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The Rockologist: My Favorite Albums Of 2008

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Normally, it would be the custom to do one of those top-ten best-of articles for the year right about now. The thing is, at least if I am being 100-percent honest, I would have a pretty hard time filling such a list this year.

It's not there wasn't any good music out there in 2008 — because there most certainly was. It's just that unlike say, 2006, when you had a record that really stood out the way that Dylan's Modern Times did, or even 2007, when you had no less than great new albums by Wilco, Springsteen, and Radiohead to consider, there just weren't any new albums that stood head and shoulders above the rest of the pack the way that those did.

Although I will admit that I considered Radiohead for this year's list. My reasoning there being that although In Rainbows was first released in 2007 in its download-only version, the physical release which came out on January 1st of this year simply sounded so much better.

Oh well, I guess I'll leave that for the folks at the Grammys to decide.

Anyway, what I ended up doing was going back through all the articles and reviews I did this year, as well as revisiting a few releases that for whatever reason I never actually ended up writing about. So, this list is not necessarily a best of the year for 2008. It does however represent the music I probably listened to the most this year. It is also in no particular order.

Brian Wilson – That Lucky Old Sun
Brian Wilson's love letter to his beloved California is also one of the most personal, bittersweet sounding pieces of music I have heard by just about any artist in recent memory. While much of the music here recalls the simpler, more innocent vision of what he calls the "Heartbeat Of L.A." (read: vintage surf and sand Beach Boys) — especially on songs like "Forever My Surfer Girl" — other songs like "Oxygen To The Brain" and "Midnight's Another Day" provide an open-book, autobiographer's sort of sketch into the artist's often troubled life. The music is sweeping and gorgeous throughout.

Bob Dylan – Tell Tale Signs: Rare And Unreleased 1989 – 2006
The latest entry in Dylan's Bootleg Series of unreleased music from the vaults, actually plays more like a unique new album in its own right than a mere collection of leftovers. Focusing on the period from 1989's Oh Mercy right on up through Dylan's much more recent creative renaissance on the albums Time Out Of Mind, Love & Theft, and 2006's Modern Times, songs like "Someday Baby," "Aint Talkin," and no less than three versions of "Mississippi" are reworked so radically here as to become entirely new and different creations. As such, they provide unique insight into Dylan's ever-evolving songwriting process.

Steven Wilson – Insurgentes
The first ever full length solo album from Porcupine Tree's main man Steven Wilson is every bit the sort of all over the place mix of styles you'd expect from a guy whose projects range from the prog-metal of PT to the ambient-pop of No-Man. The sounds on Insurgentes range from the chiming U2-ish guitars of the opening track "Harmony Komine," to the dense layers of "Salvaging," to the doomy, avant-prog of the King Crimson like ""No Twilight Within The Courts Of The Sun." Wilson originally released this in a limited run of 3000 copies (which quickly sold out), but word is there will be a commercial release early next year.

John Mellencamp – Life Death Love & Freedom
Mellencamp could have easily taken the easy road here by following last year's Freedom's Road, and it's highly visible (thanks to those Ford Truck ads) single "Our Country," with a similarly commercial record of Americana tinged pop tunes. Instead, he got together with producer T-Bone Burnett to produce a stark, stripped down sounding album with folk and blues based arrangements that sound a lot closer to the dust bowl than the arena bowl. The result is some of Mellencamp's darkest sounding music to date, while the lyrics of songs like "Without A Shot" and "Troubled Land" are all about the search for redemption.

Mudcrutch – Mudcrutch
I was a bit of a late bloomer to Tom Petty's revival of his looser, rootsier pre-Heartbreakers band. But when their version of the Byrds' "Lover Of The Bayou" eventually hooked me, I was pretty much all-in. For what's been mostly advertised as something of a one-off, this is actually some of Tom Petty's most arresting, yet completely natural and relaxed-sounding stuff in years. It's also a place I'd personally like to see him revisit a bit more often.

Marillion – Happiness Is The Road
The latest entry from these British prog-rock cult heroes was an ambitious double-CD, divided into two separate parts (Essence and The Hard Shoulder) that all-told contained over two hours of music. And while there was plenty here to keep the band's diehard prog-rock fans happy, the band also stretches out quite a bit musically. The muscular sounding guitar riff of "Thunder Fly" recalls The Beatles' "Paperback Writer," while other songs mine new territory for this band ranging from funk to psychedelia. The common thread is the musicianship, which is absolutely stellar throughout.

Coldplay – Viva La Vida (or Death And All His Friends)
Current plagiarism scandals notwithstanding, this album was Coldplay's attempt to regain some of their original critical mettle following the backlash which arrived at right about the same time they became one of the world's biggest bands. The answer for Chris Martin and company was to recruit producer Brian Eno. Obvious comparisons to U2 albums like Joshua Tree aside, the combination works quite well for the most part. While "Violet Hill" and the title track reclaim this band's common ground of catchy melodies and yes, even that whiny Chris Martin falsetto, songs like "Yes" find the band stretching out with eastern and psychedelic inspired atmospheric sounds. It's not perfect, but it aint' half-bad either.

My Morning Jacket – Evil Urges
It actually took me a while to warm completely up to this one, but I've since found myself coming back to it many times this year. My initial reluctance came mainly from the fact that I wasn't that keen on the whole idea of MMJ resurrecting the spirit of Prince here, as much of the pre-buzz for this album seemed to indicate. And while it is true that songs like "Highly Suspicious" and the title track represented a funkier direction, the live MMJ show I saw this past fall confirmed that this band has lost none of their celebrated improvisational spirit. They just had better songs.

Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes
Everything you've heard with regard to the most buzzed-about band of 2008 is actually true. These shaggy young hippie kids — from Seattle of all places — really do summon the mid-sixties folk-rock spirit of groups like the Mamas And the Papas and the Buffalo Springfield as expertly as they say. With their pastoral sounding wash of gorgeous multiple-part harmonies — take equal parts CSN&Y and Buffalo Springfield, cross-pollinate that with "Good Vibrations"-era Beach Boys, and you've got the idea — the only thing that remains to be seen is if they can do it all again the next time out. Listening to "Tiger Mountain Peasant Song" or "White Winter Hymnal," I'm betting they can.

Steve Winwood – Nine Lives
Despite a high profile tour with Tom Petty this summer, this album didn't get anywhere near the attention it should have. On Nine Lives, Steve Winwood abandons the slick, glossy soul-pop of his eighties hits like "Back In The High Life," and instead rediscovers his pedigree as the great blues and soul singer he was during his younger years in groups like Traffic and the Spencer Davis Group. The result is a stew of Hammond organ fueled blues, and percolating Latin percussion that also represents his best work in years. Eric Clapton's filthy sounding guitar solo on the track "Dirty City" alone is worth the admission price here.

A Second Ten: Black KeysAttack & Release; Ryan AdamsCardinology; The Hold SteadyStay Positive; AC/DCBlack Ice; RaconteursConsolers Of The Lonely; Neil YoungSugar Mountain – Live At Canterbury House 1968; David GilmourLive At Gdansk; DuffyRockferry; MetallicaDeath Magnetic; No-ManSchoolyard Ghosts

Best Reissues: Creedence Clearwater RevivalThe Fantasy Records Remasters; Cheap TrickBudokan!; LoveForever Changes; U2Boy

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About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at The Rockologist, and at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.
  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    B.B. King – “One Kind Favor” doesn’t make your top 20? I demand a recount. Maybe “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean” strikes too close to the bone for old-timers, but that’s one of the best damn songs of the year. If it doesn’t affect your heart and soul, it’s likely you ain’t got either.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    I have to be honest here Bicho and say that I haven’t heard the whole thing. That said, I love what I have heard. It just wouldn’t have been honest to include something based on great word of mouth and the bits that I have heard (which are excellent).

    I mean, can you say Maxim?

    -Glen

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    Well, I read you stole the MMJ album so I don’t see why you couldn’t get B.B. as well. Is he he not good enough for your thieving ways? Save the $300 the next time Neil comes to town and do yourself a favor and get it.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Its on my list El B…ya’ know, Christmas is coming buddy…??

    -Glen

  • http://www.marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    geezuz! toss that Marillion crap and get the King!

    ;-)

  • http://somethingelsemusic.blogspot.com/ Pico

    I give this article my meager endorsement on the inclusion of Steve Winwood’s Nine Lives alone. It’s astonishing that 40 plus years into his career he produces what is likely his finest solo album ever and can stand up against most of the Traffic records as well. And yet, hardly any publicity about it.

    It’s a great record because it’s Winwood doing all the things he does best. And Clapton once again proves he’s also a phenomenal session player in case anyone forgot.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Thanx Pico. 100% agree with you.

    Saleski…I didn’t expect Marillion to be one of the more umm, “popular” choices here (and feel free to jump in here anytime Tom Johnson…), but the fact remains I think its a beautiful piece of work. It should also be restated, this isn’t a “best of the year list” but rather just what was on my player most often this year. The King is definitely in my future I’m sure.

    -Glen

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

    So the Scarlett Johansson album must’ve just missed the cut, huh?

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Yeah, it was either that, Marillion, or BB King.

    -Glen

  • Paul Roy

    An average Marillion album is still better than most of the other crap that came out this year. I cannot wait to get my hands on the new Steve Wilson album (and the forthcoming Porcupine Tree DVD). I have been hesitant to shell out money for the new Steve Winwood CD, but you may have just convinced me.

  • http://marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    Saleski…I didn’t expect Marillion to be one of the more umm, “popular” choices here (and feel free to jump in here anytime Tom Johnson…), but the fact remains I think its a beautiful piece of work

    i know glen! that’s what the smiley face was for…just pullin’ yer leg.

    just having some fun with the fact that we’re on opposite sides of the Marillion love/hate divide.

  • http://www.knownjohnson.com Tom Johnson

    Well, I’d love to stump for Marillion, but it may not make my list. I’m always torn whether to put things on my list because I’m a fan and I’m going to listen anyway, or because I truly, deeply love something. This year, a couple of long-time favorites just aren’t doing it for me – the new releases from Marillion and Aimee Mann. That doesn’t mean they won’t get a lot of play because these are artists whom I love and generally listen to a lot of a large part of their catalog, especially newer stuff, but I’m not feeling “best of year” in relation to these albums. They don’t blow me away like many others this year did. Fleet Foxes, Calexico, Lambchop, no-man, Elbow, Byrne/Eno, James, Radiohead (or does that qualify as 2007?), Squarepusher, Steven Wilson . . . these are the albums that defined my year, and my list will reflect that, along with some others that are slipping my mind at the moment.

    And, yeah, BB King’s new album is amazing. I literally just got it, so it’s hard to include it on my list since I haven’t lived with it, but had I grabbed this when it came out, it surely would have been on my list.

  • http://www.myspace.com/x15 Douglas Mays

    hhhmmm…I give a vote to the Raconteurs.

    What is the deal with those Fleet Foxes? Being a Seattle scenester, I can’t figure it out. Modest Mouse, Death Cab, Fleet Foxes. Yet I hear that they are quite good in concert and that the album is good as a whole, from start to finish. That is a nice feature of a band…..

    Anyway, I do like this 2008 indy release from Seattle by UPCHUCK entitled ‘Gone But Not Forgiven’on Dadastic Records. Another release of proto grunge. Pearl Jam was into this guy as a young band. Like the X-15 that came out of here.

    Actually, it seems like at least some substance is starting to work it’s way into music, a bit…

    best,
    DM

  • http://www.getyouroj.com Jason | GetYourOJ.com

    I got as far as the part as you saying there’s no record that stands out this year and that’s where I had to stop. I respect different opinions and tastes, and maybe for you there was no stand out album. But go listen to MGMT Oracular Spectacular. How does that album not stand out? I’m fairly certain it will make most top ten lists. There are countless artists who put out good albums this year. Lykke Li, The Streets, Oasis, Kaiser Chiefs, I could go on all night.. but I haven’t got the time at the moment.

    Anyway, to think there’s not at least one stand out album a year in just about every genre of music is fairly absurd given the number and scope of the srtists there are out there. Anyone with access to the net shouldn’t have a problem finding great music from 2008 that stands out. It’s everywhere.

    Jason | GetYourOJ.com

  • http://www.getyouroj.com Jason | GetYourOJ.com

    Now I’ve read through the article and admire the diversity found on your list. The My Morning Jacket album is great, the Coldplay not so much IMHO

    off the top of my head I’ll add The Black Keys as another great one. And the Justice live album.

    There are so many..

  • zingzing

    oh jeez… coldplay? metallica? (seriously?)

    here’s a dozen you apparently missed:

    tv on the radio
    portishead
    spiritualized
    the new year
    mount eerie
    amadou & miriam
    hercules and love affair
    fucked up
    fuck buttons
    excepter
    deerhunter
    beach house

  • JC Mosquito

    Yeeha! Year end, and we all get to pick over various Top Ten lists. I’m not being facetious, but maybe the world oughtta establish different fiscal/musical year end zones or something so we can enjoy this on a monthly basis – a Christmas in July kinda thing.

    A good pastiche of a list, Glen – a little of everything for everyone, like a loaded Christmas Eve pizza before Rico’s shuts the ovens down early for the night so the whole family can make it to midnight Mass. Happy holidays, everyone.

    – Skeeter.

  • primo rosario

    Good Job….

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Really, Glen?? This list looks more like a job application for SPIN. Steven Wilson’s release seems to be the only thing you nailed that isn’t an “in crowd” favorite. Well, that and the new (boring) Marillion album. Hell, I haven’t even listened to Insurgentes, I’m just giving him the benefit of doubt. Seriously, Coldplay & Metallica??
    *UGH!!*

  • http://somethingelsemusic.blogspot.com/ Pico

    I can’t wait to see Guppus’ “out crowd” list!

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Guppus,

    The truth is I spent the better part of my younger years trying to “out-hip” everyone too and I just don’t give a shit about that anymore.

    The criteria for my list this year just came down to what I heard this year that I liked. Period. I knew going in that Coldplay wouldn’t be a popular choice among the hipsters. But I liked it. And quite frankly, I just don’t care if their “bigness” somehow negates consideration for a “hipper than thou” best of the year list. I liked “X&Y” too if that makes a difference.

    I also know that Metallica outlived their “hipness” credentials years ago, even amomgst “metallurgists” such as yourself. But for me, it was a kick to hear them doing what they once did so well again.

    SPIN? Don’t make me laugh. I had two reviews published in that magazine back when they mattered, and if I wanted a job there now all I’d have to do is rewrite press releases for the most obscure “underground” band out there, and I’d probably be hired on the spot.

    Thats why I do my thing for Blogcritics these days. I can just write about what I like without fear of reprisal for my “un-hipness.”

    But don’t worry Guppy, you’re a smart enough guy that you too will one day get there.

    -Glen

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Glen,

    That’s fine if you review & praise the music that you like. Maybe you just need to listen to more music(I doubt it!). Personally, I think anyone can make an argument for any of those bands/artists that you listed because their releases are readily available. Those were easy choices & they don’t truly speak to me about the author.

    IMHO, I don’t care to be a f*cking pretentious “Hipster”! Being hip was never a state of mind for me when I thought about music! I have always had a similar attitude,”I like what I like & F*ck you if you don’t!”! My main goal is to speak my mind and maybe cast a little light on the bands that deserve the credit. I’m sorry, I don’t care what you say,but, Metallica & Coldplay both wasted plastic by releasing their brand of crap on CD.They were hardly worth listening to, never mind the best of 2008!

    Metallica didn’t out live their “hipness”, they just forgot how to play Thrash and for them to get all of this attention with a piss poor album just really tells me that most of America doesn’t have a f*cking clue about good Goddamn Metal!!

    Oh well, I don’t know how to close this comment…

    I guess that is the great thing about Blogs. The average man can write a review about something he loves and then another average man can piss all over it(Just Kidding)

  • http://www.EurocriticsMagazine.com Christopher Rose

    Glen, who exactly were you in to in your younger years when you were trying to “outhip” everybody?

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Glam, then prog, then punk pretty much in that order.

    -Glen

  • http://www.EurocriticsMagazine.com Christopher Rose

    Those are genres, not bands… Who in particular?

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Glam: Dolls, Bowie, Alice, T. Rex, Silverhead, etc.
    Prog: Genesis, Camel, Renaissance, Gentle Giant, Strawbs, etc.
    Punk: Ramones, Dead Boys, Iggy, Pistols, Stranglers, Clash, Saints, Radio Birdman, Jam, etc.

    -Glen

  • zingzing

    so you came of musical age in about 1973. don’t take this too seriously, but you shoulda been into roxy, eno, faust, can, stooges, lou reed, john cale and terry riley if you were really hip to shit. for all i know, you were.

    i’ve never heard of this silverhead. and weren’t radio birdman an offshoot of someone else… maybe mission of burma? and are the strawbs really prog? i’ve never listened to them much, but… i thought they were more garage rock. but i might be thinking of the wrong band.

    and my god, you seemingly missed out on the greatest band of the mid-70s, pere ubu. of course, i’m coming at this from a 20-20 hindsight angle… having come of musical age in about 1992.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    You’re confusing the Strawbs with the Raspberries Zing. The Strawbs were basically an english folk group that eventually morphed into a prog-rock group.

    And yeah, I was into many of the bands you mentioned..particularly Lou Reed and the Stooges (I mentioned Iggy didn’t I?).

    I never really “got” Roxy Music…though I like a lot of Eno’s solo work (particularly his stuff with Robert Fripp). Mott the Hoople was another one I forgot to mention…I used to love those guys.

    As for my coming of musical age…it was really more like the late sixties. I was pretty young, but I still consider that to be the golden age of rock and roll, with all of the experimentation that was going on back then, even amongst the “biggest of the big” bands (Beatles, anyone?).

    -Glen

  • zingzing

    it certainly wasn’t the raspberries i was thinking of. they’re power-pop, if they’re anything, and they’re rather weak at that. well, they’re no big star. (and they’re no db’s.)

    you did mention iggy, but even at his bowie-peak, he was never as good solo as he was in the stooges.

    mott was sporadically brilliant. their best stuff just reminds me of other bands, and never the same group. so they kinda piss me off. roxy’s first couple were absolutely brilliant prog rock. maybe just because they never seemed pretentious. and eno really did the same thing in his early solo career. his stuff with fripp is just amazing, especially that second one they did. um… what’s the name… evening star?

    as far as the late-60s being the best musical era… there’s another thread where i posit that the late 70s/early 80s was potentially more interesting and experimental. so much stuff happened then.

    that said, i just listened to love’s “forever changes” last night and was pretty damned impressed with how much of their sound is still up-to-date. some pieces of their sound are stuck in the 60s, but some still sound modern. a lot of stuff that came out then is quite timeless, maybe in a way that post-punk stuff was not.

    as soon as technology became the main force behind musical progression, it becomes trapped in time a little bit more. to think that the beatles were recording on four-track until about 1968 or 69 is just… mind-boggling.