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The Curmudgeon Awakes! Wait, it’s already February?!  The Curmudgeon snarls, turns around three times, and falls back asleep.

Only time will tell how the last year will fare in my personal pop music canon.  I saw only a fraction of live shows that I did in previous years. And whether it was my own frame of mind or the stale state of new music, I rarely felt inspired by any of the year’s releases. So, in almost 10 years of making these lists, here’s a first:

My Top 5 Records of 2008

Fleet Foxes : s/t

Fleet Foxes s/t

These kids went to the mountains, divined their songs and floated out like buddhas on a magic carpet of beard and siren voices. Superlative mesmeric folk-pop of the same sonic cloth (carpet) as the Beach Boys, Shins, Bee Gees, and the Hollies. That is to say, it’s filled with blissed-out harmonies.  What My Morning Jacket wish they could have made instead of trying to fit their country asses into a skinny Prince suit. This record sounds like it came straight out of the early 70’s but to these ears it’s fresher than anything else on here.

The Walkmen : You & Me

The Walkmen You & Me

A band I have several times now written off as nothing more than a nice sound and an attitude completely blew the black plastic aging hipster frames off my face with this one. There’s nothing revolutionary here, just a perfect encapsulation of the album as art form: from the jacket cover to the tracking, the whole work plays like an exposition on the state of you and yours. In our era of blogs blogging about blogs blogging about sound clips and tedious name-that-influence bands, a suite of songs like this is the real new wave.

Vampire Weekend : s/t

Vampire Weekend s/t

Like the Strokes’ debut, there’s something almost too perfectly glossy about Vampire Weekend’s own debut. The songs are remarkably good, forging a pop fusion from lithesome african guitar figures, insistent rhythms and squeaky collegiate insouciance. It may turn out to be an ephemeral pleasure, but for the time being this is impossible to put down.

Bonnie Prince Billy : Lie Down In The Light

Bonnie Prince Billy Lie Down In The Light

An undeniably great set of songs from the bright bearded appalachian misfit otherwise known by Will Oldham. His ability to win over the straight-ahead music crowd at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival made it even clearer that he’s at the top of his form. If you’ve followed Oldham off and on over the years like I have, this album should finally make a fan out of you.

Bon Iver : For Emma, Forever Ago

Bon Iver For Emma, Forever Ago

I kept hearing about this record, but I didn’t expect something so quietly affecting. As stripped down and hauntingly lovely as Elliott Smith’s first records, For Emma is the soundtrack to twilit wintry nostalgia. It took repeated listens for Justin Vernon’s whispered croon to get under my skin, but this set burns bright and true with plaintive soul.

Also Enjoyed

TV On The Radio Dear Science
Atlas Sound
Let The Blind Lead Those Who Can See

REM Accelerate
For the joy alone of hearing a band reassess their direction and come back roaring after so many albums. Almost makes me forget their last one.

Cat Power Jukebox
Jim White Transnormal Skiperoo Beautifully melancholic
Cut Copy In Ghost Colours
Joan As Police Woman To Survive

Blitzen Trapper Furr
Really strong collection of songs that nimbly skip on the grooves of old 70’s AOR, melodica dirge, acoustic ballads and country-fried AM radio pop.

Bob Dylan Bootleg Series Vol. 8 Tell Tale Signs
Elvis Costello Momofuku
Calexico Carried To Dust

Sigur Ros med sud i eyrum vid spilum endalaus
Loved the way they stretched out with bright and folkier textures on here.  The first track comes off as bulgarian choral folk meets The Feelies. Fitting, given that the title translates to “with a buzz in our ears we play endlessly”.

Jonathan Richman Because Her Beauty Is Raw and Wild
Department of Eagles In Ear Park
Sea and Cake Car Alarm

You make me sick

Beck Modern Guilt
Honestly, why don’t you just score Tom Cruise’s latest diatribe against psychiatry? It would probably hold as much interest as your last few records.

Mogwai The Hawk is Howling
Absolute shite; unless I just grew out of a music that once sounded really powerful to me.  No, no. This is absolute shite. Sounds like a band trying to imitate Mogwai because they heard that post-rock is the new thing.

Where You Been All My Life

Older stuff I got into or revisited this year

Serge Gainsbourg
Booker T. & The MG’s
King Sunny Ade
Erik Satie
Mose Allison
William Bell
Coleman Hawkins


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