Albums Of The Year: 15-1

A few days ago, we gave you part one of our albums of the year list.  Today we bring you the best of the best from a wide range of artists who brought the noise this year.  We’ve fought it out amongst our ATH writers for weeks and these are the albums that we all loved.  These 15 albums went into thunderdome and emerged victorious.  Follow the jump to see if your favorite band made the Top 15 of 2008.

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Deerhunter – Microcastle

Rating: ★★★★ ·

For most of the fans of Deerhunter, this album seems to have been floating around the world in some form or another, so many of you have already gotten to know Microcastle, the band’s sophomore release.  Those of you that haven’t listened to it yet will definitely need to get your hands on this album.

Admittedly, the band has left behind a little bit of the atmospherics that were present in Cryptograms, instead pushing forward with a more immediate sound.  Mr. Cox has even gone so far as to say that he didn’t mind if the band took on a sort of Strokes‘ sound, which, it really doesn’t.  You can only go so far before you aren’t the same band, but Deerhunter sound every bit themselves here.

Sure, the songs definitely ascribe to a little bit of the pop, but they surround each song in their very structured fuzziness, clouding every inch of tape with something worthwhile for the listener.  It’s as if they chose to completely focus on every song, providing all of them with their own personality so that in turn, they resonate individually with the listener.  Slowly, the band builds each song, as if they were putting together tiny bricks in order to construct microcastles.

A lot of the songs, however, are reminiscent of the sounds bands like Grizzly Bear or Gravenhurst.  Gentle vocals are paced between intricate musicianship, and then walled in with extemporaneous sound, creating the perfect song within a soundscape.  It’s becoming a bit over-done, but you won’t find any who do it much better than the Georgians from Deerhunter.  But, they also jump far away from this in songs like “Cover Me Slowly” and “Nothing Ever Happened,” which may be more in the way of what future albums might sound like.

For now, the band seems to be happily stuck between their own walls of sound and their desire for a less eclectic sound.  They do seem at their best when they push the pace a bit, allowing themselves a touch of greatness, but each time they resume to other formats, they fall back into something more commonplace in the modern indie music market.  Either way, Deerhunter have created another album that is sure to rise to the top of many people’s year end lists; as it should.

Department of Eagles – In Ear Park

Rating: ★★★★½

Daniel Rossen probably receives the majority of his acclaim from his participation in Grizzly Bear, but as more people catch on to his side-project, Department of Eagles, that won’t last long. The band’s second album, In Ear Park, has enough bedroom beauty to take the acclaim to an all new level.

Much like his other band, Department of Eagles specialize in ethereal pop gems, catering to the changing of fall into winter. Every inch of every song seems so carefully crafted that one would find it difficult to recreate the moments that exist on this album, no matter how great an ear they had.

The first stand out track, “No One Does It Like You,” begins with an extra step, but quickly goes into subdued harmonizing vocals, reminiscent of multiple harmony bands such as Fleet Foxes. Layer upon layer is piled atop the song until the track completely transforms into perfection.

“Teenagers” is driven to fruition by delicately dark piano work, and the hollowness in the vocals seem to echo from the past, that is until the hand-claps come into play, carrying the song further, only to return to the lone piano work you hear at the beginning.

Amidst all those perfect moments come some dense atmospheric sounds, but they don’t necessarily detract from the album. In the strangest of ways it provides a haunting element to the album, deepening the emotional connection  between the band and the listener. Each song progresses as they should, but each listen offers more and more, as layers reveal themselves to the listener in an unusually gratifying listening experience.

The vocals differ from those of Grizzly Bear due to the more personal touch Rossen has placed on this album, which is said to be due to the unfortunate passing of his father. As the album touches on the personal emotions of their own world, the listener, too, can dive into the subconscious where our own innermost desires and fears may rest. See “Floating on the Lehigh” or “Classical Records.”

Their is a quality to this record that is difficult to place. At times the songs are haunting, ultimately revealing themselves as gems. During other moments it’s touching, as harmonies are shared between listener and band. In the end, you might find that the overall beauty in this record changes depending upon what your ears and mind bring to the table; you might find that it surpasses pieces for which Rossen has already achieved great success. No other album is more fitting to the onset of winter.

Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson – s/t

Rating: ★★★★ ·

I know I’m a little bit late with this review, since other people have already fueled the career of Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson, but I feel like I have to encourage this even more so.

Much has been said about the singer/songwriter’s difficult past, and a few touch on his TV on the Radio/Grizzly Bear connections. I want to focus on the strength of his debut self-titled album.

As a fan of music, this is exactly what you want a debut album to be. You want to see a lot of promise, and you sort of want to see a weak spot or two; a weak spot shows that there is more to be improved upon; a hopeful glance into the future.

I expected this to be sort of a folk record, dominated by acoustic guitars and gentle vocals. From the opening track, “Buriedfed,” you can tell that this is not the case. It starts off gently, as many of the songs do, but then the song picks up with percussion, and the vocals really can stand alone. His voice is somewhere along the lines of a warble, but at the same time, there is a certain assuredness in its delivery. Imagine Conor Oberst if he used to sing hardcore tunes.

There is a lot of loss going on in this album, lyrically. It’s clear that MBAR has had some rough times, and he definitely uses that for his songs. The sad thing, and I don’t know if it is a personal reference or not, but a lot of the album questions the purpose of living, which I know can only come from a person who has truly been in that position. Its got a touch of tragedy, but you want to route for the man. My own personal reference reminds me of Eliott Smith, and his way of connecting you to his life trials–MBAR does the same.

For some reason, this album is really hard to put into exact words. It feels really new, or at least the approach comes from somewhere else. The album comes across really dirty in a certain sense; there is a certain sound developed in this man’s songwriting that makes you go into the the darkness with him. Each turn the album takes allows you follow willingly, which you will.

With lines like “Fuck you, I just wanted to die,” I worry about MBAR, even if he is writing from an omniscient perspective. This man has some demons, but music fans know that this often creates some of the more powerful tunes. Hopefully he has his act cleaned up, and we can look forward to more great releases from him in the future.

Check out a new song called “Buriedfed” by Miles right here:

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/07/buriedfed.mp3]

Download: Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson – Buriedfed [MP3]

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