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SOUNDSCAPES staff BEST OF 2008

 

These are the 25 fave new releases and reissues of 2008 as chosen by the staff of Soundscapes. 10 staff members chose their own 15 most loved albums in each category. Each album was then weighted by points (i.e. 15 points for a #1 pick, 14 for #2, and so on) and the totals were added for this list. 

 

Top 25 New Releases of 2008

1. BON IVER - For Emma, Forever Ago
As soon as the promo reached our office in February, almost everyone here heard something special in For Emma, and that near-unanimity has given it top placing now that we're at year's end. With bold vocals bolstered by an engineer's attention to detail (check the subtlest vocoder lacing "The Wolves [Act I & II]", for one), Justin Vernon has made what might well be an instant indie-folk classic, however tough the competition below may have been. - Craig

 

2. FLEET FOXES - S/T / Sun Giant
In their liner notes, Fleet Foxes talk about the powerful transportive ability that music can have on a person: how we can ascribe exact moments to songs and be instantly taken back to a distinct time and place in full detail; how songs can empower you and connect you to a deeper human feeling not found in everyday life. I think it's fair to say that both releases by Fleet Foxes this year had this exact magical effect on people. Their rich, beautiful harmonies and carefully crafted songs left many a listener lost in moments of reverie drenched in reverb. I know that when I recall moments from this year, these songs will most definitely be the soundtrack for a lot of them.  - Julie

3. DR. DOG - Fate
These guys get a lot of flak for their goofy name, but I think it suits them. They manage to write great songs which sound like they could have been written 30 years ago, all without taking themselves too seriously. It's that light-heartedness which makes these songs--about the passage of time, the existence of God, the inevitability of fate--seem not like a sermon from your self-important little brother, but more like...fun. - Sylvie

 

4. KELLEY STOLTZ - Circular Sounds
Multi-instrumentalist Kelley Stoltz's last album Below The Branches was a big favourite here at Soundscapes, so Circular Sounds being likewise is no surprise. Stoltz still plays everything himself, but this disc sounds distinctly less lo-fi and his songwriting now bears a number of musical stamps as varied as his abilities. - Dan

 

 

5. RYAN DRIVER - Feeler Of Pure Joy
As was the case with the Reveries' Willie Nelson disc earlier this year, it's an absolute pleasure to hear the wobbly sounds of the Rat-drifting crew captured with such beauty at Jean Martin's Farm, and that pleasure is doubled when the focus is on the songs of the infinitely talented Ryan Driver. - Mike


 

6. THE WEEK THAT WAS - S/T
I watched about three '80s video shows a day when I was a kid. By the time I was in Grade 4, I overdosed on The Beatles just to forget all the Thompson Twins and Howard Jones I had ingested. When I first put this record on, I felt transported back to my afterschool addiction. Everything on this record is top-notch: the songs are to the point, and production is stellar. Everybody Wang Chung! - Jay

 

7. TAPE - Luminarium
Ideal for a headphone zone-out, this Swedish trio's spacey blend of acoustic sounds and electronic blorps gets melodic enough to keep things moving without ever becoming anthemic. - Mike

 

 

8. BEACH HOUSE - Devotion
Beach House are a Baltimore duo whose second album, full of dreamy atmospherics, vintage drum machines and lush vocals, topped my personal best-of list this year. This album perfectly suited the many late-night walks home through the city that I embarked on this summer. - Dan

 

9. MUSKOX - Gallantries
No, the fix isn't in--we've been big fans of Mike Smith's Muskox long before he started working here, and with 2007's Fever Dream having made last year's list, it looks like Mike and his meticulously playing (and packaged) "prog Americana" herd have happily become our local incumbents. - Craig

 

 

10. CASTLEMUSIC - You Can't Take Anyone
In a breakout year (with more breaking out ahead, to be sure), Jennifer Castle not only sang with Ryan Driver on some of the above Feeler Of Pure Joy's most powerful moments (he returns the favour herein), but this first studio effort shows her wonkily gentle folk-blues shining with more hi-fi lustre than ever before. - Craig

 

11. LYKKE LI - Youth Novels
After releasing the Little Bit EP, Lykke Li made us wait months for the domestic release of Youth Novels. Fortunately the wait was not in vain, as this album proved to be the most unabashedly fun and infectious release of the year. Despite the protest of my wife, I danced around my apartment like a 14-year-old girl whenever I put this one on. - Dan

 

12. THE DODOS - Visiter
The Dodos album came out of nowhere to become one of my favourites of the year. On first listen you might think it's standard indie-rock, but a few times through you'll find that this duo (yes, duo) has created a very charming and unique album that will be stuck in your head for weeks, but in a great way! - Jason

 

 

13. THE BICYCLES - Oh No, It's Love
What a workout! The songs come so fast and furious, you'll need another listen just to catch up to all the hooks you were bombarded with. Oh No's what you want from a follow-up: stronger songs, better arrangements, and new terrain. The real surprises here are Andrew Scott's '70s-inspired pop-prog masterpieces. - Jay

 

14. BIRD SHOW - Untitled
Our store counts among its staff both older fans of Ben Vida's alma mater Town And Country as well as some who came to his music through this mid-00s-to-present solo guise (with frequent guests, especially these days), and both cohorts concur that Untitled sees this recombinant Chicagoan at the peak of his semi-improvisational powers. - Craig

 

15. CHAD VANGAALEN - Soft Airplane
Chad VanGaalen's music sounds like the soundtrack to the animation inside his own head. On previous albums, the action was by degrees dreamlike, mournful, dark and jittery, but always compelling. With Soft Airplane, the imaginary world turns its brightest and most rockin' shade of pop yet, but while the sun might have come out, it's still shining on twisted scenery populated by creepy dancing gnomes. - Sylvie

 

16. VETIVER - Thing Of The Past/More Of The Past
While waiting for the next Vetiver album of original compositions, these two discs serve as a very welcome glimpse into the group's favourite songs by other artists. Thing Of The Past offers up completely cookin' covers of Hawkwind, Bobby Charles, and Loudon Wainwright III; the shorter follow-up kicks off with a fantastic rendition of "See You Tonight" by mid-'60s Swedish mod-poppers The Wizards, and doesn't let up from there. - Phil

 

17. ERYKAH BADU - New Amerykah, Part One: 4th World War
A static-shocked state of the nation disjunctively dripping with digital funk, New Amerykah moves whether layering dizzying vamp upon groove onto the multitrack or paring it down to chromatic voice/trumpet scat skit, leaving one wondering where Badu and crew will take Part Two come 2009. - Craig

 

 

18. SNOWBLINK -Long Live
Long Live is the work of Torontonian/San Franciscan Daniela Gesundheit and comes to us just in time for hibernation season. The airy movements of the music seem to swirl around like a snowy night sky, and Daniela's warm voice weaves stories together that are as comforting as a cup of cocoa. Just like that satisfying result you get after marching through a blank snowy surface, this album is sure to leave wonderfully fresh marks on many hearts. - Julie

 

19. ERIC CHENAUX - Sloppy Ground
All those in awe of Eric's cross-genre guitar-slinging know by now that the man is also a great lover (and dismantler) of songs (heck, his self-assigned MySpace genre reads "Lyrical"). Flash and all, Sloppy Ground gives Chenaux's fans yet more magic melodies to love, along with, yes, solos galore to slacken your jaw. - Craig

 

 

20. JESSIE KUSSIN - Cry Rumble
A few things I will always champion are sincerity, the art of storytelling, and the banjo. The lovely Ms. Kussin involves herself with all of these things. I fell in love with Jessie's songs the first time I saw her play. Her singing style is similiar to one of my favourite artists, Karen Dalton: bluesy, warm, and haunting. I consistently find myself lost in her songs whether they be about vampires that haunt you in the night, the old and the broken, or love. Her phrasing is exquisite, and like a great storyteller, when she sings you find yourself surrendering to every word. - Julie

21. SAM AMIDON - All Is Well
This album pretty much acts as a tribute to the great appalachian banjo player Dock Boggs. It makes sense, since Sam Amidon is best known for his banjo and fiddle skills. The wonderful thing about this album is that is deeply rooted in the old world, yet has morphed into something equally beautiful and new. With the addition of ornate string arrangements and baroque additions (thank ya kindly, Nico Muhly), Amidon has crafted an absolutely stunning album. Think Sufjan Stevens meets Dock Boggs. - Julie

22. SHE & HIM -Volume One
2008 saw two Hollywood actresses collaborating with indie-rock royalty, and one of them made our list (sorry, Scarlett): Zooey Deschanel's hook-up with M. Ward, as She & Him. Paste Magazine's #1 record of 2008, Volume One's songs sound instantly familiar, evoking classic eras of pop, country and soul. I can't wait for Volume Two. - Greg

 

23. JIM NOIR - S/T
Bedroom composer of psych-pop symphonies, multi-instrumentalist Jim Noir followed up his early-singles collection Tower Of Love (#19 on our Best Of 2006 list) with this self-titled proper debut. Known more as a sound sculptor than a lyricist, there's no denying his way with a catchy hook. Prepare for a sugar fix. - Greg

 

24. THE EXPLORERS CLUB - Freedom Wind
The best Beach Boys album never recorded takes the form of the debut disc by South Carolina's Explorers Club. And, yes, this sextet aptly explores the melodicism and falsetto vocals of Brian Wilson at his mid-late '60s peak, along with the trademark harmonies. But Freedom Wind is much more than the bastard son of Pet Sounds or Friends; it's a lovingly-crafted, hook-laden collection of tunes that's given me sustained listening pleasure this year. - Phil

 

25. (tie) ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS - Forest Of Tears
This whole town seems smitten with $100, and with good reason, as they not only give one of the most dependably rollicking live experiences in the city, but marry those immediate, first-listen thrills with storytelling that cuts deeper than most anyone else in contemporary country music, local, independent or otherwise. - Craig

 

 

25. (tie) BLOOD CEREMONY - S/T
Bad metal? No such metal! This Toronto act matches their hype properly with this massive album. Though they might look like the kids in high school who would have been beaten up by metalheads, Blood Ceremony take no prisoners with their flute-laden stoner jams. - Jay

 

 

25. (tie) SHUGO TOKUMARU - Exit
Dan suggested that I simply write about how Shugo Tokumaru's music sounds like what Dungen's music and Cornelius' music's baby would sound like (if that baby itself were to take after its two dads and play, write and record music). Well, I'm paraphrasing, but the original write-up from earlier this year says the same thing eloquently enough, so thanks, Dan, that should just about do it. - Craig

 

25. (tie) SURF CITY - S/T EP
Continuing in the tradition of New Zealand jangle-pop masters The Clean, Surf City add a modern touch to the formula, incorporating elements of shoegaze and psych. Urgent and vital, it sounds like four kids making a glorious racket in the basement--everything great underground pop music should be. - Greg

 

 

Top 25 Reissues of 2008

1. NICK LOWE - Jesus Of Cool
Called it! - Craig

 

 

 

2. VAN MORRISON - Veedon Fleece
Like many people, I love Van Morrison's classic albums Astral Weeks and Moondance, so I was very happy to hear this reissue of the later Veedon Fleece. While not as well-known, it continues in the vein of both records (Note: it's perfect for Sunday brunch--just saying...). - Jason

 

 

3. BOBBY CHARLES - S/T
This 1972 Bearsville side may not have relaunched the career of the man behind "See You Later, Alligator", but it sure does make for a great record thanks to the heavy country-funk backing of Levon Helm and Rick Danko. Killer. - Mike

 

 

4. JOE HIGGS - Life Of Contradiction
Despite his influence on some of reggae's biggest stars, this year's reissue of Life Of Contradiction was my introduction to Joe Higgs. Higgs was under-recorded and is still lesser known than most of his contemporaries but, as this record shows, was one of the genre's most talented singer/songwriters. - Jon

 

5. VAN DUREN - Are You Serious?
In a year that stalled in the classic pop reissue department, the release of this record from 1975 is a must for those who love big melodies and tight ensemble playing. What's most interesting about Duren is how he draws an arc between the early-'70s school of McCartney-esque power-pop (Badfinger, Todd Rundgren, Emitt Rhodes) and its inevitable late-'70s-to-early-'80s commercial manifestation (Squeeze, Foreigner, and, yes, a less-goofy Loverboy). He should have rode the charts, but sadly fate had other plans. - Ernest

 

6. ARTHUR RUSSELL - Love Is Overtaking Me
This is the Arthur Russell collection you can take home to meet your parents; sure, there might be some awkward interaction at first, but by the end of dinner they'll be all ears. - Craig

 

 

7. P.F. SLOAN - Here's Where I Belong
When 20-year-old Philip "Flip" Sloan recorded the songs on this superb compilation, he had already penned smash hits for Barry McGuire, Johnny Rivers, and The Turtles. The surf-kissed sunniness of his earlier compositions gave way to a more pensive, introspective, Dylan-inspired folk-rock that flopped commercially. Undeservedly so, as Sloan's songwriting brilliance and heartfelt vocals were easily on par with the era's more prominent troubadours. - Phil

 

8. JORGE BEN - Jorge Ben (1969)
When Forca Bruta topped our reissue list last year, we rhetorically asked the good folks at Dusty Groove to put out the samba soul originator's criminally unissued 1969 classic next. They kindly obliged, finally giving Brazilian music fans Ben's greatest album, one that set the blueprint for an industry of imitators in the coming years. Now, if only Dusty Groove could license O Bido: Silencio No Brooklyn... - Ernest

 

 

9. CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL - Cosmo's Factory
What can I say about CCR that hasn't already been said? If you're even a minor music fan, chances are you already own Chronicle. While great, it misses a hidden gem in the CCR story, that being "Ramble Tamble", a seven-minute-long choogler that's just a tad too long to have been a commercial single. That, along with so many other great songs, makes this a must-have. - Jason

 

10. LINDA LEWIS - Fathoms Deep
With a jacket only marginally more appealing than a Cherry Blossom package, it's understandable why this 1974 album may have gone largely unnoticed. It's a shame, because this soft rock/soul set presents Lewis as an incredibly flexible vocalist on an equally diverse range of tunes. - Mike

 

 

11. BILL COSBY - Badfoot Brown & The Bunions Bradford Funeral & Marching Band
As loose in execution as it is dark in its chief inspiration in MLK's assassination, Badfoot Brown was one from this year's jazz reissue vault whose spooky sidelong playfulness was across-the-board undeniable (Cosby cuts across demographics with his music, too--who knew?). -Craig

 

 

12. HOYT AXTON - My Griffin Is Gone
In 1969, country-folk singer-songwriter Hoyt Axton put his unique baritone growl to great effect on this lovely assortment of orchestrated psych-tinged songs. Recorded with some of L.A.'s top session musicians, Axton, among other things, comments on the Vietnam war and criticizes the soulless urban existence led by "plastic people". This reissue generously offers up a dozen bonus tracks, including the original version of "The Pusher", famously covered by Steppenwolf. - Phil

 

13. VA - Take Me To The River: A Southern Soul Journey 1961-77
This compilation of Southern soul is the tip of the iceberg. If you want to learn how to write a song, use the templates provided here. If you just want to listen, prepare for an emotionally draining, yet ultimately rewarding experience. If you venture on this trip, you'll want to explore under the surface; your life will be all the richer for it. - Greg

 

14. VA - Blame It On The Dogg: The Swamp Dogg Anthology 1968-1978
Swamp Dogg a.k.a. Jerry Williams is one of the rare figures in music who can do it all, yet his work as a singer/songwriter/producer has been criminally overlooked by reissue labels up to this point. After having self-released several of his own records, Ace has finally given us a wonderful overview of The Dogg and his various abilities. - Dan

 

 

15. KAREN DALTON - Green Rocky Road
Comparing Karen Dalton to Billie Holiday seems inevitable, but they can both sing the crud out of the blues. Of all the Bob Dylan-relatable releases this year (see below), this one-time fellow Greenwich Villager's set of previously unreleased home-recorded reels is maybe my favourite. - Jon

 

 

16. VA - Theme Time Hour With Your Host Bob Dylan
Not to be confused with the recently released Tell Tale Signs set, this 2-disc compilation collects songs aired on Dylan's satellite radio show. Combining obscure folk, blues, soul, big band and even a little calypso and reggae, it does a fantastic job of taking the listener to a time and a place; you can't help but imagine families sitting around a radio listening to a mix just like this. - Jason

 

17. KENSINGTON MARKET - Aardvark
When you kick off your record with a pulsating Moog, everybody is going to listen; that's how this Toronto group's second record stands above all the other San Fran jangle that was going on at the time. It proved to be too advanced, and the sad thing was that nobody heard it. Thanks to Peacemaker Records, it's finally been made available on CD. No stale hippie smell here--it's fresh like Cow Brand. - Jay

 

18. DAVE MASON & CASS ELLIOT - S/T
This is former Traffic member Dave Mason's second solo album, sort of. For me, the draw here is "Mama" Cass Elliot performing her usual magic on featured solo vocals, and the occasional three-part harmony when joined by Elliot's sister and frequent sparring partner, Leah Kunkel. The vibe is closer to Crosby, Stills & Nash than her own solo forays into bubblegum and country, so fans of Elliot's limited post-Mamas & The Papas output would do well to pick this up. - Ernest

 

19. ELTON JOHN - Tumbleweed Connection
Everybody already knows this album, right? I think I was like the last person to realise that Elton John used to be rad, and this 1971 countrified honky-tonk record is among his raddest. - Dan

 

 

20. ELIS REGINA & ANTONIO CARLOS JOBIM - Elis & Tom
It never went out of print, but that's no reason to disqualify Elis & Tom from inclusion as a new reissue, especially since this 2008 remaster for Verve/Universal's budget series means that even more listeners are now encouraged to pick up this perfect pairing of two bossa nova legends. - Craig

 

21. PENGUIN CAFE ORCHESTRA - S/T
The idea of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra started when leader Simon Jeffes was poisoned by eating bad fish. Not surprisingly then, this music can be difficult to describe, but it is easy to enjoy its folkie minimalist aesthetic. - Jon

 

 

22. JOE BATAAN - Under The Streetlamps: Anthology 1967-72
This was the release in the Fania reissue catalog that I was waiting for, a beautifully put-together package of Bataan's Chicano soul stylings. I'm sure there was more than enough material for a double-disc, but we can be hopeful for a forthcoming Vol. 2. - Dan

 

 

23. THE FLIRTATIONS - Sounds Like The Flirtations
The Northern Soul stomper "Nothing But A Heartache" is the undisputed classic on here, a song which very nearly eclipses any up-tempo dancer Motown ever released. What surprises, though, is the quality of the rest of the material. Definitely a must for fans of the girl group sound (and great album covers)! - Greg

 

 

24. VA - On Vine Street: The Early Songs Of Randy Newman
So, you don't like Randy Newman? That's okay, because while other songwriter-based comps of the last couple of years featured great renditions by often minor or forgotten artists, this collection of Newman's earliest material boasts interpretations by Scott Walker, Dusty Springfield, Van Dyke Parks, Harry Nilsson, Irma Thomas and The Beau Brummels, with no sign of any "Short People". So, you like Randy Newman now? - Ernest

 

25. (tie) JIMMY HUGHES - The Best Of Jimmy Hughes
Just when you think that the reissue well has run dry, along comes a record to turn your world upside down. Some of our customers may recall our enthusiasm for Eddie & Ernie's Lost Friends some 6 years ago; this record is just as good. A perfect mix of up-tempo party-starters and mid-tempo heartbreakers. This is soul. - Greg

 

 

25. (tie) KID CREOLE - Going Places: The August Darnell Years
Sure, Kid Creole & The Coconuts had suave stage presence and a cast of enough stylish characters to charm eyes as well as ears in the burgeoning video age of the early '80s, but this carefully curated anthology on Strut shows that ringleader August Darnell, in all his various guises, had the musical knowhow to deliver showtune-meets-postpunk disco and funk that, like the Checker Cab adorning their Ze 12"s, was built to last. - Craig


25. (tie) T2 - It'll All Work Out In Boomland
Yes!!! I have held my breath for this reissue since I got a burn of it a couple of years ago. This comes from that great lost era of British rock that falls in the post-psych/pre-prog timeline. Boomland's got monster riffs, mind-altering solos, and strong pop horn arrangements. When I put this thing on, I forget that '90s indie-rock ever existed. - Jay

 

 

25. (tie) TRAVELING WILBURYS - Vol. 1
Sometimes I forget who I'm listening to, and I wonder "How do these guys just seem to instinctively know how to craft such perfect, catchy songs? It's as if a bunch of amazing, classic pop musicians got together one night and just cranked out these sure-fire hits without even trying." And then I remember that's pretty much what happened. - Sylvie