CoS Year-End Report: The Top 100 Albums: #25 – #1

25. Crystal Castles – Crystal Castles

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Earlier this year, Russell Michniak called Crystal Castles’ debut album a “good musical kick to the groin”, and his opinion has yet to change. Five months later, the ol’ Ginger King himself hails the album fully, writing: “Crystal Castles’ first full length album is a testament to how far ahead in the game they are, musically speaking. These two are making dance music for the video game generation, and it can only be described as the album we should be listening to in the new millennium.” Brief, but to the point.

24. Spiritualized – Songs in A & E

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At this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival, CoS’s Editor-in-Chief, Michael Roffman, called Spiritualized, “the greatest performance” of the weekend, and spoke highly of the band’s “alluring blend of classic rock blues and modern atmospherics.” While no disc can match the band’s superiority on stage, Songs in A&E comes pretty close. Writer Justin Gerber refers to the record as “J. Spaceman’s near-death album”, while fellow writer Drew Litowitz insists, “There is not a weak song on the album, including the 6 “Harmony” songs, which are short instrumentals, effectively setting the mood for each of the record’s sections.” Both would have a hard time arguing that this album is anything short of “incredible.”

23. Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago

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For those who know singer Justin Vernon from his days as frontman for DeYarmond Edison, his reincarnation as Bon Iver (an intended misspelling of the French phrase for “good winter”), has been particularly surprising. Virtually every aspect of his debut release, For Emma, Forever Ago, represents a total transformation, from Vernon’s haunting falsetto to his oddly intuitive approach to songwriting. Is this a surprise? After breakups with both his girlfriend and former band, Vernon left North Carolina in ‘06 to return to his native Wisconsin, where spent a winter in isolation at his father’s remote cabin, piecing together the intimate and soulful songs of For Emma by layering multiple vocal tracks with a collection of tattered recording equipment over an acoustic guitar, effectively sealing the legend of his album’s distinctive creation. It’s this quaint story that makes for such a “compelling” record, and one that, “commands you to listen to every note”, according to writer E.N. May. Writer Drew Litowitz adds, “Its good to hear something as pure and authentic as Bon Iver at I time when authenticity is becoming less and less cherished by the masses.”

22. Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks – Real Emotional Trash

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It’s hard to discredit Stephen Malkmus, and we’d be hard pressed to find anyone who has. With his latest opus, Real Emotional Trash, the ol’ ex-Pavement songwriter rounded up the Jicks and carved out one excellent afternoon record. Pegging the album with three and a half stars earlier this year, Roffman called it, “a scattered, guitar driven rock album” with “so much to look forward to.” Nearly ten months later, he’s pouting he gave the album such a low score, as he writes, “Real Emotional Trash is one of the year’s top albums and should be considered a milestone in Malkmus’s on-going career.” Guitar enthusiasts, beware of this record.

21. Titus Andronicus – The Airing of Grievances

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If there’s one new band to get all riled up about, it’s certainly Titus Andronicus. At least that’s what CoS Publisher, Alex Young, thinks. This past October, Young had a chance to witness the “lovely six-piece outfit from Glen Rock, New Jersey” and to say he was thrilled would be an understatement. Live, he marveled at the band’s “chaotic distortion of guitar riffs” and the “Replacements-like passion” that filtered throughout the entire set. On record, there’s no exception, and with punch and kick in songs like “My Time Outside the Womb” and “Arms Against Atrophy”, there’s no door these guys can’t kick down.

20. The Black Keys – Attack & Release

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Who knew two guys could be responsible for so much noise? This Akron duo tore up the festival circuit this year, and Attack & Release is partly responsible. With some wicked production, thanks to Gnarls Barkley guru Danger Mouse, the band’s fifth album is, what E.N. May calls, ” a great example of perfect growth for a band centered on the delta tradition”, and one that proves the band has, “moved up and shown some serious song writing muscle.”

19. Hercules & Love Affair – Hercules & Love Affair

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Call it an affair, call it what you will, but one thing’s for sure, this project is something else. Under the guidance of Manhattan DJ Andy Butler, the lush and vibrant disco sound here makes for an excellent house sound. Writer Anthony Balderrama calls the Hercules & Love Affair’s debut effort, “Pound for pound, the best dance album in years” and applauds Butler for his “knowledge of techno and disco” that “melds into a cerebral booty shaker.”

18. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes

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With harmonies like this Seattle five piece, it’s easy to make to it. On Fleet Foxes’ self titled debut, it’s hard to not get lost in the dreamy folk and baroque pop. That might explain why earlier this summer, May called the album, “comfortable”, awarding it a heavy four and a half stars. In the cold winter presently, he only seems to be warming up to it more, as he insists the band carries, “Easily some of the best vocals in music today.” Some might contend that this isn’t so much of an opinion, but a fact. Drew Litowitz argues, “The full sound of Fleet Foxes is derivative, of course, but in a way that strips the good qualities of its influences, and brings them together to form its own sound. There’s not much to not like about Fleet Foxes.” Keep an eye out for this group.

17. The Presets – Apocalypso

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Despite sharing touring duties with Cut Copy, there hasn’t been a lot of press surrounding the Australian based dance crew, and that might explain why our own Ginger King, Russell Michniak, is so crabby all the time. With four stars in tow, Michniak called Apocalypso, “undeniably intelligent dance music for electronica fanatics who just want to have some fun.” So what are his thoughts now? We’ll let his clever wit do the talking: “Can we just have these guys and Justice switch off and make an album every other year?”

16. Does it Offend You, Yeah? –You Have No Idea What You’re Getting Yourself Into

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Watch out, Gregg Gillis! (Though, judging from this list, he’s got nothing to fret about.) It looks like there’s a new team ready to capitalize on the ever popular mixtape biz, and this one comes from overseas… Reading, Berkshire to be exact. Reason for the warning Gillis is that not too long ago Russell Michniak dubbed Does It Offend You, Yeah?’s debut, You Have No Idea What You’re Getting Yourself Into, “the ultimate 2008 mix CD.” He had his reasons, of course, and in rather layman’s terms, he stated: “It has pop, rock, punk, electro, dance, instrumentals, distorted vocals, well sung emotional vocals, and it opens well and closes excellently. It just happens to be that the album is by one band that understands all these styles and is able to play them like any good DJ could.” If you’re not into any of the above genres, then you’re shit out of luck, apparently. And, why are you reading this site, anyways?

15. The Raconteurs – Consolers of the Lonely

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There’s truth to the statement, “Jack White has saved rock n’ roll for the new millenium,” and in some respects, writer E.N. May isn’t alone. White is a carniverous writer and it shows on his latest opus, Consolers of the Lonely. Another early quarter release, Consolers didn’t seem to impress Michael Roffman, who originally wrote that the album, “lacked punch and dynamite”, even going so far as to say it wasn’t very “enjoyable.” A good few disagreed, including most of the CoS writing staff. Chris DeSalvo writes, “What Jack White touches, turns to gold, and his “side project” sling a sonic sonic recipe of songs that hardly deviate from Rock and Roll’s soul purpose: To inspire voluminous, urgent-minded release to its listeners.”

14. Man Man – Rabbit Habits

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To be blunt, Man Man isn’t for everyone. That’s not to say they aren’t bold, adventurous and original, because simply put, that’s exactly what they are. However, don’t let this curt description dissuade you. This music out of left field should entice you, at least that’s what former writer Jon Slusar alluded to earlier this year, “New comers will be pleasantly surprised to hear unique, demonic, and just fun new music, that they will never forget. So kick back, close your eyes, and let each song paint itself, in your mind.” A more recent opinion comes from staff writer Adam Kivel, who writes that Rabbit Habits is, “The perfect blend of Killadelphia party jams and lush narrative suites make this a top album. Taking anything from a single-note kazoo riff to field recordings of fireworks, Man Man wrangle in their manic energy at just the right spots, while letting the lunacy run wild elsewhere..” Shall we double dare you to listen?

13. Guns N’ Roses – Chinese Democracy

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It had become a long running joke in the music industry, but 2008 will forever go down as the year Guns N’ Roses’ Chinese Democracy was delivered, and Axl Rose “returned.” Many were thrilled, like Michael Roffman, who gave the album four stars. A few, like Chris DeSalvo, were a bit more realistic: “We waited a long time, and Axl Rose crafted a decent compensation for the time we put in. The trouble is, his fifteen-year identity crisis rages on. Still, a stellar representation of the talent Rock’s most enigmatic (and perhaps it’s best) front man still has to wield.” Some were just downright lost, much like Russell Michniak, who writes, “Axl is back, I’m still undecided if that is a good thing.” We’ll let the music speak for itself.

12. Jenny Lewis – Acid Tongue

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It’s no secret that every male writer here at CoS is in one way or another head over heels for Jenny Lewis. It’s kind of hard not to be, what with those short shorts and that fluffy red hair. She’s every music fan’s “indie goddess”, which might explain why Lewis’ latest solo effort is so close to the top. Or, we could actually hear the writer’s point of view. Anthony Balderrama writes, “Lewis continues to follow her inner cowgirl on her sophomore solo LP. This album has more barn burners and confidence than she’s displayed on any Rilo Kiley disc.” Meanwhile, Justin Gerber insists the title track is, “one of the best songs of the year,” and Russell Michniak calls it a “solid album.” Okay, so it’s a staff favorite.

11. R.E.M. – Accelerate

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“Everything here works,” Michael Roffman wrote back in March in his review for Accelerate, where he awarded R.E.M. four and a half stars. With almost a year in passing, he insists he summarized the album perfectly in writing, “There’s a wealthy collection of strong, solid songs that exemplify a wealth of talent in songwriting, which shouldn’t be a surprise given the band, but considering it’s their fourteenth offering, one would expect… less than.” Fortunately, he’s not alone, as Justin Gerber calls it, “The best R.E.M. album since drummer Bill Berry left in the mid-nineties.” He goes on to write, “[Accelerate] marks the return of trademark Peter Buck guitar and Mike Mills harmonies. Clocking in at a little over half an hour, it leaves you wanting more, but in a good way. calling it.” Even Michniak offers a good quip to conclude on, “What list would be complete without Michael Stipe making an appearance.” Touche, Russ. Touche.

10. Sigur Rós – með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust

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Another album awarded only a shade under five stars, it’s no surprise that Sigur Rós delivered such a fantastic album, at least our staff tends to think so. Drew Litowitz writes, “It is certainly much more than a buzz in our ears and the ‘songs’ that Sigur Rós have created on their latest are beautiful enough that if they did, like the title suggests, play endlessly, it would not be the worst thing in the world.” There’s something else that’s new here, as Anthony Balderrama suggests, “For the first time they sound…happy!” In his original review, Michael Roffman insisted, “Complaints should be short and few.” That seems to be the case here, and Chris DeSalvo has some nice closing arguments here, “If all Iceland’s exports were as quality as this, they would be the world’s richest province.”

09. Atmosphere – When Life Gives You Lemons…

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There’s some high regard to be given to the group. Chris DeSalvo writes, “Rap’s best-kept secret remains below the radar, but Lemons… provides further evidence as to why everyone should pay attention to the shit Slug’s saying.” You’re going to want to own this… guaranteed.

08. Metallica – Death Magnetic

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You can wipe those eyes, folks. Yes, Metallica is in our top ten. This may shock even the heaviest of the metal heads, but the reasoning is genuine. Our own Managing Editor, Jay Ziegler, declared it “one of the heaviest albums in years”, giving it four and a half stars, and stating that each song is a “potential single.” Those are some big statements, but again, grounded in some reasoning. Chris DeSalvo seems to be with him, “St. Anger was a baffling effort because it sounded like San Francisco’s angriest foursome were feigning their rage. How could middle-aged head bangers still hate the world? Well, in a post Some Kind of Monster world, their latest Rick Rubin-produced album reminds us how career-mistakes can inspire career-resurgences.” Don’t believe ’em? Go listen to “All Nightmare Long.” ‘Nuff said.

07. Hot Chip – Made in the Dark

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You might have forgotten by now, but last February, this British electropop band put out the “total package”, at least that’s what our publisher Alex Young thought at the time. In his four and a half star review, Young wrote, “While it marks perhaps the band’s most “rocky” sound of dates, it’s also their most experimental. And in the end, it’s a true example of musical brilliance.” This “rocky” sound certainly impressed Russell Michniak, as well, who writes, “What it lacks in singles, it makes up for in all around greatness.” Given the band’s heroic track record on the road, Made in the Dark was one early release that entertained all year long, and if people have some common sense, it’ll be movin’ and shakin’ people into the new year, as well.

06. Girl Talk – Feed the Animals

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Maybe it was the time of release, but Girl Talk’s internet issued, self released fourth album was a blessing in disguise. One of the few albums to receive a solid five stars, Feed the Animals gave its listeners left overs for nights to come. Michael Roffman started his review modestly (“It’s hard to discredit the mixing guru, especially when he can make artists like Avril Lavigne bearable, let alone enjoyable”), yet finished as a true, new born fan (“The culmination here of thirty years of music (maybe more) is just jaw dropping, and it not only lets you appreciate the guru himself, but the fact that this music exists and it’s still coming.”) Russell Michniak’s sentiments are shared, “Welcome to the future of modern music”, and Drew Litowitz is a little more specific, “Gillis has done it again, but this time he has come to our suburban homes, put his emblem on our lawns in flames, and left us with a trying but fun as hell piece of artwork, illegal or not.” What else needs to be said? Really?

05. Okkervil River – The Stand Ins

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If our interview with the songwriter didn’t sell you on the idea that Will Sheff is one of this decade’s great songwriters, then certainly The Stand Ins did. This “well written, lyrically concise, and instrumentally sound” sister release to 2007’s The Stage Names certainly had Michael Roffman in love, especially with praise such as calling the Texas based act, “one of the most intriguing bands in recent memory.” Having said that, he’s not alone. Writer E.N. May hails it “a sequel well worth a listen”, while Drew Litowitz is right there with Roffman: “With The Stand Ins, Sheff continues to set himself apart from the pack as one of the best songwriters around. Sheff has the ability to craft songs both lyrically and musically through the strength of his imagery and the moods he creates.” Good music, great music… it’s all the same here.

04. Portishead – Third

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No one can deny the power and edge that the Bristol trio, Portishead, carry with them. With only three albums in tow, this year’s Third included, the trip hop act is already solidified in music history as carrying some of the most epic music to date. In his review of Third, Michael Roffman said the long awaited album was, “very moving”, and “works in every way most third albums never can attempt, by retaining the old, embracing the new, and remarking on the present.” Chris DeSalvo writes, “Some bands age better than others. Portishead forgo the need for surgical assistance to retain their beatific delivery of background music that forges its way into the forefront without much more than a whisper-a reminder at how effortless true complexity-laden overtures can sound.” As if that weren’t enough praise, Anthony Balderrama declares Third, “A dark but spectacular return from a band whose catalogue is already rather grim and great.” In other words? This album belongs in your music library, digitally or physically.

03. The Hold Steady – Stay Positive

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Rock hasn’t sounded this good in ages. Minnesota native turned Boston and Brooklyn resident Craig Finn is this generation’s Paul Westerberg, and while that may be quite a ludicrous statement, Stay Positive confirms it true. In his review, publisher Alex Young called it “another success” for Finn, “showcas[ing] the immense talents of the band – both lyrically and musically”, while also insisting that the album, “always offers a band that is real and sincere in sound as it is in message.” Writer Justin Gerber concurs, “Outstanding follow-up to Boys and Girls in America, featuring the best one-two punch to open an album in 2008 (“Constructive Summer” and “Sequestered in Memphis”).” E.N. May goes a little further, and gets a lil’ metaphorical, likening the album to, “that friend who you go to the bar with to talk about your problems.” That might cement the Westerberg reference, folks.

02. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend

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It’s rare when Michael Roffman “thanks God”, but that’s exactly what our Editor in Chief did in his review of Vampire Weekend’s debut. Despite the backlash its received, thanks to its sweltering hype, it’s hard to argue against the band’s success. After all, this collection of well crafted pop is one for the cards, even if detractors (like our own Russell Michniak) might scoff and say, “I already heard [Paul Simon’s] Graceland.” Roffman might be overstating the point when declared the New York native’s debut, “a stretch of mental nirvana”, but he doesn’t seem to be the only fan. Justin Gerber insists the band “lives up to the hype”, and Chris DeSalvo digresses: “A band that many felt warranted obligatory backlash almost as soon as they burst onto the scene. A polished slew of valiantly arranged tunes that mimic the thrift-store-cool of The Strokes, as well as the beach-side serenades of The Police, Vampire Weekend bridge the gap between Indie Rock and Reggae better than anyone making music today.” So, are we still scoffing?

01. TV on the Radio – Dear Science

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“Oh I get it, these guys are the new “best band eva,” writes Russell Michniak, rather sarcastically. Some don’t buy into TV on the Radio, and rightly so as they’re somewhat of an acquired taste. However, it’s quite clear that Dan Caffrey was justified in his four and a half star review, where he wrote, “TV on the Radio may feel the urge to sing about dystopian futures and the romantic apocalypse, but damned if they don’t have a fun time doing it.” Justin Gerber adds a bit of a spin, “The best dance album of the year, somehow managing to pay tribute to The Music Man (“Dancing Choose”) and the female orgasm (the triumphant “Lover’s Day”) within a span of 51 minutes.”

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