Best of 2008 - Greg0rb's picks (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Best of 2008

Greg0rb's picks (2008)

staff picks

Greg Simpson is a staff reviewer here at Check back next week for year end lists from the Punknews editorial, and soon after the lists decided by your votes. - ed


My name is Greg Simpson and I'm a staff reviewer ‘round these parts. Personally, it was a nice low-key year: still happily married; still in our same nice condo in Bloomington, Indiana; still happily teaching little kids how to rock; still rocking out myself drumming in an outfit (with my wife on bass) and also doing a little lo-fi home recording project. Got a new kitty named Fry (as in Philip J.), and he's awesome. That was the biggest change for me this year, and I like my stability ‘cause I'm boring like that.

I made a point this year to bug PR people and labels to procure more albums from my favorite bands to review, and while my output is never up to the numbers of most of my fellow staffers, I was able to contribute more high-profile album reviews than usual. Last year I only reviewed two of the albums that made my list; this year I reviewed twelve of them (and four of my honorable mentions); they are noted by ‘[review]' at the end of their blurb. However, there were a few bands' releases I was interested in this year but didn't have the funds to get my mitts on: TV on the Radio, Music Tapes (Julian Koster of Neutral Milk Hotel), Deerhunter, Bloc Party, Black Kids, O'Death, Dillinger Four (gasp!) and I didn't even get that Lagwagon EP yet. You will not see these on my list and they may not have made it anyway.

Thanks for reading, or at the very least scrolling through my list to see how much you disagree with it.

My Top Twenty Albums for 2008

20. Ben Folds - Way to Normal
It's a bit odd that at 42, Folds has made the silliest and most profanity-laden album of his career. While it seems most indie fans are over the guy, I am still a sucker for his perfect melodies and key-pounding. While there are certainly a couple stinkers on here and a few embarrassing lyrics, this album received a ton of play for me this fall and is one of the most rockin' and fun albums the man has ever made.
19. Nada Surf - Lucky
While not as front-to-back amazing as their last two, Nada Surf add some new tricks to their indie pop with some country flavors, spooky effects and epic layers. [review]
18. No Age - Nouns
Sub Pop
The noisy L.A. duo didn't win me over immediately and I neglected Weirdo Rippers for a long time. They finally burrowed into my brain by way of my love of lo-fi stuff and their My Bloody Valentine-style droning samples. Wish Dean Spunt could sing better, but would that sound right? [review]
17. The Magnetic Fields - Distortion
Stephin Merritt and friends timed this one perfectly, releasing this at the height of my Jesus and Mary Chain obsession. The noise makes a cozy blanket for Merritt's theatrical melodies, and this is also the welcomed return of Shirley Simms on vocals, who steals the album's best tunes for herself. [review]
16. Chad VanGaalen - Soft Airplane
Sub Pop
Props to my friend Scot who knew I would like this even when I wasn't sure. This album is so eclectic that while I latched on to his spooky folk tunes immediately, it took a bit longer with his loose rock songs and synth-laden dance numbers. The album is all over the place but is somehow tied together with his quivering, captivating voice. This is exactly how a solo record should be made: do everything and anything you want. He even animates his own videos -- check out "Molten Light" below to be thoroughly creeped out.
Los Campesinos!
15. Los Campesinos! - We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed
Wichita / Arts & Crafts
The Welsh septet's second release of the year broadened their poppy scope to let in the soft and slow yet keep the quick, peppy noisiness of their earlier stuff. It showed they were no one-trick pony -- more like a workhorse. [review]
14. Jolie Holland - The Living and the Dead
Holland gets fewer originality points as she steers away from jazz elements and back to her roots of folk and country, but as long as she keeps singing, I'll keep listening.
13. I'm from Barcelona - Who Killed Harry Houdini?
The Swedish 28-piece tones things down a little to avoid being pigeonholed as shallow pop. Not as immediate of an album, but in the end the songs are elegantly constructed and still addictive as hell. [review]
12. Islands - Arm's Way
My beloved Nick Thorburn and his Islands took my #1 spot in 2006, and they return less loose and whimsical and more proggy and put-together -- still awesome, just different. [review]
Silver Jews
11. Silver Jews - Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea
Drag City
The first post-touring Jews album finds a tightened group of musicians making some damn fine country-tinged rock with more lyrical gems from David Berman's endless supply. [review]
10. The Gaslight Anthem - The '59 Sound
OK, you ‘Orgers finally wore me down and I checked out your unanimous favorites. Their first one sounded too typical punk for me (I'll have to give it another chance now), but this one rules. These punked-up Boss-inspired anthems have the best choruses of the year.
9. The Hold Steady - Stay Positive
Boys and Girls in America was my #2 of 2006, and Stay Positive is more great classic bar-rock with killer keys and Craig Finn's lyrical mastery, but it would have been nearly impossible to top that last one. They also put on one of the best shows I saw this year in the tiny Bluebird here in Bloomington in November.
Vampire Weekend
8. Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend
No matter where they're drawing their inspirations from (no, it's not purely a Graceland rip), you can't deny the great songs that fill this record. If you hate them for their image or because you're anti-hype, then you're missing out.
Simple pop-rock on the surface, atypical structures underneath, SSLYBY's sophomore effort cleaned things up to the dismay of many in the blogosphere, but I attest it's even better than Broom. [review]
6. Smoking Popes - Stay Down
After an 11-year gap since a proper album, we find the Popes still in top form, with unbelievably catchy songs that don't suffer a bit from the new positive lyrical angle. One of my all-time favorite bands and they don't disappoint. [review]
5. Mock Orange - Captain Love
My long-time favorites and eternal underdogs, the long-running foursome came close to matching the perfect Mind Is Not Brain by expanding within their already wide parameters of country-spanning sounds: Southern rock guitar leads, Northwest indie rock progressions, Indiana outlook. [review]
4. Okkervil River - The Stand Ins
Completely missed the memo about these guys and now I don't know how I lived without ‘em. Need to get the entire back catalogue, apparently. Some of the most tasteful arrangements and memorable lyrics I heard all year.
The Raveonettes
3. The Raveonettes - Lust Lust Lust
I discovered the Danish duo also during my Jesus and Mary Chain period, and boy do these two do it right. White-noise guitars coupled with saccharine girl-group melodies makes Greg a happy man. [review]
2. The Mountain Goats - Heretic Pride
They left me hanging with no release in 2007 after making my list three years in a row, but they came roaring back with a powerful '08. After the mellow Get Lonely, John Darnielle flips to pen one of their most eclectic sets ever including their hardest rocking songs to date, coupled with some of the best production heard this year.
Of Montreal
1. of Montreal - Skeletal Lamping
Kevin Barnes's long-running project has been in my radar for quite a few years now but didn't even make my Top 20 until last year, and now they are on the top of the heap. This album is just so unbelievably fun and yet so bizarre; it tests the very limits of what pop music can be and still be called ‘pop.' It's not for everyone and that's what makes it so great. People deep down want predictable music and this doesn't give it to them. I think it's genius. [review]
Honorable Mentions

Fleet Foxes totally had my number: folk-based, harmony-laden, reverb-drenched tunes on a trusted label (Sub Pop), but it just didn't hook me in the end. My love for Headlights' Some Racing, Some Stopping faded over the year, but I still think it's some beautifully-constructed and sneakily complex indie pop. While I'm glad to see an old dog learning new tricks, Death Cab for Cutie's Narrow Stairs missed the mark on enough tracks to knock them out of contention. Although Murder by Death's Red of Tooth and Claw is a great set of songs (better than In Bocca al Lupo), with this year's strong releases it didn't make the cut. Los Campesinos! probably could have had both of their albums on the list, but Hold On Now, Youngster… was the more formulaic of the two, however great the formula. Wolf Parade's At Mount Zoomer is pretty good, but I was hoping for something more (that I can't put my finger on) from the spread-thin songwriting duo. Jenny Lewis, why have you not graced my list since '04? Acid Tongue is just another underwhelming yet still-enjoyable attempt by the indie darling. And finally, Tapes ‘n Tapes' Walk It Off was killed by the internet and really wasn't all that bad.

Video Proof

Chad VanGaalen – Molten Light Ben Folds – Cologne
The Mountain Goats – Sax Rohmer #1 of Montreal – Id Engager

Biggest Disappointment

Weezer - The Red Album
The first half of this record is decent, and I like the simple catchiness of "Pork and Beans" and the bombastic nature of "Greatest Man Who Ever Lived," but Side Two just tanks the thing. I'm all about Weezer being more collaborative with their songwriting (I think), but Rivers needs to stay on lead vocals. It just doesn't sound like Weezer otherwise.
Best EPs of 2008

2. Ryan's Hope - Chaos
The Joliet trio forges ahead on their own, trying out some new tricks and polishing some old ones on this blistering set, trying out psycho-bluegrass fingerpicking ("Bloodline"), some sweet syncopated team-shredding ("Choose Blasphemy") and Iron Maiden guitarmony ("Bastard Epidemic").
1. The Mountain Goats - Satanic Messiah EP
A perfect companion piece to Heretic Pride, this is probably the closest we will ever get again to old-school MG -- not in a lo-fi sense, but in a stripped-down sense with simple accompaniments to four soft yet lyrically-biting songs. John Darnielle's other EP with Kaki King probably would be on this list too had he come close enough to me to grab the tour-only release. He was a busy man in 2008.
Best Albums of 2007 That I Didn't Hear Until 2008

Black Lips - Good Bad Not Evil
Took me long enough to get around to checking out a band that seemed like a perfect fit for me. They do garage rock with an attitude perfectly and nail that retro guitar sound. Need to get everything they've done.
The National - Boxer
Beggar's Banquet
The heaps of praise broke me down to these guys who didn't, at first, seem like a perfect fit; they seemed boring to me at first. Turns out it's a beautiful, dark record that utilizes a great trick of driving drums propelling what could have been ballads.
Matty Pop Chart - Everyone Does Everything
Something I most likely wouldn't have heard if not for Brian sending it my way. Wonderfully nasally-voiced Matt Tobey sings coyly over a wide variety of pop backings. [review]
Jason Anderson - Tonight
This one I definitely wouldn't have heard if Brian hadn't sent it to me. An uplifting sing-along message carried by catchy classic rock-inspired tunes makes for a great time. [review]
Now That's What Greg Calls Music V

Side A
  1. Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin – Think I Wanna Die
  2. of Montreal – An Eluardian Instance
  3. The Hold Steady – Magazines
  4. The Gaslight Anthem – Miles Davis & the Cool
  5. I'm from Barcelona – Mingus
  6. Headlights – Catch Them All
  7. Death Cab for Cutie – No Sunlight
  8. Mock Orange – Captain Love
  9. Islands – I Feel Evil Creeping In
  10. Murder by Death – Ash
  11. Chad VanGaalen – Willow Tree
  12. Jenny Lewis – Carpetbagger
  13. Fleet Foxes – Ragged Wood
  14. Jolie Holland – Your Big Hands
Side B
  1. Los Campesinos! – We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed
  2. No Age – Here Should Be My Home
  3. Ryan's Hope – Choose Blasphemy
  4. The Raveonettes – Sad Transmission
  5. Times New Viking – (My Head)
  6. The Mountain Goats – Lovecraft in Brooklyn
  7. Tapes ‘n Tapes – Hang Them All
  8. Nada Surf – Ice on the Wing
  9. Vampire Weekend – M79
  10. The Smoking Popes – If You Don't Care
  11. Wolf Parade – California Dreamers
  12. Ben Folds – The Frown Song
  13. The Magnetic Fields – The Nun's Litany
  14. Silver Jews – San Francisco B.C.
  15. Okkervil River – On Tour With Zykos
Most Anticipated Records for 2009

Will that new My Bloody Valentine record finally materialize? What about the new Jesus and Mary Chain I haven't heard anything about in over a year? Those would definitely be the two most anticipated for me, with others being more reliable upcoming records by Wilco, Sonic Youth, Green Day, the Thermals, Ben Kweller, Black Lips, the Decemberists and a quick turnaround from Headlights and Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin. And just to ruin any cred I may have, I'm interested to hear that Two Tongues project by Chris Conley and Max Bemis. Could suck, though. And how about that new Rentals full-length finally, Matt Sharp?!