I've agonized over it long enough. I spent a full week making on the fly playlists, evaluating and reevaluting. I took a day or two off pain meds just so I could think clearly (all that resulted in was me being in more pain.)
But here you are. My top 10 albums of 2008. It was hard. 2008 was a terrific year for music. A lot of new bands put out solid debut albums. Some veterans also put out some of the best music of their careers. So we had a lot to work with this year, and our ears and minds are better for it. If you like music, you had to have loved 2008.
1. No Kids, "Come Into My House." I heard this album back in February, a suggestion from eMusic. This is what happens when you stretch the boundaries of genre music. Is it r&b? Is it smarty academic art pop? Is it four part college quartet harmony? I love it because it's indescribable. I love it because when you see it live it's totally reinvented. I love it because it makes me dance. And I love it because no one this year was trying to have this much fun and push this far past what sonically music should be.
2. Lil Wayne, "Tha Carter III." It's a real achievement when rappers decide they can both be entertainers and true artists. Lil Wayne finally hit that point this year. Picking up the mantle of "greatest Rapper alive" from Jay-Z, he put out an album that was commercial and truly weird. Don't believe? He has a song on here where he raps about being an alien. The second single, "A Milli," might be the best indie rap song on a major label. Lil Wayne calls in the heaviest producers (Swizz Beatz, Kanye West, David banner) and still in the end chooses to do it his way.
3. Conor Oberst, "Conor Oberst." I didn't think this album would rate this high. But on repeated listens, it just gets better and better and better. Sure, he's aping Dylan on over half the tracks, but who doesn't? It's a flat out solid record, beautifully written, and beautifully sung. Still, one has to wonder, where is the dividing line between Bright Eyes and Conor Oberst?
4. Tokyo Police Club, "Elephant Shell." This album is another early release that held up all year long. Try to find yourself not hand clapping and singing along to this 30 some odd minute record. True, it lacks some of the energy of the 2007 EPs, but these kids have a lot of energy. Don't believe me? Check out their Spring 2009 tour.
5. Ra Ra Riot, "The Rhumb Line." All debuts should be this good. Catchy pop music, with incredible lyrics. A violin and cello might seem gimmicky, but it works remakarbly. You have to give it up for a band that decides to push on after one of its founding members dies. Try to think about anything else when you hear "Dying is Fine" or "Winter 05."
6. Rhymefest, "Mark Ronson Presents Rhymefest: Man in the Mirror." The second best hip-hop album this year, from one of the game's best lyricists and from one of the industry's best producers. It's rare for concept albums to work with rap, but essentially what you have here is a spliced up conversation between Rhymefest and King of Pop Michael Jackson. The beats are flawless, the rhymes complex, the skits funny, and the guests spots never overshadowing (even with Talib! And Mary J! And Wale!). You can't buy this album (cos no one could ever clear the two dozen or so MJ samples) but you can get it for free from Rhymefest's website.
7. Lowry, "Love is Dead." This is the album I wish Death Cab for Cutie had put out this year. Soft haunting lullabies, with wisps of electronics and synths piped in over them. Calling it folk pop seems a bit of a strecth (it's way more folky than poppy). But it's a strong effort from a brand new group.
8. The Rosebuds, "Life Like." I was torn about this album. Is it a regression to the organic Birds Make Good Neighbors, or was it a less new wave-y Night of the Furies? In the end, I just decided it was like all other Rosebuds records: a consistently solid album from start to finish. You can tell Ivan and Kelly pour themselves into the production, and you feel it on every song. This is perfect for night driving, when you want to go really fast on empty highways.
9. Okkervil River, "The Stand Ins." The second half to last year's "Stage Names," we find songs about your douchy trust fund friend, porn star Savannah, lying pop signers, and possibly mass murders. Yeah, it's weird. But it's fantastic.
10. Santogold, "Santogold." Imagine MIA without the controversial third world politics. What you get is Santogold. You still get the Baltimore house beats, the Diplo and Switch produced tracks. If you fell in love with the sexy neo rock soul of Res' How I Do then you'll love this album (as you should, since Santogold produced that).
Ingrid Michaelson, Girls and Boys
Cool Kids, The Bake Sale
Jukebox the Ghost, Let Live and Let Ghosts
My Morning Jacket, Evil Urges
Year's Biggest Disappointments
Death Cab For Cutie, "Narrow Stairs"
Kanye West, "808 and Heartbreaks"