Every year has it’s own flavor, and when you look down on it, there are somethings that will stand out, that will musically define a year, and those are the things that give the flavor. So when you look back on 2008, what albums will stand out??
Well, 2008 will remain as a year of veterans. Metallica, AC/DC, Motorhead, BB King, they all rocked (and so did others), but it’s safe to say they’re not quite in their youth. Even Jack Johnson, Bon Iver or Coldplay are not the youngest musicians alive. There’s a quite distinct 80s reminiscent smell which is quite hard to describe in words, but if you listen to some of the albums, you’ll know what it’s about.
So without further ado, here are the top 50 albums of the year, arranged in the ZME way. Oh, and we start with a little bonus too.
Bonus – The little album that could
Finally, what was supposed to be the best album of this decade (at least) came out; we all know it, we’ve all heard about it, we’ve been expecting it for 14 years. Fourteen years !! That’s twice the age of your average guitar hero player. So after 14 years we end up with this?? Nooo, no, no, Axl, you’re not getting away this cheap.
All the jokes that VH1 made about this album, the fuss Rolling Stone created, the Dr Pepper thing, it’s all marketing and pop culture. That’s why it hit the top 20 on Rolling Stone 2008, that’s why you’ll see the favorable Amazon reviews; because people have been hearing everywhere about this album and they divide into two parts: those who want it to be great, who want to believe that 14 years of waiting haven’t been in vain, and the MTV fans. Let me try to put this another way.
We’ve all seen the Matrix right?? It was like a sea side, cool and wavy, flawless. You wanted the sequels to be so great, you expected them sooo much and… well, they sucked. Well maybe individually they wouldn’t suck, but coming as sequels, with so big expectations… they sucked. So OK, you’re doing fine without Slash and Izzy, but it’s not the instrumental parts that make it so bad, it’s you Axl. It’s… funk blues ?? Is that supposed to be a good thing from a band that called themselves “the best rock band in the world” ?? This was a time to show that you’re not just an overweight pompous metal head with a bad hairstyle. You failed.
50. The Oaks – Songs For Waiting
49. Duffy – Rockferry
48. Girl Talk – Feed The Animals
47. Black Stone Cherry – Folklore and Superstition
46. The Mars Volta – The Bedlam In Goliath
45. Shinedown – The Sound of Madness
44. Elbow – The Seldom Seen Kid
43. Scott Weiland – Happy in Galoshes
42. MGMT – Oracular Spectacular
41. Santogold – Santogold
40. Morcheeba – Dive Deep
39. Ringo Starr – Liverpool 8
38. Okkervil River – The Stand-Ins
37. Flavors of Entanglement – Alanis Morissette
36. Xiu Xiu – Women As Lovers
35. Randy Newman – Harps & Angels
34. Goldfrapp – Seventh Tree
33. Oasis – Dig out your soul
32. Mudcrutch – Mudcrutch
31. Opeth – Watershed
30. The Black Keys – Attack & Release
29. Uriah Heep – Wake the Sleeper
28. Hot Chip – Made In The Dark
27. Kamelot – Ghost Opera the 2nd coming
26. Department of Eagles – In Ear Park
25. Sigur Ros – Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaus
In June 2008, Sigur Ros the first album to feature a track sung in English. Similar to their previous albums, this too sounds weird, fascinating, and … we can’t understand almost anything from it; it has a NSFW cover too. The Icelandic band continues to depart from classic rock in a rather playful manner, as you could guess from the title: Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust. Just messing with you, it means With Buzzing in Our Ears We Play Endlessly. For them, there is no middle road, there is no such thing as man sized; for them, everything is displayed at an epic scale, which is quite original, but makes it hard to create a continuous feel through the whole album. Also, I don’t agree with the post-rock label some have applied to them. Rock is not dead my friends.
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24. Bullet for my Valentine – Scream, Aim, Fire
I’m not a big fan of all the Nu Metal stage, but with their 2nd release, BFMV managed to somehow distrance themselves from the pack; despite their influences are quite noticeable, they clearly managed to make a big step forward. They rocketed their 2nd album, with some big hooks and catchy choruses, but they’re also very aggresive, blending the screaming with the melodic parts with a skill that clearly shows their songwriting and musicianship have developed consistently since their debut.
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23. Eagles of Death Metal – Heart On
There are a lot of good bands out there. Some get the recognition they deserve, some spend all their career playing in a shabby music club. So yeah, I guess you could name a lot of names better then the incredible Eagles of Death Metal, but could you name any funnier bands? Thought so, too.
The rocking duo made out of childhood friends, Josh Homme (QOTSA) and Jesse ‘The Devil’ Hughes, made a few awesome satirical takes on various aspects of the music scene, showbiz and society in general, during their last studio efforts, but on their most recent stuff, “Heart On,” they take it all to a whole different level. With “Heart On” the band brings back that ’70s slizziness into rock’n’roll and puts out a record packed with loads of fun, although long time fans might get a bit irritateted by the here and there new found maturity.
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22. Raconteurs – Consolers of the lonely
Jack White’s side project, The Raconteurs, caused a lot of hype back in 2006, with their very solid debut “Broken Boy Soldiers” – an LP packed with retro riffs and garage beats. What it lacked, however, was Jack White’s brilliance, with which he so often shines with The Stripes. I believe Jack didn’t want to over-shine his other band mates, especially his co-frontman Brendan Benson – a very capable musician, nevertheless.
On “Consolers of the Lonely” things are a lot different, though. You can feel Jack White’s hand over almost every track, although almost all the band members actively contributed to the material. Dynamic riffs, fuzzy distortions, layered vocals and a perpetual feeling of going off the rails makes Consolers of the Lonely a great rock record.
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21. Ryan Adams – Cardinology
It is here that he conjured all of his musical skills to deliver perhaps the best album that he ever produced. You may think that’s no big deal since he’s just 34, but this is already his 10th album ever. Classic country rock.
20. Beck – Modern Guilt
It’s official ladies and gentlemen, Beck has hit musical middle age crisis. He begans to wonder what his soul is made of, how it will be like to meet his maker, and how important everything really is. I mean come on, Rolling Stone told us that Aristotle is his BFF on myspace.
All in all, this has to be some of the strangest work he’s ever done, and that means something. Oh, and some of the best.
19. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend
With recording sets such as a barn or a basement, you know you’re dealing with a low budget, unconventional indie band, although a lot less elitist then most of the other bands in the scene. Yes, I’m talking about those crazy kids, Vampire Weekend!
To be frank most indie bands today look and sound the same. You know, their either layering sounds upon sounds to look as artsy as possible, although they sound like crap, or either put a few lame ass lyrics and two string melody and hope to get on the next iPod commercial. Vampire Weekend are different, though, and their debut record is enough to atest this – it’s fun, energetic and filled party starters.
Yes, they may be a bit overrated (probably the most blogged about band of the year), but know Vampire Weekend are more than a pack of upper class Manhattan rich kids
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18. Bryan Adams – 11
I’ve never been a big fan of Bryan Adams in general, but a few songs just rock. There’s no Summer of 69 here, but the stadiums will definitely be filled when he starts going on a tour, no matter how big they are.
17. Death cab for cutie – Narrow stairs
It’s been 3 years since DCFC singed to a major label, after first appearing on the OC, sold a million copies with their fifth record, “Plans,” and more or less passed to more mature ground. This being most obvious on this latest effort, “Narrow Stairs,” a more melancholic, somewhat darker album,compared to their previous material, but still covering a wide range of catchy pop tunes.
“I Will Possess Your Heart,” in example, is an epic 8 minute piano, guitar shimmering track, that kinda towers the whole album and, in a way, describes a new direction the band has taken. A more mature, maybe coherent one, maybe. Either way, we had loads of fun with “Narrow Stairs,” and to this day, 7-8 months after its release, I still spin it and feel like’s the first time I’ve did it.
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16. My Morning Jacket – Evil Urges
This is definitely not an album that immediately grabes you like, for say, “Z” or “It Still Moves,” know this. However, when spinned around 4-5 even 6 times, MMJ’s “Evil Urges,” can really turn into a gem for all those good of heart and patient enough.
I can only imagine how fans were, at first, undoubtedly frustrated by Evil Urges, by its new, hip and diverse sound, but I know those who trully love the band, stood by it and eventually learned to like it. You know, it’s one of those weird albums, that you find to be terrible mediocre at starters, until it grows on you. Oh, and how it grows!
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15. Metallica – Death Magnetic
To cut a long story short, this album rocks; it’s no Kill’em All, it’s no Ride the Lightning, but it rocks. There’s been enough ink spilled for this album so I’m not going to add anymore to that, except for the fact this album made Metallica the only band EVER to get five consecutive number one debuts.
14. M83 – Saturdays = Youth
M83’s Anthony Gonzalez has quite the special skill; he can take seemingly outdated music, adds a bit of his own special ingredients, mix it up and come up with a tasty blend of new sound, ready to be devoured by any music aficionado.
In his fifth studio recording, “Saturdays = Youth”, Anthony took influences of the kind of ’80s silly synth pop and turned them into a beautiful collection of new wave/pop songs, that simply lifts you up.
13. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Dig Lazarus, Dig
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds are another band of veterans, and we mean that in a good way; they have a whole lot of experience, and Nick Cave managed to put the biblical tale of Lazarus into a modern context. Here’s a little something we got from his website, that pretty much summarizes the album:
I’ve taken Lazarus and stuck him in New York City, in order to give the song, a hip, contemporary feel. I was also thinking about Harry Houdini who spent a lot of his life trying to debunk the spiritualists who were cashing in on the bereaved. He believed there was nothing going on beyond the grave. He was the second greatest escapologist, Harry was, Lazarus, of course, being the greatest.
12. Motorhead – Motorizer
Well, there you have it. The 24th album (19th studio) by Motorhead is top notch, and it can easily stand with their finest. It seems that Lemmy and the boys are on a mission to show the world that true rock is ageless.
The songs are hard, heavy, sleezy, and even… funny. Yes, British humour is a must, and this album wouldn’t be so amazing without it. The days of the Ace of Spades are long gone (for more than 20 years !!), but they still kick ass; they still have the ability to create the kind of power that just gets you moving, and the hooks are oh so present. You know what you get; you get Motorhead.
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11. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes
OK! This is seriously one of the best musical debuts I’ve heard in years and years.
When I first picked Fleet Foxes’ self-titled debut, I was expecting a really indie “as they get” record, instead I was surprised to find a really warm and totally different from anything I expected LP. They play, what I’ve heard is called, “baroque pop,” combined with contemporary indie and ’60s West Coast pop (hence their Beach Boys-like harmonies), the end result being, quite surprisingly, a brilliant mashup of eclectic, soothing songs. It would be even higher ranked in our top, if it wasn’t for the crappy production work, tho. Real pity. Still, man, what a debut!
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10. Kings Of Leon – Only By The Night
No doubt about it, the Nashville siblings are on a roll! After just, subsequently, releasing “Because of the Times” last year (which also got in our 2007 Top #50), the Kings of Leon are back with an even more solid effort, albeit very different.
Some people might call them sell outs, I’ll be more objective and say they’ve just made shift in their direction and priorities. They’re a lot more stadium friendly, I’ll give you that, but with “Only by the Night” the Tennessee kings manage to deliever a bunch of U2-like tracks (you know, cigarette lighters in the air, shouting and chorus sing alongs), while avoiding false subtleties you often see in mainstream bands
Think maybe what’s important to note, however, is that it’s the mark of a great band when each new album is better than the one before it, and with “Only by the Night,” Kings of Leon shows once more just how great a band it has become.
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9. R.E.M. – Accelerate
This year was definitely one of already established artists; with Accelerate, REM departs from the direction they approached with 2004’s Around the Sun, which didn’t go as well as it should have, according to the artists themselves, and they knew they had to do something big. Peter Buck states:
“Even Michael [Stipe] was going, ‘Y’know, if we make another bad record, it’s over.’ It’s like, ‘No kidding.'”
. Good thing is, it was great. The album makes fun of apocalyptic paranoia, but still stays just a bit political, hinting that they’re still so much more that they have yet to say. It’s just reinvigorating, in a year where so many songs were tiring and redundant. It’s like a cold shower on a not so sunny day.
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8. TV On The Radio – Dear Science
NYC has a lot to thank for TV on the Radio. After all, they’re the ones that finally re-opened the scene, since The Strokes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs dimmed down, and with three albums in the last four years, one could say TVOTR brought some value.
What’s interesting to note, however, is their reluctance to turn in more commercial material, even though they signed to a major label, when they released their 2006 “Return to Cookie Mountain.” TVOTR, however, have stayed willfully weird, a mix of soul-punk and avant doo-wop, a mix which made them terribly intriguing, but at the same time a bit inaccessible.
“Dear Science,” this year’s TVOTR new album, follows the same mix. Inaccessible, yet brilliant – that’s why Dear Science, like every TVOTR album for that matter, needs a lot, and I mean LOT, of patience. All you have to do is give it a little bit of time to sink in. When it does, the intricate music, addictive drum machines and lyrics THAT ACTUALLY MAKE SENSE will pull you in. Every song fits almost perfectly, the album soars to a height from the first song and stays there until the very last note of track eleven.
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7. The Counting Crows – Saturday nights and Sunday mornings
The Crows have been one of the most inventive and original bands of the past 20 years, delivering everything from hard rock to the bone to easy warm ballads, with lyrics that vary from gibberish to bloody brilliant, it seemed they’d done it all. That is, until Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings came out. It showed yet another side of them, and according to Adam [lead singer], here’s what it’s about:
it’s about a flood of sin and liquor and dissolution and insanity and it’s about trying to rebuild the life you wrecked in the wake of that flood.
It’s divided into two parts, pretty different one from another in a way, but very similar in the other way. Saturday Nights is hard, it is just surprisingly fast, heavy and scrappy, while Sunday mornings is quiet, peaceful and relaxing. If you’ve listened to their previous work, you’ll definitely appreciate this album, and if you haven’t, this is the great work to start listening. It’s emotion with no limits, wonderfuly poured into 12 gems.
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6. B.B. King – One kind favor
That’s why the man is a king; not too fast, not too slow, just strolling along a river with Lucille gently humming and guiding you along the way. It’s really hard to say anything about this album, and as an aspiring guitarist, I have to say it is mind blowing by any standard you may have.
The simplicity of it all, the quality and inspiration behind the musicianship makes it hard for anyone who understands what he’s listening to talk about it. It’s BB King at its best and he’s been singing for 50 years !! So I won’t add any more to that. You should enjoy this, definitely.
5. Portishead – Third
Muscular synthesisers, drum breaks and abrupt endings keeping the tension high. In a few words this is how Portishead’s third studio release, suggestively titled “Third,” sounds like. An amalgam of noise, distortions and Eastern Bloc minimalism is what the first listener might perceive, but in truth it’s much for that that. It’s dark, it’s raw and it’s fascinating, to say the least.
It’s enough to stay past the sheer brilliance of “We Carry On” (one of the many stellar tracks off Third) to understand what I’m talking about.
It’s the most haunting albums of Portishead. Brilliantly complicated and emotional. To put it simple, the combination alt-rock+electronic music has never sounded so fresh like “Third” does…
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4. AC/DC – Black Ice
Black Ice has got to be the best comeback of the year, and if, sadly, AC/DC were to decide that they don’t want to record anything else, it would be the best last album of a band. It sold 1,762,000 units in its first week, going straight to the first place in 29 different countries.
This album also goes to show how versatile they are, adding aside from the heavy metal/hard rock riffs clear elements of a variety of genres, including soul. All songs were written by the Young brothers, who also showed some hidden skills. For example, Angus plays slide guitar, on “Stormy May Day”. Still, as some have so eloquently put it, evolution is for suckers. No lazy ass ballads, no going mainstream, no weird instruments, all that is a joke; everything from sex and drugs to politics and society is a joke. Rock however, is sacred.
The chemistry of rock is impossible to descipher if you’re not worthy. The Malcom brothers throw nitroglicerine at each other, making a guitar duel worthy of a Dumas novel. Power chords become knives, drums kick the hell out of you, every bass note blows your mind like a mind eraser. Brian Johnson’s voice is as hard to understand as ever, and some lyrics are bloody hard to understand, but man can he rock. For the first time it seems like there ‘s not a vein breaking when he goes for the high notes.
To those who always rock… we salute you !!
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3. Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago
Meet Justin Vernon, better known by his moniker of Bon Iver – possibly the most brilliant new name of 2008. His success is quite easy to replicate, actually, if you’re looking to put out the best debut of the year. It’s simple: boy gets heartbroken, boy ‘shelters’ himself from all the pain by isolating himself in his parent’s deep mountain hunting lodge, boy writes heart moving songs, boy releases “For Emma, Forever Ago.” Be advised, not everyone is Justin Vernon, tho.
Not only is Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago a fitting album for people who love terrific, tranquil music but it is essential for anyone who is even remotely serious about music. What Vernon accomplished is simple to feel, yet complex and arduous to illustrate.
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2. Jack Johnson – Sleep Through The Static
This album could easily be the best of the year. Jack Johnson is an ex pro surfer. He’s a green activist, and he’s just as creative and full of resources as the best songwriters ever. Sadly, the complexity hidden between his simple lyrics is often misunderstood, or not understood at all.
It would make absolutely no sense at all to talk about his musicianship and songwriting, because they easily rise up to those of Bob Dylan or Cat Stevens. I’d like to see the man talk about his own music as if it weren’t his own, because he’d do a way better job at it than I’m going to do now. It’s an album about establishing a family, about making kids, about time and space, about war, but most important, it’s about you. Yeah, you. It’s about what your role is in society, and how that role differs from the role that society has for you. It’s a rain that doesn’t put out your fire, but directs your fire into burning only the weed from your garden, leaving it clean for you to plant healthy plants. It’s an album that seems childish, but if you understand it, it’s actually humbling.
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1. Coldplay – Viva la vida
If someone told me, a year ago, a Coldplay album would get to be on top of our year-end list, I’d simply laugh in his face, after politely stating ‘you, sir, are an idiot.’ Life is strange though, and faith has often made a habit of mocking us. Yes, “Viva La Vida or Death And All His Friends,” Coldplay’s latest album, is #1, numero uno, the big kahuna and all that shizzle. And, to be honest, the band fully deserves this.
At my first listen of the album, a slight feeling of shock engulfed me, as it sounded to different, while feeling so familiar at the same time (Chris Martin’s voice is hard to confuse). Make no mistake, the songs are still relatively meant for the masses, definite arena pleasers, but the songs structure and shape have changed dramatically.
It appears Chris Martin was not bluffing when he told reporters the band was throwing out their old tricks to learn new ones, fact most evident with every listen of Viva la Vida. Not only do the songs sound pretty different from one another (Coldplay was pretty guilty of this with its previous stuff), but the band itself has explored a wide array of never before touched upon genres – gospel, prog rock, alt rock, ambiental, lounge, space rock.
Then there’s the album’s theme. Coldplay’s always been a bit nostalgic, maybe melancholic, but Viva la Vida is quite dark; beautifully dark. Viva La Vida shows Coldplay taking risks that the general public never suspected they would ever take, and having a ball doing it. The result is easily Coldplay’s best album to date, a record filled with exuberance, charm, and the heart they’ve been feigning for years.
In all seriousness, Coldplay has successfully evolved into more than just a pop band with a gimmick; much like Radiohead’s evolution with ‘The Bends’, The Who’s evolution with ‘Tommy’, or Muse’s evolution with ‘Origin of Symmetry,’ and, in doing so, have managed to deliver a masterpiece!
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