Friday, December 5, 2008

My Top Ten Albums of 2008

After checking to see who has albums yet to come out in December, I decided it was safe to list my top ten albums of 2008. It was the year of the ladies for me. My top ten albums of the year is dominated by female artists and female led bands. I had no trouble at all picking a top 7, except I had a hard time choosing who should be number one. They all have earned that spot in their own ways. But, the last three (and the honorable mention) were really just filler and were the best of the rest of the albums I bought this year. And when I say best, I don't mean so in a music critic way...these are just the albums I enjoyed the most that came out this past year.

1. Jenny Lewis: Acid Tongue
This is the obvious number one pick for me. I think this album is perfect from beginning to end and has a vibe that holds throughout. Jenny Lewis has proven herself to be a real force in the music scene. Her work with Rilo Kiley and the Postal Service were a start. She has now released two exceptional solo albums that, I think, suprised everyone in their greatness.

I love the vibe of this album. It sounds like it came right out of 1976. The single piano chord punches that trickle in and out of songs like the opener "Black Sand" and "Trying My Best to Love You", the higher pitch Jenny sings in, the choral background vocals of the title track, the dirty dive bar bathroom sound to "The Next Messiah", and the suprise guests along the way. The only guest I could have done without is Elvis Costello. Don't get me wrong, I love Elvis Costello. But his work on the track "CarpetBaggers" is the only downer on an otherwise perfect album. His voice just doesn't work with Jenny's and comes in so abrasively that you feel a little assulted when he leaves.

Top Three Tracks: "Acid Tongue", "The Next Messiah", "Jack Killed Mom"

2. Lykke Li: Youth Novels
I first heard of Lykke Li through a co-worker who was watching her video on YouTube or MySpace or something. What I heard sounded great and I kept the name in my head.

A couple of months later, I came across her name again and decided to check her out. After watching the video again, I downloaded the whole album from iTunes and was blown away by its awesomeness.

As with Acid Tongue, nearly every track is perfect. Her child-like voice meshes well with the jungle like beats. For an album that leans close to dance music, the lyrics have a lot of substance, which as a lyrics person I appreciate. The music sounds organic, as well. The drums sound like they were created with actual humans and not just humans pressing a button on a computer. They sound so organic that I swear some of them were created by just banging on the table or hitting sticks together.

Though I enjoy this kind of music, I find that it's hard to find a full album's worth of enjoyable songs, especially one that would make my number 2 spot for album of the year. But this one did it with ease. A must have.

Top Three Tracks: "Tonight", "Little Bit", "Everybody But Me"

3. Ingrid Michaelson: Be OK
Yes, I know this is more of an EP filled with previously released tracks and b-sides and covers. But I don't care. I stumbled across it when I was desperate for some new music. I have her previous album Girls and Boys and enjoyed it. I wouldn't put it anywhere near my favorites and most likely it did not make my top ten list the year it came out (though I believe the single, "The Way I Am" did, go figure). But I'm so happy I stumbled across this album.

I think Ingrid has found her niche with this album. This is a stripped down album full of sweet little ditties that really show off the beauty and range in her voice that I never knew she had. Either driven by piano or ukelele, these songs will pull at your heartstrings. The vocal arrangement on the track "The Chain" is so unbelievably gorgeous. Though the songs "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and "Can't Help Falling In Love" seem to have been done to death, she actually brings something new to them. Each time I listen to this album, I find something new to love.

Top Three Tracks: "The Chain", "You and I", "Oh What A Day"

4. Haley Bonar: Big Star
When I first heard Haley Bonar's debut album ....The Size of Planets, I could hardly believe it was written by a 19 year old. Sure there was a bit of naivete that slipped through, but it was so endearing.

It appears Haley has grown up and really come into her own. She has found her niche. I think she struggled a bit with her last album "Lure the Fox", a darker outing that covered up her beautiful voice and ability to write a catchy hook. This album is full of catchy, quick tunes that leave you wanting more. One track, "Little Maiden Gin", currently holds the #1 spot on my most played list on iTunes due to it's short length and how I wish it would just keep going and going. It's a fun, sweet album that I enjoy singing along to, which in the end, is all I ever really ask for an album. Twelve tracks that I can sing along to.

Top Three Tracks: "Little Maiden Gin", "Green Eyed Boy", "Tiger Boy"

5. Cloud Cult: Feel Good Ghosts (Tea-Partying Through Tornadoes)
As with every Cloud Cult album, I love it from the first note. If anyone asks who my favorite band is, it is them.

I was concerned about this ablum when I heard it was coming out. I felt it was too soon after their last album The Meaning of 8. But, as I said, after the first note, I was hooked and grateful for the new material.

As with most of their albums, most of the songs are about loss (the lead singer/guitarst lost a child to SIDS). The heartache and feeling lead singer Craig Minowa breathes into his words leaves me in a mixture of agony and joy.

The first half of this album is an amazing, orchestral, cinematic masterpiece. The string arranagements are much more advanced than previous efforts. But the latter half of the album takes a downward turn. It doesn't help that one of the songs uses the word "poop" in a completely serious matter. I was listening to this album on the bus when it first came out and enjoying it immensely and then that word popped up and completely took me out of it. I don't understand why they used it.

Top Three Tracks: "Everybody Here is a Cloud", "When Water Comes to Life", "The Ghost Inside Our House"

6. Mates of State: Re-Arrange Us
I cannot tell you how happy I am to have discovered their last album Bring It Back when it came out 2 years ago. I'm a sucker for guys and gals singing together, and the Mates of State do it so well. I was concerned that Bring It Back was an anomoly after hearing their previous efforts. But Re-Arrange Us proved me wrong.

Another album with 10 sing along mostly upbeat tracks. The opener, "Get Better" is everything you could ask for in an opening track. It grabs your attention from the get go and makes you want to hear the rest of the album.

I don't find Kori to have the greatest voice - she is a bit shouty - but that's what makes it so fun. You can shout along with her. That is much more fun that trying to follow the vocal antics of a Christina Aguilera or Mariah Carey.

Their songs are full of big moments, fun harmonies, and catchy choruses. A great album to drive to.

Top Three Tracks: "Get Better", "My Only Offer", "Lullaby Haze"

7. Ani Difranco: Red Letter Year
Ani, Ani, are on my list every year because you release an album every year. I think it might be time to say need to take a break.

I still love your albums because they are you and even at your worst, I still find you to be better than most. Your albums also have the habit of growing on me, as this one did.

Upon first listen I was let down. Not by the songs, but by the production. Letting your babydaddy produce the album was not a good idea, no matter how much fun you had making it. I think you have a problem with taking things too far. You are an amazing guitarist and it is slipping through the noise of the bleeps and blips and distortions. Same with your lyrics and melodies and voice. What happened to singing? What is with this speak/shouting you have decided to do?

Either way, I still enjoy the album. It is nice to hear positive love songs from you for a change. Your politics are still front and center like on the title track and "Alla This". The sentiment of "Present/Infant" brings tears to my eyes. And though "The Atom" is full of scientific errors, I get what you're saying and the cresendo in the middle of the song is absolutely beautiful.

Top Three Tracks: "Emancipated Minor", "Way Tight", "Star Matter"

8. Tilly and the Wall: o
I'm going to be honest. I haven't paid close enough attention to this album to be able to describe the different tracks. What I can say, is that I enjoy listening to and that it doesn't stray from previous Tilly and the Wall efforts. So, if you like their old albums, you'll like this one, too. Which I did.

Top Three Tracks: "Pot Kettle Black", "Cacophony", "Dust Me Off"

9. Leona Naess: Thirteens
See the above description but change Tilly and the Wall to Leona Naess.

She is someone I have just recently been getting into. I love her voice. There are not a lot of stand out tracks on this album, but as a whole it has a nice mello vibe to it. A good Sunday afternoon album.

Top Three Tracks: "Ghost in the Attic", "Leave Your Boyfriends Behind", "Heavy Like Sunday"

10. Juliana Hatfield: How to Walk Away
This is a bit of a departure for Juliana. It kind of reminds me of Sheryl Crow's The Globe Session, in that it is an obvious break up album and written with a maturity that wasn't as apparent in previous efforts. That said, I do enjoy it. It's a nice little album.

Top Three Tracks: "The Fact Remains", "Just Lust", "Law of Nature"

Honorable Mention: Pierre de Reeder: The Way That It Was. I included this because I think more people should hear it. Pierre is another member of Rilo Kiley and I am just amazed at the talent that oozes from that group. A catchy "Beatlesque" (yuck, I can't believe I'm using that descriptor) album.

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