Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Berg Standard's Top 10 Albums of 2008

Below are my top 10 albums for 2008. A lot of music industry publications and music blogs are putting out their list of picks and while I generally will give almost any type of music a spin, there are some albums and sounds I’m just going to enjoy more than others. I’m glad everyone likes the Deerhunter album. I do too. It’s just not my top 10 of the year. So, with that said, enjoy my picks (and the bonus pick from Tracy). Go out and get these albums and support these bands right now. Well, not RIGHT now, read the list first. Happy Listening!

#10 - R.E.M. – Accelerate
The Athens boys are back! This album from the classic alt/college rockers made me forget about crapfests like “Up” and “Reveal”, and have faith in the band returning to its hi-end rocking found on legendary albums like “Green” and “Life’s Rich Pageant.” They’ve gotten older, but come blasting out in this album with the title track “Living Well is the Best Revenge” as if they’re making a statement to all those who threw them aside as has-beens. From there, the album continues its upward climb, and R.E.M. proves to all their fans that reports of their demise were greatly exaggerated. Best Track – “Horse to Water”

#9 - Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!
I never listened to Nick Cave aside from that track “Red Right Hand” that was overplayed in the “Scream” movies, but I gave this CD a spin per a great review in Entertainment Weekly. This album has a higher “funky” factor to previous Cave albums. I feel like those who listened to Tom Waits and those who currently listen to The Hold Steady, could find a happy medium listening to this album. Lyrically, he is at the top of his game and he croons through 11 tracks of rock and rolling in one of the more underrated albums of the year. Best Track – “We Call Upon the Author”

#8 - Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend
I want to hate this album. I really do. I don’t like Vampire Weekend personally (I met several members of the band at a bar in NYC a few years ago) as they come off ‘douchey’ to me, but I can’t deny the fact that their album is really good. It’s well put together and fun. Definitely a “less is more” kind of thing. “A-Punk” is much more sophisticated than standard singles from these types of bands. I hear elements of Paul Simon in a lot of the songs and that’s something I never thought I’d say when I sat down to listen to this album. “M79” mixes strings and delicate minimalist piano well enough to create the feeling of full composition in only a few chords. The songs all seem that way - full musical pieces under the guise of pop songs. With the inclusion of African drumming and Talking Heads-esque melodies, each song still walks that fine line between complicated and composition beautifully. Best Track - “One (Blake’s Got a New Face)”

#7 - Portishead – Third
Another disc that I loved from the moment I put it on and immediately emailed my friend Gabe and told him it would be on my list for 2008. It’s been a while since Portishead put out a new album, which is why adapting and tinkering their sound JUST enough to keep the basis (trip-hop, electronic, dark) but still enough to hear the new additions (some psychedelic spinning) without being too overbearing. This album swirls in your head but doesn’t make it hurt. Just sit back and take it all in. Best song – “The Rip”

#6 - The Hold Steady - Stay Positive
I was much more impressed with this album than I was with “Boys and Girls in America.” This is much more along the lines of “Separation Sunday” where they play with high energy from top to bottom. The title track, “Stay Positive” is a real driver as is “Magazines.”. Front man Craig Finn is at his best and appears to have discovered a way to sing a little more versus the standard shouting and melodic talking. The band itself has grown tremendously and gets better each time I hear them. Unlike a lot of albums, the second half of this disc is actually better than the first half. The band shows that they have depth and aren’t just a straight rock gimmick in the mold of the “E Street Band.” Best track - “Joke about Jamaica”

My wife wanted to involve herself in the creation of this top 10 list so I let her do a write up on her favorite album of 2008. Please don’t judge me for this. I love her but our musical tastes are VERY different. Consider this the best album of the year if you are a girl aged 13 – 31.

Chris Brown - Exclusive
Chris Brown's Exclusive is the best album of the year. Yes, I love pop. (Over the past several years I have been to the following concerts: Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Shakira, and Mariah Carey...and I have no shame about this.) If you love dancing, you'll love this album. Also, if you are looking for a great album to workout to, this is it. This album is upbeat, fun, and if you've seen any of Chris Brown's videos or MTV performances (where even Justin Timberlake is impressed!) you'll probably want to dance on the treadmill and elliptical machine like I do. Chris Brown is so young - but so talented - I can only imagine where he'll be in 20 years. Best album of the year – by far! Best Track – “Wall to Wall”

Now, on with the top 5….

#5 - Ra Ra Riot – The Rhumb Line
I went to school with these guys (Go Syracuse) and they are absolutely amazing. No one else is doing anything like Ra Ra Riot right now. Their hardship story is well known as the band’s drummer passed away during their tour last year. Rather than pack it up, the band rallied around the memory of their fallen band mate and pushed forward with the same energy level and enormous passion not easily found in today’s rising stars. Not only does the fusion of indie rock and classical music produce amazing musicianship, but the vocals and lyrics are incredible. Very far pressed to find a nicer group of kids too that are more down to earth and haven’t let success get to their head. Best Track – “Winter ‘05”

#4 - My Morning Jacket – Evil Urges
I first saw MMJ in 2004 at Bonnaroo after a recommendation from a college friend. I caught their set in the rain and watched as they did what I hadn’t seen other bands do in a while; just flat out wail. Lead singer Jim James has helped this Kentucky Band reach new heights with the latest effort. Unlike most jam bands that will jam on and never seem to know when to quit, MMJ always seem to know exactly when the right time is to end a song. This album is crafted so perfectly with the combination of heavy guitar and arguably one of the tightest rhythm sections in rock right now. “Highly Suspicious” was stuck in my head for weeks and while I agree with John at Digital Metropolis in that this album contains the worst MMJ song ever (“Sec Walkin”), this album is justifiably at the top of most music blogs and magazines’ lists for 2008. Best Track – “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Pt 2”

#3 - The Raconteurs - Consolers of the Lonely
Top to bottom this is just an incredible album. Whereas the first album was gimmicky (anything really memorable from it other than “Steady as She Goes”?), this is much more of a straight out classic rock album and a complete effort. The songs are hooky but not poppy. “The Switch and the Spur” gives a new level of sophistication to the band and layers their talents properly. This album is packed with raw energy throughout but produced well so as not to come off too garagey. These are great songs and prove that the band is legit, not just a mini super group/side project. The real gem is “Top Yourself” – which harkens to Led Zeppelin II (which I argue is their best album). Best Track – “Top Yourself”

#2 - Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes
Some people don’t want a band to rock their socks off with loud guitars. They’d rather them do it with pseudo-Renaissance era vocals and a delicate layering of acoustic guitars and drums (with some strings to boot!). That’s what Fleet Foxes did. Recommended to me by Gabe (through the tall man himself, Chris - though originally recommended by Nick so he should get credit), they combine melodic vocals and warm guitar acoustics for a delightful album perfect for a Sunday afternoon (or a Tuesday morning in your office). Much like “Arcade Fire”, there is a lot of sound going on with this band but it’s done in a way that seemingly pulls you into their world. People are going to be talking more about these guys if they haven’t been already. “White Winter Hymnal” sounds like it could work not just now but in the 1950’s as a single while the darker “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” will perk the ears of Townes Van Zandt fans everywhere. For all of those out there who long for an album that will remind you of Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds” (arguably the greatest album ever made), Fleet Foxes are for you. These guys are absolutely my band to watch in 2009. My advice to you is to get this disc, lend it to your friends, and make them buy it. Best Track – “Your Protector”

#1 - TV on the Radio – Dear Science
After listening to the first four tracks of this album, I immediately emailed Gabe and told him it was the best album of the year. That was back in September. I feel more confident now then I did months ago that this is the best album of the year. You can really hear the band getting excited in the studio recording these songs. I liked but didn’t LOVE “Return to Cookie Mountain” but really like the fact that “Dear Science” has put a big exclamation point next to TVOTR. The secret is definitely out. Their unique sound and Tunde Adebimpe’s vocals are welded together in a way that produces successful experimentation the way Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart used to do things. I’m not saying the band sounds like those bands; I’m just saying they aren’t afraid to do something totally different and not easily defined. The delicate “Family Tree” shows the band is not just an indie-electronic-rock hybrid band. “Dancing Choose” is fantastic as the mixture of horns and guitars swirls to perfection. While I’ll admit the band has never impressed me live because venues haven’t quite figured out how to mix their sound well, they have continued to grow as a band with their studio efforts. Best Track - “Red Dress”

Albums that ALMOST made it (really REALLY good, but not my top 10)
The Pretenders – Breaking up the Concrete
M83 – Saturdays = Youth
Jenny Lewis – Acid Tongue
Kings of Leon – Only By the Night
Q-Tip – The Renaissance (this was a REALLY hard decision, Q – if you stumble across this, I’m really really sorry!)
Black Keys – Attack and Release
Wolf Parade – At Mount Zoomer (thanks to our friends at EarFarm for the recommendation!)
Santogold – Santogold
Beck – Modern Guilt
Cloud Cult – No One Said It Would Be Easy

Albums I wasn’t so crazy about that were seriously hyped:
Lil’ Wayne – Tha Carter III
Gnarls Barkley – The Odd Couple
The Roots – Rising Down
Kanye West – 808s and Heartbreaks
Tracy Chapman – Our Bright Future

Complaints and questions as well as comments are welcome!


john said...

solid list overall. the chris brown review struck a chord with my girlfriend, so he definitely appeals to the lady crowd.

I am 25 years old. said...

I have to say that I agree with Tracy about the Chris Brown album...also I have to say that Q-Tip would have made my Top 10

David said...

I really really like this list, but a bit surprised that you didnt include Radiohead's "In Rainbows." I know it released early online, but it hit stores on new years day ... I remember because I bought the CD on release day.

Nick said...

Fleet Foxes - to Adam from Gabe through Chris and originating with me. You can thank me later.

Berg said...

I count the digital release of "In Rainbows." It was on my top albums of 2007.

Christy said...

On Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds -- I too saw that review, and went to listen to that album, but just couldn't get into it. I assume you like the whole album -- favorite songs on the album?

Berg said...

I liked Nick Cave because it was a concept album. Lot of fun to listen to.

Alexandra said...

I was really seriously disappointed by Accelerate. As a die-hard REM fan, though, I'm glad someone dug it.

Samuel said...

I applaud you for not pimping your own album.