Sound Waves

Press play for our top 20 albums and downloads of 2008.
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Drawing by Aaron Bickner. Courtesy of the artist.
You know, sometimes we feel a little torn—on one hand, we think some people have become way too obsessed with end-of-the-year lists, ranking their favorite things into some arbitrary order of how good they are compared to another. On the other hand, we love making lists ourselves, debating them, and finding out about new stuff by looking at, yes, other people's lists. In the spirit of indulgence, we decided to put together our top 20 albums of the year along with a favorite track from each to give you a little hint of why we all love these albums so much. Hopefully, you will, too. And, consider these free downloads as our new year's gift to you.
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1. Beach House—Devotion
"Wedding Bell" [MP3]
Based on number of times played, Beach House's second album tops our list by a mile. But this album is more than just addictive—the way that Victoria's voice, her keyboard, and Alex's guitar come together is one of the purest joys in pop music today. Buy this album
2. Portishead—Third
"We Carry On" [MP3]
We're not sure if this was a Portishead reunion or if they never really disbanded. All we know is that there aren't any other bands that have changed their sound this much and this late in the game but can still turn out a classic album. Buy this album
3. M83—Saturdays=Youth
"Kim & Jessie" [MP3]
Since their debut, very few bands have been so good at getting emotion out of synthesized music as M83. With this record they have gone from having a great sound to really making great albums. Buy this album
4. Hercules and Love Affair— Hercules and Love Affair
"Hercules' Theme" [MP3]
Reviving New York's weird disco tradition, Hercules and Love Affair delivered a perfectly constructed debut. It's a cliche to say a great dance album can be appreciated at home too, but we urge you to exclusively listen to this in a club. Buy this album
5. The Walkmen—You & Me
"In the New Year" [MP3]
These guys are just one of those great New York rock bands that keeps doing their own thing and making great albums. We tend to like their over-the-top rock songs, but the quiet tracks on this record are definitely worth a listen, too. Buy this album
All MP3s are for sampling purposes only. Please go out and buy the artists' records. If anyone would like for us to remove a track, please email us at feedback@refinery29.com. 20-best-albums-spread.jpg
6. Lykke Li—Youth Novels
"Little Bit" [MP3]
At first we weren't sure if we'd like Lykke Li, but then we heard her addictive electro-pop and just surrendered to it.  She's a cute Swedish girl with even sweeter vocals...what's not to like? Buy this album
7. Quiet Village—Silent Movie
"Pillow Talk" [MP3]
A wonderful mix of soul, reggae, exotica, and soft rock that is the perfect soundtrack to a late night, right before you go to sleep. Buy this album
8. The Dodos—Visiter
"Fools" [MP3]
Of all the bands that do the whole guitar/drums duo thing, we kind of think The Dodos make the most of it. Thet play great little folk songs with awesome and complex drumbeats backing it up. It's simple but effective. Buy this album
9. El Guincho—Alegranza
"Kalise" [MP3]
If Os Mutantes somehow came back as a cool kid from Barcelona, they would probably make an album like this, made from pop detritus and reconstructed into a unique sound that's addictive as hell. Buy this album
10. Nico Muhly—Mothertongue
"Mothertongue" [MP3]
It's unusual for us to have a classical album in our top 20, but something about this collection has stuck with us ever since we first heard it. Buy this album
All MP3s are for sampling purposes only. Please go out and buy the artists' records. If anyone would like for us to remove a track, please email us at feedback@refinery29.com. 20-best-albums-spread.jpg
11. Jamie Lidell—Jim
"Another Day" [MP3]
We still can't believe that this wonderful Motown voice comes out of this man. Proving his last album was no fluke, Jamie Lidell continues to make inspired blue-eyed soul music. Buy this album
12. Department of Eagles—In Ear Park
"No One Does It Like You" [MP3]
A sweet and tender little pop record with a timeless quality. This album could have come out any time between 1966 and today and it would still sound good. Buy this album
13. Vampire Weekend—Vampire Weekend
"A-Punk" [MP3]
It's incredible how this band went from unknown to wildly popular in what seemed like no time at all. We can't say we're surprised...they wrote some of the most memorable songs we've heard all year. Buy this album
14. Cut Copy—In Ghost Colours
"Lights & Music" [MP3]
This is just addictive new wave music that's pretty much impossible to get out of your head once you've heard it. Buy this album
15. DJ/Rupture—Uproot
"Elders: Clouds" [MP3]
This sounds like a mixtape where a DJ challenged himself to get one song from every country on earth and somehow made the whole thing work together. Genius. Buy this album
All MP3s are for sampling purposes only. Please go out and buy the artists' records. If anyone would like for us to remove a track, please email us at feedback@refinery29.com. 20-best-albums-spread.jpg
16. Gang Gang Dance—Saint Dympha
"House Jam" [MP3]
Gang Gang is another incredible live band, especially at three in the morning at Santos Party House.  This year they released their first solid end-to-end album that's just as weird as past efforts but surprisingly sometimes sounds like something you'd hear on the radio. Not sure how that works but it does. Buy this album
17. Oneida—Preteen Weaponry
"Preteen Weaponry Part 1" [MP3]
One of our favorite New York rock bands to see live for many years now, we appreciate that Oneida is willing to basically put out an album of improvised music that sounds better than most bands' compositions. Buy this album
18. Air France—No Way Down
"June Evenings" [MP3]
At just 23 minutes long, this EP seems to always end too soon.  Until your next beach party, play this album every few weeks just to remind yourself that summer is never far away. Buy this album
19. Grouper—Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill
"Heavy Water/I'd Rather Be Sleeping" [MP3]
Though it's basically a folk record, the way this record was recorded delivers such a soothing and fuzzy sound that it always seems (or sounds) like the music is sort of drifting out of a room down the hallway. Buy this album
20. Erykah Badu—New Amerykah Part One (4th World War)
"Master Teacher" [MP3]
Schizophrenic, beautiful, and heartfelt, Erykah Badu's latest album reminds us of the era when soul albums weren't afraid to be a little weird. We dig the homemade feel of this record. A lot. Buy this album
All MP3s are for sampling purposes only. Please go out and buy the artists' records. If anyone would like for us to remove a track, please email us at feedback@refinery29.com.Press play for our top 20 albums and downloads of 2008.
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