While it’s not standard for year-end countdowns, I’ve decided that a top eight albums is the best approach to take for 2008. What can I say? I’m a sucker for numbers and symmetry. Here, in alphabetical order, are my top picks:
1. Get Awkward (Be Your Own Pet)- They’re punk and garage with a dash of metal. Their songs are simultaneously tongue-in cheek and brash, slapping you to the mat from the start and keeping you there throughout. They’re fronted by a brash blonde girl. They’re from Nashville. What on Earth is not to like?
2. Brighter Than Creation’s Dark (Drive-By Truckers)- This album has it all. Male lead vocals. Female lead vocals. Straight-up country. Rock that reminds one of the Seventies in a good way. Music that sounds like storm clouds brooding. And as good as it is musically, it’s even better lyrically. The 19 tracks herein include heartfelt paeans to family, subtle evocations of domestic discontent, a soldier musing on the unknown life of the unnamed foe he’s just killed, and a song from the viewpoint of someone who has had it with a friend’s (family member’s? spouses?) crystal meth addiction.
3. Lust, Lust, Lust (the Raveonettes) There was a good case to be made with their previous album, Pretty in Black, that the Raveonettes had lost their mind. On this album they find it again and the lust, menace, and shimmering clouds of guitar feedback are ours to enjoy.
4. Narrow Stairs (Death Cab for Cutie)- I’ve been a late convert to Death Cab, but like many an infatuation acquired in later life, I’ve made up for it by falling hard. A song like “I Will Posses Your Heart” that starts with a four minute drum intro shouldn’t hold your attention, but in their hands it keeps you rapt, and brings a shiver when the lyrics finally kicks in with their mixture of romanticism and dark obsession. And really, at the end of the day, anybody who writes a bleak, piercing song about searching for Kerouac’s ghost can call me their bitch.
5. & 6. Nouns (No Age), Rip It Off (Times New Viking)- These two bands are probably tired of being mentioned in the same breath, but they really are two peas in one wonderful lo-fi pod. Of the two, No Age brings more melody and traditional pop structure in their navigations of ragged walls of sonic distortion. This makes Nouns more consistently listenable, but Rip It Off more exciting and challenging.
7. Stop Drop and Roll! (the Foxboro Hot Tubs)- Yes, okay, it’s really Greenday in musical drag buying time while they try to figure out how to follow American Idiot. But what glorious drag it is! Their roaring, rocking success at producing rock in the Kinks/Who/Hollies et al vein makes me wonder why rock ever stopped sounding like that.
8. We Started Nothing (the Ting Tings)- Dance music with the form and attitude of rock, this album is just good clean fun from start to finish.
Those are my picks, but in the interest of full disclosure, Bruce Springsteen’s Magic only made honorable mention on my 2007 list, and it’s turned out to be one of the few albums from that year that I still regularly listen to. I reserve the right to listen further… And so should you!