Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Best Albums of 2008

Music lives inside all of us and it’s terribly personal. You would be safer telling someone they have an ugly child instead of expressing your disdain for one of their favorite artists. One person’s trash is another treasure and there is often no rhyme or reason why we love certain songs and throw a cold shoulder at others.

It’s December and it’s that time of year again when we sharpen our pencils and attempt to break down the best in the year’s music. Many of my friends are forgoing Best Album lists in lieu of singles, which isn’t a bad idea but I still love the idea of an album and how it can tell you a thematic story. I will begin the list of singles for a future post.

I believe the following collections of songs below are cinematic in their scope revealing widescreen stories and harmonies that are best served in 45-minute installments. Now, as I look over my list, I’m surprised to see very mainstream titles. I listened to a lot of music in the last year and while certain songs and artists may have awoken an interest, their overall albums didn’t impress. What you will read below are albums that I listened to regularly and without interruption (for the most part) over the course of 2008. I paid no attention to what’s cool or hip, I merely broke down a few albums ( yes, I still call them albums) that spoke to my soul continually over the last twelve months. I can only hope that one of you find a couple treasures in the list below.

Fall Out Boy - Folie à Deux

I tried not to like this at first. The Chicago EMO band expands their boundaries on their least personal, but most daring record to date. Say what you want to about Fall Out Boy, but being this good isn’t easy and there’s a reason they stand atop the EMO mountain with their power-pop hooks and memorable ringers that should not be confined to any genre. Look no further than the soulful and sprinting “(Coffee’s For Closers)” with a wondrous guest vocal by Elvis Costello who surprisingly melds perfectly with their brand of ebullient power pop; that in itself speaks volumes.What the hell happened to Rock and Roll?

"I Don't Care"

The Rolling Stones - Shine A Light

After decades of releasing a slew of good (but not great) live albums (Stripped aside) the band delivers a document of why they are still the baddest and best rock band on the planet. The soundtrack to the Martin Scorsese film shines a light (pun intended) on old warhorses that still sound vital (“Jumpin’ Jack Flash”), a few forgotten gems (“Faraway Eyes” & “She Was Hot”) and a few unearthed gems with distinguished guests (“Champagne and Reefer” with Buddy Guy & “Loving Cup” with Jack White). Listening to this band in an intimate setting made me recognize just how damn good these guys are at what they do. Bands half of their age don’t sound this good.

"Promotional Trailer for Shine a Light"

The Fireman (Paul McCartney)-Electric Arguments

McCartney’s two previous Fireman recordings did not utilize his vocals, but this one finds McCartney pushing his boundaries like never before. Beneath Youth’s electrical tones is that voice that changed a generation. For an experimental record, this one oozes gorgeous melodies and beats that find harmony together. Macca should have released this under his own name as it deserves to be hear by many more than have heard it to date.

"Sing the Changes"


Showcasing a voice that could bring men and women to their knees pleading for mercy, Duffy doesn’t just deliver on arguably the single of the year, “Mercy”, but on the entire ten-song affair. Her voice crawls under your skin and won’t leave until you’ve given it at least a dozen chances. Evoking nostalgic soul, rock and blues, Duffy has created a record that will continue to grow for years to come and I have a feeling future releases will equally impress leaving us all begging for “Mercy”.


R.E.M. – Accelerate

What happens when rock writers and critics cry wolf one too many times? Ever since 1994’s Monster every R.E.M. record has been deemed a “return to form” and while the last fifteen years have had its share of highlights from R.E.M., all of their albums have had a alienating feeling where they are attempting to be something they are not. On Accelerate’s raucous opening of “Living Well Is the Best Revenge”, its immediately evident the monster is reborn. Over a brief and roaring 36-minutes, R.E.M. proves to be a lean and mean fighting machine as they wail back with vengeance. Accelerate is everything a R.E.M. record should be; rocking, revealing and resounding. It’s a shame that so many writers overshot the so-called return to form over the last fifteen-years and sadly most fans have heard this story one too many times and opted out of what truly is R.E.M.’s best post Automatic record. Instead of trying to be different for the sake of being different or forcing what they thought was their classic sound, they looked inward, became spontaneous and made a truly classic R.E.M record.

"Accellerate Album Preview"

The Gaslight Anthem – The ’59 Sound

Perhaps it was Chuck Berry who first successfully combined these disparate elements in a rock'n'roll song. He's been followed by the likes of Creedence Clearwater Revival, Bruce Springsteen, Social Distortion and the Hold Steady. Add the Gaslight Anthem to that distinctive list.

I'm just one of thousands who have fallen hard for the band this year. I was actually disappointed when I first heard "The '59 Sound" on commercial radio. I selfishly wanted the band to myself for a while; I'm angry that I hadn't discovered them a year or two ago. The New Jersey-based quartet is clearly the breakout rock act of 2008.

How could I resist "Miles Davis & the Cool"? In addition to the explicit reference of the title, the song alludes to Otis Redding, Bob Dylan and Elvis Costello. The '59Sound is loaded with similarly memorable anthems.

"The '59 Sound"

The Hold Steady – Stay Positive

The Hold Steady’ are a band I only really got into with the success of their last album ‘Boys and Girls in America’ which was a fantastic showcase of their talents and great gateway that led me into more of their older stuff which is also fantastic. ‘Stay Positive’ their newest full length echoes the classic rock and roll sound of their earlier work but manages to stay fresh with some subtle and not so subtle changes, all in all it’s a fantastic album.

"Sequestered in Memphis" Live

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