This year's been a strange one. Moved back to Chicago, gained multiple writing projects in which I was an editor, left most of them again due to time constraints, got married, bought a house, took on some paying freelance gigs, quit my job for a dream job in coffee that has terrible hours and not enough pay, and way too much time discovering the back catalogs of bands that I'd somehow missed over the years. Going through the Honorable Mentions makes me feel like this list is somehow rated wrong, but what's done is done, and these twenty represent the albums I listened to the most just as much as they represent the albums I thought deserved the highest artistic merit. Now, there are albums in Honorable Mentions that just didn't get enough plays but have a high artistic merit, and albums that got a lot of plays but didn't have a high enough artistic merit, and some of them I feel like deserved a spot in this top twenty list. Either way, hopefully I'll be on my game better for 2010, âcause 2008 was a rad year and I'm looking forward to topping it next.
The addition of a guitar player, a shift towards classical music instead of hardcore, and an extended stay in the Melvins made for interesting work, but nothing quite to the genius of Here Come the Waterworks. Still, it's fucking Big Business. These guys rule.
One of the tightest pop records ever written. Rough-edged, great attention paid to form, and fun lyrics. It's hard to hate this album.
Mos Def: The Ecstatic
Mos Def got himself some great producers (including the magical Madlib), and got back to rapping. The result is an album full of solid hip-hop jams with big hooks and great rhymes. Doesn't have the impact of Black on Both Sides or even the much-maligned The New Danger, but sometimes social agendas don't make listenable albums, and The Ecstatic is easily Mos Def's most listenable.
Will Oldham wrote a classic country album, stripped his poetic lyrics into straightforward deliveries, and didn't once sacrifice on his beautiful gift for melody or emotional content. Brilliant.
Sonya Cotton: Red River
The best record of the year is a self-released acoustic folk throwback album that conjures up all the power and glory of layered vocal harmonies from the '60s and '70s, stripped-down arrangements and modern mysticism. As a manifestation of Ms. Cotton's recurring nightmares about a red river rising in the middle of her living room, Red River is something truly worth a close listen.
I'm notoriously bad for not getting into albums at the right point in time. That's why this list is a bit scattershot. So there are a few albums that I could have spent more time with: The Almighty Defenders, which is the lo-fi garage super group of super groups, for one. Or the Black Lips album. I gave it a few listens, shelved it, but am finding more and more to like now. Ancient Sky put out a great album this year, but for some reason it just didn't chart. I also enjoyed FOOD, Goes Cube, Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound, Dethklok and Gwynbleidd. Just didn't get enough time with them. Not to mention Iron Age, Lightning Bolt, Millions and Monotonix. Pink Mountaintops and Reigning Sound too. Finally, I end this section with Magnolia Electric Co.. They've been the band I've listened to most this year, but mainly mining their back catalog, to which Josephine just doesn't stack up as dynamically. So sadly, it didn't chart.