The Best 20 Albums and 50 Songs of 2008: Dylan Tops Both Lists

Finally, more than two weeks into 2009, here they are: My Picks For The Best Music of 2008:
 
ALBUMS
 
ALBUM OF THE YEAR

1. Bob Dylan: "Tell Tale Signs"
Who would have thought that a collection of outtakes and alternate versions of previously released tracks from the years 1989-2006 would be this good and would sound so little like a compilation and so much like an incredibly coherent album? But it does. And it's not just good, it's the Best Album Of The Year... an album that just gets better and better with each listen. Proof to any doubters out there that Bob remains as relevant, essential and important as ever.
 
Read my full reviews here: Bob's Back: Tell Tale Signs of Joy... and A Complete Lack of Judgement
 
and here Tell Tale Signs of Genius: Dylan's Best Album of The Past 20 Years? (Rave #2)


ANOTHER 19 GREAT ALBUMS FROM 2008:
 
2. My Morning Jacket: "Evil Urges"
Like a southern rock version of Beck or Prince, Jim James sings in about five or six distinctly different voices on this, the band's fifth album... and the best full-on rock 'n' roll album of the year. But it's not just the singing, the whole band ambitiously tackles everything from funk to soul to southern rock to alt-rock... and pulls it all off beautifully. Every song here is great, but the highlight is definitely the one-two-three punch of "Highly Suspicious", "I'm Amazed" and "Thank You Too!" that nearly knocks you out early on (tracks 3, 4 and 5). But then, a little later on, there's the beautiful (and possibly creepy) ode to one man's obsession with a particular guardian of the books, in the aptly-titled "Librarian". Then there's "Aluminum Park" and... Really, there's not one weak tune on the whole album.
 
3. Lil Wayne: "Tha Carter III"
A sprawling and absolutely stunning album. And, like Kanye West at his best, this thing's all over the musical map - Babyface, Robin Thicke, Jay-Z and Busta Rhymes all guest star here, among others. This is, unequivocally, an artist at the absolute peak of his game. Some rather juvenile, stupid lyrics on a song or two, perhaps, but mainly packed with truly brilliant stuff, like "Lollipop", "Mr. Carter", "A Milli", "Let The Beat Build", "Phone Home", "Shoot Me Down" and so much more.
 
4. Ryan Adams & The Cardinals: "Cardinology"
Ryan Adams' best album - and, man, has he ever released a lot of them - since his incredible solo debut, "Heartbreaker", back in 2000. This time, however, instead of releasing everything he'd written and recorded, he decided to save up a few of his best recent tracks and put them all on one album. And what an album it is. Every song is great. The highlight being the hard-rocking "Magick".
 
5. TV On The Radio: "Dear Science"
Proving that "Return To Cookie Mountain" (2006) was in no way a one-off fluke masterpiece, these Brooklyn hipsters return with another fantastic album that, like My Morning Jacket's "Evil Urges", tackles just about every musical style and does it all effortlessly. Amazingly, they even inspired both Rolling Stone and Spin magazines, in a rare moment of agreement, to call this the Best Album of The Year for 2008. Not quite that great to my mind, but I still think it's a brilliant album. Fifth best of the year, in fact.
 
6. Santogold: "Santogold"
At age 32, an age when many artists are losing their creative edge, American Santi White, a.k.a. Santogold, comes out of nowhere to release this unbelievably-inspired, near-perfect debut; an album that encompasses dance, soul, hip hop, M.I.A.-inspired British/world pop, and just about everything else as well. And in no time she finds herself on tour with Coldplay, Jay-Z, M.I.A., and Kanye West. Then by the end of the year she's in the studio helping Jay-Z and Kanye record Jay-Z's new single "Brooklyn Go Hard". But it's really not that surprising. I mean, who wouldn't want to tour and/or record with someone this talented?
 
7. Kings of Leon: "Only By The Night"
Just as good as last year's terrific "Because of The Times", if not better. Standout tracks include: "Crawl", "Sex On Fire", "17" and "Use Somebody". Full-on rock 'n' roll. And with a sound all their own, the three Followill brothers and their cousin are simply one of the great rock bands working today.
 
8. Jenny Lewis: "Acid Tongue"
As good as her band Rilo Kiley's fantastic "Under The Blacklight" was last year, this is a much looser, more spontaneous-feeling album and, to my mind, an even more enjoyable listen. The songs here are as diverse as the gospel-and-country-tinged title track; the fun, rockin' "Carpetbaggers", featuring Elvis Costello; and the soulful "Trying My Best To Love You", a song which sounds like it could have come off of one of Aretha Franklin's classic late-'60s albums.
 
9. Fleet Foxes: "Fleet Foxes"
An album in the old sense of the word. Not many songs stand out because they all stand out as a compact whole. And this album just gets better and better with every listen. With a sound that's part sixties folk and part England-Ireland-Scotland circa 1500 AD and featuring beautiful harmonies throughout, this is late-night, beer-in-hand, mellow, beard-growing music at it's best. Speaking of beards, have you seen these guys? They look like a hockey team during a playoff run... but in a good way.
 
10. The Raconteurs: "Consolers of the Lonely"
Jack White's side project from The White Stripes has clearly become a real band, one rivaling the Stripes when it comes to making great rock 'n' roll. And this is definitely the hardest rockin' album on this list, at times coming off like early-Led Zeppelin, though at others more like "Revolver" or "Rubber Soul"-era Beatles. Jack White and Brendan Benson's collaborative writing, shared lead vocals, etc. have produced some great sounding rock 'n' roll over the band's two-album history. However, this album feels much more like a Jack White-dominated project than the band's first album (2006's "Broken Boy Soldiers") did, which probably explains why it rocks so much harder.
 
11. Coldplay: "Viva La Vida"
So a band that worships U2 decides to bring in one of their heroes' long-time producers, Brian Eno, and the result is perhaps their finest album to date.
  
12. Lucinda Williams: "Little Honey"
A much harder rocking, upbeat and happy album than last year's "West" and almost as good too. Featuring another great guest appearance from Elvis Costello (the guy's everywhere!) in a funny, redneck country rave-up called "Jailhouse Tears". There are also some great slow ballads, the kind at which Lucinda always excels. But overall the album is dominated by great rocking numbers such as "Real Love", "Honey Bee" and "Little Rock Star" (which, by the way, comes across as a personal plea to the train wreck that is Amy Winehouse).
 
A great album for sure, but it's no "Car Wheels On A Gravel Road" (1998), the album by which Lucinda's work will always be measured. But, to be fair, there's little chance she'll ever come up with another album that amazing. I mean, to make one "Top 20 Album of The Past 20 Years" isn't something many artists ever accomplish, let alone twice.
 
13. Vampire Weekend: "Vampire Weekend"
Believe the hype, these guys, straight outta Columbia University, are great. What a debut! With some world music (specifically African) influences, they've got a sound all of their own, but in the end it's just great pop/rock music, hype or no hype.
 
14. R.E.M.: "Accelerate"
R.E.M. are back, people. After years of lackluster releases they returned this year with a vengeance. Their best album since 1992's "Automatic For The People", though definitely not as great as that masterpiece... nor as quiet, for that matter. In fact, aside from the consistent quality of the songs, this album is actually nothing like the subtle, quiet "Automatic". No, this thing is a full-on rocking monster.
 
15. Kanye West: "808s & Heartbreak"
After losing his mother and breaking up with his long-time girlfriend, Kanye, on this, his fourth album, decides to take a radical departure and goes pop, while (almost completely) giving up rapping for singing (with the help of Auto-Tune). As the title suggests, the album features lots of songs of heartbreak and loss. It was strange to listen to this non-rapping Kanye at first - and I don't think the album can really measure up to his earlier masterpieces - but it's still got some killer tracks and is, overall, a great album.
 
Read my full Kanye rave here: The Kanye West Rave

16. Kathleen Edwards: "Asking For Flowers"
This third release from the 30-year-old Ottawa native is her best album by far. A great songwriter with a country/folk/rock sound that is somewhat reminiscent of both Lucinda Williams and Ryan Adams. The highlights here are "The Cheapest Key" and "I Make The Dough, You Get The Glory", but perhaps her finest moment as a songwriter is the heartwrenching "Alicia Ross", a song written from the perspective of the 25-year-old Toronto women of the same name who was murdered by her neighbor back in 2005.

17. Todd Snider: "Peace Queer"
This quick 8-song EP is definitely a minor work compared to Todd's classic albums of the past few years ("East Nashville Skyline" being the best), but it's still a great listen and features some terrific songs. But more than anything else it makes you long for the next major release from this great Nashville-via-Oregon singer-songwriter. And last I heard that next full-length album is due sometime in 2009.
 
Check out my full review here: The Todd Snider "Peace Queer" Rave

18. Gnarls Barkley: "The Odd Couple"
Danger Mouse and Cee-Lo's second album together and there's no sophomore slump here. Not as great as their debut, perhaps, but with killer tracks like "Going On", "Who's Going To Save My Soul" and "Run (I'm A Natural Disaster)" nobody's complaining too much. Obviously none of the tracks are anywhere near as awesome as "Crazy", but that was a once-in-a-lifetime piece of pop perfection, not likely to be repeated.
 
19. John Legend: "Evolver"
A disappointment after the near-perfection of his first two albums (2004's "Get Lifted" and 2006's "Once Again"), but still a good collection of songs nonetheless. And you've got to give the man credit, each album is a departure from the last one, this one being a lot more upbeat and pop oriented than "Once Again". "Green Light", the collaboration with OutKast's Andre 3000, is the definite highlight here, a terrific track.
 
20. Neil Young: "Sugar Mountain - Live At Canterbury House 1968"
And, finally, this live album, the third instalment in the Neil Young Archives Live Performance Series, released on the 40th anniversary of Neil's first solo gigs after having left Buffalo Springfield. A quiet, intimate, fantastic performance by a very talkative Neil.
 
And A Special Mention Goes To:
 
Neil Young & Crazy Horse: "Live At The Fillmore East March 6 & 7, 1970"
The second release in Neil's Live Performance Series. This was a glaring omission from last year's list because I didn't pick it up until this past year. Neil has, of course, released a whole load of live albums over the years, but this just may be the greatest one of all. And what a companion piece to his other 2007 live release, "Live At Massey Hall 1971" (which did make it onto my 2007 Best Of List). While "Massey Hall" is a beautiful, intimate, quiet, solo acoustic show, "Fillmore" is a fully-electric, fully-rocking, tour de force of extended guitar jams and raucous rockers. To truly comprehend its greatness this album must be played LOUD!! Turn it up to 11.
 

SONGS

 

Obviously there were tens of thousands of songs released this past year and I, of course, haven't heard them all (nor has anyone else who makes these sorts of lists), but, from all those I have heard, these are My Picks For The Best 50 Songs Of 2008:


BEST SONG OF THE YEAR

1. Bob Dylan: "Red River Shore"
I'm not going to pack this list with song after song of superior versions of previously-released tracks from the amazing "Tell Tale Signs" - no matter how transcendent they may in fact be. However, this exquisite masterpiece - recorded back in 1997 but never released in any form until this past fall - is so beautiful, mesmerizing and subtly mind-blowing that there's simply no denying its place as the best song of 2008.
 
To read about the best tracks from "Tell Tale Signs" and Bob's other recent albums, check out this piece from a couple of months back: The 25 Greatest Dylan Songs of The Past 20 Years

THE REST OF THE TOP 10 SONGS OF THE YEAR:

2. Lil Wayne: "Lollipop"
Perhaps the greatest song of all time about fellatio. There have certainly been songs about blow jobs before, but nothing quite as sublime, brilliant and addictive as this. I mean, this song has probably even inspired a few Mother Superiors out there to think about getting a lollipop of their own.

3. My Morning Jacket: "I'm Amazed"
Classic rock, 70's rock, southern rock, guitar rock, whatever you want to call it, this is one f*cking awesome rock 'n' roll song!

4. The Rolling Stones and Buddy Guy: "Champagne & Reefer"
The highlight of the Martin Scorsese-directed Stones concert film Shine A Light. Buddy simply steals the show with a monster lesson in both the blues and how to sing 'em.

5. Ryan Adams & The Cardinals: "Magick"
Pure rock 'n' roll, er, magic. The hardest rocking song from Adams' superb "Cardinology" album.
 
6. Jenny Lewis: "Acid Tongue"
Take a bit of country, a bit of soul, throw in a hint of gospel choir and an autobiographical tale of redemption and you've got yourself one hell of a great song.

7. Santogold: "L.E.S. Artistes"
Of all the standout cuts on Santi White's debut album ("Shove It", "I'm A Lady", "You'll Find A Way", etc.), this lead-off track stands out the most. If this doesn't get your body moving you're probably dead... or, perhaps, a heavy metal fan.
 
8. Jenny Lewis and Elvis Costello: "Carpetbaggers"
A perfect guest spot from Elvis makes this one hell of a fun ride.
 
9. TV On The Radio: "Shout Me Out"
According to some, "Golden Age" is the greatest song on TVOTR's new album, "Dear Science", but for my money this track is without question the most outstanding cut on that incredible album.

10. Todd Snider: "The Ballad of Cape Henry"
The stand-out cut on Todd's "Peace Queer" EP. This beautiful acoustic track may have been written about a particular battle in the American War of Independence, but it could just as easily be about any number of other wars or battles.

 
ANOTHER 40 KILLER TRACKS FROM 2008 (in alphabetical order):

Beck: "Gamma Ray"
 
Blitzen Trapper: "Furr"

Coldplay: "Viva La Vida"

Coldplay: "Lost!"

 
Kathleen Edwards: "I Make The Dough, You Get The Glory"
 
Kathleen Edwards: "The Cheapest Key"
 
Kathleen Edwards: "Alicia Ross"
 
Fleet Foxes: "Oliver James"
 
Fleet Foxes: "Your Protector"
 
Gnarls Barkley: "Going On"
 
Gnarls Barkley: "Who's Gonna Save My Soul"
 
Justin Hines: "April on the Ground"
 
Jay-Z and T.I. Feat. Kanye West and Lil Wayne: "Swagga Like Us"

Kings of Leon: "Use Somebody"
 
Kings of Leon: "17"
 
John Legend Feat. Andre 3000: "Green Light"
 
Jenny Lewis: "Black Sand"
 
Lil Wayne feat. Jay-Z: "Mr. Carter"
 
My Morning Jacket: "Highly Suspicious"
 
My Morning Jacket: "Thank You Too"
 
My Morning Jacket: "Librarian"
 
The Raconteurs: "Rich Kid Blues"
 
The Raconteurs: "Many Shades of Black"
 
The Raconteurs: "Salute Your Solution"
 
The Raconteurs: "You Don't Understand Me"
 
R.E.M.: "Supernatural Superserious"
 
R.E.M.: "Hollow Man"
 
Santogold: "Shove It"
 
Santogold: "I'm A Lady"
 
Santogold: "You'll Find A Way"
 
TV on the Radio: "Golden Age"

Vampire Weekend: "The Kids Don't Stand A Chance"
 
Vampire Weekend: "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa"
 
Vampire Weekend: "One (Blake's Got A New Face)"
 
Martha Wainwright: "Comin' Tonight"
 
Weezer: "Pork and Beans"
 
Kanye West: "Love Lockdown"
 
Kanye West: "Heartless"
 
Lucinda Williams and Elvis Costello: "Jailhouse Tears"
 
Lucinda Williams: "Circles And X's"


HONORABLE MENTIONS:
 
And for a good laugh check out these 2008 comedy classics:
 
"I'm F*cking Matt Damon" by Sarah Silverman and special guest
Watch and listen here
 
"I'm F*cking Ben Affleck" by Jimmy Kimmel and friends
Watch and listen here
 
"Jizz In My Pants" by Lonely Island
Watch the SNL Digital Short here


And, so, there you have it, those are my picks. You think I missed something? Leave a comment. Or even a list of your own.
 
Finally, if you haven't seen them already, click here to see My Picks For The Best 25 Films of 2008

Mike Cowie (Oredakedo)
Sunday, January 18th, 2008

 

 

While we're on the topic of music, check out this clip. It features soon-to-be 90-year-old Pete Seeger at Obama's inaugural concert last night leading Bruce Springsteen and half a million people in a rendition of his old buddy Woody Guthrie's most famous tune: "This Land Is Your Land". And note the use of the original words regarding trespassing on "Private Property", the words they won't let you sing in school. And, yeah, that is George Lucas singing along in the crowd:

 

This Land Is Your Land



To see my 2007 music picks click here: My Picks For The Best 15 Albums and 40 Songs of 2007
 
And for more music raves and reviews click here: Music Homepage

Or here: Music: Album and Concert Raves

And for all things Bob Dylan click here: The Bob (as in Dylan)

MikesAndDislikes Home

top 20

Well Mike, your list of faves includes some of my own faves (Dylan, Neil Young, Fleet Foxes and Lucinda Williams), but also some real clunkers. Lil Wayne, for instance, I just don't get...maybe I am getting old. And on your recommendation, I gave "My Morning Jacket" a couple of spins - nice sound, but a little short on melody IMO. Accelerate is much better than Around the Sun or Up, but it's an overstatement to say REM are back. Stipe's vocals are WAY too up front, and the songs aren't as strong as, say, those from New Adventures in HiFi. And is Ryan Adams the real deal? Because I always thought he was a label-created poser. Haven't listened closely enough but I will give it a try.

 

Here are a couple of my picks for 2008:

 

Young Jeezy - The Recession. Jeezy brings it; there's not a false note on this thing. Substance over style.

 

Ray Davies - Workingman's Cafe. This album follows up 2006's "Other People's Lives" and is far superior, IMO - in fact I think it's the best work Davies has done since the early 70s. The song "One More Time" is my favourite track of the year, narrowly beating out the Tell Tale Signs versions of "Mississippi".

 

Tom Petty - Highway Companion. Best Petty since Wildflowers in the early 90s...ironically, the first non-Heartbreakers album since then.

 

Steve Earle - Washington Square Serenade. This one makes the list because it has some of the best songs of the year (Oxycontin Blues, Sparkle and Shine, Jericho Road). Frustratingly, like all Earle albums, it has a handful of throwaways as well.

 

Eagles - Long Road Out of Eden. I know, I know...these guys are easy to despise. And there's no shortage of bloat on this album. But when it shines (Waiting in the Weeds, How Long, No More Walks in the Woods) it is phenomenal. Harmonies are perfect. These guys are so much more than the sum of their broken-down, geriatric parts.

 

Brian Wilson - Lucky Old Sun. Okay, some of it is cringe-worthy, but "Southern California" and "Midnight's Another Day" are as good as anything Brian has written since the early 70s. And his band is TIGHT.

 

John Mellencamp - Life, Death, Love and Freedom. Very bleak, very genuine, not a clunker on the thing. I was heartened to see that Rolling Stone named it fifth best album of the year...I couldn't believe the thing didn't generate more buzz. His best since 1998's eponymous "John Mellencamp".