It's that time of year when we take stock in the year past and look forward to what's ahead. For those of us who love music, it can also mean grading the releases of the past 366 days and deciding for ourselves what's the best.
Blogcritics' music editors are no exception to that rule, and what follows is our own little guide to the best of the year past.
Connie Phillips, Music Editor
This has been a different sort of year for me musically. There have been very few releases that I've really connected to and it's made the job of picking the "best" a real chore.
Connection on an emotional level is an essential quality of a top pick for me. Another standard is whether or not I hit the skip button when a song from it comes up on my iPod on iTunes? With these two guidelines I came up with a short list, and from there I just couldn't bring myself to narrow it down any further.
Are these the best albums 2008 had to offer? I really can't answer that for you, but I connected to them. Some of you (or maybe most) might file all of my choices under "guilty pleasures" but they are the albums that I spun the most in 2008.
Rick Springfield's Venus in Overdrive came out in July and has been on my favorite playlist ever since. It's a perfect balance of light and fun tracks as well as songs deeply tied to love and loss. Eric Himan's Resonate (released in April) still remains one I can 'dial into' on the iPod and listen to for days without growing tired of it. All ten tracks touch me in a very personal way. If you haven't checked this one out, you must.
Vampire Weekend 's self titled and American Idol's David Cook (also s/t) are two more that consumed a good chunk of my music listening time.
Josh Hathaway, Senior Editor/Asst. Music Editor
Counting Crows – Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings
I can't remember the last time I had such a difficult time picking one album to be my album of the year. The last few years have had many great records but I was always able to zero in on one that stood above the rest. Not this year. There were spectacular debuts (Dave Carter) and marvelous performances by legends (B.B. King) and even hybrids of that (Tom Petty and his first band, Mudcrutch). There were gorgeous indie records (Bittersweets) and British psychedelic sprawl (Oasis). The Black Crowes were inspired by the addition of Luther Dickinson and the Black Keys were revitalized by their partnership with Danger Mouse. Those are seven great records good enough to be #1, but the best album of 2008 is Counting Crows' Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings.
There was a time when the word 'record' referred specifically to vinyl records, and SN&SM is made for those times. This is not a concept album in the prog-rock sense, it's two separate albums sharing the same CD. The band even worked with two different producers for each 'album.' There is no chronological narrative a la Tommy, but when placed together the two albums paint an often devastating picture of degradation, remorse, and desperation for salvation from the never-ending downward cycle. It's not a feel good album but it's real, it's honest, and it's amazing. Adam Duritz is at his best and his bandmates' versatility has never been more evident.
Glen Boyd, Asst. Music Editor
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.
As for the music, it falls somewhere in between the grandiosity of Wilson opuses like Pet Sounds and Smile, and the simplicity of Wilson's more personal work like "In My Room" or "Caroline, No." It is also sweeping and gorgeous throughout. You'll find some of my other favorite albums from this past year by going here.
Donald Gibson, Asst. Music Editor
Jenny Lewis – Acid Tongue
Whether fronting Rilo Kiley or stepping out on her own, Jenny Lewis seems – at least on the surface – wholesome and enchanting, yet her maiden, girlish charm is but the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down. On her sophomore solo effort, Acid Tongue, the indie siren sweetens twisted tales of kink and squalor, serving up one intoxicating tonic and, to this writer's taste, the album of the year.
Having her way with a kaleidoscope of rich melodies, Lewis hardwires these songs with lucid imagery – lyrics conjuring the sinful and soulful, the sacred and profane – further distinguishing herself as an eclectic and versatile songwriter.
From the misty-eyed vibe that pierces through “Black Sand” and “Godspeed” to the rabble-rousing thrust of “See Fernando” and “Carpetbaggers” (spiked with a shot of Elvis Costello), from the salacious bent of “Jack Killed Mom” to the redemption bestowed within the title track, Acid Tongue is sated with mischievous bite. Jenny Lewis, by virtue of her talent and magnetism, just makes it easier to swallow.
A. L. Haper, Asst. Music Editor
Snow Patrol – A Hundred Million Suns
The fifth full-length album for this Glasgow based mega-band is a departure from their usual brokenhearted fare, both lyrically and musically. No one has ever written bereft-without-you, didn't-know-what-I-had-till-lost-you lyrics like Gary Lightbody, 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 Snow Patrol but more upbeat; stronger, happier melodies, more acoustic guitar and less obvious riffs all add to this new Snow Patrol. The final sound is one that is recognizable, 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.