We here at "What Duvet Said..." know what you need is another unsolicited "Best of" list! Our choices of albums most of you have never heard of, is not merely designed to make you feel horribly unhip, but hopefully, to inspire you into checking out a few of these releases we feel are special and deserving of acknowledgment. The titles below are in no particular order and reflect the tastes of a think tank of one.
"I cannot cure myself of that most woeful of youth's follies -- thinking that those who care about us will care for the things that mean much to us. " D.H. Lawrence
The Dirtbombs "We Have You Surrounded" - This high-octane release from Detroit's Dirtbombs keeps the faith-following in the tradition of fellow Motor City natives The Stooges, White Stripes and MC5. "We Have You Surrounded" is a mix of gutter blues, Motown pep, and indie funk. Singer/guitarist Mick Collins soulful delivery conjures both Iggy Pop and Urge Overkill's Nash Kato. The twin drummer attack provides a thudding foundation, propelling these 12 tracks straight down the Rock and Roll highway! "Ever Lovin Man" will have you ready to break hearts and noses. "Wreck My Flow" sounds like a strut down Detroit's abandoned streets, past the burned-out buildings and straight up to the bar. Ko Melina, listed as playing the "fuzzy bass", gives these songs their stiff boogie and melodic hooks.
The Muslims "The Muslims" - The self-titled debut from San Diego's Muslims will soothe anyone lamenting the absence of the Strokes. In a nutshell, think Julian Casablancas-meets-Jonathan Richmond-meets-Lou Reed's disaffected vocal delivery with extremely catchy vocal and musical melodies, then, tan it under a hot Southern California sun. "Nightlife" and "Extinction" ooze cool and highlight the band's lyrical and musical economy. "Bright Side" is infectious with enough bite to make you want to go fuck shit up! This is simple, lo-fi, Pop-Punk done exceptionally well. There is a surf/western element in their primitive sound which seperates them apart from their influences. The name is great, the execution is great, and the record is fun, fun FUN!
Bon Iver "For Emma, Forever Ago" - Much ink has been devoted to the genesis and creation of Justin Vernon's amazing debut. While the thought of a sensitive singer-songwriter holed-up in a remote cabin in the dead of winter, processing through a host of inner demons is a romantic back story, the final product is what is really noteworthy. This record, born of a winter of discontent, sounds just as suited to a spring, summer and fall of discontent. The obvious comparisons will be made to Iron and Wine but there is so much more to this record than a neo-folk sensibility. The sparse yet intricately orchestrated compositions soar, guided by Vernon's falsetto infused vocals. Every song is necessary, making this a truly complete album from start to finish. The beauty at the core of this record may have been born of ugly truths but isn't that what makes for the best art?
Crystal Castles "Crystal Castles" - Alright people, get ready, electronic music is the future. I say this as a tried and true guitar, bass, and drums guy. But, over the last couple of years bands with a decidedly more electronic feel have been filling up my iPod. This Toronto, Canada duo released one of the best records of any genre in 08. Their remixes of Health, Klaxons, and Bloc Party were better than the originals. And, their originals were better than those! Multi-instrumentalist Ethan Kath and vocalist Alice Glass, create deep bass driven, vocally distorted, electronica, peppered with glitches and beeps seemingly inspired by Atari 2600 video game soundtracks. The sampling is akin to dropping a glass recording of the original on the cement then reconstructing the shards on a packed dance floor. The atmosphere can vary from club bangers "Crimewave" and "Untrust Us", to the serrated grate of "Alice Practice", to the more ethereal. Less is more and groove is king, with each track offering a different angle on an expansive prism. Makes me want to dance just writing this!
The Last Shadow Puppets "The Age of Understatement" - A collaboration between the Arctic Monkey’s Alex Turner and the Rascals’ Miles Kane really delivers on the promise of both of these songwriters. Many reviewers cite David Bowie as a key influence on “The Age of the Understatement” but I would offer Ennio Morricone, LA psychedelic band Love, Britain’s The Coral and the sounds coming out of swingin’ London in mid 1960’s, as the guiding lights for this recording. Vocally, these two front men sound perfect together. In fact, I hadn’t realized how good a voice Turner was in possession of, inflecting more melody into these songs than is evidenced in his work with the Arctic Monkeys. The acerbic wit both songwriters are known for is still there but some of the sting is masked by the ornate orchestrations and galloping tempos. “Standing Next To Me” would fit nicely on Love’s Forever Changes and “Calm Like You” might have Tom Jones considering another comeback attempt.
Titus Andronicus "The Airing of Grievances" - It's hard being a soothsayer when all your friends continue to dismiss your predictions. But I jumped on the Titus Andronicus bus before they left Glen Rock, New Jersey and began opening for higher profile buzz bands, only to steal thunder nationwide. Tapping into Bruce Springsteen's penchant for the grand anthem, existential malaise, and some off the rails Pogues meets Clash barn burning, this is an exciting release. Recently signed to indie label XL, "The Airing of Grievances" is a thrill to listen to. They create a carnival atmosphere while maintaining a surefooted focus. Secure in who they are as a band, Titus Andronicus mix lo-fi production with large scale songwriting ambition. Singer Patrick Stickles has a scratchy-throated charm, with a great sense of melody and a warm tone when he dials back the histrionics. There is a lot of wonderful interplay between the musicians that conjures the E Street Band on amphetamines. This is a band to watch in the future!
Girl Talk "Feed the Animals" - Aside from the fact that this record will undoubtly be a maelstrom for fair use and copyright law debates in the future, it is also one of the most pleasurable offerings from 08. And it was free to boot; take that record industry! Girl Talk is mashup musician Gregg Gillis from Pittsburgh, PA. He released one of the more controversial records of this past year, creating inventive dance music entirely from samples of a variety of artists, spanning many genres. Gillis pits Big Country butt up against Missy Elliot or Busta Rhymes with The Police providing the backing; part of the fun is trying to pick out all the different samples being used. This record is an instant party, in fact this might be too much party for some. You can still get this record on a "pay what you want" basis-a la Radiohead. Some might dismiss Girl Talk out of hand as nothing more than a musical carpetbagger but the art is in the creation of these musical collages.
Deerhunter "Microcastle" - Meditative, inventive, and sublime, Deerhunter's answer to last year's critical success "Crytograms" is the perfect headphone album. Sure singer/frontman Bradford Cox gets most of the attention, but it's the execution of his auteur vision that takes centerstage. "Microcastle" is a heterogeneous work that touches on ambient, pyschedelia, indie rock, and post punk. Even with such a diverse mix of influences, this recording sounds cohesive and visionary. Songs emerge out of the wreckage of the previous track and pop gems, like the brilliant "Nothing Ever Happens", dissolve into narco-wonderlands. Cox definitely has an ear for Brian Eno atmospherics but the production on "Microcastle" is of the moment while also sounding reminiscent-not an easy feat. Repeated listens reveal buried layers that keep this record interesting long after other lesser offerings have lost their mystery. Vampire Weekend "Vampire Weekend" - Here's the problem with certain "Rock Critics", they tend to have a violent reaction to hype. With so many wanting to out "hip" one another and be the first to break a band noones ever heard of, they too often react rather than review. Vampire Weekend suffered the most this past year from critical backlash. Granted, the hype helped propell this band of Columbia grads into the indie spotlight, but it also clouded an honest appraisal of their music in many cases. There are the Paul Simon "Graceland" era comparisons- which are warranted. There is the a bratty, intellectual, and elitist quality to the songs; sure. But beyond all that, Vampire Weekend produced a engaging, giddy, and fresh sounding record. Vampire Weekend mix African, Caribean, and indie pop with the deft aplomb you might expect from a bunch of Ivy League cultural interlopers. You'll have "One (Blake's Got a New Face)", "Oxford Comma", and "A-Punk" burrowing into your sub-conscious like a trans-continental tick. That might sound like a back-handed compliment but I couldn't avoid liking this record. It turns any time of year into summer, and more importantly, makes you want that summer to never end.
TV On The Radio "Dear, Science" - This is truly a 21st century band and "Dear Science" (the fourth studio recording from the Brooklyn, NY five-piece), is a genuine realization of the potential TVOTR displayed on their previous offerings. By far their most accessible and crafted collection of songs, they sacrifice none of the edge and creativity fans have come to expect. TVOTR divines its strength from David Sitek's signature production wizardry. His mix of atmospherics, buried instrumentation, and layered vocals create a post-modern world for the band's soul infused songs to live in. Vocalist Tunde Adebimpe's energy leaps out of the speakers, especially on "DLZ". The trademark harmonies between Adebimpe and singer/guitarist Kyp Malone have never been more focused as on "Red Dress", "Golden Age", and "Dancing Choose". Another addition to the band's sound comes in the form of horns, which make this record crackle and pop with energy. TVOTR are worthy of the Radiohead comparisons and seem poised to inherit the mantle of top alternative band in the world. "Dear, Science is the most intelligent and thrilling record of 2008.