9. The Cool Kids – The Bake Sale – Rap output in recent memory, with few exceptions, has just been a constant parade of the same old crap – apparently Rap is the new pop, with artists focusing more on their entrepreneurial ventures than their music. The Cool Kids take things in a different direction with 80’s nostalgia and songs glamorizing only having $5 to your name. They already jab those who are certain to copycat their style, almost challenging their peers to figure out their own style instead of following the crowd. The Rasheed Wallace shout out didn’t hurt my opinion of them either. Key tracks: What up Man, 88, Bassment Party, A Little Bit Cooler
8. Devotchka – A Mad and Faithful Telling – There really just isn’t a band around quite like Devotchka. This album is rich with beautiful, instantly classic songs that will make you want to dance like a whirling dervish while drinking red wine out of the bottle. Devotchka has been a favorite of mine for some time, but the album is their strongest output to date. Devotchka’s songs really span the spectrum of human emotion – anger, frustration, shame, regret, joy, futility, ecstasy – while transporting you to another place and time. Painfully beautiful, Devotchka’s music makes me feel as though my heart is about to swell and burst. It’s so easy to get lost in the highs and lows while listening to this album.
7. Coldplay – Viva la Vida or Death and All his Friends – I’m going to skip over the obligatory part where I’m supposed to apologize for liking Coldplay here – I have all of their albums and I’m an out-of-the closet Coldplay aficionado. In their previous releases they have established an easily predictable formula that works for them, but Viva la Vida steps outside of their comfort zone. The result is glorious. This is one of those albums you will want to listen to in its entirely – the flow between songs is flawless and as a whole it engulfs you in Chris Martin’s imaginary empire. Martin was quoted earlier this year saying “We owe our career to Radiohead”. Personally I think he underestimates himself, but it’s refreshing to hear a musician of his scale giving credits to those who have influenced his sound instead of acting like he developed his music in some kind of vacuum and invented rock music (I’m looking at you, Brandon Flowers!).
6. Nine Inch Nails – Ghosts I-IV and The Slip – Both of this year’s NIN releases make my list based purely on innovation. First, NIN released Ghosts online only – but not only did we get all of the Ghosts tracks, we got a multimedia pack and custom artwork associated with each song. Ghosts itself is an interesting concept – each track is designed to evoke the feeling of being in a specific place. One of Trent Reznors’ collaborators on the album was Dresden Dolls’ Brian Viglione, and apparently Trent had him create a drum kit made of trash and random items from Home Depot – Trent preferred its sounds to the traditional kit so that’s what ended up on the album. The whole set of tracks sounds like the soundtrack for a yet unmade David Lynch film. THEN, Trent made Radiohead look like a bunch of cheap bastards by giving away The Slip online completely free (no donations accepted!!!) – AND with custom artwork for each track as well! The Slip was a major rebound for Trent after Year Zero’s chilly reception and its tracks sound simply fantastic live. Not to mention that their Lollapalooza live set was the best NIN show I have seen to date – and I have been to quite a few NIN shows, including dates on the club tour for With Teeth. In today’s world of corporate rock, it is so refreshing to see an established artist like Trent go to such great lengths to surprise and delight their fans. Key tracks: 1,000,000, Lights in the Sky
5. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend – How can you not like Vampire Weekend? It just makes you want to throw on a polo and boat shoes and go party on a yacht. Yet somehow it manages to portray the snooty New England vibe without seeming overly pretentious. This album just could not be more fun to listen to. Since this has been on practically every list in either 07 or 08 I will stop there.
3. The Raconteurs – Counselors of the Lonely – I don’t hold it as any secret that as a fellow Michigander, I worship all that is Jack White so keep in mind this review is entirely skewed. That said – I thought Broken Boy Soldiers was a solid album, but in Counselors of the Lonely the Raconteurs went completely off the reservation, exploring new sounds with exciting results. Yet while being completely different, the album still manages to keep the same gritty southern rock vibe I liked so much from their debut. The Raconteurs’ wear their country and blues influences on their sleeves, but they consistently churn out crisp new riffs and sounds that make the album as a whole one of the most innovative rock efforts in recent memory. Key tracks: The Switch and the Spur, Five on the Five, Rich Kid Blues, Many Shades of Black
2. Nick Cave & The Bas Seeds – Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! – I fell hard for this album on the first listen. At points Cave’s wit makes me laugh, at other points his sensitive side makes me feel like weeping, at other times his libido makes me want to grab a glass of whiskey and dance on a table. You definitely can’t pin down this album as one note. To top it off, his live performance was simply stunning. Songs that kind of faded on the album came to life in a whole new way live, with a wall of sound from the Seeds and a voice that somehow growls and soothes simultaneously from Cave. Hard to believe that a band that has been around for nearly 2 ½ decades can put out something that sounds so new and fresh. Key tracks: Hold on to Yourself, We Call Upon the Author to Explain, Today’s Lesson, Midnight Man
1. Amanda Palmer – Who Killed Amanda Palmer? – I love the Dresden Dolls, but was thrilled to see what Palmer would put together without any of the self-imposed restrictions of the Dolls’ punk cabaret duality. She did not disappoint. It’s no secret that Palmer is an excellent songwriter, and she certainly hadn’t used up all her creative juices when it came to putting out her solo disk (my personal favorite line from Ampersand: “The ghetto boys are cat-calling me as I pull my keys from my pocket. I wonder if this method of courtship has ever been effective? Has any girl in history said, ‘Sure, you seem so nice. Let’s get it on’? Still I always shock them when I answer, ‘Hi, my name’s Amanda’”). Ben Folds’ production guidance is evident on this album, in a good way – obviously he knows how to work her piano playing into larger bands with numerous instruments. I think this album will make everyone happy, with moments of big-scale bombast (Leeds United), sing-along rock (Guitar Hero), and the simplicity of beautiful pared-down songwriting she has become known for (Strength through Music). I saw her in London (highly recommend her live show) and she told an interesting story. When she brought in the video for Leeds United (which features her in basically a bra and suit jacket) her record execs told her they’d like to make a few tweaks – basically they though her exposed midriff was too pudgy and they wanted to airbrush her for the final cut. She questioned, had these people actually listened to her album and did they understand what she was all about? I mean, who do they think she is….Britney fucking Spears? She clearly is not, as all of these songs are instantly relatable, probably a result of Amanda keeping both feet on the ground by personally taking the time to meet with any fans who care to stay around after the show (I bought her a beer in London, and got an autograph and picture – highlight of the trip!).
Leeds United video - you decide if Amanda is "too fat":
Extremely close runner-ups…if only I had more spots to give!
Flogging Molly – Float – A kick ass Irish punk rock album with beautifully written songs. The only reason this didn’t make it on is that it’s just not a ton different than their previous releases. It’s certainly their best album since Drunken Lullabies, though. Key tracks: (No More) Paddy’s Lament. Float, Punch Drunk Grinning Soul, Man with No Country
The Ting Tings – We Started Nothing – Extremely fun dance album. Terrific effort from 2 newbies. Key Tracks: Great DJ, That’s Not My Name, Shut Up and Let me Go
Electric Six – Flashy – An awesome comeback after last year’s disappointment. Their schtick is fun and dancy once again. Definitely download “Flashy Man” and play it frequently at house parties.
Del the Funky Homo Sapien – Eleventh Hour – Classic Del. As always, innovative and fun with fresh beats. Del is definitely an industry exception of great rap that doesn’t fit into any stereotypes. Key tracks: Bubble Pop, Naked Fonk, Hold your Hand
The Streets – Everything is Borrowed – Mike Skinner gets environmental on your ass. Change your ways, lest ye go the way of the dodo! I love that he constantly evolves his subject matter. Key tracks: Heaven for the Weather, The Way of the Dodo, On the Edge of a Cliff, Never Give in, Alleged Legends, The Strongest Person I Know
Guns N' Roses – Chinese Democracy – As a hardcore GNR fan, I was pretty stunned with Axl finally stuck to a release date. Is it great enough to justify the amount of time he took to make this? Well, not quite…but he did put together a pretty great rock album, and it definitely lets everyone know that as crazy as Axl may be, he can also be genius sometimes. Hey, even Slash liked it:
Honorable Mentions: AC/DC – Black Ice, Beck – Modern Guilt, The Dresden Dolls – No, Virginia, The Ravonettes – Lust Lust Lust, Sigur Ros - Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum End, Pink – Funhouse (don’t judge me, she will save pop music!!)
Biggest 08 Disappointments:
Eagles of Death Metal – Heart On – EODM should stick to what they are great at, and that does NOT include sappy breakup songs. I hope to never hear the word “love” mentioned by Jesse Boots Electric again. This came off as a little over-produced – I like my EODM raw and loud. But I caught a drumstick at their concert, so I forgive them for this misstep. There are still good tracks, like Wannabe in LA and Secret Plans
Monkey – Journey to the West – Thus far I have been pretty trusting of Damon Albarn’s talent and taste. Monkey ended that lifetime streak. I really don’t know what to say about this. I don’t know if it even classifies as music so much as a collection of sounds. I gave up after 2 spins. It’s almost unlistenable.
Best Comedy Album:
Flight of the Conchords – Flight of the Conchords – Absolutely gut-bustingly hilarious, whether you are a fan of the show or not. Listening to this album will instantly improve your day. Plus dudes know enough about different genres to appropriately skewer each one of them, form reggae to electro to R&B to rap to pop. Key tracks: Foux du Fafa, Hiphopopoatmus, vs. Rhymenocerous, Robots, A Kiss is Not a Contract, The Most Beautiful Girl (in the Room), Business Time, Bowie
“Business Time” Live:
Best Video: Amanda Palmer “Oasis” – Jesus Hates You!