Bullz-Eye’s Favorite Albums of 2008: Staff Writer Taylor Long’s picks
2008 was a year of many highly anticipated albums, from long-awaited follow-ups from big names to indie debuts. There were the albums I listened to most and felt left a lasting dent on the current musical landscape.
Top 10 Albums of 2008
1. TV on the Radio: Dear Science
Brooklyn’s critical darlings hit it out of the borough again with their third full-length, Dear Science. They continue to defy even the most coherent explanations and descriptions. This is what the future sounds like – and it’s exciting.
2. Fleet Foxes: Ragged Wood
The Pacific Northwest is finally producing, once again, the caliber of music that its isolated atmosphere and gorgeous surrounds should be stimulating. Driven by front-man Robin Pecknold, but by no means a one man band, the Fleet Foxes have the best lockdown on vocal harmonies since a certain supergroup in the ’70s — and the songs do their fair share of standing out, as well.
3. Pattern Is Movement: All Together
Throw all notions of what a two-piece should sound like out of your mind. This Philidelphia duo is nothing like what you’d expect them – or anyone – to be. Avant-pop-rock meets classical form and textures in the most beautiful mess of an album. If, at first, you’re taken aback, don’t worry, just press repeat.
4. Dengue Fever: Venus on Earth
While there were bands that hit it bigtime with their exploration of international sounds (see below), Dengue Fever didn’t come nearly close enough to receiving the kind of attention they deserved. Boasting Chhom Nimol, a singer who actually sings in Khmer, the official language of Cambodia, the LA inhabitants’ mixture of Cambodian pop meets surfer pop and psych rock is not only legitimate but bred of some serious talent.
5. Wolf Parade: At Mount Zoomer
It could perhaps be argued that At Mount Zoomer, the follow up to Wolf Parade’s first album Apologies to the Queen Mary, doesn’t pack the same punch in terms of pop hooks. In many ways, this is true. In other ways, it doesn’t matter. The over-10-minute-long album closer “Kissing the Beehive” is just as memorable – if not more so – as any of their shorter tunes.
6. Deerhunter: Microcastle/Weird Era Cont.
One of the weirdest yet most beautiful, comforting yet most alienating albums in recent memory – or double-album, if we’re getting technical. Get lost in the repetition, then find yourself in the breakdowns and freakouts.
7. The Notwist: The Devil, You + Me
The highly, highly anticipated follow up to the German group’s earnestly romantic and soothing electro-pop album, Neon Golden. The Devil, You + Me continues in the same vein as the album that they broke out with. What more could anyone ask?
8. Vampire Weekend: Vampire Weekend
As pleasing as it might be to be able to deny the righteous climb of the afro-pop appropriating, stereotype-perpetuating ivy leaguers known as Vampire Weekend, the honest truth is, aside from its lack of emotion, their debut is pretty undeniable. And in a musical climate where one too many bands have been overly saturated in their feelings, perhaps a little break from them ain’t so bad.
9. Death Cab for Cutie: Narrow Stairs
Every year, there’s a band that gets the sentimental vote. This year, it’s this one. Seattle’s Death Cab for Cutie bounce back from glistening pop to a strangely inconsistent yet cohesive sixth album. Piano ballads, power pop and, of course, the experimental stalker jam first single – it’s all here.
10. Portishead: Third
The last slot is almost always the hardest. What pushed it over to Portishead were two things. Firstly, unsurprisingly, the group’s history. One of the most influential players in trip-hop, Portishead recorded a measly two albums (though there was nothing measly about the content). Secondly, they bounced back some 10 years later to deliver not just another album, but another groundbreakingly, strangely beautiful one. If only every long-term hiatus had such remarkable results.
Top 10 Songs From Albums Not On My Top 10 List
1. “Put On,” Young Jeezy feat. Kanye West
The video alone would have warranted the number one spot on this list, but as it just so happens, “Put On” is a completely unforgettable song, the kind I heard blasted on my Brooklyn block night and day. Also noteworthy: the only time Kanye West used a vocoder this year that didn’t sound stupid.
2. “A Milli,” Lil’ Wayne / “A Billi,” Jay-Z
Weezy arguably had the more successful summer jam over Jeezy, but truth is, his voice is still slightly irritating, no matter how many times I hear this. Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that I like Jay-Z’s freestyle cover just as much as Wayne’s original.
3. “U.R.A. Fever,” The Kills
This is the sexiest song released in 2008. Really.
4. “L.E.S. Artistes” / “I’m A Lady,” Santogold
I refuse to choose between the two hottest jams on the debut from Brooklyn’s Santogold. So I’m not going to.
5. “Take My Love With You,” Eli “Paperboy” Reed & The True Loves
Why wasn’t this song blasted from the speakers of every single person who loved retro-revival acts like Amy Winehouse and the Pipettes over the last year? It should have been. Also: people in long-distance relationships, you have a new jam. Trust me.
6. “Mr. Alladatshit,” Kidz in the Hall
Kidz in the Hall made my mid-year list, but the second half was just too strong and knocked them out of contention. That said, this song from the Chicago rap duo is, to quote the song, “flyer than giraffe’s [privates].” Assuming they meant that as a good thing…
7. “Touch Me I’m Going To Scream, Pt. 1,” My Morning Jacket
The My Morning Jacket album was a little too uneven, but its high points were very high, including this lilting, sensual jam that’s exemplary of everything the band does right.
8. “Many Shades of Black,” Raconteurs
Without as much influence from Brendan Benson, the Raconteurs are starting to sound like another White Stripes… which would be ok if there wasn’t already the White Stripes. Having said that, this soul-infused break-up tune is not just more of the same.
9. “Lately,” The Helio Sequence
The duo from Portland continue to evolve their sound with Keep Your Eyes Ahead, their most memorable album to-date, which boasts the repeat-worthy lead off track “Lately.”
10. “Sensual Seduction,” Snoop Dogg (or “Sexual Eruption,” if you have the unrated version)
It’s as if Snoop Dogg heard any of R. Kelly’s recent albums and said, “That man knows what he’s doing.”
Posted in: Alternative, Ambient, Americana, Artists, Hip Hop, Lists, Pop, Rap, Rock
Tags: Best of 2008, Bullz-Eye, Death Cab for Cutie, Deerhunter, Dengue Fever, Eli "Paperboy" Reed, Fleet Foxes, Helio Sequence, Jay-Z, Kids in the Hall, Lil' Wayne, My Morning Jacket, Pattern Is Movement, Portishead, Raconteurs, Snoop Dogg, Taylor Long, The Kills, The Notwist, TV on the Radio, Vampire Weekend, Wolf Hunter, Young Jeezy
Bullz-Eye’s Favorite Albums of 2008: Staff Writer Greg Schwartz’s picks
2008 has been a fantastic year for rock & roll to this reporter’s view. Last year, I felt like I was struggling to come up with enough albums just to fill a top 10. It’s been a far different story this year as sifting the top 10 from the many worthy honorable mentions has been a tough process that has required rigorous listening and re-appraisal. When new albums by longtime personal faves like the Black Crowes and King’s X can’t quite crack my top 10, I can only pay homage to the music gods for such a plentiful bounty.
Top 10 Albums of 2008
1. Jefferson Starship: Jefferson’s Tree of Liberty
One of the greatest rock heroes of the ‘60s comes back with superb new relevancy as Paul Kantner hits the jackpot again with Cathy Richardson, the band’s dynamic new vocalist. The soaring harmonies between Richardson, Kantner and David Freiberg are simply majestic, adding a revelatory new flavor to songs that are mostly covers of ‘60s tunes that inspired the Airplane back in the day. But the new “On the Threshold of Fire” might be the song of the year – no other gave me chills like it did.
2. Susan Tedeschi: Back to the River
The blues diva delivers her best album yet, packed with soulful rockers, guest stars and oh so compelling vocals that assure the blues are in good hands with the current generation. “People” is one of the top tracks of the year and should have been Obama’s victory song in Grant Park. It’s among several tracks that offer a taste of the musical magic that occurs when Tedeschi and hubby Derek Trucks (slide guitar) join forces. Look for a Soul Stew Revival album featuring that combo to top this list in 2009 or 2010.
3. Michael Franti & Spearhead: All Rebel Rockers
Franti and his rock/reggae/hip-hop/funk/soul crew help keep the Bay Area at the cutting edge of the music revolution with their best album since 2001’s album of the year, Stay Human. There’s no one else mixing it all up like Franti, and no one else lyricizes the zeitgeist of the times like he does. Guest vocalist Cherine Anderson sounds like a star in waiting.
4. Guns n’ Roses: Chinese Democracy
It’s overproduced, should probably be labeled an Axl Rose solo joint, and should have been released at least six years ago. But all that aside, Rose has finally delivered the unique type of kick ass rock n’ roll that only he can (although the lyrics aren’t nearly as accessible as they used to be.) He’ll probably never live down the backlash over the album’s tardiness, but tunes like “Better,” “There was a Time,” “Catcher in the Rye” and “I.R.S.” are epic rockers that conjure that classic Gn’R sound. Now if only Axl would pick up the phone, apologize to Slash & Duff for being so difficult, and get the band back together. They’d sell out every arena in America.
5. Blue Turtle Seduction: 13 Floors
I’d never heard of these Lake Tahoe jam rockers until they saved last New Year’s Eve in San Francisco with their stellar “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the 12 Galaxies” show to usher in 2008 in festive style. Then they issued this superb album packed with tight playing and a bunch of tunes that sound like instant classics. Is it rock? Bluegrass? Funk? Punk? All of the above and more.
6. Sound Tribe Sector 9: Peaceblaster
These electronica-oriented, yet still organic jam rockers make their bones with their incendiary live shows, but this release captures that energy and delivers it in an album form that can get ya bumping in your car or grooving around the living room. The production value is dazzling, as the electronic layering is expertly mixed with top-shelf percussion and superbly tasteful guitar on songs that still inspire deep thoughts even though they’re instrumental. The band also put up a great informational companion site, www.peaceblaster.com
7. Alanis Morissette: Flavors of Entanglement
Alanis joined up with British electronica producer Guy Sigsworth to create a dynamic album that’s her most compelling work since her 1995 breakthrough. Tunes like “Citizen of the Planet,” “Straightjacket” and “Giggling Again for No Reason” ripple with unique sonic energy, while the rock goddess delivers an array of dazzling vocals demonstrating she’s still one of the best in the biz.
8. Ryan Adams & the Cardinals: Cardinology
This album could have ranked higher but the songs are too short (it clocks in at a mere 40 minutes) and it could really use a couple more rockers. Still, Adams’ uniquely cathartic vocals are superb, the pedal steel guitar from Jon Graboff is majestic and it’s another solid collection of tunes. But it’s starting to look like Adams is falling victim to jam band recording disease – plays amazing live shows, can’t quite capture the same fire in the studio. Still waiting for another album to approach 2005’s best of the year Cold Roses.
9. The Watson Twins: Fire Songs
These Los Angeles-by-way-of Louisville gals break through in a major way with this compelling platter of alt-country magic. The identical twins’ otherworldly mix of country, soul, gospel and rock is mesmerizing – their voices are akin to the sirens they sing of on the ethereal last track, “Waves.” The girls can sort of rock ya too, on tunes like “Bar Woman Blues” and “How Am I to Be.” This is the first album since I can’t remember when that I was inspired to rush out and buy after witnessing a performance by a band I wasn’t so familiar with, following their revelatory Saturday night set opening for Railroad Earth at the Fillmore in September.
10. Anti-Flag: The Bright Lights of America
These political Pittsburgh punks polished up their sound a bit here to deliver an album of arena-ready rock that sounds big but still rails with punk angst and energy. The lyrics are a spot-on indictment of Uncle Sam’s paradigm of Titanic turmoil, and what could be more punk than that? Rolling Stone should be utterly ashamed to have given Bright Lights only two stars. Green Day’s American Idiot is the only punk album of the decade that tops it.
Honorable mentions (in no particular order)
King’s X: XV
Ty Tabor: Balance
The Black Crowes: Warpaint
Donna the Buffalo: Silverlined
Indigenous: Broken Lands
Widespread Panic: Free Somehow
My Morning Jacket: Evil Urges
Jenny Lewis: Acid Tongue
Tea Leaf Green: Raise the Tent
Joan Osborne: Little Wild One
Railroad Earth: Amen Corner
Mike Gordon: The Green Sparrow
Los Lonely Boys: Forgiven
Aimee Mann: @#%&*! Smilers
The Black Keys: Attack and Release
Taj Mahal: Maestro
Buddy Guy: Skin Deep
Strong albums by unsigned regional bands
Cleveland – Mifune: Time Is Watching Us
Husband and wife team Jacob (guitar) and Chris (vocals) Fader dial up a dazzling sound on their second album that blends the rhythms and horns of an afro-beat instrumentation with a groovy psychededelic jam vibe. The politically edgy lyrics continue a band tradition of looking for trouble with authority, and modern rock can always use more of that.
Dallas – The Bright: In Lucid Dreams
Formerly known as Superstring, the Bright’s mix of alt-rock edge with power pop grandeur and charismatic vocalist Julie Lange is a winning formula. The production value here is superb. They’ve licensed songs to MTV, but the major labels still haven’t called for some reason. The band’s cover of “Kashmir” is epic.
Oakland – The Passive Aggressives: Conflict Resolution
Take an alt-rock power trio with a heavy Les Claypool influence, add in a vocalist who’s like a cross between Alanis and Amy Lee, and you’ve got a powerhouse sound. Former Israeli Defense Forces member Keren Gaiser is a breakout star on the verge now that she’s shed her Celine Dion-style past and found her inner rock goddess.
Breakthrough artist of 2008
Cathy Richardson of Jefferson Starship – She not only sounds amazing on the album, she delivers stunning power and mesmerizing rock ‘n’ roll mojo onstage, from Airplane classics to the new mashup “Imagine Redemption.” She’s got the skills to land next to Grace Slick in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame some day.
Live performance awards
Multiple-night performance of the year
Phil Lesh & Friends @ the Warfield Theater, San Francisco CA
May 13-14, 16-18
This monumental run of five shows in six nights to close down the Bill Graham Presents era at the venerable Warfield was simply stunning, in so many ways. Start off with the fact that the 68-year-old bassist is not only still truckin’, but is at the height of his powers. The first three shows offered the Grateful Dead’s first six albums played in their entirety, but of course way more jammed out, which was tremendous. The sets featuring the GD’s eponymous debut album on night one and American Beauty on night three were among the best sets that Lesh has played since Jerry left us.
Night four featured two live albums in their entirety and then the finale was a three-set, six-and-a-half hour marathon akin to New Year’s Eve in May, complete with “Sugar Magnolia” balloon drop to kick off the last set. Lesh topped that off by offering up a free soundboard of the electrifying 5/13 show, a magnanimous gesture he is generally known to grant at least once per tour. How many other artists can say the same?
Unprecedented collaboratory jam of the year
New Monsoon + EOTO @ The Fillmore – San Francisco, CA – February 9
EOTO, the new electronica project from String Cheese Incident percussionists Michael Travis and Jason Hann, warmed up the night – with guest help from SCI mandolinist Michael Kang – for a set that blew the roof off. New Monsoon’s second set opener then built one by one until all members of both bands were onstage for an epic jam that summoned all of the Fillmore’s legendary psychedelic power.
Posted in: Alternative, Americana, Artists, Blues, Folk, Lists, Pop, Rock
Tags: Aimee Mann, Alanis Morissette, Anti-Flag, Black Crowes, Black Keys, Blue Turtle Seduction, Buddy Guy, Bullz-Eye Year in Music 2008, Donna the Buffalo, Greg Schwartz, Guns N' Roses, Indigenous, Jefferson Starship, Joan Osborne, King's X, Los Lonely Boys, Lotus, Michael Franti, Mifune, Mike Gordon, My Morning Jacket, Passive Aggressives, Ryan Adams, Sound Tribe Sector 9, Susan Tedeschi, Taj Mahal, Tea Leaf Green, The Bright, The Watson Twins, Ty Tabor
Bullz-Eye’s Favorite Albums of 2008: Staff Writer Ed Murray’s picks
Perhaps due to the waning days of the mortifying political regime we’ve been burdened with for eight years, not to mention ongoing economic palpitations that finally erupted into a full-blown global meltdown, 2008 turned out to be a pretty fantastic year for music. Classic R&B/soul sounds seem to be making a comeback, the indie kids have finally figured out how to absorb ’80s music influences in a more meaningful, less derivative way, pop music (whether or not it’s actually popular) is everywhere, and hard rock is finally seeing something of a resurgence (albeit only slightly at this point). Maybe it has more to do with the death knell sounding for the record industry? It’s pretty obvious at this point that while the CD business is pretty hurting these days, the music business is doing just fine, thank you very much.
Top 10 Albums (New Releases)
Deerhunter: Microcastle/Weird Era Cont.
Most mature effort yet from this Atlanta-based five-piece, blending their shoegazer-noise art-rock into a more melodic and much mightier mix. It’s a two-fer as well, seeing as their third album Microcastle was co-released with the bonus Weird Era Cont., a move which, with all the drama surrounding this band, should surprise no one.
Airborne Toxic Event: Airborne Toxic Event
This band’s been compared to everyone from Springsteen to Franz Ferdinand, and I’m usually turned off by bands who sound like they’ve dug no further into rock history than 1983, but there’s something about this debut that keeps me coming back for more.
MGMT: Oracular Spectacular
Joyous, hypnotic, neo-psychedelic and catchy-as-hell. It’s pure ‘80s-influenced indie dance rock, but beyond the sheer grooviness of it all, MGMT is deeply experimental and hard to pin down (in a good way, of course).
The Black Kids: Partie Traumatic
Beyond the vibe – a Robert Smith meets Tom Tom Club kind of thing – it’s the songs that stand out on this fun and highly danceable album. Anthemic sing-alongs either work or they don’t. Here, they work…despite the occasional inane rhyming couplets.
The Hold Steady: Stay Positive
Craig Finn, Tad Kubler & Co. just keep getting better – and achieving ever-bigger heights – with each new release. Okay, Springsteen comparisons still abound…but those only pertain to the lyrical nature of the songs and Finn’s vocal delivery. The music is riff-heavy cock rock most of the time…and if anything’s desperately missing from a lot of new music, it’s that classic rock connection. “Our psalms are sing-a-long songs,” indeed.
New York Dolls: Live at the Fillmore East – December 28 & 29, 2007
Fully expecting to dislike this live set from late last year because it wasn’t the “real” Dolls, I think what I like best about it is hearing all these tunes with an updated sound, a sonic blast of power that the originals just never had – at least as you hear them on the original band’s scant recorded output. Whatever Johansen’s motivation, I only wish there were more than 10 songs!
Clinic: Do It!
Maybe these guys aren’t doing anything differently because…they don’t have to! Their retro fuzzed-out garage vibe just plain works. Still. Though I am a little tired of the surgeon’s masks, heh-heh.
Helio Sequence: Keep Your Eyes Ahead
A hell of a lot of noise for just two guys. Equally epic and spacey, they’ve actually achieved new heights with their blissed-out melodies, layered sonic wash and experimental but grounded approach. Beauty abounds here, even an acoustic side not always apparent on previous albums.
The Walkmen: You & Me
A great album from a great band. Softer than Bows + Arrows, but no less powerful. In fact, tempering the anger and bile (as in “The Rat”) has allowed them to find new depths in their fairly eclectic songwriting.
Spiritualized: Songs in A & E
Jason Pierce’s best since Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space. Blistering, blissful and beautiful. Welcome back.
Best Reissues of 2008
Bob Dylan: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 8: Tell Tale Signs – Rare and Unreleased 1989-2006
Forget about all that folk-rock protest-song ancient history. And don’t even mention the mid-period born-again Zimmerman. Late Model Dylan is where it’s at, as this awesome volume in The Bootleg Series proves.
Various Artists: Love Train: The Sound of Philadelphia
Oh yeah. This one was long overdue.
The Eels: Meet the Eels – Essential Eels 1996-2006, Vol. 1 and Useless Trinkets – B Sides, Soundtracks, Rarities and Unreleased 1996-2007
A decade of genius, really. Newbies should stick with Essential Eels, diehards can jump on Useless Trinkets.
Top 10 Songs (NOT featured on New Releases list)
In no particular order:
“The Legend of the Last of the Outlaw Truckers AKA the Ballad of Sheriff Shorty,” Dandy Warhols
If you think you’ve got this band pegged, one listen to this epic tale will set you straight.
“Surprise,” Gnarls Barkley
Upbeat, but with a definite ‘60s surf-vibe. Not as instantly classic as “Crazy,” but what is?
“Sure Hope You Mean It,” Raphael Saadiq
The opening track off this phenomenal album will blast you right back to Detroit (or Memphis) circa 1963.
“You Don’t Know Me,” Ben Folds w/ Regina Spektor
Perhaps the best song on this uneven set, it’s more touching than bitter, which is probably why it rises above most of the rest. Regina doesn’t hurt, either.
“Crawl,” Kings of Leon
A blistering slab of riff rock. Very nice.
“Right as Rain,” Adele
Lots of great cuts on this New British Soul chanteuse’s debut, but this is the one that does it for me every time. A unique and amazing voice.
“Dance with Me,” Old 97s
It’s been a while since I listened to Rhett Miller’s work. I guess it took amping up the volume, guitars and energy a bunch to do it for me again.
“Business Time,” Flight of the Conchords
This song about the monotony of married sex cracks me up every time I hear it, and it’s a good, well-played and -produced tune in addition to the laugh-out-loud funny.
“Wreck My Flow,” The Dirtbombs
Perhaps the best song on this not-their-strongest effort.
“Salute Your Solution,” The Raconteurs
A powerhouse of a jam, it’s a gritty sonic blast that’s better than anything on Icky Thump, that’s for sure.
Posted in: Alternative, Artists, CD Reviews, Lists, Rock, Songs, Soul
Tags: Adele, Airborne Toxic Event, Ben Folds, Best of 2008, Bob Dylan, Bullz-Eye, Clinic, Dandy Warhols, Deerhunter, Ed Murray, Flight of the Conchords, Gnarls Barkley, Helio Sequence, Kings of Leon, MGMT, New York Dolls, Old 97s, Raphael Saadiq, Regina Spektor, Spiritualized, The Black Kids, The Dirtbombs, The Eels, The Hold Steady, The Raconteurs, The Walkmen
Bullz-Eye’s Favorite Albums of 2008: Staff Writer Carlos Ramirez’s picks
Musically speaking, 2008 was all about nostalgia for me. Not only did my all-time favorite album get the reissue treatment, largely-forgotten genres like synth-pop and power-pop crept their way back onto my playlists. So in that spirit, I’ve compiled a year-end list with my top choices in 10 separate categories. Now if 2009 could only bring back hair-metal, I’d be A-okay.
Best Metal Album
Scar Symmetry: Holographic Universe
As out-of-control great as Scar Symmetry’s songwriting and musicianship proves to be on Holographic Universe, the jewel in their crown is without question vocalist Christian Alvestam. His death-metal vocal attack is an absolute force to be reckoned with. Its deep tonality and razorblade-kissed harshness drives the heavier sections with brute force. But what really makes Alvestam’s appearance a revelation are his cleaner vocals. It’s the kind of powerhouse voice that is usually reserved for AOR bands like Survivor, Toto, and Journey; not in a Swedish death-metal band. It definitely doesn’t sound like a great idea on paper, but when you hear the mixture of his melodic crooning and piercing guitars coming out of your speakers, your doubts swiftly fall by the wayside. Alvestam’s performance on the album is nothing less than a tour-de-force that should get praise from both the heavy metal and more mainstream hard rock/AOR communities.
Best Synth-Pop Album
The Foxglove Hunt: Stop Heartbeat
If you’re as devout a synth-pop fan as I am, you’ll know about the lack of quality groups releasing records these days. Throughout the late 1980s, it seemed like every major and indie label had at least two or three synth-pop acts on their rosters. Outside of die-hards like Depeche Mode and a handful of other groups (on the A Different Drum label), the genre has been relatively quiet. The Foxglove Hunt is comprised of Ronnie Martin (Joy Electric, The Brothers Martin) and Rob Withem (ex-Fine China) and the duo’s list of influences reads like a KROQ playlist from 1987. The dramatic Giorgio Moroder-styled keyboard melodies and Neil Tennant-worthy vocal performances make Stop Heartbeat feel like it comes from an entirely different era. “The Life Highrise” could have been on Dare while the fluid bass lines on “That’s Getting Personal” have Peter Hook written all over them. From start to finish Martin and Withem get it right. Even when they take on the Psychedelic Furs’ haunting “Love My Way,” the duo hits the mark.
Best Comeback Album
After releasing an unsuccessful single in the mid-’70s, Florida jangle-rockers Mudcrutch went their separate ways. This, of course, wouldn’t be more than a mere footnote in the annals of rock-n-roll if the band’s singer/bassist wasn’t none other than a young Tom Petty. Now we all know how things turned out for Petty and his fellow Mudcrutch guitarist Mike Campbell, but most of us had only read about their former band’s work through the years. When it was announced that the Gainesville, FL rockers were reuniting for an album and tour, record geeks waited with bated breath. Mudcrutch didn’t disappoint. Reflecting the band’s love of southern and country-rock, the record is filled with ample amounts of lush vocal harmonies and twangy guitars. If the band would have released “Scare Easy” back when they were originally together, there might have never been the Heartbreakers.
Best British Album
Elbow: The Seldom Seen Kid
Elbow’s first three albums were all top 10 list contenders in the years they were released. But The Seldom Seen Kid is “album of the year” material from top to bottom. For one second just picture Peter Gabriel fronting Radiohead and you’ll have a good idea of what this British quintet is going for. Like the Gabrial in his Genesis days, vocalist Guy Garvey’s lyrical muse is suburban England. The songwriter shines a light on the every day tedium of life in the burbs on songs like “The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver” and “Grounds for Divorce” proving his work here is worthy to all the hype it’s been showered with lately. In “One Day Like This,” Garvey and Elbow have the song that Chris Martin wishes he wrote for Viva La Vida.
Best Undiscovered Album
Gentleman Jesse & His Men: Gentleman Jesse & His Men
There’s something magical about the sound of a Rickenbacker busting out an open A chord. This 12-track collection of energetic power-pop is bursting with bubblegum sweet vocal hooks and the kind of guitars Chris Stamey and Tommy Keene championed back in their heydays. GJ & HM have every power-pop trick mastered, but everything is funneled through with garage-rock charm. Unlike the Raspberries, who had the majestic flair of Eric Carmen, the Georgia band’s rough and tumble performances instantly makes them attainable to the lo-fi and punk crowds. This stuff is strictly for fans of the Replacements, Big Star, and the Exploding Hearts.
Best Indie-Rock Album
The Mary Onettes: The Mary Onettes
From the look of my list this year, it seems like everything that was old is new again. Maybe it’s because I’m in my mid-30’s now or perhaps it’s a genuine disconnect with the palette a lot of newer bands are working off of, 2008 had me falling for the albums that looked backwards in terms of musical style. Sweden’s Mary Onettes must feel the same way I do lately. The glistening guitars, ringing bass runs, and melancholic choruses wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the soundtrack to a John Hughes film. Philip Ekstrom’s vocals quake and quiver on earwigs like “Pleasure Songs” and the completely addicting “Lost” making him a frontman to keep an eye on. Hopefully the band can find a label with a stronger presence in the States because I have a feeling these lads would be huge if more people had a chance to hear their hooky guitar-pop, they’d be huge.
Best Punk Album
Dillinger Four: Civil War
Dillinger Four are one of the few bands that most punk fans can agree on. The more fickle traditionalists go absolutely gaga for the Minnesota act’s streamlined and high-energy approach. But even listeners who take their punk with two helpings of melody in it adore D4’s hooky choruses. The road that led to the release of Civil War was a bumpy one. The album was mired by studio delays, day-job hassles, and even an internet leak. But boy, was it worth the wait. The filthy power-chords that kick off opening track “A Jingle for the Product” gets your blood boiling and it’s all butt-kicking from there on. Erik Funk’s vocals never sounded as snotty. His singing style embodies the same rebel spirit that made punk icons like Howard Devoto (Buzzcocks) and Milo Aukerman (Descendents) so irresistible to listen to so many years back. In Lane Pederson the combo have one of the more exciting, tough-as-nails drummers going today. His relentless attack anchors fast-movers like “Like Eye Contact In An Elevator” perfectly while he holds back just enough on “Fruity Pebbles” to give the song enough breathing room for Funk’s melodies to creep in.
Best Dance Album
Crystal Castles: Crystal Castles
On Crystal Castles’ debut full-length, old Atari sound effects pierce through the mix, synthesizers are abused, and frontwoman Alice Glass shrieks over the top of everything with menacing punk-rock attitude yet they’ve somehow constructed the dance album of the year. The tracks comfortably jump from techno to house to synth-pop sometimes even doing it within the span of one song. Ethan Kath is the master audio manipulator here dismantling Glass’ vocals, bending and tweaking them so much that they almost become unrecognizable in moments. But the soundscapes are king here. The keyboard melodies on “Crimewave” and “Vanished” are instantly memorable, almost haunting at times. There’s a timeless quality to everything here. For once, the hipsters were right.
“Black and Gold,” Sam Sparro
It sounds like a long-lost Gamble & Huff gem produced by Prince and then remixed by Afrika Bambaataa circa 1982, yet “Black and Gold” feels more vital than 98% of the singles released in 2008. Written and sung by Australian newcomer Sam Sparro, “Black and Gold” was a smash throughout Europe but it barely made a dent here in the U.S. when it was released during the spring. A bank of frothy keyboards pad the track but it’s the pulsating bass and percussion that drive the song. Sparro obviously studied the great American soul singers of the ’70s because every line is pushed through with a brilliant balance of sensuality and macho bravado. I guarantee if Justin Timberlake would have released this track it would have been a Number One single.
Best CD Reissue
Billy Joel: The Stranger 30th Anniversary Edition
The original 1977 version of The Stranger is probably my favorite album of all time. That said, I wasn’t expecting more than a remastering job and new liner notes when Legacy Recordings announced that they would be releasing a 30-year anniversary edition of the classic recording. So you could imagine my surprise when news leaked that a live 1977 concert from Carnegie Hall would also be included as a second disc PLUS a DVD of promo videos, an appearance on the “Old Grey Whistle Test” and a 30-minute documentary about the making of the record would also be included! This is the kind of treatment an album this important deserves. The Carnegie Hall performance had mythical status on the Billy Joel fan boards for years, and rightfully so. It’s the kind of career-making show that most fans only dream about attending, so having it here is really a treat. The documentary is ripe with all kinds of behind-the-scenes information and compelling interviews with Joel and producer Phil Ramone so even the most devout fans have something to salivate over. Hopefully Legacy does the same thing for the rest of his late 70’s work.
Posted in: Alternative, Americana, Artists, Dance, Electronica, Lists, Metal, Pop, Power Pop, Punk, R&B, Rock, Soul
Tags: Billy Joel, Crystal Castles, Dillinger Four, Elbow, Foxglove Hunt, Gentleman Jesse, Mary Onettes, Mudcrutch, Sam Sparro, Scar Symmetry
Bullz-Eye’s Favorite Albums of 2008: Staff Writer Michael Fortes’ picks
This year has seen some extraordinary new music come our way. I’ve heard the opposite opinion from elsewhere, but for me, being on the West Coast has a lot to do with my enthusiasm. In fact, seven of the albums in my top ten are by West Coast artists, some more well-known than others. Not only that, three of the albums in my top ten aren’t albums at all. The “EP” is an anachronistic term that originally referred to a 7” vinyl record with more music crammed on each side (usually at the expense of volume and general sound quality) than what a normal single would hold. It’s an abbreviation for “Extended Play.” And yet, today’s EP is really just a half-length CD. They tend to be overlooked, either because they’re too short to warrant much attention or they contain songs not deemed strong enough for a full album, or both. But, like Bob Dylan said, “things have changed.” Our lives are busier, our attention spans are shorter, and our disposable income is shrinking by the hour. What better time for the EP to make a mini-resurgence than now?
Top 10 Albums of 2008
1. The Parson Red Heads: Owl & Timber (EP)
There’s a timelessness to the sound and the vibe of the Parson Red Heads that’s beyond explanation. You can single out the familial harmonies, the guitar interplay that recalls the Byrds and the Dead, the irresistibly solid pop songs, or their flowery evocation of a bygone era. But when it comes down to it, this band’s music simply feels good. No other band has released music this irresistible and uplifting in years, and only a select lucky few up and down the West Coast have had the luxury of being able to see and hear them live. With a little luck, this may change, and we’ll be able to look back at Owl & Timber as one of the elements that made it happen.
2. Brian Wilson: That Lucky Old Sun
Following up the 37-years-late Smile with another similarly built song cycle seemed like little more than a fantasy in 2004. But here we are in 2008, and Brian Wilson pulled it off. Mike Love would be proud to hear that there’s only one “downer” on the album (the beautiful, Pet Sounds-worthy “Midnight’s Another Day”), while all the rest are upbeat, aural murals depicting the sunny side of Southern California. It’s Brian doing what he does best, and outside of Smile, it’s easily his best, most enjoyable solo work.
3. Bob Dylan: Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Vol. 8
Technically, Tell Tale Signs is an archival release, but the recent vintage of the material (1989 through 2006), the abundance of never-before-heard songs, and the fact that most of it was recorded during the same period in which Guns n’ Roses’ 14-years-late Chinese Democracy gestated, qualifies it as new. And even if it didn’t qualify, it would still be listed here, since it does as good a job (if not better) as any of his last three records of proving that, even in his old age, Dylan has lost none of his power to inspire, confound, delight and move his audience.
4. The Gutter Twins: Saturnalia
Mark Lanegan and Greg Dulli have collaborated in the past on a few tracks from Greg’s Twilight Singers albums, and while those duets were pretty good, they were never major stand-outs. Not until the two covered Massive Attack’s “Live with Me” on last year’s A Stitch in Time EP, anyway. As good as that cover was, this full album of originals by Greg and Mark is even better. Dulli stretches himself here, eschewing his usual rockin’ R&B swagger and falling under Lanegan’s dark, spiritual influence.
5. Chris Robley & The Fear of Heights: Movie Theatre Haiku
That straight-laced dude from Portland with the Harry Nilsson fixation strikes again, this time crediting his road band and turning in an even more confident record than last year’s The Drunken Dance of Modern Man in Love. If the 1966 Beatles were a young band today, they’d likely be playing songs like Robley’s “User-Friendly Guide to Change.”
6. Joseph Arthur: Vagabond Skies (EP)
Of the four EPs and full-length album Joseph Arthur released this year, Vagabond Skies rises to the top not only for bearing some of his most captivating and ethereal songs, but also for containing the year’s most memorable guitar solo, in the EP’s centerpiece “She Paints Me Gold.” Plus, the cover art is damn cool.
7. The Happy Hollows: Imaginary (EP)
They’re funny, they’re smart, they’re tight as a conservative’s behind, and they’re the most exciting live indie rock band in L.A. right now. Imaginary is just a short burst of five songs, but what a burst it is – from the simple exclamatory chant of “Colors” to the almost prog-like tour-de-force of “Lieutenant” with singer/guitarist Sarah Negahdari’s Eddie Van Halen-esque guitar tapping, Imaginary tantalizes and teases, just like you want it to.
8. Guns n’ Roses: Chinese Democracy
Yes, it’s bloated and overproduced. No, it’s not the old, sleazy Guns n’ Roses of the late ‘80s. Yes, it should have been out ten years ago, and would have sounded even more contemporary in 1998 than in 2008. But Axl Rose is still the king of tortured, overwrought power ballads and menacing rock n’ roll screams, and on these counts, Chinese Democracy more than delivers – it beats you over the head with its twisted logic.
9. Metallica: Death Magnetic
Metallica sounds like Metallica again! It may be clichéd to say this is their best album since …And Justice for All, but it’s true, and it bears repeating: Death Magnetic is Metallica’s best album since Justice.
10. My Morning Jacket: Evil Urges
Evil Urges goes to great lengths to prove that My Morning Jacket is no typical southern jam band. Not that they ever needed to go so far as to throw some Prince-like falsetto singing and funky R&B into the mix, but as it turns out, it sounds pretty cool.
The Fireman: Electric Arguments
Rachel Taylor Brown: Half Hours with the Lower Creatures
Vampire Weekend: Vampire Weekend
Neil Diamond: Home Before Dark
Juliana Hatfield: How to Walk Away
Randy Newman: Harps and Angels
Deerhoof: Offend Maggie
Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan: Sunday at Devil Dirt
Posted in: Alternative, Artists, Electronica, Folk, Lists, Metal, Pop, Rock
Tags: Best of 2008, Bob Dylan, Brian Wilson, Bullz-Eye, Chris Robley, Deerhoof, Greg Dulli, Guns N' Roses, Isobel Campbell, Joseph Arthur, Juliana Hatfield, Mark Lanegan, Metallica, Michael Fortes, My Morning Jacket, Neil Diamond, Paul McCartney, Portishead, Rachel Taylor Brown, Randy Newman, The Fear of Heights, The Fireman, The Gutter Twins, The Happy Hollows, The Parson Red Heads, Vampire Weekend, Youth