Slipped Discs 2008

Artist: Glasvegas
Album: Glasvegas
Label: Columbia
US Release Date: 2009-01-06
UK Release Date: 2008-09-08
Internet release date: 2008-10-07

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In the end, the year and a half-long hype surrounding Glasvegas turned out to be completely warranted, as the Glasgow, Scotland band, despite not exactly having the most original sound, defied the odds by releasing one of the most affecting British rock debuts in years. Using the Jesus and Mary Chain as a major influence is certainly nothing new, but what tracks like “Geraldine”, “Daddy’s Gone”, and “It’s My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry” do so ingeniously is combine that already enthralling blend of distortion and 1960s pop with the bombast of mid-’90s Britpop, the end result a formulaic but sincere, deliriously melodramatic take on rock music that serves as a refreshing change from the more self-referential posturing of fellow Brits Art Brut and Los Campesinos!. Adrien Begrand

Glasvegas – Daddy’s GoneGlasvegas: Glasvegas

Artist: Nana Grizol
Album: Love It Love It
Label: Orange Twin
US Release Date: 2008-05-13
UK Release Date: 2008-09-15

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Conventional wisdom — which is to say, indie rock critics, music bloggers and your local record store clerks — dictates that Los Campesinos!’ Hold On Now, Youngster… was the best indie-pop record of 2008. I’ll admit to falling for the Welsh septet’s ridiculously catchy hooks and infectiously cheery enthusiasm myself at first, but it wasn’t too long before the band’s smug hipsterisms, their refusal to let a single song go by without a scenester namecheck or a wink and a nudge in reference to the band’s encyclopedic knowledge of pop culture arcana, began to wear. Fronted by their own vocabulary-happy frontman in Theo Hilton and staffed with a small army of impressively adept players, Athens, Georgia’s Nana Grizol made a similarly exuberant album with none of the Campesinos’ attitude, a quick set of witty, open-hearted and acutely observed songs that surprise as much with their depth as with their sheer tunefulness. Where Los Campesinos!’ songs are about their undoubtedly impressive record collections, Nana Grizol’s are about real people, and it is the distinction that will allow theirs to resonate long after the guardians of cool have set their sights elsewhere. Jer Fairall

Nana Grizol: Love It Love It

Artist: Grouper
Album: Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill
Label: Type
US Release Date: 2008-06-10
UK Release Date: Available as import

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As evocative a longform player as they come, Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill is simultaneously tempestuous and soothing. Intimate tapestries of droning texture line the album’s whole, threatening to remove the user completely from the experience, its faded home movie reel almost completely faded by digital dust and weathered tarnish (Harris’s own doing in a masterful production job). The album’s titles even highlight this disconnection (“Disengaged”, “Stuck”, “Invisible”, “I’d Rather Be Sleeping”). It’s Liz Harris’s plaintive and organic acoustic strumming that grounds the recording as a work of fitfully haunted beauty. Her delicate coo oscillates like kindred oneiric sirens (Elizabeth Fraser, Rachel Goswell, etc.) in a way that is both indecipherable yet urgent, like a dream beckoning you from waking thought. This tragic solitude amounts to a complete and recondite aesthetic, making the album best suited to a single sitting in which you can explore its mysteries with the full of your attention. One of 2008’s very best. Timothy Gabriele

Grouper: Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill

Artist: Guns N’ Roses
Album: Chinese Democracy
Label: Black Frog
Label: Geffen
US Release Date: 2008-11-23
UK Release Date: 2008-11-24

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The problem here is expectations. It’s not the Second Coming. It’s a pop-rock record — call it Use Your Illusion 3 — and a damn good one at that. Regardless of how long they were in the making, “Shackler’s Revenge”, “Better”, and “There Was a Time” will be fighting for space on the next Greatest Hits record, a number that, hits-wise, puts Chinese Democracy on par with the mighty Appetite for Destruction. Granted, someone needs to tell Axl that every song need not begin with a string section or a boy’s choir, but even when he’s bad (“Madagascar”) or embarrassing (“Sorry”) he’s interesting, and a moving solo by Robin Finck on “This I Love” reminds us that, for all of this talk about the Axl Show, the end result is the product of a number of fine musicians. I’ll resist asking you to listen without prejudice, a la George Michael, but I will say that, if you have even the slightest interest in giving this a spin, don’t let all of the drama with Best Buy and Dr. Pepper deter you. And if you listened once and shelved it, give it another hype-free shot. For better or worse, there’s nothing else like it. Kirby Fields

Guns N’ Roses – BetterGuns N’ Roses: Chinese Democracy

Artist: Horse Feathers
Album: House With No Home
Label: Kill Rock Stars
US Release Date: 2008-09-09
UK Release Date: Available as import

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House with No Home is an unassuming record, full of hushed and gentle folk, so it’s not surprising that this one slipped under the radar. But this quiet album will pull you in if you give it half a chance. It pulses with life in every track, from the cresting wave of violin and plucked guitar on “Cur in the Weeds”, to the barely there beauty of closer “Father”, the album insists you strain to listen, forces you to become a part of the music. To put this record on in the background is to miss the subtle but brilliant melodies, the intricate mix of strings, the depth of Justin Ringle’s aching vocals, the earnest emotion in these songs. Because there is no “freak-folk” persona, no artifice to hide this music behind. Just beautiful songs laid bare. So pull out your finest headphones, or sit yourself in front of the speakers, and soak it all in. Matt Fiander

Horse Feathers: House With No Home

Artist: Hot Chip
Album: Made in the Dark
Label: EMI
US Release Date: 2008-02-05
UK Release Date: 2008-02-04

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Hot Chip’s third album, Made in the Dark, made no pretense of conceptual hijinks. Buoyed by months of honing a raucous live show, the group has become expert at constructing party-ready dance music that welcomes live percussion, chant-able catchphrases, and moments of sublime lose-your-shitedness. On the flipside, their ballads have become softer, more heartfelt, and perfect for that certain after the after-party mood. Hot Chip’s now established a strong kinship with a certain melodic construct taken from soul music, which Alexis Taylor recapitulated on his solo album. Taylor pulls it off more successfully with his bandmte Joe Goddard here, where the repeated melodic tropes make up the fabric of the band’s tongue-in-cheek approach to songwriting -– as to aggression, friendship, and love. As an album, Made in the Dark might not have the coherence of In Ghost Colours or Crystal Castles, but song for song it’s surely at least on the same level as those lauded indie-electronic releases from 2008. Dan Raper

Hot Chip: Made in the Dark

Artist: Benji Hughes
Album: A Love Extreme
Label: New West
US Release Date: 2008-07-22
UK Release Date: 2008-10-13

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Benji Hughes believes in love, even when it runs him ragged and beats him bloody. A hirsute indie-pop eccentric with two discs worth of super-hooky audacity, his husky voice speaks the wounds of a thousand heartbreaks and a million heartbroken benders. Though he claims to be “more alternative than Suicide Girls” (not difficult), Hughes is actually a quippy, quirky master craftsman masquerading as reclusive bedroom folkie, more Billy Joel than Bon Iver. His insular confections, full of booming drums and imposing synths, updated ’70s AM gold for the electronic-DIY age: “Tight Tee Shirt” is tasty bubblegum, “Even If” revels in warped Bacharachia, and “All You’ve Got to Do is Fall in Love” could be revised into an American Idol standard. He charts the modern rock nerd’s highs and lows — getting jilted at Dairy Queen, getting high at rock shows, falling madly in love with his radio — with singular humor and genre-hopping fearlessness. Charles A. Hohman

Benji Hughes – Vibe So HotBenji Hughes: A Love Extreme

Artist: Scarlett Johansson
Album: Anywhere I Lay My Head
Label: Atco
Label: Rhino
US Release Date: 2008-05-20
UK Release Date: 2008-05-19

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Scarlett Johansson, the actress from Lost in Translation, was responsible for Anywhere I Lay My Head. That’s not to play down the production work of David Sitek, or a backing band that features David Bowie, Nick Zinner and members of TV on the Radio, but it’s safe to say that the unexpected genius of Anywhere I Lay My Head can be attributed to one person: Scarlett Johanssen. Tackling Tom Waits’s material is a risky proposition for any artist, but Johansson has studied the original material and recorded tracks that sound ethereal and graceful where they were once damaged and grizzled. With her voice swaddled in a soft, otherworldly drone of bells, saxophones and guitars, she pays tribute to these remarkable songs in a beguiling and beautiful manner that falls well outside the clichés that covers albums are so often built upon. In doing so, she’s created yet another reason for us to love her. James Bassett

Scarlett Johansson: Anywhere I Lay My Head

Artist: Jamey Johnson
Album: That Lonesome Song
Label: Mercury Nashville
US Release Date: 2008-08-05
UK Release Date: 2008-08-11

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Those who claim mainstream country music has lost its connection to the past only needed to look as far as the 2008 country sales charts to find evidence of the contrary, in the form of Jamey Johnson and his second album That Lonesome Song. He pays homage to Waylon Jennings, worries that all the true cowboys have ridden away, and shows pride in his music fitting alphabetically “between Jennings and Jones”. None of that would matter if he weren’t also carrying on the actual traditions of country, singing the heck out of songs rooted in the darkest side of the human experience. He sings about divorce, bad behavior and sadness, and does so with feeling, wit and a sense of humor. That lonesome song keeps carrying along, and he carries it, through a harrowing, moving, album-length consideration of the hard times people face, have faced, and will always face. Dave Heaton

Jamey Johnson: That Lonesome Song

Artist: Damien Jurado
Album: Caught in the Trees
Label: Secretly Canadian
US Release Date: 2008-09-08
UK Release Date: 2008-10-27

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Nine full-lengths into an already distinguished career and Seattle, Washington singer-songwriter Damien Jurado is still just starting to hit his stride. On the consistently beautiful Caught in the Trees, it’s hard to miss the sturdy, hard-earned, confidence that sures up his craft. His characters often explore a harrowing fidelity to relationships that seem to offer the promise of nothing but disaster and as there are certainly limits to love, most of Jurado’s characters bump against and stress them beyond all reason. When he sings of sailing on a lover’s deep blue eyes, on the album’s show-stopping centerpiece “Everything Trying”, what in one breath feels like endless shelter from a constant storm gets turned perhaps, by the preceding obsessions and compulsions, into something else. If in the past Jurado has mined a vision of his inner-Nebraska, here he could be exploring a version of his own particular Tunnel of Love. Jurado continues as one of indie rock’s most steady and deeply rewarding songwriters; full of heartbreak but always with a view on the horizon. And here, with bandmates Jenna Conrad and Eric Fisher, he brings a kickass lead-off single, in “Gillian Was a Horse”, to boot. Jon Langmead

Damien Jurado – CasketsDamien Jurado: Caught in the Trees