I wasn't as diligent this year in searching for new music. But this was a good year for folkies, so I had to do something. Here are some albums I liked this year:
The Overhyped, But Still Good
She & Him, Volume One - Zooey Deschanel, the cute hipster actress who is now pretty mainstream (Jim Carey's Yes Man, need I say more?) has a good voice. No really, she can sing (as we all witnessed in Elf). She didn't go the sad route of actress-turned-wannabe-pop star, and teamed up with M. Ward. They came up with retro-country inspired pop ditties that will not leave your head for months.
Vampire Weekend, Vampire Weekend - They owe quite a bit to Paul Simon, but these kids wrote some good songs and executed an excellent album. West African traditions and classical music blended into catchy summer pop music makes me suspect that they will be around for more than 15 minutes.
Delightful New Artists
Thao with the Get Down Stay Down, We Brave Bee Stings and All - Thao might also fall into the overhyped category, but she is the deserved heir to Jenny Lewis. Her unique voice and provoking songs got under my skin, and I have not stopped listening to her album. On top of that, she has an engaging stage presence and along with her back-up band, the Get Down Stay Down, put on one of the best shows I saw this year.
Laura Marling, Alas, I Cannot Swim - Okay, enough already, we know: It's amazing that she's only 18 (or maybe 19 now). British singer/songwriter Marling put together a stunning debut with the best title of the year. I don't care if it's technically not "indie" because she's on a major label. She's so good, it doesn't matter.
Just Plain Solid
Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band, Conor Oberst - Conor has left emo behind to embraced roots music and rock 'n roll. This has lead to a sound that, yes, we've heard before but is perhaps appropriate for our generation as never before. His maturity leads me to believe that he is the closest anyone will come to our generation's Dylan.
Mates of State, The Re-Arranger - The husband and wife duo left the San Francisco scene to "settle" in Connecticut, but then they've churned out two stellar albums in two years and still managed to go on tour with little kids in tow. Their latest captures the mood of a couple in their 30s and continues the unique sounds that made them so interesting in the first place. Settled? Not in the least.
Fleet Foxes, Fleet Foxes - This is probably my favorite album of the year. The layering of a 70s folk sound over a choir of voices and instruments has a beautiful, melancholy tinge. It's almost like an Appalachian fairy. (I'm not kidding, this band seems right out of a mythical American wood, with long beards and bell-bottoms.) It's amazing.
Balmorhea, Rivers Arms - If there is any one Austin band you should check out, it's Balmorhea. Subtle, soothing, all rapturously beautiful. Okay, that may be inflated praise. But they are currently my favorite local band for a reason: This is the best experimental classical music created by contemporary musicians I've heard in a long time. Possibly ever.
Jenny Lewis - Acid Tongue
Little Joy - Little Joy
The Decemberists - Always a Bridesmaid EP
Leatherbag - Love & Harm (Another local Austin band, although this one's more likely to get national attention.)
Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago (This is a really good album. It should probably be on my list.)
MIA's song Paper Planes (For the record, it was released last year but had an omnipresence in movies, commercials and even mainstream radio.)
[Note: I wrote this a few days ago and meant to post it while it was still 2008. Also, most quality music sources (the ones I pay attention to, anyway) have bestowed the honor of best album of the year to either Fleet Foxes or Bon Iver. Except for Paste. They gave the title to She & Him.]