If you haven’t seen the link yet, check out Hype Magazine’s 2008 zeitgeist.
I’ve been craving some new music action recently, and I haven’t heard of a large number of these bands, so in an effort to keep up my indie street cred, I’m going to try and make my way through each of these albums and add a mini-review as I do. Most of these will be based off of one complete listening. My opinions may change when I have time to give multiple listening to each.
Beck Modern Guilt – ★★★ I’ve never been a huge Beck fan, but I really loved Sea Change. Like a lot. This one has a lot less of the “quirky” Beck and a lot more of the “My dog just got shot and I’m sad” Beck, which makes me happy. But all in all it’s pretty middle of the road.
Crystal Castles Crystal Castles – ★★★★
This is probably a pretty niche kind of record, but I liked it a lot. It’s sort of a strange mix of 80’s electropop mixed with techno. It’s lighthearted with airy vocals and it’s got a lot of fun, happy tunes.
EDIT: After more listens, this is quickly moving up to a 5 star for me. I’ll reassess once I’ve worked my way through all of the reviews.
Jenny Lewis Acid Tongue – ★★★½
Respectable bluesy/folky/rocky album. Jenny is a good singer who unfortunately has a relatively plain voice. This isn’t helped by the weird gritty processing they have on her voice through most songs. Song writing is solid for the genre, and it’s a pleasant listen.
Elbow The Seldom Seen Kid – ★★★★
Surprisingly good downtempo british band. Some great lyrics and strong song writing. Lead Singer has an interesting and remorseful sounding british voice. Reminds me in some places of Morphine, and there are definitely times where I pick up Tom Waits influences. Solid.
Flying Lotus Los Angeles – ★★½
I love experimental electronic music, including some of the weirder Aphex Twin stuff. So I was really conflicted when I didn’t like this album. I really wanted to like it, and it had a good start with the interesting cover art. But after my first full listen, I was seriously considering a one sentence review: “bleep, bloop, thud, thud, thud, bleep, bloop, ad nauseam”. I listened to it again just to see if my opinion would change. Nope.
Cut Copy In Ghost Colors – ★★★
This album was quickly headed toward a 2 star review after a listen to the first half. Much of it had me thinking about the group as a sort of upbeat “The Cure”. Which is not something I find appealing. It wasn’t until “Hearts on Fire” the 9th track on the album that I found something to like. There were a handful of tracks that take on more dance sensibility and I found those to be the high points of an otherwise pretty tame disc.
My Morning Jacket Evil Urges – ★★★½
Crazy variety in singing and musical styles. From Indie rock to steel guitar country. This album is all over the place, and it definitely has some weak tracks, but the good songs are really good.
Ra Ra Riot The Rhumb Line – ★★★½
This one starts out sort of slowly, but starts picking up by Winter ’05. This is pretty straightforward rock fare but with some standout hooks and a lot of toe tapping rhythm that carries it along. This came really close to a 4 star.
Kanye West 808s & Heartbreak – ★★★½
I was really surprised by this one. I haven’t been a huge fan of Kanye in the past, but this is a really solid disc. Kanye has a great sense of humor with his lyrics and all of the guest artists are really well placed. The opening song, Say You Will is really strong, and the whole album powers on like that with only a few exceptions.
I was ready to slap 4 stars on this one aside from 2 standout issues I have with it. Autotune is interesting for probably 3 songs or so, after which it gets tedious. It was far too heavily in play here.
The second point is, I hate listening to celebrities whine about how hard their life is and how unsatisfied they are. 3 minutes of Kanye whining about how he has no kids, just big houses and sportscars is just 3 minutes of concentrated rage on my part. I might be missing the joke here, and Kanye is just ironically rubbing his success in our collective faces, in which case, bravo sir. But I kind of get the feeling that this is all presented straight.
Don’t get me wrong. I know rich people have genuine and significant hardships in their lives, and that they have had to make hard choices and big sacrifices to achieve their success. But the songs aren’t about the hardships of the road, they’re about being jealous of the normal schlubs. Well Kanye, you could always, you know, quit singing, get an office job, marry some local waitress, have her squeeze out some brood, and get on with the mediocrity any time you’d like. I’m relatively sure that you don’t have anyone inflicting your lifestyle on you.
R.E.M. Accelerate – ★★★
If you like R.E.M, there’s a lot to like here. Stipe and crew offer up another solid record. I didn’t hear a lot here that I would consider new for the band, or anything that sounded to me like a big radio hit, but it’s a consistent performer and delivers on the R.E.M sound.
TV on the Radio Dear Science – ★★★★
Dear Science lives in a funky weird place that I really like. Really great lyrics. There’s lots of movement from strange ballads to fast paced machinegun pseudo-rap. I had a smile on my face through this whole album.
Death Cab for Cutie Narrow Stairs – ★★★★½
I’ve never really given Death Cab for Cutie a serious listen despite having seen strong recommendations across the web. I had always just assumed that they were an emo-kid thing and never really gave them a chance. Big mistake.
Wow this is a good album. Ben Gibbard’s vocals are open and accessible, and the lyrics are great. Almost every song has a solid hook and great pop sensibility. The music is complex and well orchestrated. This is one of only a couple album on this list that have lived up to the hype so far.
Kings of Leon Only by the Night – ★★★★
Kings of Leon is another band that I’ve heard a lot about, but never listened to. Only by the Night is a really enjoyable listen. While technically a rock band, Caleb’s voice often varies from a country twang to a deep soul grumble. It’s fun just to listen to him push his voice around.
As seems to be the fashion with many of the albums in this list, there’s lots of melancholy here, but often placed on top of an uptempo beat that provides an interesting cognitive dissonance. “Closer” is a solid opener to the album and I really like “Sex on Fire” and “Revelry” as well.
Glasvegas Glasvegas – ★★★
I actually listened to Glasvegas around 3 times before writing this up. I love the Glasgow accent, and having a whole rock album sung in it is really fun. But this album just didn’t stick with me. There are some really inventive lyrics, and songs like “Geraldine”, “It’s My Own Cheating Heart”, “Lonesome Swan” and “S.A.D. Light” really make this album worth a listen.
But the other six songs just didn’t click with me, and “Stabbed” especially makes me reach for the skip button. This album really had the makings of a 4 star, but unfortunately just didn’t turn in a consistent enough performance to get there.
Department of Eagles In Ear Park – ★★
I think I might be becoming fatigued at this point, because I feel like I should be more charitable to this album than I’m feeling right now.
My big impression of this album was “Folky Beatles”. Except they don’t have the song writing skills of the Beatles. Or the sitars. But there is some banjo. Meh.
Checking the Amazon reviews seems to indicate that people dig the warmed up Beatles thing. So I guess if you don’t mine people raping John Lennon’s corpse, you might dig this. Hey, I told you I wasn’t feeling charitable.
MGMT Oracular Spectacular – ★★★★★
This album probably doesn’t quite reach the level of squee that I felt after listening to The Shins’ Wincing the Night Away, but man it’s really close.
In case the 5 stars didn’t get you there: I fucking love this album. One review called this psychedelic pop and that’s probably a good description. Great pop sensibility here, good songcraft and both guys sing in an almost falsetto. Just great stuff.
Now I should warn you that this is an album that may only be a five according to my particular venn diagram of what turns me on, namely: strong poppy hooks, fun aggressive distortion use, stupid happy positive lyrics, and rockstar tenor/falsetto.