1) John Frusciante- The Empyrean- I've recently heard that he has left the Chili Peppers again. I have not liked a Chili Peppers record since the early 90's so I'm very happy to hear this as his solo stuff in always incredible. A lot of cool sounds on this and it has a really trippy mix. Johnny Marr is a nice bonus too.
2) Tim Hecker- An Imaginary Country- 2008 was a drone heavy year for me. After moving to Japan, however, I no longer had a stereo to listen to it properly- so I tried to stay away from a lot of it. I caved a few months in and listened to this constantly for several months. "Borderlands" is hands down my favorite single track of the year. Yet another example of how beautiful so-called 'noise' can be.
3) Bee Gees- Odessa (reissue)- I love the early Bee Gees. I had trouble with this one a few years ago, but this has some of the best and weirdest stuff they ever did. Plus, it comes in a red-flocked box just like the original vinyl. There's an "alternate" album included that deletes a lot of the heavy-handed orchestration revealing some really killer mellotron work. Several of these are superior to the finished versions. These guys were the original Animal Collective.
4) Dragon Turtle- Almanac- To me, La Societe Expeditionnaire stands with other classic labels as Factory, 4AD, and Creation. I hate trying to make lazy comparisons to what bands sound like and I think they describe themselves better than I can: ambient-winter-calypso-space-folk. Buy it- it's great and you will be feeding some good friends of mine. http://www.la-soc.com/
5) Leyland Kirby- Sadly, the Future Is Not What It Once Was- One to listen to in the dark, for sure. I imagine this is what big budget movie soundtracks might sound like if they didn't use the same predictable John Williams or Hans Zimmer score. Beautiful waves of minimal sound. This actually may be my favorite release of the year.
6) Sunn 0)))- Monoliths & Dimensions- The almighty Sunn 0))). Possibly the biggest leap yet. Parts of this album are actually really beautiful and melodic. They even got Julian Priester from Herbie Hancock's Mwandishi band to play! Always uncompromising, always compelling. I shouldn't have to say this- Maximum Volume Yields Maximum Results!
7) Neil Young- Archives Vol 1 (DVD)- I would've loved the Blue-Ray version, but have no way of playing it so I settled for the DVD. I've heard a lot of bitching about this, but I think this sets a new standard for what box sets should be. The packaging is a bit annoying, but there's some great stuff on here. The sound is really impressive- I heard things on "After the Gold Rush" that I've never heard before. There's also cool video footage of Neil making "Harvest" in his barn, and a really amusing video of Neil finding a CSNY bootleg in a record store, getting pissed off at the clerk, and taking the bootleg without paying for it.
8) Mew- No More Stories...- This is what 'pop' should sound like to me. Bands that can take straightforward hooks and make them sound unpredictable and weird always interest me.
9) Susanna & the Magical Orchestra- 3- From Norway and produced by Deathprod, another favorite. For fans of Kate Bush, the Cocteau Twins, and the like. Plus, they do a cover of "Subdivisions" by a certain Canadian band.
10) Jim O'Rourke- The Visitor- He may be a cranky dude, but he still makes incredible records. A single 38 minute instrumental track with guitars, pianos, horns, strings, and typical O'Rourke-fare. No ugly man-child on the cover, though.
11) Akatombo- Unconfirmed Reports- Supposedly this guy's originally from Scotland and lives in Hiroshima somewhere. Provides some nice sub speaker abuse. Reminds me of a lot of old ambient dub, especially Mick Harris' Scorn project. It comes with a DVD of videos he shot in Hiroshima which are pretty cool. It's limited to 500 copies, but I'm pretty sure you can still find one at this point.
12) St Vincent- Actor- Another artist making really interesting pop music. It reminds me of early Peter Gabriel or a noisier Kate Bush. I also read somewhere that she was listening a lot to "Scary Monsters" which is my favorite Bowie album. Good stuff.