Friday Five: Best albums of 2008

This is a public service announcement — with guitars!

OK, bonus points for anyone who can post the musical reference to that quip. No googling, please. Be the first to correctly name the song, artist and album in the comments box and you’ll win … something. I don’t know what yet.

Anyway, on to our end-of-year countdown of the five best albums of 2008. Some of you know that I’m a rock geek who dreamed of working for Rolling Stone, back when it was a tabloid and really mattered. That was before the Internet and its wonderful explosion of music blogs. Now, everyone’s a critic. Even higher ed marketing peeps, at least once a year.

So, about my list: This is a totally biased selection, based on my limited knowledge and skills as an amateur music critic. If you can’t get enough of this, and also want to hear some audio from these and other releases, check out the full monty inside.

Best albums of 2008

1. My Morning Jacket, Evil Urges. For years, I’ve had this love-hate thing going with My Morning Jacket. I would love their hard-driving tunes but was less enamored with their mellower stuff. Plus, I thought they should try harder to subdue their Kentucky roots. But with Evil Urges, MMJ has managed to mitigate my worries, and now all I have is a love-love thing for the band. (This was also true of Z, their 2005 offering. But Evil Urges sealed the deal.) Alternating between solid guitar-driven rock and sublime ballads, Evil Urges blends it together into a nicely balanced elixir for the ears.

2. The Hold Steady, Stay Positive. Not just another band out of Boston, the Hold Steady can easily lay claim on one of the nation’s best rock bands. Earlier claims that lead vocalist Craig Finn was little more than a Springsteen clone don’t hold up these days. With lyrics that sound like Raymond Carver set to music, Finn and company sing about Jesus on the cross, drinking binges, guilt and regret and love and desperation. And for good measure, they name-check Joe Strummer. The Hold Steady has proven its staying power, and Stay Positive is positively this one-time bar band’s best album ever.

3. John Mellencamp, Life, Death, Love and Freedom. Over his 30-year career, John Mellencamp has come close to crafting the masterpiece. Two albums — Scarecrow and Human Wheels — fell just short of the mark. But Mellencamp hits his stride with this gritty, heartfelt album. With world-weary vocals and lyrics, Mellencamp takes the mantle from John Prine and Johnny Cash, giving us a great slice of Americana.

4. The Raveonettes, Lust Lust Lust. Sweet Jesus and Mary Chain, the Raveonettes’ mix of ’60s surf and pop with ultra-modern noise is the best echo/reverb sound to come out since, well, The Jesus and Mary Chain. The only difference is the Raveonettes sound better through the fuzz than that other band ever did. I love this album.

5. Santogold, Santogold. Listeners of a certain vintage may compare Santi White’s sweet voice to that of Dale Bozzio, lead singer of early ’80s new wavers Missing Persons. Other, younger listeners may detect a hint of Gwen Stefani. But those comparisons fail to tag the inventiveness White, aka Santogold, shows in this debut album. Mixing new wave and pop influences with hip-hop, soul and R&B, Santogold creates a near-perfect pop album. And she’s proving to be a good capitalist, cashing in on her sound with licensing deals. (You’ve probably heard some tunes from this album in Bud Light commercials.) When it comes to licensing, Santogold could probably teach even Moby a thing or two.

On to the top 20 and other musical musings.

Also, if anyone has an end-of-year music list they’d like me to share, just leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it to this post — providing that it’s in good taste (i.e., no nudity or Kenny G).

Other end-of-year lists:

The Mother of All Best-of-2008 Lists, updated routinely by Largehearted Boy.

Top Albums of 2008 from fellow higher ed blogger and music aficionado Ron Bronson.

Inside Tim’s Head posts his top 10.


Author: andrewcareaga

Higher ed PR and marketing guy. Communications director for Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) in Rolla, Missouri, USA. Slow runner, mediocre guitarist, lover of music and puns, and an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan. I blog and Tweet about #highered, #music, #gocards and #random stuff.

11 thoughts on “Friday Five: Best albums of 2008”

  1. My guess: Womanizer by Britney Spears from the Circus album.

    Love me some Mellencamp – glad he’s on your list.

    Tip to the next commenter: Andrew said nothing about yahooing (just like googling, but results may vary).

  2. Sorry, Todd. If it were Britney it would be a public service announcement — with no clothes!

    And I used “googling” in the generic sense to encompass all search engines. But as I said, we’re on the honor system here.

  3. I’m going to work on mine and get it out there. Good list and I was keeping my mouth shut on commenting until now. ;)

    I have a love/hate relationship with Vampire Weekend. Their lyrics are inane, but I do love the musicianship. Santogold is a good first album, but I’d like to see her put some more meat on the bone for the sophomore LP. I love Basia Bulat and I agree that Of Montreal was a massive letdown from what I’d come to hope for.

    As I twittered to you, I really liked Death Cab. Ok, “really liked” is a bit of an overstatement. But I enjoy “Cath” and “Grapevine Fires.” I thought “I Will Possess Your Heart” is a creep song, just like “Invisible” by Clay Aiken.

    But what can ya do.

    Thanks for posting the list!

  4. Ron – yeah, Vampire Weekend’s lyrics aren’t the strongest, but some of my favorite songs have weak lyrics. Case in point: The Cars, “Let the Good Times Roll.” Have you ever really listened to the lyrics of that song? “Let them brush your rock and roll hair…” Seriously? But it’s still a great tune that takes me back to my youth.

  5. Great list! I can’t wait to listen to a few of these. I’m really stuck on the Killers right now. They seem to have fell into an all-encompasing genre. Love your Jesus and Mary Chain reference. There’s an album of covers out I think.

  6. Mike – I confess, I haven’t listened to much of the new Killers album.

    Drew – Said the Gramaphone is one of a number of very good music blogs out there. I also like Stereogum and Gorilla vs. Bear. And then of course, there’s RCRD LBL. Thanks for the comments.

  7. FWIW, if I’d gone to a top 20, British Sea Power’s Do You Like Rock Music? would have been on it too. Just too hit or miss to make my top 10.

    Have been meaning to get Jukebox at some point, because I liked The Greatest … such a great voice. I do like what I’ve heard of My Morning Jacket. Paste magazine keeps trying to ram the Hold Steady down my throat, but I’m just not feeling it. We’ll just have to agree to disagree on DCfC’s newest, obviously.

    You’ve name-checked what I think are Mellencamp’s two best albums, so I may have to explore his newest. And checking out Girl Talk has been on my to-do list since … summer? Everyone says it’s worth the listen.

    Have given you a reciprocal link as well. Here’s to musical exploration!

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