Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Top 50 Albums of the Year 2008 Edition
It has been a great year for music and the fact that I had 50 albums I loved this year should prove that. Find those albums below:
#50 Bloc Party - Intimacy
This album calls back to Silent Alarm era Bloc Party but also tries to incorporate the band’s love of electronic music. The result is an album that is better than their last effort but lacks cohesiveness. The album is a collection of mediocre/good songs and includes high points such as Halo, Trojan Horse and Ion Square which are enough to make me come back to the album for repeat listens.
#49 Chuck Ragan and Austin Lucas - Bristle Ridge
The discovery of Chuck Ragan’s solo career was one of the highlights of my year, musically. I went to one of his shows just to see Ben Nichols (Lucero) open. I decided to stick around and watch some of Chuck’s set and was blown away by Chuck, accompanied by fiddle player Jon Gaunt who also plays on this record. Between this album, his back catalogue of solo material and the hot water music discography, I have had a lot of Chuck in my life this year. He writes honest songs and his gravelly voice is one of my favorites. I’m unfamiliar with Austin Lucas’ material but this collaboration is a great folk/alt country/bluegrass album and would probably be higher on the list if I had listened to it more (this will be a theme for this list; I had a lot of albums to listen to this year).
#48 Margot and the Nuclear So and Sos - Animal
I was happy to see another release from this band (two actually) this year. They manage to craft beautiful, yet catchy indie songs using a myriad of instruments and a sincere voice. Stream the album at their myspace page.
#47 Tim Barry - Manchester
Here’s another musician of the alt-country variety that I have welcomed into my life this year. Tim was the lead singer of punk band Avail before starting his stripped down solo project which consists of songs for the working class that tell the truth and don’t sugar coat anything. Most songs could lead to a drunken sing-a-long in any working class bar. Stream the album here.
#46 Drag the River - You Can't Live This Way
Another release from my new favorite record label, Suburban Home Records (also see Tim Barry above). Drag the River play country influenced rock that could keep any party going. It’s crazy how many bands I’ve gotten into this year that are perfect bands to listen to while having some drinks with some friends, and these guys may be the best. I think that’s a pretty good endorsement considering I don’t drink. Stream the album here.
#45 Foxboro Hot Tubs - Stop Drop and Roll
Green Day’s 60’s garage rock side project. They should have just released this under the Green Day name because it rocks.
#44 Silver Jews - Lookout Mountain, Look Out Sea
It took me a while to get into this band. They sound a lot like if Johnny Cash sang for The Shins. If you like either, check this album out.
#43 The Felice Brothers - The Felice Brothers
I saw these guys open for Bright Eyes last year and they were everything you could ask for in an opening band. I didn’t once think “are these guys done yet?” They have a Bob Dylan/The Band like bluesy folk rock sound and their lyrics sound like they could have been written anywhere from 40 years ago to the present. They claim that their demo was recorded in a chicken coup on a farm and I think that pretty much sums up this band.
#42 The Bronx - The Bronx III
They bring the same old Bronx sound that I’ve grown to love over the past 2 albums. The album is filled with raw, straight ahead rock with vocals that are borderline singing/yelling. This is a great album if you just want to rock out. Stream the song "Six Days A Week" here.
#41 Nas - Nas
This is the best rap album of the year. Nas just has a way with words and seems to be able to come up with a rhyme for anything. The beats on the album are also really good and are a refreshing change from the garbage that gets played on MTV and the radio.
#40 Right Away, Great Captain - The Eventually Home
This is the side project of Andy Hull (singer/guitarist for Manchester Orchestra). He puts his amazing lyrical skills on display with this album of stripped down tunes. The songs consist of vulnerable vocals on top of acoustic guitars with the occasional piano. If you are familiar with Manchester Orchestra, then imagine an entire album more like the softer/slower songs on their album. If you are not familiar with Manchester Orchestra, check them out.
#39 Kay Kay and His Weather Underground - Kay Kay and His Weather Underground
I don’t really know how to describe this band. It’s a few guys from Gatsby’s American Dream and that influence is definitely apparent. This album has a ton of instruments on it and manages to mix them all really well. There are sprinkles of jazz, blues and ragtime thrown into the mix along with pop and 60’s rock. This is one of the more ambitious releases I’ve listened to this year. I can’t wait to hear more from this band.
#38 Conor Oberst - Conor Oberst
Conor sheds the Bright Eyes moniker on this release and what we get is a group of songs that are a bit looser and more straight ahead folk-rock than most Bright Eyes releases. This album also does away with any ambient noise and other things leaning toward the strange side of Bright Eyes. As you can see above, the cover is Conor passed out on a hammock, which is a perfect image to accompany this collection of songs. Stream the full album here.
#37 Tokyo Police Club - Elephant Shell
I recorded this band’s set for the hell of it, when they were opening for Cold War Kids last year. I found myself listening to it a lot more than I expected. After releasing a couple of promising EPs, Tokyo Police Club finally put out a full length this year. It delivers the same great indie rock but is more polished than the EPs. They dish out pop-rock with keyboards in short bursts, usually between 2 to 3 minutes.
#36 Joey Cape - Bridge
I will listen to anything that is graced with Joey Cape’s voice. There’s something about it that just sits well with me. This stripped down acoustic album is perfect for showcasing his voice and songwriting abilities. His punk routes still show through even if it is just an acoustic album. Stream the album here.
#35 Local H - Twelve Angry Months
A roller coaster ride of 12 break-up songs, this album has as many mood swings as someone who just got a divorce. Songs about splitting up record collections and hating your ex’s new love. If you just went through a rough break-up, this is the album for you.
#34 The Gaslight Anthem - The '59 Sound
This band came out of nowhere this year and just as I was getting into their last album, released this gem. Being from New Jersey, they obviously are influenced by Springsteen and it shows. They music sounds a lot like Springsteen if he had more of a punkier edge. This is a great album for riding around in the summer with the windows down and no destination in particular. Stream the album at their myspace page.
#33 The Matches - A Band In Hope
I had high hopes for this album. Their last album was my #1 album two years ago. This album is slightly more cohesive than the last but it just didn’t keep me hooked all year like the last one did. There are a lot of great pop punk songs on this disc. The lyrics are great as usual and the choruses are very catchy. I expect more good things on their next release.
#32 Death Cab For Cutie - Narrow Stairs
Like all of their albums before, it took me a while after the first listen to fully get into this album. I would occasionally listen to it at work on my iPod but that was it. The use of Bixby Canyon Bridge (possibly my favorite song on the album) in an episode of Friday Night Lights really made me go back to the album and give it another shot. This album is pretty much what everyone has come to expect from Death Cab; beautiful but catchy songs with heartfelt and honest lyrics. Chris Walla’s production is great (you’ll here more from him later in the list), he doesn’t do anything too crazy and just makes the recording sound clean but not overproduced. Stream the album here.
#31 Ben Nichols - The Last Pale Light In the West
My favorite vocalist, Ben Nichols of Lucero, decided to put out an EP this year. I had no idea until it was released. It was a pleasant surprise. This is a great acoustic solo album, which is based on Cormac McCarthy's book "Blood Meridian, Or the Evening Redness in the West." I haven’t read the book so I can’t say how well it follows the plot. The songs are all acoustic and have a country feel to them. They make you feel like you are out in the Midwest in the middle of nowhere. Stream the title track here.
#30 Chris Walla - Field Manual
I mentioned above that Chris Walla would turn up later in the list. I was a little late getting around to this album but I’m glad I finally did. The music is what Death Cab would sound like if more electronic elements were involved and the production was a little more prevalent. I feel like this album was Chris getting some production techniques out of his system that wouldn’t fit on a Death Cab album. He has a surprisingly good voice and writes above average lyrics. Most of the songs have an electronic sounding rhythm section but Chris also steps away from the board and rocks out on songs such as The Score (my favorite on the album). Listen to the full album here.
#29 Eli "Paperboy" Reed & the True Loves - Roll With You
I saw these guys open for Robert Randolph this summer. I walked in and thought it was a band covering James Brown or some other soul song. Turns out they are a soul band, complete with a horn section and background singers. Their frontman, Eli “Paperboy” Reed, puts on a great show and it translates well to the recording. The record is full of soul songs (fast and slow). This is a great album when you are looking for something fun to listen to.
#28 Fake Problems - How Far Our Bodies Go
I'm counting this album as 2008 even though it was released originally in 2007, because it was re-released this year and I had no knowledge of it before then. These guys describe themselves as "roots-punk" and I think that's better than any description I can come up with. It's melodic punk that calls on the Replacements as a major influence. The gruff vocals seem to be something I really like lately, so it has that going for it as well. I really like the song "Born & Raised." I highly recommend you check it out along with the rest of the album here.
#27 The Gay Blades - Ghosts
This self-proclaimed “nefarious trash pop duo” came to my attention at the beginning of the year. I can’t exactly remember the circumstances but I’m glad I found them. Although they self released the album in 2007, I’m counting it as 2008 since it just recently got a proper release on a label. These guys put on a killer live show, full of energy and hilarious banter. I’ve only seen them once but I am hoping to see them again soon. I talked to them after the show and they seemed like really nice guys. Their music ranges from dance-y rock songs to slow ballads and have extremely underrated lyrics. Check out the video below for a taste of their live show.
#26 Ninja Gun - Restless Rubes
Ninja Gun is another band of the punk/southern rock/alt country variety that I fell in love with this year. They are also on my new favorite record label, Suburban Home Records. Most of the songs on the album revolve around the theme of being stuck in a place and wanting to get out and see something different. The song “Red State Blues” tells a story of someone stuck in the South and feeling like they belong anywhere but where they are. This is the perfect album for anyone that feels like they don’t belong in their current station in life, but have hope that they belong somewhere. I think I'm going to find myself coming back to this album a lot. You can stream the album here.
#25 The Supreme Genius of King Khan & the Shrines
This album is a compilation of scattered tracks and album tracks from previous releases that actual flows really well. King Khan is a blast of garage rock, soul and funk. It combines some of my favorite genres to create an amazing listening experience. Khan’s humorous lyrics such as “she’s fat, she’s ugly, she’s fat and she’s ugly, but I love her, I need her, yes I do” also help out his cause and make for the most fun you will have listening to a record this year. Stream the album at his myspace page.
#24 She & Him - Volume 1
She & Him consists of actress/singer Zooey Deschanel and musician M. Ward. I was familiar with M. Ward’s music and was a fan of Zooey Deschanel’s eyes ever since I saw Almost Famous, but I had no idea what to expect from the duo’s first album “Volume One.” I was dragging my feet on checking this album for some reason but one day I finally put it on my Ipod to listen to at work. It turned out to be a great album full of stripped down soul/folk songs. Zooey has a great voice and M. Ward does a great job on guitar and backing vocals. Check out their video below:
#23 Sleepercar - West Texas
Sleepercar is Jim Ward of Sparta/At the Drive-In’s side project. It’s being used as an outlet for songs he writes that don’t sounds like Sparta songs. This is a much more laid back sound than his previous bands. The distorted guitars and semi-screaming have been traded in for acoustic and clean sounding electric guitars along with softer yet still just as emotional vocals. This album is like a documentary of Jim’s home of West Texas. This was one of my most anticipated releases of early '08 and it did not disappoint. Check out the video for “Broken Promise” below:
#22 Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes/Sun Giant EP
I was pretty late getting into this band. They have a folk sound with beautiful, soaring vocal harmonies, reminiscent of Crosby, Stills and Nash. This is a great album to just put on and tune out the rest of the world. The vocals also remind me of the softer My Morning Jacket songs. I feel like my parents might enjoy the folk/bluegrass feel of this album. Check out their video below:
#21 Ryan Adams & the Cardinals – Cardinology
This is the same old Ryan Adams. If you are unfamiliar with him, just pick up one of the 8000 albums he has released in the last few years. This one is just as enjoyable as the last few. I feel like he may never get back to the greatness he showed us on “Heartbreaker” but he hasn’t really released a bad album since then either. He still bounces around from folk to alt country to rock but they all feel right when he’s playing them.
#20 Jenny Lewis – Acid Tongue
Jenny returns without the Watson twins but more than makes up for it with guest vocalists. She bounces back and forth between folk and indie rock on this record. There are guest vocals from Zooey Deschanel, Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes and Elvis Costello to name a few. This album is a lot of fun to listen to and even inspired Elvis Costello to record his new album after going in to the studio to record the song “Carpet Baggers” for Jenny’s album.
#19 Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend
These guys are Peter Gabriel inspired hipster music that was the buzz of every blog at the end of last year. Once the buzz wore off, what was left was an easily accessible hipster album that I’m still listening to almost a year later. It’s sort of a college educated rich boy’s take on the indie genre, with songs about Cape Cod and Oxford Commas.
#18 Okkervil River – The Stand Ins
I finally gave this band a chance earlier this year with their previous release. It was a pleasant surprise when I learned they released an album this year. Very good indie rock with great vocals and lyrics. The perfect follow up to last year's "Stage Names." There’s a good mix of styles on display here, such as piano ballads, acoustic folk tunes and straight ahead indie rock to name a few. The album is very textured folk pop at its best. Stream the album at the band’s myspace page.
#17 Q-Tip – The Renaissance
This album has helped solidify Q-Tip as my favorite rapper. My cousin got me into A Tribe Called Quest back when I was in high school and I’ve been a fan of Q-Tip ever since. I was sad to see his last album get shelved and then have no releases for almost a decade. I was very surprised to see a new album out this year. The beats on this album are amazing as usual and the lyrics are top notch. Q-Tip definitely put his 10 year forced hiatus to use. This man could rhyme “orange.” Stream the album here.
#16 Cold War Kids – Loyalty to Loyalty
I saw these guys almost 2 years ago and they played some new songs and I got really excited for this album. Since then I had forgotten about it. I randomly heard their first single off of the album and got excited again. They are back with the same soulful rock with slightly mumbled lyrics and I wouldn’t want it any other way. I love the piano in most of the songs, which I’m sure will be awesome live. I really need to see these guys again. I somehow doubt it will be in the basement of a church this time. Stream the album here.
#15 Andrew Morgan – Andrew Morgan/EPs
I fell in love with Andrew’s last album “Misadventures in Radiology” but I got it long after it was released. I’m glad to finally be able to put one of his albums on my list. This album was multiple years and locations in the making. It was interesting to follow the progress on his blog. The album was released along with numerous EPs, so I’m counting them all as one release. The arrangements on these songs are full of strings and horns, and the vocal harmonies remind me of the Beach Boys. With songs about the first snow of the year and the autumn/winter months in Kansas, this album and some of the EPs are perfect music for frozen precipitation and shorter days. Please check out Andrew’s music at his website.
#14 Deer Tick – War Elephant
I saw these guys open for Jenny Lewis and was really impressed. I had never heard of them and they managed to hold my attention for their entire set to the point where I wanted them to keep playing at the end of their set. The songs are a country/folk/rock blend with unique vocals that may turn some people off due to their raspy, almost weathered sound. The lyrical content of this album is outstanding. One of my favorite lyrics is, "and you cried all night till you created a stream/ and it flows forever, it's made of dreams/ that didn't come true and I'm sorry but there's nothing more that I can do." There are quite a few songs about love and failed love, which are some of the best on the album. Download a few songs for free here.
#13 Thrice – Alchemy Index, Vol. 3 & 4: Air and Earth
I wrote about the first 2 volumes of this release last year. I decided to keep these as one release rather than 2 separate releases because I like them both equally and also it allowed me to slip Q-Tip into the list at the last minute. Once again, Thrice has done an amazing job conveying the elements of Air and Earth with the music and lyrics of this release. The Air disc has a spacious sound and it almost feels as though you are floating and the lyrics deal a lot with flying. The Earth disc has a very organic, stripped down sound, with the use of acoustic guitars with a lot of picking of the strings and also use of piano and sparse drumming. I’m not sure how to explain how these aspects are synonymous with Earth but it definitely works.
#12 My Morning Jacket – Evil Urges
I got into these guys with their last release “Z.” I was a little late to the party but I’m glad I found them in time to enjoy their most recent release “Evil Urges.” Some people weren’t happy with Jim James singing in a falsetto on some of these songs but I think that it gives these songs a hint of vulnerability, which I like. With the exception of the song “Highly Suspicious,” this album is very similar to “Z.” This album is a great roots rock album that has some rocking songs on it along with some more chilled out songs. This band definitely still knows how to rock but they also know when to hold back and give us a beautiful song.
#11 Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Dig Lazarus Dig
I never really new what Nick Cave’s music sounded like. I have been aware of its existence for some time but never got around to checking it out. That all changed when I saw “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” and fell in love with his score of the film. I then decided to check out his website which is wear I found the video for “Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!” which can be seen below. Nick brings the rock on this album along with a funky/soul sound added to the mix. His vocals range from singing to half singing/talking. If the video below doesn’t make you want to check out the album then I don’t know what will.
#10 Dr. Dog – Fate
I have been hearing about this Philly band for a while now but never gave them a shot. I don’t know if it’s because I think their name is ridiculous or something else. I saw their set at Lollapalooza this year which brought about two great things. The first being that I finally gave them a chance and have been listening to the record constantly, and second being that I watched the set with Randy from season 4 of The Wire. Their sound is reminiscent of 60’s pop/rock with obvious inspiration from the Beatles and the Zombies. The lyrics are fantastic, which plays well with me because I always like a band with great lyrics. Listen to the album here.
#9 Glossary – The Better Angels of Our Nature
This is one of my favorite new bands that I discovered this year. Their slide guitar player played with Lucero on a few of their recent tours and then Glossary finally toured with Lucero this year. I was lucky enough to see them twice and instantly fell in love with their alt country, bluesy sound. They remind me of The Band, especially their vocals. The lyrics are top notch and I hope to hear more from this band in the future. You can download the album for free from the band’s website here. I think this was released in 2007 as a digital release and then in 2008 as a physical cd, so I'm counting it as this year.
#8 The Last Shadow Puppets – The Age of Understatement
I was really excited when I heard that Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys had a side project coming out. It was not at all what I expected and managed to exceed my expectations. It’s essentially Alex Turner singing over amazing arrangements of strings, horns, drums and guitar. The arrangements are done by Miles Kane, who I am not previously familiar with. The songs have a 60’s vibe that I find myself drawn to lately. I’m also a fan of the album art which you can check out above. It blows my mind that both of the band members are 3 years younger than I am.
#7 Kings of Leon – Only By The Night
I slept on this band for way too long. I finally got into them on their last release. This album has been getting a lot of playing time from me lately and it all started with the song “Sex on Fire.” The album is similar to their last release, which was a bit cleaner and pop oriented than their first 2 releases but I think it’s just the band growing and it sounds great. I don’t know if you can still call this indie rock but if it is, they are doing it just as well as anyone else in the genre. Stream the album here.
#6 Portugal. The Man – Censored Colors
I saw these guys open for Minus the Bear and was very surprised with how good they were. I had listened to their first full length album and was not impressed. Seeing them live made me pick up their previous release which was a solid album. I decided to give this release a shot and it is a major step in the right direction for the band. They are maturing with each album and have created a great album that I see myself listening to for years. The album is a mix of 60’s pop and 60’s psychedelic rock. Check out their video below.
#5 TV on the Radio – Dear Science
These guys release solid album after solid album. This may be their best one yet. The vocals still sound a lot like Peter Gabriel but the music is distinctly their own. Dave Sitek creates such a noisy background with his guitar work and production. Then catchy melodies are layered on top of the noise. The songs are infectious and make you dance even if you don’t want to. They slow it down on a few songs, one of which is my favorite on the album (Family Tree). Stream the album on the band's myspace page.
#4 The Hold Steady – Stay Positive
I will admit that I thought this band was extremely overrated when the internet had a collective orgasm over their last release. I have since come to love them and wish I had enjoyed them sooner. They often get compared to Springsteen but I feel like they are a little more of a party band than that. This album is all about staying positive, even when you are down on your luck. Ben Nichols (see #31) contributes backing vocals to numerous songs, so that makes the album even better. Stream the album at the band's myspace page.
#3 The Raconteurs – Consolers of the Lonely
I’m really glad these dudes decided to make another album together. I was afraid it would be one and done. They play the perfect mix of bluesy rock that I go wild for. I really like Brendan Benson’s voice and it creates a great balance with Jack White’s vocals. This album, like the last, has a good mix of rocking songs and slow ballads. They do both styles very well. They were one of the best sets I saw at Lollapalooza, see video evidence below:
#2 The Black Keys – Attack and Release
Speaking of bluesy rock and great Lollapalooza sets, this band satisfies both categories. These guys put on the best set I saw at Lollapalooza. For just two guys, they manage to make a lot of noise. The Danger Mouse production on this album is clean but not too clean considering they are playing blues influenced distorted rock. This album brings the rock and was probably the second most played album of the year in my car, with my #1 album being the most played. Stream the album here.
And without further procrastination, here is my favorite album of 2008:
#1 The Danger O's – Nineteen Ninety Four
I know what you are thinking. You've never heard of this band. I highly recommend you give them a listen. This was, without a doubt, the release I listened to the most this year. These guys obviously listened to a lot of 90's indie/college rock like the Pixies and Archers of Loaf, 90's pop/rock like the Refreshments and Toad the Wet Sprocket, and 70's punk like the Clash and the Ramones. They mix their influences well to create a great rock record that deserves to reach a much larger audience. The lyrics are top notch and contain some of my favorite chorus's of the year such as "New York City ain't no disco, We've been hanging on a dream, New York City's got nothing for you or me, All the kids are hands in pockets, All the kids are eyes on feet, New York City's got nothing for you or me," from the song "No Metro." The last two songs see the band slow things down and go in a direction I hadn’t heard from them before on their EPs or live, and it’s a great way to end the album. The band went through some line-up changes and I think they’ve come out on the other side a lot better than they were before. I can’t wait to hear what these guys have in store in the new year.
If you end up giving some of these albums a try and like them, please let me know in the comments. I enjoy the feedback and it helps motivate me to make another list next year.