Anyone who knows me knows that I have a strong passion for music. This year has been quite exceptional. So here is my best of 2008 list.
Gossip In The Grain
Ray LaMontagne has been the modern equivalent to Van Morrison and I love him for it. Ray sings with conviction through the folky numbers and pop ballads that consume this release. On the track Let it be me he connects with
“…and I remember all too well….how it feels….to be all alone”
and with that he sold me. Maybe it’s simply the year I had, but I needed an album from him and I am happy with what I got.
The Odd Couple
Cee-Lo Green is a hip-hop legend. He has been consistently on-point – from his glory days of belting out soulful hooks and providing a one-of-a-kind flow delivery to one of Atlanta’s best hip-hop acts Goodie Mob, to his somewhat ill-received often over-looked solo albums, and now to his most critically acclaimed work as Gnarls Barkley with the beat-master Danger Mouse at the wheels. Now, the masses may find Gnarls to be a poppy sensation (following the hit single “Crazy”) filled with cheerful rhythms and introspective lyrics hidden behind that mainstream wrapping.
The Odd Couple feels even darker in content compared to the duo’s debut, St. Elsewhere. Well, there isn’t a song about having sex with corpses but it feels bleaker, overall, in subject matter. From the infectious Blind Mary to the surprising Would Be Killer, this is a fairly solid album. It’s funny reaching the end of the year and saying that. Prior to this album’s release, I grabbed the leak (as always) and was not impressed with it at all. Turns out it took a while to grow on me and I have listened to it favorably (and often) since.
Also, I have to mention Danger Mouse’s stellar production, being as fitting-as-ever as the backdrop to Cee-Lo’s vocals. Solid release. Can’t wait to see where they go next.
Album highlights: She Knows, Who's Gonna Save My Soul, Surprise
The Formation of Damnation
Wow, so Testament is back with their first Studio album since 1999’s The Gathering and it’s really good. This is what Metallica and Megadeth should still sound like. There isn’t a lot else to say about this release other than it’s definitely Testament and I’m glad to hear Chuck Billy’s voice again. Solid release and almost has to be included here, because it’s been so long.
Album highlights: More Than Meets The Eye, The Persecuted Won't Forget, Henchman Ride
The Fathomless Mastery
Bloodbath encompass everything that Death Metal should be. Mikael Akerfeldt’s return to vocals is welcomed, however, Peter Tägtgren’s performance on 2004’s Nightmares Made Flesh was impressive (as expected because Tägtgren is a legend and rightfully so) to say the least. This is one of the few Death Metal acts I can still listen to and expect something worth my time. Metal today is so flooded with uninteresting artists and largely remains stagnant as a genre. It’s nice to see a metal act still doing something right. I’ll admit Bloodbath are not anything super out of the ordinary within their genre but because they’ve consistently had such an all-star lineup it’s hard to ignore their presence on here. I highly appreciate pretty much everything Akerfeldt touches.
Album highlights: Mock The Cross , Drink From the Cup of Heresy, Slaughtering the Will to Live
The Maniacal Vale
This is one massive album. I actually replaced Anathema’s Hindsightrelease with this. I guess my list wasn’t final yet. Esoteric are massively depressive but also epically climactic; very fitting for winter. The sheer energy and despair put into these doom passages is, astounding, to say the least. I adore the little intricacies here as well. I dig a certain style of doom metal, one which holds conviction and these guys convince me. There is stellar musicianship on display here. I know I will be listening to this and discovering more and more throughout even next year.
Album highlights: Circle, Caucus of Mind, Ignotum Per Ignotius
Mike Mictlan and Lazerbeak
Hand Over Fist
Doomtree as a whole have been in my eardrums probably more consistently than anything else over the past 5 years. To date, Mictlan has not released a large amount of material. Well let’s be honest, he hasn’t really had a proper release. In my opinion, he comes off in a better light on stage, live, than on record. His lyrical style as a whole doesn’t grab me (especially while keeping the rest of Doomtree’s emcees in mind), but his raw energy does. With this release, he offers his most refined and introspective work to date. Lazerbeak’s production on this is nothing short of extraordinary, calling to mind the connection Kanye had with Common on 2005’s release, Be. From start to finish, each track offers something very special in the way Beak constructs the backdrop to each lyrical journey. I am glad to see Mictlan growing as an emcee, improving, evolving and now releasing something he should be proud of for years to come. Also, I have to mention the great artwork here, which was illustrated by a friend of mine Matt Wells.
Album highlights: Shux (with P.O.S), Fire on the Watermark, Prizefight
After ten long years, Beth Gibbons and company return with their third studio album. This not only marked the return of a genre-defining group, but more importantly they produced a solid album, again. The production is more dense this time around, more to take in and often more abrasive than previous outings. Gibbon’s delivery is still as haunting as ever. While I am uncertain if this release will live up to their two previous masterpieces in terms of longevity, I’m willing to give it a solid effort. Thanks for coming back Portishead.
Album highlights: Plastic, Machine Gun, Silence
Mouth of the Architect
This band was a relatively new discovery for me this year, which is a shame because their previous albums are damn good as well. I have heard of this band pretty much since their debut but was a bit apprehensive about listening to them as they unfortunately, get lumped into the Isis rip-off category. They definitely have enough going on to differentiate them from Isis. Their riffs are solid and memorable. They bring interesting samples, impassioned vocals (I would say more so than Isis) and solid song structures to the table. Mouth of the Architect are a quality act worthy of recognition.
Album highlights: Hate and Heartache, Guilt and the Like, A Beautiful Corpse
TV on the Radio
TV on the Radio have cemented a place in my heart since I heardAmbulance off their debut, followed by the haunting Say You Do off the tour-only elusive compilation OK Calculator. Since then, they have continued to evolve as musicians – refining and strengthening their song writing and musicianship. While their previous album have initially provided me a bit more to latch-on to upon the first five listens or so, Dear, Science offers somewhat less digestible tracks that improve with both a refined ear and multiple listens. Those qualities alone are enough to keep me interested. It’s a flat-out more laid back album, vocally and in tone, than Return to Cookie Mountain was. It’s a more mature sound, more subtle in its intricacies. Tunde Adebimpe’s voice has always been nothing short of unique and unparalleled. On this release, he channels a Seal-esque vocal style in addition to a strong Bowie influence. David Sitek has some of the most forward-thinking, creative and unbelievable production ever to grace ears. I am very satisfied with this release and will continue hoisting the TV on the Radio flag.
Album highlights: Crying, Golden Age, Love Dog
24 Postcards in Full Color
Max Richter composes beautifully intricate worlds of sound through minimal and classical arrangements. This album contains rather short compositions, each song blends into one another offering brief glimpses into each idea. It was released as “an experimental collection of miniatures for mobile phones”, which makes more sense in consuming it’s structure, than it would taken at nothing but face-value. While I do not consider this his finest work, it is definitely a welcomed addition to an already incredible body of work. My only complaint would be that I want more out of these songs but there are three previous albums, and plenty of Library Tapes to indulge that notion. I sincerely adore the piano and fully embrace how Richter envisions each piece.
Album highlights: In New England, Lullaby From The West Coast Sleepers, The Tartu Piano
About twelve years ago Opeth came into my life with Morningrise and I’ve had my ears planted firmly in their direction ever since. They continue to make music that is consistently beautiful, abrasive, and sincere. They pioneered their own style and continue to cultivate that niche in the metal scene. They have been in a league of their own. Akerfeldt has, arguably, the best vocal in the genre – offering brilliant growls and continually-improving clean vocals. Burden see’s Mikael at possibly his vocal best, while tracks like Lotus Eater fill you with energy, ready to punch the nearest douche-bag in the throat. Opeth’s true niche has always resided in their ability to balance the brutally abrasive moments with the mellow and beautiful. Their melodic, rhythm and song structure sensibilities are continually expanding. Could Opeth really push themselves further on their next release? Sure they could, they aren’t re-inventing the wheel and arguably haven’t had a truly “brilliant” album since Still Life – but they will always have a place in my heart and playlist.
Album highlights: The Lotus Eater, Burden, Hessian Peel
Cecil Otter is one of my favorite emcee working today – not just in the local scene or within the confines of the Doomtree collective, but period. His cool, laid-back beat-poet mentality, and hip-hop Tom Waits aesthetic style, combined with his live performance, make-up a unique and charming personality. He has the ability to write thought-provoking, often witty lyrics, and has a strong sense for production. Cecil emits this calm, refined aura with each breath. I would venture to say that he impressed me the most at this years Doomtree Blowout (IVth annual), which took place in Minneapolis earlier this month.
This album was originally released in 2006, however, heavily unrefined and lacking an actual album-like structure. It was presented more like a compilation of new work than a conceptual solid album. While I dug the production more (to some extent) on the original release, this refined, actual album version makes up for the more polished production, in consistency and overall presentation. Often times I do find the remastered higher-quality production more distracting (the overarching vocal reverb) and to an extent more inappropriate for Cecil’s aesthetic and delivery. I found the rough production of Rebel Yellow (title track) more compelling on the 2006 release then the new version offered here. While the newly extendedSufficiently Breathless feels far superior to the original. It also offers longer sampling passages from the brilliant, but often over-looked, 70’s rock band Captain Beyond. Also, borrowing the name (presumably) from Captain Beyond’s 1973 release Sufficiently Breathless. Cecil Otter is someone to watch for in the future, with a cigarette in one hand, a Surly Furious in the other, while snuggled up to your significant other.
Album highlights: Rebel Yellow, Sufficiently Breathless, Black Rose.
What a great album for winter. This release by Coldworld offers the best debut black metal release since Wolves in the Throne Room’shighly-praised, 2006 release Diadem of the Twelve Star. Its strengths reside in unique arrangements, haunting compositions, an interesting variety of instruments, and bleak vocal executions. Coldworld has the ability to know when to be dense and when to be sparsely minimal. Nothing feels out-of-place here. It’s this balance that makes this release so phenomenal. The perfect black metal ambient achievement. Hymn To Eternal Frost is my favorite BM song, period, currently. Absolutely outstanding release.
Album highlights: Tortured By Solitude, Hymn To Eternal Frost, Escape
For Emma, Forever Ago
Bon Iver has done for me this year what Damien Rice’s release “O”did for me in 2002. I was getting over a failed relationship and nothing helped me more, emotionally, than Damien and Lisa. Bon Iver offers a unique, raw, heart-breakingly real piece of work. This is truly one of the best debut albums I’ve heard come along in some time. It’s naked, unforgiving in it’s conviction, vulnerable and sincere. It’s everything I hope to hear in a release (personal heartbreak factoring in or not) and this year it happened to come at the best time. It’s helped me heal a bit on my own journey. I could go on and on about this release but I won’t. This will be a personal favorite of mine for quite sometime. It will resonate throughout my body on those unbearably cold nights.
I will leave you with the background behind the construction of this album. If this doesn’t lead you to consume this masterpiece, I don’t know what will. Read it here
Update: 2/7/11 I’m still in love with this album. There will never be anything quite like it.
Album highlights: Lump Sum, Skinny Love, Creature Fear, re:stacks
So where to start here. I went back and forth on this albums placement in the top 15. In past years, I didn’t even bother actually ranking albums in my year-end best-of-lists, because it requires too much thought and time, but this year I have a blog and it’s worth being extra-anal. I have been waiting for this release, baited by the rumors fluttering around, for over 4 years. I’ve heard a majority of these songs live, many, many times. Here they are actual studio releases, presented in a tighter, more well thought-out package. This is their official debut release as a collective/crew. I believe late in 2007, Doomtree won a name lawsuit over the absolutely awful rock group who were already toting around the Doomtree name (now called Marras Drug) and can officially claim the name, thankfully. In 2007, Doomtree released an album simply titled False Hopes, marking the first proper False Hopes installment to include new material from every member. It mainly served as a band-aid of new material to make their rabid fans happy while the actual S/T crew album was still being recorded.
This official crew record marks Doomtree’s most refined work to date. A beautiful journey into Minneapolis’ most prized hip-hop collective’s thoughts and strengths as a crew. This album gets my number one pick simply because of how great Doomtree is, as a collective and due to the quality of this release, in comparison, to everything else this year. It is no easy task to bring together 5 emcees and 4 producers and make something innovative, introspective and consistently interesting. Especially considering the world of mass-consumed mainstream hip-pop. This album serves as Doomtree’sfirst crowning achievement in a career filled with many subsequent progressively forward-thinking release.
Album highlights: Gander Back, The Wren, Dots and Dashes, Sadie Hawkins, Kid Gloves, Liver Let Die.
- Antony and the Johnsons – Another World EP
- Loquat – Secrets of the Sea
- Doomtree – False Hopes 13
- Russian Circles – Station
- Our Broken Garden – When Your Blackening Shows
- Tobias Hellkvist – Sides
- Cadence Weapon – Afterparty Babies
- French Quarter – S/T
- Nina Kinert – Pets and Friends
- Santogold – S/T
- Call Me Kat – Fall Down
- Gregory and the Hawk – Moenie and Kitchi
- Foals – Antidotes
- Veronica Maggio – Och Vinnaren Ar
- The Black Keys – Attack and Release
- Jake One – White Van Music
- Jeff Hanson – Madam Owl
- The Roots – Rising Down
- Sigur Ros – Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust
- GZA – Pro Tools
- Enslaved – Vertebrae
- Girl Talk – Feed the Animals
- Nadja – The Bungled and the Botched
- The Mars Volta – Bedlam in Goliath
- The Mountain Goats – Black Pear EP
Worst of the year
Here are some releases that shouldn’t have been released and some that just missed-the-mark.
Scarlett Johansson – Anywhere I lay My Head I can’t really find the words to express just how bad this album is. Her delivery doesn’t change between songs, there is no passion, it’s all some monotonous mess of a delivery. It’s like she fell into a coma while singing and never woke up. She would have been better off with more suitable song choices from Waits’ vast discography. She should have stuck to his Asylum years instead of focusing on the Island and Epitaph (Anti) years.
Tom Waits is one of the (if not the best) best songwriters ever and I feel blessed to have discovered his music. I hold his music career and personal values (his privacy and refusal to endorse anything) very high.
Scarlett Johansson might be a very attractive lady, she might even be a talented actress but let’s stop singing.
Kanye West – 808s and Heartbreak I’ll admit that there are some catchy tracks on this. I’ve listened to the album several times and found some of it enjoyable, but find one huge problem with it – the damn auto-tune bullshit. Yeah, we get it, people are smart enough to make a career out of singing now days when they can’t sing well at all. I could have sung the parts on this album and it would’ve sounded great too. The production here is really it’s only saving grace – that and the vocal parts that aren’t blatantly intolerable. I’m sorry you lost your mom over something so materialistic, and I’m sorry about your long-term relationship collapsing but please, if another tragedy happens in your life maybe it would be a good idea to simply produce an album and let some who can sing, actually sing. You have lowered yourself (and that’s tough with your ego) to the ranks of T-Pain with this shitfest.
Nickelback – Dark Horse Mentioning this is enough. Stop making music. We don’t need another release from you guys ever.
Disturbed – Indestructible See Nickelback above. Worst music ever.
Metallica – Death Magnetic See Testament listed above and apply the opposite. You guys stopped making albums after The Black Album.
DragonForce – Ultra Beatdown NO! One trick ponies with bad vocals.
In Flames – A Sense Of Purpose There were some good moments on this, but all-in-all not good enough.
Santogold – S/T This has some good moments but ultimately just isn’t interesting enough. Hopefully her next release will offer a bit more to grab on to. I know this release was widely popular on last.fm but I just don’t get it.
Britney Spears – Circus can’t believe I typed that.