Top 10 music albums from 2008

The Hype Machine challenged bloggers to post their Top 10 music albums from 2008, and I thought it’d be a fun ride to comply, going through all I’ve been listening this year to pick what I most preferred, or expect to come back to in the future…

10. Cut Copy – In Ghost Colours (Modular)

An uptempo melange of influences, In Ghost Colours coherently blends sweaty stadium-sized synth pop and intimate indie electronica. Explicitely reminiscent from the 80’s, Cut Copy escapes the suffocating darkness of that era (unlike fellow Melbourne-based Midnight Juggernauts) by throwing swirling melodies on it, in reference to 90’s disco tunes. Or how to make disco music for hipsters.

9. Cobalt – Domestic (Urbanseed)

Thick, organic electronica layering mysterious melodies on top of an industrial machinery of rhythms, a fugitive violin and the hoarse voice of the singer lost inside this oppressive but carefully crafted debut album.

8. The Raconteurs – Consolers of the Lonely (Warner Bros.)

The easiness with which The Raconteurs reinvent rock’n roll in 2008 is almost indecent; tunes rock, melodies swirl in your ear, and forty years of rock pass by, from blues to ballads, from Led Zeppelin to The White Stripes. Rare genius of disconcerting perfection.

7. Stereolab – Chemical Chords (4AD)

This is Stereolab: playful melodies, clean guitar riffs, a Farfisa organ jumping around and, in the middle, Laetitia Sadier’s imperious voice. One more album that proves their astonishing ability to reinvent themselves within their universe, each time opening the doors of a new realm, building on top of their discography without repeating themselves.

6. Beach House – Devotion (Carpark)

On Devotion, the melancholic dream pop of Beach House unfolds in the vast space of a timeless musical box, halfway between an eery, black-and-white funfair and a choir of gentle ghosts. A timid guitar dancing around Victoria Legrand’s vocals, soothing organs floating above the muffled drums, the atmosphere is conflict-free and yet, sublime.

5. Ladyhawke – Ladyhawke (Modular Recordings)

Synths and beats stolen directly from the eighties, Ladyhawke escapes the traps of tedious revival nostalgia thanks to her strong presence, both vocally and in the upbeat melodies and rhythms throughout the album. Quality electropop, rockier than Zoot Woman, and borrowing some funky frenzy from the French touch but only to combine it immediately with some sort of movie-like, Californian prom night naiveté.

4. Cat Power – Jukebox (Matador)

In the shadows of a smoky bar, Cat Power’s voice emerges above the thrifty bursts of guitars, above the tremolo chords of Rhodes and Wurlitzer, a voice filled with pain and courage, mirror of a soul caressing nostalgia and, sometimes, hope.

3. Max Tundra – Parallax Error Beheads You (Domino)

Pitchfork brilliantly summed up the album as “[a] reality show where XTC, Prince, Aphex Twin, and George Gershwin have to live together inside the sound chip of an aging Game Boy.” Indeed, its cheap computer banks would put Mika to shame, but Max Tundra still exponentially surpasses the latter by glorifying his lo-fi instruments, crafting complex songs on them without any inferiority complex.

From the stroboscopic pop of “Orphaned” to the dancing swarms of digital synths on “Which Song”, Parallax Error Beheads You opens the door of an unsuspected musical universe, in which a geeky musician could overperform most the yearly production from inside the heart of a vintage console.

2. M83 – Saturdays=Youth (Mute)

Embracing the nostalgia of a fantasized imagery of the United States in the 80’s, M83 conjugates its shoegazing roots with late night pop reverie, voices reverberating amidst vintage drums and guitars. This powerful feeling of longing for an iconic past reaches its climax on “Couleurs”, a progressive nightscape stolen from some dreamed of silent chase scene in a yet-to-exist Michael Mann movie.

1. Portishead – Third (Island)

After ten years of silence, Portishead comes back with an album so coherent and evolutionary that it feels like they never left, but only muted their sound for a while.

While Dummy and Portishead were urban westerns, their mechanical texture softened by the humanity of their hip-hop roots, Third is resolutely post-apocalyptic, its coldness only salvaged of complete desolation by the flickering flame of Beth Gibbons’ voice. As if all hope had been forsaken, as if humanity had already failed and beauty was now to be looked for in the depth of darkness, in the industrial caves of abandoned factories.

Down there, spectral ballads evolve into obsessive electronica (“The Rip”) and laments are rhythmed by automatic weapons (the fantastic “Machine Gun”).

Oscillating between alarmed urgency and numb despair, Third brutally forces us into a universe populated with tribes of drumming machines, shadows of ghostly survivors, scaring us and, simultaneously, comforting us that everything is over, but it’s okay…

Naturally, many other albums were struggling for the Top 10 without making it, for whichever reason.

Some beloved bands scored an album that simply didn’t hold the comparison with their previous works: My Morning Jacket’s Evil Urges is no Z, Sébastien Tellier’s Sexuality was very enjoyable but not outstanding, as were Ladytron’s Velocifero, Miss Kittin’s Batbox or Frida Hyvönen’s Silence Is Wild.

Other formerly discarded bands also brought positive surprises: OasisDig Out Your Soul (it’s kind of okay, seriously) and Emilia Torrini unexpected Me and Armini, featuring the haunting “Gun”.

A couple of disco-oriented acts also deserve attention by straying away from conventions: Neon Neon’s Stainless Style retro-homage, The Presets‘ rough but highly effective Apocalypso and the unimaginable disco reunion of Anthony Hegarty’s androgynous presence, Nomi Ruiz’s ultrasexuality, and Andy Butler’s mixes on Hercules and Love Affair’s eponymous debut.

Finally, excellent new names arrived in my audio universe with Calexico (Carried to Dust, for a dusty journey in American folklore), Fujiya & Miyagi (Lightbulbs and its funky electropop), Grace Jones (Hurricane, contemporary tribalism) and, yes, Scarlett Johansson (Anywhere I Lay My Head, borrowed from Tom Waits and stretched to fill the space of a magical funfair as filmed by Jim Jarmusch).