Many of the following are apples and oranges, thus the rankings could be somewhat interchangeable. They're all good, depending on your taste or musical openness. An excellent year in indie rock, pop, folk.
1. My Morning Jacket, Evil Urges (Ato Records). As with several of my top picks for 2008, MMJ demonstrates a virtuosity of generic flexibility, vocally and instrumentally weaving threads of classic country twang, disco, new wave electropop, 90s indie guitar rock, jam band, and, minimally, southern rock. The only major genre from the last thirty years that I hardly hear at all is punk (perhaps with the exception of “Remnants”). The lyrics aren’t transparent, but neither are they cliché. Songs creep like lava and then spring like cats.
“Evil Urges” gives you a Bee Gees-esque falsetto and disco-rock combined with bridges to a southern rock anthem. “Touch Me I’m Going To Scream” reminds one of Air’s, well, airy electropop mixed with gentle harmonies that build into slightly harder guitar flourishes. “Highly Suspicious” features a “State of Shock” bass line and Prince-like (or Michael Jackson) yawps. “I’m Amazed” is perhaps the most southern rock type number as James belts out the vocals with a rumor of Alabama. “Thank You Too!,” is a kind of twangier late 70s early 80s Bee Gees, even Air Supply (yes, sue me) vocal. “Sec Walkin” is seventies country and disco, a pedal steel guitar and a wailing Jim James.“Two Halves” vocals recall the Stones and Nick Lowe, while the music recalls the alt.country power pop of The Jayhawks.
“Look at You” is a far twangier, somewhat precious ballad. “Librarian” is delicate even if spritely guitar plucking and crooning. “Aluminium Park” has a driving piano rock to it that is clearly indebted to Springsteen. “Remnants” sounds as if it were composed after listening to Foo Fighters and Guided By Voices back to back. “Smokin from Shootin” is some twanged early 80s soft pop riff (can you recognize it?) with an outstandingly patient crescendo. “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Pt. 2” serves up spacey keyboards worthy of OMD, complemented by the eerie jangle of a surf guitar, and a disco drum out of Blondie (for a psychedelic disco aura overall), combining into an eight-minute tour de force. Space-twang-jam-disco-rock? I’m not sure, but there’s a lot to like.
2. She&Him—Volume One (Double Six Records). An ironically pretentious title from a star duo that met on a movie set, this album shows masterful songwriting that supply crosses multiple genres, including classic country, pop and soul. She is actress Zooey Deschanel (a phenomenon which gives a listener pause).