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.”

  

Bullz-Eye’s Favorite Albums of 2008: Staff Writer Mojo Flucke’s picks

Old music critics never die; they just come up with more and more biting, cynical reinventions of the phrase “this album stinks.” Yet they persist, because every few years a truly all-time great release comes out. One wants to be there when it happens, and bear witness to the unveiling. Marah’s record knocked Mojo out upon first listen during 2008’s early days, and he’s happy to report that it remains as rich and beautiful almost a year–and a thousand plays–later. Here’s Marah and nine others worth checking out.

Top 10 Albums of 2008

1. Marah: Angels of Destruction
Out of nowhere comes a roots-rock, bluesy masterpiece, an Exile on Main Street for 2008. It’s that good. Perhaps the addition of new member Christine Smith made a decent band into a great one, or maybe Marah’s finally matured into a full-flowered band and are settling in for a decade of excellence and more records to which we can look forward. The comparison to Exile‘s apt; just as that seminal Stones piece fused blues, rock, country, and folky elements in a sloppy sonic stew that, somehow, sounds perfect. Forget 2008, this might very well be the album of the decade.

2. Lettuce: Rage
Fifteen years after these seven Massachusetts maniacs formed as Berklee geeks they come out with a new funk record. The thing is, these geeks were pretty darn good back in the day playing jam-band festivals. Then the individual members proceeded to get better, scattering to the four winds to become session musicians and touring sidemen for major pop and rock acts – and bandleader Eric Krasno went on to form Soulive. In 2008, the band returned as a hard funk outfit in the 1970s style of bands like Graham Central Station, Tower of Power, and the Edgar Winter Group. The original horn section remained intact, and the group’s advanced jazz knowledge keeps it tight and slick. If you pine for old-skool funk played by people who get it and aren’t just copying the old stuff best they can, this is the record you’ve been waiting for.

3. Joe Jackson: Rain
The old hand reunites with his original bassist and drummer to play classic, introspective, semi-acoustic pop songs. It’s Joe Jackson to die for: sophisticated, catchy, and a little jazzy music of which he’s always capable, but sometimes seems to nibble around the edges and miss the mark. This album’s a bullz-eye, the album for which his old fans have pined for years.

4. Raconteurs: Consolers of the Lonely
Jack White’s on borrowed time. The media establishment’s starting to hate him, and at some point his act will wear thin. But for now, man, his White Stripes output and this side project band (oh miracle of miracles, there’s a bass here for once) is white-hot good. Whether it’s a slow country ballad or a bashin’ rocker like “Salute Your Solution,” the Raconteurs’ latest is a must-have for your collection. That is if you’re a rock fan, and have a pulse.

5. James Hunter: The Hard Way
From busker to the big time – okay, he’s not exactly a household name, yet – this wonderfully powerful Brit soul singer loves Dion and pre-Motown Detroit soul. Not exactly a formula for finding success, but it happened: He was nominated for a Grammy for his debut. The Hard Way is his follow-up, recorded with vintage sound and production values to make the songs sound more like one of those old reissues that’s been cleaned up with 2008 technology from acetate masters or some such. It’s glorious, actually, and with acts like Amy Winehouse and others carrying the torch of old-style soul music, James Hunter has found a place in this world for performing the music he loves.

6. Beck: Odelay (Deluxe Edition)
Listen, I cringe at the thought of putting CD reissues into any top 10 of anything, including “Top 10 doorstops of the year.” This reissue, however, not only added a full second CD of bonus material, but the graphics and packaging were so good, liner notes so enlightening, that this great record became something greater in its reissue. Some people hate Beck because of his slacker demeanor, and others hate the Scientology portion of his rep. Still others just don’t get him. But when you put on the headphones and turn up the record, it’s clear he has command of the pop lexicon and can borrow any groove from any rock era and make a cool new tune out of it with arty, abstract lyrics and great rhythms. A white Prince, this kid is. Give him his due.

7. Medeski, Martin & Wood: Radiolarians I
Not always accessible and not always caring about it, MMW released something of a stream-of-consciousness record in November that may be one of the most accessible sets they’ve done. Without the heavy mixing, Radiolarians captures the band jamming out, in a New Orleans R&B mode for several tracks. There are some unstructured, free-jazzy, almost ambient tracks here that you gotta be a diehard to appreciate, but there’s also “Professor Nohair,” a Professor Longhair/Dr. John piano funk jam that has a wickedly catchy ostinato that literally etches itself into your DNA upon first play. You can’t escape it. It’s creative and cerebral instrumental rock, the antithesis of the prefab instant hip-hop-in-a-can most charting artists open up as backing tracks to their insipid vocals.

8. Black Diamond Heavies: A Touch of Someone Else’s Class
Standing in the shadows of the Black Keys and the White Stripes and following in the footsteps of the Chickasaw Mudd Puppies and the Flat Duo Jets, the Black Diamond Heavies are a primitive blues duo whose gimmick is a damn Rhodes-and-drum instrumental lineup with a lead singer who sounds a little R.L. Burnside and a lot Al Jourgensen. Great stuff, if you like noisy blues played on vintage analog instruments. Sounds like a tremendous formula to my ears.

9. The Caesars: Strawberry Weed
“Jerk It Out” was the Caesars’ song featured in an early 2008 iPod commercial, but sadly it’s not on this record. Nonetheless it’s a trippy, garageyy guitar-fueled festival of tasty melodies and catchy choruses. The enthusiasm and power of this rockin’ band typically exceeds the legal limit of awesome. If you like groups like Jet, the Hives, and Gringo Star, this record’s a fastball down the middle of your plate. Take a big swing at it.

10. Tommy Emmanuel: Center Stage
Steve Vai’s boutique label finally gave acoustic guitar monster Tommy Emmanuel his due, after the Aussie spent decades toiling in obscurity collecting the love of musicians and a couple of Grammy nominations but no notoriety in the mainstream. The new double-live CD shows Emmanuel for what he is: The Horowitz of the acoustic guitar and a consummate entertainer. Chances are it won’t be going platinum anytime soon, but the sound is exquisite and the performance is better. If you appreciate acoustic guitar music, this set’s a no-brainer.

  

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