2008 was an eventful year, to say the least. Barack Obama became the first African-American to be elected President of the United States (which was great), but then also the recession hit (not so great). That year’s music, though, was mostly brilliant, with twelve months’ worth of debut releases from bands and artists that still hold up today. We’re not just being nostalgic, either: here are 18 great debut albums from 2008 that sound just as amazing today as they did back then.
What we said at the time: “Their debut sounds sleek and exhilarating… [They] remain enigmatic while firing out enough tuff rhythms to keep us dancing.”
How it sounds today: From playing house parties in Oxford to the Main Stage at Glastonbury, Yannis and co have come a long way since the days of ‘Antidotes’. There are some things that were evident even back then, though – see: the frantic guitar work, intricate sonic structures and obtuse lyrics delivered by Philippakis’ signature snarl.
Must-hear track: ‘Cassius’
MGMT, ‘Oracular Spectacular’
What we said at the time: “For all its musical philandering, unbridled excess and shrouds of irony, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a record with more musical depth and warmth all year than this one.”
How it sounds today: With a show reel of hits including ‘Time To Pretend’, ‘Electric Feel’ and ‘Kids’, you’ll probably hear a third of this album at any given indie disco, but how does the rest of the record hold up? With weird and wonderful numbers such as ‘Weekend Wars’ and ‘The Handshake’, ‘Oracular Spectacular’ still has the ability to unravel one’s mind a decade on.
Must-hear track: ‘Electric Feel’
Lady Gaga, ‘The Fame’
What we said at the time: “Essential for anyone who even remotely likes pop… the moment Gaga cements herself as a real star.”
How it sounds today: Back in 2008, Lady Gaga was a mysterious new pop star drawing comparisons to everyone from Madonna to David Bowie. Fast-forward to 2018 and nobody needs explaining who Lady Gaga is. Despite releasing plenty of bangers since, ‘The Fame’ perhaps contains the most instantly infectious tunes of the singer’s entire back-catalogue (‘Just Dance’, ‘Paparazzi’, ‘Poker Face’) while still hinting at the shape-shifting enigmatic star she would soon prove to be.
Must-hear track: ‘Just Dance’
Vampire Weekend, ‘Vampire Weekend’
What we said at the time: “Indulge in Vampire Weekend’s vivid, foppish fantasy, which can still tell you plenty about the human condition, even if its lacrosse whites are rather suspiciously well-laundered.”
How it sounds today: In ‘Modern Vampires of the City’, ‘Contra’ and this, their self-titled 2008 debut, Ezra Koenig and band have perhaps released three of the strongest indie records of the past 10 years. From the peppy riot of ‘A-Punk’ to the sprightly ‘Mansard Roof’, ‘Vampire Weekend’ is still a masterclass in effortlessly simple, but eternally effective, songwriting.
Must-hear track: ‘Mansard Roof’
The Last Shadow Puppets, ‘Age Of The Understatement’
What we said at the time: “Possibly smirking mischievously, Kane and Turner have clambered inside their parents’ favourite records and spray-painted their names into the liner notes; for old music, it sounds remarkably, ridiculously new.”
How it sounds today: If Alex Turner’s crooning and piano-tinkling on Arctic Monkeys’ latest album, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, took you by surprise then you definitely missed his debut with Last Shadow Puppets partner Miles Kane, where the pair took a look back at ’60s pop, even donning some Beatles-esque hairdos. How does it sound now? Well, exactly like it did back then: charmingly retro.
Must-hear track: ‘Standing Next To Me’
Lightspeed Champion, ‘Falling Off the Lavender Bridge’
What we said at the time: “This is an album of genuine depth, one expressing the nervous conservative shockwaves which charge through party kids once they start to come down.”
How it sounds today: Musical chameleon Dev Hynes has gone through several guises over the years: from the snotty dance-punk of Test Icicles to his current standing as R&B’s Midas Man under the moniker of Blood Orange. In between those two very different states though, he threw on a nice knitted jumper, relocated to Nebraska and dabbled in a bit of folk. Listening back to ‘Falling Off the Lavender Bridge’ proves that Hynes can manage pretty much anything he tries his hand at.
Must-hear track: ‘Galaxy Of The Lost’
Bon Iver, ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’
What we said at the time: “DIY love ballads have rarely sounded as devastating or heart-rendering.”
How it sounds today: Back before he discovered Auto-Tune, met Kanye West and confused people at the Grammys, Justin Vernon was known mostly for the ability to evoke tears at the slightest of guitar strums. His Bon Iver project has evolved since, but ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’ remains not only the most intimate record he’s released, but one of the most beautiful albums of the past 10 years too.
Must-hear track: ‘Flume’
Laura Marling, ‘Alas, I Cannot Swim’
What we said at the time: “‘Alas, I Cannot Swim’ marks the arrival of a major talent, brave enough to swim against the commercial tide.”
How it sounds today: Our teenage years are full of things that become fodder for embarrassment later: dubious fashion choices, dodgy haircuts and the likes. Laura Marling, though, wrote and recorded her debut ‘Alas, I Cannot Swim’ when she was 17. She shouldn’t feel any shame though, the deft and quietly affecting lyricism of her Mercury Prize-nominated album is still evident today.
Must-hear track: ‘Ghosts’
Late Of The Pier, ‘Fantasy Black Channel’
What we said at the time: “It’s more brilliant than Richard Pryor doing Lenny Bruce on helium. It’s ludicrousness par excellence.”
How it sounds today: We’re still waiting on a follow-up from Late Of The Pier, but even after a decade of playback, 2008’s ‘Fantasy Black Channel’ is just as bewildering, enthralling and singular.
Must-hear track: ‘Focker’
What we said at the time: “‘Santogold’ is a vivid statement of intent. An eclectic album for Right Now, which shows what it means to be a modern pop star, and reveals a glittery crazy-paved path towards a brave new musical future.”
How it sounds today: Back in 2008, Santigold (known then as Santogold) was pretty much a visionary in her blending of pop, dance, punk, reggae and dub. It perhaps shows her impact on the patchwork pop music of today that, 10 years later, ‘Santogold’ sounds remarkably fluid.
Must-hear track: ‘L.E.S. Artistes’
Friendly Fires, ‘Friendly Fires’
What we said at the time: “Friendly Fires are on an unstoppably stratospheric trajectory. Do what the man says and jump in.”
How it sounds today: The band recently signalled their return, promising their first new music since their 2011 second album ‘Pala’. They’ll be teaming up again with producer Paul Epworth, who helped helm their debut. Anticipation will be high because, quite frankly, their 2008 intro was so full of belters.
Must-hear track: ‘Jump In The Pool’
Lykke Li, ‘Youth Novels’
What we said at the time: “Terrifically pure, satisfyingly primitive pop songs. Simple but sensational.”
How it sounds today: ‘Youth Novels’ stands as Lykke Li’s most understated album, with the minimalist productions allowing the strength of her vocals and lyrics to take all the glory. It signalled the Swede as one of the most heartbreaking songwriters around – something she continues to be.
Must-hear track: ‘I’m Good, I’m Gone’
Los Campesinos!, ‘Hold on Now, Youngster…’
What we said at the time: “Inspiring, short, sharp, joyous indie romps that sound like Arcade Fire fucking about with latter-day Belle & Sebastian.”
How it sounds today: Before ditching the glockenspiel and penning odes to niche footballers, Los Campesinos! wrote songs that perfectly summed up what it was like to be growing up and trying to figure shit out. They’ve always been a Marmite-ish kind of band, but we think ‘Hold on Now, Youngster…’ still sounds like a mighty teenage riot.
Must-hear track: ‘Death To Los Campesinos!’
What we said at the time: “The album oozes sass and smoulder… it’s never less than helium-heady from the hooks.”
How it sounds today: Ladyhawke hasn’t managed to capitalise on the early promise of her debut but, to be fair, it was a pretty hard record to follow. Blending sleek disco and funk influences with Ed Banger-esque electro and a punk-ish edge, we can confirm that ‘Ladyhawke’ definitely still slaps.
Must-hear track: ‘Paris Is Burning’
Fleet Foxes, ‘Fleet Foxes’
What we said at the time: “My Morning Jacket singing madrigals… America’s next great band.”
How it sounds today: Musically, the Atlantic gap couldn’t have been wider in 2008. While the UK was brandishing glowsticks and Microkorgs, America was more about packing up the mandolin and holing up in a cabin somewhere until inspiration struck. ‘Fleet Foxes’ kicked off what would later be known as freak-folk in the US, and it still sounds timeless and mind-dizzying.
Must-hear track: ‘White Winter Hymnal’
Black Kids, ‘Partie Traumatic’
What we said at the time: “The sexiest, most outrageous outright pop album of ’08… [and] hard not to love.”
How it sounds today: Black Kids were one of the first blog buzz bands and, while their 2017 second album ‘Rookie’ wasn’t able to match the carefree glee of their debut, ‘Partie Traumatic’ is still worthy of the hype.
Must-hear track: ‘I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance with You’
Hercules and Love Affair, ‘Hercules and Love Affair’
What we said at the time: “The best kind of dance record: physical and emotional, euphorically happy and deeply, irredeemably sad.”
How it sounds today: ‘Hercules and Love Affair’ was backwards-facing in 2008, offering a modern take on ’80s-era disco and funk. In 2018, it’s still great retro-futurism, helped in no little part by Antony Hegarty’s constant show-stealing.
Must-hear track: ‘Blind’
What we said at the time: “Her pipes are by far the roughest, most charming thing here; tunefully bruised and resonating with a smoky, Golden Virginia hue about them.”
How it sounds today: It’s hard to imagine that a time before Adele actually existed. But, it’s true, it did, and ’19’ sounds exactly the same now as it did when first released in 2008. That’s probably because it’s been played constantly up and down the country ever since.
Must-hear track: ‘Chasing Pavements’