At The Barbecue: Favorite Album Of 2008

Chad Berndston: Best of the year, eh? And just one? Well, I gotta say both the Drive-By Truckers and Black Keys knocked it out of the park—changing things up a bit (lineups for the DBT, production values for BK) and not losing what makes them so potent. Jenny Scheinman…whoa, two releases, no regard for any kind of traditional genre trappings, and utterly entrancing. She’s a force to be reckoned with. And like most people, I long ago accepted BB King would just sort of ride his legendary status to deliver cookie-cutter gigs and vanity project albums – and he’d be perfectly in his right to do so; so it was such a surprise to hear One Kind Favor and be bowled over by its intimacy and deceptively understated power.

Also, I gotta give it up for Murder By Death – terror-filled, apocalyptic country rock is something that was definitely missing from my life. And Glasvegas, whose debut is every bit as hot shit as you’ve heard. Never thought I’d get so much depth or innovation out of a hardcore band, but then I’d never heard the justly beloved Fucked Up before, either. And there ain’t no denying TV On The Radio – even their failures are interesting, and Dear Science, is their boldest, baddest and probably best yet.

But the album I’ll hold onto from Ought Eight – White Denim’s Exposion. From Austin they come, this trio of wily cats, and what they have in store for you is something that’s nominally – and fundamentally – fuzzed-out garage rock, but really that concept blown up, with no small amount of energy, focus and cojones, into several different jaw-dropping mutations of itself – all of them expertly rendered and all of them primal, too. If that description doesn’t make sense, you’ll understand why when you hear it; it’s an album, and a band, provoking visceral reactions first, intellectual reactions second. I had this album shortlisted earlier in the year, and I needed something to put it over the top – a knockout show at the Mercury Lounge in October did the job.

Aaron Stein: Some time this winter – I think it was at one of the Marco Sullivan Hall gigs – someone who’s taste I respect told me [paraphrasing] “I’ve been listening non-stop to the album of the year.  You are so psyched for this to come out!”  Now, this was January and the album he was talking about wasn’t even coming out for over a month (damn too-cool-for-school insiders!) and I was pinning my hopes on MMJ’s upcoming effort.  But try as I might to prove him wrong, to pull out some left-field cred-building awe-inspiring discovery, alas! I cannot.  He was right, goshdarnit!

That album is Stephen Malkmus’ Real Emotional Trash. It struck me that this was hands-down the best thing I’ve heard all year when I heard my 4.5 year old son mangling the lyrics to the utterly sublime Hopscotch Willie in the car not too long ago.  That’s not a “my kid is friggin’ excellent” observation, it’s a “that album is friggin’ brilliant” one.  It’s a testament both to how many times I’ve listened to it top-to-bottom with the fact that each song has an ability to burrow deep into your ear and hang out there for a long while.  Break it down into a bunch of songs, and it’s as fine a collection of songwriting and (dare I say it) jamming that you’ll find from a pretty solid batch of music released this year.  Fused together into a single album and it’s gotta be the one.

A.J. Crandall: Okay, so I have to pick my favorite album of the year. That’s easy; Roll Away by Back Door Slam. This was the first CD I got this year and has become the standard by which the rest of this year’s releases have been judged. Maybe not a fair system, but it’s my system. Oh sure, there were times when the disc came close to relinquishing first place, but those times passed quickly. In Rainbows, Radiohead’s wickedly fun album was at the top until it was pointed out that it was released December 28th of last year. I checked, I downloaded it on that very day. Next in line was this debut disc by three school mates from the Isle of Man that I keep coming back to time and time again.

To listen to Davy Knowles voice is to hear the passion behind the blues. Thick veins on the neck sticking out while his face turns red kind of emotion that really belies his twenty one years kind of passion. To listen to the rhythm section of Adam Jones and Ross “Sten” Doyle is to bring to mind the tight playing of more seasoned veterans, ala Double Trouble. Then, to listen to Knowles play the guitar is wraps it up in a classic package. Comparisons abound, from Hendrix to Buchanan, to Page to Cray to Lang to King to pick one fer chrissakes! The kid can play with the same passion he brings to his vocals.

Consistently good cuts throughout the C.D. did what the blues is supposed to do, make you feel better. I’ve also seen these guys tear it up on stage at a bar with a hundred patrons and hold court at That Stage for 15,000 Bonnaroonians with a live show that makes dancers of us all. If you can find a download of their live version of Red House, risk RIAA lawsuits and rip that sucker and get it into your rotation.

Rock on through the holiday fog.

Jennifer Kirk: Asking me to pick out a favorite album over a given year is like asking me to pick my favorite niece or nephew, I simply can’t do it. Everybody has their best of 2008 lists coming out now and they are all acts that you and I know, so I’d like to take a step back to October 2007 if I may, and introduce you to something you may not know about: The Better Angels of Our Nature by Glossary.

I’ve already fluffed Glossary on HT once before, but I chose to do it again, because it’s the one album that’s spoke to me since it’s release. Great musicianship and the lyrics are some of my favorite in a while (sans The Felice Brothers). I think they can be best summed up as “if The Band were around today, this is what they’d sound like.” Some of my favorite lyrics are:

never felt freedom
Never wrapped it in their arms
Never been willing to risk everything
To follow what’s in their hearts
But honey I’ll tell you right now I’m willing to risk it all
“Shout it from the Rooftops”

Come and lay your burdens down
You know we’re the same once we’re in the ground
Let this be a chance to turn things around
Even if you don’t have no faith
No matter what god you claim
Just never let the devil win again
The best thing for you is you can download the entire album for free! So I challenge you to download it, give it a spin or two to see what you think — after all what have you got to lose other than hard drive space?

Rupert: Picking a favorite album of the year means picking an identification to an album. And for a minute there, that stressed me out in weighing what to choose. But in the end, shouldn’t a favorite album for the year simply boil down to the one you listened to the most? Yes. Well, in that case, I’m sticking to my guns and staying with my half-year selection of Frightened Rabbit’s The Midnight Organ Fight.

Something about these talented Glasgow boys zones me out and sends me into an introspective state, which as far as I’m concerned, is the highest compliment an album can receive. On some days, it’s imagining movie scenes, some days it’s imagining personal situations that I might have handled differently, and some days it’s the old hopes and dreams. Regardless, it’s a personal bond which comes around only ever so seldom. I don’t typically seek out hip new music to hype it up and make it a claim, so I hope this doesn’t read that way, because it’s genuine. I’ll admit, I probably haven’t listened to a lot of the more broadly named stuff, but I know when I sat on the train looking out the window five days a week, this is what I listened to the most.

Scott Bernstein: I do much better in list form, so I’m gonna cheat and change the rules to list my top five.

The Raconteurs – Consolers Of The Lonely – A rock album that hasn’t left my iPod since I first put it on. This disc is chock full of well-crafted versatile rock tunes

She & Him – Volume One – I would beg, borrow and steal to spend one night with Zooey Deschanel. Her beauty is only eclipsed by her voice. Combine that with M. Ward’s massive talent and you’ve got a brilliant album.

MGMT – Oracular Spectacular – I was late on the MGMT boat, so I’ll say the physical release of the disc makes this a 2008 release. Time to Pretend and Electric Feel are slick anthems that jump out of the speakers. I just try hard to ignore the lyrics.

Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend – The whitest of white bands for the whitest of white boys (me). Still not sick of this all killer, no filler affair.

Menahan Street Band – Make the Road by Walking – After catching this Daptone act at Summer Stage, I started counting down the days until this disc’s release. It was even better than I had hoped.

Jeremy Welsh: I should admit that up until the release of this album, my experience with mandolinist Chris Thile had been rather limited. I knew of Nickel Creek and had heard an album or two, with their relatively simple, packaged songs. And I had read of feats of virtuosity at various festivals or with musicians twice his age. This contrast actually posed a bit of a conflict in my mind – it isn’t that gifted musicians can’t write simple “pop” songs but I simply was not hearing the Thile I was expecting to hear in Nickel Creek.

And long came Punch, by the Punch Brothers (Thile, along with guitarist Chris Eldridge, bassist Greg Garrison, banjo player Noam Pikelny, and Gabe Witcher on fiddle). My ears had perked up with brief interviews and reviews on NPR; I had also read a few descriptions of a suite Thile had written and released on Nonesuch. I was immediately intrigued and sought out the album as soon as I could. And upon my first listen, I knew it would be one of my favorite albums of the year. It took me in immediately.

Punch is a bit of a dichotomy. One on hand, the playful nature of  the opening Punch Bowl can relax you just enough that the 42-minute suite may become a pleasing background of textured string music, finished with three short gems of songs. But if you begin to pay attention to the The Blind Leading the Blind and its four movements, Punch can be heard as a complex and invigorating piece of “baroque” bluegrass (or maybe “progressive pickin'”?). Twists and turns, runs of instrumental finesse by all five members of the band last for minutes, contrasted with conflicting dissonance, only to slow down to allow Chris to sing his narrative on love and loss. It is not at all what I was expecting – and upon each listen, it still isn’t. The suite is difficult to take in all at once, which allows the listener to hear something new with each play.

Nothing this year has challenged me as much as this album. Nor has anything provided me with so many moments of wonder. It is special to get that in the same work. I now think I have a clear picture of Thile and his music – and I can not wait for the next installment.

Some Dude: In a year that saw releases from a number of my favorite bands – Dr. Dog, The Hold Steady, Conor Oberst, My Morning Jacket and Okkervil River – it was the self-titled debut from the four post-collegiate prepsters of Vampire Weekend that has remained my go-to album since early this year. Ezra Koenig & Co. has crafted an indelibly catchy as fuck album full of African guitar, world beat drumming and lyrics that you’d expect from an English major from Columbia – poetic ruminations on riding the crosstown bus and college crushes.

To say the band has had a successful year may be a bit of an understatement.  While most kids just a year or so out of college are still getting used to life in the real world, the boys of Vampire Weekend have toured relentlessly – hitting every major festival, appeared on Saturday Night Live, the late night talk show circuit and recently closed out their year with a three-night sold out hometown stand at the cavernous Terminal 5. It may be too soon to anoint them as the new Talking Heads or The Police, but if hearing some of their new material in concert is any indication of things to come their they shouldn’t be subject to the dreaded sophmore slump like some of the other recent blog buzz bands (looking your way Tapes N Tapes and CYHSY).

So we told you what albums we loved, how about you? Let us know what your favorite disc of 2008 was by leaving a comment below…

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6 Responses

  1. whitey morgan and the 78s
    honkey tonks and cheap motels cd

    i cant believe this cd is not on everyone’s best of list yet, spread the word.

  2. Art, I took your suggestion and did enjoy Whitey’s album. Not quite my favorite of the year, but certainly a good disc. Thanks for the heads up.

  3. I saw that write up about the Menahan St Band in Relix this month and that sounds cool. Def plan to check em out.

  4. Fully agree with A.J.Crandall – best new live band and album of 2008 & many other years besides! Roll Away is brilliant, diverse and top quality playing shines through on every track. Can’t wait to get a copy of forthcoming 2nd album & to see them perform live again – an experience to savour & hold in your memory as something really really special.

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