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Top Records of 2008

January 4, 2009

1.  Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes

By far the best record of the year.  I remember when I first heard it at edge hill studios cafe and I asked the guy who made my sandwich if he was playing early my morning jacket.  He informed me that the music was  in fact the debut album from what quickly became my favorite new band.  Because this is the first record released from the sub pop quintet, it proves that sub pop may be the last label that focuses on finding true artists and not bands that fit the mold of whatever is spinning in the clubs at the present moment.  Everything about this album is brilliant, the songs are true form with just enough production to allow simple arrangements with complex harmonies carry the poetry of Robin Pecknold to satisfy the ventral tegmental of any listener.  The artwork of this album alone is reason to buy this on vinyl and gives true music lovers something to look forward to as the day of the plastic cd may be coming to an end.

2. The Racontours – Consolers of the Lonely

It’s commonly known that there is a sophomore curse for most bands.  It only makes since as you have your whole life to make your first record but only 6 months to make your second.  While Jack White is hardly a rookie in the music industry, this is quite impressive to be the front man of two very different bands who consistently release stellar work and have the influence over the big label of Warner Bros to have the freedom to expand his musical creativity.  This is a great record, Jack has mastered the art of combining folk instruments, traditional ballad songwriting, with enough edginess to keep rockstars asking him for advise.  Nashville is a better place to have these guys call it home.

3.  Brian Wilson – That Lucky Old Sun

I have yet to see this appear on any top 10 list.  I admit I would be surprised to hear any of the 17 tracks on the air.  Even for Lightning 100 Brian’s Narratives may be a little unconventional.  But this is a real album.  This is what we could have expected had Mr. Wilson chosen a different path after departing the Beach Boys.  However I agree better late than never and having waiting 38 years to release SMiLE, you know he’s willing to be patient for excellence.  The record beautifully embraces Brian’s true love for the city of LA.  And captures the feeling of that region through his poetry carried on very consciously thought out melodies.

4.  Vampire Weekend-Vampire Weekend

At the risk of loosing all musical credibility I place this Boston based group fairly high among strong company.  However this is the first album I’ve heard in a long time that is fun, smart, and witty for a diverse group of listeners.  You can put this album on at practically any party and people will enjoy it, and I doubt anyone will leave because of it.  (Which is why I admire their artwork).  With practically every song coming in between 2:30 – 3:30 it would be a DJs best friend.  Surprisingly I have heard very little of this album played on air.  (Had things been different I may have not been so generous). None the less this is a strong effort from these frat – hippies and I hope to be presently impressed with their sophomore release in the coming months.

5. Guns and Roses – Chinese Democracy

I can’t deny that sympathy for Axel Rose may have influenced my decision on this but in fairness my expectations were low when I first put this album in the car stereo.  I was surprised at the quality and production.  After 14 years I’d given up hope that Axel could stay sober enough to give this project the attention it deserved.  But having listening to it a few times I’m convinced that Mr. Roses’ true talent is in production and not theatrics.  The album is solid from start to finish.  The musicianship is incendiary and if there were courtroom battles taking place in the studio you certainly can’t tell from listening.  While the album may not have the stand out tracks that made the band famous on previous works, it is a valiant effort from a hard working rock star.

6.  Jakob Dylan – Seeing Things

Being an avid fan of his fathers, I was tempted to place this album much higher on the list.  But I will admit you really can’t compare “With God on our side” to “evil is alive and well”. But I do think “on up the mountain” is a nice complement to “When I paint my masterpiece”.  I knew I was going to like this record no matter what it sounded like, but it is a pleasing collection and different from what I have come to expect from previous work.    Jakob has more freedom to explore concepts that may not flow as well from from the full sound of his day job.  I hope to hear more from both.

7.  REM – Accelerate

There are few bands that can make it through more the 10 years without splitting due to artistic differences, or giving into a record labels assessment of the mass market to create music which is hardly creative at all.  This group from the University of Georgia have remained faithful to their fans and to each other to remain relevant through the past 28 years.  This years release was anticipated as the politically charged Stipe had a wealth of material to help bring back a genre of music that new A&R reps keep pushing out of the mainstream.  Like the other records on this list the album is solid from start to finish packed with several single quality tracks and not one “filler” to meet a quota.

8.  Mudcrutch – Mudcrutch

It seems most people believe Tom Petty hit his peak during the 1990s, and that work he does today does not measure up with the timeless classics that have left their mark on American history.  Maybe the last releases have not had the commercial success of the heart breakers experienced a decade and a half ago, but he has not been sitting on his laurels.  Petty has done well balancing a string of worldwide tours and studio time to give us a range of quality,  entertaining, and insightful records over the past 10 years.  This year Petty went back to the basics, scrounging up his first band mates to create a fresh but rootsy collection of classics and new jam friendly rock.

9.  My Morning Jacket – Evil Urges

The Kentucky boys have  found a way to bring creative and stretch the fabric of modern music for listeners and producers.  Evil Urges moves the band to a more stable market, but still maintains the sound that the band has made their own.  Adopting a style first discovered in the underground during the 70s, MMJ have reawakened the southern rock culture made famous by acts like Zeppelin, Steely Dan, and Jethro Tull.  Urges has more stand out tracks such as “I’m Amazed” and “Touch me I’m gong to Scream” without compromising the concept album feel that keeps them unique in today’s pop saturated industry.

10.  Kings of Leon – Only by the Night

This family of hard working rockers have attempted to redefine the Nashville music scene.  Ironically it seems they have obtained far more respect across the ponds than they have in their own back yard.  Perhaps this record will prove that Nashville has finally broken the sterotype of tradition that has hung over music city since WSM first went on the air.  Only by the Night proves that Rock and Roll is far from over.  Both topically and musically these guys keep the heart still beating and just as edgy as when the lizard king first played the London Fog.  The Kings have masted the act of the no frills stage preformance that keeps the audience entralled enough to be reliving the show seeks later to friends and co-workers.  Only by the Night is a strong follow-up to Because of the Times, a bit more radio friendly, but just as irasicible as their previous 3 releases.

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