Favorite albums of 2008

“How can it be bullshit to state a personal preference?” – Rob Gordon, High Fidelity

For the second year in a row, I was asked for a top 10 list that will be included in the annual booklet that local record shop Stinkweeds puts out (get the 2007 edition here). Again, it’s difficult to quantify these in a ranking system. Other than the top two albums, the order of these picks can change any day, any minute. Never do I claim these to be the best, just the albums I listened to the most.

That said, I didn’t seek out as much new music as in years past. I’ve tried to spend more time with fewer (hopefully, better) albums than less time with more albums. So it’s almost certain I overlooked some amazing artists/records. But I’m fairly confident the following list is a decent representation of my year in listening:

10. NADA SURF: Lucky (Barsuk)
As long as Nada Surf keeps cranking out no-frills power-pop gems, I’ll keep listening. Lucky hardly seems like a sexy pick in ’08, and I think that’s exactly what I love about it. Substance wins out over gimmicks.
Favorite tracks: See These Bones, Weightless and The Fox.
MP3: Nada Surf | See These Bones

9. RADAR BROS.: Auditorium (Merge)
There’s something calming and meditative about Jim Putnam’s rolling melodies, which come in waves on Auditorium. I feel comfortable in the Radar Bros.’ languid compositions – specifically here on Pomona – when most of the self-important/need-to-feel-different indie rock quickly wears out its welcome.
Favorite tracks: Pomona, Warm Rising Sun, When Cold Air Goes to Sleep.
MP3: Radar Bros. | Warm Rising Sun

8. BORN RUFFIANS: Red, Yellow & Blue (Warp Records)
Here’s hoping misguided comparisons to Vampire Weekend (nothing wrong with VW, mind you) don’t taint this album’s reputation. Red, Yellow & Blue explodes with quirky call-and-response anthems and time-signature trickery, pulled together by the band’s unparalleled chemistry.
Favorite tracks: Badonkadonkey, I Need a Life, Kurt Vonnegut.

7. FLEET FOXES: self-titled (Sub Pop)
Though I’m more enamored with the stunning (but too short) Sun Giant EP, the band’s debut is a beauty. Who can resist those harmonies?
Favorite tracks: White Winter Hymnal, Oliver James, Quiet Houses.
MP3: Fleet Foxes | White Winter Hymnal

6. CADENCE WEAPON: Afterparty Babies (Anti-)
While the Edmonton-based Cadence Weapon introduces hip-hop heads to tech-house beats, few (save for Busdriver, of course) can match his scattered and sophisticated well of rhymes and deliver it with tongue-and-cheek charm.
Favorite tracks: Real Estate, Getting Dumb, Limited Edition OJ Slammer.
MP3: Cadence Weapon | In Search of the Youth Crew

5. Q-TIP: The Renaissance (Universal Motown)
Nostalgia might be clouding my judgment, but Q-Tip returned with what should prove to be a timeless album that solidifies his place in hip-hop lore (as if A Tribe Called Quest didn’t do that already). Production help from Mark Ronson and the late, great J Dilla certainly doesn’t hurt.
Favorite tracks: Move/Renaissance Rap, Life is Better, Dance on Glass.
VIDEOS: Q-Tip | Move and Renaissance Rap

4. BON IVER: For Emma, Forever Ago (Jagjaguwar)
So what if this album, a majority of which was written and recorded in an isolated cabin in Wisconsin, was technically self-released in 2007? Its reissue via Jagjaguwar rightfully introduced Justin Vernon to a wider audience, his soaring falsetto and delicate melodies deserving a place on this year’s lists.
Favorite tracks: Skinny Love, Creature Fear, For Emma.
MP3: Bon Iver | Skinny Love

3. THE HOLD STEADY: Stay Positive (Vagrant Records)
Another album that does nothing to harm the Hold Steady’s reputation as the best bar band in America. If he hasn’t already, singer Craig Finn is becoming a spokesman for an indie generation.
Favorite tracks: Slapped Actress, Yeah Sapphire, Stay Positive.
VIDEO: The Hold Steady | Stay Positive

2. ELBOW: The Seldom Seen Kid (Fiction Records)
A long overdue Mercury Prize for The Seldom Seen Kid confirms what we already knew: Elbow is reaching great heights with its highly stylized indie-rock noir. It may be a tad bloated, but this album is rich with depth, storytelling and grace.
Favorite tracks: One Day Like This, The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver, The Bones of You.
MP3: Elbow | One Day Like This

1. FRIGHTENED RABBIT: The Midnight Organ Fight (Fat Cat)
It’s the mother of all break-up albums, feelings ranging from rage to sorrow to self-pity. Through his thick Scottish accent, Scott Hutchison’s detailed commentary of love gone wrong is at times painful, agonizing and somehow endearing.
Favorite tracks: Keep Yourself Warm, The Twist, Good Arms vs. Bad Arms, Old Old Fashioned.
MP3: Frightened Rabbit | Keep Yourself Warm

The next five (in no particular order): Damien Jurado, Caught in the Trees (Secretly Canadian); The Walkmen, You & Me (Gigantic); Wolf Parade, At Mount Zoomer (Sub Pop); The Roots, Rising Down (Def Jam); The Dodos, Visiter (French Kiss).

Albums I may soon regret not including on this list:
The Gaslight Anthem, The ’59 Sound; The Kills, Midnight Boom; Kanye West, 808s & Heartbreak; The Mighty Underdogs, Droppin’ Science Fiction.

Favorite songs of 2008.
Favorite albums of 2007.
Favorite album of 2006.
Favorite albums of 2005.

22 thoughts on “Favorite albums of 2008”

  1. Solid Top 10 Kevin. Glad you showed Elbow some love. That record is incredible, and their show at the Fine Line was my favorite for the year. I’ll have to revisit that Radar Bros. record, haven’t spent enough time with it, and probably should. 2008 turned out to be a pretty good year in music. Cheers.

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