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: Staff Writer Mike Farley’s picks

Every year I wonder what my new favorite albums are going to be, and if the artists I follow will be able to live up to the lofty expectations I have for them (see Nada Surf below). I also wonder what artists will come into my life that weren’t there before (see most of list below, especially Gabe Dixon and Paddy Casey). Well, 2008 turned out to be pretty awesome music-wise, and while my list won’t match that of most critics, I made this list up based on my own taste, and I’m proud of it. And as you can see, I think some of the artists are proud as well…

Top 10 Albums of 2008

1. Gabe Dixon Band: Gabe Dixon Band
You know when you hear an album for the first time and you get that rush of excitement, kind of like the teenage crushes we all remember? Gabe Dixon Band’s debut on Fantasy Records is more than that. It’s like the cute brunette with glasses who you find out is also smart and watches football in her sweatpants on Sunday. Maybe that’s a weird analogy, but Dixon’s music is not only ridiculously addictive pop music – it also has a depth to which you hear something new every time you listen. And the songs? Well, this Nashville cat is right at home in Music City, but with these timeless tracks, he’s being mentioned in the same breath with the likes of Elton John and Jackson Browne as an artist. And that’s not something anyone should take lightly. “Five More Hours” is my favorite track of 2008.

Gabe Dixon accepts his award: “I am thrilled and honored to be included in Bullz-Eye’s top albums of 2008. The band and I put a lot of heart and soul into this recording, so it is gratifying to be named number one on the list! Thanks Bullz-Eye!!”

2. Paddy Casey: Addicted to Company
Okay, so I’m a sucker for ‘70s-style pop. Imagine Josh Rouse with an Irish accent, and you’ve got Paddy Casey’s latest. The melodies, vocal lines, arrangements and production make this sound like a summer day in 1974.

Paddy Casey accepts his award: “Very nice of you to choose my album, thank you…now if we could just convince the rest of the world!”

3. Nada Surf: Lucky
How does Nada Surf follow up their best album yet, The Weight Is a Gift? With Lucky, which sounds more like a continuation than a follow up. And that’s good news for us fans.

4. The New Frontiers: Mending
The New Frontiers may be the new Snow Patrol, Keane, or even Coldplay – dreamy alt-pop drenched in pretty harmonies. Okay, honestly, it’s a better album than the new efforts from the other three bands just mentioned.

5. Low vs. Diamond: Low vs. Diamond
Here is one of those American bands that sounds British. Not that there is anything wrong with that, because if you’re into the likes of the Killers or the Darkness, Low vs. Diamond is like an American version of those groups, with great songs to boot.

6. Snow Patrol: One Hundred Million Suns
Like Nada Surf, Snow Patrol had a lot to live up to after the huge success of Eyes Open in 2006. Thankfully, they have delivered yet again, with a set of anthems, driving alternative rock, and dark, moody ballads all wrapped together.

7. Kings of Leon: Only by the Night
I know that some true fans of Kings of Leon were disappointed with this latest effort, and to be honest I was never a huge fan to begin with. But there is something about Only by the Night that is absolutely intoxicating. The band’s psychedelic flavored, guitar-driven rock sound reminds me of going to concerts as a teenager in huge, pot smoke-filled arenas.

8. Benjamin Taylor: The Legend of Kung Folk Part 1
If James Taylor and Carly Simon had a kid, he would sound like this. Oh wait…..Seriously though, if Benjamin came around 20 or 30 years ago, he would be way more of a household name than he is today.

Benjamin Taylor accepts his award: “Well would you look at that: ol’ Breezy in the top 10… Top of the world, Ma. I’m off to Disneyland.”

9. Sarah Bettens: Shine
Former K’s Choice singer Sarah Bettens has lightened up a bit in her solo career, the music being more mainstream and mature, and not as dark as K’s fare. “Shine” is one of the year’s simplest, prettiest songs.

Sarah Bettens accepts her award: “I love being on a top 10 list! Especially when it doesn’t say ‘worst possible artist and most poorly dressed person in the whole wide world’. Thank you, Bullz-Eye. I feel honored being chosen among such talented people.”

10. Augustana: Can’t Love, Can’t Hurt
This kind of melodic, AAA-radio stuff never gets the critical props it deserves. Well, here are some props, Augustana.

Honorable Mentions

Amos Lee: Last Days at the Lodge
Jason Reeves: The Magnificent Adventures of Heartache
Jon McLaughlin: OK Now
Ray LaMontagne: Gossip in the Grain
WAZ: Sweet Bye and Bye
Coldplay: Viva La Vida
Uh Huh Her: Common Reaction
Val Emmich: Little Daggers

Album Released in 2007 That I Reviewed in 2008 and Would Have Ranked in Top Three

Jason Spooner: The Flame You Follow

Jason Spooner Reacts: “I’m thrilled to have been cited on Mike’s Best of list. He clearly works with a wide variety of quality artists & labels and it’s always a great feeling when your record is plucked out of the crowd.”

  

The British Columbians: The British Columbians

Forget any notions of lofty peaks and clear Canadian skies. These British Columbians mostly troll a darker underbelly that’s more akin to the swampy environs of the Mississippi Delta or points likely well within the devil’s tawdry reach. So while they come by their namesake through actual residency, their musical references couldn’t be any more disparate. Taking their cue from the stir-fried boogie and low, lonesome ruminations of the bayou country, they reference innumerable forebears, from the swagger and wail of Kings of Leon (Gasoline Handshake”) and Led Zeppelin (“Hail to the Rising Sun”), to the impassioned blues moan of John Lee Hooker and other down-home denizens (“Ain’t No Direction”). Happily for those alienated by plodding, monolithic stomps and other dervish-like frenzy, relief arrives via the album’s final two entries, “By and By” and “Going Out On You, rustic rambles that find more in common with the mellower Faces under the stewardship of Ronnies Wood and Lane. A promising and imposing debut, this eponymous effort reflects a band seemingly in search of a permanent musical habitat. (Rural Records)

British Columbians MySpace page

  

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