2008 Calvin Awards: Best Album
February 18, 2008
We at BOP are anything but one-dimensional. While we may be frustrated filmmakers, we're also frustrated musicians, too. We manage to look through that bitterness once a year to compile our favorite works in the musical realms and present to you, here in listed form.
Even as the format of release known as "the album" gives way to the era of the iTunes track, some bands are still able to put together a coherent package of music that expands on itself as a whole, transporting a listener to, at the risk of pretentiousness, another musical dimension. For us, this year, the best at this was Arcade Fire's latest, Neon Bible.
The Montreal-based band may not have invented baroque pop, but they've certainly come close to perfecting it, following up their transcendent breakthrough album Funeral with one that equals, and in some cases surpasses it. Their wall of sound technique and dazzling array of instrumentation is also on display here, but managing to sound both epic and intimate at the same time. Call it indie arena rock, which is a neat trick to pull – it's not every band that can garner comparisons to The Flaming Lips and Bruce Springsteen at the same time.
Second place goes to Spoon's most recent album Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. Their sixth studio album, it saw Spoon stretch their legs a little, dialing down the rawk in favor of danceable pop grooves – and as anyone who saw the Keepon video for Don't You Evah can attest, it's about as danceable as it can get. And with a heavy dose of saxophone and handclaps, The Underdog and You Got Yr Cherry Bomb brought back just a little of the fun of Motown to the indie scene.
The National was one of this year's big breakthrough bands with their album Boxer, which earned third place in our survey. It shares some of that same sonic space as Spoon, albeit with a little more melancholy – mostly because lead singer Matt Berninger's deep baritone just inspires a more introspective sound. It's a warm kind of melancholy, though, the kind of songs that just slowly envelop you and build and build until you feel happy about the fact that it made you sad in the first place.
Fourth place goes to LCD Soundsystem's Sound of Silver, and its lead, James Murphy, who has been one of the biggest names in dance-punk for almost two decades. Sound of Silver is sort of like the best '80s synth-pop album never released, but glazed over with a 2000s sense of irony and fun. The track North American Scum in particular makes for an irony-soaked club-stomping anthem, as if to say, hey, there's no need to take this stuff so seriously.
Every album that's followed Radiohead's Kid A has been trumpeted as their "return to guitar rock", and while it's still not quite true with In Rainbows, which tied for fourth, it's closer than ever. Personally, they could release a dozen Kid A's and I'd be fine with that, but In Rainbows saw them create a happy blend with their blenderized electronic music and their melodic anthems. Probably known most for its "eff the record companies" release strategy, In Rainbows offers a tremendously immersive experience, from the fuzzed-out (yes) guitars of Bodysnatchers to the haunting and deceptively simple Reckoner. Radiohead remains a band that can be counted on to grow with each album.
Band of Horses takes sixth place with their second album Cease to Begin, which saw them add more southern and country influence to their Guster-impression. While there's nothing quite as achingly beautiful as The Funeral from their first album, there's still enough there to make earnest, heartfelt music sound cool.
We sure do like our jangle-pop here, awarding The Shins seventh place with Wincing the Night Away. When they're not busy changing Zach Braff's life, their crafting marvelous harmonies like Phantom Limb.
Don't hold the iPod Nano commercial against Feist, who comes in at eighth with The Reminder. 1 2 3 4 may have become ubiquitous, but it's far from the only gem this album has to offer. Musically adventurous (gospel and big band influences are present) but infectious to the extreme, The Reminder introduced much of the world to a pop genius. Admit it, you're humming the iPod song right now.
Tied for this spot is Arthur & Yu, In Camera. The Seattle duo seeks to rehabilitate the reputation of the folk duo. Filled with reverb and '60s twee pop, but never degenerating into embarrassing Sonny & Cher territory, In Camera is a testament to the power of solid songwriting.
While Amy Winehouse may have been more famous for her antics and near-death than anything else this year, it's easy to forget that she released one of the best albums of the year. Like something out of a time capsule, Back to Black, our tenth place finisher, saw Winehouse revive a genre, rhythm and blues, that many had left for dead. If she can stay alive, she may be able to do much, much more for it in the coming years. (Reagen Sulewski/BOP)
Best Overlooked Film
Best Supporting Actor
Best Supporting Actress
Best TV Show
Best Use of Music
Best Video Game
|| Arcade Fire
||Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
|| The National
|| LCD Soundsystem
||Sound of Silver
|| Band of Horses
||Cease to Begin
|| The Shins
||Wincing the Night Away
|| Arthur & Yu
|| Amy Winehouse
||Back to Black