With great music available from more places than ever, it's been a hard year to keep up. So much good music, so little time. Better than lots of time and nothing but a handful of crap to listen to.
In no particular order, the ten 2008 albums that I did find the most time to love:
"Evil Urges" - My Morning Jacket
What a fun record. So much variety. All of it great. Particularly love "Thank You Too!"
"Fleet Foxes" - Fleet Foxes
What a revelation. Beach Boys meet Arcade Fire. Beautiful harmonies, songs, arrangements. The Pabst Theater show was truly amazing. The songs were a sad but comforting and somehow appropriate backdrop while contemplating the premature passing of a friend this year.
"Vampire Weekend" - Vampire Weekend
Was that this year? Seems like longer ago, but it really came out in early 2008. A fun record. Infectious. Their age and backstory make me root for them. A great Turner Hall show, btw.
"The Shaming of The True" - John Sieger
One of two great local artists who put out great new records this year. John's an awesome guitarist, singer and songwriter in the alt-country vein, going back to before there was alt.country. This record has memorable, hooky tunes built on decades of craftsmanship going back to the R&B Cadets and Semi-Twang. Do yourself a favor and buy this on iTunes and / or listen to this and other Sieger tracks at www.myspace.com/johnsieger. And catch him with his tight band, The Subcontinentals, at your local music emporium.
"Bristlehead" - Mike Fredrickson
Mike's the other local songwriting genius with a record in 2008. Mike's a power popper whose irresistible songs that tell stories of the heart - fractured, burning and more. Some tasty lead guitar courtesy of Robbie Fulks' guitarist Grant Tye and forward propulsion by the lockstep rhythm section of Fulks' drummer, Gerald Dowd, and Fredrickson, a great bassist. Hear tracks at www.myspace.com/mfredrickson and buy the record at CD Baby. Mike's another local legend, with a career spanning the Spanic Boys 20+ (!!!) years ago to The Mosleys to today, playing bass in the bands of Fulks and Paul Cebar and self-releasing gems like "Bristlehead" every year or two.
"Cardinology" - Ryan Adams
Something about almost any Ryan Adams album gratifies me with great singing and melodies, and saddens me with piercing words and melodies. And of course, he also rocks a bunch. This CD's no exception. Standout tracks include "Fix It" (look for his Letterman version on the web), "Natural Ghost" and "Crossed Out Names."
"For Emma, Forever Ago" - Bon Iver
A beautiful, unique record from a beautiful, unique artist. As we all know, the guy's from Eau Claire, recorded the record in an "up north" hunting cabin. But Justin Vernon appears to be the real deal. I'd be shocked if we aren't hearing great stuff from him for some time. His Pabst Theater show was spellbinding.
"Another Country" - Tift Merritt
I've got a weakness for alt-country female singers with rocking, guitar-driven bands. Exhibit One today is Tift, a songbird whose three records are all special. This latest has some classic originals, like "Morning Is My Destination" and "Another Country." [Boy, I sure with some talented music booker with, say three venues under his control, could find a spot for her to open for Emmylou or just about anyone... ;) ]
"Asking For Flowers" - Kathleen Edwards
Exhibit Two of my weakness, which by the way is partly based by desire as a guitarist to play in a band behind a singer like Ms. Merritt or Edwards in my next life (or my spare time). Kathleen's very different from Tift but as good. Tougher stories, more humor and rockier songs. Great video for "I Make The Dough, You Get The Glory," especially if you're a hockey fan. Fun wordlplay in "The Cheapest Key." [Boy, she'd also be a great opener for an historic music venue in Milwaukee to consider booking... ]
"Everything That Happens Will Happen Today" - Brian Eno & David Byrne
Some great songs, excellent recording of guitars and voices. David's singing is as strong as ever. The Pabst show was probably my #1 of 2008, and that says a lot given the fantastic live performances I was lucky enough to enjoy.
Also a favorite...
"Some People Have Real Problems" - Sia
One of my guilty pleasures of 2008. Some might think this is light stuff, with strings and a pop veneer. But she's a great writer with touching songs. Her performance at Turner Hall was fantastic -- forced me to go back to the CD and begin to dig it.
A final note: Many thanks to Gary, Matty, Marc, Ryan and the rest of the Pabst team for finding and bringing us lucky Milwaukeeans the very best in music at their fantastic three venues. We may not see it, but were are living in a golden age for music fans in Milwaukee. Special thanks to Matty for his best-of organizing, which gives us all a chance to find out what we missed this year and to dig deeper into 2008 -- even as we prepare for even more great tunes in 2009.