Jordan Rogowski is a staff reviewer here at Punknews.org. Check back next week for year end lists from the Punknews editorial, and soon after the lists decided by your votes. - ed
This year wasâ?¦well, interesting. I graduated from college in May, and it took me about a week of the "real world" to make me regret not putting myself on the seven-year plan.
Regardless, I have a job that I love as a sports writer for a local newspaper, and I'm excited to see where that takes me. It's also the reason my reviews here this year have been less than frequent (hey, sounds like last year), but hopefully as I strike a good balance between the working world and free time, I'll be able to write as much as I'd like.
Musically, this year was one of the most interesting I can remember. While incredible albums filled the indie, hip-hop, pop, electronic and post-rock realms, such albums were much harder to come by in punk and hardcore. Heavyweights like Verse and Have Heart turned in ultimately forgettable efforts, and I'd be lying if I said I heard more than a handful of debut punk records that warranted so much as a second spin. Chalk it up to the cycle of music or me simply not hearing the "right" albums, but the fact remains it's been an unfortunate down year.
Now, this is where I normally try to be clever or talk about Buffalo sports teams, but since the Bills ripped my heart out and stepped on it this year and the Sabres are maddeningly inconsistent, I'm going to get this show on the road to I can start drinking beer and playing video games.
Maybe I'll even wrap a present or two.
Top 20 Albums
Stephen Christian has one of the most powerful voices in pop-rock, and the music he and his bandmates have created is more mature and more layered by the album. Anberlin just have that uncanny knack for writing terrific songs with the utmost ability in staying power.
#19. Akon - Freedom
This may be the most fun album of the entire year. The Senegalese singer has matured in both voice and songwriting, and the undeniably positive spirit of these songs is nothing if not refreshing. "Keep You Much Longer" is a serious song-of-the-year contender.
After releasing a demo and a 7", Papermoons dropped their delightful full-length this year and it couldn't have been better. A decidedly earnest affair, the album hits all the right notes.
If you look around at how many hardcore bands from 1997 are still around and putting out music, you're not liable to find many. Shai Hulud, though, defy the convention. Not only are they still putting out music (albeit with some new members) but that music is as dynamic and powerful as it ever was. Songs like "Four Earths" don't lie -- this band has never lost a step.
I was admittedly late on this hype train, but since getting on, I've moved up to the conductor's booth. This album is a brilliant slice of Americana that embodies the spirit of rock 'n' roll. The first three songs on The â??59 Sound are as good a 1-2-3 punch as you're liable to ever hear.
#15. The American Dollar - A Memory Stream
It's about time more people became familiar with the best-kept secret in ambient/post-rock music. The American Dollar excel in all facets of songwriting, from sweeping crescendos and fevered bridges to the most basic and delicate sounds. They quite simply do everything right.
Heavy on distortion and light on repetitiveness, Young Widows drive through 11 songs with a brash songwriting style that impresses with each passing moment There's something new to hear with every single listen.
#13. Beach House - Devotion
This male/female duo croon through an album chock full of slow-churning rhythms and plaintive instrumentation. Pianos, organs, guitar, drums -- it's all fair game and it's what really gives the album its charm.
- The Alchemy Index: Volumes III & IV: Air & Earth
Naysayers will tell you that Thrice has been in decline since The Illusion of Safety, but I will politely say those people could not possibly have less of a clue what they're talking about. No band is expanding and exploring new territory with the speed and success of Thrice. Heavy? They can do it. Electronic? They can do it. And as these two EPs prove, they can do acoustic and soft rock too. There is no ceiling on this band.
#11. Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes
It's tough to pin down one singular element that makes Fleet Foxes' album succeed. The folksy album is driven by multi-layered harmonies and larger-than-life-sounding instrumentation, and because of that level of variance each song is unique and each song tells its own story.
John Darnielle continues to be the most engaging storyteller in all of music. His tales of love and redemption backdrop Heretic Pride, but there is so, so much more.
#9. Elzhi - The Preface
Elzhi represents the best part of hip-hop; you know that every year, no matter what, at least one new rapper is going to come through and blow you away. Elzhi did just that this year. Rapping on the palate that is Black Milk's production, Elzhi's introspection and clever wordplay is a cut above the rest. The best part? This is only the beginning.
#8. M83 - Saturday Nights = Youth
From the first somber piano strokes of "You, Appearing," it's clear that M83's fifth studio album will be a fine addition to its catalog. Nobody else can make electronic music soundingas human and as emotional; the group continues to be a portrait of consistency and Saturday Nights = Youth might be their best brushstroke yet.
The pressure for Polar Bear Club to put out a good full-length after the terrific The Redder, The Better was immense. Luckily, the Rochester, NY five-piece delivered. Powerful melodies, dynamic guitar work and throaty vocals that drive it all -- that's what you'll find on this album, and you'll find it in spades. One listen to "Hollow Place," and you're liable to never stop.
#6. Jacaszek - Treny
It's almost surreal how something this simple can be this elegant. Simple hums and string arrangements mix on "Rytm to Niesmiertelnosc I" create something so hauntingly beautiful words will defy you. Music's power to put images in the head of a listener is one of its greatest strengths, but until Treny, those images had never been so vivid.
The biggest knock on Nas the past few years is that he's lost his drive. That hunger, that ferocity that made "I Gave You Power" and "Halftime" such grit is back, and Nas' lyricism has never been better. Nas' conviction on "America" is even more spellbinding than the beat on "Hero," and I didn't think that would even be possible. Nasty Nas is back.
I've been (not so) patiently waiting for a new Buried Inside record since 2006, and this album has really helped to tide me over. Both unfailingly intense and oddly serene, Century hit the mark right on the head, because the phrases "rage" and "reckless abandon" have never fit an album so well.
#3. Moscow Olympics - Cut the World
Shoegaze is not dead just yet. Moscow Olympics have come out of nowhere with an engrossing, textured album that rivals anything I've ever heard from My Bloody Valentine (I said it). There are albums to enjoy and there are albums to take in, and this is one of the latter. Gorgeous, swirling guitar tones and low, muffled vocals set the stage for what is a half-hour trip you won't ever want to end.
What a voice. Dallas Green has brilliantly parlayed his success in Alexisonfire to a solo career, and this is by far his best work to date. Lyrically, vocally, musically, Green has crafted 12 gorgeous and memorable songs. From the heartbreaking "What Makes a Man?" to the stark look at death of "Body in a Box," there's just so much to love about this record.
#1. GZA - Pro Tools
Hip-hop takes the #1 spot for the second year in a row. While there were an infinite amount of great emcees releasing jaw-dropping mixtapes on the underground, 2008 is a year that saw some of hip-hop's legends re-staking the claim to their throne. Eventually, it was GZA who took the crown and scepter. The Genius' unbelievably smooth delivery has never sounded better, and his metaphors and analogies hit on even deeper levels than I had thought possible. From the bounce of "0% Finance" to the aptly-titled "Cinema" and the venomous "Paper Plate," every single track on this album hits the mark and hit it hard. All hail the Genius.
Rick Ross - Trilla; RZA - Digi Snacks; Able Baker Fox - Voices; the Loved Ones - Build & Burn; Tinder Sticks - The Angry Saw; Cut Copy - In Ghost Colors; Lords - Fuck Ya'll Motherfuckers; Akimbo - Jersey Shores; Cursed - III; Okkervil River - The Stand Ins; Bon Iver - For Emma; Forever Ago; Lil' Wayne - Tha Carter III; Fennesz - The Black Sea.
This album isn't bad by any means, but after how solid and well put-together Plans was, I expected more, frankly.
Sleep It Off
I've loved Less Than Jake since middle school, and that's why this is so disappointing. I don't know if these guys had a "hey, we're 30 and in a ska band writing songs about malt liquor and leaving town" mid-life crisis, but this album lacks any sort of punch.
Again, not an album that's so much bad as one that lacks replay value. And this from somebody who staunchly defends Crimson as one of their better records. "Help Me" was a great choice for a single, but for an album with 12 songs, one good choice isn't going to cut it.
I don't know if I'm writing this strictly for nostalgia or I actually did enjoy this as much as I tell myself I did, but save the awful single "Pork and Beans," Rivers and Co, found their songwriting niche again. So long as you're not expecting another Blue or Pinkerton, you should enjoy this record.
#2. Anthony Hamilton - The Point of It All
One of the most soulful and enjoyable voices in all of music only finds himself in this section because I had thought he stopped recording altogether. So, you can imagine my (pleasant) surprise when I heard this a couple weeks ago. Gorgeous record.
- Lost in the Sound of Separation
Tooth & Nail / Solid State
It's really incredible how much this band has matured while so many of its contemporaries from the early '00s either faded into obscurity by releasing awful albums or didn't release any albums at all. This is a fluid and devastating record with a tactful melodic side -- exactly the kind of balance so many bands strive for and fail to achieve.
Best Album to Listen to While Smoking a Cigar and Drinking a Gin & Tonic
I don't get it. I really don't. People describe this as indie rock meets Springsteen, and I would never, ever, ever insult the Boss with a comparison like that.
Top Eight Mixtapes of â??08
Sigur RÃ³s - MeÃ° suÃ° Ã eyrum viÃ° spilum endalaust
It's Sigur RÃ³s; what else do you need to know?
#8. Fabolous - There Is No Competition
Fabolous has long garnered acclaim with his multi-syllabic flow and a bevy of punchlines, and his latest mixtape was no exception. Few rappers possess the ability to rap without sounding like they're trying at all, but Loso is one such emcee.
#7. Wordsmith - The Revolution Begins with a Takeover
Aptly named, Wordsmith weaves through songs like "That Feel Good Flow" with an assured delivery and compelling rhymes.
#6. Termanology - Politics as Usual
More than anything, Termanology sounds hungry. After riding the wave of success that came with his 2006 song "Watch How It Go Down" (which appears again on this tape), Termanology has been working with established acts like Sheek Louch and Bun B in hopes of breaking his career wide open. This tape should do just that. Term has a quick flow to begin with, but when he lets loose the raps come so fast it'll make your head spin. Do not, I repeat, do not sleep on Termanology.
#5. Hell Rell - Black Mask, Black Gloves
The self-proclaimed â??hardest out' won't be winning any awards for his lyricism anytime soon, but he's got a real charisma that commands attention and his raps are endlessly quotable. In a crude sort of way.
#4. Charles Hamilton - Death of the Mixtape Rapper
Charles Hamilton has a completely unique sound in a genre where that's a rarity. The understated beats he raps over are entrancing, and Hamilton uses that to his advantage in crafting some truly creative rhymes.
#3. Joell Ortiz - Who's Nice?
Who's Nice? is a mixtape meant to hold people over while he's searching for a label to record and release his next album with, only, this is much more than a holdover. Joell's ferocious delivery is as impressive as ever, and he's improving as a songwriter too. Kool G. Rap joins Ortiz in detailing the dangers of a life revolving around cocaine on "China White," and Ortiz sounds incensed on "50 Shots," a tribute to the late Sean Bell, who was wrongfully gunned down by NYPD officers on his wedding day last year.
#2. Crooked I - The Block Obama
Crooked I is the West Coast's savior. Far removed from the days of Death Row's dominance, Crooked is the voice of the west and there's no mystery as to why. His wordplay is frequently astonishing and his ability to make any type of beat sound great is a rarity. His freestyle over Kanye West's "Stronger" makes Kanye's own rap sound like something written on a lunch table napkin.
#1. Joe Budden - Halfway House
Hands down, Joe Budden is the best lyricist in hip-hop. I won't say he's the best rapper, he hasn't been around long enough to enter that discussion yet; however, his ability to rap with unparalleled introspection puts him in a class all his own. And it's not just the introspection -- it's the storytelling, the punchlines and the wit with which he raps. He's the gold standard.
I've never been one for New Year's resolutions, unless I was resolving to drink more or play more video games, but I'm resolving right now to write more for Punknews than last year. Not that that'll be a difficult feat considering I wrote about 20 last year, but it's better than nothing, right? Right. Glad we had this agreement.
Thanks for reading,