The Best CDs of 2008 (So Far) Music reviewers generally wait until November and December to assess the year in music. But 2008's halfway point seems like a good place to stop and look back at six busy months full of critics' darlings, Internet sensations and even, in a grim commercial climate, commercial hits.


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The Best CDs of 2008 (So Far)

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This is All Things Considered from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Michele Norris. It's June, the midpoint for the year 2008. The year is half over. And to mark the occasion, "All Songs Considered," NPR's online music show, is asking listeners to vote on their favorite records for the first half of the year. "All Songs Considered" host Bob Boilon joins me on All Things Considered now to share some of the early results from the poll. Welcome back.

BOB BOILON: Thank you, Michele.

NORRIS: It's interesting to talk about this kind of polling in this election year.

BOILON: And this poll is full of surprises like a lot of polls, and one of the surprises that I find is some of the records that are doing best are actually the records that take a lot of listening to get through. And those are not usually the ones that make it to the top of best of lists. So usually, they're ones that, you know, people will cite as things that they loved over time, but not floating to the top.

And one of them is a record by a fellow who goes by the name of Bon Iver. It's a wrong spelling of a French word that means good wind. And Justin Vernon, the fellow who did all of this music, calls his record "Bon Iver" because he spent three months running away from whatever people run away from, bad relationships and all that other stuff, and went to his father's cabin up in northern Wisconsin alone with some recording equipment and just made this absolutely stunning, out-of-the-blue record.

(Soundbite of Bon Iver's "Flume")

BON IVER: (Singing) I am my mother on the wall, with us all I move in water shore to shore Nothing's more Only love is all maroon Lapping lakes like leery loons Leaving rope burns Reddish ruse

NORRIS: You know, the music is beautiful, but boy, whatever happened, it left quite a mark on him. He is talking about love leaving rope burns.

BOILON: It is absolutely one of my favorite records and not unlike another record that is slowly gaining to be a favorite of mine, and it's making a surprise in the billboard charts. It is one by a group called Fleet Foxes, who I've only heard of this year. They're a pretty young band from Seattle.

(Soundbite of Fleet Foxes' "White Winter Hymnal")

FLEET FOXES: (Singing) I was following the eye Was following the eye Was following the eye I was following the eye I was following the eye Was following the eye Was following the eye Was following the eye Was following the eye...

BOILEN: The heart and soul of this band are the voices. So it's not the guitar and the drums that are carrying it. It's not one singer. They're all singers. You know, the first thing I thought about and you hate saying this because you don't want a pigeon hole them. But the first thing you've thought about, in my reference points, is Crosby, Stills and Nash or something like that. But there's lots, lots more than that into this band.

(Soundbite of Fleet Foxes' "White Winter Hymnal")

FLEET FOXES: (Singing) I was following the pack all swallowed in their coats with scarves of red tied 'round their throats to keep their little heads from falling in the snow And I turned 'round and there you go!

NORRIS: Bob, it almost has a 1960s "Up With People" feel.

BOILEN: You know, if they were in the room here, they would scowl.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: So there are bands that are, at least at this point in time, a little bit more obscure. But there are some more familiar bands I understand that actually made it to the top of the rankings.

BOILEN: You know, And Death Cab for Cutie...

(Soundbite of Death Cab for Cutie's "Pity and Fear")

DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE: (Singing) A storm at sea The bow cracked And I was capsizing...

BOILEN: And My Morning Jacket are two bands that have been around for a long time now. They've steadily built up a following being young, independent - when we say independent, we mean on small labels - who are now not on small labels. And what's hopeful is, you get these bands that you may fall in love with when they're young, and they're just beginning. And that's what you like about them. But they have managed to mature.

And we should play, maybe something from the My Morning Jacket record. This record's full of many different styles. If you listen to one, you might feel like you're listening to Charlie Pride and in the next minute, you feel like you're listening to Led Zeppelin. So this record's all over the map. It's one of the reasons I love this band so much.

(Soundbite of My Morning Jacket's "Evil Urges")

MY MORNING JACKET: (Singing) Things they're saying Evil urges baby; they're part of the human way It ain't evil baby, if ya ain't hurting anybody Evil urges baby come on; bad is all the same come on now It ain't evil baby, if it ain't hurting anybody anybody

Evil urges baby, they're part of the human way It ain't evil baby, 'cause ya ain't hurting anybody anybody...

BOILEN: One of the things that I see in Death Cab for Cutie or My Morning Jacket, bands that have now been around for a while, is that you see them actually selling an awful lot of records. And you see them on the - in the top of billboard charts. These are bands that, you know, given the kind of music they made six and eight years ago, you never ever would have imagined them selling a lot of records and selling out big halls and so forth.

And so when you think of someone like Bon Iver, or you think of someone like Fleet Foxes, it's curious to think about five and six and eight years from now, if they will be ones who forged a new sound, a different sound. A sound that in some ways, expands the attention span.

So maybe there's some hope because I like that in music, when it takes a while to kind of fall for it, and maybe that's something that we can look forward to for pop music. Because heaven knows, I listen to too much pop music that in the first 10 or 15 seconds, you know the whole song.

NORRIS: Yeah. You hear the hook, and you know you're going to hear it six times...

BOILEN: Yes. Right.

NORRIS: Before the song is over.

BOILEN: Right. And I'm tired of it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: Bob, what's at the top of the poll right now?

BOILEN: Well, Bon Iver and Vampire Weekend were running neck and neck for a while, and now, Vampire Weekend has taken a big leap. And if you haven't heard the Vampire Weekend, you should because it's such a fun, upbeat record. You've got to find room and heart for a record that's this much fun.

(Soundbite of Vampire Weekend's "A-punk")

VAMPIRE WEEKEND: (Singing) Johanna drove slowly into the city The Hudson River all filled with snow She spied the ring on his Honor's finger Oh-oh-oh

A thousand years in one piece of silver She took it from his lilywhite hand Showed no fear - she'd seen the thing In the Young Men's Wing at Sloan-Kettering

NORRIS: Bob Boilen is the host of "All Songs Considered." Thanks for stopping by Bob.

BOILEN: Pleasure.

NORRIS: And you can hear some of our listener's picks and vote for your own favorites if you go to the music section of our website. That's

VAMPIRE WEEKEND: (Singing) Look outside at the raincoats coming, say Oh Look outside at the raincoats coming, say Oh Hey, hey, hey Hey, hey, hey

SIEGEL: You're listening to All Things Considered from NPR News.

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