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    Saturday, December 06, 2008

    It's the most musical time of the year

    A few years have passed since I compiled a formal list of my year's favorites. My "Tracks of the Week" are long gone and my podcasts also died quietly. A year ago I didn't reflect back on 2007 to pick my favorites because I didn't feel like I discovered much new music then.

    This year is different. Particularly over the last six months, I found myself enjoying quite a few new releases. The majority of this list is electronic music, or at least influenced by electronic music. But I'd like to think that there's still variety to be found.

    You can sample some of the albums yourself with a zipped collection I compiled.

    Top Picks of 2008 Pack (~200 MB)

    In order of enjoyment:

    Move D & Benjamin Brunn - Songs From The Beehive - This one sailed into the #1 spot after I spent much of the summer listening to Move D's releases from the last couple years. This is quality electronic music that seems to bend a few different genres to be labeled with its own style Arthropod-house. Whatever that means.

    M83 - Saturdays=Youth - French musician Anthony Gonzalez has quite a few releases that mix shoegaze aesthetics with lush ambient pop. This album is his heaviest nod to pop so far, and it's gorgeous. The beautiful sonic textures complement its nostalgic sounds of the '80s and is the most fun album on this list.

    Burial - Untrue - I'm at #3 and I've already broken the rules. This album was released in November 2007, but close enough considering I've listened to this one the most of all releases on this list. The genre of dubstep hit its stride earlier this year and this sophomore effort from the mysterious London-based Burial is a standout. It even caught the attention of NPR's Song of the Day feature last spring.

    Flying Lotus - Los Angeles - This album got some recent press too in a New Yorker article by Sasha Frere-Jones. For a while, I seriously considered placing this one at the top of the list this year. Although taking some cues from artists like Prefuse 73 and DJ Shadow, I found this to be the most inventive album of the year. It's a mess of sounds and rhythms, but after repeated listens it just gets better and better.

    Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend - New York City's Vampire Weekend self-titled album was on heavy rotation all summer long. I mentioned that the M83 was the most fun release of the year, but I might take that back and choose this one instead. This one isn't electronic music, it's pure indie rock with shades of Paul Simon's Graceland throughout. Considering its their debut, this is a really well-executed, charming effort that might be my album for summer 2009 too.

    Bvdub - several releases - For recent dub techno, Bvdub is my favorite. I tracked down four of his mini-releases throughout 2008. Very relaxing, sublime music. I particularly enjoyed Dreams Of Red Chambers and Where To Now. A track from each is in the zipped pack.

    Windy & Carl - Songs For The Broken Hearted - I already own eight albums from this Michigan duo, but I'll always pick up their latest because their output is consistently great. Call it space-rock, atmospheric ambience, or drone, they've never disappointed since they began recording in 1992. This gets the "easiest to fall asleep to" prize this year.

    Newworldaquarium - Dead Bears - And this gets the "huh? not quite sure what this is" award of the year. It's clearly electronic music. The man behind Newworldaquarium is Jochem Peteri and he describes his music to be stuck halfway between hip hop and house. I agree and his production skills are fantastic. More quality electronic music from 2008!

    HEALTH - //DISCO - This is an example of one of those rare occurrences where the remix album is better than the original. HEALTH's self-titled release is terrific and a loud mess of rock and electronics, but this remix album is slightly better with more dimensions. The video for "Crimewave" features a bloody zombie wandering around Toronto.

    Various Artists - Round Black Ghosts - I'm rounding out the list this year with a dubstep compilation from the ~scape label run by Pole's Stefan Betke. Considering Betke's quality output in the past, it's odd that his contribution to this collection is probably the weakest track. But it still blends nicely with the rest of the dubstep artists here. The track from 2562 is a highlight as well as his full-length from this year entitled Aerial which didn't quite make the cut.

    Happy listening and happy holidays!