Overall, I thought it was an excellent year, at least for the kinds of music that I like. There were several other albums that might have been worthy of top-ten status in other years, but just didn’t quite make the cut this time around. The only spectacluar failure of 2008 in my book was Madonna’s “Hard Candy,” in all likelihood her worst album in 25 years of making them.
But why dwell on the failures; let’s talk about the successes:
1. Tell Tale Signs, Bob Dylan. An amazing compilation of outtakes and alternate versions of songs recorded 1989-present, the period of Dylan’s great renaissance. Since 1989, Dylan has recorded 5 albums of original material, two of which are very good (Oh Mercy and Under the Red Sky) and three of which (Time Out of Mind, Love and Theft, and Modern Times) are bonafide masterpieces. To add icing to the cake, he also recorded two great albums of classic folk songs – just Dylan, on guitar and harmonica.
I wrote about the album here, referring to it as an “accidental masterpiece.” Whatever you want to call it, it was far and away the best album of 2008.
Video: “Dreamin’ of You”
2. Fleet Foxes. Gorgeous melodies, beautiful vocals, terrific musicianship, and an album that maintained a consistent tone and sound from start to finish. More than just a collection of songs, it was greater than the sum of its parts, and it was the album I turned to most often when I wanted to be transported away from the day-to-day world. My original review (of sorts) can be found here.
3. The Baseball Project. An irresistible combination for someone like myself, who loves both rock ‘n roll and baseball. I wrote about the album here.
4. Vampire Weekend. When I first wrote about it, I called the review “Tastes Great, Less Filling.” But in the end the album won me over – it may be light as a feather, but the hooks feel as if they’ll still be potent years from now. And I enjoyed it more than anything else on my MP3 player while running.
5. Accelerate, R.E.M. As I wrote here, the old boys still have a thing or two up their sleeve. Their best album since 1991’s Automatic for the People.
6. Momofuku, Elvis Costello. Probably not quite as good as I initmated in my original review, but still his strongest album in many years.
7. Acid Tongue, Jenny Lewis. Still on a roll after last year’s great Rilo Kiley album, Lewis this year came up with her strongest solo LP to date. The highlight was “The Next Messiah,” which upon first hearing I likened to a three-act play.
8. Asking for Flowers, Kathleen Edwards. When I first wrote about it here, I didn’t think it was her best album. Now I think it probably is, and that what first kept me from that estimation was the length and depth of many of the songs – which take some time to get into and fully appreciate. The highlights were the extraordinary “Alicia Ross,” in which Edwards assumes the identity of a murder victim and what she must have been thinking in her final moments, and the great rocker “The Cheapest Key.”
Video: “The Cheapest Key”
9. Solo Acoustic Vol. 2, Jackson Browne, which I first wrote about here. Browne also released Time the Conqueror this year, his first solo album in years, but even though it was a good album I preferred his second acoustic live set.
10. Mudcrutch. Which I wrote about here. Proof that you really can go back to your high school days and have a good time in the process.
Honorable Mention: Cardinology, Ryan Adams and the Cardinals; Modern Guilt, Beck; Last Night, Moby; Time the Conqueror, Jackson Browne; Viva La Vida, Coldplay; Just A Little Lovin’, Shelby Lynne; Jukebox, Cat Power; Blame It On Gravity, Old 97’s; Little Honey, Lucinda Williams; Dear Science, TV on the Radio; Lust Lust Lust, The Raveonettes; Consolers of the Lonely, The Raconteurs; Keep It Simple, Van Morrison, Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings, Counting Crows; Real Animal, Alejandro Escovedo.
Subjects for Further Research (i.e., I just bought them): Bon Iver, Blitzen Trapper.