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Extreme Listening Mode’s Extremely Brief Guide to 2008 – Albums

Well, that was the year that almost certainly was. If anything, it proved that we do indeed live in historic times, and one suspects that when historians look back on this year they’ll conclude that it was the year when, pretty much, everything got fucked. It wasn’t all bad, of course. Barack Obama’s incredible rise to end the year as President Elect gladdened the heart. Oh, and Euro 2008 was good. That’s about it, really.

But at ELM, we’ve never allowed ourselves to be cloaked in the darkness enveloping the world, preferring to maintain a healthy glow of optimism. Except about Razorlight, obviously. And musically, 2008 has seen some absolutely beguiling sounds in amongst the murkiness. Here a selection of a few of our favourite things;

Barroom bohemia was very much back in vogue this year. The Hold Steady played pretty much solidly through 2008 in support of their superb ‘Stay Positive’ album. When the dust has settled, it was a consolidation album, but still widescreen enough to elevate it above most other releases this year. The Gaslight Anthem were like their younger brothers, no less enthralled by the Great American (Rock) Songbook but still with that splash of idealism that manifests itself in anger and accusations. We were much taken with their ‘The ’59 Sound’ album.

For those who like their Americana more dustbowl-baked, Lambchop’s ‘OH (Ohio)’ was a stunningly beautiful piece of work. Ryan Adams returned with ‘Cardinology’ which had its moments, but fell short of his turn-of-the-century high water mark. We also liked ‘Rustbelt Sun’ by The God Fearing Atheists, a gritty slice of UK Americana, if that’s not too great an oxymoron.

Elbow’s ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’ seems to have come out a thousand weeks ago, but still remains one of the years best work. Nice to see the perennial underachievers get some mainstream success, although, of course, we’ll all pretend not to like them come March. Sigur Ros were at their unsurpassable best on ‘með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust’ which, while difficult to pronounce, was pretty easy to love.

Santogold provided us with possibly the year’s finest debut. From the savvy pop silverdust of LES Artistes’ to the new wave sheen of ‘Lights Out’ to the unbridled mentalness of ‘Unstoppable’ it really followed the three-ring circus theory of music; something for everyone. The Ting Tings proved that a couple of classic singles don’t always mean they are the advance guard of a classic album.

Ida Maria was an early live favourite of ELM, but her debut album lacked the earthiness of her early demos, instead settling for a Radio 1 friendly production sheen that actually pushed her towards MOR territory. Still, as she had hacked about every support slot going for 18 months, you can’t blame her for wanting to see a few records, but what could have been a deranged pop-punk classic instead disappointed.

Jenny Lewis returned with ‘Acid Tongue’ which, sadly, wasn’t as good as her debut ‘Rabbit Fur Coat’. Less time hanging about with the celebrity mates and more on writing decent songs might be the order of the day next year.

Growers were the first albums from Vampire Weekend and MGMT. The VW album in particular revealed itself slowly as an excellent piece of work. The MGMT album was at times guilty of over-ambition and an inability to just let things breathe, but when they got it right – such as on the classic trio of singles ‘Time To Pretend’, ‘Kids’ and ‘Electric Feel’ – there was a feeling that they’d made the kind of electro-pop shudder Alex Chilton may have done had he had access to samplers.

In terms of success, you had to hand it to Glasvegas, who sold many an album but never convinced us at ELM Towers. The next album will be the one that determines if they are one-trick ponies, as we suspect, or truly Spokesmen for their Generation, like the NME does. No matter what, he still came across as a dick on Never Mind The Buzzcocks.

For slightly left of centre treats, can we push you in the direction of Marching Band’s ‘Spark Large’, a lovely collection of harmonious, almost childlike acoustic joyousness. Army Navy’s album was also very worth checking out.

A late mention to the lovely Laura Marling for ‘Alas, I Cannot Swim’ – folky, sweet and very addictive. Bon Iver deserves similar praise, though despite many attempts at it, I just could not get into Fleet Foxes. Different music but similar result was the new Portishead effort. Best of the old stagers was Spiritualized with their ‘Songs from A&E’, the same album they always made but done with polish.

And finally, to this years musical nadir; we hate to say it, but The Feeling’s ‘Join With Us’ made us want to hunker down in the basement to create a new strain of a dreadful disease which rendered society in a permanent state of mental paralysis. It really is that bad. However, it seemed like too much work, so we just ended up down the pub. But we still hope their tourbus breaks down in a remote country and they are left there forever.

Here’s hoping we get a good crop of albums next year!

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