For me, 2008 will be remembered as the year in which I discovered Ricky Gervais' radio show and stopped listening to music wherever I went. The four years worth of two-hour radio programmes became something of an obsession, and I listened to them in series multiple times throughout the year at the expense of my normal practice of having music blaring on the train, in my bedroom and whenever I was walking. For someone who used to carry around 188 CDs in his backpack so he would have enough music within arm's reach, this is quite a shift in behaviour.
But equally, I was exposed to far more new music than usual this year because I was constantly surrounded by recently released CDs in my new job at a music store. I no longer have to wait until I go out of my way to purchase new music, which has allowed me to become aware of new CDs the day they are released to retail and has given me far more albums in my end-of-2008 shortlist than last year. And being predominantly a punk/hardcore store, I've broadened my horizons to include some previously unknown areas of the musical landscape.
As well as punk, hardcore and metalcore, I've delved deeper into post-rock, noise and metal this year, and they're all genres which have made their mark on the lists below.
2008 will also be fondly remembered as the year that I finally got to witness two incredibly important bands in the flesh: Dream Theater, who were my gateway to progressive music in high school, and Porcupine Tree, my favourite band, both made their inaugural journeys to Australia after many years. It's going to take a hell of a lot to unseat the two Porcupine Tree shows I saw as the best concerts of my lifetime so far.
But at the end of the day, it's all about the CDs and EPs. The records.
Compared to 2006 and 2007, there's a far higher concentration of local music in both my end-of-year album and EP lists, reflecting the increasing quality and maturity of Australia's musical output. Last year I split my list into Australian and international releases, but this year there is no doubt the Aussies have just as much right to be in the list as the foreigners.
TOP TEN ALBUMS OF 2008
10. Boris – Smile
Before laying ears on Boris for myself, all I had heard about them was that they were noisy and ridiculously heavy. But that description completely neglects to mention the significant role of melody in Boris' music (well, Smile at least, as it's still the only Boris album I've heard). That's what struck me the first time I listened to Smile: the fact that I was humming it in my head the day after.
9. The Mars Volta – The Bedlam in Goliath
Something of a comeback after the mildly disappointing Amputechture, but still quite a distance short of their masterpiece De-Loused In The Comatorium.
8. Trial Kennedy – New Manic Art
In 2007 Trial Kennedy were nobodies; a tight band with a distinctive sound and down-to-earth personalities. Now they're still the same guys, but their music is being played on triple j, Nova and even Triple M. It couldn't have happened to a nicer, harder working bunch of guys.
7. Opeth – Watershed
Similar to The Bedlam In Goliath, Watershed blows its predecessor Ghost Reveries out of the water, but in Opeth's catalogue only ranks third or fourth. I shouldn't constantly compare each album Opeth releases with Blackwater Park, but it's difficult not to.
6. Mushroom Giant – Kuru
I'm a sucker for packaging that is an extension of the music it contains, and the intriguing references to cannibalism and sparce textual information in Kuru's inlay really piqued my interest from the very beginning. It's hard to describe Mushroom Giant; not quite post-rock, not quick hard rock, not quite anything. But they're good.
5. Birds of Tokyo – Universes
In the time that Karnivool have been preparing their second album (not even recording, just preparing), Birds Of Tokyo have released two full-length CDs, an EP and a single, toured the country multiple times with growing crowds each time, and broken through to the mainstream with airplay on Nova. I'd be worried about which basket Ian Kenny would put his eggs in if only Birds Of Tokyo didn't write such great pop music.
4. Steven Wilson – Insurgentes
An absolute grower, I wasn't much of a fan to begin with but it's now cracked my top five of the year. Steven Wilson effortlessly proves what a brilliant songwriter he is, and lets everyone know that he can span multiple genres and still release a cohesive package. I wish I had his talent.
3. The Sound of Animals Fighting – The Ocean And The Sun
This came as a complete surprise. Announced mere weeks before its release, I barely had time to get excited about their reformation before I had their album in my hand. Lying somewhere between the extremes of their previous two records, The Ocean And The Sun is just weird enough to be unique, but not so weird to make multiple listens difficult.
2. Cog – Sharing Space
When the Just Visiting EPs first came out, I honestly never thought Cog would get anywhere with a sound so heavily rooted in Tool-esque alternative heavy metal. But for their sophomore full-length they completely reinvented their sound into something distinctly Australian, and the result was an instantly satisfying album. I think after my first listen I knew it'd be among my favourites of the year.
1. Sleep Parade – Things Can Always Change
In less than 12 months I've witnessed Sleep Parade morph from a suburban secret playing the Espy front bar with 30 people in the audience into a band that won the respect of 2,000 Porcupine Tree fans at the Enmore Theatre in Sydney. It was one of my proudest moments of the year knowing that a band whose name I passed on to the promoter of the Porcupine Tree tour ended up being picked as the sole national support, but it was the strength of their debut album that really won people over. A truly world-class album, Things Can Always Change is my favourite album of 2008.
Metallica – Death Magnetic
The most honourable mention must go to Metallica, who managed to defy all expectations and release an album that doesn't suck.
Mogwai – The Hawk is Howling
Mogwai are perennial favourites for my end-of-year lists, but unfortunately I was unable to really sink my teeth into The Hawk Is Howling before the year ended.
'neath – The Small Untruths
Similarly, I received this album quite late in the year so I haven't been able to give it more than a passing glance. The Spiders Sleep was my #1 album of last year, so it's got a lot to live up to.
Norma Jean – The Anti Mother
Anti-Flag – The Bright Lights of America
Rise Against – Appeal to Reason
Robotosaurus – Manhater
Story of the Year – The Black Swan
TOP TEN EPs OF 2008
10. Varliiba – NumbAntic
A blend of nu–prog and grunge, with lovely Vedder–esque vocals.
9. One Day as a Lion – One Day as a Lion
God it's great to hear Zack De La Rocha singing again.
8. The Rex Wicked – The World Could Turn Around
Australia's answer to old-school Muse, but with a haunting space rock influence.
7. Tangled Thoughts of Leaving – Tiny Fragments
Surprisingly consistent for such a diverse EP.
6. Closure in Moscow – The Penance And The Patience
Saltmarsh will hate me for this, but The Penance And The Patience is a good, solid release.
5. House vs. Hurricane – Forfeiture
One of the only hardcore records I would call progressive. Splashes of trance, dance and psychadelia combined with incredible clean vocal harmonies and the requisite brutality.
4. Nucleus – Circumvolution
Honestly I didn't quite understand this EP until I saw them live, but they were one of my gig highlights of the year.
3. Rook – Add Colour
Quite a departure from their earlier, mostly one-dimensional work. If they release an album in 2009 I predict it'll be among the best of the year.
2. toe hider – Toe Hider
I love that Michael Mills has the balls to release such a pompous, epic EP with so fucking many notes, but I love even more that each song is pleasantly easy to listen to. I don't understand how one guy can have so much talent.
1. Sleepmakeswaves – In Today Already Walks Tomorrow
There's a reason sleepmakeswaves had already amassed an international following before they'd even set foot outside Sydney: despite what their guitarist says, there's something in their music unlike any other post-rock in the world.
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENTS OF 2008
The Butterfly Effect – Final Conversation Of Kings
It's regained some ground over the past couple of weeks, but Final Conversation Of Kings seemed completely limp in comparison to the power of Imago. I appreciate that they're continually exploring new territory, but musically I was disappointed.
Mammal – The Majority
I'm not sure if it's because I'm over Mammal or the album's no good, but I haven't listened to The Majority since the week it came out, and I haven't felt like doing so either.
TOP TEN CONCERTS OF 2008
1. Porcupine Tree, Sleep Parade – Enmore Theatre, Sydney
2. Porcupine Tree, Sleep Parade – Palace Theatre, Melbourne
3. The Dear Hunter, mewithoutYou, As Tall As Lions, Kevin Devine, My American Heart – Billboard The Venue, Melbourne
4. Dream Theater – Festival Hall, Melbourne
5. Karnivool, That 1 Guy, Mere Theory – QBH, Melbourne
6. Cog, KORA, Jakob – Palace Theatre, Melbourne
7. Birds of Tokyo, Mere Theory, Calling All Cars – Corner Hotel, Melbourne
8. A State of Flux, Nucleus, Alaska Ratio, Cloud City – Revolver Upstairs, Melbourne
9. Mammal, Dead Letter Circus, MM9, Trial Kennedy – QBH, Melbourne
10. Rook, The Evening Son, Engine Three-Seven, Alba Varden – Esplanade Hotel, Melbourne
LAST.FM MOST LISTENED-TO ARTISTS OF 2008
1. The Ricky Gervais Show (805)
2. Gyroscope (337)
3. Cog (248)
4. The Sound of Animals Fighting (234)
5. Birds of Tokyo (232)
6. The Dear Hunter (216)
7. Regina Spektor (188)
8. Sleep Parade (185)
9. Porcupine Tree (184)
10. mewithoutYou (173)
LAST.FM MOST LISTENED-TO ALBUMS OF 2008
1. Gyroscope – Sound Shattering Sound (153)
2. Karnivool – Themata (137)
3. Regina Spektor – Begin to Hope (136)
4. Kiss Kiss – Reality vs. the Optimist (135)
5. Sleep Parade – Things Can Always Change (130)
6. Against Me! – New Wave (117)
7. mewithoutYou – Brother, Sister (116)
8. David Bowie – The Best Of David Bowie (107)
9. Steven Wilson – Insurgentes (81)
10. Dropkick Murphys – The Warrior's Code (77)