Top Albums of 2008: 20-16

Forgive me. I’ve been busy.

20. Why? – Alopecia

I’ve not been quite as taken with Why?’s latest album as the critics have, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a good album. Definitely not something you’d want to relax to, Alopecia is a somewhat skittish, flamboyantly experimental album which further cements Why?’s position as more of an indie band that happens to incorporate a rap-like element than any sort of hip-hop group.

The most impressive part of the album isn’t necessarily the music nor the lyrics themselves, but rather how naturally the band manages to make all the capriciously assembled elements flow together, and how catchy each hook really is. While frontman Yoni Wolf laments a breakup or considers loneliness, he does so with a certain detachment from both the concept at hand as well as concept as a whole, which ties together somewhat the generally fragmented nature of the rest of the music.

All in all, Alopecia is a fantastic piece of work, but not necessarily a fantastic piece of music.

Key Tracks: These Few Presidents, Fatalist Palmistry, Twenty-Eight

19. Logistics – Reality Checkpoint

Logistics’ debut album Now More Than Ever was a somewhat bizarre release. While Matt Gresham’s musical talent was projected very obviously in the album, and it had a number of incredible tunes – most notably City Life – the album was simply too ambitious to be thoroughly good. Putting out 24 top-notch tracks, particularly your first time out, is a grueling task, and it was pretty clear that he wasn’t up to it at the time.

Reality Checkpoint is exactly that – a return to reality for the artist. At 14 tracks long, it’s a much better album as a whole, with quite a few more catchy tunes that move Liquid Funk forward in some direction or another. Sadly, there aren’t any remarkable or super-innovative tracks that really stand out, but it’s a much better series of songs in general.

Key Tracks: Reality Checkpoint, 96, Continuum

18. Pendulum – In Silico

Pendulum’s debut album Hold Your Colour was a monster hit in the Drum and Bass world. Packed with hard-hitting, catchy songs that endure to this day, the album really made a name for Pendulum a few years back. While some people complained at how commercial and uninnovative the tracks are, sometimes that’s simply not the point. When Pendulum announced a new album drop, everyone was pretty stoked.

In Silico is… different. It still sounds definitely like Pendulum, which is good, but it also isn’t precisely Drum and Bass. It’s a bizarre yet somehow delicious mix of Drum and Bass and Rock. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it hits hard, sometimes it pulls back for no apparent reason and for far too long. Sometimes it’s fresh and exciting, and sometimes you just want to turn the thing off. At the end of the day, a couple of the songs have earned airplay on the local alternative rock station here in Seattle, so perhaps it’s a good thing that Pendulum chose this direction. In my book, it remains to be seen.

Key Tracks: Showdown, Propane Nightmares, The Tempest

17. Tom Morello: The Nightwatchman – The Fabled City

Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine fame made a name for himself by creating incredible, unbelievable sounds out of his guitar using just a toggle switch, four pedals, and a judicious amount of feedback. Perhaps this is why his first political folk rock album, One Man Revolution (which made number 14 on this list last year), was so incredibly sparse. Populated only by his nylon string guitar, his voice, his harmonica, and a smattering of other light instruments only occasionally, One Man Revolution was an incredibly successful exercise in minimalism. Stripped of his usual tools, Morello was forced to innovate and be extremely creative in order to form a collection of interesting, cohesive, pointed songs.

You can guess where I’m going. Given how he already proved himself with the last album, Morello decided to throw in a few more standard elements into his songwriting. A drumbeat and electric bass now populate most songs, and the songwriting is more conventional and repetitive. The lyrics don’t make as much sense to me. Everything is just a hair more trite. That doesn’t mean that the album isn’t still fantastic – it is, after all, on this list. However, it does mean that when choosing between the two, I would rather listen to the debut.

Key Tracks: The Fabled City, The Lights Are On in Spidertown, Saint Isabelle

16. Evol Intent – Era of Diversion

Evol Intent has long been an influential player in the Drum and Bass world. Tracks such as Call to Arms and Street Knowledge were seminal in their time and still among the greatest tracks today. Evol Intent’s record label has put out incredible artists like Counterstrike and Arsenic. But until this past year, they had never really put out that much material, much less a full LP.

Era of Diversion changes that. Very much a Bush-era album, it draws a lot of themes from political anger. And anger is a very good descriptor: there is no mistaking this album as the product of anyone but Evol Intent. Most disappointing, I think, is the placement of nearly all their previous tracks in the album, meaning that the first half of the album is the only real material. Considering how long the group has been working on this LP, actively or not, it’s incredibly disheartening to see this little real product.

Key Tracks: Era Of Diversion, 8bit Bitch, Reality Check

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