Despite my rib-poking at Rolling Stone and their annual Top 50 lists, I have to give them credit: they at least have the guts to put a stake in the ground and rank their lists. Me? Not nearly so brave. It's always easy to pick out my favorite album/movie/book of the year...maybe even the top three within each category, but 50? Not a chance. I love to list things, not rank them.
So in that spirit, here is my much shorter list (about 15) of records I loved in 2008, starting with my #1 pick of the year. I'll also throw out a few honorable mentions and bonus awards to boot.
The Geek Monkey (formerly Whiskey for the Monkey) 2008 Album of the Year goes to...
Meanderthal by Torche: Cruelly ignored by Rolling Stone, it did get an honorable mention by Pitchfork and, even better, was given the top spot by Decibel Magazine (read their entry here). Torche plays heavy music - really heavy low-end, thunderous noise. But what stands out above all the power chords and amp explosions is an infectious pop sensibility that should feel totally out of place in this style of music yet somehow manages to work. They've been called "doom pop" and "thunder rock" as well as "sweet and catchy" and all of it's 100% true. It's also short, clocking in at around 35 minutes with no track overstaying its welcome.
The best part is if you want to give it a try you can download the entire album at Amazon.com for only $2.99 right now! This is groovy, low-end sludge rock with enough pop to keep you humming for weeks.
Rounding out the rest, in alphabetical order and limited to a sentence or two (I swear!):
2. Blacklisted - Heavier Than Heaven, Lonelier Than God: Very loud, very fast, and very short. This is a blast of anger served via a Molotov cocktail of punk, hardcore, and metal. Think Refused but more shorter and more apt to punch you in the face.
3. Bloc Party - Intimacy: The third album by Bloc Party perfectly mixes the more dissonant sounds of their debut with the streamlined, indie rock of their second album. I normally don't go for music so heavy on electro and dub, but for these guys I'll gladly make an exception.
4. Bryan Beller - Thanks in Advance: There are too many reasons to go into why Bryan Beller's solo music holds such a special place in my heart. This is the story of Beller's life journey as he moved to Nashville and discovered his true heart in both life and music. It's 4th on my list, but in reality is really #2.
5. Deerhunter - Microcastle: Lush soundscapes that bury you in the mix as opposed to real "songs" but there's a hypnotic quality to the latest by Deerhunter that's more than the obvious (to me, anyway) homage on opening track "Cover Me (Slowly)" to Frank Zappa and the immortal "Watermelon in Easter Hay." Not sayin' it's a ripoff, just saying it's very similar...and I like it.
6. Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes: This is the music I want to wake up to in the morning. This is the music that goes fantastic with a steaming cup of coffee in the early winter dawn. This is some crazy indie folk/ hymnal music that for some reason reaches down and grabs my soul.
7. The Hold Steady - Stay Positive: I can't say enough how great this band is. A perfect combination of music and lyrics, The Hold Steady were my biggest personal discovery of the year.
8. Jesu - Why Are We Not Perfect?: Any time Justin Broadrick, aka Jesu puts something out, it's almost guaranteed to make my year end list. Even if it's an EP. Think The Cure meets NIN meets My Bloody Valentine and you have a small start.
9. Lightspeed Champion - Falling Off the Lavender Bridge: This came as a total shock to me. Recommended on a lark by Indie Maven Sean, it's a mix of alt-country, pop, and folk that manages to be lovely and serious even when it's funny and self indulgent. Also has my vote for album cover of the year.
10. Metallica - Death Magnetic: I think I've talked about this enough. It's still in heavy rotation in my car and at work, and despite some weak tracks, rocks the inner 14 year old in me like the first saw them live.
11. Nachtmystium - Assassins (Black Meddle pt. 1): No one's doing more to expand the world of Black Metal than Nachtmystium, who ditched their make-up, taken their Pink Floyd leanings and made a full-blown rock record. Corpse-painted fans everywhere cried; the rest of us raised our hands and cheered along to the better production and song quality.
12. Opeth - Watershed: Definitely more of a "grower" than a "show-er" the latest from Sweden's awesomest band in the universe is a much more subdued, proggy affair than previous outings. But between the classic rock genius of "Burden" and the insane funk interlude of "The Lotus Eaters" it's impossible not to love Watershed.
13. Portishead - Third: Any record that causes my opinion to change of it every time I listen to it has definitely got something going for it. Largely eschewing the sound that brought them fame, it's a challenging album from beginning to end, but definitely worth the added brain power.
14. R.E.M. - Accelerate: Another late entry, courtesy of Indie Maven Sean. I'd been on a huge old R.E.M. kick for the past couple of months; the new record is the most vibrant, alive thing they're released in what seems like ages. Old Dogs, new tricks and all that.
15. TV On the Radio - Dear Science: Rolling Stone's #1 choice for 2008 is an outstanding achievment that grabs you from its first outstanding track and doesn't let go. Heads and tails above their debut, which is no small feat.
2008 Song of the Year goes to...
It's a tie between "Galaxy of the Lost" by Lightspeed Champion and "Farewell" by Jesu. One mixes strings, acoustic guitars and beautifully layered vocals that lament and simultaneously curse a failed romance and the other is a blissfull wall of sounds that masks the painful decision to go seperate ways.
2008 Disappointment of the Year goes to...
Another tie, this time between Ben Folds' Way to Normal and The Killers' Day and Age. Both artists came off of really strong albums to tread water and rely on old tricks that felt like tired imitations.