In 2008 I was a care free 11 year old just starting to find his own musical niche, back then my influences came in the form of my parents who were big on the indie rock scene of the time (as was the case for most back then). Being able to reflect back now demonstrates just how great a year 2008 was for innovative, groundbreaking music; so these are my top ten albums of a star-studded year.
10. Portishead – Third
Eleven years after their second album, Portishead shocked everyone with Third, a comeback album that felt as though they’d never left. After crafting two of the best albums of the 90s, it could be said that the pressure was on for Beth Gibbons and co. to live up to expectation and prove that a comeback was worthwhile. Well, the legendary alternative trip-hop fused group rose to the occasion and then some with a dread-filled, sombre album that painted a harrowing image of post-modern blues; whether that come in the melancholy sense of The Rip or the alarmingly abrasive sense of We Carry On.
9. Lady Gaga – The Fame
If you want an album of strictly pop bangers at the very highest level, then Lady Gaga’s debut album is the perfect avenue for you to venture down. Enough words have been said about her starpower by now, but seriously; the first four songs on this album are as follows: Just Dance, LoveGame, Paparazzi, Poker Face. As commercial pop albums go, you will do incredibly well to find a better run than that. It was truly Gaga’s arrival and what she has gone on to achieve since her groundbreaking debut proves this was no fluke. There’s a reason pop music sounds the way it does today, and The Fame went a big way towards moulding that.
8. The Last Shadow Puppets – The Age Of The Understatement
With Arctic Monkeys on top of the world, fresh off the back of a Glastonbury headline set and two game-changing albums, you could excuse Alex Turner for kicking his feet up and enjoying his success. What he did instead was join forces with long term friend and collaborator Miles Kane to form The Last Shadow Puppets, with the pair releasing their cinematic debut in 2008. The orchestral sound is a far cry from what we heard in Arctic Monkeys’ work up to then, but it was a really refreshing look into Alex Turner’s kaleidoscopic music taste; with Kane also working wonders on this thoroughly mature and enjoyable project.
7. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes
Indie folk isn’t that widespread of a genre, but this is the benchmark for it. The eponymous debut album from Seattle-based band Fleet Foxes is a chilling venture into life’s big journeys; the finding of ones self, the finding of loved ones and the building of familial bonds. It is as self-assured and headstrong as it gets while never once coming off as staggered or pedantic, it truly is the absolute essence of songwriting in the modern era. Listen to this one on a blissful walk through a woods, it will fill your soul with wonder.
6. Foals – Antidotes
We know Foals nowadays as one of the most impressively eclectic bands of the modern era, but it was very humble beginnings for Yannis and co. on their 2008 debut album Antidotes. It has a wonderful ‘fresh out the bedroom’ innocence to the way it sounds, from Yannis’ quirky but poignant lyrics and the seemingly impossibly groovy instrumentals, particularly on all-time Foals classic Two Steps, Twice. This album was in many ways an announcement of arrival rather than a magnum opus, opting for more stripped back elements in recording to focus solely on just creating the best album they could. I mean, just listen to the riffs on Balloons and Cassius and try not to jig around.
5. Lil Wayne – Tha Carter III
Speaking of a magnum opus, Lil Wayne served us up his best ever work in 2008 with the era-defining Tha Carter III. Any hip-hop purist will speak of the importance of this album when it was released, it was pretty much just one of the biggest rappers on earth staking his claim in the form of exuberant braggadocio and mastering the art of ‘flexing’. Hits like Lollipop and A Milli became integral tracks in the Lil Wayne discography and this album proved to everyone just how influential Wayne was; without this project I think hip-hop’s current landscape would look very different indeed (ahem, Drake).
4. Elbow – The Seldom Seen Kid
Sometimes it takes time to find your niche and create your ultimate sound; and that was certainly the case for Manchester based alt-rock band Elbow. In 2008 they released The Seldom Seen Kid, their fourth and best album ever, and what made it so beautiful was the elegance of the songwriting. Guy Garvey truly came into his own here as he crafted together some of the finest, most infamous British alt-rock songs of the generation; namely the ethereal pick-me-up anthem One Day Like This. This album really is songwriting of the highest order and one we should all, as British music lovers, embrace and look at fondly.
3. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend
What do you get when you take four geeky guys from New York City with a passion for African music and world sounds, and have them form a band? Answer: a blissfully brilliant debut album that is as comfortable referencing Peter Gabriel as it is becoming the soundtrack to every indie playlist ever. Yes you’ve got A-Punk, this generation’s answer to Paul Simon’s You Can Call Me Al; but you’ve also got Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa, you’ve got Campus, you’ve got Walcott. This is a damn near flawless album for a group who, with their first project, moulded the next wave of indie-rock bands.
2. Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago
Recorded in a remote hunting cabin during a stint of mononucleosis, Bon Iver’s debut album For Emma, Forever Ago is as vulnerable and honest as an album could possibly be. The work of principal driving force Justin Vernon has folk-inspired ballads layered in heavy choral melodies, utilising vocal effect to the absolute fullest to create a soundscape designed for the purpose of beautiful isolation. Skinny Love ultimately became a widespread success of a single and is simply a cherry atop the beautiful cake that is this debut album.
1. Kanye West – 808’s & Heartbreak
The album that re-shaped the mould of hip-hop, R&B and accessible radio music for all of eternity. It could be argued that the intention and importance of this album’s sound outshines the overall quality front-to-back; but the way in which Kanye West conducts his vision on 808’s & Heartbreak is nothing short of mesmerising. He has Heartless and Love Lockdown on here as the major selling hits, the catchy bops designed to map out the album’s context; but it’s the haunting qualities of Welcome To Heartbreak and the whimsical aurora of Amazing that makes this album a classic. Without this album we wouldn’t be seeing the new wave of rappers and even singers doing what they have been doing these days, that much is an undeniable fact given just how many artists cite it as a major influence.