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Wednesday, December 31, 2008 

Best music of 2008 part 2 / 16 best albums of 2008.

16. The Young Knives - Superabundance

Having been Mercury nominated for their debut, the Young Knives were always likely to face a "difficult" second album; having failed to breach the mainstream, they went with the good old concept of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it", and while Superabundance is not as stripped back as Voices of Animals and Men was, the quality especially of the singles was as good as not better. The real highlight though was "Counters", quite possibly the most upbeat and happy song about committing suicide that has ever been written, complete with dog barks.

The Young Knives - Counters

15. Benga - Diary of an Afro Warrior

With dubstep making its major breakthrough as a genre with Burial's nomination for the Mercury prize showcasing the "downtempo" crowd, Benga catered for the rave crew with an album which along with the works of Skream is some of the best that it has to offer. "Night" was the crossover smash, but "26 Basslines" is the one that has delivered for those with a more acquired taste.

Benga - 26 Basslines

14. These New Puritans - Beat Pyramid

Although 2008 has been far from a seminal year for music, These New Puritans along with a few other bands on this list were doing their best to buck the trend. Clocking in at just half an hour, Beat Pyramid is a whirlwind which if you blink you might miss it, but alongside the experimentalism which permeates it is the utter brilliance of "Elvis", the superb "Swords of Truth", and lyrics about Michael Barrymore masturbating in the suburbs of Milton Keynes.

These New Puritans - Elvis

13. Johnny Foreigner - Waited Up Til It Was Light

2008 saw a revival in indie-pop breeziness which Johnny Foreigner were at the forefront of. Featuring male and female call and response type vocals, their songs may have not been about much in particular but sometimes they don't have to be, such is the catchiness and brilliance of the hooks on offer. "DJs Get Doubts" served as one of the few downtempo by comparison numbers, while single "Salt, Pepper and Spinderalla" and "Eyes Wide Terrified" with its great big riff after the breakdown showed the further potential they undoubtedly have.

Johnny Foreigner - DJs Get Doubts

12. Late of the Pier - Fantasy Black Channel

Another of the dance music influenced indie bands to have emerged this year, along with Friendly Fires, Late of the Pier made the wise decision to get in Erol Alkan to produce. While he scored a miss with his work with the Long Blondes, who sadly broke up after their guitarist and song-writer suffered a stroke, his knob-twiddling with LotP was perfectly judged. "Space and the Woods" and "Focker" were obvious stand-outs, but it was the older "Bathroom Gurgle" which still packed them in with its stand-out brilliance. Where they'll go from here is anyone's guess, but Fantasy Black Channel is still one of the year's finest albums.

Late of the Pier - Focker

11. British Sea Power - Do You Like Rock Music?

When it's as exuberant and extrovert as parts of British Sea Power's ouerve is, while always providing introspection such as "Canvey Island", it's almost impossible not to. While their debut is still probably their best work, the decision to work with Efrim Menuck of GY!BE and A Silver Mt Zion fame at his studio in Canada, as well as with GY!BE's producer undoubtedly coloured it, and not just with Efrim's dog's barks being audible on "No Lucifer", which he also provided an alternative mix for. There is no getting away from the absolute stand-out, the single "Waving Flags", which I rather overlooked for yesterday's best song of the year. How many other bands would write a paean to the drinking prowess of the Eastern Europeans moving here to work and turn it into a hit?

British Sea Power - No Lucifer (Efrim Menuck Mix) (No Lucifer B-Side)

10. Fuck Buttons - Street Horrrsing

It wasn't the greatest year for post-rock, an genre that does seem to have finally run out of steam, with A Silver Mt Zion's average at best 13 Blues for Thirteen Moons, Errors' debut and Mogwai's The Hawk is Howling the best other efforts, but Street Horrrsing, if indeed it can be classified as post-rock beat them all. Combining the best of post-rock with pure noise, hardcore screaming buried under static and synthesisers and the sheer beauty and clearness which gradually builds into the deafening crescendos which seem familiar on even the first listen, Fuck Buttons more than punched above their weight.

Fuck Buttons - Sweet Love for Planet Earth

9. Crystal Castles - Crystal Castles

As indeed did Crystal Castles. Their brand of music simply shouldn't work: glitches, bleeps, beats and 8-bit core combined with Alice Glass's shrieks and screams, all designed to only appeal to the nerds that have long occupied their rather insular scene. Instead the glorious technicolour of the music when all combined together produced a crossover hit that no one expected, lest of all Crystal Castles themselves. Again, it's difficult to see how they'll progress, but that's for another day.

Crystal Castles - Xxzxcuzx Me

8. Los Campesinos! - We Are Beautiful We Are Doomed / Hold on Now, Youngster!

In a year in which Guns 'N' Roses finally released Chinese Democracy, the fruit of 14 years of labour, Los Campesinos! made not just one but two albums, both so perfectly judged, infectious and filled with chanty vocals combined with perfect musical accompaniment that you just wanted to applaud them for the effort alone, without even considering the music itself. When there are such witty and sarcastic scenester songs as "My Year in Lists" and "You! Me! Dancing" though, they more than deserved it.

Los Campesinos! - You'll Need Those Fingers for Crossing

7. Bloc Party - Intimacy

Last year's effort by Bloc Party nestled the number one slot, quite possibly ranking far too high for what was a great follow-up album but one which still lacked something. Perhaps influenced by the fans of Silent Alarm's unhappiness at the production of Jacknife Lee on AWITC, Okereke and co split their third album between Lee and the debut's Paul Epworth, creating a balance that worked for the most part. "Mercury" as a stand-alone seemed nonsensical and like "Flux" unnecessary, but when compiled with the rest of the album it took on a new lease of life. Built around lyrics inspired by Kele's break up with his partner, there is still the odd clunking line like "Trojan Horse's" opening "you used to take your watch off before we made love, you didn't want to share our time with anyone", but for the most part the music made up for it. Opener "Ares" "Setting Sun" like drums heralded what was to come, and "TH"'s riff was beyond sick. Combined with the downtempo, poignant brilliance of "Biko", the combination of dubstep and choir on "Zephyrus" and the building "Ion Square", Intimacy was a far better follow-up than many expected.

Bloc Party - Idea for a Story (Mercury B-Side)

6. Mystery Jets - Twenty One

Along with Late of the Pier, Mystery Jets employed Erol Alkan in a bold and inspired move, reinventing their indie-prog sound and fusing it with 80s indie pop. At times it seems absolutely effortless, and the song of the year "Two Doors Down" is the centre-piece. Along with "Flakes" and "MJ" Mystery Jets were the most improved band of the year, as well as the least expected.

Mystery Jets - Man in the Corner (Demo) (Two Doors Down B-Side)

5. Elbow - The Seldom Seen Kid

What else is there to say about Elbow and the Seldom Seen Kid which hasn't already been written? Constant articles relate how winning the Mercury prize couldn't have happened to either a nicer guy in Guy Garvey or a more deserving band, having had to record the album themselves after they were dropped by V2. While I would have preferred Burial to have won, the Seldom Seen Kid is still undeniably a triumph which they should have been rewarded for long ago. "One Day Like This" is an anthem from a band that doesn't try to write them, and with it Elbow helped to soundtrack the summer, or what there was of it.

Elbow - The Fix

4. Foals - Antidotes

Supposedly involved in a spat with other bands over how "middle class" they are, Foals were with the exception of the number one in this list the breakthrough of the year. Combining the aesthetic and time signatures of math-rock with straight up indie, fantastically hummable guitar lines and riffs with the almost at times deadpan vocal delivery of Yannis, the hype was more than deserved.

Foals - Unthink This (Olympic Airways B-Side)

3. Portishead - Three

How many other groups could be away for so long and still turn in such an utter sonic masterpiece as Three? Beth Gibbons' vocals are just as anguished and chilling as before, while the music itself was at times so jarring yet compelling that you had to wonder if you speakers were malfunctioning. If they weren't, they might well have been after "Machine Gun", as punishing a track has been released in a long time. Here's to hoping they don't leave it so long again before releasing a follow-up.

Portishead - We Carry On

2. TV on the Radio - Dear Science

There is something deeply unfair in how TV on the Radio, despite delivering three utterly superb albums have still not achieved cross-over success. Certainly, the critics themselves and indie snobs have been wetting themselves over them now since they first emerged, yet it hasn't translated into sales. If any album deserves to, it's Dear Science, which takes the rough edges from both previous efforts and turns them into second finest record of the year. DLZ was the stand-out, which hooks you in from the very first listen.

TV on the Radio - DLZ

1. Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes

In the beauty stakes, not a single record this year came even close to topping the majesty of Fleet Foxes' self-titled debut. The harmonies, orchestration and arrangements are not just meticulously organised, but even when on album closer "Oliver James" Robin Pecknold is left singing acappela it feels as if there is more warmth and depth than a lone single voice should offer. A record which combined so many influences was still so simple and refreshing that it could be used in any mood, or any time of day. Perhaps 2008's only true masterpiece.

Fleet Foxes - Oliver James

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Robin Pecknold is left singing acappela

That's open-throated counter-tenors for you: Tim Booth of James also springs to mind. Between the melody and their own vocalizations they can fill much of the soundscape unaccompanied.

I downloaded this album from 7digital yesterday, and also got Sun Giant for the pleasure of listening to Mykonos. Everything else on your top five is likely to end up in my music collection (I didn't even know that TVotR had released another album), but I'm going to have to digest some n-part close harmonies for a while yet.

Thanks for providing MP3s of the album tracks. You've given me some ideas

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