Believe it or not, albums that came out in the last year are still finding my inbox, mailbox and CD player. You could say 2008 is the year that keeps on giving us great music. But with the first quarter of 2009 about to close, at some point you have to come to an end point on the year that was if the intention is to make a list of your favorites. For me, now is that point.
And what a year for music 2008 was, rock and roll especially. January started out with releases from alternative rock staples Radiohead (the official release of In Rainbows on XL Recordings), Smashing Pumpkins (the overlooked American Gothic EP), and new rock by the likes of Athens, Georgia-based The Whigs. By the time this January came around, I was still discovering new and great music – the Gaslight Anthem being the highlight of this bunch.
In my opinion, 2008 was a heck of year for Southern rock bands (including The Whigs), with the reemergence of that other Athens band (R.E.M.), pleasant discoveries of newer groups such as North Carolina’s The Sammies, and new albums from veterans My Morning Jacket and Kings Of Leon (who also won a Grammy this year for the hit single “Sex On Fire”). Read on to see which of these bands made my favorites list.
The metal world saw veterans take over, with killer releases by everyone from Metallica and Yngwie Malmsteen to Nevermore’s Jeff Loomis, but newer acts like Torche impressed me as well. Though Judas Priest came back with an ambitious and to critics, a “mixed” effort with the double LP Nostradamus, more impressive to my eyes and ears was the Halford Live At Rock In Rio III DVD/CD package, which featured a remastered Halford solo CD Resurrection together with an hour-long concert from the 2000-2001 “Resurrection World Tour,” a lengthy documentary of it featuring Rob Halford in studio with Bruce Dickinson, and much more. This package largely summed up the best material Halford did outside of his Priest work and is no doubt my favorite non-Judas Priest release.
Other favorite music DVDs that came out late last year include the Radiohead-heavy and Nigel Godrich-produced From The Basement – Various Artists live performance DVD (which was released again in March), and the legendary pre-synthesizer-era The Who shows of 1977 and 1969 – featuring the band’s raw and first ever performance of rock opera Tommy – as captured on Live At Kilburn: 1977, a must-have for any The Who fan.
With so many very good-to-great releases to consider for a list of favorites, it was not an easy task to nail it all down to a Top Ten list, so I’ll give you around ten releases that really made a large impression on me and my mp3/CD/DVD players, and then a short list of some other releases I liked.
10. Filter – Anthems For The Damned
Not too many people I know heard or talked about this album, but Richard Patrick made one of may favorite rock-out-with-your-headphones-on releases of the year. Whether it’s radio-ready rockers like “Kill The Day” and “Soldiers of Misfortune” or the dreamy soundscapes of “Only You” and its instrumental companion “Can Stop This,” it’s the best album Patrick has done since the career-defining Title of Record (1999).
9. Putumayo Presents – Euro Groove
It was through an e-card that a PR rep sent Blogcritics last year that I got to sample the first three tracks from this awe-inspiring compilation of great music from around the world. But I wasn’t happy with just samples and so went to a local store and tracked down this classy, varied, and strong collection of ten tracks by artists from Italy, England, Lebanon, Germany, France, and elsewhere.
Euro Groove was an eye-opener for me to be sure and more compilations like this will surely redefine what has been described as “world music,” (which would no doubt please David Byrne). The gorgeous strings on the jazzy fusion track “Destins Et Desirs“ by Lebanon’s Toufic Farroukh, the seductive and electronic ambiance of “Nuit Magique” by Jazzamor, the ambient funk of “Superwhirly” by Guateque All Stars and the urban pop of “Check In” by Fiamma Fumana are my favorites, though all are enjoyable.
8. Gigantour 2 by Various Artists CD and DVD
The Megadeth-centered tour of a few years ago (2006) featured some of the best up-and-coming acts in heavy metal, including Lamb of God and Into Eternity as well as veterans like Arch Enemy, Overkill and Opeth. For me, the Opeth contributions made me a bigger fan of the band and inspired me to check out some past albums. For that alone, these releases deserve mention in this list. Both discs contain multiple and equally power-packed Megadeth performances as well, including a live version of Megadeth classic “Peace Sells.” Overall, the Gigantour 2 CD and DVD (sold separately) is one hell of a one-two punch.
7. Death Cab For Cutie – Narrow Stairs
To say that a band like Death Cab has “grown” as a band over its decade-plus years of existence would be an insult. They have been great songwriters since its inception, starting with the garage-esque-produced Something About Airplanes 1998 debut.
With Narrow Stairs, its sixth album and second for a major label (Atlantic, after spending its formative years with Barsuk Records), you see the band trying its hand at prog rock-ish material (“I Will Possess Your Heart”) and exotic/tribal beats and loops (“Pity And Fear”). Then there’s the romantic violins that carry “Your New Twin Sized Bed,” literary references to Jack Kerouac (“Bixby Canon Bridge”) and one of the best singles of 2008, “Cath.” Simply put, DCFC is just a great band that finds new ways to get even better than you thought they could be.
6. The Gaslight Anthem – The ‘59 Sound
These Jersey boys don’t need absurdly loud guitars or a nine-piece band to make a great record. With lyrical prose and storytelling that is Springsteen-esque and a Replacements-like punkish aura throughout the band’s second record, The ‘59 Sound is filled with one rockin’ or catchy winner after another, its celebratory title track included.
5. The Sammies – Sandwich
Sometimes, you discover great new music. Other times, new music discovers you. Such is the case here. After doing a Blogcritics review of The Whigs – Mission Control album, a PR rep from The Sammies tracked me down to offer up this album for review, since the two bands not only share southern rock roots but are good friends with one another. I took a chance on them and it surely paid off. A little bit of retro, cool ‘80s rock (in the vein of Echo & The Bunnymen), blues-influenced ‘70s rock and modern rock, it’s a consistently enjoyable and varied record. A great discovery, indeed.
4. Metallica – Death Magnetic
This magnificently back-to-basics thrash metal release is a great album, but also one of the most aggravating ones to come out in some time. Songwriting wise, Metallica has remastered the long and the heavy, the type that made them a household name in the metal world in the 1980s. And though some fans still complain about the thin mix of And Justice For All, the digital distortion you likely experienced listening to this album means Death Magnetic takes the cake for Worst. Production. Ever. It’s not enough to make you want to stop listening altogether, but does make for a disturbing/unsettling listening experience at times.
Worst of all, Metallica stands by it, saying that to clean up the mix would mean taking out the liveliness of the album’s overall sound. Since when do you have to choose between a lively record and digital distortion? Hopefully someday James Hetfield and crew will think differently and remix the album, because one this relentlessly rockin’ and consistent certainly deserves better production than this.
3. The Whigs – Mission Control
Here’s a young southern rock group that has fast become a household name in alternative rock this past year, thanks in part to exposure to late night TV, including on Late Night With David Letterman. The Whigs have a couple of albums to its name, but Mission Control’s catchy, My Morning Jacket-esque sound and at times early ‘90s-ish material doesn’t have a weakling among its eleven tracks. They may not be breaking new ground here but provide a refresher course to remind people – as my next pick surely will as well – that a great band doesn’t need much more than a bass, drums and single guitar attack to attain a full and dynamic sound.
2. The Who – Live At Kilburn: 1977
For you older folks out there and the younger ones (like me) who were not alive when The Who were at the peak of their live and studio wizardry and powers, this two-concert DVD captures the original four members loud, rude and proud. The 1969 show, though grainy in video quality, is a true treasure, as the band performs favorites and a couple of operas (“A Quick One While He’s Away” and “Tommy”), a novelty during this time period. They do so with nothing but the sounds of their collective voices, drums, electric bass and Townshend’s roaring Gibson guitar – no piano/keyboards wanted or needed. The same is true for the 1977 show, one of the last filmed shows with the drugged up mad man behind the kit, Keith Moon before his death the next year. Lively and energetic doesn’t begin to describe how powerful these performances are, not to mention influential.
With the likes of U2 taking the crown of being one of the last great innovative guitar-centric arena rock bands on Earth, this DVD is a reminder of who, along with Led Zeppelin deserved such a title.
1. Radiohead – In Rainbows/From The Basement DVD
What else can you say about Radiohead that hasn’t been said before? It is a group that, far from past its prime, mixes the loveliest melodies (“All I Need,” “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi”), the hard charging (“Bodysnatchers”) and the deceptively heavy (guitar-tuning-wise) “Jigsaw Falling Into Place,” the best emotional-but-not-emo song I’ve heard Yorke and co. write in years. After seeing the band live in the summer of 2008, and praising to others how cool and solid the experience was, it was only afterward you realized that the entirety of In Rainbows was performed.
When fans can get behind and excited for the new material – even if much of it was at least two years in the making – as much as the old material live, you know you’ve accomplished something special. ‘Enuff said.
The From The Basement DVD is an all-star roster of alternative rockers live and in a basement studio in Britain. It is a brilliant, though couple of years old series recently released on DVD – reviewed here – that features nothing but pure, uninterrupted (though audience-less) live performances from the likes of Beck, Jamie Lidell, Sonic Youth, PJ Harvey, The White Stripes, and of course, Radiohead and Thom Yorke solo. It is truly a must-have for those who grew up in the ‘90s and early 2000s with these alternative music heroes.
Semi-Favorites of 2008: TAB The Band – Pulling Out Just Enough To Win, Baskervilles – Twilight, R.E.M. – Accelerate, SP – American Gothic EP, Torche – Meanderthal, Halford – Live At Rock In Rio III DVD/CD, Ryan Adams – Cardinology, Clutch – Full Fathom Five: Video Field Recordings