December 15, 2008

Clicky Clicky's Top Albums Of 2008

Clicky Clicky's Top Albums Of 2008
It was a lot more work than we anticipated getting this list together, but fortunately we've been hammering away at it for about a month. Even so we didn't finalize our picks until Friday, which led to some extra writing, but so it goes. Along the way we deepened our relationship with and appreciation for these 10 records, which in our humble opinion represent the best that 2008 had to offer. We hope you'll find some things here that had escaped your attention heretofore, and that you derive as much enjoyment from listening to them as we do. For those who are curious, here are links to some of our prior annual lists [2007, 2006, 2005, 2002]. Thanks for reading Clicky Clicky in 2008.
1. Johnny Foreigner -- Waited Up Til It Was Light -- Best Before/Nettwerk

If you thought we were going to rave about Waited Up Til It Was Light all year and then not name it our favorite album, well, you were wrong. But if it makes you feel better, we were wrong, too. A year ago we declared that Johnny Foreigner's Arcs Across The City EP was the new gold standard in indie rock, and that choice now smacks of being obviously premature, as the band's monstrous full-length debut eclipses it on every level. It shudders with adolescent confusion and crackles with stumbling euphoria, one bottle of gin too many and guitars potted way, way up. There's feedback and in-jokes and sweat and disappointment. As we quipped in June, Waited Up Til It Was Light "is thronged with careening guitar anthems, its 13 tracks shot through with typewriter ribbon-lengths of lyrics that collectively present a contemporary mythology of the band's beloved city." The set will have spawned four singles by the time the double a-sided "DJs Get Doubts" b/w "Lea Room" streets Jan. 12 in the UK. Johnny Foreigner reportedly begin recording a follow-up, and we hope that at this time next year Alexei, Kelly and Junior Foreigner have us once again amending our assessment of what the gold standard is in indie rock. [review] [listen]

2. A Weather -- Cove -- Team Love

In a perfect world, A Weather's understated yet confident debut would launch a thousand indie rock vessels, each one charting a course to illuminate new, obscure and quiet frontiers of a slowcore revival. But as this record seems to have been the most slept-on of all our 2008 picks, this is quite unlikely. One of the revelations of Cove -- which we named the first big surprise of 2008 back in February -- is that the set is filled with love songs, but not necessarily heartache. Yet there is still remarkable tension and mystery that courses through the nine tracks. Quoting again from our review, "[t]he band's beautiful full-length debut has a persistent but slippery allure. Populated almost entirely with murmured bedroom ballads driven by brushed drums, guitar and electric piano, the set somehow succeeds in not repeating the same tricks over and over again." [review] [listen]

3. Frightened Rabbit -- The Midnight Organ Fight -- Fat Cat

Last spring we spoke briefly -- albeit loudly, above the rock club din -- with Frightened Rabbit fronter Scott Hutchison about the growing distance between the songs on this collection and the events they reflect. Certain of the songs on The Midnight Organ Fight were about five years old at the time and reflected events growing increasingly smaller in Frightened Rabbit's rearview. Which makes the tunes' emotional impact -- particularly when performed during one of the quartet's usually incendiary live sets -- all the more impressive. But the live spectacle aside, The Midnight Organ Fight is still a remarkable collection of songs, as lush and atmospheric as Sing The Greys was stark and in-your-face. We pegged the band's "Extrasupervery" as indicative of the potential for Disintegration-esque genius, so we are eager to hear what comes next from the lads. [review] [listen]

4. The Notwist -- The Devil, You + Me -- Domino

Germany's The Notwist had been absent so long prior to the release of The Devil, You + Me -- as we remarked here in our review of the wonderful DVD "The Notwist On|Off The Record" two years ago -- that we were afraid the indie rock world might not take them back, and even more afraid that the band might not want to come back. Finally The Notwist broke its (near) silence with the promo track "Good Lies." The song raised hopes for a stellar album and the band delivered with a set as subtle and beautifully orchestrated as Neon Golden. And while the material is exceptional, it is hard to ignore that The Notwist also gave a wholly stunning performance when it appeared at The Roxy in Boston in October. "The band was alternately mesmerizing and astonishing, depending on whether it was locking into a heavy, digitally augmented groove or blasting through a crescendo of guitars," to quote our review. Compared to Neon Golden, The Devil, You + Me is a more reserved affair, reflecting perhaps the changes of life (fatherhood and the like) that the members of The Notwist have experienced in recent years. Even so, their songwriting chops and imaginations have not subsided in the least, and we're hopeful that it won't be another five years before its next record. [live review] [listen]

5. Destroyer -- Trouble In Dreams -- Merge

We recall reading comments from Destroyer mastermind Dan Bejar sometime during the year in which he states that Trouble In Dreams was a difficult, meaning we think inscrutable, record for fans, particularly compared to the prior set, Destroyer's Rubies. For the record, we think both collections are stellar, and we question just how "difficult" the music is. Musically, things are fairly straightforward on every Destroyer record we've heard (which is damn near all of them -- Damon Che Mr. Bejar is not), so we have to presume Bejar is referring to his lyrics. These are often impressionistic, deeply layered, and, of course, when coming out of Bejar's mouth are often the true highlight of Destroyer's recordings. Trouble In Dreams is no exception, and with some of the year's most winning melodies, the record easily made our list. [listen]

6. Julie Ocean -- Long Gone And Nearly There -- Transit Of Venus

Long Gone And Nearly There now seems a prescient album title for this upbeat collection of irresistable indie pop confections from an already broken-up quartet fronted by the cable newser best known for having himself tasered on television. How could it not be among our favorite records of the year? The collection captures 10 tunes touting broad, bright melodies delivered with an irresistible guitar-jangle and fizz. From a historical standpoint, Long Gone And Nearly There is a distillation of several strands of the D.C. underground, the apparent mean value of Velocity Girl, Glo-Worm and Swiz. And while the band's demise seems to neatly underscore the ephemeral nature of perfect pop, the band's borrowing from '60s AM sounds limns Long Gone And Nearly There with a classic pop sense that makes it stand out among contemporary indie releases. [review] [listen]

Julie Ocean -- "Here Comes Danny" -- Long Gone And Nearly There
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[buy Long Gone And Nearly There from Transit Of Venus here]

7. The War On Drugs -- Wagonwheel Blues -- Secretly Canadian

A beguiling set that offers jaunty singles candidates ("Arms Like Boulders," "Taking The Farm"), lo-fi balladry ("Barrel Of Batteries") and kaleidoscopic drone ("Show Me The Coast") is a special record indeed. The more we listen to it, the more we are convinced that band fronter Adam Granduciel is at the cusp of the sort of acclaim that follows Destroyer's Dan Bejar. There is a frank poeticism in his nasal proclamations buried within stoned repetitions that accumulate like sediment into enticing songs that succeed wonderfully at going nowhere. Wagonwheel Blues will make converts of us all; this video of a live set drives home the greatness of the band. [listen]

8. Love Is All -- A Hundred Things Keep Me Up At Night -- What's Your Rupture?

This was a late-year surprise. Our old housemate Tony B championed the Gothenburg, Sweden-based quintet and its boxy recordings early on, which got us turned on to the single for "Make Out Fall Out Make Up." And while we've listened to the band's 2005 set 9 Times That Same Song maybe a dozen times, we were taken by surprise by how much more A Hundred Things Keep Me Up At Night resonated with us. The set -- shrouded like its precursor in almost obfuscating amounts of slap-back reverb -- contains a perfect, grooving blend of dancey rock that sounds like a bizarre marriage of The Cramps and Haircut 100 fronted by a roughly rendered facsimile of Cyndi Lauper. "Give It Back" is a relentless torrent of hooks and energy, and the rest of the set follows suit. [listen]

9. Superman Revenge Squad -- This Is My Own Personal Way Of Dealing With It All -- My Best Unbeaten Brother

Ben Parker, sole proprietor of the acoustic enterprise Superman Revenge Squad, was the subject of the only feature interview we did in 2008, a reflection of the esteem in which we hold this very gifted songwriter based in Croydon, England. From a lyrical standpoint no one can touch him, not only in terms of sheer volume (the man is loquacious in song) but also in his ability to express discontent in colorful ways (we love the line "the sun's too hot and there's nothing on the telly" from the digital single "Idiot Food"). His music -- whether it is harrowingly urgent, morose and emotional or tongue-in-cheek and geeky -- transmits as deeply personal, despite the fact that often when Parker sounds like he is baring his soul he is actually making an obscure pop culture reference. This Is My Own Way Of Dealing With It All is filled with escape fantasies, dark resignation and still darker humor. And it is brilliant. We're posting the lead track below. [interview] [listen]

Superman Revenge Squad -- "Idiot Food" -- This Is My Own Personal Way Of Dealing With It All
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[buy the record from Superman Revenge Squad right here]

10. The Swimmers -- Fighting Trees -- Mad Dragon

We suppose it is a toss-up as to whether this was more slept-on than the A Weather record, although the label Team Love has more brand recognition than the Drexel University-backed Mad Dragon imprint. Philadelphia's Swimmers had been treading water for quite a while as we waited for its debut to finally see release, but it finally delivered in a big way. Echoing first-wave Wilco and scene precursors The Bigger Lovers, Fighting Trees' rootsy, upbeat attack and hooks aplenty made this a constant go-to record for us this year. While "Pocket Full Of Gold" made our list of top songs of the year last week, the entire record is filled with eager winners, not the least of which is the piano-driven homage to Lancaster, PA "Heaven." Daytrotter recently posted a session featuring a few tracks from Fighting Trees from which we are posting a fantastic take on "St. Cecilia" below. [review] [listen]

The Swimmers -- "St. Cecilia" -- Daytrotter Session
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[download the whole session right here]
[buy Fighting Trees from Amazon here]


Nick said...

"Good Lies" is a gorgeous track, but I was disappointed overall with The Devil, You + Me. Maybe it was the long hiatus - or my past obsession with Neon Golden - but I think my expectations were way too high. I should probably give it another chance - would you say it's a grower?

Unknown said...

Absolutely a grower. I put it aside for months and then started listening to it again A LOT right before they came to Boston in October. It's a different animal than Neon Golden to be sure, but it is an exceptional record all the same.

Justin Snow said...

I first read about Johnny Foreigner on Clicky. That record is pretty fantastic. It's gotten plenty of spins at my place. Thanks a lot for the digging out the gems.

Christian said...

Ditto on the grower. Expecting Neon Golden II, I was initially disappointed with TDY+M. The new record is in a totally different emotional place . . . but after revisiting it again (and again and again and again), it's definitely on tier with NG.