Wednesday, December 31, 2008

My Top Ten Albums of 2008

The majority of my life focuses around sports and music. There is no way I could narrow down a list of the Top Ten Sports Moments of the Year, so that leaves me to come up with my Top Ten Albums of the Year. Why? Because if you don’t make a Top Ten List of something at the end of the year, you are a complete loser and borderline failure at life. Or at least that’s what the folks at E! and People magazine told me.

Now, I try to listen to all kinds of music, including the majority of the new releases that come out each week. I like some sounds and some artists better than others, but I try to stay as objective as I possibly can. And while I wouldn’t say I’m a mastermind at music review or music analysis, I wouldn’t say I am a moron. So whatever you do, take this list lightly. They won’t be running it on Yahoo! News or anything like that, but I figured why not share my thoughts. You might hate the list. You might love it. Either way, the Jo Bros don’t make an appearance, so I must have done something right.

Without further ado, the Top Ten Albums of 2008 (with a few extras), courtesy of a 19-year-old with no real music education and a strong hatred for the country music genre. Let the accolades begin.

Honorable Mentions

Stay Positive – The Hold Steady
The middle-aged Brooklyn rockers scored there first major label success, finding a happy medium between punk and drunk.

Rising Down – The Roots
I’m not much for rap, but The Roots have a way of sounding pissed off and optimistic at the same time, making for a solid album. The mix of hip-hop and soul works for me on this record.

Where The Light Is – John Mayer
John gets less whiny and more impressive on this live album, finding a pleasant blend of light, acoustic numbers and crazy, jazzy solos. His covers of “Free Fallin’” and “Bold as Love” define the album’s strengths.

The Top Ten

10. Mudcruth – Mudcrutch
This self titled album from Tom Petty’s earlier band was able to crack my top ten this year. Petty and his old friends went a little more southern rock on this cut, mixing old-school covers with original works. The group was finally able to put out an album after breaking up years ago, before Petty and The Heartbreakers hit the music scene. “Crystal River”, the album’s signature track, shows both the versatility and longevity of Petty. The legendary wailer proved it’s never too late to go back home again.

9. Sleep Through the Static – Jack Johnson
Jack’s most recent release was no where near his best work in my opinion, but it was solid and true to form. I listened to this album about 4 or 5 times consecutively on a trip to-and-from Indianapolis this summer, and each time through I seemed to find a couple new songs I liked better and better. While I was much more impressed with earlier albums such as On And On and In Between Dreams, Sleep Through the Static still achieved that mellow, laid-back sound Johnson is always lounging towards. No single track stands out above the rest, which I feel is a good thing. The body of work builds a solid album, with each song complimenting the others. It’s carefully crafted – not just thrown together.

8. Hope for the Hopeless – Brett Dennen
The young folk singer toned down the reggae overtones on this album, going with a smoother, bluesy-folk sound for his third album. And while you can still hear the spirit of his reggae sound come through on a few tracks, the slight change in direction enhances his effort on this record. Less political and more heartfelt, Dennen’s own soul and spirit bleed into each song. In a way, he uses his modern, funky foot to give old-school folk a kick in the pants, and ends up with a damn good finished product. My favorite song - the slow, sincere track “Heaven” - shows Dennen’s unsure spirituality as he sings “Heaven / What the hell is Heaven? / Is there a home for the homeless? / Is there hope for the hopeless?” Well, if anything, this album gives a great deal of hope to Dennen’s future releases.

7. Dear Science – TV on the Radio
Rolling Stone made this their top album of ’08, which I felt was a little high, but I could still understand the merit. It’s almost impossible to describe the sound of this record; you have to hear it to understand. All of the music components from this record have been used before, but never have they been used together all at once…until Dear Science. It’s distinctive and influenced at the same time. It opens up a whole new package of sound to experiment with.

6. Present Tense – James Carter
By far the best pure jazz record of the year. Carter somehow makes the genre sound simple without making it sound amateurish and pedestrian. There is no more John Coltrane or Miles Davis, but Carter shows the freedom and brilliance of the type of jazz that was born in the ‘50s and early ‘60s. It explores almost every range of the blues while refraining from the drivel of drawn-out solos. The album proves Jazz isn’t dead; it was hanging out with James Carter.

5. Off With Their Heads – Kaiser Chiefs
Ok, bear with me on this explanation. If The Beatles and Pink Floyd had a bunch of kids, and those kids grew up and formed a band, and while the kids had talent, they never came close to matching the luster of their parents, they would sound like the Kaiser Chiefs. You can hear the essence of the ‘60s and ‘70s English legends in their Kaiser Chiefs “offspring”, as the Chiefs put their own personal spin on Brit-rock. It will never measure up to The Beatles or Pink Floyd, but it’s still very good in its own right.

4. Conor Oberst – Conor Oberst
The Bright Eyes frontman went solo for the first time, and he didn’t disappoint. He writes like Bob Dylan and sounds similar to a Tom Petty/Van Morrison hybrid, all while keeping that weird-o, Bright Eyes vibe integral in his music. On the album, it almost sounds like he had the worst week of his life, then wrote a bunch of songs about it – but instead of being upset, he stayed as serene as possible, with a hint of hope that it would all get better. Oberst has a unique way of telling a story with chords and rhymes. The best single – “Moab” - is brilliant, and the rest of the album is on the same level.

3. Last Days at the Lodge – Amos Lee
This guy used to be an elementary school teacher. Now he’s coming in with the #3 album of 2008 on my blog – my how the times have changed. But in all seriousness, Lee turned out one of my favorite records of the year, and he did it a little differently than he’s accustomed to. The typically slow and melancholy folk singer switched it up on his third album, throwing in a lot of blues and little bit of funk and soul. Still, Lee didn’t forget how to slow it down, showing off his smooth pipes on a few acoustic/folky tracks. It’s an album you can put on and listen to from start to finish, seemingly learning something new about Amos each time through. Not many elementary teachers can do it like that.

2. Attack & Release – The Black Keyes
The Black Keys were always good. But they showed how great they could be when they hire a real producer and record in a real studio. The Akron duo hit it big with their fifth album, finally receiving the recognition they have deserved for years. On Attack & Release, The Keys found a nice mix of grunge-garage band and laid-back blues rock, producing a sound that seems much bigger than the two-man effort they employ. And it may have taken The Black Keyes a few years to hit the big-time, but it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

1. The Bootleg Series, Volume 8: The Tell Tale Signs – Bob Dylan
I know, I know. Big surprise, huh? Yes, I am a huge Dylan fan. And yes, this is a very biased selection for my #1 spot. But it’s my blog, so technically all the picks are biased. Either way, this pick is anything but ridiculous. Dylan shows his genius, even in his old age, with a collection of alternate takes and forgotten tracks spanning 1989-2006. I wrote about this album on my blog back in October, and in the two months since (and the 9 months prior), I found nothing that came close to Dylan’s eighth installment of The Bootleg Series. The album boasts a compilation of songs that the folk-god felt were too incomplete or sub par to make the final cut of his Oh Mercy, Time Out of Mind, and Modern Times records (among others). However, as I have written before, Dylan’s sense of “incomplete” is synonymous with a sense of “perfection” for everyone else. Bob shows both flexibility and brilliance in each variation. Whether he speeds it up or slows it down, adds a touch of blues, a touch of country, or a touch of folk, every revision comes out sounding even better than the original. When you improve on greatness, there’s no way to deny you the top position. Dylan earned his spot.

It’s hard to end on anything better than that. Hope you liked the list. Happy New Year.

Thanks for reading

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