Best Albums of 2008

2008 might have been another year of downward growth in sales for the music industry, but from a creative standpoint there were many great records to choose from.  The return of seminal 90s bands Portishead and The Verve were most welcome.  Trent Reznor released two new albums online with almost no notice, and they were both terrific.   Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” became the most instantly memorable single of the year, and its accompanying album “I Am… Sasha Fierce” was the best of her career.  New artists like Fleet Foxes, Adele, Duffy and MGMT had critics applauding, while legends like Paul McCartney, Lindsey Buckingham, Grace Jones and The Pretenders all surfaced with their best albums in years.  All in all 2008 wasn’t the best musical year of the decade by any stretch of the imagination, but there were plenty of great albums to keep music fans occupied.

The Best 10:

1. The Dears – “Missiles”
The Dears veered in a different direction in 2008, going for a bare-bones approach reminiscent of The Cure’s “Seventeen Seconds,” David Bowie’s “Low” or John Lennon’s “Plastic Ono Band.”   “Missiles” is somber and restrained, tautly emotional and completely engrossing.   Murray Lightburn sings with feverish intensity and passion, and it’s obvious the songs are deeply personal.   Key track: “Meltdown in A Minor”

2. Portishead – “Third”
Beth Gibbons, Geoff Barrow and Adrian Utley returned in 2008 after an 11 year hiatus, and they did not disappoint.  “Third” is as otherwordly and gripping as anything they’ve ever done.    They don’t retread the melancholy trip-hop of their prior work, instead moving into even darker, almost industrial territory.  “Third” is consistently compelling, and hopefully it won’t take another 11 years for its follow-up.   Key track:  “The Rip”

3. R.E.M. – “Accelerate”
In 2008 the alt-rock legends released their best straight rock album since “Document” hit big 20 years ago.    “Accelerate” finds R.E.M. playing loose and raw, with much more energy than their last record, the restrained and dour “Around the Sun.”  Key track:  “Supernatural Superserious”

4. The Verve – “Forth”
Lush progressive brit-rock with terrific hooks and a stellar production, “Forth” has so many layers that every listen reveals something new.   The Verve’s first album in 11 years is a hypnotic tour de force, with some of the best songwriting of Richard Ashcroft’s career.   Key track:  “Love is Noise.”

5. Grace Jones – “Hurricane”
Wicked and funky, just like Ms. Jones herself, “Hurricane” has a stripped down timeless quality which sounds perfectly in sync with her best work of the late 70s, early 80.   Mixing reggae, pop and R&B seamlessly, “Hurricane” is the best Grace Jones record in at least 25 years.   Key track: “William’s Blood”

6. Fleet Foxes – “Fleet Foxes”
Beautiful harmonies, lush acoustic arrangements, and superb songwriting define the full-length debut by Seattle’s “Fleet Foxes.”   If Arcade Fire merged with Nickel Creek and wrote a batch of killer songs, it would sound something like this.   It’s a cliché, but in this case it couldn’t be more true:  Fleet Foxes is a breath of fresh air.  Key track:  “White Winter Hymnal”

7. Kings of Leon – Only By The Night
A soulful, blistering rock album by a terrific band hitting their prime.   Caleb Followill’s vocals recall many of the great Southern Rock bands of the 70s, but musically they lean more towards modern alternative rock.  An interesting hybrid sound that works so well thanks to the outstanding songwriting.   Key track:  “Sex on Fire.”

8. The Pretenders – “Break Up The Concrete”
Chrissie Hynde keeps cranking out terrific rock nearly 30 years after The Pretenders’ legendary debut.   They aren’t selling like they did in their 80’s heyday, but the best moments of “Break Up the Concrete” rank up with anything they did in their glory days.   Key track:  “Nothing Maker”

9.  TV On the Radio – “Dear Science,”
“Dear Science” is an odd mix of funk, electronica and discordant alternative rock that ends up sounding completely unique.   TV On the Radio is always interesting from a sonic standpoint and their music requires multiple listens to penetrate sometimes, but its ultimately worth the time.   Key track:  “Golden Age”

10. Sarah Slean – “The Baroness”
“The Baroness” is dark piano rock with a strong theatrical twist.  Slean’s expressive voice works beautifully over a collection of songs that are part haunted 60s torch song and part mellowed-out PJ Harvey.   Key track:  “Shadowland”

The Best of the Rest:

11.  Gnarls Barkley – “The Odd Couple”
12.  Lindsey Buckingham – “Gift of Screws”
13.  Mercury Rev – “Snowflake Midnight”
14.  Nine Inch Nails – “The Slip”
15.  David Byrne  & Brian Eno – Everything That Happens Will Happen Today
16.  Rachael Yamagata – “Elephants… Teeth Sinking Into Heart”
17.  Lucinda Williams – “Little Honey”
18.  Bloc Party – “Intimacy”
19.  Adele – "19"
20.  The Fireman – "Electric Arguments"

Honorable Mentions:

Pink – “Funhouse”
Beyonce – “ Am… Sasha Fierce”
Alanis Morissette – “Flavors of Entanglement”
MGMT – “Oraculoar Spectacular”
Bauhaus – “Go Away White”
Santogold – “Santogold”
The Drones – “Havilah”
The Cure – “4:13 Dream”
Casey Stratton – “Signs of Life”
Oasis – “Dig Out Your Soul”
The Raconteurs – “Consolers of the Lonely”
Kd lang – “Watershed”
Kaiser Chiefs – “Off With Their Heads”
Eric Avery – “Help Wanted”
Counting Crows – “Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings”
Cat Power – “Jukebox”
Black Crowes – “Warpaint”
The B-52’s – “Funplex”
Love is All – “A Hundred Things Keep Me Up at Night”
My Morning Jacket – “Evil Urges”
Duffy – “Rockferry”
* Note – Radiohead – “In Rainbows” not eligible, as it initially appeared for official release online in 2007.

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