2008 saw a number of old favourites returning to create incredible music, in the process adding to their lore as artists of excellence. As such, our list reflects this: newer artists find themselves in the company of the more experienced bands who likely influenced these younger artists in their formative years. What results is a diverse list of great recordings by a wide range of artists with varying experience, but one thing unites them all: a passion to create art that provokes, inspires, and soothes us.
God is an Astronaut: God is an Astronaut: Post rock at its finest! Powerful songs played with reckless abandon, this band showed themselves to be one of the standards of the post-rock scene.
Hammock: Maybe They Will Song For Us Tomorrow: Part studio conception of a live show, part art-project (with Riceboy Sleeps of Sigur Ros fame creating the cover art), this beautiful release shows Hammock at their most intimate. The result is a collection of delicate and frail songs through which Hammock bears their soul. Quite possibly their best and most personal recording in their already impressive back-catalog.
Sigur Ros: Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust: Hot on the heels of their amazing DVD Heima the previous year, Sigur Ros released their most acoustic, and perhaps their most intimate album. While the band used their trademark thick billowy layers of sound on some of the tracks, they also often trade in the layers and bowed guitar for quieter arrangements, allowing the sound of their fingers changing chords on their acoustic guitars to be heard. The result is quieting, soothing, and beautiful, and, coupled with the melodic songwriting we’ve come to expect from the band in recent years, the more acoustic arrangements sparkle and shine. Another triumph for a band not nervous to reinvent themselves every album.
Yellow6: When the Leaves Fall Like Snow: Sparse, desolate, cold, icy, and perfect….
Windy and Carl: Songs for the Broken Hearted: Did you really think we could NOT include a Windy & Carl release in our list? I mean, really? The masters of dreamy ambient return with yet another jaw-dropping album of washed-out, drawn-out compositions that truly envelop the listener.
Spiritualized: Songs in A & E: It seemed like Spiritualized wouldn’t ascend the stratospheric heights of their great albums in the 1990’s, especially after frontman Jason Pierce’s much publicized near-death illness a few years back. But, 2008 marked the return of Spiritualized with their rootsiest, most touching, most nuanced album in their catalog. As Pierce cackles over his wonderful arrangements in a voice every bit as aged and worn as his body was after his illness, the band plays some of the strongest songwriting heard this year. Indeed, Songs in A & E completes the band’s transformation from spacerockers playing interesting but fragmented melodies in a wash of feedback to a mature, but passionate, rock/blues/slightly-avant garde/gospel band playing modern-day hymns. The album is phenomenal testament to Pierce’s rare talent.
Portishead: Third: Seemingly out of nowhere, a decade or so after their last release, Portishead stunned listeners with their brilliant Third. Eschewing their early 90’s trip-hop sound for a more apocalyptic, suffocating, and muted sound, the band looped random noise to create tragically beautiful works of art. Lead singer Beth Gibbons is in fine form, wailing mournfully over her band’s intense soundscapes. Third is another example of an unbelievably talented band showing the world what it’s capable of.
Robin Guthrie: 3:19 (Bande Originale du Film): Guthrie continues his stretch of incredible solo albums. For a guy THIS late in his career (Guthrie is a founding member of 1980’s visionaries Cocteau Twins, it’s amazing that Guthrie can still explore new territory with such vivacity. This time out, Guthrie tackles a film score, totally by himself. His trademark delayed guitars ring out beautifully subdued melodies, setting the stage for what must be a melancholy movie. Another current gem from the founding father of dreampop, showing that age doesn’t have to equal compromise or staleness in art.
Au Revoir Borealis: Dark Enough For Stars: Another comeback release from a band that might’ve been done, Dark Enough For Stars is Au Revoir Borealis first release in years. With beautiful moody soundscapes, exquisite vocal performances, artful lyrics and a slew of guest musicians, this album was an impressive quiet storm of magical music moments.
Thisquietarmy: Unconquered: This Canadian band amazed with us their ability to create creepy yet gentle ambient/drone music. Unconquered reaches into your spine and takes hold of you from the inside out. It is a subtly powerful album of an under-recognized music collective in the fertile Canadian drone scene.
Lotte Kestner: China Mountain : Tender, quiet, and understated, Lotte Kestner showed withChina Mountain that sometimes less is more. Usually featuring little more than Anna-Lynne Williams’ (lead singer of Trespassers William) wispy voice over and instrument or two, the songs on this album exude a fragile beauty seldom heard on today’s overproduced globs of music. Lotte Kestner gently lulled us with her innocent voice, while slaying us with her thoughtful lyrics.
EP OF THE YEAR
The Lassie Foundation: Three Wheels: Three songs of the great newly resurrected (?) Lassie Foundation shows the band exploring their fuzzed out shoegaze past, while retaining much of the rock attitude and high quality songwriting skills of their latest releases. This release was a bit of a surprise, coming out of nowhere, but it was a delight, and was easily one of the best releases to come out in 2008, even if it was only 3 songs long. Let’s only hope that the band continues to write and record new material, but if Three Wheels is a swan-song, The Lassie Foundation truly left the masses wanting more of their fabulous music.