Wednesday, March 4, 2009

My Year in Music: 2008 (Volume One, Issue One)

A repost of the top ten list I published on Facebook a while back, but with a couple new additions. McNally - you were right. Justice's studio album was '07, so that's off the list.

Top ten lists always seem sort of arbitrary, especially in the world of music. Every year there are innumerable albums, EPs, and mixtapes released that it is virtually impossible to catalogue all of them. To write a top ten list that somehow "sums up" the world of music for the past year is a Gordian knot, if I've ever seen one.

That being said, I have attempted to make a list that represents the best of several of the popular genres, although my particular interests (cough hip hop cough ) are certainly apparent.

Without further ado:

1. The Roots – Rising Down: Poignant. Interesting. Relevant. A near-perfect album. ?uestlove and Black Thought are certainly on a roll of late. Game Theory was a near-classic, and Rising Down reaches even higher points. Better than Do You Want More?!!!??!. Nearly as good as Things Fall Apart. "Criminal" is one helluva song.

2. Oasis – Dig Out Your Soul: What Eric said, basically. "Waiting for the Rapture" is so fucking rockin.

3. Portishead - Third: Eerie and mysterious and ethereal and haunting. It's impossible to describe this album in anything but synonyms. I've listened to it half a dozen times now and I still don't have any idea what it's about. But the orchestration and instrumentation is incredible. Get back to me in a month and maybe I'll know what the songs are about. "Silence" and "Threads" are perhaps the best opening and closing tracks of any album this year.

4. David Byrne & Brian Eno - Everything That Happens Will Happen Today: I didn't discover this album until after Wheeler and Kasmiskie sung its praises. It's pop music at its very best. "Home" and "Life is Long" are personal favorites, but the best song on the album is certainly "Everything That Happens."

5. B.B. King – One Kind Favor: Certainly not B.B. King's best material ever, but it's pretty damn good. I think it is his most consistent studio album. "See That My Grave is Kept Clean" and the triumvirate of "Blues Before Sunrise," "Midnight Blues," and "Backwater Blues" are reflective, groovy, and oh so bluesy.

6. The Last Shadow Puppets – The Age of the Understatement: Epic. The title track is this year's best single, and also this year's best music video.

7. T.O.B.I.A.S. – Magyver: The West Coast is back. T.O.B.I.A.S. stands for "Takin' Out Bustas in a Second," and his debut album is just like this MC's hyperbolic name: tongue-in-cheek and surprisingly original. Also incredibly well produced for an underground self-published album.

8. TV On the Radio – Dear Science: I'm not familiar enough with TV On the Radio's previous work to give any sort of intelligent blurb about this album. All I can say is that I enjoyed it. A lot.

9. Q-Tip – The Renaissance: After nearly a decade, Tip's back with a new album. Considering how long this was in coming, it should have been an industrious, meticulously crafted effort. But it wasn't. The Renaissance is fresh, interesting, and nearly as fun to listen to as a Tribe album. But Q-Tip alone is no Tribe Called Quest, as much as he'd like to think so. The Renaissance is good, but it's not flawless. There is no strong through-line, and many of the songs sound interchangeable, though with different lyrics. But twelve new Tip tracks are always welcome.

10. Kanye West – 808s & Heartbreak: I originally thought that 808s was Kanye's worst album. I was wrong. It's his second worst album (behind Late Registration). But Kanye's second worst album is still pretty damn good, and for every bad song on his new effort, there's a song like "Robocop" and "Heartless." The dude cut the album in like three weeks and it should have been a halfhearted, predictable effort. But it was just the opposite. And as much as I hate the auto-tuner, Kanye uses it better than anyone.

11. MGMT – Oracular Spectacular: God this is a great album. One of the best (if not the best) side ones this year. "Weekend Wars," "The Youth," "Electric Feel," and "Kids" all blend perfectly together. In fact, like 808s, the album is better than the sum of its parts. Each track is so complimentary to the next. It's reminiscent of - but not beholden to - Britpop before its downfall, and yet MGMT is decidedly modern. If Justice, Blur, The Gorillaz, and Radiohead had a wild orgy, MGMT might pop out nine months later. Or something like that.

12. Beck – Modern Guilt: Nothing on this album can compare to the catchiness of "Girl," but Beck continues to make great music, Scientology notwithstanding.

13. The Streets – Everything is Borrowed: A return to form. No Grand Don't Come for Free but way better than Hardest Way.

14. Lil’ Wayne – Tha Carter III: Lil' Wayne only makes the list on the strength of the mixtapes he produced between Tha Carter II and this latest effort. I'm getting really tired of hearing Lil' Wayne on every cookie cutter T Pain, Akon [insert crappy "rapper" here] single. Weezy can be an incredible MC. His flow is wicked. He also makes songs like "A Milli." I may give up on the man if his next album isn't far better.

15. The Cool Kids – The Bake Sale: A good debut. The Cool Kids have perfected a spare, minimalist sound that is at once reminiscent of 80s hip hop and a modern efficiency. What remains to be seen is if they can go anywhere from here.

16. Dizzee Rascal - Maths + English: I only put this last because I'm not very familiar with the Rascal. I haven't heard his first album, which I hear is better than this one. Maths is silly, scatological, and like any good hip hop album, has a track entitled "Suk My Dick."

So, that's it. My top ten(ish) albums of the year. It's certainly not all-encompassing; I hear Vampire Weekend and Lucinda Williams both had great albums, but I never listened to them. Plush finally released Fed in wide-distribution, but I didn't hear that, either. Girl Talk's latest disappointed. T.I. had an album that was alright, but just alright. Snoop was Snoop -- if only "Sensual Seduction" had been that instead of "Sexual Eruption," and if only he had made more songs like that for Ego Trippin'. Nas has further proven his irrelevance, but Illmatic is still fucking awesome.

If anyone is looking for a book to read, I fervently suggest The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester. It's the best Science Fiction novel of all time. And the novel's protagonist is one of the best characters ever written. Check it out. Andrew McNally did, and he claims to have loved it. I dunno... you'll have to talk to him about that. But yeah. Great stuff.

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