My dream job for a big part of college was to be Greil Marcus. Think of it — getting paid quite well to sit around and gas about music all day. Even better, every new release that every two-bit label on every planet puts out arrives promptly on your doorstep. I guarantee, there's not a mailing list in America that guy isn't on. You may have noticed that I'm not Greil Marcus, and at this point, I never will be. Thus any picture of the year in music 2008 can only be as complete as my personal vantage point — the stuff that crossed my path, grabbed me, and stuck to my bones. Thus, this list of my seven favorite records of 2008, in order of release. There was lots more I heard, although not everything --t he traditional "best of" lists I've been seeing are illustrating that I've got a LOT of catching up to do — but this is what I heard that made a big deep-ass impression on me. Accelerate, R.E.M. (April 1)There's a small cabal of leftie-leaning musicians who took advantage of the past few years of Republican hell to write their own "up yours, Bush" records (see: Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young). R.E.M. perhaps best captures the sustained rage and incredulidity of the past eight years with a short, tight, focused record heavy on the distorted guitars and uptempo rockers.
It's sort of a hybrid between the sound of Monster and the tone of an early record like Murmur, granted the sharper clarity of Stipe's more recent writing. I think it suffered a bit in the collective mind of R.E.M. fans because the band has become this lumbering popular beast over the years; each album is more than just a collection of songs, it's an event. It's just refreshing to hear them sluff off the labored feel of their last record, Around the Sun, and get back to the business of just cranking out good songs. The rockers achieve varying degrees of ass-shakingness and mind-blowingness, but the standout track may be a mid-tempo dirge, "Houston," that in two minutes presents an unforgettable character sketch of the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Momofuku, Elvis Costello (May 6)Speaking of cranking out good songs, Elvis Costello does just that on his latest studio effort, which comes just a few months after he announced he was giving up on recording forever. Thankfully, he later revised his position after an energizing studio session with Jenny Lewis.