Dec 13, 2008

Top Five Albums of the Year

I just read Stephen King's top ten albums of the year, and I have a different architectural dance, so I thought I would include it here. I'm not saying his is bad, just different.

I have to say, though, that 2008 was a hit-or-miss year in music. It wasn't awe-inspiring, but there were a couple of awe-inspiring albums (and a few surprises).

5. The Raconteurs - Consolers of the Lonely

I think that the first Raconteurs album was good. It was catchy and fuzzy but for some reason didn't stick.

"Consolers", however, does. Maybe the Appalachian feel of each track draws me in, like ghosts from the Civil War pumping fuzzed-out guitars through speaker stacks at one helluva party. It's an album that is nostalgic and catchy in its conception but one that needs a couple of listens, also. It is not a concept album, but a golden thread runs through the entire thing, reminding you every once in a while that it belongs in the Dust Bowl and Shea Stadium all at the same time. Excellent.

The climax of the album is its final track, a murder ballad called "Carolina Drama", more of a short story put to music than an actual song. If you don't like it the first time through, the la la la la, la la la las will bring you back in. I promise.

4. The Black Kids - Partie Traumatic

Comparing any band to The Cure is probably never a good idea - can anybody really compare to Robert Smith, anyway? - but in The Black Kids' case, it's not necessarily a death omen. "Partie" is a fun, sarcastic, witty album. I don't know that I heard something so infatuated with British pop this year. Even though the band is ostensibly from Jacksonville, Florida, Reggie Youngblood's faux-British wail is entirely convincing. Please listen to "Hit the Heartbrakes" at least once.

3. Metallica - Death Magnetic

While only in the top two-thirds of Metallica albums, Death Magnetic represents an almost Atlanta Falcons-esque turnaround for the band after the disaster that was the last seven (!) years. If the band weren't Metallica, would this be on my top five? Probably not. But what makes this album what it is is the fact that it is Metallica. Is.

There's no argument on this side of the keyboard that "Death" rehashes earlier Metallica themes: war, death, political malfeasance, ironic anger, all of that stuff that makes for a good Metallica album. Really, it's sort of like The Rolling Stones' "A Bigger Bang": a victory lap. These guys proved they could rock again, and they get credit from me. In fact, I find it to be the best of the big rock albums of 2008, better than GNR's latest and AC/DC's "Black Ice".

2. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Dig, Lazarus, Dig!

There are moments on "Lazarus" that are vintage Cave. "Lie Down Here (and Be My Girl)" sounds like "Murder Ballads" and the song "Deanna" had dirty, forbidden sex. I definitely prefer the newest release from Cave to albums like "No More Shall We Part", which was very good but overly depressing. "Lazarus" is more dynamic than anything the band has done in years.

1. Juno - The Soundtrack

Now, this selection is controversial on more than one account. One, it was (sort of) released in December of 2007. But not really. It was really released on CD on January 8, 2008, so I'll count it. Secondly, it is a soundtrack and not an album by a singular artist or band. But that's sort of how I feel about music in 2008 as a whole. It was a year of singles and catchy tunes competing to come out on top, a virtual pop slobberknocker of a year. And Juno came out on top.

It's a selection that won't please the hipsters or whatever faction constitutes the opposite of hipsters. It's a cop-out, sort of, and I accept that. But it is a damn fine collection of songs. Most people remember the Kimya Dawson tunes - like "Tire Swing" and "So Nice So Smart" - but there are other gems on there. Barry Louis Polisar's "All I Want is You" (which plays over the introductory credits) is excellent.

To take it away from the music for a bit and talk about the actual selection of the music, it's interesting to note that Ellen Page convinced Jason Reitman to use Kimya Dawson's music in the movie. Diablo Cody had Juno listening to, I don't know, something 80s-ish in the script, but Ellen Page, in thinking about the character, thought she would listen to something a little more earnest and yet sarcastic simultaneously. The result is a collection of new-folk tunes that people didn't know they would like.

Other great selections include: "A Well-Respected Man" by The Kinks (Which I can't seem to run down on Rhapsody) and "Sea of Love" by Cat Power.

The Bonuses

Protest the Hero - Fortress

The only reason this didn't make it into THE TOP FIVE is that I just recently got into this band. A guy at work recommended them to me, and I resisted, because the band name suggests that they sound like Rise Against, a group that doesn't impress me.

Obviously, the name doesn't do this album justice. It's a new-prog sort of thing, like Coheed and Cambria but way more metal. The guitar playing is impeccable. You would think that so much distortion would just sound like sludge, but it's actually very precise and clear. Listen to the first track, "Bloodmeat."

Guns N Roses - Chinese Democracy

Okay, so I won't talk about whether or not Chinese Democracy is "14 years good", as is the standard among fanboys all over the internet. It isn't, but that's not the point. It is a very good to pretty excellent record, even for Guns N Roses, and a solid offering for 2008. "Shackler's Revenge", especially, is a pretty tough track. "IRS" and the title track are also pretty awesome, but I can't help but feel like something is missing from it.

It's almost as if "Chinese Democracy" and The "Use Your Illusion" albums should be switched in the time line, you know? I'm not talking about quality here but length and creativity. Okay, so I broke the rule from the beginning of the review. It's just funny that "Illusions" is (as a whole) underrated for GNFNR and yet it's so damned creative. A double album! I don't know. Maybe a double album of Guns N Roses stuff wouldn't have been welcome in 2008. Anyway.

While I miss Slash, Duff, and Izzy (but not Matt Sorum) as much as the next guy, I think the line-up - a contingent at least as big as those pushing for true democracy in China - is perfect for this album. Robin Finck and Buckethead pull some pretty astounding guitar work out of what I can only imagine to be intense (and intensely awkward) recording sessions. If you don't like the review, I'm sorry for you, not sorry for me.

My Morning Jacket - Evil Urges

There are plenty of good moments on this record, including "Highly Suspicious", which showcases one of the biggest disparities between verse and chorus of any song I've ever heard. One part Prince; One part Cookie Monster; One part paranoid psychotic. Great album.

Honorable Mentions:

Hard Sun - Eddie Vedder (From the Into the Wild Soundtrack)
I never listened to the entire album, but this track is amazing.
I Kissed a Girl - Katy Perry
Too catchy for its own good (and indicative of the sort of timid, pseudo-closeted-Joe-Francis-lesbianism one can find in downtown Athens on weekend-by-weekend basis[It's like a PG Girls Gone Wild]), this song ruled my life for about a week.
A-Punk - Vampire Weekend
I didn't think that the album matched up with the single, but it's still pretty good. A-Punk is its crown jewel, though, and deserves to be mentioned.
MGMT - Time to Pretend
Extremely catchy garage-y electro-pop.
Weezer - Pork and Beans
One of the silliest songs they've done. Thanks. I eat the candy with my pork and beans. Awesome.
M.I.A. - Paper Planes
The song was everywhere, and the chorus makes me feign shooting someone. It deserves to be on this list.


  1. King always leans heavily on hard rock (AC/DC sure, but Buckcherry?), classy country (What? No Lucinda Williams?), and old faves (Al Green, Randy Newman, and Lindsay Buckingham). You're totally right about the Raconteurs. It's also awesome to play on Guitar Hero: World Tour.

  2. Crap! I didn't even know it was on there. Bought!

  3. Well, I don't know if you guy heard the new Britn...

  4. ...ey Spears. Womanizer. Womanizer. Uh. You're a womanizer baby.