Tom’s Top 5’s: Albums of 2008

2008 was the year I began university, and also the year that I campaigned like a crazy person for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. I remember on Election Night, huddled with my fellow College Democrats, watching intently as CNN called each state for Obama or McCain. When we realized that Barack Obama had become the first African American President of the United States–indeed, that reliably Republican South Dakota had come within a few percentage points of throwing its piddling three electoral votes to Mr. Obama–we were overcome with emotion. We felt ourselves to be part of something historic.

And now I’m a disillusioned democratic (not Democratic) socialist who will almost certainly vote for a Democrat over a Republican in 2016 (and later this year for that matter) in much the same way that I’ll drink castor oil over turpentine. Ah, the naïveté of youth (he said in his mid-20s).

5. WE SING. WE DANCE. WE STEAL THINGS. (Jason Mraz)

We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things.

There were a couple of years there where you couldn’t escape “I’m Yours,” and even six years later it’s as ubiquitous in the repertoires of guitar-wielding college-age males as “Wonderwall.” It’s total fluff, as is the rest of the album (which, while sharing “I’m Yours”‘s chill vibe, frequently runs closer to white-boy R&B than Jack Johnson). But sometimes fluff is exactly what need to get you in a good mood.

4. VAMPIRE WEEKEND (Vampire Weekend)

Vampire Weekend

Graceland–preppy–Afrobeat–Ivy League. Now we’ve gotten those obligatory descriptors out of the way, I bought Vampire Weekend on release in 2008, having heard and enjoyed “Mansard Roof” and “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa.” It swiftly got buried in the ever-growing “CDs I own but haven’t yet listened to” pile, and eventually got sold when I moved house in 2012. Then I found my way back to it after the release of Modern Vampires of the City last year, realized my mistake in having let it go, and now, having Spotified it, I face the prospect of having to buy it again on Amazon for twice what I sold it for. Whoops.

3. FURR (Blitzen Trapper)

Furr

I had long loved the title track to Portland-based Blitzen Trapper’s Furr. So seeing its parent album had been released in 2008, I knew I wanted to know more before I posted this list. And holy Bob Dylan, Batman, if that blast of organ that opens “Sleepy Time in the Western World” doesn’t scream Blonde on Blonde, I don’t know what does. The song ends up somewhere between the Beatles and the Band though, which, if you add in a lot of the Grateful Dead, Neil Young, and Sweetheart of the Rodeo-era Byrds, is a good summation of the album as a whole.

3. THAT LUCKY OLD SUN (Brian Wilson)

That Lucky Old Sun

This pop-symphonic paean to Southern California, held together thematically by the title song and a series of narrative vignettes from the pen of Van Dyke Parks, was bound to draw comparisons to SMiLE even if it hadn’t been Brian’s first album of new material since SMiLE‘s completion in 2004. Even if That Lucky Old Sun doesn’t scale the heights of that masterpiece (but really, what does?), the sun-drenched vistas visible from its peaks are still pretty gorgeous.

1. PRETTY. ODD. (Panic at the Disco)

Pretty. Odd.

Sometimes albums enter your life at exactly the right moment. in Pretty. Odd.‘s case, that “right moment” was the first months of a youthful romance. For a social(ist) activist (him) and a neo-hippie artist (her) who both found salvation at the age of 11 when the Beatles blew our minds wide open, the fact that a band like Panic! At the Disco could so perfectly evoke the spirit of the 60s felt at once like a confirmation of everything we believed in–the dream of Woodstock was not dead, not yet anyway–and a benediction of our nascent relationship. As things worked out, we ended up getting married, so we were right about the latter in any event.

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