The albums below are the ones I kept turning to when I just wanted to kick back and enjoy some tunes. Sure, there was more artistically challenging stuff released this year than some of the selections below — and I certainly do appreciate that sort of thing — but my year end lists reflect which music ultimately did for me what I think rock and/or roll is ultimately meant to do to any listener: it grabbed me by the heart and/or crotch and wouldn’t let go.
TOP 21 ALBUMS OF 2008
It should be noted I only counted albums released in 2008. If it was released digitally in 2007 it was NOT eligible … which is why you don’t see Radiohead, Robyn or MGMT on this list.
TV on the Radio, Dear Science
This mixture of high art and dance floor squonk not only bears up over repeated listens, it actually gets better. In that most rare of occurrences, the album I found myself turning to again and again too sate my more base musical desires also ended up feeding my intellectual hungers as well.
MP3: Dancing Choose | Buy on Amazon
Kanye West, 808s & Heartbreak
West’s cold digital soundscape provides the vehicle for his most human album of his career. People are still arguing over this one — and in particular the near unhealthy dose of AutoTune running through the whole thing — but I still say that the whole thing works excellently as both an artistic and emotional statement.
Message Board Discussion | Buy on Amazon
Friendly Foes, Born Radical
This is the perfect vicious indie-pop Minneapolis-based band of 1986 / 1996 … that didn’t form until 2006 … in Detroit. It is only available digitally at the moment, and that’s the only reason I can think of to explain why everyone is not going ga-ga over this disc. When it gains more exposure next month I predict it’s gonna explode. Simply indispensable.
MP3: Couch Surfing
Sad Day For Puppets, Unknown Colors
These Swedes mine shoegaze and 1989 indie-pop a la The Darling Buds to create a sound warmly familiar and immediately arresting. Dreamy guitars and gauzy vocals entrance while solid rhythms ground the songs
MP3: Little Light
Cut Copy, In Ghost Colours
Cut Copy stole my hearts with their last minute set at Pitchfork and I have yet to tire of their smart electronic-pop / dance-rock blend nailed down by exuberant melodies. Any time a bunch of boys can create smart dance music that causes throngs of people to just completely lose their shit — and then manage to carry that same vibe over onto their album — you’re going to find us in their fan base.
Youtube | Buy on Amazon
Rachael Yamagata, Elephants…Teeth Sinking Into Heart
Yamagata takes her familiar sound a large stylistic leap forward. The song arrangements are daring, the instrumentation is dark and often starkly minimal. This is a world of grays punctuated by brief flashes of color and light. One tends to feel constricted, and the moments when things open up — as on the strings that swell during “Elephants,” it feels as if you’re taking in deep breaths of delicious oxygen. But even the tighter moments exalt as they bind the listener ever closer to Yamagata’s delivery. Buy on Amazon
Supergrass, Diamond Hoo Ha
Tossing off the more lethargic tendencies of the group’s last album, Supergrass return to their harder rockin’ roots, inject a healthy dose of Glam, and finally find their swaggering stride again. We’re extremely glad these grown men decided to re-channel their harder tendencies through equal parts sneer and smile on this album.
MP3 Mix | Buy on Amazon
The Features, Some Kind Of Salvation
Intensely delivered R&B wrasslin’, pop lovin’, Southern rock that delivers equal parts preacher fervor and lover’s lament. Soul searing as it reaches for the height of the skies, and crotch tingling as it revels in, uh, more secular waters. The turbo-charged anthems sit alongside naturally with the more introspective softer pieces to reveal a band comfortable on many terrains.
MP3: GMF | Buy from Official Site
Ting Tings, We Started Nothing
This explosively and deceptively simple-sounding debut still gets my blood boiling every time I hear it’s infectious beats and chirped vocals. This is the sort of band that is easy to write off as a one-hot wonder until you realized that you are compulsively humming the whole album from start to finish, again and again.
Youtube Channel | Buy on Amazon
Lykke Li, Youth Novels
Lykke Li’s minimal electronic pop is informed oh so subtly by the hip-hop aesthetic that when less is more it can be thunderous in its restraint. Her whispers can knock you and her wispy hooks will slip under your skin quietly and then absolutely refuse to let you go, no matter how hard you fight.
MP3: Dance Dance Dance | Buy on Amazon
Ladyhawke IS Pip Brown, and she expertly handles just about every instrument and arrangement in this surprisingly complex and engaging collection of dance pop firmly based in the day-glo ’80s. After hearing the ’80s mined so clumsily and inexpertly by so many other groups this year we’re tickled to see someone who re-realizes the giddy potential of that era’s more engaging composers.
MP3 | Buy on Amazon
The Dandy Warhols, …Earth To The Dandy Warhols…
The Dandy Warhols had to escape the Majors and form their own label in order to fearlessly pursue their own muse again to the listener’s great reward. Droning, funky, propulsive, and dreamy; The Dandys have both regained a steady footing while launching their music back into the stratosphere.
Subscription Service | Buy on Amazon
Sloan, Parallel Play
After the double-album preceding this one, Sloan focuses on creating timeless pop-rock that creates sing-alongs you’ve learned the word to a quarter of the way through the first listen. They stun us with their ability to consistently release albums that are, well, consistently great.
Raphael Saadiq, The Way I See It
The best R&B album of the year. Timeless. Perfect. It’s simultaneously an homage to Stax and Motown while proving that organic, vibrant soul music can both convincingly and honestly be crafted by a younger generation. Saadiq has moved seamlessly between genres in the past but this album proves his talents as a musical chameleon might have located their most honest perch. Buy on Amazon
The Uglysuit, The Uglysuit
Deceptively meditative baroque arrangements on The Uglysuit’s debut give way to expansive choruses and swirling walls of well-mannered psychedelia. Live this band is capable of searing your face off, but their album is more likely to find your cheeks streaked with tears.
MP3: Chicago | Buy on Amazon
Darker My Love, 2
These West Coasters are handy at transforming drone into hooks, incorporating groovy hooks with guitars turned to 11. The group has discovered expert ways to weave their obvious influences into their sound, for evidence of this check out the deliciously unholy mixture of The Beach Boys, My Bloody Valentine, and The Jesus and Mary Chain on “Two Ways Out.” When I listen to that song I picture the beach on one of those freak of nature days where it’s simultaneously sunny and raining.
Donewaiting Interview | Buy on Amazon
Erykah Badu, New Amerykah Part One (4th World War)
The weirdest and most difficult to penetrate R&B album of the year also proves the most interesting view of it’s creator’s core. Badu isn’t delivering your mainstream “smooth grooves,” and instead opts to take you on an extraterrestrial journey through the inner self. Buy on Amazon
Mystery Jets, Twenty One
These young Brits lost a bit of the ‘67 Pink Floyd freneticism that drew us to them in the first place, but they’ve replaced it with an alarmingly mature grasp of rhythm and dynamics injected into their winning blend of Britpop. The only downside to hearing this more realized sophomore effort? We’re totally jonesing for them to make another trip Satateside so I can see them play live again!
The Feeling, Join With Us
These kids are equal parts Queen, Big Star, and The Greys … in other words if I didn’t know better we’d mistake this disc for a Jellyfish reunion album. Multilayered choruses with monster sized hooks dominate this disc … and the expansive production puts Jeff Lynne to shame.
Youtube | Buy on Amazon
Weezer, Weezer (The Red Album)
Scrap the non-Rivers Cuomo contributions, add the bonus tracks from the “Deluxe Edition,” and you have the best Weezer album in over a decade. Cuomo once again mixes the weird, the catchy, and the downright epic to create songs that move beyond the stadium constructs of the previous disc.
Weezer (Red Album)
Girl Talk, Feed The Animals
I don’t care if you love or hate Gregg Gillis as a person, or whether you view his mash-ups as “art” or you think he’s just a pandering hack behind a keyboard … Feed The Animals was the soundtrack that just dug into my inner dance party and would not let go. Wikipedia
Keep reading for favorite Chicago albums and songs of the year.
TOP 10 RELEASES BY CHICAGO BASED BANDS IN 2008
Tom Schraeder and His Ego, Lying Through Dinner EP
On his latest EP Schraeder often mixes Americana with the feel of a humid New Orleans bordello. Boozy, swinging strains spill out of darkened nightclubs into puddle-splashed streets. Rouged nipples brush inches away from the unshaven crevices of a miner’s chin on the boozy sing-along “When You’re Not Around,” an excellent compliment to the soaring hopeful organ strains permeating “Guadalupe Cries.” Schraeder expertly mixes the dark with the light creating a chiaroscuro effect on his compositions.
Local H, 12 Angry Months
12 Angry Months deals with the intensely personal cycle of the demise of a major relationship and the year of fall-out that follows. It’s not like break-ups are exactly unusual territory in pop music, but Local H’s Scott Lucas has the undeniable talent to take an individual experience and expand its relevance to universally touch. Lucas still has a gift for injecting a darkly pretty melody into even the most abrasively angry guitar lines, and Brian St. Clair’s drumming is both massive and tasteful. This is the near perfect album Local H has been threatening to make for years … all it took was something deeply personal to allow them to make a universal statement.
Milk At Midnight, Less love More Acid
Milk At Midnight’s sound is chimeric, with the primary sonic tether between tunes being the group’s ability to graft memorable melodies onto craggy surfaces. The other connecting point is angry lyrics that both condemn and soar. The sunshine is there if you really quint and search it out, but eventually your eyes are going to tire and the light will temporarily slip from your vision again. It’s the hope that keeps us going even as I stare wide-eyed at the horrors around us.
Grammar, The Grammar Self-Titled Short Player
Grammar has the potential to grow into kings (and queen) of Chicago’s orch-pop particular scene. The band’s debut self-titled EP contains six songs of wistful and airy pop that flickers and twinkles, delighting the ears. Jaunty piano numbers melt into choirs of intertwining vocal melodies, politely restrained rockers descend from above, sparse and cutting acoustic odes seep in underfoot, and pleas for inclusion are folded into tiny synthetic symphonies and plinking xylophone runs. Sound like an earful? It is, but it’ll leave you wanting more. Not bad at all for a debut EP.
Walter Meego, Voyager
Voyager is one hell of a first album. It’s slinky, sexy guitar and synthesizer lines kiss and cuddle with each other, while the underlying beats seem destined to unleash a whole new class of freaky line-dancers getting ready to make babies. Their urbane, sophisticated delivery gives off images of disco balls, DeLoreans, glow sticks and day-long lollipops.
Fall Out Boy, Folie à Deux
Shut up, I don’t care what you think. Once you get past Pete Wentz’s celebrity antics and allow yourself to become enveloped by Patrick Stump’s powerhouse vocals that forsake emo delivery for good old fashioned soul you’ll begin to realize why Fall Out Boy’s albums actually seem to be getting better as they get more famous instead of the other way around.
Prairie Cartel, EP 1
The Prairie Cartel’s debut 12″ successfully lays out the group’s sonic manifesto in two original tracks, a cover, and a remix. Think of it as punk blood coating a Go-Go cage. The highlight of the EP is the cover of 999′s “Homicide” since it does the best job of offering the group a chance to let their talents for truly mixing the big rock with the surging dance. In my opinion it also does the best job of capturing the group’s electric at times careening live show.
Textbook, Boxing Day Massacre
Boxing Day Massacre is equal parts All, Uncle Tupelo, and Cheap Trick. “Desperation Free” is the sort of song that lyrically appeals to the eternal 15-year-old in us, while sporting a a musical envelope that would fit equally well on Fuse or in the back room of Hideout. Textbook is one of those weird beasts that I could see the kids going gonzo over while the older crowd hangs near the back by the bar and tips perspiring bottles of PBR the band’s way in admiration.
Big Science, The Coast Of Nowhere EP
Big Science came out of nowhere during the latter quarter of this year to blindside us with their glam-pop. Their ’80s-inflected pop would have put them in permanent rotation on 120 Minutes between vintage Cure, INXS, and XTC. And believe us, I mean that as one of the highest compliments I can offer to a pop band. [Download the EP for free]
Parks and Gardens, Avec Cloture
Parks and Gardens doesn’t really deviate from the form of loop and sample laden rockin’ designed with the discotheque in mind, but instead of utilizing those elements to create a cliche they inject an angular artsiness into their songs. In effect this creates a minor agitation in the listener, and I think that’s kind of a bold move for any band trying to ingratiate themselves with a crowd not particularly interested in anything beyond basic Sybaritic pleasure.
THE 50+1 SONGS OF 2008
(in almost no particular order)
These tunes are all songs that will scream “2008!” any time I hear ‘em. They may not be the highest charting singles, and some are barely even known to more than a handful of people … but they are the top tracks on the mixtape that defines the feeling and experiences of 2008 for me.
Hey Champ “Cold Dust Girl”
Walter Meego “Girls”
Katy Perry “Hot N Cold”
The Black Ghosts “Repetition Kills You (with Damon Albarn)”
Neon Neon “I Told Her On Alderaan”
George Pringle “Carte Postale”
Alphabeat “10.000 Nights Of Thunder”
Amanda Palmer “Oasis”
Beyonce “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)”
Black Kids “I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You (The Twelves Remix)”
British Sea Power “Down On The Ground”
Cut Copy “Lights and Music”
Does It Offend You, Yeah? “Dawn Of The Dead”
Estelle “American Boy”
The Feeling “Turn It Up”
The Futureheads “Think Tonight”
Hot Chip “Ready For The Floor”
Jay Reatard “See/Saw”
Kanye West “RoboCop”
The Killers “Spaceman”
La Scala “ Love! Love! Love!”
Ladyhawke “My Delirium”
Lettuce “Blast Off”
Lily Allen “The Fear”
M83 “Graveyard Girl (Speechless Edit)”
Mansions “The Worst Part”
of Montreal “Gallery Piece (Jon Brion remix)”
Phantom Planet “Leader”
Pink “So What”
Prairie Cartel “Homicide”
She & Him “I Was Made For You”
The Submarines “You Me and the Bourgeoisie”
Supergrass “Rebel In You”
The Boy Least Likely To “A Balloon On A Broken String”
The Ting Tings “Great DJ”
The Virgins “Rich Girls (RAC Mix)”
Weezer “Pork & Beans”
What Made Milwaukee Famous “Sultan”
Friendly Foes “My Body (Is A Strange Place To Live)
Black Mountain “Stormy High”
Darker My Love “Two Ways Out”
The Hold Steady “Sequestered In Memphis”
Local H “White Belt Boys”
…aaaaand, while I was DJing the song regularly last year, it didn’t really explode until the summer so…
M.I.A. “Paper Planes”