ZME top 50 albums of 2008 [with a bonus]

Coldplay - Viva la Vida


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.
MySpace for Sigur Ros | Buy from Amazon

24. Bullet for my Valentine – Scream, Aim, Fire

As far as I’m concerned, you can take all the Metallica wannabees and throw them straight to the [2 Vicodins later].

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.
MySpace for Bullet for My Valentine | Buy from Amazon

23. Eagles of Death Metal – Heart On

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.
MySpace for Eagles of Death Metal | Buy from Amazon

22. Raconteurs – Consolers of the lonely

The Raconteurs - Conselers 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.
MySpace for The Raconteurs | Buy from Amazon

21. Ryan Adams – Cardinology

Cardinology is the album that will probably establish Ryan Adams as a true country rock legend; his public issues, drug and drinking problems have been clearly overshadow by his musical genius.

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.

MySpace for Ryan Adams | Buy from Amazon

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.

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19. Vampire Weekend – 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
MySpace for Vampire Weekend | Buy from Amazon

18. Bryan Adams – 11

The eleventh album of Bryan Adams shows us that his voice didn’t make a step down, delivering some of the best ballads we’ve ever heard from him. Still, some of the best is not THE BEST.

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.

MySpace for Bryan Adams | Buy from Amazon

17. Death cab for cutie – Narrow stairs

Death Cab For Cutie

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.
MySpace for Death Cab for Cutie | Buy from Amazon

16. My Morning Jacket – Evil Urges

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

Death Magnetic was probably the year’s most awaited album; the first with Trujillo, the first with Rick Rubin, the first that was supposed to truly rock since The Black Album, etc etc etc.

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.

MySpace for Metallica | Buy from Amazon

14. M83 – Saturdays = Youth

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.

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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.

MySpace for Nick Cave and the Badseeds | Buy from Amazon

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

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

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.
MySpace for Kings of Leon | Buy from Amazon

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.
MySpace for R.E.M. | Buy from Amazon

8. TV On The Radio – Dear Science

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.
MySpace for Counting Crows | Buy from Amazon

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.

MySpace for B.B. King | Buy from Amazon

5. Portishead – Third

Portishead - 5

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…
MySpace for Portishead | Buy from Amazon

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 !!
MySpace for AC/DC | Buy from Amazon

3. Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago

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.
MySpace for Jack Johnson | Buy from Amazon

1. Coldplay – Viva la vida

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!
MySpace for Coldplay | Buy from Amazon

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