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.

  

Bullz-Eye’s Favorite Albums of 2008: Senior Editor David Medsker’s picks

Abraham Simpson once succinctly explained about how he used to be “with it,” but then they changed what “it” was. Suddenly what he was “with” wasn’t “it,” and what was “it” seemed weird and scary to him. He then pointed a bony finger at his son Homer and said, “It’ll happen to you.”

It happened to me this year.

The thing is, I’m okay with it. Pop is a young man’s game, and I just turned 40, so the vast majority of songs climbing the charts are not aimed at me. In fact, I feel sorry for anyone who feels compelled to remain hip and cool as they hit their late 30s. It’s hard work, and you will invariably find yourself on the other side of the fence from the hordes of people who think (insert indie band of the week here) are the saviors of rock and roll. Don’t fight it: embrace it. Circle of life, etc.

Having said that, I made a concerted effort this year to give a listen to the music that was being aimed at our impressionable youth and see if I could hear what they hear. After trolling through the muck that is Rocco’s ”Umma Do Me” and contemplating whether I wanted to live on the same planet with people who gave Rocco their hard-earned money, I found a few pop singers that I quite liked. The problem is that no one bought their records, which sums up my CD collection – and my favorite songs and albums from 2008 – better than anything: pop music that isn’t popular. Sigh.

Top 10 albums of 2008

1. Midnight Juggernauts: Dystopia
A little Goth rock, a little Daft Punk dance, a little Muse-ish paranoia, and a whole lot awesome.

2. Panic at the Disco: Pretty. Odd
The kids, apparently, were furious with Panic at the Disco’s decision to make a, ahem, more traditional pop album. To that I say: fuck the kids, Panic. I’ll take this over the needlessly wordy songs from your first album any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

3. Airborne Toxic Event: Airborne Toxic Event
I still haven’t read Pitchfork’s brutal 1.6-rated review of this album. Just knowing that they would do such a thing to an album so completely undeserving – their song “Sometime Around Midnight” is worthy of three or four points all by itself – is confirmation that I need not worry what their opinion is about anything, ever.

4. Attic Lights: Friday Night Lights
Odds are the debut album by this Scottish quintet will never see the light of day in the States. The reason? It’s filled with smart, sunny, harmony-laden pop songs that aren’t produced within an inch of their lives, which fell out of favor with Stateside radio programmers about ten years ago. Still, I’m willing to bet that more people are listening to this album ten years from now than anything Akon ever does.

5. Republic Tigers: Keep Color
Much like the Attic Lights, though the Tigers were lucky enough to get their fabulous debut album released on this side of the pond. Being American certainly had a lot to do with that, though it didn’t help them much with getting on the radio. I guess that spot on the “Gossip Girl” soundtrack will have to suffice.

6. Raphael Saadiq: The Way I See It
Again, showing my age here, but this is my idea of R&B. Saadiq’s slavish attention to detail results in the finest Smokey Robinson album in decades. Could have done without the drop-in by Jay-Z, though.

7. They Might Be Giants: Here Come the 123s
So maybe I am into music aimed at the kids, if the kids happen to be my two-year-old. They Might Be Giants’ follow-up to their wildly popular Here Come the ABCs is even better; “Seven” was produced by the Dust Brothers, for crying out loud, and the kids’ screams of “We want cake! Where’s our cake!” will stick in your head for days. The videos on the accompanying DVD are awesome as well. Anyone with a toddler should buy this, stat.

8. Joe Jackson: Rain
At long last, a proper follow-up to Ben Folds Five’s The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner.

9. Sunny Day Sets Fire: Summer Palace
Think New Pornographers, on a global scale.

10. Benji Hughes: A Love Extreme
Occasionally juvenile, yes, but hot damn, is Hughes hard to beat when he’s on his game. Look for Beck to cover half of the songs here before long.

Honorable Mentions
Coldplay: Viva La Vida
Keane: Perfect Symmetry
R.E.M.: Accelerate
Derek Webb & Sandra McCracken: Ampersand EP
James Hunter: The Hard Way
Flight of the Conchords: Flight of the Conchords
Army Navy: Army Navy
We Are Scientists: Brain Thrust Mastery
Foxboro Hot Tubs: Foxboro Hot Tubs

Songs I loved from albums I loved… less

Never Miss a Beat,” Kaiser Chiefs
Instant classic, this one. All bands should be challenged to write a catchier melody using five notes or less, like the verse here.

Shut Up and Let Me Go,” The Ting Tings
You just know that Debbie Harry loves this.

Chasing Pavements,” Adele
This song went Top 10 in eight countries. In the States, it peaked at #82. Jesus, people.

You Don’t Know Me,” Ben Folds w/ Regina Spektor
The one truly brilliant moment on his most recent album, though once you’ve been married four times, you should by law lose the right to complain about how it’s your ex’s fault.

“A-Punk,” Vampire Weekend
Ey! Ey! Ey! Ey!

Wow,” Kylie Minogue
Meow, meow, meow, meow!

I Will Possess Your Heart,” Death Cab for Cutie
Eight and a half minutes of delusional stalkerism disguised as bold determination. We’re used to the former from them, but not the latter. Bravo.

Money, It’s Pure Evil,” Bigelf
I haven’t done a side-by-side comparison yet, but I’m pretty sure a chunk of the guitar solo here is taken note-for-note from “Comfortably Numb.”

Cantaloupe,” Carlon
Hollies, Hollies, Hollies, get your vocals here.

“Join with Us,” The Feeling
For being a bunch of pop boys, they freaking bring it at the end. As of press date, their second album (this is the title track) has no US release date. D’oh.

This Is Only,” Charlotte Sometimes
‘She’s Half My Age,’ Crush #1. I am positively smitten with this girl. Cute as a button, sassy lyricist and with one of the most unique voices in pop, I can’t believe a major actually signed her. And that’s part of the hypocrisy with the music press: had this been an indie release, and not as slickly produced, people would be lining up with Liz Phair-style rapture for the girl. Ugh.

Fragile,” Kerli
‘She’s Half My Age,’ Crush #2. Here’s another one that would be better served positioning herself as a modern rock goddess than a Goth-tinged popster, and this song’s the proof. Oh, and don’t ever use the ‘G’ word in her presence, if you don’t want your eyes gouged out.

Slave to the Rhythm,” Shirley Bassey
Dame Shirley Bassey covering Grace Jones, with Primal Scream’s “Loaded” serving as the drum track. Does it get any cooler than that?

Girls,” Walter Meego
Daft Punk, crossed with David Cassidy.

They Live,” Evil Nine
Daft Punk, crossed with zombies.

Sensual Seduction“/”My Medicine,” Snoop Dogg
Pity Marvin Gaye isn’t still alive to cover the former. Pity Johnny Cash isn’t still alive to cover the latter.

Never let me down…again: Artists I love making albums I thought were just all right

Aimee Mann: @#%&*! Smilers
She may have hated making albums for the majors, but they sure were better when she did.

B-52’s: Funplex
Better than Good Stuff, but that’s not exactly saying much.

Gary Louris: Vagabonds
I still think he has one of the finest voices in music, but this record could have used a couple shifts in tempo.

Jack’s Mannequin: The Glass Passenger
Want a little cheese with that whine?

2008: The year of the bad band name

Are all of the good band names truly gone? You’d certainly think so, judging from some of the releases we saw this year. Even good bands – including two bands in my Top 10 – gave themselves bad names. Here is a small list of the ones I found to be particularly bad.

Unicycle Loves You
Biography of Ferns
Does It Offend You, Yeah?
Airborne Toxic Event
Sunny Day Sets Fire
Uh Huh Her
The Sound of Animals Fighting
What Laura Says
The Number Twelve Looks Like You
Dancer vs. Politician
We Landed on the Moon

Phony of the Year

Katy Perry. “I Kissed a Girl” and “Ur So Gay” are such manufactured controversy that even Madonna blushed.

Fare thee well

Junior Senior has called it quits. Damn.

  

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