Top Albums of 2008: Honorable Mentions

For a variety of reasons, the following albums did not make the final cut for my eagerly-anticipated (by me, at least) annual Top 20 list

The “21 Spot”
Drive-By Truckers – Brighter Than Creation’s Dark
Patterson Hood’s short stories set to music have become a tad repetitious (thematically), and losing guitarist Jason Isbell last year hurt their songwriting batting average. Still musically incendiary, though. This would be No. 21 if we did a Top 21.

The Superstars
R.E.M – Accelerate
Kudos to the boys from Athens for putting a little more bite in their bark, resulting in their best work for over a decade. Still a tad lacking on the memorable melodies that they used to toss off effortlessly.
Coldplay – Viva La Vida
About five great – I mean really great – songs. Not enough to make the Top 20.
Oasis – Dig Out Your Soul
I consider myself pretty anti-drug (see the spiel below), but Noel Gallagher is the exception that proves the rule. Ever since he laid off the booger sugar, his songwriting has become erratic. All the post-cocaine Oasis albums contain a handful of stone-cold classics padded with a bunch of filler. This half-great album, their seventh, continues the slight upswing begun by 2005’s Don’t Believe The Truth after the nadir of their 2000 and 2003 albums.

Gentleman Jesse – Gentleman Jesse & His Men
Eagles Of Death Metal – Heart On
Howlin’ Rain – Magnificent Fiend
Music that is unapologetically riff-based and retro is generally referred to by my Idle Time colleagues, somewhat disparagingly, as “Mattrock.” Originality may be low, but grooves are high. Gentleman Jesse is earnest and garage-y, Eagles Of Death Metal definitely tongue-in-cheek (which does not diminish the pleasure of listening to them), and Howlin’ Rain the most blatantly Mattrockish, with its wailing organ conjuring up the spirit of the Allman Brothers, and its guitars right in the Faces-era Ron Wood wheelhouse.

Sonic Adventurers
The Raveonettes – Lust Lust Lust
The Raveonettes’ spooky, noisy take on old-fashioned boy-girl pop harmonies was another very near-miss for my Top 20.
The Dirtbombs – We Have You Surrounded
From the same Detroit garage-rock scene that spawned The White Stripes and The Von Bondies, The Dirtbombs are all about the big bottom, with two drummers and sometimes two bassists rumbling ominously under fuzzed-out rock and roll that’s steeped in a soulfulness unique to the Motor City.
Firewater – The Golden Hour
The result of bandleader Tod A’s extended trek through the Near and Far East, The Golden Hour is world music-meets-circus music-meets an inflamed political conscience.
The Secret Machines Secret Machines
Usually described as “space rock” and the heirs to Pink Floyd’s long-form atmospherics, the Secret Machines refuse to be pigeonholed that easily, and would certainly not merit an honorable mention here if they were, because, well, Pink Floyd kind of sucks. This album careens from the dance floor to the bedroom (alone), packing a gritty punch (even in the longer songs) absent from even the most concise Pink Floyd songs because, well…see above.
The Last Shadow Puppets – The Age Of The Understatement
Solo project by the Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner is a throwback to sultry, swinging, orchestrated Bacharach-style 60’s pop. (And a shout-out within a shout-out to Green Day side project Foxboro Hot Tubs for their take on raw Nuggets-style 60’s pop, Stop, Drop & Roll!!)

Not Necessarily Too Little, But Most Definitely Too Late
Kaiser Chiefs – Off With Their Heads
The Killers – Day & Age
Both of these worthy efforts could easily have slipped into the lower reaches of my Top 20 if I had more time to listen to them and absorb them. The Killers drops on November 25, for Buddha’s sake. (I got an advance copy just days ago.) Note to record labels: late release dates hurt your chances to make it onto the highly-regarded Idle Time lists!

Odds And Ends

Murder By Death – Red Of Tooth And Claw
Answers the question “What if there were punk rockers in the Old West?”
Islands – Arm’s Way

An offshoot of the late (and unlamented by me) Canadian chamber pop act The Unicorns, Islands drops some of the more precious affectations that farted up their 2006 debut album in favor of a more straight-ahead approach that blends in some fancy baroque touches (rather than drowning in them), and at times, swings like a bitch. Interesting, but ultimately too inconsistent.
The Walkmen – You & Me
I really wanted to like this album more than I did, because I respect the Walkmen’s attempts to juxtapose sonic experimentation and a classic-rock format, and I really liked their 2006 album A Hundred Miles Off. But the hooks on this one just didn’t find me.
Paul Westerberg – 49:00
Released online as one long track at a cost of 49 cents, some sections of 49:00 contain Westerberg’s best work in years. Songs bleed into each other, or abruptly cut off. The equivalent of spinning a radio dial for forty-three minutes and fifty-five seconds. (You can download a separate single called “5:05” which brings the running time officially to 49:00.)
Girl Talk – Feed The Animals
The classicist in me has a hard time considering stitching together bits and pieces of other artists’ material and then rapping over it to be the most valid form of artistic expression. A sample here and there is okay, but the whole cut-and-paste aesthetic strikes me as somehow wrong. That being said, Feed The Animals has some clever moves, and is definitely a fun listen.

…and how about AC/DC‘s No. 1 with a bullet Black Ice, proving an old dog doesn’t need new tricks if the old tricks still work. Hats off to them. Guns N’ Roses (or rather, batshit-crazy Axl and his ever-shifting group of salaried employees) finally emerged from fourteen years of recording with something that sounds pretty much like a Guns N’ Roses album, Chinese Democracy. Totally self-indulgent, completely overblown…and likeable. It’s not the punchline everyone expected. I can’t say it’s great, but I like it and I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts it’s better than whatever the next Velvet Revolver album will be. Axl, don’t be a stranger, bro.

Worth A Listen
2008 Albums By: Wolf Parade, Jenny Lewis, Hymns, Bon Iver, The Breeders, Hayes Carll, Plants And Animals, Dead Confederate, Stephen Malkmus, Ray Davies, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Primal Scream, Mudcrutch, Panic At The Disco, Nick Cave, White Denim, Albert Hammond Jr., Charlatans UK, B.B. King, The Pretenders, Lucinda Williams

Biggest Disappointments
Weezer – Weezer (The Red Album)
A lazy, crass self-parody.
The Verve – Forth
The Black Crowes – Warpaint
Former Kings of Mattrock are back after a six-year hiatus, and evidently did not use those six years to come up with a memorable song. Time to put down the bong.

[On that note, I believe the criminalization of marijuana is totally ridiculous. But I also believe it does have a long-term negative effect on one’s overall sharpness. The reason why the solo Beatles never came up with a song as good as they did with their old group had nothing to do with age, or the “magical unity” being broken, it’s just that by 1970, they had smoked so much goddam reefer that their frontal lobes were permanantly coated in a sticky resin, causing them to come up with swill like “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night” and “Ebony And Ivory.” Think about it.

So I’ll stick with my vodka, thank you. (Livers are not needed for sharpness.) But by all means, enjoy your “spliff” and your ever-so-subtle mental decline, and I’ll enjoy sipping my screwdriver and silently judging you, either as a comical noisome hippie (“keep on truckin’!”), or a tragic wanna-be rastafarian.]

And hip-hop is dead. Even The Roots bored me this year.

My actual Top 20 will be posted soon…Stay tuned

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