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Top Albums of 2008

December 20, 2008
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felice-brothers3 15. The Felice Brothers–The Felice Brothers

This 5-piece band from the Catskills offers a slice of Americana with each track. Every song includes a narrative that reads like a modern short story. The Felice Brothers’ folk sound toys with growing tired toward the end of the album but never quite teeters over the edge.

Standout track: “Frankie’s Gun!”

mmj 14. Evil Urges–My Morning Jacket

MMJ’s latest album explores several different genres and does fairly well with each of them. Coursing from the sonic explosion that is “Highly Suspicious” to the almost-tender crooning on “Librarian,” this album is a success and much more enjoyable than their earlier work.

Standout track: “Highly Suspicious”

black-kids1 13. Partie Traumatic–Black Kids

This fast-paced album hits the listener and is relentlessly poppy. The sheer energy of the group’s sound coupled with catchy turns of phrase in the lyrics makes this album an enjoyable listen, if not completely exhausting.

Standout track: “Hit the Heartbrakes”

kanye 12. 808s & Heartbreak–Kanye West

This year I have worked on embracing hip hop. Kayne’s collection of heartbreaking tracks provides a nice blend of pop and hip hop. I haven’t yet decided whether I can support his reliance on AutoTune, but I can attest that Kanye has some solid beats and his voice sounds good, whether altered or not.

Standout track(s): “Love Lockdown” and “Street Lights”

ra-ra-riot 11. The Rhumb Line–Ra Ra Riot

During their blazing introduction to the music scene, Ra Ra Riot toured the country extensively, garnering glowing reviews and lauded appearances at SXSW and other large venues. Before the release of their first LP, the band’s original drummer drowned and in the midst of the tragedy then band pressed on finished their first full length album, The Rhumb Line. As can be expected, the album is a bit darker than their earlier EPs but their unmistakable sound remains at the core. Ra Ra Riot relies heavily on their string section but it never leans toward kitsch (such as, say, Yellowcard).

Standout track: “Ghost Under Rocks”

lil-wayne 10. Tha Carter III–Lil Wayne

Again, 2008 was a year of hip hop experimentation for me. Lil Wayne has such clever lyrics and unforgettable beats that this is solidly my favorite hip hop album of the year. Weezy is doing something right.

Standout track: “A Milli”

adele 9. 19–ADELE

Hailing from the UK, Adele delivers a solid album that fuses R&B, pop, and soul. A kinder, gentler version of Amy Winehouse, ADELE’s voice is adaptable to many styles and will only get better with age.

Standout track: “Hometown Glory”

Print 8. Fleet Foxes–Fleet Foxes

This five-piece Seattle band has crafted a fine folk album. There is a decided element of Americana to their sound that features stunning harmonies and mountain rhythms.

Standout track: “Ragged Wood”

vampire-weekend 7. Vampire Weekend–Vampire Weekend

Any group that discusses the use of an Oxford comma (even disparagingly) is going to be a favorite of mine. Add in clever lyrics, African-inspired rhythms, a fusion of ska/punk/rock, and quirky personalities then you’ve got a solid product. This group of Columbia U. grads create a unique sound with a promising future.

Standout track: “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa”

elbow 6. The Seldom Seen Kid–Elbow

The 2008 winner of the Mercury Music Prize, The Seldom Seen Kid is the most critically acclaimed Elbow record to date. If you discount the hopelessly trite song “An Audience with the Pope,” the record is nearly flawless. Guy Garvey’s voice is is top shape and the orchestration of the band behind him fits perfectly. Bonus–iTunes released a wonderful live concert EP recorded at an iTunes store.

Standout track: “One Day Like This”

death-cab-for-cutie 5. Narrow Stairs–Death Cab for Cutie

I’m a sucker for Death Cab. My first (and only) printed music review was a glowing praise for their album Plans and I have the same feelings for Narrow Stairs. Plans is the better of the two (though both pale to Transatlanticism), but their most recent album is still some fantastic music. Ben Gibbard is a unique performer and never fails to entertain.

Standout track: “Bixby Canyon Bridge”

bon-iver 4. For Emma, Forever Ago–Bon Iver

For Emma, Forever Ago is the result of Justin Vernon’s wintry three months of isolation in his father’s cabin in northern Wisconsin following break ups with his band and girlfriend. The haunting sounds of the minimal instrumentation and Vernon’s just-right falsetto bring the listener to the unbearable cold of the desolate winter. Bonus: Check out NPR’s All About the Music podcast for a few free Bon Iver concert recordings.

Standout track: “Flume”

coldplay1 3. Viva la Vida–Coldplay

For years, I have been able to get away with not fawning over Coldplay. I would grow a little grumpier when people threw around the phrase “best band in the world” like a sixth-grade Korn fan, but I am slowly coming around. Viva la Vida is a nearly perfect blend of pop and rock that one can’t help but like. Martin’s voice is in top form and his lyrics, while he’s no great poet, are a nice fit for the sound. Bonus: The EP, Prospekt March, serves as a nice little b-side complete with the track “Lost!” featuring Jay-Z.

Standout track: “Violet Hill”

mates-of-state 2. Re-Arrange Us–Mates of State

While not the obvious choice, this is the album that stands out as one of my overall favorite of the year. MoS is no longer terribly innovative or fresh (releasing four previous albums tends to do that) but I get such pleasure out of this album. The beats are catchy, the lyrics are fulfilling, and the tracks are unapologetically poppy.

Standout track: “Blue and Gold Print”

sigur-ros 1. Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust–Sigur Ros

Sigur Ros’ latest release is every bit as wonderful as their previous work. This album features my favorite track of the year (Ára bátur) and the band’s first English song (All Alright). I don’t know what it is about Iceland, but it produces some fantastic musicians.

Standout track: “Ára bátur”

Honorable Mention: Way to Normal–Ben Folds “Kylie from Connecticut”

Be OK–Ingrid Michaelson “You and I”

I am certain to have missed something worthy of note. If you have any additions to the list, please do let me know.  2008 was a good year for music. My tastes have grown more varied and we’re blessed that there is a plethora (I know I know, we all cringe when reading that word) of musical styles.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 21, 2008 6:50 am

    Impressive.

  2. Sean Ankrom permalink
    December 21, 2008 12:15 pm

    Yes! I love the list, I much rather read a list from one of my friends than a list compiled by critics.

    Also, 2008 was the year that I (re)embraced hip-hop as well. Over Christmas, you should bring a flash drive and I’ll give you some of the hip-hop awesomeness that I found this year.

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