I know you've been waiting all year, so here it is: Sven's favorite albums of 2008. Not necessarily the best, just my favorite. Totally subjective of course....
1. Chinese Democracy – Guns N’ Roses
This is not an album that should be consumed in a vacuum; nothing about listening to Chinese Democracy is objective. That's the equivalent of trying to review Woodstock as a music critic covering any old rock concert. This album is not objectively great. The beauty of this album is that it exists at all. If someone played these songs for me and I had never heard of Guns n Roses or Axl Rose or "One in a Million", then I would probably think its got some hooks, but not really my thing. The idea of Chinese Democracy, an album that infamously took 15 or so years and just as many millions and band members to complete, as a commercially released album has always been a running inside joke amongs rock geeks, so much so that Chuck Klosterman even wrote a fake review of the album 2 years ago as an April Fool's Joke. (Speaking of, for a truly insightful real review by Chuck, see here).
But it actually came out and I actually really enjoy listening to it. Now you are probably thinking to yourself (and by yourself, I mean Rozavelt, Stache or Ethan), "Yeah, Sven but you really wanted to like it." Well actually I had convinced myself that I would hate this album, and didn't really dig the stuff that I heard early. But the fact is that this album as a whole string of 14 songs has that certain je ne sais pas that drew me to GN'R way back when. Its hard rock, but there is a certain polished sheen and pop hookiness to it that just sounds like what my ears think "hard rock" should sound like. And there are those Axl screams and growls. And at the same time its completely berserker, with alien rock guitar solos and non-sequitor vampire accents. There's enough of the old GN'R to keep me happy, but not enough to make it a nostalgia play. Its certainly not objectively "better" than My Morning Jacket or Vampire Weekend below, but its also incomparable to those in its sheer importance as a record. There's no way that I could justify that this album was a better album than the Ryan Adams album but not quite as good as The Hold Steady. So for that reason, Chinese Democracy can be positioned in no other position than #1.
And a little disclaimer: do not go into this album thinking it is a "Guns N Roses" album, because its not. Its an Axl Rose album. To paraphrase Rick Pitino: Izzy Stradlin is not walking through that door, Slash is not walking through that, Duff McKagan is not walking through that door. He called it "Guns N' Roses" for obvious reasons, but to expect "Welcome to the Jungle" is to set yourself up for disappointment. Its more like Use Your Illusion III, the logical next step of the Axl dominated Guns N' Roses of Axl's progression beyond "November Rain" and "Estranged." So I recommend that's where you start from.
But I digress. Anyway my favorite tune on this album is "Catcher in the Rye" with the hook "If I thought that I was crazy, I guess I'd have more fun". Oh Axl, of course you are. But we're all having fun with it....
2. Evil Urges – My Morning Jacket
This album has not been met with as much balleyhoo as its predecessor Z (and it is not as good either), but it was still a damn fine album. More Prince than the southern rock-meets-Radiohead of the previous albums, this album has the most obnoxious song of the year (the appropriately titled "Highly Suspicious"), the best bridge (the out-of-nowhere guitar freakout in "Evil Urges") and the best damn song of the year period ("I'm Amazed"). I love this band.
3. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend
Prepsters pulling Paul Simon "Graceland." This album continues to be fresh and enjoyable every time I listen. My favorite is "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa" (with the line, "it feels so unnatural, Peter Gabriel too"). Gabriel thought so too; he covered it.
4. Feed the Animals - Girl Talk
If this was 1999, this would be the album that would be on repeat at the Lodge every night. There isn't an original note on the album (its a mash-up of 100+ tunes) but seamlessly mixing Busta Rhymes with Tom Petty and all the while never missing a beat is the kind if thing that was made for an ADD boy like Sven. And damn if this puppy doesn't want to make me a pour a red bull and vodka. There is no standout track; you really need to li sten to it all the way through.
5. Live at the Santa Barbara Bowl - Radiohead
Ok, this wasn't even a studio album. Nor was it even an official release. But I paid a scalper $180 to get into this show five songs into it and it was by far my favorite concert of the year. And the NPR broadcast SOUNDS like an official studio release. 'Tis the genius and precision of Radiohead live experience. One day someone will tell me that all of this was pre-recorded and the show was lip-synced. But until then, I can only assume it was all them. And it was a masterpiece.
6. The (Very) Best of Señor Tadpole - Señor Tadpole
Come on, I said it was subjective. "Brand New Face" is probably my favorite, what with the outro jaaam and all. You can download the whole thing for free here.
7. Stay Positive – The Hold Steady
This album is both very solid and also an incredible disappointment. Each of their previous albums had gotten better than the last (2006's Boys and Girls in America was my favorite that year, but not so with this one). Regardless, there are some great songs on this one, and THS continues to make "fun rock n roll drinking music from Brooklyn" not an oxymoron. "Sequestered in Memphis" is one of my favorite rock outs this year ("I went there on business!")
8. Cardinology - Ryan Adams
I can only assume this guy will continue to make my list every year. I still like his last album (Easy Tiger) more (which seems to be a theme of mine this year; am I just more bitter in 2008?) Regardless, there are some great alt-country cuts as always. "Cobwebs" is a standout.
9. Death Magnetic - Metallica
Imagine if Phish made an album in 2008 with 10 minute long compositions, atonal fugues and songs about Gamehendge characters. Well, this is the Metallica equivalent. Its a return to the Metallica of the 80s; seven-minute medlies of guitar riiffs with 25 different parts and goofy lyrics about dying and killing and stuff. And it still rocks like you want it to rock. Despite the whispers I keep hearing from those in the know that these guys aren't really playing their instruments live, they still crank like no one else. If I still played sports, I would listen to "Suicide and Redemption" before every game.
10. Narrow Stairs - Death Cab for Cutie
These guys have a certain indie sound and that they stick to...and I like it. And they get bonus points for making the single "I Will Possess Your Heart," an eight-and-a-half-minute build-up groove which doesn't even have vocals until 4 minutes in.
11. Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes
Great debut album from these guys, who bring back the spooky harmonies of the Beach Boys in a warm and retro-acoustic vibe. "White Winter Hymnal" is a great example. I dig.
12. Brighter Than Creation's Dark - Drive by Truckers
These guys are too prolific for their own good. Its hard to keep my attention through 19 songs these days, but I really love some of the southern indie rock tunes these guys continue to churn out, "The Righteous Path" being a great example thereof.
13. Modern Guilt - Beck
Even though the show I caught on this tour was crap, the album itself is great. Danger Mouse and Beck making 60s rock together is cool. "Chemtrails" is the psychedelic jam.
14. The Green Sparrow - Mike Gordon
Mike is definitely the weaker songwriter when compared to Trey, and the Phish fans who insist that Trey is anything but the most important and vital member that band are delusional. That said, whereas Trey (and Page) have shifted towards poppier (and unfortunately, blander) songwriting in recent years, Gordo remains as quirky as when he wrote songs like "Weigh" and "Meat". And he still plays the bass like no one else. "Adelman's Yard" is a good little tune.
15. Iron Sea and the Cavalry - Pete Francis
Francis is a former member of Dispatch, the band that inexplicably torpedoed its own career by breaking up when it was on the verge stardom back in the early 2000s, leaving its members to much smaller careers in their side projects and the occasional sellout Dispatch reunion gig at MSG. I'm not a huge Dispatch fan, but I've enjoyed this solo album a lot. There is a chug-a-lug groove of the first half of the album that really gets my toes a tappin', even if it slows down on a weaker side B. There's a certain Samples-esque unapolegtic optimism and upbeatedness to the tunes. Check out "Johnny Ocho's Lullaby" (which would be much funnier if it was called "Chad Ocho-Cincos's Lullaby").
16. Only By The Night - Kings Of Leon
Thom Yorke said, "If we looked like those guys, we'd be famous." Well they also sound great too. Their most mainstream album yet, but there is nothing wrong with that. "Sex on Fire" is the best of the bunch.
17. Consolers of the Lonely - The Raconteurs
This album sounds like rock n' roll. "You Don't Understand Me" is nice little piano-based jam. Jack White is the man.
18. Flight of the Conchords - Flight of the Conchords
If you like the show, you'll recognize most of these tunes. If these songs were not written to make you laugh, it would still be a great album. But they did write it to make you laugh, and a lot of those tunes will, especially with lines like "I'm a Hip-Hop-apotamus, my rhymes are bottomless". But "Business Time" is the jam.
...and a few stinkers:
Free Somehow - Widespread Panic
The first single "Up All Night" was released months early and is the best new song from this band in years. Unfortunately, the rest of this album stinks like poo poo. I really wanted to like this album. Its just not that good. Sorry guys.
Way Too Normal - Ben Folds
For some reason, this guy's albums keep getting worse. A damn shame because he's an incredibly talented musician and songwriter.