I know the general critical opinion is that this was a weaker year for music, and while I don’t disagree, it was a year I really enjoyed. Between this blog and my eMusic, I ended up listening to a lot of new music, and for the first time in a few years actually felt clued in to what the hip kids were listening to. Of course, that said, my top 3 from last year all would have faired mighty well this year, so maybe it wasn’t the strongest, but there was a lot to love in 2008. Namely…
10. (tie) Dr. Dog - Fate
Lame to have a tie, but I just couldn’t bear to leave either of these off my list. I was actually all set to have this fall off and be #11, but Tex posting that clip reminded me that a) this album is awesome, and b) I think these guys are making a really unique sound in today’s music scene and I love it. These guys play their hearts out with emotion – I’m totally with Tex that they have the potential to be seriously great.
10. (tie) – Marnie Stern – This Is It...I already summed up some of my thoughts on her, but she makes a truly jaw dropping wall of sound that is just insanely powerful – almost too powerful as the album is hard to listen to as a whole. But in a year that I explored a lot of feedback, fuzz, and crazy guitar, this was the highlight.
9. Mike Patton – A Perfect Place
Patton is hit and miss, and that sloppiness is a huge part of his charm to me. Here, he hits in a big way with a very concise, tight collection of moody pieces. Some are songs, some are just movie ambience, but it all comes together tightly. I also love the way he creates a nice, simple musical theme, and then toys with it throughout the album with different instrumentation, moods, etc.
8. Kanye West – 808s & Heartbreak
I have little else to say, except that I think time will be kind to this album, and that is what sets it apart from your T-Pains of the world.
7. Dosh – Wolves and Wishes
As I mentioned before, I wasn’t so into this album when it first came out, despite Tex’s recommendation. But seeing him live really made the sounds pop for me and made it all come clear. Like all noise rock, this is not brilliant from top to bottom, but the great moments that come through (“Wolves” in particular) really shine.
6. Wolf Parade – At Mount Zoomer
Full of great, BIG sounds, and ending with a 10 minute song where the yell “Fire in the hole!” repeatedly. Yeah, that sounds like something I would indeed like…
5. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend
I went through an odd trajectory with this album. First time I heard one of their songs, I hated it. Then I discovered it was lodged in my head and I wanted to hear it again, so I bought the album and listened to it non-stop in early summer. Then I stopped and had no interest in listening again. But I picked it up again to re-evaluate for this list and screw it, this thing is great. What really strikes me is the great sense of urgency on this album. For an allegedly laid back album, the pace is remarkably fast and almost punkish, made all the better by the unbelievably tight playing. Will they have longevity? Maybe not, but I bet they’ll have more than Fleet Foxes.
4. Bonnie Prince Billy – Lie Down in the Light
So, so good, and better every single time I listen. At first listen this got an OK for me, but then I kind of ignored it. Picked it back up and thought “Oh this will probably make my top 10” and with every listen it moves farther up. Who knows – if I revisit this list in a year I might say “Why on earth didn’t I make that my #1?”
3. Deerhunter – Microcastle/Weird Era Cont.
I’m just counting these as one album because (aside from being sold as one) they make such a complete package. With Microcastle they really invest more in exploring actual songs with actual rocking out, with the album (and their career so far) reaching an epic peak on “Nothing Ever Happens”. Then Weird Era is this sort of long form extended coda where they just embrace the shoegazing noise rock and let the mood wash over them. Beautiful stuff.
2. Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – Real Emotional Trash
For the majority of the year this was my #1 and it’s getting totally overlooked and screwed in year end lists. Did it just come out too early? Prior to this one, all the Malkmus solo stuff made me say “Man Pavement was awesome”, but this one stands on its own. I love the way they push into these crazy almost, dare I say, prog rock song structures. Both “Hopsctoch Willie” and “Baltimore” and standouts, but the real highlight is “Real Emotional Trash” – when the big guitar vamp finally bursts through it’s just a sublime moment of genius.
1. Guns ‘n Roses – Chinese Democracy
I was a little hesitant about making this my #1 for some reason, but it’s the album I most looked forward to this year, it completely delivered, and it is, to me, the definitive album of 2008. What more do you need? How about ridiculously awesome hooks, massive guitar solos, huge ballads, Axl Rose lunacy… this sucker has it all. As we’ve been discussing the Max v. Min theories, this is pretty clearly one of the most maximum albums of all time. Like Use Your Illusion, it reaches for the stars in a way no single other album did this year, and while it occasionally falls short, that ambition combined with the number of times it hits its goals make this my clear cut #1.