5 A Larum – Johnny Flynn
Obscure or not, A Larum is one of the best albums to come out of 2008 – even if it didn’t release to instant fame. Johnny Flynn’s voice is like liquid velvet pouring out of the speakers – his lyrics are more like poems than anything else, evoking a sense of existential beauty. Opening track, “The Box” is three and a half minutes of energetic folk perfection. It flows effortlessly into “The Wrote and The Writ” a song that highlights Flynn’s guitar playing ability. “Tickle Me Pink” is the most unique song on the album, with the uncanny ability to make the listener sing enthusiastically along with the phrase “when you’re dead”. The off-beat imagery of “Tickle me Pink” is a perfect match to the off-beat theme of the song. There is something picturesque about the quietness of penultimate track “All The Dogs Are Lying Down” – and that’s not to mention the other eleven songs that are just purely awe inspiring, making it almost impossible to pick a favorite track. Each song is different and striking in its own way, and together makes a cohesively beautiful album. If you haven’t heard it before, you will want to now – it only takes on listen to fall in love with A Larum.
4 Shallow Grave – The Tallest Man on Earth
Finally, a Bob Dylan for our generation. Only, wait, he comes from Sweden? You’d never know it listening to Shallow Grave, the best folk album of 2008 (if not the decade… not that there’s anything wrong with coming from Sweden). From the first second of “I Won’t Be Found”, the guitar prowess is unmistakable. Kristian Matsson’s distinct nasal voice, with his ability to actually hit the notes he wants (sorry Bobby), makes him undeniably a folk powerhouse. Each song tells a different story through its slightly ambiguous imagery – I’m still not sure what a “Pistol Dream” is, but the feelings the song evokes are clear, and different for each listener. “Where Do My Bluebird Fly” is the best track on the album, with its supremely deep and melancholy tone. Its only competition for best track is “The Gardener,” another metaphor filled classic-folk-sounding song that seems to promote murder? But not really. Either way, the song is innovative and unlike any other folk song from the past decade. Closing track “This Wind” seals the deal on The Tallest Man on Earth’s talent. The sadness paired with the sometimes-soft sometimes-loud guitar gives the listener the change to absorb the musical feat they just heard – the true depth of Shallow Grave.
3 Angles – Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip
I won’t fault you if you haven’t heard of this British hip-hop duo before. Thankfully, this is your chance to hear them. Angles is a strange mix of classic hip hop beats (kudos to Dan Le Sac) infused with the occasional melodic guitar and Scroobius Pip’s story-telling lyrical genius. Angles tells varying stories of different people, both in concrete reality (as in the title track), and in the surreal (as in “ Waiting for the Beat to Kick In”). It is an undeniably politically charged album – as the first track’s opening lines sound like a speech at an equal rights rally. Yet, it is also an intrinsically personal album, dealing with taboo subjects like suicide (as in “Magician’s Assistant”). Each song is distinct from the other, and each song is a perfect composition of beats and words. Angles is the kind of album that, after you’ve heard it, your mind is blown – and you know that the way you view music will be altered forever. Regardless of your musical genre preferences, there is no way to deny that Angles is pure musical genius.
2 For Emma, Forever Ago – Bon Iver
In the realm of sad acoustic folk guitar, Bon Iver takes the cake. The opening track of For Emma, Forever Ago (even the album title steeped in melancholy nostalgia) “Flume” showcases Bon Iver’s classic sounding simply guitar melody, which allows the vocals and lyrics to be truly the focus of the song. The tone set by “Flume” is one of wistful longing, which is only enhanced by the super-famous “Skinny Love”. For a while you couldn’t go ten feet without hearing it, or hearing someone reference it – and to its merit, “Skinny Love” is a beautiful four minutes lamenting lost love. It highlights the powerlessness we have over one another, even when we care so deeply. It is so sad because, in the end, it is so universally true. The whole album keeps this theme strong throughout, and each song is just as moving as the one before. For Emma, Forever Ago is one of those gems, an album that touches the depth of humankind in the way that music was truly meant to.
1 “The Red Album” – Weezer
So Weezer, as we know, is pretty freaking awesome. And the Red Album is no exception – or should I just call it Weezer? Who knows? All that I do know is that this album is perfect in every sense of the ironic word. The first track “Troublemaker” is a great upbeat song to dance to – it unifies all us rebels and trouble makers, rebelling against whatever we can just because we can. The simple rhyming of the straightforward lyrics are ideal for this kind of counter-culture anthem. It is also an unflinchingly honest and ironic look at the musician himself. Again, Weezer does not fail to amuse – and the lyrics of “Troublemakers” are deep beyond, perhaps, what was intended. “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived” is the same kind of introspective irony that Weezer is famous for, but never gets old, even if it is really weird. Speaking of weird, “Pork and Beans” is just that – really… really… weird… if you forget about what the words are and listen to the sounds on the whole, the song is exceptionally beautiful – but as soon as you hone in on what he’s singing, you can’t help but quirk a brow. The whole album follows this unique and typical Weezer style – a style that no bad has been able to touch with a ten-foot pole. The Red Album is Weezer at its best.
These five albums show that, as strange as it is, 2008 was a great year for music. There were breakthrough artists like Johnny Flynn, and long standing prowess proved time and time again by Weezer. These five releases may not be the most famous albums of 2008, but they are definitely the best.