says:

    Cool setup Frank. Here’s my faves.

    1. Paul Westerberg < 49
    2. Drive By Truckers < Brighter Than Creation’s Dark
    3. Rivers Cuomo < Alone II
    4. Circus Devils < Ataxia
    5. Mount Eerie with Julie Doiron & Fred Squire < Lost Wisdom
    6. Nine Inch Nails < Ghosts I – IV
    7. Hayden < In Field & Town
    8. Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks < Real Emotional Trash
    9. The Mars Volta < The Bedlam in Goliath
    10. Marc Ford & The Neptune Blues Club

  22. tk says:

    lots of men with facial hair

  23. ishmaeldaro says:

    Pretty good stuff. Chromewaves continues to rock all my motherlovin’ socks.
    I couldn’t keep Bon Iver off my list though.

  24. Lars-Christian says:

    One of the “best” (as in one of the ones -I- agree with most) list for 2008 I’ve seen so far, though I would have tried to find a spot for Bon Iver somewhere in there as well (if we’re counting it as a 2008 release).

  25. ChrisD says:

    Loved the commemorative plates. I’d stay up late to watch the Home Shopping Network if these were on sale.

    On a list related note, your list is the first other than my own that I’ve seen include the Rural Alberta Advantage (my #2). Absent from my list as well were Vampire Weekend and Fleet Foxes. Bon Iver split my 10th, and final, spot with Jay Reatard’s Matador Singles ’08, since one technically came out last year and the other wasn’t a proper album.

    Liked your list though. Nice to see someone who clearly thinks for themselves!

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