Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Useless Film Snob's Best Music of 2008

2008 was and up and down year for music. A rash of quality releases at the beginning and end of the year bookended a year that had more than enough quality albums. Cutting the list down to even 40 was harder than I thought it would have been. A good majority of the list are artists that have been on previous lists as well as some high performing newcomers. When you have so many artists that you already have an interest in, to find something new always takes more time and effort. 2008 was also the first year in the last five that I didn't attend Bonnaroo or many other major concerts, so these albums are what kept music alive for 2008:

40) Duffy - Rockferry
An album where a few standout blue eyed soul tracks make it worthwhile. Probably the most commercially viable album on the list.
Choice tracks: 'Warwick Avenue', 'Syrup and Honey'
39) Of Montreal - Skeletel Lamping
Sprawling electrofunk indie dance pop that once again sticks out on this list.
Choice tracks: 'An Eluardian Instance', 'St. Exquisite's Confessions'
38) Rachael Yamagata - Elephants....Teeth Sinking Into Heart
It's been quite a few years since Yamagata's debut, and here working with Mike Mogis, creates a set of more atmospheric songs.
Choice tracks: 'Duet', 'Don't'
37) The Broken West - Now or Heaven
This L.A. group's second album is solid but doesn't have near the excitement as last year's debut.
Choice tracks: 'Auctioneer', 'House of Lies'
36) Old Crow Medicine Show - Tennessee Pusher
Big Iron World, which was somehow inexplicably left of my '06 list, is tough to live up to. Tennessee Pusher isn't as good start to finish but it continues to showcase's this bands reinterpretation of bluegrass and traditional folk music.
Choice tracks: 'The Greatest Hustler of All', 'Caroline'
35) Loudon Wainwright III - Recovery
Re-recording tracks from his 70s material, Wainwright offers new insight to a good number of tracks that an older voice bring more meaning.
Choice tracks: 'Motel Blues', 'New Paint'
34) The Moondoggies - Don't Be a Stranger
The last couple of years have seen Seattle become a hotbed of roots and folk influenced bands that seems odd for a place associated with Nirvana and Pearl Jam. This debut is steeped in the Americana like that of The Band.
Choice tracks: 'Ain't No Lord', 'I Want You to Know'
33) Beach House - Devotion
Lush, dreamlike songs by this Baltimore duo.
Choice tracks: 'Turtle Island', 'D.A.R.L.I.N.G.'
32) Old 97s - Blame It on Gravity
The first albums from Rhett Miller & company in a few years throws all their influences together: country, power pop, even some surf music into a welcome return.
Choice tracks: 'My Two Feet', 'Here's to the Halcyon'
31) Marah - Angels of Destruction
The last hurrah of the best lineup Marah ever had, this album has the most polish of any studio record the band has ever released.
Choice tracks: 'Santos De Madera', 'Angels of Destruction'
30) Sun Kil Moon - April
Another album of somber acoustic songs and Crazy Horse like guitar tracks, all with Mark Kozelek's haunting voice.
Choice tracks: 'The Light', 'Like the River'
29) The Black Keys - Attack and Release
In '06, I said you always know what to expect out of a Black Keys album. Working with Danger Mouse, the band has definitely expanded their sound, but is it bad that I my favorites tracks are the ones that sound like the old Black Keys?
Choice tracks: 'I Got Mine', 'Strange Times'
28) Kathleen Edwards - Asking For Flowers
Foul-mouthed when she's rocking, lyrical when she quiets it down, Edwards has definitely matured beyond being a Lucinda Williams acolyte.
Choice tracks: 'The Cheapest Key', 'I Make the Dough, You Get the Glory'
27) The Delta Spirit - Ode to Sunshine
An album where you could debate the exact release, but it's 2008 for my records. Blending 60's influences like the Kinks and Buffalo Springfield, this is a enjoyable retro sounding record (which isn't bad). 'People Turn Around' is second choice for choice track of the year.
Choice tracks: 'House Built For Two', 'People Turn Around'
26) The Dodos - Visiter
Another band taking folk stylings and twisting and using it in ways that don't make it seem like copying.
Choice tracks: 'Walking', 'Fools'
25) Ray Lamontagne - Gossip In the Grain
For me, it's going to be nearly impossible for Lamontagne to surpass Trouble. That being said, this album benefits by not being nearly as dour as his last release.
Choice tracks: 'You Are the Best Thing', 'Gossip In the Grain'
24) Sigur Ros - Med sud i eyrum vid spilum endalaust
One of the biggest disappointments for me was not being able to see Sigur Ros late night at Bonnaroo in person. Of what I've heard, this album had some of the more melodic tracks from the band.
Choice tracks: 'Vid spilum endalaust', 'Festival'
23) Conor Oberst - S/T
Oberst looses some of the earnest emo-ness that Bright Eyes can sink into and instead makes a loose, fun, rocking album.
Choice tracks: 'Get Well Cards', 'Souled Out!'
22) Bonnie "Prince Billy - Lie Down In the Light
A bit more light lyrically, a bit more upbeat musically, this is the type of album that I prefer of out Will Oldham.
Choice tracks: 'Easy Does It', 'So Everyone'
21) The Hold Steady - Stay Positive
This was bound to be letdown record of the year. It's not bad, it's just that it never compares to how great a record Boys and Girls in America was.
Choice cuts: 'Sequestered in Memphis', 'Lord I'm Discouraged'
20) The Whigs - Mission Control
Catchy hooks makes the difference in power pop bands. While The Whigs may bit a bit more muscular than power pop, there's no denying their skills in crafting interesting songs.
Choice tracks: 'Right Hand on my Heart', 'Hot Bed'
19) She & Him - Volume One
Sweet pop songs by Zooey Deschanel with help from M.Ward that run back to 60s pop and Phil Spector.
Choice tracks: 'Change is Hard','Sweet Darlin''
18) Howlin' Rain - Magnificent Fiend
More psychedelic back porch music from Ethan Miller's Comets on Fire side project. Not nearly as revelatory exciting as their debut (No.1 in '06) but right up my alley.
Choice tracks: 'Dancers at the End of Time', 'Lord Have Mercy'
17) Ryan Adams & the Cardinals - Cardinology
Rooted more firmly in classic rock than any Adams since Gold, Cardinology never sounds like its copying its influences but instead creating a defining sound for the Cardinals.
Choice tracks: 'Born Into a Light', Let Us Down Easy'
16) Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago
Another album that could be 2007 or 2008 but it's wider availability was this year. Haunting, captivating songs that sound like they came straight out the Wisconsin winter.
Choice tracks: 'Skinny Love', 'The Wolves (Act I and II)'
15) The Felice Brothers - S/T
More shaggy Americana for my Upstate brethren, even if they still are downstate from me. More deftly produced but still with the ragged charms that made their debut so interesting.
Choice tracks: 'Greatest Show on Earth', 'Radio Song'
14) Gary Louris - Vagabonds
Being a big Jayhawks fan, I'm also a big fan of Louris's first solo album, which was produced by Chris Robinson. In fact, it doesn't sound much different than a Jayhawks album, which is a good thing if you're me or a bad thing, depending on who you are.
Choice tracks: 'Omaha Nights', 'Vagabonds'
13) Dr. Dog - Fate
The late blooming record of the year, I was a bit ambivalent about this record until giving it some more listens. The band has sharpened their songwriting greatly since last year's We All Belong and are now becoming one of my favorites.
Choice tracks: 'The Old Days', 'The Rabbit, the Bat, and the Reindeer'
12) Jamie Lidell - Jim
Lidell ditches most of his electronic bells and whistles and comes up with a straight-up blue eyed soul record with a ton of retro charm.
Choice tracks: 'Another Day', 'Wait For Me'
11) Brighblack Morning Light - Motion to Rejoin
To some, this album might sound like one big, slow song. But if you listen more closely, there are tiny moments, whether the R&B influenced backing vocals and horns, or the atmospheric soundscapes that really are impressive considering how the record was recorded.
Choice tracks: 'Oppressions Each', 'Past a Weatherbeaten Fencepost'
10) The Black Crowes - Warpaint
Say what you want about the Black Crowes, they still are one of my favorite bands and Warpaint is their best album since Amorica. The first three songs on the album are perhaps the best the Crowes have ever written.
Choice tracks: 'Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution', 'Oh Josephine'
9) My Morning Jacket - Evil Urges
The positives far outnumber any negatives that are on this album. In fact, I find 'Highly Suspicious' to be kind of catchy. But the songs that sound like classic MMJ are the best ones on the album.
Choice tracks: 'I'm Amazed', 'Aluminum Park'
8) Hayes Carll - Trouble In Mind
In the tradition of smart-asses like John Prine and Todd Snider, Hayes Carll would fit right in. It's a testament to how shitty country music is now that something like this is considered too alternative. Carll's songwriting can switch from satirical to poignant in the blink of an eye.
Choice tracks: 'I Don't Wanna Grow Up', 'She Left Me For Jesus'
7) Horse Feathers - House With No Home
Considered the best discovery of the year, Horse Feathers are another band taking folk stylings and doing something unique. And once again, no surprise they come out of the Pacific Northwest.
Choice tracks: 'Working Poor', 'Different Gray'
6) Jenny Lewis - Acid Tongue
Lewis continues to explore country and soul territory in her solo work even though Acid Tongue has a more 70s Southern California feel to it. 'Acid Tongue' is my choice for choice track of the year.
Choice tracks: 'Acid Tongue', 'Jack Killed Mom'
5) The Walkmen - You & Me
The ragged vocals, the echo laden guitar sound, the dynamic changes. The Walkmen definitely have a unique sound and You & Me showcases a band getting better with each album.
Choice tracks: 'Postcards From Tiny Islands', 'Red Moon'
4) Fleet Foxes - S/T
The favorite of every hipster blog on the Internet seemingly, Fleet Foxes are another band out of Seattle with folk leanings. The harmony drenched vocals are the key on just about every song as the band creates something that just isn't heard that much anymore.
Choice tracks: 'He Doesn't Know Why', 'Your Protector'
3) Blitzen Trapper - Furr
Since I spent a month or so living in Portland, I feel I have a affinity for the eclectic music scene there. There may be no more eclectic band out there right now than Blitzen Trapper. Furr is another mash-up of varying styles but the band find its footing when it sounds most like a Grateful Dead/Flaming Lips mash up.
Choice tracks: 'Furr', 'War on Machines'
2) Okkervil River - The Stand Ins
Okkervil River were last year's sleeper, with the Stage Names rising steadily into my top five. The Stand Ins operates like a sequel, showing the same strong songwriting and musicianship that made me appreciate The Stage names so much.
Choice tracks: 'Singer Songwriter', 'On Tour with Zykos'
1) Drive-By Truckers - Brighter Than Creation's Dark
Speaking of sequels, Brighter Than Creation's Dark could pass as a sequel to The Dirty South (no. 2 in '05). The Truckers return to the exceptional form of that album, even without Jason Isbell. Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley return to writing stellar songs that could pose as short stories. Shonna Tucker's songs are solid and the addition of Spooner Oldham on keys add a dimension on certain songs that are a welcome addition. Even at 19 songs, there aren't many throwaways. When the Truckers are on top of their game, as they are here, there's hardly a group out there that can top them. And that's why Brighter Than Creation's Dark is my pick for the best album of 2008.
Choice tracks: 'The Righteous Path', 'Bob'

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