Saturday, December 20, 2008

Some top-rated pop albums from the Sunday Times (UK.)

From The Sunday Times
December 7, 2008
The 100 best records of 2008
Our writers choose the best CDs of the year, from Fleet Foxes and Kanye West to Buika and Magdalena Kozena

Sunday Times critics

Rock and Pop

1 Fleet Foxes: Fleet Foxes (Bella Union) Usually, when an album’s reviews has references to the Beach Boys or CSN&Y, it simply means that more than one person in the band sings at the same time. But in the case of this uplifting, timeless yet fresh debut, comparisons with the peak of West Coast pop are entirely justified.

2 Cut/Copy: In Ghost Colours (Modular) The Melbourne trio made the most haunting and beguiling electro album of the year, awash with beauty, melancholy, rapture and updated 1980s-new-wave magic. An instant classic.

3 Paul Weller: 22 Dreams (Island) The sharp-dressed man’s back catalogue is full of ups and downs, but this is very much an up: a dazzlingly eclectic album that shows Weller, at 50, can still match the thrilling inventions of his early days.

4 Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! (Mute) Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus, last year’s Grinderman project, and now this: a snarling, feral, self-deprecating, libidinous, hilarious work of genius. As an album, it’s extraordinary. As a 14th studio release, it’s miraculous.

5 Bon Iver: For Emma, Forever Ago (4AD) This album had the best back story of the year — man splits with girlfriend, falls ill, retires to remote log cabin to recover, hunting his own meat, chopping wood for the fire, and all the time conjuring up this unique, hauntingly lovely, multitracked folk.

6 Aidan John Moffat: I Can Hear Your Heart (Chemikal Underground) The former Arab Strapper, one of Britain’s greatest lyricists, excelled himself on this part-book, part-audio spoken-word masterpiece, which forensically examined his drink-fuelled inadequacies and self-disgust, along with the absurdities he witnesses or sets in motion.

7 Al Green: Lay It Down (Blue Note) Guests including John Legend, Anthony Hamilton, ?uestlove, the Dap-Kings horns and other neo-soul luminaries join with one of the old-school greats as he recaptures his finest form. If you love the man’s 1970s hits, you will love this too.

8 Kanye West: 808s & Heartbreak (Roc-a-Fella/Mercury) Mourning his mother, and heartbroken by a failed relationship, West forsook rap in favour of a minimalist electro approach, emerging as a singer (his voice heavily treated) who mined poignancy from the sparest of lyrical and musical sources.

9 REM: Accelerate (Warner Bros) For the first time since the departure of their drummer, Bill Berry, 11 long years ago, REM have created a really excellent album. The secret? Lose the languorous synths, turn up the guitars, rock out.

10 My Morning Jacket: Evil Urges (Rough Trade) The mutation of Jim James’s band from country-tinged guitar-rockers into genre-bending experimentalists continued apace on this superb fifth album, as prog, space-funk, acoustica and 1970s soul and soft-rock joined the blend — with wondrous results.

11 Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan: Sunday at Devil Dirt (V2) The only downside to this duo’s superb debut, Ballad of the Broken Seas, was the thought that such an unlikely collaboration would prove a one-off. But no: here’s another instalment of Lanegan growling and Campbell whispering through a set of songs Hank Williams would have been proud of.

12 The Killers: Day & Age (Mercury) Ignore Brandon Flowers’s protestations about superstar ambivalence: on this third album of immaculate, radio-conquering pop, the front man and his Las Vegas colleagues sound not just hungry for the next, stadium-filling stage of success, but gagging for it.

13 Little Jackie: The Stoop (S-Curve) Imani Coppola reinvents herself as the missing link between Macy Gray and Lily Allen, with a sassy mix of pop, R&B, hip-hop and smart lyrics, including the You’re So Vain complexity of “I liked you better before you knew me” and the admirable honesty of “The world should revolve around me”.

14 Sigur Ros: Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust (EMI) A blissful, devastating album from the Icelandic ambient-rockers, full of sonic sorcery and glacial expanses, and containing, in Inni Mer Syngur Vitleysingur, 2009’s most euphoric pop moment.

15 Elbow: The Seldom Seen Kid (Fiction) To be honest, it’s no better than their earlier albums, but — for whatever reason — this was the year when Elbow’s thoroughly human take on rock finally reached the tipping point and deservedly turned them from “criminally underrated” to “much loved”.

16 The Dears: Missiles (Dangerbird) Stripped down to just a husband-and-wife duo, the Canadians came up with their best album to date, using Pink Floyd, Radiohead and pre-Midge Ure Ultravox references as a springboard to a sublime example of ethereal indie.

17 Emiliana Torrini: Me and Armini (Rough Trade) The Icelandic singer — whose CV includes writing for Kylie — created a perky pop album that joins the dots between Björk and Nancy Sinatra.

18 Roots Manuva: Slime & Reason (Big Dada) Rodney Smith’s sixth studio album found the preacher’s son ducking and diving through alternately self-lacerating and dextrously witty wordplay, to a musical backdrop so mongrel that it defied categorisation — and was all the more absorbing and riveting for that.

19 Peter Broderick: Home (Bella Union) Best known for his work with the intriguing Danish outfit Efterklang, Broderick this year revealed himself as a songwriter of beguiling depth. Home’s layered vocals and finger-picked guitar create a quiet, yearning world that lives up to the warmth and comfort suggested by the album’s title.

20 Lindsey Buckingham: Gift of Screws (Reprise) If this were by Fleetwood Mac, people would have gone: “A classic Mac mix of soft rock and experimental excursions.” As it was by the man chiefly responsible for that mix, not the band, it was largely ignored. Mad, mad world.

Mark Edwards and Dan Cairns

New Artists

1 Laura Marling: Alas, I Cannot Swim (Virgin) Under cover of musical lightness, the teenager crept up on listeners with a nu-folk masterpiece that, amid the sing-alongs, tackled love, death and depression with startling candour.

2 The Last Shadow Puppets: The Age of the Understatement (Domino) Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner teamed up with the Rascals’ Miles Kane for a Scott Walker- and Lee Hazlewood-indebted album that brimmed with some of the sharpest, most haunting melodies of the year.

3 Crystal Castles: Crystal Castles (Different) Toronto’s Alice Glass and Ethan Fawn made a debut that sounded like an army of Space Invaders running amok on crack. It was as violent as music gets.

4 Wild Beasts: Limbo, Panto (Domino) With Hayden Thorpe’s lurid falsetto to the fore, the Leeds band concocted a sort of musical/satirical cabaret noir, heavy on melodrama, wit and weird. The most original debut of the year.

5 Eugene McGuiness: Eugene McGuinness (Domino) McGuinness made good on his promise with a record that nodded to Rufus Wainwright, Byrne, Albarn and Merritt, but triumphed on its own eccentric terms.

6 Nicole Atkins: Neptune City (Red Ink/Sony BMG) From the Jersey Shore, Atkins crooned her way into contention with an album of vocal melodrama and restraint, her voice an Orbison/Cline stunner.

7 Lightspeed Champion: Falling off the Lavender Bridge (Domino) The former Test Icicle Dev Hynes retreated from the hype and tore songs from his chest, with melodies that could never mask the torment of their birth.

8 Ladyhawke: Ladyhawke (Island) The New Zealander Pip Brown first made electro-pop waves with her brilliant Paris Is Burning single. Its irresistible chorus gave only a hint of how packed with the things this superb debut would be.

9 Noah and the Whale: Peaceful, the World Lays Me Down (Mercury) Charlie Fink and co’s debut looked death, decay and self-doubt in the face, emerging with a chill in its heart but, musically, a lethally contrasting spring in its step.

10 The week that was: The Week That Was (Memphis Industries) Field Music’s Peter Brewis threw out his TV, immersed himself in Paul Auster and came up with a musical thriller, all choppy guitars and prog textures.

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