Bullz-Eye’s Favorite Albums of 2008: Staff Writer Jason Thompson’s picks

Another year in music has come and gone. As I compiled this annual list of my favorite albums, I felt the cynicism creeping over me. Man, the music industry has really gone down the crapper but good. I don’t feel as bad for artists waxing nostalgic about the “good old days” as I might have a few short years back. I’m turning into one of those dudes who “can’t relate” to all the music the kids are digging these days, though I suspect that has more to do with my not being a Jonas Brothers or Hannah Montana fan than anything else. In the meantime, Metallica released a new one whose regular CD mix apparently sounded shitty compared to the “Guitar Hero” edition of the same album, and Axl Rose finally got around to releasing Chinese Democracy, which may have been overshadowed more by Dr. Pepper making good on their promise to give everyone a free bottle of their product if the album was released this year. Yeah, things are a bit of a mess. But here are a nice batch of albums to keep you entertained in this day and age of music biz misery,

Top 10 albums of 2008

1. Kingen: Ride with Me
As soon as I had played this album straight through for the tenth time after shortly receiving it, I figured there wouldn’t be anything else to change my mind about what album would be topping my list this year, and there wasn’t. Sweden’s Kingen created a great brew of real R&B, soul, and rock and roll with a little Louisiana swagger thrown in. The best thing about this album is it isn’t a tribute or nostalgia trip for the artist, but the real deal. Where else are you gonna find that these days?

2. Starfucker: Starfucker
This odd and wondrous pop gem blends strange vocals, goofy synth hooks, and a whole lot of catchy melodies. Their randy name aside, Starfucker have already made some great headway on the indie circuit thanks to this fun and engaging release. Listen to “German Love” once and you’ll never get it out of your head. Sort of like a great Air track, only not so full of itself. The rest of the album goes off in all sorts of directions but never gets too weird for its own good. Pure sugary fun.

3. Earlimart: Hymn and Her
Now stripped down to its two original and essential members, Earlimart continue forth with this hypnotic collection of tunes that goes down the street of the Velvet Underground’s third album, mixing the blissful with the melancholic. Yet it’s all very much more uplifting than downbeat, furthering the proof that this group is still one of the best around. When you’re doing your own thing this well, you never have to look back.

4. Eivind Opsvik: Overseas III
What do you get when you make an album that mixes jazz with a bit of rock and it doesn’t suck? Why, you get this album, of course. Over the course of its extended tracks, Eivind Opsvik throws down the jazz-whathaveyou lead in New York City and lets everyone else follow. This is highly enjoyable stuff without getting too cerebral for those who don’t like too much math in their jazz, or without just sucking all over the place (Spyro Gyra, Kenny G., the rest of the gang). This is almost tranquil listening, with a good groove underneath to keep the heads bobbing.

5.XX Teens: Welcome to Goon Island
If you like your rock to sound like it’s coming straight out of that late ‘70s CBGB’s atmosphere without sounding like wannabes such as the Strokes, then you’ve come to the right place. XX Teens have all the attitude and the musical prowess to put them over with the caffeinated, pilled-up crowd. Razor-thin guitar riffs, crunchy rhythms, and semi-scary lyrics make this a fun trip for everyone who’s sick of the whole doldrums that modern rock has become.

6. Charlatans: You Cross My Path
I honestly hadn’t listened to a Charlatans album in a long time – at least, not a new one. But these guys were one of the very few Manchester groups of the early ‘90s to keep things going, and usually at a critically acclaimed pace. This album can only continue that trend as there’s hardly a miss to be heard in it. For those still spinning the grooves out of Some Friendly from all those years ago and promptly forgot about them, you’d find a lot to like out of this new Charlatans disc as it’s all of that plus a whole lot more, and a whole lot better, stuff.

7. Tal M. Klein: Plastic Starfish
I’ve been grooving to Tal M. Klein since he was calling himself “Trancenden” (a name that he finally shed as he was sick of people assuming that he was a trance music artist). On his latest nautically-themed release, Klein keeps up the good funk and danceable grooves mixing live instruments with sampled vinyl and whatever else he likes. Basically, it’s another slam dunk for Tal. I dunno how the guy finds the time, seeing as how he’s always grooving up some party and writing up restaurant reviews on Facebook, but he’s the man with the master plan and I am but his adoring fan.

8. Feed The Need: Feed The Need
This album was pitched to me by the group’s manager and turned out to be a very enjoyable listen. This group of teenage musicians has pretty much done the impossible. That is, they created an album of mostly original tunes whose lyrics didn’t sound whiny or tried to come off as “older.” These guys sing what they know about, and do it in a way that at times sounds like groups such as Steely Dan in its earlier years. Now what other teenage group is gonna give you that?

9. Heap: Oddball
Heap came back from a little break after their great debut On the Cheap with this second studio set (a live album occurred in there as well) that pretty much continues the fun grooves of the first album. They’re a rockin’ bar band with a love for the Replacements and they mix their strengths well. One can almost imagine them being the band the ‘Mats would have become if perhaps Bob Stinson had got his shit together and Paul Westerberg didn’t get so sentimental. If you love straight-up rock, this is the band for you.

10. Hills Rolling: Something Delicious
To put it simply, Hill Rolling does a great less-is-more thing, mixing Beatles pop sensibilities with Lou Reed-style guitar playing and arranging. Two of my favorite acts rolled out as one new one. I can’t argue with that, and neither should you.

Best Reissues of 2008

1. Nick Lowe: Jesus of Cool
One of the greatest albums ever finally gets the deluxe treatment and everyone can once again hear what the fuss was all about. This is exactly how a great pop rock album should be made. It’s important yet disposable, witty yet touching, sarcastic and trashy. Okay, Nick, it’s time to finally make the proper sequel to this. I know you have to have a few more tunes as great as “So it Goes” up your sleeve these days.

2. Billy Joel: The Stranger 30th Anniversary Edition
This was the album that made me a music lover back in 1977 when I was five years old and my older brother brought it home. This new edition features a superior remastered sound by original producer Phil Ramone, a live CD, and a DVD, not to mention the token booklet and other goodies. It’s till the music that matters, though, and anyone who can’t instantly get into the first few bars of “Movin’ Out” has no soul. And on “Vienna,” Billy created one of his greatest album tracks of all time.

3. The Jacksons: Triumph
A far more enjoyable album (to my ears) than Michael Jackson’s breakthrough Off the Wall, this was the last stop before Thriller and found the Jackson boys grooving all over the damn place. “Can You Feel It?” is still great disco, while “Lovely One” funks harder than anything any of thse guys did before or since. The newly remastered edition sounds fantastic, though its three bonus tracks are complete throwaways. Still, if you truly want to hear a moment in time when Michael and his siblings were unstoppable, then check this out.