I'm not a music critic, and I don't (can't) buy & listen to all the good stuff out there each year. But it's an enjoyable hobby for me and so I make my best effort to search out, find, and enjoy good music. It's a wonderful bonus for me to then share that good music with you. I gave you my best albums of 2006 & 2007. Metacritic is now listing many "best of" lists for 2008. All of the albums on my list below are linked for purchase through the Reformissionary Music Store at Amazon (which also has a special page for 2008 best albums). Here are my 21 best albums of 2008 with brief comments. First let me start with a few regrets and honorable mentions.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Calexico: Carried to Dust, Sam Phillips: Don't Do Anything, Spiritualized: Songs in A & E, British Sea Power: Do You Like Rock Music?, The Avett Brothers: The Gleam II EP, The Walkmen: You & Me, Juno Soundtrack
21. Quiet Village: Silent Movie -- Mood music. This stuff is a vibe, a feeling, an emotion, a moment in time made into music. It may be perfect for changing your mood, remembering, or seeing yourself in a place you've never been. Being lyric-less, it's also good for listening while reading or working.
20. Black Mountain: In the Future -- I love this band. This is thoughtful, heavy rock music with a psychedelic twinge. This is classic rock after hitting refresh. It's creatively-crafted rock music. It's thick rock music. It's very good rock music.
19. Jenny Lewis: Acid Tongue -- I didn't expect a lot from Lewis' follow up to her stellar Rabbit Fur Coat with the Watson Twins (#12 in my 2006 list), but I like this album a lot. As usual she speaks to the brokenness of humanity and humans...a lot.
18. My Morning Jacket: Evil Urges -- I really tried to avoid this album. I'm glad I caved. This is a band worth following if only to see what they do next.But they are never as good as so many say they are.
17. Okkervil River: The Stand Ins -- Not its equal, but a worthy follow-up to The Stage Names (my 2007 #1). I'm not sure I could shrug my shoulders at anything from this very talented, lyric-driven rock band.
16. Raconteurs: Consolers of the Lonely -- I'm pretty sure The White Stripes can't compare to the Raconteurs. These guys are really exciting. Lots of talent. Lots of fun. Plus, they make me turn it up to 11. It big music meant for big speakers.
15. The Music Tapes: Music Tapes for Clouds and Tornadoes -- Not what I expected, and still unwraps my expectations when I put it on. It's just different, sometimes spooky, sometimes curiously antiquated. Yes, the saw is still an instrument. Always a feast for the ears.
14. Blitzen Trapper: Furr -- A fun mix of sounds, from southern rock to piano ballad, from trippy Beatles to straight-up Wilco to a Conor Oberst ditty. I'm always intrigued how their music come across on my subwoofer. Interesting beats. A great album by a band that's going places.
13. Drive-By Truckers: Brighter Than Creation's Dark -- At times full of energy southern rock. At other times sad or frustrated or lonely. When I want country music to be so much better than it is, this is where I often turn. They are coming to Milwaukee soon. I hope to be there.
12. Vampire Weekend: Vampire Weekend -- Melodic post-punk songs full of energy and spunk. You don't rock out, but your heart beats quite a bit faster. Tons of fun throughout this literary album. You will hear stuff that just doesn't fit in your musical categories, and that's a good thing.
11. Elbow: The Seldom Seen Kid -- Elbow makes good albums. Always solid. Never the best I've heard, but always very good, enjoyable, interesting. And always with a standout track or two (see: "Grounds for Divorce").
10. Cut Copy: In Ghost Colours -- This whole album is like a post-Red Bull heartbeat. If you ever need to wallpaper a room...or a whole house!...just throw on Cut Copy and do it while singing and dancing and letting the time fly by. Zoom!
9. The Nadas: The Ghosts Inside These Halls -- The definition of "bar band" has a pic of these guys. More accessible than The Hold Steady and more straight up real. Nothing fancy here. It's just good ol' rock music meant for people who drink beer and still high-five.
8. Fleet Foxes: Fleet Foxes
-- There is no lack of love for Fleet Foxes out there. If you aren't a
fan yet, you should be. These guys are the real deal. Melodies and
harmonies abound. Did I mention harmonies? These guys float in the
ether. I will get grief for putting this album this low on my list, but it's my list so deal with it.
7. Sera Cahoone: Only As the Day Is Long -- Hard for me to not put this album higher. I'm entranced by Sera Cahoone, the slow build of her songs, the heart-wrenching lyrics. I'm always pulled in and involved with each song. I can't wait for what she does next.
6. Shearwater: Rook -- I own both versions of Shearwater's powerful last album, Palo Santo (my #1 in 2006). This band is a staple in my music diet, and this album is no let down. The expressive vocals of Jonathan Meiburg is the band's best instrument, but that is no dig against these excellent musicians. One of the best bands working, and they are just getting started.
5. Liam Finn: I'll Be Lightning -- A late addition to my list, I picked this up recently and have been playing it almost daily since. Liam is the son of Crowded House singer, Neil Finn. I liked Crowded House, but this is a whole other category. His style has been built on a steady diet of The Beatles, to be sure. And it's fantastic.
4. David Ford: Songs for the Road -- Though a 2007 UK release, it was available in the U.S. in April. And it's hard for me to believe this album hasn't been discussed more. This talented singer-songwriter has packed together a creative set of heart-on-his-sleeve songs about love, longing, and love lost. At times I get a Josh Ritter feel.
3. Frightened Rabbit: The Midnight Organ Fight -- There are many fun and shockingly frank (!) tunes on this upbeat album. This Scottish band is an instant favorite for me. I can listen to this album again and again without growing tired of it. It reminds me a bit of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah without the crazy vocal extremes.
2. Portishead: Third -- This was my introduction to Portishead, but I beg them to not let it be farewell. What an album! Full of fuzz and clanging and creepy-crawly things. It's gorgeous, thickly layered, and deeply trippy (even hypnotic). An enjoyable album from beginning to end. It may not be immediately accessible to Portishead virgins, but it's brilliant.
1. Bon Iver: For Emma, Forever Ago -- Self-released near the end of 2007, but most are putting it on their lists for this year after a label release. For me there is no competition for #1. I had no other options. This wintry album from Wisconsinite Justin Vernon is just about as good as it gets, this year or any year. It's cozy but not always comfortable. Light up a crackling fire to thaw out your frostbitten fingers and toes and experience these songs without distraction. Bon Iver, you complete me.