By Nick Manteris · 0 Comments · Leave a Comment
Perhaps I was just a tad too scientific when I decided to compile my list of the best albums of 2008, but since I’ve never assembled a top 10 list before I wanted to be careful…and thorough. So I waited until all of the major players had published their lists and then I cross-referenced them all against each other and singled out the albums that were mentioned multiple times. Then I tried to listen to (and rate) everything, stepping outside of my comfort zone on multiple occasions. The ratings were then added (and subtracted) to give each album a ‘score’ that then placed it on this list. There are a few artists here that are completely new to me and a few albums that I like quite a bit are missing, but here is (part one of) the ten most consistently highly rated albums of 2008:
10. Beck – Modern Guilt
The addition of Danger Mouse as a new co-producer has a lot to do with the creation of what might be Beck’s finest album to date. This is only the first of several times that Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton shows up on this list, so he’s obviously doing something right…and the title track is the apotheosis of their collaboration. Read my review for Beck's Modern Guilt.
9. The Raconteurs – Consolers of the Lonely
Almost half of the songs on The Raconteurs’ second album are better than average with the title track, “Consoler of the Lonely,” and the piano-driven “You Don't Understand Me” rising to the top of the bunch. “Carolina Drama” is a skillfully told musical anecdote as well. This is a vast improvement over their debut album which really only had “Steady, As She Goes” working in its favor. The band seems to have found their groove for this record and the musical eccentricities (most likely due to Jack White) are a welcome change from almost everything else out there.
8. Foals – Antidote
The five-piece Oxford band Foals are labeled somewhere between dance-punk and math rock and they like to create droning soundscapes with horns and dueling guitars. In the best moments the lead singer sometimes sounds like Kele Okereke from Bloc Party and at worst he really doesn’t, plus, he likes to repeat lyrics, and, while it might not be for everyone, it kind of works with what they do. Check out “Heavy Water” or “Two Steps, Twice.”
7. Margot & the Nuclear So And So’s – Not Animal / Animal
It’s difficult to describe Margot & the Nuclear So And So’s…piano, horns and strings often complement their guitars and drums creating a lush, full sound that some have decided to call “chamber pop.” They tend to write melancholy songs (something that almost always appeals to me) with a folksy vibe and, while most of their stuff is somewhat relaxed, they really shine when they step up the tempo and the energy. The band’s disagreement with their record label about which songs should be included led to two albums (Animal is the band’s tracklist and Not Animal is Epic’s choices) and it was a close call, but the record label’s version wins by one song.
6. Coldplay - Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends
This album was almost excluded from this list because, since it went double platinum in the US, there’s a good chance you’re already familiar with it, but the “scientific” method that I used to rate everything unfortunately wouldn’t allow me to leave it off. On Parachutes, Coldplay sounded like a second-rate U2, but each successive release is a testament to their growing proficiency at making music and “Violet Hill” might be the best song they’ve ever recorded.
5. Gnarls Barkley – The Odd Couple
Danger Mouse and Cee-Lo are best known for “Crazy,” a song that everyone has heard about a billion times by now, but this album, for good or bad, doesn’t have anything quite that catchy. The album does have a completely unique sound thanks to the distinctive voice of Cee-Lo and the unusually creative production skills of Danger Mouse. And there’s not another team that could create anything quite as astonishing as “Who’s Gonna Save My Soul” or “Would Be Killer.”
4. Bitter:Sweet – Drama
The word “bittersweet” thoroughly describes this duo and the music that they make…from the energy of “I Get What I Want” to the slow moodiness of “Everything,” their music is sensuous and swanky. They combine new sounds with sounds from different eras to create fun music that is completely exciting and new. And Shana’s voice is the icing on the cake. Read my review for Drama by Bitter:Sweet.
3. The Black Keys – Attack and Release
The Black Keys play the type of blues-rock that has apparently been missing from my life since I went through the Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix phases back in junior high. The band consists of Patrick Carney on drums and Dan Auerbach, who plays the guitar and sings, but, because of the production efforts of Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton, their sound is much bigger than it seems like two people should be able to make. Try “Strange Times” or “Psychotic Girl.”
2. The Hush Sound – Goodbye Blues
The Hush Sound have changed in the time between their last album and Goodbye Blues, and that’s not a bad thing. The decision to have the pianist, Greta Salpeter, on lead vocals for the majority of the album is a good one and her voice is perfectly suited for the type of piano rock that they produce. The energy levels on this disc are high and the melodies of the different instruments merge into something greater than the individual parts. “The Boys Are Too Refined” and “Honey” are two of the best examples.
1. MGMT – Oracular Spectacular
Seven of the ten songs on this album are either very good or great, but the three less-than-stellar tracks on Oracular Spectacular cause it to score much lower than it would without bad songs. No other band in this top ten list had as many “excellent” tracks, though several had more songs that were “very good.” Warning: if you buy this on vinyl side one will wear out way before side two does.