Have you ever been in one of those nutty meditation classes, where the crackpot instructor tells you to close your eyes and imagine that you're in the middle of a forest? Don't be surprised if we eventually learn that this is what Portland-via-Michigan, singer/songwriter/producer, Benoit Pioulard, nee Thomas Meluch, does prior to picking up his guitar and turning on his mic.
before it, Meluch vividly narrates a pastoral jaunt, creating a mood that approximates a walk along the banks of the Willamette River, with the cold current splashing rocks and the water chilling your shoes. Other songs, particularly "Ahn," scald like hot cocoa in your hand as you peer out your window at snow covering your car and everything else in sight. And just like the landscape after a fresh flurry,
is a pretty and pristine piece of work.
The grimiest New York album made in 2008 came from Nottingham, UK? (What'd you think it was, "Pop Champagne?"). The P Brother's magnum opus,
rattles and shakes in the surly shadows of towering Bronx tenements. With an elite cadre of rappers, the East Midland production team neatly side-step the questions of cohesion that plague most contemporary producer-led efforts.
In business for nearly two decades, from the melodic keys of album opener 'Cold World," to the swirling guitar licks and downtempo skulk of "Don't Question Me,"
delivers an infectious, stripped down aesthetic, with few concessions to the mainstream. All the underground Bronx MCs bring heat, dropping dark, Ox-sharp verses that weave themselves into the beats and establish an almost pretenatural consistency.
48. Times New Viking-Rip It Off (Matador)
The number one complaint I hear about this band is that they need to be
recorded better--which means that anyone who makes it has no clue what
the fuck they're talking about. It's not just that you have to aurally
sift through audible barbed wire to reach the tangy riot of *Rip It
Off*, it's that the production actually adds to the songs themselves.
Trying to fight through the clangs, hisses, and screeches--given equal
volume attention as the songs--trains your ears to approach the tracks
in a new way. And it is precisely the forgoing of any straightforward
approach to listening that makes Rip It Off
one of the better albums this year, because it reminds you that sometimes the best burgers are made on the shittiest grills. --Tal Rosenberg
MP3: Times New Viking-"Drop Out"
47. Dub Colossus-"A Town Called Addis" (Real World Records)
Had Nick Page, a.k.a. Count Dubulah, a.k.a. Dub Colossus, taken a dilettantish approach to A Town Called Addis,
would've been a colossal bust. After all, the plotline of white British
musician heads to Ethiopia in search of authenticity, finds local
reggae and jazz artists and creates a tasteful homage to be released on
Peter Gabriel's record label, sounds like a late-period Wes Anderson
film (with Owen Wilson playing Nick Page and Adrien Brody as Peter
A Town Called Addis'
success lies in Page's adroitness in
appropriating and advanced world music--something he's done since 1990,
when he founded the Trans-Global Underground, a group with a pan-global
focus long before Ezra Koenig had encountered his first Oxford Comma.
Collaborating with a team of Ethiopian musicians, A Town Called Addis
the rare modern-day reggae record worthy of its 60s and 70s forebears.
Tinged with an afro-beat, Azmari, and jazz filagree, Dub Colussus
create pure stoner soul: soft, narcotic nods that float in vernal bliss.--Jeff Weiss
MP3: Dub Colossus-"Azmari Dub"
46. Tobacco-Fucked Up Friends (Anticon)
The quasi-front-man from Pittsburgh psych-weirdos Black Moth Super
Rainbow, Tobacco's solo debut is a darker and harder-edged, with
arterio-sclerotic hip-hop beats bearing the brunt of the Rural
Pennsylvania isolation they were recorded in. Outwardly anachronistic,
Tobacco's nostalgic impulses are rooted deeper than cheap irony. A
close listening reveals the conflict embedded in Tobacco's genetics,
between a desire to craft a futuristic hybrid of hip-hop, electronica
and psychedelia, with a vanished world of Bazooka Joe mellotrons,
blinking boardwalk lights and epileptic video arcade clatter. Like Dandelion Gum
, Fucked Up Friends
on the notion of sound as color as well as anyone this side of Dungen
and Caribou. To quote Homer Simpson, "with friends like these, who
needs friends."--Jeff Weiss
MP3: Tobacco-"Truck Sweat"
45. Koushik-Out My Window (Stones Throw)
The ethereal and dizzy disarray of Koushik's Out My Window simulates what it's like to spend an hour or two hovering over a stove, taking knife hits of lumps of black tar opium.
alternately in Dilla-like hip-hop instrumentalism and sepia 60s pop,
the Canadian-born, Vermont-based Koushik most frequently evokes 4Tet, Caribou, Shadow and James Yancey. Yet in its paring of B-Boy breaks to druggy, frail guitar chords, Koushik creates an entirely unique aesthetic.
vocals himself rather than sampling or enlisting guests, Koushik's
voice floats membrane-thin, pale and ghostly, wriggling its way into
the gut of each track. It's the album as hazy swirl of dust, full of
blissed-out guitars and scuffed drums. Few windows afford such gorgeous
MP3: Koushik-"Lying in the Sun"
44. Karl Hector & The Malcouns-Sahara Swing (Now-Again)
Karl Hector seeks to effect an air of mystery--which can be expected
from a man saddled with the hardship of being born with two first
names. Information about him is scarce and his discography is even
scarcer, with only a previous 7-inch recorded a dozen years ago during
his tenure as the ringleader of an ostensibly aviation-clad outfit
called the Funk Pilots. Yet his influences are unmistakable: Fela's
slick, seraphic swing and James Brown's filthy pigpen R&B. Backed
by a Krautrock-weaned, German backing band, intimations of Can's proggy
funk are also salient throughout the breezy 45-minute Sahara Swing.
it's easy to chide Malcoun for his retrograde leanings and inability to
better his canonized forebears, but few records cut in 2008 can match
its graceful glide, crisp jazzy jams and disco-inflected and deep dance
MP3: Karl Hector & The Malcouns-"Nyx" 43. Raphael Saadiq-The Way I See It (Sony)
Raphael Saadiq is successful, accomplished, talented, respected, and
has constructed a catalogue that will live forever in the annals of
R&B and funk. That's why, The Way I See It
feels like a big "fuck you" album. As though Saadiq made the album
after watching VH1 Soul for 17 hours straight thinking, "Really? Y'all
are getting more shine than me?!?"
Maybe that's too far, but something lit a fire under Saadiq, who has
spent the last decade producing and appearing on records for friends
and lovers, but never matching the commercial success of his groups
Tony to the Third Power and Lucy Pearl. Borrowing from Stax and Chess
and Ike and Otis--if tambourine players had a union, this album would
feed Rhode Island. He reanimates the Motown sound without sounding
desperate--Stevie Wonder just blows his harmonica on "Never Give You
Up" then goes back to wearing velvet suits. "Sometimes" swings while
channeling Sam Cooke. "Just One Kiss" is tender and soothing, even with
an appearance from his snowflake boo Joss Stone. "100 Yard Dash" sounds
like happy hour in Chicago. "Calling" is the McFly's prom song at
Enchantment Under the Sea. It's a back-to-basics approach to let these
sumbitches know that his .22 is always on the ankle. And it's dipped in
soulful honey. And it will still blow your face off.--Zilla Rocca
42. Damu the Fudgemunk-Overtime (Self-Released)
Despite having one of the silliest monikers in contemporary hip hop,
Washington D.C.'s Damu The Fudgemunk has mastered the craft of making
beats. A part of the Panacea crew, '08 has seen Damu release a number
of free EPs and tracks to keep his rep simmering and earn him placement
on the radar of a broader audience.
What makes both Spare Time
and its follow-up, Overtime,
so enjoyable is their unbridled sense of joy and indulgence.
Agenda-free, both releases reveal a love and appreciation for the dusty
grooves that defined the late golden era. Rather than ignore the past,
Damu embraces the aesthetic wholeheartedly and ultimately, his
creativity yields infectiously enjoyable, punchy drum-packed, warm,
crackling grooves. Few hip-hop producers understand the importance of
courting a net-based audience and even fewer have done it with such
gusto. Just leave the jibes about homosexual rodents out of it.--Dan Love Download:
ZIP: Damu the Fudgemunk-Overtime (Left-Click)
41. Okkervil River-The Stand Ins (Jagjaguwar)
I'm usually what some critics call a "poptimist," because I supposedly
give populism too much credit as a criterion for Good Music. So why did
I keep cueing up Okkervil River's cynical, overdramatized "Pop Lie"
long after I got sick of Katy Perry's and Lil' Wayne's chart-friendly
charms? Because it's musically and lyrically juicy enough to be my
generation's "Radio Radio," that's why. Will Sheff is the cleverest
bookworm of his ilk, so if he doesn't have John Darnielle's heart or
Craig Finn's reach, he has the gift of snide, ragged bite to lend to
kiss-offs like "Singer Songwriter" ("You wrote your thesis on the
Gospel of Thomas") and isn't too cool to let the tambourine perpetuate
his own classic-rock lies in "Lost Coastlines." His band sounds like a
Wilco that never advanced from Being There
, and his voice sounds like a shredded throat. But more importantly, he's not afraid to lie in his pop songs.--Dan Weiss
MP3: Okkervil River-"Lost Coastlines"