Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Musically Inclined's Top 10 Discoveries of 2008

Well, here we are again at the end of another year. 2008 definitely got some mixed reviews music-wise, but from TMI's standpoint, it did alright for itself-- nothing too mind-blowing, but not a write-off either. After all, last year there was The National, The Shins and Radiohead, to name a few reasons why 2007 was a good year to launch a music blog. Not the easiest acts to follow. On the flip side, this year gave us new bands like Fleet Foxes, Death Cab's sixth release, and tons of backlash controversy to last us all a few decades (or weeks in the music world). But enough of that, the 2007 ship has long sailed and 2008 is pulling out of the harbor as we speak.

The songs that made it on this list have some mix of uniqueness, substance and addictive appeal, which ultimately meant surviving the shuffle of new music at TMI, but this year, we're doing things slightly different. Top 10 Discoveries formerly covered anything that had been (wait for it) discovered that year regardless of release date, but this time around the list is pure 2008. So then, what does "discoveries" have to do with it if it's just one more "best of" list? Glad you asked. All the artists on this list were previously unheard of, or rather, un-listened to before Jan. 08.

Crafty, yes? So crafty, I wound up shafting some of my own staple bands/artists who had releases this year like Death Cab for Cutie and Coldplay, plus neglecting the new finds from years past, like "Grace Kelly" by Mika. That said, let's take a moment to silently pay our respects.........awesome, thanks.

Moving on, some of these have yet to be mentioned on these lovely virtual pages, but that doesn't mean those write ups aren't on their way-- so, no worries.

Here now are The Musically Inclined's Top 10 Discoveries of 2008.

1. A Question of Trust : Their Hearts Were Full of Spring
Hands down, the best find of the year. This little indie band from the U.K. features some of the prettiest sounds you'll hear-- romantic and sprightly, but hearty and sincere. Though technically, this is their anti-Tony Blair statement, there's no bitterness there, only verbally and musically articulated warning while managing to radiate upbeat vibes. Listen

2. Use Somebody : Kings of Leon
2008 saw a bit of a revival in southern rock. MMJ is cool, but Jim James' vocals just don't do it for me. Kings of Leon, on the other hand, have the right amount of gruffness and grit. "Use Somebody" takes you to a moment on the brink of something just out of reach, amid wistful "ooh woa"s that fly by like blurred headlights. These guys are further proof that there's more to Nashville than tired commercial country. Listen

3. He Didn't Know Why : Fleet Foxes
The overall sound of Fleet Foxes is an intriguing blend of ethereal and rustic. "He Didn't Know Why" exemplifies a certain quality in their music that is so difficult to pinpoint. Piano, drums, guitars, and those mid-range vocals have a clarity to them making Fleet Foxes possibly the earthiest new band of the year. Listen

4. It's You : Pictures and Sound
Think Jack Johnson's lyrical sensibilities and Mat Kearney's vocals, but with slicker, more stylized instrumentation. This song specifically, is a really great groove plus a good balance of bass and lighter, flickering, stringed sounds. Listen

5. Fragments of Green : The Travelling Band
The accordion alone is enough to grab anyone by the heart, but then the harmonies kick in, the song builds in the repetition of the chorus and you're just finished. It's a great way to spend five minutes. The Travelling Band sounds like the tussle that would ensue if Nickel Creek and The Shins got tangled up in a wheat field. Vaguely retro, just a bit rootsy, but ultimately timeless. Listen

6. Electric Feel : MGMT
MGMT captures a 60s psychedelic rock vibe with shuffling, uninhibited, primal pulses accented with clear, flute-like synth. Plus, it weathers successive listens well. "Electric Feel" 's biggest offense has nothing to do with what the pair (Andrew Vanwyngarden and Ben Goldwasser) might have been smoking while recording it, but more to do with how it never seems to last long enough. Listen

7. A-Punk : Vampire Weekend
Quirky and spunky, Vampire Weekend had some of the freshest sounds to emanate from the predictable college music machine in a long time. Never mind if you can hardly understand a word lead singer Ezra Koenig says, between "oh"s and zippy guitar riffs, "A-Punk" is pretty catchy. More prep than you can stand? Never. Listen

8. Buildings and Mountains : Republic Tigers
Spin called these guys "glossy electro-folk" and I'll second that description. Seems I've had a penchant for dashes of ethereal in music this year. In any case, the song flows in hypnotic, computer generated waves, making for an enjoyable and atmospheric tune. Listen

9. Sing Again : Chris Walla
There's a simplicity to "Sing Again," not only in the mild instrumentation and airy vocals, but in the call for engagement in one's world. "A life packed full of mindless joy, is not easy to enjoy." Hard to argue with that. Listen

10. Skinny Love : Bon Iver
Bon Iver has been one of the bigger breakouts of 2008, it seems. Lord knows, For Emma, Forever Ago has been on just about every "best of" list I've seen so far. Again, the simplicity is highly appealing. Iver shifts from the high vocals down to the forcefulness of the chorus and its effect is mildly jarring, but jarring in a deliberate way. Plus, the banjo adds a compelling shade to the song. Listen

Happy listening.


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