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.

  

Bullz-Eye’s Favorite Albums of 2008: Staff Writer Jeff Giles’ picks

Hey, you know that death spiral the music industry has been in for the last eight years or so? Yeah, it isn’t going away. (Matter of fact, it turns out that the record biz – ever the trendsetters – started its collapse a few years before the financial sector and the automakers.) But even if album sales aren’t what they used to be, and stars aren’t as super as they once were, more great music than ever is waiting to be heard. Here are 10 top-to-bottom winners from the scores of new albums I listened to this year.

Top 10 Albums of 2008

1. Randy Newman: Harps & Angels
He only releases an album of new songs about once every 10 years, so his fans have grown accustomed to pinning a lot of pent-up hope on Randy Newman – and fortunately, his latest is among his best. That isn’t just late-career grade inflation, either; Harps and Angels contains the sharpest, most acerbic pop tunes you’ll hear all year, mocking everyone from Korean stereotypes to Jackson Browne. Nobody bought it, of course, but that’s our problem, not his.

2. Dr. John: City That Care Forgot
Two years after the rest of the world moved on, the Night Tripper is still pissed off about what happened to New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit, and this stank-eyed song suite proves you can be filled with rage and still be funky. If you haven’t kept up with the good Doctor since his “Iko Iko” days, you may be surprised – in a good way, of course.

3. The Felice Brothers: The Felice Brothers
If you’ve spent the last 30 years wishing Robbie Robertson hadn’t left the Band, well, The Felice Brothers won’t really make you stop pining for a bygone era, but it will reinforce your belief in the continued existence of wonderfully authentic (and just plain wonderful) roots rock. None of the Felice Brothers have ever walked within a mile of a vocal coach, and this record is so much the better for it.

4. Matthew Ryan: Matthew Ryan vs. The Silver State
After the quieter, machine-assisted Notes from a Late Night High Rise, Ryan was ready to reconnect with a band and dial up the amps – and that’s just what he did on this album. The results are typically searing, but they have an added rawness, a spark that hums between Ryan and his bandmates. It sounds like what it is: A terrific album that was recorded in a garage. Open a cold one and play it loud.

5. Lindsey Buckingham: Gift of Screws
The once-and-again Fleetwood Mac guitarist isn’t known for recording quickly, but after taking 14 years to release the follow-up to Out of the Cradle, he’s been atypically busy, issuing a live album and the long-awaited Gift of Screws in ’08. It isn’t the double album fans were grabbing off the Web ten years ago, but that might be a good thing – it rocks harder and more cohesively than any of his other solo records.

6. Q-Tip: The Renaissance
After a lost decade spent entering and exiting five different label rosters, Q-Tip finally returns with his second solo album – and rather than sounding like something that was labored over for years, The Renaissance succeeds in providing some of the smartest, catchiest, most dance-friendly hip-hop of the year. Hopefully, it’ll be enough to keep him from another extended absence.

7. Steve Poltz: Traveling
In which the erstwhile Rugburn follows up his excellent Chinese Vacation with an even more excellent collection of hook-filled pop songs that gently run the gamut from sweet to funny to sad and back again. Poltz is a songwriter with an uncommonly deft touch, but he’s occasionally had his tongue stuck too deeply in his cheek to speak clearly; here, he plays to nothing but his strengths.

8. The Roots: Rising Down
Not the most user-friendly rap record of the year, Rising Down makes up in uncompromising toughness what it lacks in radio-polished hooks – something you wouldn’t have known if you only listened to “Birthday Girl,” the Fall Out Boy-assisted novelty track that Geffen shipped to radio before the album’s release. Here, “Girl” is relegated to bonus-track status – which is where it belongs on an album as dark and wily as this one. You’ve got to admire their commitment to artistic integrity, but if the Roots are going to keep from going the way of Jurassic 5, their next release needs to be smart and radio-friendly.

9. Vampire Weekend: Vampire Weekend
Take the bug-eyed skittishness of mid ‘80s Talking Heads, cross it with the assuredly smooth globetrotting of Paul Simon’s Graceland, and you’ve got yourself Vampire Weekend, and one of the most instantly addictive indie releases of the spring. The post-rock landscape is littered with baby bands who tried too hard to have fun, but any band that can name-check Peter Gabriel and ask “who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma?” on the same album has to have its priorities in order. Can’t wait for the next one.

10. Pete Seeger: At 89
Like the title says, Seeger turned 89 this year – and he’s still doing what he does best: Taking his message to the people, armed with nothing but a banjo and a voice that, while not as strong as it used to be, is still capable of leading a good old-fashioned sing-along. Hands-down the most inspirational record of the year, despite the occasional corny line.

  

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