2008 has been a year of rediscovering pop music. It’s been about dancing around the kitchen to Dizzee Rascal’s Dance Wiv Me and The Ting Tings Great DJ (both perfectly respectable pieces of radio-friendly pop). But beyond those well-crafted but disposable gems, some new music has grabbed me by the scruff of the neck. Here are five albums from 2008 that I really, really like.
The Sea and Cake – Car Alarm I fell in love with this album on my first listen, and it’s become the soundtrack to my time in Birmingham. I wrote my early impressions on the blog a couple of months ago, and it’s still a joy to hear such intricate musicianship in a “rock” context. Car Alarm is best heard on an iPod walking down Bristol Road on a bright frosty morning – it’ll help you forget you’re going to a 9am Finance lecture.
Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend Another band of precocious middle-class white dudes making unusual music. With improbably-titled songs like Oxford Comma and Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa, this material really should fall flat on its pretentious postmodern face. Instead, you find yourself singing along to lyrics like “I see a mansard roof through the trees” and sighing wistfully for that mysterious chick with the Benetton sweater in your Philosophy tutorial. Hopefully Vampire Weekend never make another album, because this disc approaches an unlikely perfection.
Nicholas Ludford – Missa Benedicta & Antiennes Votives (Choir of New College, Oxford/Edward Higginbottom) Luminous and meticulous music from 500 years ago. Tudor composer Nicholas Ludford was almost forgotten until recent scholarly work revived his reputation, including some of the last sacred music to be composed before the English Reformation. This disc won the 2008 Gramaphone Award for Early Music.
Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes This is a late entry into the Top Five. Their début album sounds like Pet Sounds peformed in Appalachia by a troupe of medieaval troubadours for a 1930s Smithsonian folkways archive projet. But actually they’re from Seattle and signed to Sub-Pop. You have to hear this band. Are Fleet Foxes the new Flaming Lips?
Kenny Wheeler – Other People Kenny Wheeler was born in the same year as Clint Eastwood (1930), and like Eastwood he is enjoying a hugely creative and powerful “late period”. Every Kenny Wheeler album seems to visit the same idiosyncratic Wheelerian Universe, but each time he takes a different bunch of musical collaborators. This time it’s the Hugo Wolf Quartett, offering textures that recall Ravel and Schumann, delivered at moments with urgency and passion. If I’m half as inspired at the age of 78 as Kenny Wheeler is , I’ll consider myself very lucky, punk.