Best Albums of the 2000s: 2008

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Reader’s Choice: TIE. MGMT – Oracular Spectacular, Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend

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A tie is a little anti-climactic. I know this. You know this. We all like to see our guy win, and when he ties… it just feels a little less legit. Well, when there was virtually no separation between votes for MGMT and Vampire Weekend in our 2008 poll, it only felt right for us to give both artists the win.

The thing that stands out most to me about these bands being paired as the popular choice for best albums of 2008, is that they’re both so non-traditional. Being from New York is about all these two bands have in common. Vampire Weekend’s vampy organs and old-time feel have very little similarity to the dancy upbeat nature of MGMT’s music. Even when the bands use the same instruments, they play them so differently that there is a distant feeling when comparing the two. MGMT seems more current, hip, and tangible, but Vampire Weekend feels so vintage, flowing, and refined. Both are awesome and I love seeing them paired together (Editor: Can a savvy DJ mash these two albums together for us?).

Seeing a mass vote pick these two albums tells me that the internet has changed the way we listen to music… and I think it has changed it for the better. 10 years ago, you would have had a nearly impossible time finding either of these albums on a shelf in a music store. Independent music like this was spread by mouth & magazine and never got the exposure or mass buzz that bands can get today. It was really, really hard for the masses to pick up on anything that wasn’t on the radio. Mostly because back then, if you wanted to hear something like Vampire Weekend, you had to discover the band (which generally meant subscribing to an underground music magazine or by digging through stacks of CDs at an independent record store), go to a record store, order the album (since those types of albums typically weren’t on shelves), wait for the album to come to the store, go pick up the album from the store, listen to the album and decide if you like it, and share the album via cassette or burned CD. Well, now most of those steps have been eliminated. Now discovering & sharing new music is much more streamlined: discover the band (which I usually do on social media sites or blogs), listen instantly to it online, download it, and share it via email, twitter, or facebook. Done…  it’s nearly instantaneously shared over and over and over.

This new method of social distribution has exposed people to all sorts of different music, including bands like MGMT and Vampire Weekend. We’re not confined, any more to what radio stations and MTV tell us to listen to. Instead, you listen to music your friends suggest, and you become more diverse in your tastes.

Anyway, both albums have had great success since 2008. MGMT perhaps has enjoyed more commercial recognition, but neither have hurt for notoriety. Vampire Weekend was released on January 29, 2008 and attracted the immediate interest of bloggers and social media sites. That attention drove the album’s success in both the US and UK. It peaked at number 15 on the UK Albums Chart and number 17 on the Billboard 200. Under the Radar magazine named it the #2 in their "top 50 albums of 2008" issue, and in January of 2009 Rolling Stone named it the 10th best album of 2008.

Oracular Spectacular, received more critical attention debuting at number twelve on the UK album chart, number six on the Australian ARIA charts, and number one on the Billboard Top Heatseekers chart. It was named the best album of 2008 by NME and more recently (December 1, 2009), MGMT was announced as nominees for the 2010 Grammy Awards for Best New Artist and "Kids" (Best Pop Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals).


PMA’s Choice: Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago

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I don’t remember the first time I heard For Emma, Forever Ago. It was a critical darling, and it was another album that took me a while to get to. For about six months in 2008 I'd hear songs off the record here and there, always liking what I heard, but I never took a full listen and more or less mentally shelved the whole thing. It actually took a very good friend (with impeccable music taste) asking me what I thought about the band to get me to take a full, hard, listen. So I went on youtube, made a playlist of For Emma, Forever Ago and I started listening at work...

I didn't like it — I loved it (even better than greats that played in the same vein: Fleet Foxes & Okkervil River). The album is full of haunting themes and brilliant musicianship; front to back, it's phenomenal. I'm not going to review the album here, but I will say that I should have given this record a chance much earlier. It ranked #29 in Pitchfork’s 200 albums of the 2000s. #29 on Rolling Stone’s 2008 albums of the year list. It peaked at 64 on the U.S. Billboard 200, #4 on the U.S. Top Independent Albums, and #1 on the 2008 U.S. Top Heatseakers chart. More impressive than that... it's our choice for best album of 2008. Lucky Bon Iver. :)

It’s hard to shine a historical light on an artist as new as Bon Iver. Especially when the artist has such a small body of work, but For Emma, Forever Ago is one of those albums that seems to have real staying power. I remember listening to music with my dad as a kid… stuff that he really liked. To this day, whenever I hear music from Simon and Garfunkel or the Beatles it reminds me of my childhood... there are certain artists who make music that lasts. Well, Bon Iver put an album together that I truly feel like I’ll be listening to for years to come. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment and think that popular music is going to be around long term, but really there are only a handful of artists that stick around. Time will tell, but I’m convinced that For Emma, Forever Ago is one of those albums.