Why?: I still feel as if I'm ill-acquainted with this album despite listening to it quite a few times. I do know, however, that it's Sigur Rós, it's different yet still somehow just the same old beauty I'm accustomed to with the band. And I've come to love it.
23. Ayreon - 01011001 (disc 1: Y) (Progressive Rock)
Why?: Cheesy lyrics aside, this is an excellent release from the man who amasses many vocalists for his prog metal epics, Arjen Lucassen. And the vocalists here are awesome. I'd say the only complaint is that many of them sound familiar, but Daniel Gildenlow, Jørn Lande, Jonas Renkse, Anneke van Giersbergen, and Floor Jansen are all such a joy to listen to, that I don't mind getting the characters confused.
Arjen's arrangements are also stellar. From his heavier moments, to his whimsical folk segments, the album contains a perfect balance of diversity. His synth parts, in particular, are most certainly the strongest they've ever been... So dynamic and distinct, that I think they'd do Wish You Were Here proud.
22. Panic! at the Disco - Pretty. Odd. (Rock/Pop)
Why?: Not only is Pretty.Odd. a HUGE step in maturity through songwriting, arrangement, and perhaps especially lyrics, it is a downright brilliant collection of songs that may end up being one of my favorite albums of 2008. Granted, I was always a fan of the Panic gentlemen and their particular knack for vocal harmonies and memorable hooks. But with the addition of some clearly eclectic (*COUGHYESBEATLESCOUGH*) influences a crapload of lush, multi-instrumental arrangements, along with some very unconventional progressions and ideas, Panic at the Disco have crafted a record that is both wholly entertaining and artistically relevant. It's an album that shows a great deal of promise, for a band that appears willing to change not for the masses or for the critical appeasement of their fanbase, but for their musical love and betterment.
21. The Samuel Jackson Five - Goodbye Melody Mountain (Post-rock, Jazz)
Why?: This band just tickles my fancy. Melody Mountain is incredibly fun and jazzy, with a bit less focus on post-rock than before. The compositions are infectious and adventurous, and frequently manage to put a smile on my face.
20. Coldplay - Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends (Rock/Pop)
Why?: So good it makes me want to dance around with lots of vibrant neon colors tracking my motions like in the ipod commercial.
And I hate ipod commercials.
19. The Faceless - Planetary Duality (Technical Death Metal)
Why?: This was a tough call, because on the one hand, I felt like there was even less melodic structure and overall songwriting coherence than what was present on Akeldama. On the other hand, the leads on this thing are a beaut, and they manage to change this record up more than Akeldama with quotes, more clean sections, clean singing, and other assorted tech-progiesh goodies. It's not astounding, but I find it quite enjoyable none the less.
After a bit of sinking in, I'm began to find identity in the songs a bit more, and this album became a great tech death experience for me.
18. Man Man - Rabbit Habits (Indie, Experimental)
Why?: While not as spastic or off-the-wall as its predecessor, Six Demon Bag, Rabbit Habits is still a zany, Tom Waits-ish barroom foray into eclectic indie music... And it's still damn good.
Rather than focusing on faster songs driven by percussion, Rabbit Habits tends to be a bit more midpaced and places emphasis on the bands varied melodic instrumentation. A prime example of this is the end of "Top Drawyer" which employs a very effective arrangement of organ, keyboard, sax, and flutes that builds until the return of the infectious chorus.
17. Finch - Finch (Post-hardcore, Rock/Pop)
Why?: Easily four of the best songs this band has ever put out. Finch is back... With avengeance.
16. Kayo Dot - Blue Lambency Downward (Avant-garde)
Why?: This album does not represent the finest aspects of Kayo Dot's sound, for me, simply because it lacks drama. Don't get me wrong, it's still filled with beautiful, trance like songs that weave in and out of jazzy free-form, classical, and psychadelica. The main problem, and part that restricts me from truly embracing this record, is that it lacks drama. On both "Choirs of the Eye" and "Dowsing..." there is a distinct sense of urgency that creeps in from time to time.. And that doesn't really happen for me on this album.
Still, it's still highly enjoyable music that is highly unique, and always seems to re-create itself in new ways on each listen.
15. Burst - Lazarus Bird (Progressive Metal, Sludge)
Why?: What an unbelievable step up from their last album. It's a tough album to nail down, as well, being progressive, sludgy, melodic, and just generally very adventurous in its songwriting. Not much to say, other than that this is a very fulfilling metal album.
14. Off Minor - Some Blood (Screamo)
Why?: It's a slightly grittier and more compact affair than "Innominate" to my ears, but still interjects all of the off-kilter jazzy riffing and passion that makes Off Minor such a cool fucking band. The last track is their longest, most epic, and quite possibly my favorite thing that they've done.
13. Deathspell Omega - Veritas Diaboli Manet in Aeternum: Chaining the Katechon (Technical Black Metal)
Why?: A 22 minute technical dischordant black metal opus. Sure it's only one song, but it is far and away one of the best metal songs I've heard all year. Chaos and darkness of universal proportions. KVLT.
12. The Mountain Goats - Heretic Pride (Folk, singer-songwriter)
Why?: I always liked Tallahassee and haven't heard much else from the John Darnielle. Well, this album took me a bit by surprise. The songwriting is just superb, as it should be for a folk album... But what gets me isn't just the effectiveness of the melodies and the lyrics, but the overall diversity in mood and instrumentation of the album itself.
Sure, this is still mostly a straight up folk record, but the inclusion of string, Hammond Organ parts, piano, female vocals, and more, all just seem to add so much to the experience. And even beyond those instrumental aspects, there's just very few songs on this record that sound all that much alike.
Also, bonus points for referencing Marduk, lol.
11. The Mars Volta - The Bedlam in Goliath (Progressive Rock)
Why?: Another awesome release by the Mars Volta. The pace is their most consistently speedy that they've ever done, and the complexity and density of the music is just as prevalent as before. It's an album that's fun to listen to at first, and then engrossing and intricately consuming with further listens.
10. La Dispute - Somewhere At The Bottom Of The River Between Vega And Altair (Post-hardcore)
Why?: Passionate, poetical, and overall really damn good. This band reminds me of Mewithoutyou, circa A>>B Life era in that it's emotionally overwrought post-hardcore that retains a clear focus on lyrics.
09. Opeth - Watershed (Progressive Metal, Deathish metal)
Why?: For the first time in my history with this beloved band of mine, Opeth, I feel like they've actually done something truly... Progressive. No, this album isn't a complete departure from what the band's been doing. There's still lots of loud-soft dynamic switches between death-influenced metal and folk inspired soft rock music. But here, Opeth have changed things up a bit.
Opeth have deliberately toyed around with things on Watershed that make it a rather unhinged and slightly unsettling album this time around. There are moments of discordant strings and keyboards, gradually downtuning guitars, and maniacal pipe organ blasts. Overall, Watershed just feels much different than any Opeth record before it, and I think that's exactly what the band needed. It is, perhaps, not as memorable as some of their previous efforts, but what it lacks in melodic hooks it makes up for in genuinely intriguing and constantly shifting musical passages.
08. Humanoid - Remembering Universe (Progressive Metal, Acoustic)
Why?: A unique and wonderful acoustic album with some heavy stylistic additions of progressive metal. As he also displays with his main line of work in Augury, Mathieu Marcotte's ability to create celestial spacescapes within this realm of music is truly uncanny.
07. Anathallo - Canopy Glow (Progressive Indie Pop)
Why?: What can I say about this album that hasn't already been said? It is Anathallo doing what they do best. Working as a cohesive and fully creative unite to birth works of musical wonderment. Though I still have reservations of the album lacking a central theme or story (something that made Floating World quite compelling for me), I cannot deny how great this album truly is.
06. Cynic - Traced In Air (Progressive Metal)
Why?: I'm a little surprised by the lackluster reaction to this album in some circles. I, personally, love the sound of the whole package. It's so warm and futuristic, overflowing with wonderful melodies and textures. The mix is a little vocal heavy for me, and there could be a bit more separation between the instruments, but it doesn't really ruin my appreciation of the album that much. It's Focus with less death metal, and perhaps even sweeter compositions.
05. The Stiletto Formal - Fiesta, Fiesta, Fiesta, Fiesta (Progressive Rock, experimental, post-hardcore)
Why?: Oh wow. I love this a lot. The Mars Volta comparisons are apt, as the vocalist takes a few cues from Cedric's acrobatic heights and general vocal tone qualities. But I honestly feel this band outdoes the Volta in a few areas, one being creating CONSISTENTLY engaging and infectious songs that are always constantly shifting in style and appeal. Seriously, this album has something for everyone. Blues, Hip Hop, dashes of post-rocky influence, Jazz, some strings for good measure... The Stiletto Formal put A LOT on their plate, and manage to do it without creating an uneven experience for the listener.
For any fan of truly "progressive" music that also is insanely listenable, this is a no brainer. One of the finest 2008 releases, and I think it still has quite a bit of growing to do.
04. Thrice - The Alchemy Index, Volume III and IV: Eart and Air (Post-hardcore, rock, folk)
Why?: Ah, here we are, the second and final installment to Thrice's ambitious Alchemy Index.
Air: The only even relatively heavy entry of these two. Air manages to create a lot of textures that are quite pleasing to the listener, especially on the last two shorter tracks. The story and impassioned vocals of Deadalus are amazing, and 2nd and 3rd tracks are suitable, if not quite up to par with many of the songs on tAI.
Earth: Amazing. While the songwriting on "Water" is my favorite of the four, I think I may prefer the aesthetic created on this disc the most. It's very rich, gritty, natural, and of course, earthy. Making use of acoustic guitars, basses, banjos, piano, and limited additions such as the choir-esque samples in "The Lion and the Wolf," Earth just feels completely smooth and yet at the same time, so emotionally compelling.
03. Agalloch - The White EP (Folk)
Why?: Sometimes it pays to know what you're in for. Before listening to this EP, I had heard that there was no metal, and that it was, by all accounts, a folk record. What I got was not merely a wonderful album of that sort, but one also containing some haunting electronic experimentalism and some limited electric guitar passages. It definitely all has a slightly different feel for Agalloch, but the fact remains that it's grade-A darkly beautiful Agalloch material.
02. Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago (Folk, Singer-songwriter)
Why?: Sublimely beautiful. This is an album of simplistic delights that also adds enough subtle twists to make it rather different enough from the standard acoustic singer/songwriter affair. For instance, there are some light touches of horns and even electronic effects, but none of it feels forced or detracts from the wooing fragility of the album. Each song is memorable, and there are more than a few moments that manage to pierce the soul with a sad yet somehow inexplicably hopeful melody.
01. City and Colour - Bring Me Your Love (Folk, Singer-songwriter)
Why?: While the melodies and guitarwork aren't instantly as pleasing and wonderful as on "Sometimes," the songwriting here is still Phenomenal. Dallas Green has such a way of working his voice and lyrics into this warmly enveloping package. There are moments that make you tear up, and others that make you want to stand up and sing along.
Another brilliant album from a brilliant musician and performer.
Special mention of a local band (composed of friends) that deserves special mentioning:
Sickness Unto Death - Farewell (post-hardcore, progressive metal)
I thought about ranking this in with the rest, but due to my personal connection, I wasn't sure I could really accurately put it in with all the other stuff that I've heard this year. Rest assured, however, that these are 3 of my favorite songs from 2008, and that I am still extremely pissed that these guys are breaking up.
Download it here: http://www.sendspace.com/file/zjz8wa
Okie doke, that's it folks. If you feel I've left something out, then let me say that this is, by no means, all of the music that I enjoyed from 2008. Frankly, I did find A LOT of music that liked this year and cutting it down to 50 was still a pretty difficult task. However, if I did forget something essential in your eyes, please let me know.