Not that long ago I put out a call for help to find more new music so that I could write a Best Of post for 2008.
I felt like I hadn’t really listened to, or bought, that much new stuff. Quite a few people came up with suggestions and after downloading and listening to quite a few of these I realised that 2008 had actually been a pretty good year in terms of its musical crop. And the most ridiculous thing? Many of the best albums & singles of 2008 were ones that I already had before I asked for suggestions. Anyway, let’s start at the top.
- Paul Weller – 22 Dreams: The Modfather released his best album since Wild Wood, if not his best solo album ever, and found himself firmly back in the critics’ good books. Ranging from soul to folk, rock to jazz, with excursions verging on beat poetry & German lift music, 22 Dreams was truly an opus which proved why Paul Weller is one of the best artists of the last 30 years.
- The Streets – Everything Is Borrowed: After a foray into moaning about being a celebrity Mike Skinner finds his peace and returns with an amazing album. More organic in feel than his previous works it sees him looking inside himself for inspiration, rather than penning tunes about characters from modern Britain.
- José James – The Dreamer: Another amazing discovery from the 21st Century’s John Peel, Gilles Peterson, José James showed that jazz can always be made relevant. At times utterly beautiful, at others perfectly soulful and blending classically traditional jazz with elements of hip hop, The Dreamer is surely the opening salvo from an artist destined to come up with much more in the years to come.
- Erykah Badu – New Amerykah Part One: I’ve never really got Badu, fearing that she was simpler a slightly cooler Alicia Keys. This album, with tinges of everyone from George Clinton to J Dilla, shows that she is much more than that. Truly epic in its ambitions, and searing in its anger, I really can’t wait for New Amerykah Part Two.
- Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes: The first album from those recommended to me to make the list, I still have trouble classifying this. Imagine Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Déjà Vu crossed with Gregorian chanting, and you still probably won’t have a clue what I’m talking about. Fleet Foxes’ eponymous debut is utterly beautiful though and demands repeated listening.
- Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend: Closely following Fleet Foxes is another album from those recommended to me. As with the Foxes at first I couldn’t really get Vampire Weekend: I found their blend of preppy alternative rock (think Talking Heads) with African rhythms (think Paul Simon’s Graceland) a bit self-consciously wacky. And then I listened to it. A lot. And realised that it’s brilliant.
- Jamie Lidell – Jim: When I discovered Jamie Lidell it was like I’d suddenly found the artist I’d hoped Ben Westbeech would become (which Westbeech may well still do). Sounding like a life-weary black American soul singer, Lidell is actually an eccentric beat-boxing techno producer from the Home Counties. The album is a joy and you should buy it immediately.
- Nitin Sawhney – London Uundersound: The multi-faceted Sawhney probably should have won the Mercury Prize in 2000 (though Badly Drawn Boy’s debut is pretty good too) and London Undersound is as good, if not better, than Beyond Skin. Charting the changes in London over the last few years, and particularly since the 2005 bombings, the album features stand-out collaborations with the likes of Natty, Imogen Heap & even Paul McCartney and blends genres ranging from soul to dub to bhangra. A true musical representation of our capital city.
- Q-Tip – The Renaissance: After what seems like a lifetime since his creative peak in the late 80s/early 90s, Q-Tip’s comeback was a real statement of intent. Eschewing the “which producer is cool this month” trend common amongst hip hop artists these days, Q-Tip stuck to what he does best: smooth beats, soulful samples and great rhymes devoid of guns & bitches. Pure class.
- Estelle – Shine: In a shocking inditement of the British music industry Estelle had to move to the US under the patronage of John Legend for people to realise how ace she is. American Boy was the killer track but the rest of the album proved, a la Erykah Badu, that making intelligent 21st Century soul is very definitely possible.
- Elbow – The Seldom Seen Kid: Before this year Elbow were the band that everyone loved but whose records no-one seemed to buy, but performing One Day Like This at Glastonbury (and having it used by the BBC for their Euro 2008 coverage) & winning the Mercury Music Prize soon fixed that. The songs on The Seldom Seen Kid are both intelligent & tender and prove that sometimes the good guys do win.
- J.A.M. – Just A Maestro: Another album from the Gilles Peterson Brownswood stable, J.A.M. make jazz music which is nowhere near as experimental as Soil & “Pimp” Sessions (who the members of J.A.M. also play with) but are a good example of when keeping things simple can be the best bet. There’s not a tune on here that won’t make you want to dance, the use of soul & funk influences is perfectly done, whilst the collaboration with José James is simply amazing.
- Ladyhawke – Ladyhawke: Take the 80s. Distill all that was great about the over-the-top electro-pop of that decade. Give it an off-kilter arty feel. Hey presto, Ladyhawke. An album I really expected to hate ended up being one of my most played of the year.
- Kings Of Leon – Only By The Night: The band many derided for being the Southern Strokes or the commercial White Stripes ended the year on top of the world (with The Strokes nowhere to be seen and Jack White duetting with Alicia Keys for a Coke ad, sorry Bond theme). It took me a while to get into this album but, like killer single Sex On Fire, it rewards closer attention.
- Friendly Fires – Friendly Fires: If you can imagine a younger, hipper version of LCD Soundsystem then you can probably summon up a pretty good picture of Friendly Fires. You probably wouldn’t guess that they’re from Hertfordshire though. Like James Murphy Friendly Fires manage to make modern, danceable rock that still manages to sound rather sad and wistful.
- Various Artists – Brownswood Bubblers 3: Compilation of the year without a doubt. Gilles Peterson’s role as arbiter in matters of music is safe as far as I’m concerned. The third in the unfailingly great Bubblers series sees Gilles jumping genres like there’s no tomorrow but always picking winners.
OK, so I know that there are more than the 10 albums you’re meant to include on these lists, but as I was writing this I kept remembering other albums that deserved a mention. And I’ve still probably managed to forget a few that I’ll want to add in a couple of days (in fact I’ve just added Nitin Sawhney’s London Undersound: too good to omit). And I’d probably change the order of most of the albums outside of the top 3 tomorrow and again the day after. And I didn’t even include Radiohead’s In Rainbows which I only got hold of this year and which should therefore get the Ohmega Watts/Visioneers award for the album I got into a year after everyone else.
Anyway, that’s what I think – what do you reckon?
Image (entitled Paul Weller Sea Spray) by visualpanic on flickr