In my own personal history books, 2008 will have to go down as the year of self doubt. Between my graduation from college and my failed attempts at legitimacy, I am smack dab in the middle of the "Liberal Arts Post-College Bullshit" phase of my life. As a result, I tended to gravitate more towards dark music, the kind of things that gave a voice to my personal situation. As time goes on, odds are good I won't care much about any of these albums, as I don't plan on being depressed forever. However, for a man-boy struggling on the edge of adulthood with nothing left to cling to, these records provided me some companionship, if not comfort.
15) TV on the Radio - Dear Science (DGC / Interscope)
TVotR are like Beck in that I recognize their genius and the potential musical impact they will have on future bands, yet I can never get really excited for them. Dear Science came as close as any album to getting me worked up, and with good reason. The Brooklyn boys are picking up Bowie's torch, making smart dance music for people who like to rock. This album's pop sensibility will no doubt place it high on other lists, but here I can't put it above 15.
14) The Gaslight Anthem - The 59 Sound (SideOneDummy)
The first thing that comes to mind when hearing The 59 Sound is "man, how does the lead singer get his voice to sound like that?" The second thing is how much this band owes to American rock music from the past and how well they are paying homage to it. While The Senior and the Queen remains their best work, this album is an excellent assembly of Springsteenian punk anthems about being young, driving in cars, and the innocent girls who make summer nights seem to last forever.
13) Fucked Up - The Chemistry of Common Life (Matador)
There is almost too much happening on Chemistry to even comment on. Guitar tracks layered up to 18 times. Vocals pushed as far back in the mix as possible, barking from the back of the room. Clever songs about the mythology of a Christian God. This album is like a swarm of angry wasps, encompassing, furious, and strangely beautiful.
12) The Old 97's - Blame it on Gravity (New West)
It's not often that bands can recapture their old sound without obvious pandering, but the Old 97's have pulled it off. By finding an energy not usually fitting rockers their age, the one-time cow punks have produced an album lousy with country-touched pop gems and released their best album since 1998's fantastic Too Far To Care.
11) Hot Club de Paris - Live at Dead Lake (Moshi Moshi)
Brit pop for kids who like their guitars in odd tunings, their songs outside of 4-4 time, their vocal harmonies constant, and their pop observations as sharp as their bass lines. Live at Dead Lake is a consistent treat from the opening notes of "My Little Haunting" to the faithful Minutmen cover on "The Anchor" to the heartbreaking optimism of "Boy Awaits Return of the Runaway Girl."
10) Drive-By Truckers - Brighter Than Creation's Dark (New West)
Any time an album goes to 19 tracks there is bound to be some filler, and Brighter Than Creation's Dark is no exception. What is remarkable is how few of these 19 tracks feel like throw aways. Tender moments of family reflection are tossed in with character sketches about fractured people and songs about drinking on this massive American rock classic, resulting in a red-state album that crosses all boundaries and appeals to anyone within the 50 states.
9) The YMD - Excuse Me, This is The Yah Mos Def (My Pal God)
What happens when two lifetime Philly hardcore kids cross over into the world of rap? One of the most irreverent and re-playable records of the year. By utilizing Bomb Squad style drums, playground punchlines and some of the finest hardcore samples around (Cap'n Jazz and Drive Like Jehu? Wha?), The YMD have created something fun and orignal using old ideas (not to mention giving a pretty good idea what your punk rock little brother would sound like rapping).
8) The Cool Kids - The Bake Sale EP
Too often modern hip-hop is focused on "Hardness" and "realness," sapping all the original playfulness and fun from the genre. The Bake Sale EP recaptures some of that feeling, providing 10 track of laid back BBQ goodness. This it the kind of music OGs used to kick it to, the kind of cool confident swagger that rap has been missing. The Cool Kids are, hands down, the (sorry) coolest motherfuckers of they year.
7) Los Campesnion! - Hold On Now, Youngster (Wichita)
The achievements of Los Camp in 2008 cannot be overstated. Anyone can release two albums in the same year, but it takes a truly special band to put out two albums of consistently quality music. Taking cues from the twee rockers like Love is All and Architecture in Helsinki, as well as indie classics like Sonic Youth, both Hold On Now, Youngster and Doomed are thick with songs supported by sharp wit, kitchen sink arrangements, and unadulterated youthful good will. Los Camp are well on the way to being your new favorite band.
6) The Hold Steady - Stay Positive (Vagrant)
America's best rock band are beginning to grey. Stay Positive is full of top notch songs about kids in America being kids in America, but its overall theme is that of aging. In my original review of this album, I heralded this album as the beginning of the end for the Hold Steady. As long as they keep making literate and powerful bar rock along the lines of "Sequestered in Memphis" and " Lord I Am Discouraged," we won't have to worry about these old lions.
5) Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend (XL)
What can be said about Vampire Weekend that hasen't already been screamed from the mouths of collegiate party girls across the country? By tapping into a world-music-meets-pop sound not touched since Paul Simon, Vampire Weekend's self titled album became one of the most popular pop records of the year, full of songs good for the beach, the doorm room, the car stereo, and anywhere in between.
4) Lil Wayne - Tha Carter III (Cash Money)
Lil Wayne is out of his goddamn mind and he is more than happy to let us in on it. So little of what Wayne says on Tha Carter III makes sense that one has to assume it is the work of a genius. In a way it is, as the connections and wordplay Weezy tosses about on this album is so playful and simple sounding that it has to be the work of a pro. Considering how much Lil Wayne used to suck, watching his rise to prominence and superstardome has been extremly fun. Almost as fun as trying to following the twisting alleyways of this album.
3) Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Dig! Lazarus! Dig! (Mute)
DLD is a record of reckless self destruction, abuse, torture, blasphemy and fear. The Bad Seeds play like hell's personal house band, layering guitars and bass over demon keys to make noises that couldn't possibly come from a ritious man. At the eye of this storm is Cave, a wolf in a dinner jacket, preaching from a pile of broken women, slain enemies, and self destructive tendencies. These songs are the opposite of love, these songs are little wars on women, on death and on God himself. Satire is never this violent, self abuse is never this public.
2) Titus Andronicus - The Airing of Grievances (Troubleman)
Named after Shakespeare's most violent and amateur of plays, Titus Andronicus are the embodiment of anger, impotence and loss. The Airing of Grievances is an album of punk songs that take aim at everything, literaly everything, with an intent to burn this inconsistent world to the ground. The real magic, however, is how much fun the end sounds. Part Neutral Milk Hotel, part Against Me!, part Bruce Spingsteen, part Connor Oberst, Titus Andronicus have established themselves as the last real punk band, an entity that stands in opposition to absolutely everything. Your life is over, good times are here again.
1) The Mountain Goats - Heretic Pride (4AD)
After years of operating as a solo low-fi tape guru, John Darniell has finally learned how to play with others, writing his first completely successful rock album. That aside, the glory and pull of the Mountain Goats has always been in Darniell's simple and elegant writing, and that is very much the case here. Darniell sings about solders coming home with blood in their mouths, a man buying a switchblade in defense of some faceless disaster coming soon, a swamp creature looking for love, a man perched on a throne of human skulls, and (most beautifully) a man dragged from his home to be buried alive, a smile fixed on his face. While these things have little implication in real life, it's amazing how Darniells abstracts can be so easily and seamlessly attached to real life.
Heretic Pride is the first Mountain Goats album in some time that is not about Darniell's relationship with his abusive step father. It's clear listening to his record that the man is finally free of his shackles, free of his captor. We are all the better for it. The real beauty is that, within the man's simple lyrics, there is the magic to free us, as well.