2008 was certainly a year to remember! We experienced huge shifts in the political, economic, and overall psyche of our country and world. The United States will have its first African American president, the economy shifted into reverse after a long climb up, people lost 30-40% of their net worth over what seemed like a 2-3 month period, and we are still fighting two silly wars. Oil prices spiked to $140 a barrel and back to $40 a gallon in 6 months. Wall Street will never be the same with huge investment banks, insurance companies and auto companies either tanking or needing billions of dollars in bail out money from our government. It was a crazy year in sports starting with the NY Giants Super Bowl win over an undefeated opponent, the incredible Michael Phelps, and our very own Phillies ending a 28 year city championship drought. If we ever needed a positive distraction its now and music continues to provide that with a generous supply of quality music releases.
This is my third formal annual review of the year in music which also continues to experience major shifts in terms of distribution methods. I Tunes is now the world’s largest retailer of music. Retail chains such as Wal-Mart and Best Buy were granted exclusive rights to sell new releases by Guns and Roses and AC/DC. Record labels continue to scratch their heads as new bands by pass traditional methods and use the web to create a buzz for new releases. Nine Inch Nails followed Radiohead’s lead and released new music as a free download. The result is a more free form system but can seem daunting to consumers not accustomed to all the variety (which is one reason I write this review).
My top 10 CD list is also all over the map. Some will certainly question my masculinity with previously dismissed bands such as Coldplay, and Death Cab for Cutie making the list. I can almost hear it now, “Jim, you are getting soft in your old age!” But some of my harder sounding favorites released disappointing records such as Mettalica and Jack White’s other band the Raconteurs. I try to be objective and never write off a band forever based on earlier releases. Another note is the personal influence of South by Southwest, a fabulous music festival in Austin which targets newer bands and has become a religious ritual for me and some of my music homies. Four bands on my top CD list played at SXSW including my number 1 pick, My Morning Jacket, which rocked the house in Austin.
With that here is my Top 10 CD’s of 2008 and a few honorable mentions:
My Morning Jacket – Evil Urges – Lead singer and writer Jim James expanded MMJ’s historical country rock sound into soul, funk, soft rock with some 50’s fun thrown in. Evil Urges, the 5th release from this band from Kentucky, stayed in my rotation through out the year. ‘Aluminum Park’ rocks, ‘I’m Amazed’ is a love ballad, some falsetto vocals slip in on ‘Highly Suspicious’ (a little odd but here’s to trying new things). This CD erases music boundaries which seem to be a common theme with this list. But fear not, these guys can still rock with the best of them!
TV on the Radio – Weird Science – The 2006 release ‘Return from Cookie Mountain’ by this Brooklyn based, multi-racial quintet was critically acclaimed but hard to like with harsh guitars and distortion. Weird Science is much more accessible and melodic. Horns, violins, and a touch of dance populate the songs. Themes touch on a variety of human emotions. Again another band crossing boundaries to produce a real listenable collection of diverse songs. The final song on the CD ‘Lovers Day’ is an outright bootie call with hysterical lyrics. Rolling Stone’s top CD of the year and on just about every pop ranking of music in 2008.
Santogold – Santi White was born in Phila (her father was a controversial local politician who died of cancer while in jail on corruption charges) but now calls Brooklyn her home. She follows in the steps of MIA with pop, reggae, hip-hop, electronica and what ever her heart desires. You may have heard these songs as product endorsements but for artists this is another major weapon in the quest to have your music noticed. This fun CD rolls all over the map with her strong vocals leading the way.
Coldplay – Viva la Vida – This CD was a pleasant surprise as I have not been a big fan of Chris Martin. The album is brilliant with haunting melodies, songs building to crescendos, a variety of instruments throughout. U2 producer Brian Eno helped the band achieve a consistent yet expansive sound. While Viva la Vida provided the album’s catchy single the entire CD is great to listen to.
She and Him – Zoë Deschanel and M. Ward combined to produce one of the finest folk albums of the year. Zoë is a popular young actress (Elf, the Yes Man, the Happening) but her voice is pure magic. M. Ward has been a fairly successful idie singer/songwriter in his own right. Together they make a sparse, beautiful set of songs including some interesting covers done in their style. Paste’s number one CD and a great soft and timeless addition to any collection.
Death Cab for Cutie – ‘Better spend some time with me, love’ says lead singer Ben Gibbard on ‘I will posses your heart’ the CD’s haunting, single but it could apply to the CD as well. The music grows on the listener with successive listens. This is their second major label release and a sign of good things to come. Similar in ways to the Coldplay release in terms of style and vocals.
Duffy – Rockferry – We fell in love with Duffy in Austin in her US debut before ‘Mercy’ was overplayed everywhere. Kind of like Amy Winehouse with a 60’s kind of soulful sound but with out all the trash. Sounds a little like Dusty Springfield. And she is a hottie to boot. Duffy became the first act we ever saw twice at SXSW. The CD has some weak songs but overall is a great initial release.
Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis – Two Men With The Blues – A live recording from two diverse legends that obviously had a great time performing together. Willie’s classic vocals with a top notch New Orleans style backing band. Wynton’s trumpet playing is excellent. Wynton is one of this era’s jazz legends. Not only is he one of the finest trumpet players of the current era but his promotion and historical perspectives on jazz have made Wynton the face of the genre. I would rank him up there with Miles Davis as far as a jazz legend, although we all know there is only one Miles! (Kind of Blue and this reviewer both turn 50 on August 17th of this year)
John Legend – Evolver – Another great soulful effort from this Philly resident. Kayne West produced this CD, his third release, and although not as good as his previous gem of ‘Get Lifted’ it is easy to listen to his wonderful his magnificent voice. Other artists have guest vocals but Legend is still the man you want to hear.
Vampire Weekend – A great pop album with upbeat and diversified tunes from four guys that almost look kind of preppy. These guys played in Austin although I did not get a chance to see them but bought the CD after reading about them in Austin. There was a lot of industry buzz earlier in the year about these guys and the album is a fun listen with simple melodies, some reggae influence and positive lyrics.
Honorable mentions go out to Ryan Adams, MGMT (played in Austin), the Black Keys( saw in Austin) and the Hold Steady.
Hope you enjoyed the list. A download of a mix of songs from this list of CD’s is available on I Tunes by using the following link.
Hope you are doing fine in 09! Go treat your self to some new music from this list and let me know what you think!