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A.L. Harper’s Top Ten Albums of 2008

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Yet another year has passed and it’s time to name the top ten best albums of 2008. You will have heard of a few but may not have heard of others. If you’re looking to be exposed to new music, expand your musical horizons or you're just bored check out these albums online.

Honourable mention – Derek Webb and Sandra McCracken – Ampersand EPDerek Webb & Sandra McCracken

As I have written previously I am NOT a fan of Christian music because Christian rock has no redeeming artistic or social value, in that it neither inspires people to worship nor to appreciate great music. The restrictions placed on Christian musicians by both the Christian record labels and existing fan base, crush out all true artistic growth, every spark of originality or individualism — as if being original or different wereun-Christian or sinful. That said, just because someone celebrates their love of a mythological being (God in this instance) by making artistically barren music doesn't necessarily mean they don't have talent, artistic vision or originality. In the case of singer-songwriter Derek Webb – most famous as part of the Christian band Caedmon’s Call – and his equally talented and successful wife Sandra McCracken, that is certainly untrue, as evidenced by the release of their debut duet EP, Ampersand.

This is the first collaboration from these two deeply personal performers and a true joy to hear. Webb and McCracken's voices perfectly complement each other, harmonising playfully, dancing together in joyous vocal foreplay. McCracken's voice is a mixture of Emmylou Harris and Shawn Colvin, rootsy, warbling, and gently, elegantly loving. And Webb's voice is a mixture of buttery smoothness and raw passion, like a good spicy whisky. And the same can be said of their musical styles; McCracken is a bit alt-folk, with country tinges and Webb, alt-country with rock colour. This collaboration sees the best that both these talented artists have to offer, what it doesn't offer are references to religion or Christianity – thank jebus.

The Ruse10. The Ruse – Midnight in the City

One of my favourite former Band of the Week bands, The Ruse have finally released their newest masterpiece, Midnight in the City. Filled with stunning creamy, rich, Celtic-flavoured soundscapes and dreamy, warm, sensual vocals, Midnight in the City has earned this place on my top ten list. The Ruse's signature sound is reminiscent of Snow Patrol playing U2 songs with Travis arranging the music. Fabulously Brit-rock sound is surprisingly coming from an L.A. band, but it is such a melodic, cultivated sound you'll hardly care. That said, with Midnight in the City you can hear The Ruse beginning to push their sound to a new level. In fact I am willing to admit that the only reason the that Midnight in the City isn't higher in my countdown is simply because I would like to see this band push their sound a bit further, to develop their impressive talents to new levels. The Ruse are a band who's talent, vision and drive are the stuff of legends and I have no doubt that one day these guys will be rock gods.

Pink9. Pink – Funhouse

Funhouse is Pink's break-up album and it shows. This is the first album from Pink in which you can feel real emotion. Her obvious heartbreak is evident in many of the songs like "Sober", "I Don't Believe You", and "Please Don't Leave Me" all of which drip with slightly melodramatic melancholia. But with other songs like the mega-hit "So What", "Bad Influence", and "Funhouse", all much more energetic, you feel Pink flipping her finger at love, marriage and her ex, Carey Hart. It's written all over Funhouse in the up-beat pop-rock tracks and the emotionally bereft, pain filled ballads, it's clear that Pink means every word and sentiment, and feels every ache, every bruise, keenly. But she is Pink, she'll recover and she knows it, it shows.

The Dollyrots
8. The Dollyrots – Because I’m Awesome

The Dollyrots are better classed as hard-core, non-conformist, progressive pop with a strong undercurrent of punk, rather than the pop-punk label they have had thrust upon them. Their debut album Because I’m Awesome is a strong, offbeat, aggressive but friendly album that will inspire you to jump around with your fist in the air singing at the top of your lungs. Definitely a must hear album.

Jem7. Jem – Down To Earth

This Welsh singer-songwriter's works are easy enough to recognise, if you watch much useless television-porn like The O.C., Desperate Housewives, or Grey's Anatomy. However I would be willing to bet you had never heard of her. But now is your chance. Jem weaves beautiful music from the nether region between electro-pop artists like Imogen Heap, musical mavericks like Björk, and whinny, whispering neurotics like Dido. Using elements of soul, electronica, pop, latin, and dance she creates atmospheric electro-pop, that flows together like any great symphony, and yet each song easily stands out on it's own merits. Down To Earth is Jem's second outing and really a must hear album.

Paddy Casey6. Paddy Casey – Addicted to Company

Paddy Casey is among Irish musical royalty. With two previous, multi-platinum selling (in Ireland) albums released he may just be Ireland's best kept secret. Casey's primary strength is his Dylan-esque songwriting style with an Elton John-esque musical flourish. Casey mixes folk, pop and blue-eyed soul for a unique, but completely accessible sound that feels both fresh and comfortable, worn-in and, crisp & clean; the freshly laundered fluffy robe of the musical world. Addicted to Company is Casey's third attempt at breaking the UK and US markets, and a more worthy attempt there never was. You'd miss a lot if you missed this impressive, fun, energetic Irish newcomer.

Photobucket5. Girl In A Coma – Both Before I’m Gone

This American all-girl pop-punk band was discovered by Joan Jett who signed them immediately to her Black Heart record label. Girl In A Coma’s (GIAC) upbeat brand of pop-punk is coloured with the sepia toned smoothness of The Smiths (from where their name originated) and Morrissey but with a strong twist of 50’s rockabilly. GIAC’s debut album Both Before I’m Gone is free of the added saccharine, totally lacking the committee input and marketing-friendly formula that is so evident in most mainstream music. Both Before I’m Gone is pure honest music and talent all wrapped up in an energetic, rocking, retro-swish album that is a completely accessible and a guilt free listen.

The Ting Tings4. The Ting Tings – We Started Nothing

It's been a long time since someone actually took pop in new direction. The Ting Tings debut album We Started Nothing is enough to make any jaded audiophile throw a party, and luckily this is the perfect album for a party. And why would they be celebrating? Well it might be the fact that a major label like Columbia is finally willing to underwrite real, non-committee chosen music, made by real musicians who aren't pretty, straight teethed, blond, American-dream wannabes, but instead by real artists who, write their own lyrics and music, who have talent and artistic vision. And also because, maybe just maybe, the world of mainstream music can finally breath in a huge lung full of fresh air. This DJ inspired alt-pop duo make music that is both edgy and playful. It will take your hand and lead you to a place that may make you feel a little uncomfortable at first, but once you've spent some time there it will change your entire pop music perspective and you'll never be able to hang-out with Britney,Beyonce , or Christina again. If you haven't heard of The Ting Tings, then you're already two steps behind. Time to catch-up and get yourself a copy of one of the best albums of the year!

The Script3. The Script – Script

Dublin based The Script is certainly the next mega-band-on-the-block and their self-titled debut album proves that. Bristling with melodious high-pop rock tunes, The Script is occasionally reminiscent of early The Police, U2 and even Van Morrison but still maintains an independent music feel and distinct sound that is all their own. It’s almost hard to believe that RCA would sign such a band, running over with obvious originality and intelligent, compelling lyrics. This beautifully crafted album is one that many will love and others will hate much like Maroon 5’s debut Songs About Jane, and look where they ended up.

The Bittersweets2. The Bittersweets – Goodbye, San Francisco

The Bittersweets are the vanguard of the alt-country folk-pop sound that is spreading and finding fans from across the musical genre board. The Bittersweets’ sophomore album Goodbye, San Francisco lives up to the band’s name; filled with effervescent, bittersweet, nostalgic melodies, rippling with bluesy guitar riffs, round sweet harmonies and the smooth, honeyed vocals of frontwoman Hannah Prater. The most impressive thing about the Bittersweets is their ability to create mellow, sentimental emotion that is pleasingly poignant without ever being overcooked, mawkish or syrupy. Don’t miss The Bittersweets, because you will regret it later.

Photobucket1. Snowpatrol – A Hundred Million Suns

The fifth full-length album for this Glasgow based mega-band is a departure from their usual broken-hearted fare, both lyrically and musically. No one has ever written bereft-without-you, didn’t-know-what-I-had-till-lost-you lyrics like GaryLightbody , but with A Hundred Million Suns he has turned those considerable, if dreary, talents in on themselves, writing lyrics and music that are actually upbeat. Songs that say “I love you and I’m happy in our relationship”, “WOW how fabulous is this relationship stuff” and “I’ve never loved you more than I do right now”. But it’s not just those famously teary-eyed, grief-stricken lyrics that have changed. The band have managed change their already creamy-smooth, hot-buttered sound just enough that it sounds like Snowpatrol but more upbeat, stronger, happier melodies, more acoustic guitar and less obvious riffs all add to this new Snowpatrol. The final sound is one that is recognisable, so you’re not threatened by a totally new sound, but still different enough that you can see a new direction for this well seasoned and much adored band. A Hundred Million Suns is an accomplished album with a fresh yet comfortable sound, that you will listen to it over and over again.

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About A.L. Harper

  • Jordan Richardson

    Cool list.

    I really enjoyed the Ting Tings album this year. It’s probably my personal favourite from your list. Gonna have to check out Jem. I didn’t even know she had another one out, so thanks for enlightening me there.

    :)

  • http://www.alharper.com A.L. Harper

    They are all fabulous albums. or I wouldn’t have put them on my list!

    But yes The Ting Tings are fantastic. I’m sure they are only going to get better!

    A.L.

  • http://donaldgibson.blogspot.com/ Donald Gibson

    I reviewed a compilation album last year that had a Tings Tings cut on it (“Fruit Machine”), which drew me to getting their album. They’re playing a club gig here near my hometown in a month or so; I may have to check that out.

  • http://www.alharper.com A.L. Harper

    I couldn’t vouch for their live show, but you’d hope with that kind of energy on an album, that their live show would be something amazing!