WIAC’s Top 15 Albums of 2008

So here it is. Whale In A Cubicle’s Favorite 15 Albums of 2008. We know you’ve probably all been waiting for it with bated breath, wondering what on earth we would finally choose. Well, the wait is over.

Note: This is purely a list of our favorite albums of the year, not necessarily the best albums of the year. If we had to pick what we thought were the very best albums critically, it would be a slightly different list. But we’re no critics, so that’s not what we’re gonna do. These are our favorite albums of the year – the ones that made us laugh, cry, dance, smile, press repeat, wet our pants, etc. These are what we’ll remember when we think back on the year.

So.

Here we go:

15. Ode to Sunshine
Delta Spirit
(iTunes)
mp3: People C’mon

I love the bands that take me totally by surprise. I had never even heard of Delta Spirit before I saw them open for Matt Costa but I immediately fell in love with the clangy piano, chunky acoustic guitar, and the joy they exuded as they sang and performed. There are some obvious standout songs, but in the end you’ll find yourself falling in love with the more subtle almost soulful tracks. All in all, what a pleasant little surprise. -Logan

14. Unfamiliar Faces
Matt Costa

(iTunes)
mp3: Mr. Pitiful

Speaking of Matt Costa. This is an album that only seems to get better and better with time, I find myself listening to it more now nearly a year after its release than I did when I first bought it. I can’t wait to revisit this album 20 years from now. The whole thing is a pleasure; nothing more, nothing less. I can’t help but think the world isn’t such a bad place while listening to this album. -Logan

13. The Rhumb Line
Ra Ra Riot
(iTunes)
mp3: Dying Is Fine

After completely falling for these guys when we saw them back in May, this became one of my more anticipated releases of the year. A short and straight-forward indie rock record; each member of the group contributes just enough to carve out a full, churning sound on just about every track. Though we’re also fans of Vampire Weekend’s debut, Ra Ra Riot’s offering just resonated with us more. It may be due to their more thoughtful lyrics – tackling topics like death and friendship, rather than frat parties and grammatical arguments. Or maybe we just like it better. -Chris

12. Volume 1
She & Him

(iTunes)
mp3: Sentimental Heart

Right from the opening lines of the very first track, Sentimental Heart, this album hooked me. Zooey Deschanel’s simple songwriting and rich vocals paired with M. Ward’s quirky arrangements made one of the all-around most likable albums of the year – it’s a pure AM pop delight. While the second half of the disc has a few minor miss-steps, the first half is nearly flawless, and Zooey is never anything but incredibly lovable throughout. -Chris

11. The Odd Couple
Gnarls Barkley
(iTunes)
mp3: Going On

Ok, this album is just too much fun. I don’t even know what else to say about it. -Logan

10. Honeysuckle Weeks
The Submarines

(iTunes)
mp3: You, Me and the Bourgeoisie

It’s sheer feel-good music sung by two people who’ve got a lot to feel good about. They’re each married to their sweet-heart (each other) and their song You, Me and the Bourgeoisie, was the official tune for Apple’s iPhone this entire year – which may or may not be ironic considering the song bemoans our society’s focus on excess and consumerism. Either way, every song is buoyant and fun, always feel-good, never sappy – it’s basically a single shot way to feel great about the world. It may only take our number 10 spot, but it’s highly recommended. Chris

9. Re-Arrange Us
Mates of State

(iTunes)
mp3: Get Better

Trading in their straight organ/drum formula for a more textured, piano-driven sound, Jason Hammel and Kori Gardner may have re-invented themselves, but all the best stuff is still here. The opening track, Get Better, has been known to make me cry on occasion. Just putting that out there. Chris

8. Keep Color
The Republic Tigers

(iTunes)
mp3: Fight Song

In a previous post I described the Republic Tigers as electro-folk and it is that unique blend of acoustic guitars and synthesizers that made this one of my most listened to records of the year. Even with standout tracks like Buildings and Mountains and The Nerve you’ll find yourself never wanting to skip a track. It’s a solid debut from a band that has found an amazing sound. -Logan

7. Oracular Spectacular
MGMT

(iTunes)
mp3: Kids

Very few things in this world make me want to dance. IRS refund checks, showering, and MGMT are the only things that come readily to mind. I don’t know how to dance and I don’t actually know if one can even dance to MGMT, but all I know is I sure want to when this is playing. It’s really kind of a quirky album, but I think that’s why I love it. -Logan

6. Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust
Sigur Rós
(iTunes)
mp3: Inní Mér Syngur Vitleysingur

Translated as “With a buzz in our ears we play endlessly“, words cannot describe what I’ve felt while listening to this album. Arguably their most accessible record to date, it’s the first one that’s hooked me completely from start to finish. It was my soundtrack during many many long nights at the library this spring, and it only snuggled itself deeper into my heart after I saw them play in Denver. A simply beautiful record. Chris

5. Narrow Stairs
Death Cab for Cutie

(iTunes)
mp3: I Will Possess Your Heart

I fell in love with this album exactly 1:39 into the first track, it is precisely when the drums come in hard and the guitar distorts. It felt like I had just sunk my teeth into something initially familiar but which became an altogether new sensation to me and frankly, I loved it. I’m a sucker for Death Cab for Cutie and a sucker for rock music and maybe I’m wrong, but that’s what I’m hearing, Death Cab with a little more rock. Each song still retains that Death Cab feel, but tracks like Bixby Canyon Bridge and Long Division have made me fall in love all over again. -Logan

4. Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends
Coldplay

(iTunes)
mp3: Violet Hill

One of the reasons this is so high on our list is the fact that it came out of left field for me and Logan. Neither of us have ever really been Coldplay fans, and we weren’t anticipating this album almost at all. But after hearing the whole thing streamed before its release, I can honestly say it floored me – I must have listened to it 4 or 5 times at work that first day. It’s a near-flawless album as a whole – a tribute to the band’s talent and producer Brian Eno’s ability to bring out a group’s best. Chris

3. For Emma, Forever Ago
Bon Iver

(iTunes)
mp3: The Wolves (Act I And II)

I finally stumbled on this gem late in the year, and am I ever glad I did. Spare, honest, powerful writing and performing. One of those rare examples of music as poetry – a catharsis caught on tape. I really can’t stress enough how much you need this in your life. Chris


2. Fleet Foxes
Fleet Foxes
(iTunes)
mp3: White Winter Hymnal

One of two records on our list to sport fine art on its album sleeve (it’s by Bruegel if you’re wondering), this has probably been the most consistently listened to album for us this whole year. It’s good from beginning to end, top to bottom, through each and every song. From the choral rounds of White Winter Hymnal to the resounding swells on Your Protector to the spare closer Oliver James, there just isn’t a weak song on here. As a record it’s incredible – as a debut it’s mind-boggling. If you haven’t already heard it, don’t put it off any longer. Chris

1. The Grand Archives
Grand Archives
(iTunes)
mp3: Sleepdriving

To me, there could be no other choice for our top pick. No album this year, or in recent years past, has demanded the amount of attention I have given to Grand Archives. The harmonies, the melodies, and the orchestrations create an almost tangible feeling of peace and warmth. The standout track (among a flawless album I should add) Sleepdriving is simply epic. The strings, the guitars, the grandiose buildups, it all just works so perfectly and although this may seem a little extreme, life is better having this album in it. -Logan

Individual Top 10 Lists (in case you were wondering):

Chris:
1. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes
2. For Emma, Forever Ago – Bon Iver
3. Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends – Coldplay
4. Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust – Sigur Rós
5. Re-Arrange Us – Mates of State
6. Grand Archives – Grand Archives
7. Narrow Stairs – Death Cab for Cutie
8. Honeysuckle Weeks – The Submarines
9. Volume 1 – She & Him
10. The Rhumb Line – Ra Ra Riot

Logan:
1. Grand Archives – Grand Archives
2. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes
3. Narrow Stairs – Death Cab for Cutie
4. Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends – Coldplay
5. Oracular Spectacular – MGMT
6. Keep Color – The Republic Tigers
7. Honeysuckle Weeks – The Submarines
8. Unfamiliar Faces – Matt Costa
9. The Odd Couple – Gnarls Barkley
10. Ode to Sunshine – Delta Spirit

A couple of honorable mentions: Mason Jennings’ In The Ever, Ryan Adam’s Cardinology, The Mountain Goats’ Heretic Pride, The Helio Sequence’s Keep Your Eyes Ahead, and The Little Ones’ Morning Tide. They’re also worth checking out.
  1. NW.’s avatar

    dead on.
    thank you.

    I love every album, yet hadn’t heard of Grand Archives. I’m liking it already.
    great choices, really

  2. Evan Mullins’s avatar

    Great list, thanks! I’m into pretty much all of them. wow 2008-

  3. Brenda’s avatar

    I am so pleased that you had GA as #1, it holds the same spot for me.

  4. Ty’s avatar

    Not a bad list. Here’s my top 10:

    01 – ruru – elizabeth
    02 – mason jennings – in the ever
    03 – grand archives – grand archives
    04 – frightened rabbit – the midnight organ fight
    05 – bon iver – for emma, forever ago
    06 – los campesinos! – hod on now, youngster
    07 – vampire weekend – vampire weekend
    08 – dodos – visiter
    09 – fleet foxes – fleet foxes
    10 – mountain goats – heretic pride

  5. Fat & Sassy’s avatar

    I am unbelievably glad to see that Delta Spirit, Matt Costa, and Coldplay are on your list. I never thought I would see it. Delta Spirit is absolutely brilliant and so are all of the albums on this list. I guess the thing that excites me most is to see Coldplay finally being taken seriously and Delta Spirit getting some recognition.

  6. James’s avatar

    Good work guys!

    I like ’em all.

    I just saw a great band play in Portland Maine–Fredrik. They are from Sweden made up of members of the LK, (used to be The Lovekevins). Solid band. Wicked good. Check ’em out. Let me know what you guys think.

  7. Tigre’s avatar

    You picked some good ones for sure. I think 2008 has to belong to Danger Mouse who was involved in all my faves: Black Keys "Attack&Release", Beck's "Modern Guilt" and Gnarls Barkley's "Odd Couple." Cmon, that's awesome.

  8. kp’s avatar

    i don’t know if I’m allowed to make the comment I’m about to make on here, because it’s not a musical comment, and adds nothing to your blog. So take it off it you want, but I like this list because all these picks remind me of the great summer that I had and the new soundtrack that accompanied it.

  9. Anonymous’s avatar

    Man, I am psyched to see somebody finally give Grand Archives their due. That is a true masterpiece and this is the first posting that ranked it in the right place…number one.

    Dr. Dog’s Fate was another great record and worth a listen.

    TJ from Philly

  10. Anonymous’s avatar

    That is SAD that coldplay made your top list. Are you kidding me? I won’t even capitalize their name. LAME

  11. James’s avatar

    I had never seen your blog before, and after listening to and being blown away by several unknowns to me ,and being impressed by your spiting of fairweather music fans by including well deserving well knowns, I must say your top 15 is excellent and your music opinion is officially of great worth. Also I very much enjoyed your custom genre’s of sample tracks with the top 15. Kudos.

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