Top Ten Albums Of 2008

In a bad year for music, I pick my ten favorite albums. It’s all rock music, because I’m boring.

by MATT STOKES | JANUARY 10, 2009

For the longest time I was misreading this album’s title as “consular”… as in an ambassador. How badass is that? “Ambassadors of the Lonely”. But no. It’s consolers. As in, “We make the lonely feel better about themselves.” Pheh.

Consolers Of the Lonely is very long and eventually wears out its welcome, but it starts off AMAZINGLY with the one-two punch of “Consoler of the Lonely” and “Salute Your Solution.” After that it all goes downhill. A lot of boring jams and clunky pop-rock nuggets until we get to the album-redeeming closer, “Carolina Drama.”

Jack White’s footprints are all over this album, unlike the first Raconteurs album which seemed much more like a group effort. I would think that would make me like it better, but I’m just not sure. Broken Boy Soldiers was so short and breezy and chock-full of great singles (“Steady As She Goes”, “Broken Boy Soldier”, “Level”, “Blue Veins”, “Intimate Secretary”… I could go on and on.) that Consolers feels incredibly labored. Kind of like the new White Stripes albums versus the older ones.

So I don’t know. The first time I heard this album I declared it to be the Greatest Album of the Decade. I’ve since reneged on that, but still, Consolers definitely deserves some recognition. But give me back the White Stripes and I’ll be happy.

#10

Consolers Of the Lonely

Artist: The Raconteurs

Release Date: March 25, 2008

FAVORITE TRACKS:
Consoler Of the Lonely
Salute Your Solution
Pull This Blanket Off
Carolina Drama

You’ve probably never heard of The Hold Steady but they’re one of these bands that love Bruce Springsteen and basically try to remake his first three albums. That’s just fine with me.

I don’t actually know anybody who likes this kind of music besides myself, which is a damn shame because Stay Positive is a great fucking album. Maybe it’s just my weakness for songs that name-drop random cities (My favorite song on this album is about a bad night in Ybor City, a neighborhood in Tampa… awesome.), but I love every song on this album. I can’t get enough of it. If only they had a good singer…

#9

Stay Positive

Artist: The Hold Steady

Release Date: July 15, 2008

FAVORITE TRACKS:
Sequestered In Memphis
Lord I’m Discourage
Magazines
Slapped Actress

Like The Hold Steady, The Gaslight Anthem loves Bruce Springsteen and love singing about fast cars and river banks and Tom Petty songs and having no regrets and stuff like that. Except, on their album The ’59 Sound, The Gaslight Anthem are punkier, spunkier, and have more fun. Plus: good singer.

#8

The ’59 Sound

Artist: The Gaslight Anthem

Release Date: August 19, 2008

FAVORITE TRACKS:
Great Expectations
The ’59 Sound
The Patient Ferris Wheel
Meet Me By the River’s Edge

Easily the best debut album of the year, Vampire Weekend is kind of like nothing you’ve ever heard before… unless you played the Home Alone video game for Super Nintendo when you were a kid. Then you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Vampire Weekend are a bunch of smarmy New England college students who sing about things like the English language, pueblo huts, school uniforms, and Cape Cod. They mix some ska guitar with gorgeous choral harmonies, bells, piccolos, recorders, and the like. Again, it’s like nothing you’ve ever heard. So go out and buy this album right now (or better yet just go download it from isohunt).

#7

Vampire Weekend

Artist: Vampire Weekend

Release Date: January 29, 2008

FAVORITE TRACKS:
Oxford Comma
A-Punk
Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa
Walcott

Get it? Like “Abandon Hope,” but not. Yeah. A rather pedestrian title for a surprisingly pedestrian album by the most un-pedestrian punk rock band in the world.

By any other band’s standards A Band in Hope would be quite an accomplishment, but in the hands of the Matches, coming off their MASTERPIECE, Decomposer (the best album of 2006), it’s a bit of a disappointment. It’s not bad, by any means; it’s just that most of the songs are pretty average.

Most disappointing of all are singer-songwriter Shawn Harris’s lyrics; the first two Matches albums were chock-full of wonderful lines like “I creep with the grace of an ice cream truck,” “Do you belong to a song?” (Brilliant!), and of course “May your organs fail before your dreams fail you.” Now the best we get is “I was a duke last Halloween, this year gonna be James Dean/Just wish I knew who we are in between.” (shudder)

Match fans need not despair, though; A Band in Hope begins with FIVE STRAIGHT kickass songs. Then it swims in the vast ocean of mediocrity for a little bit, bounces back, goes swimming again, and closes out the album with two killer tracks.

Still, there are ultimately maybe three songs on here that I like as much as the worst songs on Decomposer. Come on, Matches, get your game back together. Until then, feel the shame of not even cracking my top-five albums of the year.

#6

A Band In Hope

Artist: The Matches

Release Date: March 18, 2008

FAVORITE TRACKS:
AM Tilts
Between Halloweens
Yankee In a Chip Shop
Proctor Rd.

So Oasis is back again with another new album that everyone in the music biz declares as their Return to Greatness. Once again, it’s not. Oasis will never be as good as they once were. But that’s how it is in music. You make some great music in your twenties, get famous, then tour the world for the remaining years of your life in imitation of your former self. You make some money out of it, at least.

#5

Dig Out Your Soul

Artist: Oasis

Release Date: October 6, 2008

FAVORITE TRACKS:
Waiting For the Rapture
(Get Off Your) High Horse Lady
Falling Down
Soldier On

This is the album that finally brought the Kings of Leon some success in the U.S., mainly due to the smash-hit single “Sex on Fire.” Which is not even that good of a song.

This CD is chock-full of great songs, however. The first half hits especially hard. I don’t know if there was a better vocal performance in 2008 than Caleb Followill’s on “Manhattan.”

The Kings don’t really build any new ground after their 2007 album Because of the Times completely changed how people viewed them. There’s nothing on Only By the Night as kick-the-shit-out-of-you awesome as “Black Thumbnail” or as bouncy as “Fans” or as “holy crap, how can a human being make that noise over and over again?” as “Charmer,” but you can’t go wrong with the fourth album by one of the best young American bands today.

#4

Only By the Night

Artist: Kings Of Leon

Release Date: September 19, 2008

FAVORITE TRACKS:
Closer
Manhattan
Revelry
Notion

2008 saw my two favorite bands of all time release new albums. Weezer released The Red Album, and Green Day released Stop Drop and Roll!!! under the alternate name Foxboro Hot Tubs. The rationale was dropping the Green Day moniker allowed Billie Joe & Co. to create music Green Day normally wouldn’t.

Let me just clear something up: This album sounds EXACTLY like Green Day. And that is why I love it. It’s a tribute to 60’s British Invasion pop from bands like The Kinks—that basically means Billie Joe hijacked a bunch of basic guitar riffs from the ’60s and adds new lyrics to them (“You Really Got Me” becomes “Alligator”: “You alligator/You space invader/You bottom-feeder makin’ your rounds”… genius!).

Because it’s Green Day and Green Day can do no wrong, I think this is one of the best albums of the year. These are twelve really good songs, and they get even better with repeated listening.

#3

Stop Drop and Roll!!!

Artist: Foxboro Hot Tubs

Release Date: April 22, 2008

FAVORITE TRACKS:
Ruby Room
Sally
Alligator
The Pedestrian

Sometimes you have these bands that you listen to enough to know most of their work very well, admire them, and maybe drive an hour to go see in concert. But you’d never consider these bands one of your favorites, and you’d certainly never say something like, “Oh, that band? I love that band!” Such is the relationship between Death Cab For Cutie and myself (And I’m sure Ben Gibbard and his pals are just devastated by this.). I own all their albums and regularly play several of their songs on my guitar, but I would never consider our relationship more than platonic.

So how am I to react to the best album Death Cab has ever made (That’s right, even better than Transatlanticism.)? I don’t know any more than you do. I’ll just say that Gibbard has developed into an excellent lyricist, he’s stopped repeating himself with his boring melodies and instrumentation, and he’s made some music that’s actually EXCITING. That doesn’t mean there are any songs on here as great as “The Sound of Settling” or “I Will Follow You Into the Dark,” but the album is their most cohesive and listenable from start to finish.

There’s a lot to be said about a songwriter when you immediately recognize a lyric as being his without having to be told. Such is the case with the first and best song on the album, “Bixby Canyon Bridge.” All you have to do is see the name of the song and it’s enough to make you exclaim, “That’ s a Death Cab song!” (Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock is the same way… who else could have written, “I had a drink the other day/Opinions were like kittens, I was giving them away”?). Gibbard’s lyrics here are very narrative; “I Will Possess Your Heart” is an eight-minute song accounting a stalker watching his prey; “Cath…” is the tale of a gal who doesn’t really love her fiancé and runs out on the wedding because of her rapidly dying heart (Not exactly breaking new lyrical ground, but still…); and I’ll go ahead and declare “Grapevine Fires” one of the ten greatest songs ever written about wildfires in California.

So, I still don’t know if I can describe myself as a big fan of this band, but I do know that my admiration for them is growing exponentially. And I really wish I had seen them when they came to Baton Rouge. It would have been worth every penny of the $65 ticket.

#2

Narrow Stairs

Artist: Death Cab For Cutie

Release Date: May 13, 2008

FAVORITE TRACKS:
Bixby Canyon Bridge
Cath…
Grapevine Fires
Your New Twin Sized Bed

This was a terrible, terrible year for music. After a five or six-year Golden Era of rock music we got stuck with this clunker of a year. That being said, Weezer is my favorite band, and The Red Album is their best album in about ten years… it’s just still not one iota as good as Weezer’s two 1990s albums. As such, ladies and gentlemen, your number-one album of 2008!

Weezer released their third self-titled album (This one nicknamed the “Red Album”… I’ll let you figure out why.) in two different forms: the standard ten-song disc, and the “Deluxe Edition,” which features four bonus tracks. This is very important: you have to buy the Deluxe Edition. The standard edition will not do. Those bonus songs are absolutely essential in my ranking this album the number-one album of the year. Without those songs, this album is just another slightly above-average Weezer record. Three of those four songs, “Pig,” “King,” and “Ms. Sweeney” are just utterly fantastic songs, as good as anything Rivers CuomoI)Whose name I have finally begun to pronounce correctly after so long. It’s “koo-oh-moe” and not “koo-moe.” has written in years and years.

Weezer claims that each album is a reaction to the public reception of its last album. Since Make Believe (with its omnipresent hit single “Beverly Hills” and the equally-overplayed and yet still somehow underrated “Perfect Situation”) was essentially by-the-books power-pop, The Red Album is Weezer embracing its adventurous side. The songs stretch on past the three minute mark(!), thrice going over five minutes(!!). The lyrics are no longer full of trademark Rivers confessional emo, but rock star pandering and raps that name-drop the likes of everyone from Timbaland to Abba.

Most significantly, however, for the first time Cuomo has relinquished his total control over the band and allowed his bandmates to write and sing songs of their own. Guitarist Brian Bell rips off Uncle Kracker and Hootie & the Blowfish and other crappy radio bands for “Thought I Knew”; drummer Pat Wilson turns in the just-okay “Automatic”; and bassist Scott Shriner (with co-writing help from Cuomo) performs the weird and mind-numbingly lame “Cold Dark World.” The Old Switcheroo is a move performed by hundreds of bands once the unimportant members of the band start to bitch to the singer and he finally relents. Predictably, Weezer doesn’t have much success. Rivers Cuomo is Weezer and Weezer is Rivers Cuomo. There’s a lesson here.

But aside from those three songs, and the over-praised single “Pork and Beans,” The Red Album is a fantastic album. Again, it doesn’t come close to achieving what the band did back in the ’90s, but once again, how many artists continue to make great music past their twenties?

So again, a crappy year for music. If I was being completely honest about this list I’d have Death Cab at number-one, but you know what? I listened to The Red Album more than I did almost all other albums combined in 2008. It’s the one thing I’ll take with me through the years. And that’s worth something.

#1

Weezer (The Red Album)

Artist: Weezer

Release Date: June 3, 2008

FAVORITE TRACKS:
Troublemaker
The Greatest Man That Ever Lived
The Angel and the One
Pig

The latest…

The System Must Survive

American politics needs two responsible parties to absorb all the craziness, because the alternative is worse. 

Captain America’s political ideas are baloney

The Avengers broke up because Captain America has the political sophistication of a 13-year-old boy in a Che Guevara t-shirt.

Signs is a much better movie than people remember.

M. Night Shyamalan’s 2002 film is not only a great, underappreciated thriller, but it helped inspire the modern horror renaissance.

Finding Fantastic Beasts

Engineered to set up a decade of movies with built-in brand loyalty, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was an enormous hit that left little mark. Is it worth a second look?

Missing, and Moving Past, Roger Ebert

I love Roger Ebert and think about his reviews all the time, but he is very much a figure out of time. 

Nostalgia has always informed the new, but never quite like this

We may be hitting the nostalgia apex with Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One, and it feels like something’s about to break. 

Oscars 2018: The Aftermath

I revive a long-dormant tradition and tell you what SHOULD have happened at the Academy Awards.

The YA dystopia craze is now trapped in an actual YA dystopia.

The era of teenage dystopian sci-fi ended a few years ago, before anyone noticed.

The Rockin’ Rock Reckoning

Emo music is having a renaissance, and it’s making former emo dudes like me realize emo dudes weren’t always the good guys.

Back To the Future Part II isn’t trying to predict the future

We don’t connect our own futures with the gloomy future we predict for the world.

Footnotes   [ + ]

I. Whose name I have finally begun to pronounce correctly after so long. It’s “koo-oh-moe” and not “koo-moe.”