The 50 Best Albums of 2008

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Check out Paste’s top 50 albums of 2008…

50. TV On The Radio – Dear Science [Interscope]
Leave it up to TV on the Radio to craft its most upbeat, party-ready release to date as the economy crumbles, presidents change and wars rage. Dear Science is not the band’s best, but tell that to the glorious beats, funky guitars and epic horns that surround Tunde Adebimpe’s poetry throughout.

49. Sandra McCracken – Red Balloon [Towhee]
Listening to Sandra McCracken’s crystalline voice offers the sonic equivalent of drinking ice-cold mountain spring water at its source. Her lyrics are utterly defiant in their optimism and the folk-pop arrangements on Red Balloon are varied enough to lock in your attention from start to finish. Gorgeous, heartfelt stuff.

48. REM – Accelerate [Warner Bros.]
After years of critically lambasted discs full of messy jangle pop, the Athens trio crawled their way back from the brink with a record full of razor smart lyrics and musical throwbacks. While no Monster, it’s a vital return to their rock and roll form.

47. Laura Marling – Alas, I Cannot Swim [Astralwerks]
Whether they’re her own, imagined or borrowed, eighteen-year-old Laura Marling does battle with some considerable demons on her first full-length debut: Miserable lovers, various psychoses, God himself. But despite her youth, ghastly pallor and the lovely, lightly string-and-horn touched strumminess of these songs, our money’s on Marling for the win.

46. Lykke Li – Youth Novels [LL]
Those Swedes really know how to turn out pop princesses. Leading the innovative cool-girl pack on her ambitious debut, Li is the hook heavy, Euro-dance infused soul sister to friend El Perro del Mar’s lo-fi anthems. Don’t miss the kooky-good video for her slick “I’m Good, I’m Gone.”

45. M83 – Saturdays = Youth [Mute]
Smooth, buoyant energy marks M83’s fifth album, dedicated to the digital outfit’s decade of choice, the 1980s. Purged of the ironic distance that normally colors such nostalgia, the record’s expansive tracks create a sublime vision with nods toward John Hughes and other lost luminaries.

44. Kathleen Edwards – Asking For Flowers [Zoë]
This Canadian gem is a go-to for those looking for humor, heartbreak and political awareness in one rootsy package. We’d expect nothing less from a record with a song called “I Make the Dough, You Get the Glory.”

43. Amanda Palmer – Who Killed Amanda Palmer [Roadrunner]
Remember Tori Amos? Palmer is like that, but throatier—a little less ethereal, a little more punk. Ben Folds produced this solo debut, which courses with anger, wit and damaged romanticism.

42. Thao Nguyen and the Get Down Stay Down – We Brave Bee Stings & All [Kill Rock Stars]
Written and recorded in the year or so after Thao Nguyen graduated from college and landed her first record deal, this debut captures all the nebulous beauty and terror of being young in the world—a smoky-voiced, riff-picking, hand-clapping mosquito trapped in the amber of Tucker Martine’s rich, bubbly production.

41. The Tallest Man On Earth – Shallow Grave [Gravitation]
Exposing Dylan imitators everywhere as stunted imposters, The Tallest Man stands atop the tempestuous spirit of his forebear and spins shimmering, fantastical tales over arrays of finger-picked guitar and banjo to forge this Americana masterpiece all the way from Scandinavia. 40. Flight of the Conchords – Flight of the Conchords [Sub Pop]
These college flatmates and New Zealand transplants turned comedy on it’s head with their hilarious sketch style show on HBO. Then, the talented musicians put out their first full length record, a rollicking sampling of bitingly hilarious tracks from the show.

39. The Dodos – Visiter [Frenchkiss]
The Dodo’s Frenchkiss debut effectively combines so many typically separate elements of folk, Americana, electronic, indie and art-house into one album that it can almost feel like a cohesive, brief sampler CD through the modern landscape of indie-rock subgenres while never leaving their comfort zone.

38. Jamie Lidell – Jim [Warp]
This is no half-assed attempt at a white-boy Motown reproduction. Paste Best Of What’s Next artist Jamie Lidell’s background in electronica adds a unique edge to his sunshiny soul music. In the words of Lidell himself, “a little bit of feel good goes a long way.”

37. Johnny Flynn & The Sussex Wit – A Larum [Lost Highway]
One of the problems with the word “Americana,” is how it ignores the vernacular traditions of the Old World. Englishman Flynn has crafted a quirky folksy romp that surpasses most of his peers on this side of the Atlantic.

36. The Bridges – Limits of the Sky [Verve]
Harkening back to when music was a family affair, the beauty of this sunny debut lies in its simplicity: soaring pop songs anchored by charming hooks and bridges (no pun intended). Case in point: “Pieces” might be the catchiest tune you’ll hear all year.

35. Colour Revolt – Plunder, Beg and Curse [Fat Possum]
These Mississippi boys offer the best edge-of-your-seat energy since The Arcade Fire. Frontman Jesse Coppenbarger seamlessly alternates between a quiet moan and a roar, and his cryptic lyrics offer a new revelation with each listen.

34. Torche – Meanderthal [Hydra Head]
You’d be hard pressed to find something as alternately punishing and pleasant (at press time, our best guess was a marshmallow with—surprise!—a thumb tack inside), but Torche’s latest slab of melodic metal combines the oil-and-water rivals to fine effect.

33. Santogold – Santogold [Downtown]
This wildly innovative solo debut from Santi White (a.k.a. Santogold) effortlessly vacillates between singing and rapping, gleefully hopping from one genre to the next. “L.E.S. Artistes” shines the brightest on a sonically eclectic record devoid of vacuous filler.

32. Silver Jews – Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea [Drag City]
Wistful, poetic heartland rock and psychedelic-tinged, truck-stop country tunes delivered from a lonesome mountaintop in David Berman’s wizened, exhausted Cohen-meets-Cash croon.

31. The Walkmen – You & Me [Gigantic]
A moody, searching record from a band that’s tried on several different musical costumes since its inception, You & Me has allowed The Walkmen to find their beat, pulsing drunkenly from a heart of darkness under the blurry lights of some long-forgotten, cotton-candy-smeared midway. 30. I’m From Barcelona – Who Killed Harry Houdini? [Mute]
Still the best argument for indie-pop hyperbole, these 29 Swedes dial up some darkness to expand an emotional palate otherwise rife with exuberance. The band doesn’t mind that leader Emanuel Lundgren worries about staying a kid in his heart; they celebrate together, regardless.

29. Lil Wayne – Tha Carter III [Cash Money/Universal]
Without a doubt, 2008 hip-hop belonged to Dwayne Carter. After giving away countless songs for free leading up to the release of Tha Carter III, Lil Wayne proved that his saturation plan was effective, selling a million copies in a week. Fitting, as it felt like the album’s “A Milli” found that many freestyle versions from Wayne’s peers as well.

28. MGMT – Oracular Spectacular [Columbia]
Whether brandishing kinetic synth beats on “Kids” and “Electric Feel,” or mellow harmonies with “The Youth,” MGMT never loses its indelible exuberance and panache. It’s almost as if the Brooklyn-based duo exists in its own hyper-dreamlike world and we’re just merely visiting.

27. Liam Finn – I’ll Be Lightning [Yep Roc]
Music flows in the veins of this New Zealand wunderkind. Son of 80’s pop maestro Neil Finn (of Crowded House), Finn’s songs unfold in painstakingly intricate narratives that speak to the insecurities in us all, announcing the thunderous arrival of a unique talent.

26. Lee Ann Womack – Call Me Crazy [MCA Nashville]
If you can get past the “I Hope You Dance” stigma, you’ll find a delightful assortment of true-blue country and wistful pop on Womack’s latest. Don’t miss smoky-bar song “Solitary Thinkin’,” George Strait duet “Everything But Quits” and standout “The Bees,” based on the novel The Secret Life Of Bees.

25. Mugison – Mugiboogie [Ipecac]
Iceland’s answer to Tom Waits takes another giant leap forward on Mugiboogie, the most viscerally super-charged album of his career. With sweat-dripping Pentecostal fervor and big-top grandiosity, Mugison claws out his still-beating heart and wrings it dry for listeners. The product is a genre-shifting revelation featuring the most delightfully untamed voice in modern music.

24. Santogold and Diplo – Top Ranking? [Mad Decent]
A sizzling mixtape that re-imagines ?Santogold’s sound (which was pretty imaginative to begin with), Top Ranking boasts a strong Caribbean accent and a genre-jumping tracklist—the record drops young Santi White alongside Aretha, Devo, Desmond Dekker and Panda Bear, and she hangs right in there. Available at turntablelab.com.

23. Mates of State – Re-Arrange Us [Barsuk]
More accessible than ever, indie pop’s favorite married duo is maturing. With their best effort since the sugary confection of Team Boo, the Mates lace lyrics detailing life’s battle wounds through their twee-harmony sound, encouraging contemplation while you’re swaying.

22. No Age – Nouns [Sub Pop]
This Los Angeles duo sprawls on Nouns, transcending its guitar/drums core with cascading atmospherics and feedback loops, flying just close enough to sunshine pop for its punk-rock wings to melt into new, astonishing forms.

21. The Raveonettes – Lust Lust Lust [Vice]
The sound of innocence lost, Lust’s sugar-coated walls of static wrap lovingly around the sexiest, most cavernously echoing early-’60s-pop-influenced noise rock since The Jesus and Mary Chain’s Psychocandy. 20. Hot Chip – Made In The Dark [Astralwerks]
Dark is clever, sexy dance music that rewards repeated listening—the more you hear it, the more you can’t live without it. The record gets bonus points for “Ready For The Floor,” one of the best songs of the year in any genre.

19. Gentleman Jesse and His Men – Introducing Gentleman Jesse and His Men [Douchemaster]
This Atlanta power popper’s long-in-the-works debut LP echoes many heroes past and present, from Nick Lowe and Elvis Costello to the Exploding Hearts. But what the record lacks in originality it more than makes up for with hooks and hooks and hooks and even more unforgettable hooks.

18. Death Cab? for Cutie – Narrow Stairs? [Atlantic]
Death Cab’s second major-label release is a sonic feast. The drama-building atmospherics of sprawling first single “I Will Possess Your Heart” display a Radiohead-like shrewdness—an appreciation for the perfect mix of instrumental textures, anchored by metronomic drumming. You can tell that Ben Gibbard and company have plenty of steam left in their creative engines.

17. Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy – Lie Down In The Light [Drag City]
Only after “seeing a darkness” and “learning to let go” could Will Oldham find himself in the light like this, coolly cooing about worldly balances and rightfully declaring himself “the king of infinite space.”

16. My Morning Jacket  – Evil Urges [ATO]
The latest from one of the most inventive bands of the decade, Evil Urges finds MMJ hitting all the reverb-drenched, keyboard- and guitar-rock pleasure points while hurling one nasty, space-funky curveball that’ll leave you scratching your head in perplexed ecstasy.

15. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! [Mute]
The Dark Prince of Rock ’n’ roll drops his most ass-shakin’ graveyard romp yet, throbbing with enough moonlit swagger to roll the Stones right outta their high-holy thrones.

14. Langhorne Slim – Langhorne Slim [Kemado]
His most ambitious, fully realized album to date, Langhorne Slim comes across like a gritty update of Blonde on Blonde, with Slim yelping unadorned poetry about the everyday struggles of life and love.

13. Ida Maria – Fortress Round My Heart [Waterfall/RCA Label Group]
At once deeply confessional and dangerously carefree, Norway’s latest export sings every song like she’s on the verge of breaking into a million pieces. The music holds her together.

12. Of Montreal – Skeletal Lamping [Polyvinyl]
The giddy experimentalism and collagist aesthetic of Kevin Barnes’ avant-pop outfit changes direction so frequently, you’ll marvel at the number of compelling ideas he manages to cram into an album that clocks in at just under an hour. Exhausting! Exhilarating!

11. The Hold Steady – Stay Positive [Vagrant]
Separation Sunday earned The Hold Steady a monopoly on best-bar-band-in-the-country honors. Now, after Boys and Girls in America and the powerfully anthemic Stay Positive, they’ve become one of the best bands in America. Period. 10. Deerhunter – Microcastle [Kranky]
Following its often noisy predecessor, Cryptograms, Microcastle mostly eschews rage for atmospherics, offering a gentler and more meditative Deerhunter. Whether it’s due to Bradford Cox’s time spent touring and releasing records as Atlas Sound or simply stylistic evolution, the gorgeous pop melodies paired with fuzzy, laidback guitars suit his proper band just fine.

9. Lucinda Williams – Little Honey [Lost Highway]
After a career of breaking our hearts with lovelorn laments, Williams kicks off her ninth LP with unbridled glee. It’s her most sonically and emotionally diverse record ever, and her best since Car Wheels on a Gravel Road.

8. Sun Kil Moon – April [Caldo Verde]
Mark Kozelek’s comforting voice floats on a blanket of ringing guitars, a ray of golden solace peaking through dissipating springtime thunderheads;?a harbinger of struggled-for inner peace.

7. Girl Talk – Feed the Animals [Illegal Art]
Gregg Gillis creates giddy friction between disparate moods, tempos and genres—all of which hook up like drunken college kids. In an apocalyptic year, Animals sounds like the last party on Earth, one final chance to cram in every great beat, hook and riff before the whole planet goes poof.

6. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes [Sub Pop]
Merely calling this Seattle band’s debut “pastoral,” eliminates countless opportunities for fun with psycho-topography: Opener “Sun It Rises” shimmers like a silvery mountain lake, “Oliver James” howls up from a glorious harmonic canyon, and “Meadowlarks” best embodies the romantic rolling knolls Fleet Foxes’ sound is most associated with.

5. Okkervil River – The Stand Ins [Jagjaguwar]
Rough, lush and magniloquent, this album is far more than a postscript to 2007’s The Stage Names. Singer Will Sheff wails “we have lost our way,” but the claim couldn’t be further from the truth on this brilliant, cacophonous cataloging of fame and misfortune.

4. Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago [Jagjaguwar]
Justin Vernon’s rags-to-riches story only adds to the beautiful depth of this folky debut. Stitched together during a self-imposed winter isolation in a Wisconsin cabin, this nine-song heartbreaker brims with a quiet intensity and a hushed vibrato that’s raw and addictive enough to leave Sam Beam jealous.

3. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend [XL]
Proudly trumpeting its Afro-pop influences, this scholastic quartet of Columbia grads made the year’s most rambunctiously inventive (and hyped) debut. From its pulsating symphonic flourishes to frontman Ezra Koenig’s sprightly falsetto, Vampire Weekend’s infectious pop rock never strikes a false note.

2. Sigur Rós – Med sud i eyrum vid spilum endalaust [XL]
This record’s most exhilarating peaks are found in its hushed sonic valleys, especially the anguished opening strains of “Festival.” The first half of the song scrapes away all sonic clutter, featuring a minimalist aria of keyboard swells and lead singer Jónsi Birgisson’s falsetto soaring beyond heaven to an even more blissful plateau.

1. She & Him – Volume One [Merge]
Maybe it’s just a sweet little folk record—a tiny, flawless diamond. Or maybe it’s a pristine distillation of harmony and craft; 50 years of songwriting experience served up on a spinning silver platter. Either way, it’s our album of the year. Produced with touches of girl-group splendor and arranged with a dreamy, old-fashioned vibe, She & Him’s debut couldn’t be more adorable.

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