Best Albums 2008 (1-5)

5. Girl Talk — Feed the Animals

The culmination of the more-more-more Hollertronix aesthetic may irk troo rap fans in its lack of respect for The Culture and snobby crate diggers in its inability to resist the obvious crowd pleaser. I wouldn’t claim that mashing UGK into Spencer Davis is a deeply meaningful process myself. But people like to dance to songs they recognize because it’s fun, and people like to hear self-important tough guys deflated because it’s funny. Greg Gillis’s mix is marginally less artful this time, but because he also pitch-bends the vocals less distractingly, the simulated serendipity of his Tab-A-into-Slot-B constructions sounds less willful. Recommended to people who like hearing self-important tough guys deflated and dancing to songs that they recognize.

4. Les Amazones de Guinee–Wamato

The first recording in a quarter century from an all-woman band of Guinean soldiers who’ve been playing together almost twice that long leads with a shout of “Retour en force des Amazones!” but the overall assault is more disciplined than militant, with bassist Salematou Diallo holding things down like the Commandant she is. The sound is powered by contrasts: two saxophones and two guitars, African and Western drums both, and three distinctive vocalists. One is high and serrated, one low and growly, one working a bluesy mid-range. And know what, Goldilocks? They’re all just right.

3. TV on the Radio — Dear Science

Plenty of decent bands, overburdened by early excitement when they first break through and haven’t yet jelled, peak long after the hype dies down and no one’s still listening. But I can’t think of another band so immediately over-praised who became great in spite of themselves while still in the spotlight. Return to Cookie Mountain was doughy and half-baked by comparison, Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes callow pulp. Funky at long last, on their own ambivalent terms, and lyrically direct too — “Hey jackboot, fuck your war ’cause I’m fat and in love” leapfrogs over its overly quoted predecessor “I was a lover before the war,” and “I’m gonna make you cum” isn’t even the most carnal they get – the racket they kick up here is almost enough to make me believe in progress, and happy that I withheld judgment for so long.

2. Drive-By Truckers — Brighter Than Creation’s Dark

No concept here, unless “life during wartime” counts, which only Patterson Hood’s “The Man I Shot” and “The Home Front” address directly. But since that’s our national reality until further notice, better just to acknowledge that the Truckers are willing to face up to the everyday facts of American existence, even if Hood’s characters are often looking to duck out of such a confrontation, via crystal meth or life insurance fraud or just sleeping late on Saturday morning. Meanwhile Mike Cooley represents disappearing losers on “Bob” and “Self Destructive Zones” and Shonna Tucker makes an improbably sufficient Jason Isbell replacement. Nineteen songs, all keepers.

1. Los Campesinos! — Hold On Now, Youngster…

These Welsh art school spastics first caught my ancient, withered ear by reinterpreting pre-S&E Pavement to sound like Mekons, then by dissing K and MacKaye; toss in “The Year That Punk Rock Broke My Heart” here and you could suspect them of being a decade older than they claim. But their glockenspiel plinks and  traded shouts and verbal tumult are the genuine immature article. Bright enough to realize the world has no use for hyper-literate smartasses, desperate enough to believe that obsessing over bad sex will help them forget their obsolescence, they indulge with bookish camaraderie and abandon in lyrical gags that stretch far past a single quotable line. They got sadder from here, though not wiser.

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