My Year in Lists: The Ten Best Albums of 2008 Part I

By now you’ve probably ready Spin‘s best albums list, Blender’s best album list, the Onion A.V. Club list, and maybe even Rolling Stone‘s best albums list. Perhaps you’re salivating over Pitchforkmedia’s forthcoming lists of tracks and albums for 2008. So now that you’ve looked over the lists by the big players, the magazines that can afford to hire a “staff,” it’s time to turn your attention to one dude living in Los Angeles and see what he thinks are the ten best albums of 2008. Why? I have no idea, but I’d be compiling this list even if no one read it.  So if you’re reading it, hey, thanks.

10. She & Him – Volume One – Usually, I have no time for albums made by actors or actresses. This is because they are usually made simply because a famous name can be attached to them (no one would’ve given a shit, for instance, about Scarlett Johannsen’s Anywhere I Lay My Head if it hadn’t been her name on the record). Disney signs kids on to be TV stars and instantly gives them record deals because they’re turning them from children into products. So I was fully prepared to tell Zooey Deschanel to go back to her day job when I heard about She & Him (the him is M. Ward, which did earn Ms. Deschanel serious bonus points). However, Volume One is an addictive and beautiful album, full of classic country and old-school pop. Deschanel’s voice is outstanding and Ward’s production showcases it perfectly on songs like “Sentimental Heart” and the heart-wrenching “Change is Hard”. As an added bonus, Deschanel wrote 10 of the tunes herself, showing a promising talent for songcraft. The pair are apparently hard at work on Volume Two and this is one case where I hope the actress quits her day job and sticks with the music. There wasn’t another woman in music that sounded like Zooey Deschanel in 2008 and Volume One is the proof.

9.       The Whigs, Mission Control – It’s not really a controversial statement to say that Lester Bangs would’ve fucking despised emo. Supposing you’ve never read Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung (which you really should), let’s just look at the thing logically. Bangs deeply believed  in the primal, simplistic elements of rock music (i.e., Iggy and the Stooges). The contrivance, the faux-hurt, the gobs of eye makeup and ironically worn trucker caps that are part and parcel of the emo genre (this means you, Fall Out Boy) would repulse and infuriate the late, great Lester Bangs. And well it should. But Bangs would certainly find some encouragement from bands like The Hold Steady and The Whigs, who hail from Athens, Georgia. Led by Parker Gispert on vocals and guitar but truly propelled by the pounding drums of Julian Dorio, The Whigs quietly offered a salve for that spreading emo rash that broke out on your radio sometime in the early 2000’s. Simple and indelibly catchy, Mission Control is the rock record that Dave Grohl has been unable to make since about 1998. The hooks abound, especially on songs like “Production City,” “Right Hand on My Heart,” and the pounding “Need You Need You.” If the rock ‘n’ roll radio has irritated you in the last year, check out Mission Control and hear the sound of your faith being restored.

8.    Atmosphere, When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint that Shit Gold – All this talk about Kanye West being the voice of his generation is preposterously premature. The dude is not even the best rapper of this decade and before anyone gets their panties all bunched up, I ask you to at least consider Atmosphere as an alternative. Slug and Ant’s output in the last couple years alone outshines almost everything you can stack it up against – from You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having to Sad Clown, Bad Winter to Strictly Leakage, Atmosphere has made the most compelling hip-hop, often living up to the promise that Sage Francis seems to have squandered. This is especially true on When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint that Shit Gold. Slug is rapping over live instruments (sometimes over only an electric guitar, as on “Guarantees”), creating melodies and telling stories in a way that no one else in hip-hop is doing. This year, I had to compare all the hip-hop I heard to When Life Gives You Lemons, and I found everything else to be trifling indeed.

7.  Santogold, SantogoldI don’t think I’ve read a best-album list this year that doesn’t rate Santogold somewhere on it. Santi White has created the kind of virtuoso pop album that only proves that most pop music is in dire need of rethinking. The opener “L.E.S. Artistes” is pure pop followed by “You’ll Find A Way”, a song with Cindi Lauper vocals over Clash music. Santogold dances merrily across genres and shows a versatility that is desperately lacking in most pop artists these days. If only “L.E.S. Artistes” was featured in a Seth Rogen movie trailer, Santi White could lure unsuspecting teenagers to her great album the same way M.I.A. did with “Paper Planes.”

6. The Shaky Hands, LunglightThe Shaky Hands’ MySpace page hilariously lists their genre as “Hardcore/Grunge/Folk”, but the truth is that their sophomore album Lunglight is a shambolic pop/rock treasure, the sort of thing that might result from Murmur-era R.E.M. trying to recreate Exile on Main Street. Nicholas Delffs is sometimes unintelligible, sometimes croony, and sometimes screaming, sometimes all in the same songs. The highlights include “You’re the Light,” one of the best songs of the year, and “Air Better Come,” among others. Delffs has a great versatility in his singing and he’s helped by a raucous band of musicians, not least of whom is bassist Mayhaw Hoons (yes, that’s the dude’s real name. He’s got like 8 feet of beard and plays the bass like a motherfucker). The Shaky Hands are probably not poised for any kind of commercial success, but they deserve to be; Lunglight is the kind of pop album I would make if I were going to make one. It’s charming, half-broken, and totally awesome.

5. My Morning Jacket, Evil UrgesOf all the things Pitchforkmedia was wrong about this year (which, come to think of it, woudl be a pretty awesome year-end list), they were never more wrong than when they panned Evil Urges, My Morning Jacket’s fifth full-length album. Evil Urges starts off with the title track and immediately gives the lie to the suggestion that MMJ are merely aping The Band and other classic rock sounds. “Evil Urges” starts with fierce drums and then Jim James (one of the best singers in rock) comes out of left field with his Prince/Curtis Mayfield vocal, urging us to “dedicate your love/ to any woman or man”. And the awesome doesn’t stop until the end of “Touch Me, I’m Going to Scream Pt. 2” at the end of the album. My Morning Jacket have, with Evil Urges, transcended genre, pushing their boundaries even further than they did on 2005’s incredible Z. Evil Urges is a strange, beautiful record and the good news is, the kids over at Pitchfork still have time to realize it.

Stay tuned for albums 4 through 1, coming soon to Bollocks!

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