Unlike most of the critics Top Ten lists, my Top Ten albums of 2008 is based solely on how much I like an album. While I’m all about great songwriting, “breaking boundaries” isn’t necessarily a big deal for me. So, if you’re looking for eclectic picks (like MGMT or Santogold), you’re out of luck. This is a REALLY hard list for me to make and there is a lot of terrific music that isn’t included here. But these, are my favorites…so here’s the damage.
Cory Chisel & The Wandering Sons – Cabin Ghosts
This one should be in the Top Ten, but since it’s not a full album, I moved it to honorable mentions. Cory’s got one of those gravelly, raw, honest American voices that I am instantly drawn to. The fact that he’s from middle-of-nowhere Wisconsin and centers his songwriting on that fact really adds a raw beauty to this music. It was recorded partially in some old cabin in the woods and partially at a local venue, and the sounds inherent to these places are prevalent on the record and give it interestingness and depth. I love it.
State of Shock – Life, Love & Lies
I dub this album the one that I will hate once the radio gets a hold of it and plays the shit out of it. It’s a bit of a guilty pleasure. Some really trite and overdone lyrics, but seriously, it’s just a fun record. “Money Honey.” That’s all I have to say.
New Kids on the Block – The Block
I am not ashamed to have this album on my list. Unbelievably catchy little dance-pop ditties – a perfect fit for clubs and a great way for this band to come back from literally nothing. I do not joke when I say it didn’t leave my CD player/iPod playlist for a month – I listened to it constantly. And besides, it’s a little nostalgic for me, brought me back to the days of big hair and super baggy t-shirts.
And now for the Top Ten…in reverse order.
10. David McMillin – Heartsteady
Possibly the most prolific young little folk-rock writer out there right now. And incredibly nice person. David released this album with very little fanfare this year, but it is a really delightful record. I like to think of David as an old soul – modern day lyrics spun into beautiful bits of Americana. I adore it.
9. Sam Thacker – Lines (Limited Edition)
Sammy grew up on this record (yet, I continue to call him “Sammy”) and it’s a treat for the ears. Strong songwriting, some serious and some fun, tight band work, and in true Sam Thacker fashion, ridiculously catchy little melodies. I stand by my prediction that one day soon, the world is gonna fall in love with Sam Thacker…and this might be the album that does it.
8. Amos Lee – Last Days at the Lodge
I think this album is actually better than Supply & Demand, but that’s just my opinion. I think the inclusion of this record is also colored a bit by Amos’s live performance. I saw him twice this year and he is simply outstanding live. That being said, the album is quite terrific and worth it just for “Listen” and “Street Corner Preacher.”
7. Sequoyah Prep School – Ghost Town
This band was new to me this year, so I’d love to include BOTH of their albums, but since this is a Top 10 of 2008, their new one gets included. Fun little band from Charleston with incredibly infectious melodies, and fantastic harmonies.
6. Coldplay – Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends
I say this as someone who is not a giant Coldplay fan: This album is brilliant. Chris Martin & Co. just plain blew it out of the water with this gorgeous trip through emotions. My favorite tracks are “Lost?” and “Lost!” because I think it was a genius take on how the same song can have an entirely different meaning when its rearranged.
5. People in Planes – Beyond the Horizon
Introduced to me by the Stereophonics this year. An awesome rock band from Wales. This album is such a refreshing departure from what has become boring, mainstream American rock drivel (all the Nickelback and Three Doors Down sound alikes), I was instantly hooked. Just take a listen to songs like “Flesh and Blood,” “Get on the Flaw” and “Pretty Buildings” to get an idea. Fantastic musicians, strong writing and a live performance with gusto. They’re gonna be big, kids.
4. Kings of Leon – Only by the Night
This is one that the critics and I agree on. This album rocks. I’ve never been a huge Kings of Leon fan, but this album won me over. It’s dirty and gritty, the way a rock n’ roll album should be. “Sex on Fire” is a brilliant song and will leave you wanting to hear it again and again, but every song has its merits. Favorite tracks are “Crawl”, “Sex on Fire,” “Be Somebody” and “Notion.”
3. Counting Crows – Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings
This album’s inclusion on my list should really should come as no surprise to anyone. I don’t even think I have to explain it. And to the hard critics complaints that it “should have been better” after such a long hiatus, I say poo on you. It’s brilliant. Period.
2. Alpha Rev – The Greatest Thing I’ve Ever Learned
Technically, this album was released in 2007. However, it was re-released in 2008 and had new tracks, so I’m counting it as a 2008 release. Alpha Rev literally shot into my Top Ten artists of all time last year when I first started listening to them. Casey McPherson’s writing is on par with Adam Duritz’s in my book – and we already know how much I love a good songwriter. Download “Colder Months” and “American Jesus” if you want a taste of this Austin band.
1. The Ruse – Midnight in the City
West Coast bands don’t often make my list of favorites….but this year is an exception. The Ruse’s Midnight in the City wins favorite album of the year this year for its solid songwriting and the ability of the songs to get stuck in my head. From its first spin in my CD player (or, err, iPod, actually), these songs were on a constant loop. It’s simply a fantastic pop-rock record.