Best Albums of 2008

The Best Not-Quite-Albums of 2008: (EPs, live recordings, etc)

5. Andrew Bird – Soldier On

“Armchair Apocrypha” is to my mind one of the best folk albums ever. In the new “Soldier On” EP, Andrew Bird brings back some of the whistling, violin-plucking, and subtle guitar strumming that made that album so great, and mixes in synths. It doesn’t really work all the way, but still it’s not bad.

4. Annuals – Wet Zoo E.P.

As if the promise of a full album wasn’t enough, Annuals put out a split EP with some other band. The songs are good (especially “Sore”), charged with the band’s characteristic balance between chill folk and dramatic energy.

3. David Bazan – Live at the Empyrean

Okay, so this isn’t technically a release. Tyson recorded it for us on his laptop from the back of the Empyrean coffee pub in downtown Spokane when DB played a rock-the-vote show. It’s really good though. It’s the best quality live recording of Bazan I’ve come across, and the only one where he plays acoustic. We never got the rights to post it online, but ask me for a copy of this and I’ll hook you up.

2. Fleet Foxes – Sun Giant E.P.

It’s only five songs, but this E.P. was early proof that Fleet Foxes had potential. I probably listened to this E.P. thirty times during the two week wait between seeing them live at Sasquatch and the release of their self-titled debut album. “Myokonos” is an especially good song, as good as anything on the full album.

1. Manchester Orchestra – Let My Pride Be What’s Left Behind

It’s only got two new studio songs on it (and three live ones), but those two are epic enough to make you forget there’s other music out there while you’re listening to them. The chill but never boring ballad “I can feel a hot one” and the understated but still intense rock-song “I was a lid” both show good instrumental layering, and actually meaningful lyrics secure the #2 slot for this release.

Weird Awards:

Best [Music Goodness :: Album Art Badness] Ratio:

Cloud Cult – Feel Good Ghosts

This album’s cover-art is SO DUMB. It honestly looks like a middle school kid’s final photoshop project. We almost threw it out at the station without listening to it. So of course it was actually a really good record. Well there you go.

Runner Up: Noah and the Whale – Peaceful, the World Lays Me Down

Noah and the Whale’s album-art looks like it was drawn in microsoft Paint. The colors are bright and ugly. But you know from the first 15 seconds of “Two Atoms in a Molecule” that the art misrepresents a good album.

The “Sounds like Coldplay” Award:

Snow Patrol – A Hundred Million Suns

Go figure. Snow Patrol puts out an album that sounds like Coldplay in the same year that Coldplay puts out an album that sounds like Snow Patrol. The best songs on “A Hundred Million Suns” are the slower ones (especially “The Planets Bend Between Us”), and they could just as easily have come off of X&Y.

Runner Up: Coldplay – Viva La Vida

Chris Martin said two years ago in an interview that he wouldn’t put out another record until he was sure it would change lives. As if to give us another excuse to call him Bono, he went to South America to be an activist while he was writing the record, and tried to incorporate the Latin musical influence of that region into his songs. Wherever it shows (“Violet Hill,” we’re looking at you) it doesn’t work. There are some good songs here, particularly “Lost,” but to my mind it’s still the least remarkable Coldplay album to date.

The “Sounds like Sufjan” Award:

Welcome Wagon – Welcome to the Welcome Wagon

What are the Sufjan Stevens fanboys like me to do? He hasn’t put out a normal album since 2005, and we’ve hardly seen his face since he dropped the 5-volume Christmas collection two years ago. Well, that’s because he’s been busy as a producer at Asthmatic Kitty. Most recently, he produced a record by his pastor and college buddy Vito (as in Vito’s Ordination Song) and Vito’s wife. Their living-room style band Welcome Wagon wrote some genuinely good Christian folk songs, including “Up on a Mountain,” “Sold to the Nice Rich Man,” and “Deep Were His Wounds, and Red,” any of which would be in the running for a best-song award if I gave one. The instrumentation (directed and, often enough, written, by Sufjan himself) and Vito’s surprisingly Sufjan-esque voice leave us wondering at times whether we’re actually listening to the Illinois album.

The “Doesn’t even sound like Radiohead but maybe you’re stubborn enough to like it” award:

Johnny Greenwood – Popcorn Superhet Receiver

Unless you count the two-CD “best of” collection, Radiohead didn’t give us anything new this year. Guitarist Johnny Greenwood was hard at work, however, on an orchestral composition called “Popcorn Superhet Receiver,” which you’ve heard and probably noticed if you saw P.T. Anderson’s film “There Will Be Blood.” Oh, you’re thinking now, that was Johnny Greenwood? Well I guess it wasn’t so bad. No, it was pretty good. In fact, it was perfect. Yes. Well, no. It’s pretty ugly, and hard to listen to, even if it is complicated and brilliant. For the film’s purposes, our revulsion is the whole point of the soundtrack. That’s not why I listen to music though…

The “No way is that a dude!” Award:

Death Vessel – Nothing is Precious Enough for Us

I wouldn’t have believed it if Nic hadn’t showed me the press release they sent with the album. I admit I was to weirded out knowing that the girl I was listening to was actually a guy to get into what was otherwise a very good folk album.

The “Conor Oberst still can’t sing.” Award:

Conor Oberst – Conor Oberst

I think this award is as self-explanatory as the artist/album titles. Oberst is one of the only artists I recognize as a good songwriter but actively dislike. His solo project felt a whole lot like any other bright-eyes record to me, which I guess makes it good or bad based on how you view that band. I chalk it up to the grating nails-on-a-chalkboard vocals by which he spouts his eloquent lyrics that may or may not actually mean anything.

The 20 Best Albums of 2008:

20. Jack’s Mannequin – The Glass Passenger

Expectations were high for “The Glass Passenger” because “Everything in Transit,” the only other album by Jack’s Mannequin, was one of the better piano driven rock albums out there. This one just isn’t as good. The songs aren’t as catchy, and since there isn’t really any more substance to the record that actually matters quite a lot. The lyrics aren’t bad, but they’ve lost a lot of the universal appeal the last album had without really becoming any more personal or introspective. At some point, though, I decided I had to step back, forget for a moment that Jack’s Mannequin ever made another album, and just enjoy this one. And I did: there are some great songs (Crashin’, Hammers and Strings) and the album really holds together pretty well. They even took some risks, not just in writing less accessible melodies, but even pounding out an 8 minute song (Caves) that turns out to be one of the better tracks on the album.

19. Cloud Cult – Feel Good Ghosts

After the album art (See Best Music Pt. 2), the most I was hoping for was that Cloud Cult would be surprisingly not bad. Well, actually they’re surprisingly good. There’s some really cool stuff going on musically in this record: catchy but well balanced melodies/harmonies, strings that aren’t overdone and pretentious, smooth but not slimy vocals, synths that don’t turn out sounding like a bad joke. This is tough stuff for any band to pull off. Think of Cloud Cult as a more energetic, and perhaps slightly confused Copeland. The confusion, though, hasn't effected the tightly knit music of the album; it’s in the lyrics. Feel Good Ghosts is about that post-high-school confusion where you can’t figure out what to believe about life, which religions are reasonable and which are cults, and whether cults might not actually be so bad. In “Story of the Grandson of Jesus,” the lyrics come rolling out over a bouncy full-band rhythm, “A miracle’s a miracle even when it’s ordinary // we will walk on the water even if it seems scary // if someone will show us the way.” And it all comes together in the final chorus that makes for the title of the last song, “I Love You All.” What it all adds up to is one of the best debut records of the year; Cloud Cult has definite potential, and I’d be surprised if their live show is anything less than epic.

18. Socratic – Spread the Rumors

With “Spread the Rumors,” Socratic seems to have remembered, after their brilliant (and free-for-download) indie-style EP “Just Turn,” that they used to play warped tour. So if you’re looking for more songs like “Spanish Singer,” you won’t really find them here. “Spread the Rumors” is a punk album: from the NOFX-looking cover-art, to the kick-authority-in-the-shins lyrics, to the (pop-)punk two-guitars-bass-drums instrumental structure. But the band also remembers what they’ve learned about songwriting since debut “Lunch for the Sky.” These may be punk songs, but they are thoughtful, tight-knit, catchy in a good way, and in the end a joy to listen to. The single, “Boy in a Magazine,” is at least as good as it is catchy, which upon consideration is pretty impressive. If you’re like me and pop-punk is one of the things you sometimes miss about high school, there’s no shame in getting caught listening to Socratic.

17. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend

I’ll just admit now that I didn’t like Vampire Weekend the first time I heard them. It took some work, a couple attentive listens from start to finish, before I really started to get into it. It pays off though, and (almost) lives up to the hype, especially for fans of the Strokes and Spoon. In a year where so much of the best new music is so chill it will put you right to sleep, I applaud any band that keeps things interesting without going soft. This self-titled debut album is packed with intelligent, energetic songs, crafted out of the belief that you can still make weird and stimulating music with electric guitars. Give it a shot, starting with “Campus,” “Mansard Roof,” and “The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance.”

16. Copeland – You Are My Sunshine

Copeland’s music, for those who don’t know it, falls directly between Coldplay and The Postal Service on that cosmic continuum of musical style. It doesn't feel like a compromise though: with a modest musicality that isn’t simply pop but doesn’t really push any envelopes either, and lyrics that aren’t exactly brilliant but definitely aren’t inane, Copeland's style is really its own. Their newest album isn’t their best (If you're new to the band, I’d begin with “Eat, Sleep, Repeat” or “In Motion”.) but it’s not a disappointment either. The first five songs are the best, especially “Chin Up,” “Should You Return,” and “The Grey Man.” If you’re looking for something that’s undemanding without being sappy, look no further.

15. Noah and the Whale – Peaceful, the World Lays Me Down

From the first fifteen seconds of play, this album gives you a good feeling. The acoustic picking and background snapping that begins “Two Atoms in a Molecule” is the perfect way to kick off any album. The whole CD is pretty good, but some of the tracks are so good (“Two Atoms…”, “Give a Little Love”--I mean it; this song is good, and “Peaceful, the World…”) it’s almost too bad there’s anything else on the record at all. There’s no real shame in just listening to those three tracks over and over again and forgetting about the rest; they’re some of the best songs of the year.

14. The Helio Sequence – Keep Your Eyes Ahead

One of the worst things about 2008 is that it is the year after the year we got a new Modest Mouse record. (“We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank” was one of 2007’s 5 best albums in my estimation.) What this means is that we basically had no chance of any new material from them this year. Good thing their former drummer left MM and started a pretty good sound-alike band. “Keep Your Eyes Ahead” is the third album by The Helio Sequence, and while it won't feel like new territory for anyone who’s ever listened to Modest Mouse or Bob Dylan (clear influences) it’s still worth listening to.

13. Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s – Animal / Not Animal

This band has a sort of weird name (Margot is Royal Tennenbaum’s daughter, as played by Cate Blanchett), so I'm never really stoked to tell people about them. But imagine a sound that’s half Arcade Fire and half Decembrists, and close to 30 thoughtfully composed (a la Conor Oberst) songs in one two-album set, and you’ve got the “Animal / Not Animal” collection by Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s. “Animal” is the set of tracks that the band wanted to put out as their album. “Not Animal” is the songs their record label wanted them to put out. I’m of the opinion that “Not Animal” is actually better (There’s more energy, and an rock twist to the indie-folk that works so well on “Animal.”) but this is more than we had any reason to hope for from a band that’s only just emerging into the spotlight of American music. If you want a sample, you can download (Free!) their session at Daytrotter studios, which was good enough that they released it as an EP before the Album came out. Look for “Broadripple is Burning,” “Real Naked Girls,” and “As Tall as Cliffs.”

12. Death Cab for Cutie – Narrow Stairs

I only really discovered Death Cab this year, so I’m still reeling at the genius of “Plans,” “Transatlanticism,” and basically everything else Ben Gibbard has ever done. I was a little underwhelmed with “Narrow Stairs,” especially on my first listen, and while it does become more compelling with time and attention, I wouldn’t probably recommend it to anyone but serious Death Cab fans. That said, “Narrow Stairs” is still one of the most thoughtful and just-plain-good albums of 2008; what it lacks in pop-rock appeal (seriously… “I will Possess Your Heart” is the single??), it recovers with the sheer musicality and prowess of its composition. Ben Gibbard could start a Kazoo band, and probably he could make it work.

11. Sigur Ros – Meo Suo I Eyrum Vio Spilum Endalaust

My every impulse when I’m in the position of ranking Sigur Ros’s music is to shoot them straight to #1. When Nic and I did a ‘top 10’ show at the radio, “Glosoli” was the #1 track in something like six categories. This album, released mid-summer this year, is a good one, even for Sigur Ros. “Gobbledygook,” the single, is a success (every time I hear it, I just want to run out into a field and yell “It’s Summer!”) even though it’s a crazy departure from the post-rock style the band has always done so well with. “Meo Suo I Eyrum Vio Spilum Endalaust” (This time I typed it from memory. Suck it.) is like “In Rainbows” if “Takk” is like “OK Computer”: it’s good enough that it’s not disappointing, but it won’t stick with you in the same way. Still, it’s nice to have ten more Sigur Ros songs in my “homework mix” playlist on iTunes. No complaints.

10. TV on the Radio – Dear Science

Aside from all the end-of-year hype, (“Dear Science” made it to the top 5 of basically every 2008 albums list, and Spin and Rolling Stone gave it #1,) until a couple weeks ago, all I had really heard about the new TV on the Radio is that it wasn’t as good as the old TV on the Radio. Out of curiosity, I gave it a listen when I started to compile my best-albums list, and I liked it well enough that I listened to the entire album nine consecutive times over without a break. More polished and initially accessible than “Return to Cookie Mountain” (and shorter), “Dear Science” is a compilation of marvelously varied, expertly layered post-pop songs. I feel like there has to be something for basically everyone on this album. Sure, I don’t really care for “Red Dress” or “Golden Age.” But “Family Tree,” “DLZ,” “Shout Me Out,” and “Love Dog” are some of the year’s best songs by any artist. I had the feeling that I wasn’t so much listening to a cohesive album as a mix tape of all the weird stuff this one band could pull off, but album-unity isn’t the first concern for most of us; we just want some good music however we can get it. Even if you’re from the camp that just misses “Return to Cookie Mountain,” you'll find something on “Dear Science” you like.

9. Okkervil River – The Stand Ins

“The Stand Ins” is an intimidating record. Not only is it another intricate concept album in the same vein as “The Stage Names;” but also it’s a sequel, carrying on the same ideas and themes that dominated the songs on that last album. Seriously, who puts out a sequel album? Well, Okkervil River does, and this isn’t some summer-movie-letdown sequel. My opinion is that “The Stand Ins” is exactly as good as “The Stage Names.” So if you know their last album, you know more or less what to expect. But then, if you know “The Stage Names,” you probably don’t need me to tell you that because you’ve already bought the new CD. Frontman Will Sheff’s genuinely poetic (and demanding) lyricism, the carefully put-together but never timid instrumentation of the other six band members, and the basic cool-factor of listening to a good concept-album-sequel pull together for one of the better and more unified musical experiences on the table this year.

8. Welcome Wagon – Welcome to the Welcome Wagon

As I mentioned in the weird awards section, Welcome Wagon is a terrific Sufjan Stevens sound-alike. In my book, that is a really really good thing; and the fact that Sufjan’s friend Vito and his wife made the record, produced by the Asthmatic Kitty guru himself, means it’s not even really stolen sound. There’s a living-room feel to most of these songs unrivaled except by Sufjan’s Christmas collection, and you really get the feeling that the band is sitting on couches in a circle around you when you listen. If I ever get to worship at a church to such theologically meaningful and musically accomplished songs of praise as “Up on a Mountain” and “Deep Were His Wounds, And Red,” I’ll probably cry. Welcome Wagon made one of the better folk albums of the year (and this year that’s really saying something) and one of the better Christian albums ever (which admittedly isn't saying quite so much). Whenever I listen to this record, my only reaction is to smile and feel grateful. I think that’s pretty much exactly the feeling music is supposed to give us.

7. Wolf Parade – At Mount Zoomer

Wolf Parade is another band I just discovered this year. So I fell in love with “Apologies to the Queen Mary” and listened to “I’ll Believe in Anything” about a million times before I even cared that the band had a new album out. “At Mount Zoomer” is goooood. I’m not putting it at number 7 just to be trendy, or because I think it is cool to include an animal in your band’s name (Cf. # 15, 4, 1). It’s not even as good as the last album, but the music on this record is so perfectly constructed within the semi-avant-garde post-pop style Wolf Parade has stuck to that it absolutely earns its spot on this list. I think my favorite song is “Kissing the Beehive,” (all 11 minutes of it,) but I’ll need to listen more to this album before I’m sure.

6. J. Tillman – Vacillando Territory Blues

J. Tillman has been a busy man this year. When he finished a solo-tour opening for David Bazan at the start of spring, he signed on playing drums for Fleet Foxes to tour with them all summer and fall. And somewhere in there, he managed to record and release a full solo folk album which he wrote himself, and it’s really good. I envy anyone who got to see him open for his own band whenever Fleet Foxes wasn’t playing with Wilco or Animal Collective. J. Tillman is seriously a master of the solo acoustic show. His whispery but surprisingly strong vocals are truly as good as anybody's in the genre. I guess his songs never seem to me ultimately to be about anything, but better that than a weak attempt at profundity. The weakest point of the album is every sound that doesn’t come from Tillman’s throat or the guitar hanging from his shoulder. His music works better within that minimum, so those few tracks on “Vacillando Territory Blues” that do aspire to be rock tunes don’t really work. All the same it’s a great album, and I wouldn’t be surprised if sometime soon I went to see Bazan opening for Tillman. After all, Ben Gibbard had his start opening for Pedro the Lion.

5. Annuals – Such Fun

It’s entirely possible that “Such Fun” would have taken the #1 spot if it hadn’t set off a couple of my pet-peeves. [1.] In “Blue Ridge,” otherwise the best song on the album, the sound of a crying baby is not only stamped over the top of an otherwise great intro, but it goes on for 45 seconds. Every time it comes on, I hate myself for it but I just hit skip. [2.] The foreign vocals in the chorus of “Hardwood Floor” are (in my humble opinion) a pain in the ass. This is a bummer because otherwise I really love that song. That said, “Such Fun” is still a really incredible album. It’s a step up from Annuals’ last (“Be He Me”) in every respect except that none of the new songs are quite as good as “Brother.” “Springtime” is an incredible indie-folk track; “Confessor” is not just a great way to kick off the album, but a great song on its own, and “Hot Night Hounds”…wow is that song good (and apparently it's their best live). Sure, I’ve got some gripes (including but not limited to the Bob-Ross cover-art), but it’s entirely possible that if I’d had the chance to see these guys perform (and I know at least 20 of my friends had that chance because I gave them free tickets…) I would like the record even better. “Such Fun” takes a lot of risks, and all but two or three pay off hugely. The title is totally apt in the end--listening to the album is very fun indeed. I might even have liked this record even better if it had come out at the start of the summer, and not just when the weather in Spokane started to turn gross. Because I’m pretty sure this is a summer album.… I guess we'll see a few months from now.

4. Horse Feathers – House With No Home

When Tyson gave me a copy of this album to go over before I interviewed the band I couldn’t really believe at first that it was as good as it is. “House With No Home” is a dazzlingly great collection of sweet, easy to swallow folk songs. The harmonies are at least as strong as the melodies, especially with the heavy reliance on strings (Horse Feathers has a violinist and cellist), and while that's anything but a bad thing, it does cause most of the songs to sound the same. Even that isn’t so bad, since that uniform sound is still amazingly good, and there’s enough variety that if you actually like folk music and want to be listening to this album, you’ll never be bored with it. I haven’t really analyzed it yet, but from what I can tell there’s a conceptual center to the album’s composition that runs deep in both its lyricism and musicality. There’s the song Father, of which the last song is a reprise, and that reprise is in the same key as and has melodic carry-overs from the first track “Curs in the Weeds.” “Horse Feathers” may be archaic slang for nonsense, but their circularly structured new album is anything but. If you ask me the best song is “Albina.” Also keep a lookout for violinist Nate's forays into the mystical world of bowing the saw, because it is very cool when he does that.

3. This Will Destroy You – This Will Destroy You

If you like Explosions in the Sky, you will like This Will Destroy You. It’s honestly that simple. Their second album, often filed as S/T (self-titled) is my pick for the best non-folk record of the year. It’s not weighed down by the vocals, as so many rock albums are, because there simply aren’t any. Certainly this means the instrumentalism has to be twice as good to compensate for the lack of a singer. It is. The group out of north Texas delivers some of the best post-rock since “The Earth is not a Cold Dead Place.” There’s enough interesting stuff going on musically to occupy even the most critical listeners--take for example the deep synth overtones that emerge partway into “The Mighty Rio Grande,” adding a new dimension to the simple but compelling guitar melody that drives the song, and the subsequent introduction of synth-drums that somehow work perfectly. The build-ups are epic and wholly satisfying; the guitar tone is completely perfect--always. The penultimate song “They Move on Tracks of Never-Ending Light” is better better music than this band has any business writing. Great Gatsby it's good. There are only eight tracks on the disc, but most of them are in the 10-minute range. And trust me, if/when you listen to it, you’ll be very glad they’re so long.

2. Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago

The story behind “For Emma, Forever Ago” is a fairy tale for aspiring musicians. Justin Vernon, frontman of an unsuccessful and unremarkable rock band, took a month-long hiatus alone at a cabin in the Wisconsin wilderness. He brought along his guitar but had no intention of writing anything; basically he wanted to process a breakup. As it turns out, that process turned into one of the greatest folk-albums of 2008 ever. To call Bon Iver’s debut memorable is a serious understatement. The sheer encompassing beauty of the album is perhaps not even its most remarkable quality. Whenever I read music reviews of folk artists with a reference to “haunting vocals,” I refuse to accept the analogy. Bon Iver is the one exception; the delightfully simple melodies and subtle harmonies seem to linger in the air even after the album is through. From the all-but-perfect starter track “Flume” to the full bodied “Lump-Sum” to the spine-tingler “The Wolves,” Vernon does his best to convince us he’s written an entire album of perfect songs. “Re: Stacks,” the final track, is the most perfectly minimal folk-song I know, and my pick for best song of the year. If you haven’t yet had your days and nights haunted by Bon Iver’s all-but-perfect debut, buy it right now.

1. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes

One year ago, even the know-it-alls at Pitchfork hadn’t heard of Fleet Foxes. They hadn’t released an LP or an EP, and hadn’t really played together except local shows in Seattle. Leave it to the Pacific Northwest to produce this out-of-left-field runaway success folk rock group. I heard Fleet Foxes play live before I had even heard of them, and their songs were catchy and interesting enough that I bought all their available recordings in the next two weeks. My blind date with Fleet Foxes' music was not a disappointment. The band's self-titled debut is exactly what an American folk-rock record should be: a little more folk than rock, extensive cavernous harmonies to get lost in, and subtle but totally absorbing melodies that draw the listener back out as by a single thread. Even the most determined hipsters can’t help tapping their toes when they hear “White Winter Hymnal.” The band's lyrics are thoughtful but not demanding, neither opaque nor obvious, and they deftly avoid all the worst clichés of contemporary lyricism: polemic, trite love songs, and too-“poetic” nonsense. The instrumentation is like an all-star lineup of the instruments working demonstrably well in the folk genre today: guitars (strummed, picked, and bowed), conservative piano melodies, and a full drum-set that is never too prominent. The vocals are lush and full all around, from the strong lead-singing to the equally good backing singers; but all the songs are crafted with such care that instrumental interludes come whenever they’re needed, without hints that the band would rather be singing. The “Ooh”s and “Whoa”s often substituted in place of a conventional chorus work rather well.

“Fleet Foxes” still isn’t a perfect album; some of the songs are better than others, although the whole album is so smooth and integrated that the inconsistency is hardly a roller-coaster. The progression neither taxes us as listeners nor lets us get bored. We see this as early as first track “Sun It Rises.” The catchy guitar riff in the intro lets us suspect typical folk-pop, but the well-considered, unpredictable structure reminds us that we’re not in such blasé territory. There’s a careful alternation in the proceeding tracks between catchy and chill tunes. Later in the album, just as “Meadowlarks” has left us to wonder whether the album is slowing down for a nice quiet finish, it picks back up with the enthusiastic “Blue Ridge Mountains,” my favorite track on the album. The last song isn’t much on its own, but in the context of the whole album it just works. There’s a special power when the backup vocals finally cut after a full album of carefully constructed harmonies, and frontman Robin Pecknold is left belting out “NooOOOO LOO-oonger,” with a solo strenght that doesn’t come out anywhere else on the album. It won't work so well unless the album has just come at you as a whole, but that kind of coherence and interdependence is hardly grounds for complaint.

There are plenty of reasons not to like Fleet Foxes. Perhaps because Starbucks Radio picked up a few tracks from the new LP, and the first time you heard “White Winter Hymnal” it came after Coldplay or Buddy Guy or the Celine Dion Christmas record or something. Or maybe because Pitchfork called Fleet Foxes the #1 album for 2008, and like I am you're unconvinced that the people who write for Pitchfork actually like listening to music. Or maybe you were sitting next to me in the Empyrean when David Bazan played there, and you overheard the too-hip asshole sitting behind us trying to argue his girlfriend into liking Fleet Foxes, so she'd finally understand how smart and cool he was. I was pretty reluctant to go all the way on this one for basically the above reasons. What finally clinched the decision for me was remembering what I listened to this summer (and what I didn’t). After I saw Fleet Foxes at Sasquatch, I listened to their 5-song EP for two weeks straight, and before I got to be tired of that their album came out. For about two months I just didn’t listen to anything else. Bon Iver had haunted me, but Fleet Foxes captivated my ears. Until I finally went out and bought the “Best of Radiohead” collection, it was like I had forgotten there was other music out there. And I’m not sick of the Foxes either. Sure, I’ve had enough of the chorus to “Oliver James,” but that’s about it. I had the experience again and again of feeling sheer joy every time I listened to this record. That, and the good faith with which it stood up under the criticism I tend to direct at anything to which I give this much attention, are why “Fleet Foxes” is to my mind the best record of the year. I don’t think I’m kidding myself to think I‘ll be coming back to this album for a long time yet.

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