Saturday, December 20, 2008

Holiday Buyer's Guide 08- Extreme Metal

Other Sections:

-Accessible Metal
-Mainstream Rock
-Indie Rock
-Power/Folk/Symphonic Metal
-Indie Folk
-Extreme Metal

Extreme Metal

One of the most misunderstood and controversial genres of music, extreme metal is truly a unique form of art. Fans of black and death metal had a number of good albums to treat themselves to over the past year, and if you’re shopping for a metalhead, here are ten of the heaviest and most brutal albums released in 2008.


We are the Nightmare

It’s no surprise that Arsis’ latest album is good. This is one immensely talented band, and they seem to get more technically complex with each release. Purely from a guitarists’ perspective, these are some of the most complicated riffs found in any 2008 album, and once again, no death metal fan should be surprised. What may be a surprise to some, and the main reason We are the Nightmare achieves greatness, is due to the shocking amount of subtlety and progression on this record. Musically, there is far more here than great solos and complicated riffs. There is actual melody to the solos, uniqueness to the chord progression, and just a sense of true emotion that is often missing from death metal. Even things as subtle as using the same riff to start and end the album makes this a true experience, as well as a great technical death metal album. While it may be too extreme to appeal to anyone outside of the death metal community, Arsis has created an album that deserves to be listened to by any open-minded music fan.


The Fathomless Mastery

If there’s one 2008 album that exemplifies what metal is all about, it’s Bloodbath’s The Fathomless Mastery. The members of Bloodbath are comprised of members of Opeth and Katatonia (including Opeth vocalist Mikael Akerfeldt) and it’s essentially their way of paying tribute to classic death metal. Unlike Opeth and Katatonia, Bloodbath follows a specific formula, as it stays true to its death metal roots. It’s doubtful that anyone is expecting The Fathomless Mastery to be some kind of progressive concept album, as what you’re getting here is a brutal death metal album by some of the most talented musicians in the genre, but just make sure you know that isn't anything like Opeth before you buy it. If you’re into death metal, however, The Fathomless Mastery is essential. Obviously, it’s nothing the genre hasn’t seen before, but it’s a brutal tribute to the death metal gods.

Dead Congregation

Grave of the Archangels

Dead Congregation is pure old-school death metal in its purest form. Grave of the Archangels is as heavy and brutal of an album as you’ll find, and it’s one with very few flaws. The band clearly borrows from classic death bands like Morbid Angel and Incarnation, but considering that this is a debut album that masterfully recreates the pure brutality often lost in modern death metal, it’s really more of a good than a bad. There are also some moments of atmospheric experimentation that only add to the darkness of the music. From start to finish, Grave of the Archangels is classic death metal at its finest. This is a great album for fans of old-school death metal, and anyone looking for a truly brutal experience will find it here.



It’s hard to say exactly what genre Enslaved fits under, as they seem to consistently reinvent their sound, and it’s also hard to say just who Vertebrae will most appeal to. Regardless of whether black metal fans will appreciate Enslaved’s more progressive side, Vertebrae is a phenomenal album that deserves to find an audience. Along with Wolves in the Throne Room, Agalloch, and Emperor, Enslaved plays the most progressive and creative brand of black metal out there. Vertebrae is less of a black metal album than Enslaved purists may want, but it’s also one of the most unique and experimental albums Enslaved has put out. I’m not sure quite who to recommend Vertebrae to, other than to simply recommend it to anyone willing to listen. It’s a great album that deserves an audience from any and all open-minded metalheads.

Hate Eternal

Fury and Flames

Hate Eternal’s Fury and Flames is hardly an essential album, but it is another quality death metal release from Morbid Angel’s Erik Rutan. From a technical stand point, Fury and Flames is typical death metal. It features impressive musicianship, but nothing particularly unique musically or lyrically. However, Hate Eternal has put more into their brutality than most. This is not just a brutal album for the sake of being brutal, but instead an album that uses its brutality to convey emotion. While many death metal albums are an emotionless exercise in technical musicianship and brutality, Hate Eternal blends their brutality with genuine anger to create an experience that is more than just mindless brutality. Pure death metal fans might not notice it, but anyone looking for a more emotional death metal album will find it here.


Massive Conspiracy Against All Life

Jeff Whitehead, the man behind one-man atmospheric black metal band Leviathan, and has crafted one dark and haunting album with Massive Conspiracy Against All Life. If you want an album full of dark atmospheric music that will send chills down your spine, this is as good of an album as there is. It’s appropriately disturbing and hard to listen to, and I mean that in the best way possible. Leviathan is an intentionally dark and inaccessible project that is definitely not for everyone. Anyone who appreciates dark and disturbing music, however, should check out this atmospheric black metal release. No 2008 album came close to reaching the level of darkness found in Massive Conspiracy Against All Life.



One of the best metal albums of 2008, Meshuggah’s latest release is an essential purchase for any metalhead. ObZen is a brutal album with some of the most technical musicianship you’ll ever hear, but it’s also creative in its brutality. Few extreme bands use as many musical styles as Meshuggah, and even fewer manage to remain as brutal while doing it. The band’s problem has always been consistency, but ObZen fixes that. The albums starts off blazing with ridiculously fast drumming and brutal bass-driven riffs, and it never lets up. Even through the massive amount of variation within each song, ObZen is manages to be a pure extreme metal that is as artistic as any indie album released in 08.


Assassins: Black Meddle, Part 1

Assassins is a difficult album to describe, as it really doesn’t fit into one specific genre. Nachtmystium put a multitude of influences on display, including black/death metal, progressive and psychedelic rock, and even pure heavy metal. It’s a unique combination, and at times underwhelming, but Assassins is an interesting album throughout. Fans of more ambient and progressive black metal bands like Agalloch and Wolves in the Throne Room should check out Nachtmystium’s latest this holiday season, as it’s up there with Ihsahn's angL and Enslaved's Vertebrae as the best "artistic" black metal album released this year. It may not be brutal enough to satisfy fans that are looking for raw black metal, but Assassins is a far better album than your standard black metal release.



While Origin’s Antithesis doesn’t stray from the death metal formula, this is one of the strongest death metal albums releases this year. The musicianship here is both technically masterful and incredibly brutal, and anyone who appreciates true death metal will find a lot to love with Antithesis. The speed and technically of Origin is staggering, and again, anyone who is looking for an album full of impressive technical musicianship will find it here. Antithesis is a simple album and one that it almost pointless to analyze, but it’s also one of the best death metal albums of 2008. If you’re looking for the fastest and most brutal album of the year, Antithesis is certainly an album worth looking at.

Septic Flesh


Septic Flesh is death metal with melody. However, they are not melodic death metal. Septic Flesh is instead a technical death metal band with goth and symphonic metal influences. The result is a sound that combines the brutality of death metal with the melody of symphonic to create a rather unique mixture. Granted, Septic Flesh don't do anything new other than combining the two genres. Their brand of death metal is pretty typical, and the same can be said for their gothic and symphonic influences. Still, Communion is a death metal album with a unique sound that should appeal to fans of the genre. The technical death elements are performed expertly, and the melody shows up in all the right places. It’s not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, but instead a death metal album that is very easy to recommend.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Holiday Buyer's Guide 08- Indie Folk

Other Sections:

-Accessible Metal
-Mainstream Rock
-Indie Rock
-Power/Folk/Symphonic Metal
-Indie Folk
-Extreme Metal

Indie Folk

Another new category this year, indie folk is a genre of music that I admit to not being experienced in reviewing, but one that I greatly enjoy nonetheless. 2008 didn’t have an Iron & Wine for me to obsess over, but there were a still of a number of great indie albums with folk influences to warrant its own category. Whether you’re a fan of softer indie rock, traditional folk, or even someone who has already become a fan of indie folk, here are recommendable albums that at least vaguely fit into the genre.

Bon Iver

For Emma, Forever Ago

Bon Iver’s debut is a different kind of indie folk album than most, but it’s also one of the best albums in the genre. From the lyrical poetry to the beautiful atmosphere Bon Iver creates, For Emma, Forever Ago is an emotionally charged album that is truly something to behold. It’s not a perfect album by any means, but the sheer beauty of the record is something that any fan of music should appreciate. If you or someone you know is looking for an album that is both original and beautiful, For Emma, Forever Ago is as good of a choice as any. This is one of the best debuts of 2008, as well as a special album in its own right.

Bonnie “Prince” Billy

Lie Down in the Light

Will Oldham (aka Bonnie “Prince” Billy) is one of indie folk’s most critically acclaimed and well respected musicians. This is for good reason. Lie Down in the Light is another beautiful and artistic folk album from Oldham, and as a critic, it’s honestly hard not to praise everything this man touches. This has nothing to do with name or his reputation, but simply that he records creative and original music with a stunning amount of polish on just about every record. Oldham has unique voice filled with passion, and it’s obvious that he loves what he does and puts a lot of care into his music. This is the kind of passionate album that exemplifies why folk music is great, and any fan of the genre should give it a listen.


Carried to Dust

While Calexico isn’t necessarily indie folk, it has enough folk influences to earn its place on the list, and an appearance by Iron & Wine certainly helps its cause. Carried to Dust is also somewhat of an inconsistent album, but its standout moments are some of the year’s best. The single “Two Silver Trees” is mesmerizing in its beauty, and while the rest of the album doesn’t quite reach that same level, it’s still a solid album worthy of a strong recommendation. There are moments of experimentation as well, and it’s when Calexico breaks from their usual sound when this album works best. Carried to Dust ranges from mediocre to great, but there are more than enough moments of greatness to warrant a spot on your holiday shopping list.

Damien Jurado

Caught in the Trees

Damien Jurado has been one of the most underrated folk musicians for some time, and while Caught in the Trees is a few standout tracks short of being a masterpiece, it's another very good album to go with his other greats. This is an album that strays from Jurado’s usual darkness and subtleties, and instead focuses on simplicity. Caught in the Trees is certainly a simple album, but it’s also one of that could not be done by any other musician. This is not your typical indie folk album, as while beauty and simplicity are its strengths, the way the lyrics compliment the simple instrumentals works in ways that are rarely used in folk. Everything about Caught in the Trees is simple, except how it comes together, and it’s album that any fan of folk or indie music should pick up.

Death Vessel

Nothing Is Precious Enough For Us

It’s hard to talk about Death Vessel without mentioning that the vocalist of this folk project is in fact a male. While that may not seem like a strange quality for an indie folk band, it’s quite hard to believe after listening to him sing. Joel Thibodeau is his name, and while his falsetto vocals can be somewhat of a distraction, Death Vessel’s music as a whole is actually very relaxing. Like one would expect from indie folk, there’s not much that's particular complex here, but again, that’s part of what makes Death Vessel such a relaxing and beautiful project. The vocals are soothing once you get used to them, and the lyrics are decent enough, although no where near the level of Iron & Wine or Bon Iver. Still, Nothing Is Precious Enough For Us is a soothing folk record that fans of simple relaxing music enjoy, even if it's a moderate step down from their debut.

Fleet Foxes

Fleet Foxes

It’s astonishing that Fleet Foxes’ self titled album is their first full length release. In a year that contained some of the most original music I’ve ever heard, the Fleet Foxes have released one of the most original, polished, and overall best albums of 2008. This album is guaranteed to be in my top 10 list, and could very well be called the best album released all year. This little indie band from Seattle has crafted a truly unique sound that populates an album full of subtleties and beautiful melodies. One album in, the Fleet Foxes have created a masterpiece. Any music lover that has yet to purchase this album needs to take care of that as soon as possible. I honestly can’t imagine anyone not finding something to like in this album, even if you're the type of person that laughs at the idea of indie folk, and I assume that the majority of listeners will love just about every minute of it.

Horse Feathers

House with No Home

More of a pure folk album than any other on this list, Horse Feather’s House with No Home is a unique record that I’m proud to say comes from the Northwest. House with No Home is every bit as beautiful as the other indie folk albums found in this guide, but there’s far more here musically than just a poet with a guitar. Banjos, violins, cellos, and female vocals add a great deal of musical variety to the typical indie folk sound, and anyone looking for a true folk album will find one here. House with No Home is another simple yet beautiful record lyrically, but it’s also an album that isn’t afraid to try new things. It’s not only the closest thing to a pure folk record you’ll find in indie music, but it’s also one of the most original albums in the genre.

Lau Nau


While metalheads know that Finland is filled with many artistic metal bands, less music fans are aware of the amazing folk scene they have. Lau Nau may very well be the absolute best of the Finnish folk artists, and believe me when I say that is high praise. Nukkuu is her second full length album, and it’s one of the most beautiful albums of 2008. While the lyrics are performed in Finnish, the physical copy of the album comes with English translations, and even translated the lyrics are poetic. The music itself is also full of beauty and passion, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to call Nukkuu the best pure folk album of the year. This is music in its most beautiful form, and it's worth tracking down for anyone who enjoys beautiful art.

Sun Kil Moon


In terms of originality, Sun Kil Moon’s April pales in comparison to the likes of Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver, Lau Nau, and some of the top folk-influenced indie albums released in year full of great indie folk albums. However, Mark Kozelek, best known for fronting the indie rock group Red House Painters, understands the most important aspect of folk music. Sun Kil Moon understands emotion and how to convey in through music. The emotion found in April is what makes this album special. Lyrically and musically, it’s not a drastic change from the average indie folk record, but the emotion found in both the vocals and musicianship of Kozelek is nothing short of magnificent. If a purely emotional album is what you’re looking for, Sun Kil Moon’s April is just about the best you’ll find.

The Mountain Goats

Heretic Pride

The Mountain Goats are the epitome of indie folk. If you’re a fan of the genre, chances are you know this band, and should know what they can do. Heretic Pride is not the best album they’ve put out, but it’s still solid, as well as one of the best albums for anyone looking to start their indie folk collection. For those who aren’t quite sure what indie folk is, The Mountain Goats, along with Iron & Wine, are probably the first artists to look into. Their sound is closer to indie rock than what one would typically associate with folk, but replace the rock and roll influences found within quality indie rock, and you have The Mountain Goats. It’s a simple concept with a simple sound, but a beautiful one nevertheless.

Holiday Buyer's Guide 08- Alternative

Other Sections:

-Accessible Metal
-Mainstream Rock
-Indie Rock
-Power/Folk/Symphonic Metal
-Indie Folk
-Extreme Metal


Last year, I grouped indie rock and alternative into one list. This was because 2007 was somewhat of a lackluster year for alternative rock. However, 2008 is a very different story. Indie rock has moved into a completely separate genre, and the ten albums left in the alternative category are even stronger than last year. If you are a fan of alternative rock or are shopping for, you have a number of great albums to chose from without having the settle for the Coldplay and Nickelback albums that the industry wants you to buy.

Dead Confederate

Wrecking Ball

Dead Confederate is a band that exemplifies the greatness of rock music. Yes, the band is more associated with alternative and indie than mainstream and hard rock, but that has more to do with the indie community’s appreciation for new and artistic sounds than the actual sound of Dead Confederate. There is a heavier grunge influence here than just about any post-grunge album released in the last decade, yet this isn’t a grunge album in the slightest. Wrecking Ball is raw, gritty, and full of passion, something that pure rock music has been deeply lacking in recent years. The album also contains a far share of ballads, none of which feel forced or out of place in the album’s context. Wrecking Ball is one of my personal favorite albums of 2008, and while some filler keeps from being an A-quality record from an objective standpoint, I love this album to death, and I highly recommend it.


The Seldom Seen Kid

While Elbow is often classified as indie rock, The Seldom Seen Kid is an album that should please any fan of alternative music, not just the indie crowd. Their sound is just as accessible and radio friendly as that of any other band in this category, which is why I think it fits better into the general alternative section on this list. It’s really quite amazing that this band isn’t a household name at this point, as fans of bands like Modest Mouse, Death Cab for Cutie, and other famous indie rock bands should be obsessing over Elbow. The Seldom Seen Kid is the evolution of accessible indie rock, and it has something for just about any alternative fan. Trust me when I say that when that uniformed pre-teen you’re buying for asks for the new Coldplay or Death Cab for Cutie album, he really means this one. He just doesn’t know it yet.

Gnarls Barkley

The Odd Couple

While nothing on Gnarls Barkley’s second album received as much radio play or mainstream exposure as their hit “Crazy,” The Odd Couple is every bit as good and catchy as their first album. In a world where idiotic pop music is far more widespread than the intelligent form of the genre, Gnarls Barkley are the rare group that makes pop music that is as catchy and fun as it is creative and intelligent. Danger Mouse’s production is top notch and Cee-Lo Green’s vocals are as powerful and unique as they were on the band’s debut. The Odd Couple is certainly an odd album, but it’s also a surprisingly polished one that is at times beautiful, consistently fun, and always creative. Whether you’re a fan of alternative, pop, soul, funk, or hip-hop, The Odd Couple has something for you. It’s a very solid choice this holiday season for just about any music fan.

Murder By Death

Red of Tooth and Claw

Featuring deep vocals, unique hard rock riffs, creative lyrics, a beautiful violin, and the imagination to hold it all together, Murder By Death’s Red of Tooth and Claw is one of the easiest albums to recommend from this past year. Murder By Death doesn’t fit it any particular category of rock music, yet they are one of the purest rock bands left. They play a blend of alternative rock that is unlike anything else out there, and rather accessible to boot. Anyone from metalheads to indie fans to straight up rockers should give Red of Tooth and Claw a try. It’s a gorgeous gem of an album that sees one of rock’s best kept secrets reaching their full potential.

Nine Inch Nails

The Slip

Originally released as a free album earlier in the year, The Slip came out of nowhere to be the best Nine Inch Nails album since The Downward Spiral. If you downloaded the album for free, there really isn’t any reason to buy the physical copy other than to support the artist (unless you want the DVD that comes packaged with the album), but anyone that missed out on The Slip last spring should not miss it this holiday season. The album strikes a balance between hard and soft, accessible and unique, and formulaic and experimental. The Slip had a large amount of hype when it first released, so it’s hard to imagine a fan of Trent Reznor that doesn’t already own this in some form. However, this is a great starting point for anyone new to Nine Inch Nails, and any old fans who lost interest after NIN’s more mainstream period may want to give this album a chance. It truly is the best Nine Inch Nails record in more than a decade.



Accelerate is an album for R.E.M. fans. It’s been over a decade since R.E.M. released even a decent album, and while Accelerate isn’t necessarily a great album, it’s the closest thing the band has had to one in far too long. R.E.M. sounds like R.E.M. again, and Accelerate marks the return of deep lyrics and intelligent songwriting to R.E.M.’s sound, as well as the return of true guitar driven music with substance. While the album is short, there’s no filler to speak of, and it’s a huge step in the right direction. If you know an R.E.M. fan or happen to be one yourself, Accelerate makes for a solid purchase.


Songs in A&E

Not unlike the band that made it, Songs in A&E is somewhat of an underrated little album. It rarely has moments where it does anything particularly spectacular in comparison to other alternative albums, but it remains consistently simple and beautiful from start to finish. This is an album that’s difficult to criticize and very easy to like, even if it isn’t one of the 10 or 20 best albums released in the past year. Spiritualized sticks to what their good at, and the result is an album that is just that. Songs in A&E is just a solid beautiful alternative album that anyone can appreciate. For that reason, it makes a great holiday gift, as it’s hard to imagine a music fan not finding something to like in Spiritualized’s sound.

The Butterfly Effect

Final Conversation of Kings

Although it was somewhat overlooked, few albums showed as much improvement as The Butterfly Effect’s Final Conversation of Kings. At first glance it may seem like a huge departure from the post-grunge and hard rock sound of the band’s previous albums, but what separates The Butterfly Effect from other bands in the genre has always been their willingness to experiment with alternative and progressive rock. Final Conversation of Kings is a full transition into alternative rock, and it has more in common with experimental alternative bands than generic radio rock artists. The songs are longer and more varied, and the band has struck the perfect mixture between mainstream accessibility and more obscure experimentation. The Butterfly Effect have finally reached their potential, and Final Conversation of Kings is an album well worth getting for any fan of alternative rock.

The Gaslight Anthem

The ’59 Sound

2008 was not an especially great year for punk music, but that doesn’t mean The Gaslight Anthem’s The ’59 Sound is the best punk album of the year by default. While it didn’t have a lot of competition, this is the one 2008 album that punk fans need to get. The Gaslight Anthem play punk in its purest and most raw form, and in doing so put most modern punk to same. They don’t do anything particularly unique here, but they do it better than just about anyone else. If you listen to punk, you’ll know what to expect once you hear the opening of the first track, but you’ll also love the album for it. It uses classic punk conventions the way they should be used, and it’s the type of raw rebellious album that has becoming increasingly rare in punk over the last few years. If you’re looking a punk album this Christmas, this is by far the best once released in the past year.

The Mars Volta

The Bedlam in Goliath

In what turned out to be a year full of “A” quality albums, The Mars Volta’s The Bedlam in Goliath was the first release to make my “Essential Albums” list in 2008. To say it’s unique would be stating the obvious, as The Mars Volta have been one of the unique bands in music for the past decade. This, however, is different even for them, as it’s their heaviest, fastest, and most focused album to date. The Mars Volta have taken a number of risks in making this album, and most of them pay off. From the first note of the opener “Aberinkula” all the way to album’s end, The Bedlam in Goliath plays out like an energetic jam session that could be described as a far more focused version of their live show. The lyrics are as cryptic as you’d expect from The Mars Volta, and despite its massive energy, this is an intelligent and challenging album that is nearly impossible to classify. The Bedlam in Goliath is the most focused Mars Volta album yet, but it’s the one that takes the most risks and ends up being the most unique. Anyone willing to take a few listens to get used to it should find this to be a very enjoyable album.

Holiday Buyer's Guide 08- Indie Rock

Other Sections:

-Accessible Metal
-Mainstream Rock
-Indie Rock
-Power/Folk/Symphonic Metal
-Indie Folk
-Extreme Metal

Indie Rock

No genre had a better year in 2008 than indie rock. Last year, I had to group alternative albums together into one list, but things are different this year. Indie rock has its own guide, and no list had more competition than this one. Some tough sacrifices had to be made, and believe me when I say that all ten of these albums are great choices for any fan of indie or alternative rock.

Black Mountain

In the Future

In the Future can be described almost as a progressive psychedelic indie rock album, and anyone who thinks that sounds as awesome as it is does to me will likely love this album. It doesn’t have the staying power of Deerhunter’s Microcastle, the creativity of TV on the Radio’s Dear Science, or the lyrics of The Hold Steady’s Stay Positive, but In the Future is one of 2008’s hidden gems that got far less attention than it deserved. Regardless of where it stands on the long list of great indie rock albums from 08, Black Mountain have crafted a very creative piece of art that I highly recommend. From a subjective standpoint, this is one of my personal favorite albums released this past year, and I doubt I’m the only person who will love it.



If looked at as a shoegaze record, Deerhunter’s Microcastle is the best album in the genre since My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless. However, Microcastle is far more than just a shoegaze album. This is one of the most unique indie albums you’ll find, and it combines shoegaze, ambient, rock, and punk influences together to create something that walks the line between noise rock, indie rock, and shoegaze. If you know what those genres are, chances are you’re a fan of more obscure indie rock, and Microcastle will be exactly what you’re looking for. However, you don’t need to be an indie rock fan to enjoy it. This is a very unique album that is unlike anything else out there, but it’s also the most accessible album in Deerhunter’s discography. In what turned out to be a phenomenal year for indie music, Microcastle is one of the best indie rock albums of 2008, and it’s an experience that you can’t get anywhere else.

Dr. Dog


Compared to many of the other albums on this list, Dr. Dog’s Fate is a bit basic. It’s a fairly standard indie rock album laced with dream pop and psychedelic influences, and it’s one that rarely goes beyond solid. Regardless, Fate is an example of quality indie rock that is consistent throughout and original enough to separate itself from the legions of generic indie rock groups flooding the market. Dr. Dog is a band that’s easy to like, as they have a very accessible and simple sound that is without a ton of flaws. It’s what the band doesn’t do that makes Fate a merely good album, but very little of what is here can be faulted. It’s a solid indie rock album that fans of the genre should enjoy.

My Morning Jacket

Evil Urges

Rarely is a band criticized for becoming more experimental, but it’s happened to My Morning Jacket. What were once a southern rock group have turned into a full experimental indie act with traces of psychedelic, funk, country, and progressive rock. They’ve certainly changed, but the criticism of their change is more based on how great they were before, not how they sound now. In all actuality, My Morning Jacket have created another excellent album, and one that can be wholeheartedly recommended to anyone who understands that this band has changed. They’ve matured, become more intelligent songwriters, and have opened up their sound to more than just southern rock. It’s really a brilliant album indie album that if looked at it objectively, is really quite stunning.

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds

Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!

Nick Cave’s brilliant Dig!! Lazarus Dig!!! has been overshadowed by the slew of impressive indie rock albums released in the latter half of 2008, but looking back upon the year as a whole, this is still one of the absolute best albums released all year. Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! is a hilarious thought-provoking album by one of the most creative and respected musicians in the history of the genre. While it may not be the definitive indie rock album of 2008, it’s an “A” quality album that is as entertaining as any album available. Whether you interpret it as a serious look at religion, a laugh out loud comedy, or a bit of both, Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! is an album any music fan should consider when putting on your holiday wishlist.



Rook is yet another great album from Shearwater. If you like your indie rock beautiful, epic, and powerful, then Rook is the album for you. It’s quite a simple album, but like indie music should be, it’s wildly creative within its simplicity. Rook is the type of spine-tingling tense album that does an excellent job of creating an emotional connection between the artist and the listener. On the surface, Shearwater doesn’t do anything particularly different in sound than their peers, including frontman Jonathan Meiburg’s former and much more generic project, Okkervil River. However, like most good indie rock, Shearwater’s true beauty comes from the subtleties of their sound. Everything from the chord progression to the passionate vocals make Rook better than the sum its parts, and the result is a tense album that would make a great pick for any indie fan.

Sons & Daughters

This Gift

This Gift was one of the first great albums released in 2008, and 11 months later it still stands out as one of the best indie rock albums of the year. Sons & Daughters do a fantastic job of mixing male and female vocal harmonies in ways that are reminiscent of indie bands varying from Sonic Youth to Rilo Kiley to even Sleater-Kinney from strictly the perspective of the females vocals. This Gift doesn’t necessarily take a lot of chances, as it features the same upbeat sound with emotionally varied lyrics that has become typical of indie rock, but the album uses that as more a positive than a negative. Sons & Daughters clearly have a formula that they build off, but they’ve made their formula by taking the best of their influences and putting their own spin on it. It’s not groundbreaking stuff, but a safe pick that delivers the goods for indie rock fans.

Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks

Real Emotional Trash

Real Emotional Trash is a different type of Stephen Malkmus album, but it’s still a solid indie offering that should please any fan of the genre. The former Pavement frontman, also aided by former Sleater-Kinney drummer Janet Weiss, focuses more on jamming and experimenting instrumentally here than he has in the past, and it’s safe to say that this album is pretty much the opposite of classic Pavement. Malkmus does show why he’s a legend though, both in his songwriting abilities and in his incredible musicianship. While he still hasn’t quite found a distinct sound, Malkmus uses the lack of a focus to his advantage, and creates some truly remarkable moments that seem to come out of nowhere. Real Emotional Trash isn’t the best album Stephen Malkmus has been a part of, but it’s another very good that indie fans should not miss.

The Hold Steady

Stay Positive

Simply, The Hold Steady’s Stay Positive is a masterpiece in every respect. The album as a whole is a masterful collection of stories that come together to paint a beautiful picture of life. On their own, each song is a masterpiece, as each contains a poetic story full of vibrant characters dealing with genuine issues, but the concept that the stories make is even better. Stay Positive is an album that anyone can relate to, and it’s unique musically as well. The lyrics are deep and poetic, and it’s easy to get lost in thought interpreting the stories and metaphors. This is an album for music lovers, poetry lovers, and intelligent listeners, and if you fit into one of those categories, make sure to get yourself a copy.

TV on the Radio

Dear Science

How good is TV on the Radio’s Dear Science? Let’s just say that if you buy one album in the next ten years, I recommend this one. Years from now, this very well may be the record that defines this decade in indie rock. Dear Science is the modern day equivalent to the Pixies’ Doolittle and Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. That is to say, it’s a jaw dropping masterpiece of creativity, lyricism, poetry, and experimentation. It exemplifies what modern indie music is all about, and in a year where dance-punk has been the major indie trend, TV on the Radio have introduced just enough of that into sound to show how much better than the rest of the indie rock crowd they really are. Dear Science is an unbelievable masterpiece, and it belongs in the collection of every music fan.

Holiday Buyer's Guide 08- Experimental

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From the unique to the weird to the truly bizarre, 2008 was filled with a number of interesting experimental albums. Anyone looking for something out of the ordinary or just an alternative album with a bit more experimentation than your average indie rock album will find ten quality choices in this guide.

David Byrne & Brian Eno

Everything That Happens Will Happen Today

The collaboration album between David Byrne and Brian Eno is a vastly different one than some might expect. In actuality, its weirdness is what makes it such a great listen, and Bryne’s willingness to experiment and go in odd directions is part of what made Talking Heads great. Everything That Happens Will Happen Today is somewhat of an upbeat alternative gospel album that is every bit as strange as it sounds. The album’s brilliance comes from its experimentation and pure oddity, and it’s certainly not something for those who don’t understand how being weird can make an album brilliant. However, David Byrne and Brian Eno are two vastly imaginative musicians who know weird and no how to be truly unique and brilliant within their weirdness. For fans of the artists, Everything That Happens Will Happen Today makes a great gift.

Fuck Buttons

Street Horrrsing

Believe me when I say that the debut album from Fuck Buttons is only for those who like their music to be as weird as possible. Even for experimental music, Street Horrrsing is out there, and it’s certainly not an easy album to listen to. To make matters worse, variety is not one of the album’s strong points, so while there is noticeable progression between the songs, the many listeners who will be repulsed by the Fuck Buttons sound at first listen aren’t likely to change their opinion as the album goes on. Still, this is a great album for those who like weird music, and the combination of post-rock, electronica, and black metal is one of the strangest you’ll ever hear. If you’re looking for the absolute weirdest album of the year, it's a toss up between this one and The Bug's London Zoo.

Gang Gang Dance

Saint Dymphna

In a year where indie electronica was a popular “experiment” for indie rock bands, Gang Gang Dance is the one indie electronica group that actually manages to experiment. Saint Dymphna is a weird little record that is as much fun as an album by a band called “Gang Gang Dance” should be, but also as creative as an one would expect of an experimental album. If you’re looking for an album that’s both fun and weird, you can't go wrong with what Gang Gang Dance have done here. Saint Dymphana is far from perfect, but it's a genuinely experimental electro-pop album that puts its more popular peers to shame.

God Is An Astronaut

God Is An Astronaut

God Is An Astronaut’s self-titled fourth album is one of the most challenging listens you’ll find in instrumental rock. This is a beautiful album that takes multiple listens to fully appreciate, and while it may seem like a typical post-rock offering at first, it’s really far more. God Is An Astronaut is actually an astonishing and complex album that goes in directions rarely found in post-rock. The band is willing to experiment with electronica and hard rock, among other genres, and does so in a ways that build tension and create truly unique and engaging sounds. This is far from the same thing done over and over again, as care has been put into every moment of every song, and as a fan of music, it’s pure bliss to listen to. Take some time and really immerse yourself in the experience. This is an album full of beauty and subtlety, and it’s an experience that doesn’t come around very often.


Doomsdayer’s Holiday

If the album artwork doesn’t give you the impression that the Grails are one completely demented band, then their music almost certainly will. This is one seriously odd album, and I mean that mostly in a good way. Doomsayer’s Holiday, like the Grails past work, is entirely instrumental, but judging by the oddity of the music at hand, it's probably for the best that we don't get to hear what kind of perverted lyricism might go along with the music. Grails sound is one that is very different from most instrumental groups, not just in sound, but in structure. Their sound is closer to Mr. Bungle than Mogwai, and while the musicianship is both impressive and creative, the strength of the album comes from the psychedelic and almost perverse nature of the music. It’s quite odd and difficult to describe, but that’s the nature of experimental music, and anyone who is intrigued by the strange and bizarre is likely going to enjoy Doomsdayer’s Holiday.


Dragging a Dead Dear Up a Hill

If pure ambiance and beauty is what you desire, than look no farther than Grouper’s Dragging a Dead Dear Up a Hill. This is an essential experimental ambient pop album, and yes, it just as unique as it sounds. However, experimental music rarely sounds as natural and purely beautiful as it does here. While the sound is relaxing and full of melody, there is an extensive amount of subtlety to appreciate. Grouper has made one of the finest, most challenging records of the year, but also one of the most beautiful and relaxing. It doesn’t necessarily remind the listener of a dragging a dead dear up a hill, but the sound is of a very pure naturalist form, and it’s one of the most beautiful experiences to be had in music.

Jamie Lidell


While nothing on his studio albums can compare to Jamie Lidell’s incredible live show, Jim is a solid neo-soul album with a unique sound. It’s hard to describe what exactly Jamie Lidell does musically or who he will appeal to, but anyone looking for a fun and unique album will find it here. Jim is far less experimental than past Lidell albums, which is a somewhat of a disappointment for fans of his ectronica side, but as mentioned before, what makes Jamie Lidell great is found more in his amazing live shows and less on his merely fun studio albums. It’s not a great album by any means, but Jim is a still a fun and moderately creative album by a musician that deserves far more attention than he gets.



It’s been 11 years since Portishead released their self-titled sophomore album, and despite the efforts of many clone groups, there hasn’t been a trip-hop album like it since, nor has their been one as good. Portishead’s Third might not be quite as good as the group’s first two albums, but it’s certainly the best trip-hop album to be released in those 11 years. Part of what makes it so good is that Third is not just another Portishead album. This album sees Portishead reinventing their sound in ways that only the masters of the genre could do. Third is an even stranger and more experimental album than Portishead’s first two, but it’s also pure trip-hop in that it uses the formula the group invented and takes in a more modern direction. This is an album that even those aren’t into trip-hop and experimental can enjoy, and it’s an album that any alternative or experimental fan would love.

The Bug

London Zoo

London Zoo is as strange of an album as you’re ever going to find. It also happens to be one of the best albums released in 2008. British producer Kevin Martin, who goes by the name “The Bug,” has created some truly original and bizarre songs that must be heard to be believed. It may turn listeners away at first, but stick with it, and London Zoo becomes one of the most fun, original, and even enjoyable albums you’ll find. It’s impossible to decipher all of the influences of The Bug, and the genre the album is in is apparently “dancehall dubstep,” a genre which I admit to not being well versed in. Regardless of how little I know of other albums in the genre, I can assure that there is nothing quite like London Zoo. It’s a strange and original record that anyone willing to listen to the truly bizarre should look into.

The Sound of Animals Fighting

The Ocean and the Sun

The Ocean and the Sun is the album where The Sound of Animals Fighting finally live up to their potential. This incredibly unique and experimental group features rotating members, a vast number of instruments, and even a number of different vocalists. Their albums are kind of prog operas in a way, but with alternative rock artists and experimentation to the point of incoherency. The Sound of Animals Fighting have always been an ambitious band, but this is their first album that sounds like more than an experiment. While obviously experimental, The Ocean and the Sun is a deep and challenging album that is just simply great. It’s beautiful and intelligent, and something can be enjoyed by deep thinking listeners, not just appreciated by experimental fans.