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. Continue reading