A premature guide to my favourite albums of the year...
Paul Reed

14:56 26th November 2008

OK. Time to put down that special pirate pull-out colour supplement from whichever current affairs comic book you happen to be reading. Come to think of it, high time for the tabloid media to stop treating an actually seriously scary International hijacking incident like Johnny Depp and Keith Richards have just shown up and are, you know just having a bit of a drink and a laugh. Oooh Arrrr!

Of course, the term ‘Pirate’ has also taken on a slightly different meaning for the global entertainment industry in recent years. It is the end! The game is up! You can’t give music or films away! Well, you can but they will still download them. ILLEGALLY. We need to give added value. Home taping is killing music.

We need to find a new business model, new formats and instigate a paradigm shift. Get the ISPs to threaten them and sue them. Why not tear gas them? On and on it goes, vacuous and overly simplified corporate pseudo apocalyptic ramblings in the face of an increasingly complex problem for creative industries and artists. What a load of white noise.

Seemingly, Pop has not so much eaten itself as dissected itself into tiny bite size chunks and decided that it is not that hungry after all. Amongst the various hysterical arguments for the end of music is a viewpoint that there are no great, cohesive LPs made anymore. It's all about the individual tracks, the yousendit mix tapes and content, content, content!

This is utter nonsense, of course, as this year has been great for albums. I’m not going to single out one, but several immediately spring to mind. Without moralising I urge you to buy them all immediately - not to bail out the flailing dinosaur of the recorded music industry but because you will value it more on an experiential level. You will have artwork, perhaps lyrics and photographs, a tangible object and a valid connection with the great artists that created it.

Call me old fashioned and idealistic but downloading the entire back catalogue then forgetting about it doesn’t carry the same buzz as engaging in a dialogue of anticipation and appreciation via your nearest independent record store. Now sit back, get the Low Christmas album on the stereo and don’t forget to let me know what your personal favourites were.

  • Fleet Foxes undoubtedly made a sublime, spectral and hauntingly beautiful debut album. For once, the hype and universal acclaim was justified as they delivered a masterpiece that landed somewhere between Band of Horses and the outer reaches of Brian Wilson’s harmonic brilliance. This sounded ancient and fresh all at the same time and only the very best records can do that. It provided the greatest soundtrack to the summer upon release then continued to make perfect sense during the onset of winter. Quite simply, a record for all seasons and a gift that keeps on giving.

  • Friendly Fires made a brilliant thinking man’s pop record, an audacious blend of old school dance melodies and insistent rhythmic falsetto, effortlessly outclassing Klaxons at their own game. It is a rare creature, exhibiting unashamed mainstream pop sensibilities, credibility, fun and an abundance of great tunes.

  • Speaking of fun, Nick Cave continued to expand his cocky rock star persona, not to mention his incredible gift for producing compelling narratives rather than merely songs on Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! It speaks volumes about Cave and the Bad Seeds that the nearest reference point for this latest cinematic opus is their own work, albeit in their Grinderman guise. Like fine wine, Cave gets better with age and we’re privileged to be able to marvel, laugh along with and be deeply moved by this great storyteller.

  • On the subject of story telling, both The Gaslight Anthem’s ‘The 59 Sound’ and The Hold Steady’s ‘Stay Positive’ both succeeded in conjuring up a sense of sweeping Americana. Effectively two different sides of the same coin, the former presented a vivid picture of downbeat New Jersey characters, hedonism and a defiant optimism in the face of adversity. It sounded a bit like Tom Waits getting back on the booze and joining a punk rock band. ‘The 59 Sound’ is like a cross between bubblegum punk thrashes and pre-arena Springsteen and for that, we thank them.

  • The Hold Steady’s fourth album consolidated all of their previous albums central themes (drinking, dysfunction, faith, drinking, dancing, American history, parties, loss of identity, drinking) and fashioned them into an almighty and uproarious celebration of rock n roll. Craig Finn sang “Let this be our annual reminder that we can all be something better” on the opening track with a conviction that strangely fell somewhere between evoking Randy Newman and Barack Obama, making you rejoice for the existence and expanding popularity of this special band.

  • As if all of that wasn't enough, TV on the Radio returned with a fun, dance record, packed with space age harmonies and immense dancefloor tunes. There are surely few modern groups who can legitimately fuse hip hop beats, fuzzy shoegazing layers, pop melodies and a Prince like sensuality but on 'Dear Science' they delivered all of that and more. Interestingly, you still get the feeling that the best is yet to come with these space cowboys, each album feels like a complete journey and part of a much bigger picture and trajectory that will eventually lead to a sci-fi pop crossover masterpiece.

  • The Week That Was project (Peter Brewis from Field Music and assorted Alumni of the North East pop community) delivered an album of tightly woven, action packed narratives and the effect wasn't entirely unlike watching a political thriller unfold. The impeccable arrangements were matched with an emotional resonance and eye for detail in the storytelling that, alongside School of Language's 'Sea from Shore' marks the Brewis brother's Field Music productions as a peerless and vital beating heart of English song-writing eccentricity and unfiltered talent.

  • Cat Power: ‘Jukebox’ - The follow up to 'The Greatest' may not have scaled the sparse brilliance and undeniable highs of its predecessor, but Chan Marshal remains one of the most vital and impressive voices in leftfield pop.

  • The Futureheads: ‘This Is Not The World’ - Punk rock rejuvenation anthems, like a more immediate Mission of Burma it had anger, articulacy and some great tunes, kicking against the pricks in style.

  • MGMT: ‘Oracular Spectacular’ - Prince inspired Flaming lips-esque magic that you can dance to, surprisingly re-playable with excellent singles and an even better Soulwax remix of ‘Kids’.

  • Glasvegas: 'Glasvegas' - Although not the truly classic debut that we hoped for, they delivered a thrilling update on the wall of sound and transcended the ‘Proclaimers on Prozac’ tag by at least a million miles. From social workers to stabbings and absent parents, they captured the darker side of Britain better than anyone else.

  • Justice: ‘A Cross The Universe’ - Chaotic companion piece to their live DVD that rocks out a lot more than the vast majority of insipid ‘Indie’ bands and offers everything from the euphoria of ‘We are your Friends’ to their super heavy cover of Metallica’s ‘Master of Puppets’.