wears the trousers magazine


best of 2008: the last word
December 20, 2008, 6:17 pm
Filed under: feature, retrospective | Tags: , ,

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best of 2008: readers poll results

Here they are, all in one place. We received just under 1000 votes overall, so thank you for taking part. Look out for our 2008 yearbook issue, coming soon.

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albums of the year: readers poll results (part V of V)

Albums of the year: #10–1

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Martha Wainwright
I Know You’re Married But I’ve Got Feelings Too
Drowned In Sound

Released: July 2008

What we said then: “It’s not easy being a Wainwright. Even the most cursory listen to I Know You’re Married But I’ve Got Feelings Too, the much anticipated second album from Martha, the baby of the family, will only serve to reinforce that impression. From the unrequited love of opener ‘Bleeding All Over You’ onwards the tone is one of nerve end-exposing confessional honesty. Even if she’s now found a degree of domestic happiness with producer Brad Albetta the last few years have clearly been anything but a comfortable ride. There is the same intimacy of expression, even if this time it occasionally hides a little deep below the more ambitious production and commercial sensibilities.” •••½ Martyn Clayton [full review]

What we say now: Martha Wainwright’s endearingly fiery debut was a slow-burning word of mouth hit, so with much of the legwork already behind her you can understand why she might have wanted more instant gratification with this follow-up. But while I Know You’re Married… certainly has songs with immediate appeal, it’s an uneven listening experience overall. Lucky, then, that Martha has become a real powerhouse performer on the stage, offering another way into the album. More focus and fewer producers next time and we might just get the masterpiece she’s capable of.

Download: ‘You Cheated Me’, ‘Love Is A Stranger’

iTunes £7.99

 

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My Brightest Diamond
A Thousand Shark’s Teeth
Asthmatic Kitty

Released: June 2008

Several years in the making, My Brightest Diamond’s second album proper wears its meticulous construction proudly on its wizard’s sleeve. Originally conceived as a simple string quartet album, A Thousand Shark’s Teeth turned out to be denser than a nugget of iridium. A tumbling, soaring, confusing, soothing avant-rock injection of wonder and weirdness, it’s easy to see how some might find it a little too much to take in one sitting…but as 11 course meals go you couldn’t wish for a finer spread. Drawing on several literary influences, Shara Worden’s often oblique lyrics come alive with her operatic trills and octave-hopping prowess, breathing a surreal and often creepy element into her passionate cartwheels of profound emotion. Not an album to endlessly loop, play after play after play, A Thousand Shark’s Teeth is prickly and ripe with a terrifyingly accomplished creativity. To sum it up in her own words, “the emphasis is on beauty and richness” [feature interview].

Download: ‘Inside A Boy’, ‘To Pluto’s Moon’

iTunes £7.99

 

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Sia
Some People Have Real Problems
Monkey Puzzle 

Released: January 2008

What we said then: “As with previous offerings Sia’s latest album runs amok through the many different facets of her personality. Her continued strategy of delivering stylistic tangents that encompass the best of electronica, R&B, soul and pop has made the listener’s journey to date never less than boring. Some People Have Real Problems delivers another pleasing blend of musical schizophrenia but with added progression of thought from the first to the final song. It shows songwriting maturity and, most impressively, an acute understanding of album aesthetics missing from so many artists who, forced by their producers and labels to surround a hit with mediocre filler, have all but killed the joy of the journey from first song to last. I would suggest they are the artists with real problems; if Sia continues to mine this rich seam, she should have very few.” •••• Paul Woodgate [full review]

What we say now: Of 2008’s many croaky voiced pop acts vying to be the new monarchs of white soul, it’s Sia who is closest to your hearts it seems. Some People Have Real Problems may not have had the publicity or budget of Adele’s 19, but it’s a far, far better album. Though the awful artwork may suggest otherwise, it’s smart, mature and resoundingly convincing. And it’s even better live. Ms Furler’s name might not be synonymous with originality but she’s got the pipes and the class to sacrifice that and still remain vital.

Download: ‘Buttons’, ‘Soon We’ll Be Found’

iTunes £7.99

 

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She & Him
Volume One
Double Six

Released: May 2008

What we said then: “Acting and music-making have always made an uneasy alliance at best. It isn’t often that a person can straddle the two industries with any degree of success. Volume One, Zooey Deschanel’s presumably ongoing collaboration with Portland-based singer-songwriter M Ward, yields a collection of mainly original numbers with a few covers thrown in towards the end. It’s twee, yes, but not overly so. Deschanel’s slightly country-esque voice is alive with character and feeling. The music is crisp and clean and dips into a range of styles from the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s. It complements Deschanel’s voice without ever drowning or swallowing her.” •••• Hugh Armitage [full review]

What we say now: If there was a finer distillation of the classic singer-songwriter decades this year then we didn’t hear it. Whereas Scarlett Johansson’s album retrofitted a narcotic rumbling haze to Tom Waits’s visceral songbook and failed to inspire much feeling at all, fellow actress Zooey Deschanel’s collaboration with M Ward dug in from the plain-sung but heartfelt ‘Sentimental Heart’ right through to ‘Sweet Darlin’ – a could-have-been Dusty Springfield classic with a country twist – and never dropped the ball. Only the phoned-in cover of ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’ felt a bit superfluous tacked on to the end, but this cosy, cuddly (and, we suspect, a touch ironic) album entrances and warms like bottled sunshine. Volume Two has some big comfy slippers to fill.

Download: ‘Sentimental Heart’, ‘I Was Made For You’

iTunes £7.99

 

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Lykke Li
Youth Novels
LL Recordings / Warner

Released: June 2008

Produced by Lasse Mårtén and Bjorn Yttling of Peter, Bjorn & John, this debut from Swedish upstart Li Lykke Timotej Zachrisson – or Lykke Li as she’d rather we know her – was a blend of orthodox melodies, unconventional structures and delightfully unusual samples used in unexpected places. Often compared to friend and collaborator Robyn, Lykke sings with a clear, smooth pitch, full of youth and soul – a hard-to-find combination. What sets Youth Novels apart is its enthusiasm for blending soulful, accessible  pop with elements of the experimental, often electro in style. From the luscious, sensual opener ‘Melodies, Desires’ to the distorted symphonic feel of ‘My Love’ and the utterly addictive ‘Little Bit’, Youth Novels is an album unafraid to play with established genres, layering styles and ideas with a zestful and romantic passion.

Download: ‘Little Bit’, ‘I’m Good, I’m Gone’

iTunes £7.99

 

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Santogold
Santogold
Lizard King / Warner 

Released: May 2008

In case you’ve been hiding under a rock in the Gobi desert all year, Santogold is the recording moniker for one Santi White – singer, songwriter, producer and all round musical genius. Having worked with a number of high-profile top earners such as Mark Ronson, Pharell Williams and GZA of Wu Tang Clan, White was already highly respected for her uniquely innovative creations. Evolving from her punk rock beginnings, Santogold’s shameless penchant for ’80s pop and host of rap/electro collaborators all added up to a skilfully convoluted debut, incorporating an enormously diverse range of styles and sounds including reggae, indie, electro and dance. Though R&B is frequently and incorrectly cited as an influence on the album, it’s obvious to the more astute listener that Santi’s tastes are far more alternative. From the deliciously dub-heavy ‘Creator’ (which was snapped up by a certain hair care company for their summer ad campaign), the dark, grime-like New Wave of ‘Starstruck’ and the Pixies-esque surf guitar of ‘Lights Out’, this genre-defying debut won acclaim from press, peers and fans alike, and easily found its way into our top five.

Download: ‘Lights Out’, ‘L.E.S. Artistes’

iTunes £7.99

 

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Goldfrapp
Seventh Tree
Mute

Released: February 2008

What we said then: Seventh Tree finds the duo of Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory not so much edging away from the adventurous lust of their last two albums as turning their back on it completely. It’s still very much a Goldfrapp record but this isn’t Felt Mountain part II either; there’s nothing so innocent about Seventh Tree. With the likes of Kylie and Madonna jumping on the ‘frappian electro-glam bandwagon, Alison and Will have wisely hauled their anchor and sailed swiftly away before the inevitable call from Timbaland came through. Seventh Tree will no doubt appall those who sicken at any hint of a genuine emotion, but to those who can handle such things it never seems banal or uninspired. ” ••••½ Eva Weppelmann [full review]

What we say now: While adopting elements of psychedelic folk has become rather commonplace, if not essential, among indie newcomers, for neo-glam pop goliaths Goldfrapp to take the same road seemed somehow revolutionary. But while the music of Seventh Tree feels rural, antique and defiantly sunny, it’s just as knowing, with constant nods to the shady underbelly of outsider living. Whereas Supernature attempted to make up for its absence of any real lyrical substance with thundering pop melodies, Seventh Tree has actual characterisations and is all the better for it. You sympathise with the tragic narrator of ‘A&E’, feel the wind in the hair of the ‘Caravan Girl’, and so on. Where Goldfrapp go from here is anyone’s guess, but this was a fantastic and timely reinvention.

Download: ‘Clowns’, ‘Little Bird’

iTunes £7.99

 

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Amanda Palmer
Who Killed Amanda Palmer
Roadrunner

Released: February 2008

What we said then: “Co-produced with similarly arch keyboard whizz Ben Folds, Who Killed Amanda Palmer is rife with trumpet blasts, strings and Palmer’s trademark piano percussion, but it’s not always clear whether she has done a thorough enough job of disconnecting from The Dresden Dolls’ Brechtian punk cabaret stylings to make this more than just another album for the band’s repertoire. Thankfully Palmer knows how to interpret the moss on the trees. From her beginnings as a depressing performer, exposing bloody hands and shrieks for an audience of friends, Palmer has sliced and laid open the intricate carcass that constitutes simple existence. Who Killed Amanda Palmer is sufficient proof of something beautiful lying within the (sometimes) ugly.” •••• Paige Taylor [full review]

What we say now: It may not have been a million miles away from what you’d expect from a Dresden Dolls album, but Who Killed Amanda Palmer achieved what it set out to do: reaffirm that Amanda Palmer is one of today’s most consistently interesting, theatrical and intelligent performers. Unafraid to mix self-deprecating humour with lampooning sketches of life’s less cerebrally gifted, or flat-out profundity with offhand, quirky homilies and unlikely pop cultural references, Palmer brought the goods on all counts. A righteous gem.

Download: ‘Ampersand’, ‘Runs In The Family’

iTunes £7.99 (£9.99 with bonus tracks)

 

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Portishead
Third
Go! Discs / Island 

Released: April 2008

What we said then: “Third combines the best things about classic Portishead – their atmospheric quality, the chilled-out trip-hop, their gloominess – but brings new and experimental sounds to the mix. The layering of familiarity with surprising new sounds and flourishes makes an album that warrants repeat listenings, with something new to discover each time. After 11 years of anticipation, Portishead have come through with something worth the wait.” •••• Hugh Armitage

What we say now: If Portishead’s last album was a spectre of tension and claustrophobic terror, this long awaited comeback blazed like a vivid dystopian nightmare. Whether wailing like a distempered crone awoken from a lengthy hibernation or reprising her role as a brokenhearted, insular obsessive, Beth Gibbons sounded familiarly, almost comfortingly bleak. For once, though, she’s not always the weirdest wheel on the wagon as Geoff Barrow and Adrian Utley do their utmost to mess with our heads. Their convoluted technical approach doesn’t always work to Portishead’s advantage, but Third remains an impressive labour of tough love.

Download: ‘The Rip’, ‘Small’

iTunes £7.99

 

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Laura Marling
Alas I Cannot Swim 
Virgin

Released: February 2008

What we said then: “From the opening bars of immaculate first single ‘Ghosts’ to the closing moments of the title track, surreptitiously tacked onto the end of ‘Your Only Doll (Dora)’, the quality control dial is turned up to 11. Even when she’s embodying the character of a victim of sexual abuse, her austere phrasing makes her wholly believable. Marling’s voice, too, has matured since her last recordings. Mixing playfulness with a knowing wink, she recalls Aimee Mann, Joni Mitchell and, at times, Eliza Carthy, but Laura has something altogether more contemporary and fresh, and appealingly English. With the album format allegedly on its last legs, all 38 minutes of Alas I Cannot Swim bucks the trend by playing very much like a cohesive whole. With Noah & The Whale’s Charlie Fink taking on production duties, the record sounds neither overproduced or lacking in colour, complementing the songs without engulfing them.” ••••• Richard Steele [full review]

What we say now: We’ve been endlessly impressed with the young Ms Marling all year and are thrilled you’ve voted her debut album as the year’s best listen. Last year’s My Manic & I EP was our first glimpse of her precocious talent for gorgeously nuanced folk-centric pop, but we were glad to see her excising the smart aleck quips of her weaker songs for the more mature introspection of Alas I Cannot Swim. The deceptive simplicity of the songs might belie their construction with a watchmaker’s attention to detail, but their deftly expressed and subtle fire roared into life during Marling’s several hugely acclaimed tours. Dignified, playful and lyrically weighty, Alas I Cannot Swim has all the hallmarks of a singer-songwriter classic and its success is well deserved. For next year’s hopefuls the bar has been set. Who will scale such great heights?

Download: ‘Night Terror’, ‘Ghosts’

FREE MP3: Laura Marling, Man Sings About Romance‘ [‘Ghosts’ B-side] [via RCRDLBL]

iTunes £5.99 




EPs of the year: readers poll results (part V of V)

EPs of the year: #5–1

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Angus & Julia Stone
Hollywood EP
PIAS

Released: November 2008

For every song that made the cut of their debut album A Book Like This, Australian siblings Angus & Julia Stone have at least as many treasures scattered about on various EPs. Hollywood is their fifth, and the UK version features three brand new reworkings where one sibling assumes the lead vocal on the other’s song, and each is renamed just to confuse us. So you get Angus singing ‘Wasted’ (‘All The Colours’) and ‘Hollywood’ (‘Johnny & June’), and Julia rejigging ‘Just A Boy’ (‘Lovely Hands’). An interesting and surprisingly effective trick, making this a must for any fans of the album.

iTunes £1.99

 

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Laura Marling
Cross Your Fingers EP
Virgin

Released: June 2008

One of the more upbeat tracks from her Mercury nominated debut Alas I Cannot Swim, the gently insistent gait of ‘Cross Your Fingers’ walked us through the summer. Transforming her fatalistic lyrics into a full-on bus stop singalong moment, it was the perfect second single. Exclusive B-sides ‘I’m A Fly’ and live favourite ‘Blackberry Stone’ are well worth tracking down, and the two live songs from the Union Chapel are no slouch either.

iTunes £1.99

 

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The Organ
Thieves EP
604

Released: October 2008

While Thieves finds itself to be a solid and poignant statement about the band and the state of its members, it also serves as a way for The Organ to let itself die, a final farewell from a band whose potential was tragically never fully realised. Behind the poppy songs and reverb-drenched guitars lies a cautionary tale for all young bands. As its sleeve no doubt knowingly implies, it’s an educational listen [full review].

iTunes £4.74


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The Bird & The Bee
One Too Many Hearts EP
Blue Note

Released: February 2008

This Valentines release from Los Angeles duo The Bird & The Bee was bound to be a romantic affair. Inara George and Greg Kurstin may not be a real-life couple but the chemistry in their music is potent. Lead track ‘Birthday’ reappears on upcoming album Ray Guns Are Not Just The Future (out January 26th), but the gorgeous descending melodies of ‘The Last Day Of Our Love’, the sensual and carefree ‘Come As You Were’ and a lovely cover of childlike 1920s ballad ‘Tonight You Belong To Me’ made this EP a sleek delight.

iTunes £3.16 

 

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Laura Veirs
Two Beers Veirs EP
Raven Marching Band 

Released: May 2008

With this limited edition covers EP of four roots music classics from the 1860s onwards, plus a cover of friend Mike Dumovich’s more recent ‘Wasps Of Rain’, Laura Veirs takes the songs that inspired her and coats them with her own appealingly whimsical softness, sticking closely to the original arrangements. Recorded in one night with a bit of pedal steel here, some whistling there, and plenty of soul, it’s now back in print but only available through Laura’s website or at her shows. Nice work if you can get it [full review].

Not available on iTunes





singles of the year: readers poll results (part V of V)

Singles of the year: #5–1

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She & Him
‘Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?’
Double Six

There’s just something so refreshing about this single’s playful come-on. Wistful, old-fashioned lyrics like “I think you’re just so pleasant / I would like you for my own” make listening to most of today’s pop acts seem almost like a gynaecologist visit, and for that reason Zooey Deschanel and M Ward should be patted on the back and given a celebratory mug of malted milk. Creamy, dreamy and hold-me-squeeze-me good. From the album Volume One (Double Six, 2008).

 

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Santogold
‘L.E.S. Artistes’
Atlantic 

A bit like Tegan Quin fronting classic New Wave era Blondie, this yelping exposé of New York scenesters was the first single from ex-A&R lady and former punk singer Santi White’s eponymous debut, and more than justified the hype. Its subtly chugging guitars and flourishes of modern electro, coupled with White’s irresistibly attitudinal force, were her ticket to the big time. From the album Santogold (Atlantic, 2008).

FREE MP3: Santogold, ‘L.E.S. Artistes‘ [XXXChange remix] [via RCRDLBL]

 

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PJ Harvey
‘The Devil’
Island

How did this get here? Readers, we salute you. With her new collaboration with John Parish (A Woman A Man Walked By) delayed 6 months from its originally projected release date of September, it’s been a tough year for expectant PJ Harvey fans. Striding in with repetitive, heavy piano chords and falsetto calls to nothing, ‘The Devil’ was a blast of raw anxiety. More direct than ‘The Piano’ and creepier than ‘When Under Ether’, it was Polly’s perfect adieu for this particular incarnation of her muse. From the album White Chalk (Island, 2007).

 

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Goldfrapp
‘A&E’
Mute

Arriving like a breath of fresh country air after months in the city, Goldfrapp’s fourth album wisely packed in the electro-glam stomp that was growing so tired and reinvented the duo as pastoral weirdos on benzodiazepenes. Possibly the prettiest song about attempted suicide ever, ‘A&E’ aches with a lovelorn pain that works beautifully with the light but still lush acoustic backdrop. Only the foolhardy or mentally unstable would attempt this song at karaoke, and thank fuck for that. From the album Seventh Tree (Mute, 2008).

 

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Martha Wainwright
‘You Cheated Me’
Drowned In Sound

Oh yes. Excellent choice. Proving that you can do poppy without sacrificing anything that made you so damn good in the first, Martha Wainwright breezed in like a woman scorned and on a mission to rip her ex a new one with this career highlight. Amazing chorus, amazing bridge, amazing voice. Amazing. What else is there to say? More like this please Martha. From the album I Know You’re Married But I’ve Got Feelings Too (Drowned In Sound, 2008).



albums of the year: readers poll results (part IV of V)

Albums of the year: #20–11

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Thao with The Get Down Stay Down
We Brave Bee Stings & All
Kill Rock Stars

Released: January 2008

What we said then: “As you might expect from someone who cites the Lilith Fair scene as an early influence, at their heart Thao Nguyen’s brief two- to three-minute songs are pure folk-pop but the addition of her backing band, The Get Down Stay Down, has filled them out nicely. Quirky melodies mix with jangly guitars, handclaps and snappy percussion conjures a sound not unlike a more folksy Vampire Weekend. Nguyen writes of her experiences with skillful poise and gutsy poetry. Make no mistake though, this is dark and powerful magic, not the stuff of fairytales.” ••• Loria Near [full review

What we say now: When we said that Thao might prove to be an acquired taste, it wasn’t without hope that a lot of people would eventually acquire it. Having toured the album relentlessly and enthusiastically all year, We Brave Bee Stings & All has made a proper rock star of Nguyen, and we couldn’t be more pleased. An exciting reinvention of this Lilith Fair-influenced songwriter – we can’t wait to see what’s next.

Download: ‘Bag Of Hammers’, ‘Swimming Pools’

iTunes £7.99

 

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Hello Saferide
More Modern Short Stories From Hello Saferide
Razzia 

Released: September 2008

What we said then: “At a time where anticipation conflicts with desperation and worry, Hello Saferide has produced a record that, while retaining a sense of realism, dares to question: without hope, what is there? Each song spins a wonderful yarn, trying to cram in as many words into each line, a great deal of thought and passion bursting with every breath. Indeed, there are so many highlights to More Modern Short Stories…, there are barely enough words to describe it. Regardless, Hello Saferide speaks a language so human that one cannot help but feel she is singing for us all.” •••• Anna Claxton [full review]

What we say now: Annika Norlin returned from her award-winning Swedish language excursion Säkert! with a more mature set than her wide-ranging, strange and often funny 2006 debut Introducing Hello Saferide. Continuing where her debut UK single ‘I Was Definitely Made For These Times!’ left off last year, Hello Saferide’s nostalgic worldview brings her creative lyrical flights alive across 12 songs that variously ponder life’s imperfections, sometimes with remorse, sometimes simply shrugging them off with casual self-deprecation. Pop for grown-ups.

Download: ‘2008’, ‘Lund’

iTunes £7.99

 

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Camille
Music Hole
Virgin 

Released: April 2008

What we said then: “As challenging as it is hilarious, Music Hole practically summarises and expands upon all the best parts of her earlier work without getting too bogged down in concepts. Et voilà! She’s nailed it without compromising any of her abilities, and perhaps now she’ll become the star she deserves. If she doesn’t, then perhaps it’s best she stays where she is. After all, she sounds like she’s having the time of her life there.” ••••½ Léigh Bartlam [full review]

What we say now: Despite its potentially disastrous over-reliance on novelty, Music Hole remains an impressive undertaking all these months later. As largely a cappella albums go, it’s certainly a lot more fun than Björk’s Medúlla but has a similar propensity to irritate if you’re not in the right frame of mind. ‘Cats & Dogs’ is still unfathomably nuts, and the sometimes smug lyrics do grate, but Camille’s in fine voice. A new live EP came out on iTunes this week, dontcha know.

Download: ‘Gospel With No Lord’, ‘Money Note’

iTunes £7.99

 

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Grace Jones
Hurricane
Wall Of Sound

Released: November 2008

What we said then: “At only nine tracks long, Hurricane has no room for filler or the sloppy, half-baked Grace-isms that mauled her late ’80s output. To maintain quality control, Brian Eno and reunions with Sly & Robbie and Tricky were drafted in, but Hurricane’s most surprising aspect is the intensely personal lyrics and ideas Jones brought to the table. The dreaded spectre of comeback hype has undone many an artist but Jones meets 19 years worth of anticipation with absolute style, balls and an unflinching determination to only look back when taking leaps forward (are you taking notes, Axl Rose?)” •••• Léigh Bartlam [full review]

What we say now: If we’re talking buzz alone, Hurricane was without question the comeback of the year. While ‘Corporate Cannibal’ was a fairly logical extension of Jones’s very particular hyper-reality, it’s the songs that find her finally accepting her humanity and lineage that really stick. Not as strange or as solid as it might have been, not to mention being a mere nine songs, Hurricane nevertheless earned its place among this year’s most essential listening.

Download: ‘William’s Blood’, ‘I’m Crying (Mother’s Tears)’

iTunes £7.90


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Ani DiFranco
Red Letter Year
Righteous Babe

Released: September 2008

What we said then: “If this album was a tarot card, it would be The Empress, the goddess of fertility – a warm, fecund woman, plump with good health and a euphoric, satisfied calm. There is a sublime easiness to the record. The righteous fire is still there, but it has evolved. Red Letter Year is an open-house celebration, with a long list of contributing musicians guesting on almost every track. You can almost see DiFranco there, among the crowd of laughing friends, musicians resplendent with trumpets, sax and trombones, strumming happily with baby nearby and a broad smile on her face.” •••½ Charlotte Richardson Andrews [full review]

What we say now: A perennial favourite in our year-end best-ofs, Ani DiFranco still has plenty to say and Red Letter Year proved to be a successful amalgamation of many of the best musical bits of most of her recent releases, from 1999’s To The Teeth to 2006’s Reprieve, topped off with a newfound motherly kindness and optimism. It also did away with some of her less appealing vocal affectations (hint hint Tori Amos), all adding up to something really quite special. 

Download: ‘Red Letter Year’, ‘Way Tight’

iTunes £7.99

 

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Aimee Mann
@#%&*! Smilers
SuperEgo

Released: June 2008

What we said then: “Song by song,@#%&*! Smilers is well-crafted, melodic, literate, witty and catchy as hell. But it’s also, overall, rather familiar and, at times, ever so slightly dull. Measured, muted and mid-tempo, the songs tend to lack the emotional peaks and troughs that characterised her earlier work. Mann’s vocals only rarely rouse themselves beyond the twin poles of weary resignation or dry irony. But while no amount of strings or synthesizers can entirely disguise the fact that it’s getting increasingly difficult to tell her albums apart, Mann’s impeccable way with a hook and a lyric remains undiminished, which is more than enough reason to make @#%&*! Smilers worthy of your time, despite its undeniable sense of déjà vu.” •••½ Alex Ramon [full review]

What we say now: With more pith than a very big orange, Aimee Mann’s characteristic lyrical wit is in mighty fine fettle on @#%&*! Smilers. Seven albums into her solo career, it’s fair to say that Mann hasn’t gone all out to avoid repeating herself in the way that, say, PJ Harvey has, but when your established songwriting blueprint is pretty much universally recognised as exemplary, that’s fair enough. @#%&*! Smilers is another solid effort.

Download: ‘Phoenix’, ‘It’s Over’

FREE MP3: Aimee Mann, 31 Today

iTunes £7.99 (£9.99 with bonus tracks)

 

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Emilíana Torrini
Me & Armini
Rough Trade

Released: September 2008

What we said then: “Emilíana Torrini is a gem among singer-songwriters with many a loyal fan and a reputation for divine, intelligent pop. Once again pairing up with her long-time producer/collaborator Dan Carey, Me & Armini sees the magic continue. While Torrini’s unforgettable voice soars through the album, sweet, haunting and smooth, the music draws on a myriad of styles, from dub to shoegaze and blues to pop. Me & Armini is a host of sounds and delights; creative, playful and moving. A seamless blend of pop magic, artful folk and eclectic rhythms, it is an album to make your eyes shine and your heart sing, and a treasure to be enjoyed by fan and convert alike.” •••• Charlotte Richardson Andrews [full review]

What we say now: It took a few listens for much of Me & Armini to make any sense. Emilíana Torrini has created a strange little album that pulls the silky madam across so many genre borders, smudged as they are, with nary a concern for cohesion. The almost ambient strains of ‘Gun’ and ‘Dead Duck’ drag the pace down in the album’s second half, but are worthwhile experiments, and while the reggae-lite title track and frantic scatting of ‘Jungle Drum’ took some getting used to, they turned out to be Torrini’s triumphs.

Download: ‘Jungle Drum’, ‘Big Jumps’

iTunes £7.99

 

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Ane Brun
Changing Of The Seasons
Balloon Ranger

Released: March 2008

This was a bit of a cheeky inclusion as the official UK release of Changing Of The Seasons isn’t until February 2009, but it has been available to download from Klicktrack for much of the year and has been released in practically every other territory [also, it’s hands down my personal favourite album of 2008, period – Alan]. Ane Brun might not be the coolest or most vibrant artist coming out of Scandinavia but we are borderline obsessed with Changing Of The Seasons: its melodies, its phrasing, its poetic, elegant and unapologetically disconsolate lyrics. Who else could write a song with a preposterous title like ‘Round Table Conference’, make it deeply moving AND have you humming it all day? Changing Of The Seasons is the work of an elite singer-songwriter at the height of her powers. The UK release will include bonus covers of ‘True Colors’ (from the TV ad) and ‘Big In Japan’. We recommend you also investigate the self-released collection of demos for the album, Sketches, available here with two non-album exclusives.

Download: ‘Changing Of The Seasons’, ‘The Puzzle’

Not available on iTunes until February

 

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Joan As Police Woman
To Survive
Reveal

Released: June 2008

What we said then: “In her guise as Joan As Police Woman, Joan Wasser has made an equally emotion-rich second album, with the considered title To Survive. If survival was something that eluded her mother, Wasser seems intent on transfiguring her loss into something positive. There is the same smoky theatricality of 2006’s debut Real Life, combined with the kind of knowing maturity that only comes with age. Wasser seems to imbue even the bleakest lament with a fragile optimism. You sense it’s that which gets her through. To Survive signals an artist moving out of the shadows of her former employers into a space of her own, one it’s at times an emotionally uncomfortable pleasure to share.” •••• Martyn Clayton [full review]

What we say now: Given just a single word to sum up the music of Joan Wasser and co., we would plump for ‘elegant’. To Survive might not have the strongest songwriting we’ve seen this year but show us an album that exudes more class and dignity and we’ll eat our keyboards. Cop a feel of this, it’ll make you swoon.

Download: ‘Honor Wishes’, ‘To Be Loved’

iTunes £7.99

 

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Jenny Lewis
Acid Tongue
Rough Trade

Released: September 2008

What we said then: “As a collection of songs, the eagerly awaited Acid Tongue is nothing short of a musical education, stripped down and laid bare by this flame-haired beauty, fusing delicate femininity with a blend of strong masculine influences. Not only do Elvis Costello and Chris Robinson (of The Black Crowes fame) guest on the album – the former sounding completely in his heyday – but there are clear references to other classic male artists throughout, proving that women in rock today are still more than capable of playing with the big boys and the big boys are more than happy to oblige.” •••• Anna Claxton [full review]

What we say now: Easily as divisive among Lewis’s fans as last year’s Rilo Kiley album, Acid Tongue is either a work of enigmatic, sharp-clawed genius or a confused and sprawling mess of styles. We’ve wavered – haven’t you? – but now we’re convinced it leans closer to the former. Not quite enough to shrug off that rabbit fur coat for good. Cool hat though Jenny.

Download: ‘Jack Killed Mom’, ‘Sing A Song For Them’

iTunes £7.99

 




EPs of the year: readers poll results (part IV of V)

EPs of the year: #10–6

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Peggy Sue & The Pictures
The Body Parts EP
Broken Sound Music 

Released: August 2008

On The Body Parts EP, Peggy Sue combine a soundtrack of nostalgic folk and buccaneer blues with modern, lyrical poetry full of drunken ocean voyages, love and disembodied anatomy. From the macabre yet playful clamour of dismembered limbs that grace the artwork, to their primary school-inspired, fancy dress stage outfits and treasure-and-heartbreak compositions, they seamlessly blend make believe with reality, and the result is a beautiful, surreal adventure. They are nautical poets, with heads full of rain-lashed, bittersweet music, and all the joy of children who raided the dressing up box [full review].

iTunes £3.16

 

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My Brightest Diamond
Inside A Boy EP
Asthmatic Kitty

Released: May 2008

The music of Shara Worden lends itself unusually well to the art of remixing, as proved on last year’s Tear It Down, and this EP (a first taste of the album and the other two EPs she has since released) included some memorable reworkings from Tim Fite and celebrated newcomer Son Lux. With the dramatic orchestrations of the title track and the undulating, whispery swoon of exclusive B-side ‘I Had A Pearl’ also on offer, this was a fantastic start to a diamond year.

FREE MP3: My Brightest Diamond, ‘Inside A Boy‘ [Son Lux remix] [thanks to Pitchfork]

iTunes £1.99

 

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Stars
Sad Robots EP
Soft Revolution / Arts & Crafts

Released: November 2008

Sad Robots makes for clever and intense listening, but nothing more so than the releases dotting Stars’ past. Instead, it’s another reminder of how powerful this band is, even though their power lies in a bleaker, more malaise-rich paradigm. But death makes life important, and understanding, even playing with such actualities, can be blissful. Just don’t expect this robot to ever have a smile on its face [full review].

iTunes £3.16

 

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The Mountain Goats & Kaki King
Black Pear Tree EP
Cadmean Dawn

Released: October 2008

Perhaps most interesting for the chance to hear Kaki King accompanied only by piano and subtle electronica instead of her usual armoury of guitars on the doomstruck title track, plus the sweetly characterised Mario Bros.-inspired closer, Black Pear Tree is an interesting meeting of minds. Vocally, King is largely consigned to the background but her virtuosic guitar chops are what underpins the middle tracks and rescues them from potential mediocrity. Hard to get hold of, but worth the effort.

FREE MP3: The Mountain Goats & Kaki King, ‘Thank You Mario But Our Princess Is In Another Castle‘ [thanks to Pitchfork]

Not available on iTunes

 

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Anaïs Mitchell & Rachel Ries
country e.p.
Righteous Babe 

Released: August 2008

Teaming up with good friend and occasional touring partner Rachel Ries, Anaïs Mitchell proves her mettle as a versatile writer and as a harmoniser par excellence. With commercial suicide not really a concern for these two relatively under-the-radar performers, they were free to concentrate on nailing the organic sounds and appeal of their onstage chemistry, letting the sentiment of the music speak for itself. Some of the loveliest duetting since Emmylou took up with Gram [full review].

iTunes £3.16



singles of the year: readers poll results (part IV of V)

Singles of the year: #10–6

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Florence & The Machine
‘Dog Days Are Over’
Moshi Moshi 

‘Dog Days Are Over’ is all about dynamics, cresting over huge percussion that builds up from simple handclaps, tumbling in and out of spookily echoing vacuums, but above all resting on Florence’s swooping, thundering vocals. Inspired by a sign Florence saw on Waterloo Bridge by contemporary artist Ugo Rondinone, it’s a vivid little changeling of a song, a celebration of those times when we break out of stagnancy and yield to life’s wild ride. Or, y’know, join some freaky forest cult like in the video. From the 7″/download single ‘Dog Days Are Over’/’You Got The Love’ (Moshi Moshi, 2008).

 

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Nina Nastasia
‘What She Doesn’t Know’
FatCat

Five albums into her career, Nina Nastasia finally issued her first ever single, and what a single it is. An outtake from the recording sessions for 2006’s On Leaving, ‘What She Doesn’t Know’ is yet another of Nina’s hushed but vivid character studies – this time of an ‘other woman’ coolly examining the predicament of her affair – and hums with a yearning to reveal the true force of her feelings. “I couldn’t think of what to say,” she sighs, resigning herself to keeping it secret. Poignant and quietly stunning. From the 7″/download single ‘What She Doesn’t Know’/’Your Red Nose’ (FatCat, 2008).

 

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Jolie Holland
‘Mexico City’
Anti-

‘Mexico City’ is Jolie Holland at her best. Cleverly embodying the spirit of Beat Generation muse Joan Vollmer – before her shocking accidental death at the hands of her gay common-law husband William S Burroughs in the titular metropolis – she weaves a deceptively upbeat tale of drug-fuelled camaraderie with Edie Parker and Jack Kerouac, laced with regret and a sense of longing. From the album The Living & The Dead (Anti-, 2008).

FREE MP3: Jolie Holland, ‘Mexico City‘ [thanks to Stereogum]

 

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Björk feat. Antony
‘The Dull Flame Of Desire’
One Little Indian

This slow-burning romantic epic with its shifting oceans of brass seemed an unlikely candidate for either a single release or a remix project when Volta first dropped last year, but it kind of made sense as the fifth single. (Who gets five singles from an album these days anyway?). The Modeselektor remixes (‘For Girls’ and ‘For Boys’) are pretty good but Sinden’s reworking of the Timbaland collaboration ‘Innocence’ is a waste of vinyl/hard drive space. From the album Volta (One Little Indian, 2007).

 

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Feist
‘I Feel It All’
Universal 

Yet another evergreen song choice from Feist’s all-conquering third album, ‘I Feel It All’ was always an obvious single and a chartworthy successor to the iPod-shifting megahit ‘1234’. Its strong showing in our poll is not really surprising. Feist’s label have been pushing The Reminder just as hard in 2008 as they did in 2007, too much, perhaps, for even Leslie herself. When she recently retreated to plot her next move the label’s response was to reissue the album with a bonus disc of remixes and other extras. Enjoy your rest Feist, we suspect you’re gonna need it. From the album The Reminder (Universal, 2007).

FREE MP3: Feist, ‘I Feel It All [Gonzales remix]