Controversy courting Canadanians, Crystal Castles, rose to prominence via their frenetic electro-Nintendo beats and the exuberant charm of vocalist Alice Glass. Their self-titled debut released in April entirely slipped under Webcuts radar relegated as some NME-approved teen fad, but the proof became increasingly hard to ignore. Split between chaotic slivers of electronic noise (“Alice Practice”) and smart synthetic beats (“Courtship Dating”), Glass’ added allure and manic behaviour set the scene for Crystal Castles to become the most exciting and promising bands of 2008. (Craig)
Kensington Heights has all the regular hallmarks of a Constantines record, but it’s the first time the band have sounded so focussed and confident. Single “Hard Feelings” could be considered the call of the Constantines. Jagged guitars intersect with stabs of keyboards over a driving rhythm section, singer Bry Webb “You can tell by the way I talk/I’ve got hard feelings”. There’s a noticeable over-riding theme of hope and positivity that show the band maturing beyond their punk roots and not drowning their sound in torrents of angry guitar. Kensington Heights was the sound of a new day rising for this pack of raging Canadians. (Craig) Full review.
With Cave’s name now being attached to film scripts, soundtracks and his own widening musical projects, it seems the one thing keeping his muse alive is to not stop moving. Of all these, Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! seems the path of least resistance, Cave rounding up his Bad Seeds to put together a beat-up, beats-inspired rock record that belays his aging station. It’s got him ranting like a man possessed, one an eye to the sky through a telescope, running with the ghosts of his own past while the whole world goes to hell. It’s a record brimming with ideas and bursting with bravado. Probably the most astonishingly inventive, brutally funny, and downright dirty album you’ll hear all year. (Craig) Full review.
If, like us, you’ll go postal if you read the term “angular guitar” one more time and with “post-punk revival” now a dirtier phrase than ever it takes a special band indeed to rise above the Joy Division grave robbing accusations. Oxford’s Foals succeeded by exploring the artier funk-punk side of late 70s and early 80s rock influences with judicious use of horns, intricate high pitch guitar lines, wilfully obscure lyrics, and most importantly the effective use of “space”. Atmospheric and relaxed one minute, dense and visceral the next, Antidotes was a rewarding listen and successfully lived up to its name. (Caleb)
Like its predecessor Palo Santo, Rook was an expansive, ambitious, and beautifully orchestrated record. Its bleak apocalyptic artwork expressed vocalist/lyricist Jonathan Meiburg’s intent perfectly. When the press release for Rook spoke of ‘themes within meditate of man’s intersection with the natural world: the hunter and the prey; the extinction of the species; the world after human beings are gone’ you soon realise this was going to be no ordinary album. Shearwater created an record that was earthy, ornate and alive, unbound by technology and its mis-inventions. An analog allegory for the end of time, Rook was nothing short of a masterpiece. (Craig) Full review.
For Saturdays = Youth, Anthony Gonzalez indulges his own adolescent nostalgia for a decade that some of us remember for shoulder pads, synth bands and John Hughes films. His attempt to capture the essence of those times lends Saturdays = Youth a weirdly eclectic feel as the album drifts between layered operatic pieces and eighties-influenced electronic pop. Straight-out synth-pop songs like “Kim & Jessie” and “Graveyard Girl” achieve their goal, sounding uncannily like Tears for Fears and OMD circa now. It’s a shame that towards the end of the album Gonzalez ultimately fails to deliver a ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’ moment that would have us raising our rhinestone gloved fists in the air. (Craig) Full review.
February brought us Baltimore’s Beach House with their sophomore release Devotion, a gorgeous collection of dizzying songs built around Victoria Legrand’s awash-with-reverb harmonies and church-style organ and Alex Scally’s languidly strummed guitar. From the quasi-country harpischord and Hawaiian surf slide guitar feel of opening track ‘Wedding Bells’ to the dark hypnotic drone of “Gila”, Devotion quickly became one of the most beguiling and beautiful, not to mention essential, albums of 2008. (Craig) Full review.
Brooklyn art/beat innovators TV On The Radio returned with their third album, Dear Science, a soulful slice of inspiration and invention, moving away from the doom and desperation of 2006’s Return to Cookie Mountain to give us their own potent and poignant sign o’ the times. This was a dance record, or at least TV On The Radio’s idea of a dance record. Sharp rhythms, bright brass sounds and high falsetto vocals frame the overall feel and clarity of the album. The influence of Prince weighed heavy on “Golden Age” with its jungle rhythms and strings, Malone shadowing the purple one in the vocal delivery, the message here a simple one – fuck war, let’s dance. (Craig) Full review.
The greatest disservice that befell The Stands Ins was the open admission that it was originally going to part two of a double album alongside The Stage Names, cue general internet bitching that it wasn’t as good as that 2007 disc. No it wasn’t — it was better. Few can turn obscure pop culture references (porn star Shannon Wilsey, failed glam rocker Jobriath) into sublime four minute vignettes quite like Will Shef. He even bit the hand that feeds him in the appropriately titled “Pop Lie” and came out relatively unscathed. Meanwhile the rest of the band expanded the bands range by encompassing new wave, Motown and piano balladry to provide a richly textured background for indie rock’s top wordsmith. Magnificient. (Caleb) Full review.
Microcastle was more than just an album, it was a musical movement in miniature. If modern indie rock has a leader right now, it should be Deerhunter frontman Bradford Cox. The album that got the highest rating on Webcuts for 2008, Microcastle was a psyche-pop masterpiece that largely existed in a dream-like state. Songs often descended into nightmare-ish scenes and schizophrenic moods that defied expectation. From the surreal dream-pop of “Never Stops” and post-shoegaze squall of “Nothing Ever Happened” to the underwater serenade of “Twilight at Carbon Lake” there wasn’t an album within miles that came close. With Microcastle, Deerhunter reached for the stars and took hold. (Craig) Full review.