Monday, December 22, 2008

go ahead, you know you want it

Top 10 Albums of 2008

10. Santogold - Santogold (Bedshaped)

Quite a strange album, this one. What begins as a pretty decent indie sound soon morphs into dancehall, then rap, then electronic, then I don’t know what. And the ease at which it slips into all different kinds of sounds is where it finds it’s beauty. There’s also a sense of familiarity with most of the songs. A feeling that it’s been done before or some very clever sampling is at work. But no. I don’t think so. I think it’s more down to the songs just being so good.

She sings, shouts, screams, talks, stutters and raps through the album with ease and completely pulls it off. Not the most amazing vocals in the world, but she’s certainly more than capable of pulling off such a diverse range than many other singers I can think of.

It might not make it as the most played album for this year, but it’s certainly a very listenable album. And you’re always revisited by a ‘good choice’ feeling as each track plays through.

10. Hey Ma - James (Swiss Toni)

James disappeared in 2001 having fallen frustratingly short of the success they surely deserved. They did okay, sure, but somehow they were never quite as big as they should have been. Then, unexpectedly, the lineup that had recorded "Laid", arguably the band's creative and commercial high water mark, got back together and released a new album in 2008.

In many ways, "Hey Ma" sounds as though very little has changed for James in the intervening years, with that familiar trumpet and guitar-driven sound firmly in place. In other ways though, this is a more mature, reflective band than we've seen before. The title track, for example, has Tim Booth protesting the war in Iraq with the lyric "Hey Ma! Boys in bodybags, coming home in pieces".

Encroaching middle-age is something of an inevitable lyrical theme here too, with "Waterfall" opening with the line "My mirror's laughing at me, says, boy, are you getting old", a theme echoed in "Whiteboy" with "My mum says I look like Yul Brynner. Too old for Hamlet, too young for Lear". As always with James though, whatever the lyrical content, the music is wonderfully uplifing, with the soaring "Oh My Heart" and the stirring "Upside". They're a wonderfully open-hearted band, and it's good to have them back.

Key track: "Waterfall"

10. Day and Age - The Killers (LB)

The very first record that the Killers ever wrote together was modern classic Mr Brightside. There are those out there who believe strongly that their career hit a high point with that record and everything since has been a slow and gradual decline, but I don’t subscribe to that theory.

Eschewing the Springsteen-esque rock and roll Americana of Sam’s Town in favour of an 80s sound that makes Keane’s Perfect Symmetry sound like the cutting edge of new music, Day and Age is a simple, unpretentious album of four minute pop songs. From the excellent opening track Losing Touch and brilliant (if strangely lyrically constructed) single Human it is one of those records that sounds a bit samey at first but improves with multiple listens.

I don’t think it’s a masterpiece of a record and in some ways it appears a backwards step as Day and Age is sonically much more Hot Fuss than Sam’s Town. Still, Brandon Flowers and the boys have a knack of making some well-constructed songs with a little bit of substance and whilst it might be the keyboards back to the fore this time it doesn’t detract from the quality of the material. I’m not sure Flowers is the most technically accomplished vocalist in the world either but his imperfect, yearning style really works on these songs.

Whilst their previous releases may have had individual highlights superior to Day and Age, this is the better overall album. The fact that it has kept impressive efforts by the likes of Razorlight and the Last Shadow Puppets out of the top Ten is testament to how good this record is.
Favourite track: Human

5 Discussions:

Blogger bedshaped said...

I must admit, I've had The Killers album since release and only managed a single listen. It sounded ok. But I'm much more dubious of them now. I loved Hot Fuss, but Sam's Town was a big stinker in my mind. That said, I'm gonna spin it a few more times to see if it captures me. Hate hate hate the Human single though. Sounds more like a Chris DeBurgh song!

I'm gonna get the James album on your recomendation, swiss. I like James, especially the period you're talking about. They were always a great live band.

Oh, and I didn't realise we were naming favourite tracks. Dammit. I'll get mine over to you asap, although don't bank on a YouTube link.

5:45 PM  
Blogger swisslet said...

I actually went back to Sam's Town the other day and was surprised by how much it had matured. "When You Were Young" apart, I thought it was pretty meh really, but with a bit of water under the bridge, I really liked it. That's one of the reasons that I'm not rushing into judgment on the new one. I liked the start of it, but the whole thing left me a touch cold. I need to give it time, I think. I really like "Human" though. The lyrics are being much mocked, but it's a Hunter S. Thompson reference, and besides, I think it's a great tune. The James album is not perfect, for sure, but it's great to have them back and it's a decent album.

I must admit that I'm curious to hear the Santogold album too.


10:26 PM  
Blogger swisslet said...

and sorry LB, I like the Killers and they've done some amazingly good songs, but if they do write something as good as Mr. Brightside (which they apparently wrote in the first 10 minutes after forming the band) then they will really have done something amazing. It's such a brilliant song that I can't see it being topped by them - and I mean that as a compliment rather than a criticism.

11:44 PM  
Blogger LB said...

I wasn't meaning you, specifically. I actually prefer some of their other records to Mr Brightside - Human for one.

Good band, actually. New one took a few listens, admittedly.

12:10 PM  
Blogger swisslet said...

Human is a fantastic song, I think. People laugh at the lyrics (and they're not great), but the "dancer" bit is a Hunter S. Thompson reference, as it goes.
"When You Were Young" is brilliant too.... and it's not like they don't have any anthems either.

(and I was apologising more because the brightside view is one I share, not because it was mine originally!)


2:37 PM  

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