Northwest Artists Pick Their Best of 2008

by Reese Umbaugh

Hello, 2009! We have another treat for those of you still living in 2008.  I asked some of my favorite local musicians what albums defined the past year for them.

photo by Chona Kasinger

photo by Chona Kasinger

Luke Smith, Natalie Portman’s Shaved Head

10. Starfucker – Starfucker: Starfucker is probably my favorite local discovery of this year. (Them, and Champagne Champagne). When listening to this album I am surprised at how many times I go, “Oh snap this is a good song!” or “Damn, I wish I had come up with that riff.” We just got them to open for us at our Holiday Spectacular show at the Vera Project and it was a big thrill for us. 

9. Lykke Li – Youth Novels: Sweden, oh Sweden. So many good things come from Sweden. Good shoes, jeans, furniture, food, and of course music. This is a really refreshing album. We’ve loved Lykke from the day she hit the blogosphere with her kinda freaky dance moves and cool tunes. 

8. Hot Chip – Made in the Dark: Hot Chip is one of our favorite bands as a band. Even though it might not have been as good as The Warning, this album was still awesome and Hot Chip is one of those bands where I will instantly buy their albums as long as they keep making ‘em. I like that they explored their slow-jam side and their dance rock side a lot on the album. Best of both worlds?

7. She & Him – Volume One: This was an album from a “celeb singer” that was actually really good! (Sorry Scarlet!). Teaming up with M. Ward sure didn’t hurt. I’m a sucker for 60-style pop, so this album was just the ticket. It’s jaunty. It’s woozy and melancholy. It’s a lot of fun. Plus I have a crush on Zooey Deschanel. Damn you, Ben Gibbard! (JK, happy 4 u). 

6. Rivers Cuomo – Alone II: The Home Recordings of Rivers Cuomo : It’s no secret that I (and Claire too) really love Weezer and Rivers Cuomo. Their Red Album almost made our list this year (it had some pretty good songs on it, okay, haters?), but this album is amazing for the really intimate view it gives into the life and songwriting process of Rivers. The 38-page booklet that comes with the CD is worth it alone. You learn the stories behind all the songs on the album and when and why they were written amongst his other mega-hits with Weezer. Also, the Beach Boys cover is ace.   

5. The Kills – Midnight Boom: I love this album. It’s just so crunchy and dirty and badass, while still maintaining an accessible pop side. I just wanna wear my cool, cool shades and rock out to this album.

4. Of Montreal – Skeletal Lamping: Holy Crap. This album blew me away when I first heard it. The bandmates and I went to the Skeletal Lamping advanced-listening-party-lazer-show at the Science Center and it was totally mind blowing. All the manic shifts in mood and style make for an exhilarating album. Although I kind of miss getting full “normal” pop songs from Of Montreal, there were so many amazing moments on the album. I really respect Kevin Barnes for trying something bold and ambitious and pulling it off. 

3. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend: Wow, what? This album came out this year? Vampire Weekend feel like they have already been around for quite a while. I can’t deny that this is a great album. What hasn’t been said about it already though? Putting the hype aside, these four college dudes made a fun album filled with super catchy afro-inspired preppy pop songs. 

2. MGMT – Oracular Spectacular: I saw MGMT open for Of Montreal back in 2005 and I fell in love right there. I was disappointed though to find that they didn’t have an album out. And yikes, I had to wait until 2008 for their album to officially drop, but it was well worth the wait. It’s such a great combination of some of my favorite things: cool electronic instruments, a little disco-funk mixed with psychedelic rock and David Bowie-ish vocals (at times), and amazing production by Dave Fridmann. This album is like a jungle to go wandering and get lost in. 

1. CSS – Donkey: Yeah, I’m kind of biased, but we all love this album. We toured with CSS this summer and again this December, and they are the nicest most fun people you’d ever meet. Adriano gave us all copies of Donkey this summer and it was a main music staple in the van driving through Kansas or wherever we were on our long cross-country drive. We heart them and heart this album.

photo by Krissi Pearson

photo by Krissi Pearson

Jared Mills, Man Plus

Portishead – Third : This isn’t the music of the future, this is the music of Neal Stephenson’s dystopian future. Third is chilly, claustrophobic, insular,  arty, tortured and often dissonant.  All of the makings of the most awful album of the year.  It’s not.  It’s perfect.

The Breeders – Mountain Battles : Gorgeous heroin-pop from the sisters Deal.  There is a reason people are already nostalgic for the 90s music scene.

Solange – Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams : While the other, less talented Knowles sister was getting her robotic hand oiled and achieving new levels of ridiculousness, Solange was writing a killer soul-psych record.  It turns out Baduism really is genre, and it’s new champion is Solange.

Juana Molina – Un Dia : What’s there to say?  Molina only continues to get weirder, and better.  If you aren’t already a superfan, you just haven’t heard her yet.

Kylie Minogue – X : No album this year had deeper hooks or better melodies, indie or otherwise.  Top notch pop album that was sadly overlooked.

Juliana Hatfield – How to Walk Away : Another alt-veteran who has put out consistently wonderful albums since her 80s and 90s heydays.  She has only grown more consistant and beguling.  Also, fuck Marnie Stern, Hatfield is the better guitarist, with more style and infinitely better songwriting chops.

Stereolab – Chemical Chords : The more things change…well, they don’t really change with Stereolab, but that’s okay.  Why would you want anything different from the consistently wonderful ‘lab?  They do spice things up with a sligth Motown edge to their established sound, but all you really need to know is it’s Stereolab, therefore it is wonderful.

Cyndi Lauper – Bring Ya To The Brink : Big personality, huge songs and a voice that is stronger than ever.  This is the album Madonna should have put out this year.

Jamie Lidell – Jim : Blue-eyed soul.  Be still my heart.

Raphael Saadiq – The Way I See It : While I’m still patiently awaiting a New Jack Swing revival, I guess I’ll settle for Saadiq’s excellent soul revival.

Kaylee Cole

photo by Ken Roeder

Kaylee Cole

Nick Jaina – A Narrow Way : I think this album is tops. I could listen to the title track a million times. Maybe I already have. And the last one…”I’m Your Man”….is probably one of my favorite songs of all time. It might also make me cry every time I listen to it. But I’m a crier, so that doesn’t really mean much.

Nick Jaina – Wool : Nick Jaina came out with this in early 2008. It’s all piano songs and it is quite beautiful. Songs to listen to on repeat…”Marianne” and “Power”

Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago : Duh!

Musee Mecanique – Hold this Ghost : Listening to Musee Mecanique live or on this lovely album is exactly like being in a very magical dream where you are flying over clouds and candy. “The Things that I Know” is my jam. My co-workers have grown to love it/hate it because of how often I make them listen to it.

MGMT – Oracular Sepctacular : This album melts my mind and makes me want to dance. And is particularly helpful to have a bartender blast this album very loudly when some drunk person is trying to play Ben Folds Five “Brick” on your keyboard (because you yourself are drunk and have yet to tear it down). It’s worked for me on numerous occaisions.

James Pants – Welcome : Yay for fellow Spok-ie James Pants!

TV on the Radio – Dear Science : Anything that TVOTR does is golden in my opinion.

Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes : One day after a scary visit to Planned Parenthood for my annual appointment (is that too much information?) I had what is called a “false alarm” and thought I was very much pregnant. I was a bit shocked and nervous but decided in the car ride from planned parenthood to my house that I would name the child Oliver James (after my favorite song on the Fleet Foxes record). Regardless of the sex. I was part delerious. I think. As it turns out I’m not preg-o. But I am still like the name very much but maybe only for a boy. I think Olivia James would be nice for a girl though. Songs on repeat: Every single one.

Hockey – Mind Chaos : Yay Hockey! From L.A. and then to Spokane to Portland and now signed to Capitol…Mind Chaos is best for late night dance parties and rapidly trying to clean your house before you invite people over for late night dance parties. Songs on repeat: “A Song Away” & “Curse this City” (which may or may not be about Spokane…)

The Walkmen – You & Me : Like TVOTR anything the Walkmen put out… I love. Simple enough.

photo by Rabid Child Images

photo by Rabid Child Images

Terry Radjaw, Mad Rad

Mad Rad – White Gold : This album has definitely changed our lives. 

Datarock – Datarock : It’s quirky and beautiful, right when you think its going to be funny it slips in and breaks your heart. It is us barbecueing and writing grafitti on a cool August night. 

Fresh Espresso – Glamour : It’s the best record in 2008 that we heard and you didn’t. In 2009, you will understand why the fresh kids listen to it.  

Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend : It was a great summer, wouldn’t you agree? The intimacy and warmth of the whole record is second to none. Plus, it had a genius mix.

Flying Lotus – Los Angeles : The Dilla of 2020. 

Junior Boys – Last Exit : We know it didn’t come out in 2008, but we listened to it the whole time we were mixing White Gold, and needless to say it had a slight influence on us. 

No Kids – Come Into My House : Pure, uncontaminated brilliance. 

Talking Heads – Stop Making Sense : This band is from the past but in many ways still very future. The constant influence on Mad Rad’s music and live performance.  

Q-Tip – The Renaissance : After all this time you finally get a record from him that doesn’t miss a beat. 

White Fang – Pure Evil : When innoncence becomes melodic chaos. “I was born in 1989, it wasn’t on purpose, but my mom said you were mine.” Thash. Gnar. Shred. Go. Machine. Plus, its all on tapes.

photo by Dan Muller

photo by Dan Muller

Kerry Zettel, See Me River

I’ve chosen to stay entirely Seattle on this one. My top 10 albums of 2008, in no particular order. I wish this were a top 20…

The Dutchess And The Duke – She’s the Dutchess, He’s the Duke: There’s something to be said for doing “lo-fi” right. She’s the Dutchess, He’s the Duke set the bar high and then cleared it.

The Moondogies – Don’t Be A Stranger: If someone asked my to describe what “Americana” sounds like, Don’t Be A Stranger would be my answer. This album just feels good.

Grand Archives – The Grand Archives: “A hamburger sandwich is like a graphic novel. It’s not a hot dog.” A quote taken directly from the Grand Archives myspace page.

See Me River – Time Machine: Like I wasn’t gonna put my own album. Come on…

Love As Laughter – Holy: Yeah, I know. These guys live in New York. But I met Love As Laughter back when they were from here… so this counts as a Seattle release. Special mention to “Coconut Flakes”.

Wild Orchid Children – The Elephants EP: This is some NUTS shit. Clearly the band went into the studio with a random assortment of psychotropic drugs and “had at it”.

The Pharmacy – Choose Your Own Adventure: I have never met a group of kids who were more willing to get into mischief then the guys in The Pharmacy. Choose Your Own Adventure is like every prank you’ve ever wanted to pull with all the satisfaction of never getting caught.

Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes: This album KILLS IT from beginning to end. Which is how, I believe, Robin had intended that the album be listened to. Not as single songs but from beginning to end. Hats off to you sir.

Helms Alee – Night Terror: So heavy that Atlas would be hard pressed to shoulder this record.

Say Hi – The Wishes And The Glitch: I’m a huge fan of bleeps and whistles and The Wishes And The Glitch is full of em’. Props on the name change. Welcome back to Seattle.


photo by Abara Ijiomah

Shawn Glassford, Starfucker

dykeritz… rearrangerologistics

deerhunter… micro castles

of montreal… skelatal lamping

deerhoof… offend maggie

talkdemonic… eyes at half mast

why?… alopecia

ruby suns… sea lion

chris koza… the dark delirious morning

ghosty… anwsers

blind pilot… three rounds and a sound

photo by Dan Muller

photo by Dan Muller


Here’s my top 10 in no particular order other than alphabetical…

Common Market – Tobacco Road: Sabzi and RA delivered a great follow-up to their debut with this one. Definitely check it out if you haven’t already. It’s one of my favorite records to throw on and just vibe to. Also, see if you can find yours truly in the video for “Trouble Is.” (Hint: I’m a very unimposing mob leader.) Favorite song: “Tobacco Road”

Elzhi – The Preface: In my opinion, Elzhi is one of the dopest MC’s in Hip-Hop right now. All I can really say is check this record out if you haven’t already. You won’t be disappointed. Trust me. Favorite song: “Motown 25″ (Feat. Royce Da 5’9″)

The Game – LAX: People usually either hate The Game or love The Game. I’m one of the latter. His excessive name-dropping doesn’t really bother me, and he has a knack for putting together really solid albums. His first two were just that, and it was no different the third time around. Definitely a banger. Favorite song: “State Of Emergency” (Feat. Ice Cube)

Grieves & Budo – 88 Keys & Counting: Grieves’ last record was dope as well, but I prefer this one to it because I think he and Budo displayed great chemistry on this one. As a result, it all came together really well. It also doesn’t hurt that Budo is one of my favorite producers period. Favorite song: “Catapults”

Jake One – White Van Music: What can I say about this album that hasn’t been said already? Jake is killin’ it right about now. It’s Town Bizness maine! Favorite song: “Home” (Feat. Vitamin D, C Note, Maine & Ish)

Kanye West – 808s & Heartbreak: People either loved this or hated it more than the person who loved it the most. I honestly didn’t care for it much when I first heard it, but it grew on me a lot. It’ll be nice to hear Kanye return to form next time around, though. Favorite songs: “Street Lights”

Ludacris – Theater Of The Mind: I’ve always liked Ludacris, but his last couple albums just didn’t do it for me. He redeemed himself with this one, though. (Luda + Premo) x (Luda + 9th Wonder) = FIRE. Favorite song: “I Do It For Hip Hop” (Feat. Nas & Jay-Z)

Nas – Untitled: Released amidst a whole lot of controversy, Nas’ latest didn’t disappoint me, although it did disappoint a bunch of people I know. Oh well. I liked it. Favorite song: “Testify”

The Saturday Knights – Mingle : As great as The Saturday Knights are on record, they’re even better live. I’ll never forget seeing them perform “45” two times in a row at Bumbershoot 2007. The crowd lost it. But yeah…back to the album itself. They’re having fun on it, and that’s something I think more people need to do these days. Know about it! Favorite song: “Dog Park”

Snoop Dogg – Ego Trippin': Tha Doggfather is still one of my favorites regardless of how much people say he fell off. Snoop is a legend and I thought this was a real good effort on his part. Plus, DJ Quik laced him with one of the freshest beats I’ve heard in a long time for “Press Play.” Favorite song: “Press Play”

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  1. Posted January 2, 2009 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    great post!

    enjoyed hearing from some nw artists and comparing my own top ten list

  2. sharlese
    Posted January 8, 2009 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    This was nice to read. Reese and his endless awesome ideas!

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