2008- the end of one of the worst political eras in American history. The financial collapse leading to the Great Recession. Good times! It’s tough to historically evaluate a year that was merely three years ago but I can say that my top two albums then- Fleet Foxes self-titled debut & Vampire Weekend’s self-titled debut are my top two albums now. Though they pretty much tower over the competition for me that doesn’t mean that there weren’t aren’t a bunch more ridiculously solid released in ’08.
Erykah Badu experienced a career reinvention and resurgence with the P-Funk & Sly Stone inspired “The New Amerykah Part 1: 4th World War”. The Drive-By Truckers “Brighter Than Creation’s Dark” was a return to form after the middling “Blessing and A Curse” two years prior. With “Brighter” the DBT’s re-established their position at the top of the heap of all working alt-country bands. Previously little heard from band’s like Portland’s Blitzen Trapper and Australia’s Cut Copy released the excellent “Furr” (the former) and “In Ghost Colours” the latter. Cut Copy has one of the best dance-rock meets indie-pop fusions since New Order and Blitzen Trapper fit right in with both folky bands like Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver & Local Natives as well as the ass- kicking rock bands like early Wilco, Uncle Tupelo & the Truckers. Speaking of Bon Iver, 2008 was the year that lead singer Justin Vernon’s (until later really the sole member and creator in Bon Iver) Bon Iver’s debut album “For Emma, Forever Ago” saw wider distribution. It was originally self-released in the fall of 2007 but was heard by no one besides a few important blogs until ’08. As understated and personal an album as “For Emma” is, it announced to the world a major talent in Vernon who would become bigger in the 3 ensuing years. Baltimore’s Beach House released their very good 2nd album, “Devotion”, an improvement over their nice self-titled debut, and a twin to “For Emma” when it comes to slow, quiet and very sad music.
’08 was a good year for new bands as well. The UK’s Los Campesinos! released their debut album “Hold On Now, Youngster” as well as a very good follow up EP at the end of the year. The album is off the rails fun, punky, wordy, funny & snotty. Two L.A. vegan kids No Age released their first official full length (after the “Weirdo Rippers” singles comp)- the awesome “Nouns”. They were the house band at the popular D.I.Y. all ages venue The Smell, which would launch a slew of likeminded bands around the same time. The beautiful and eccentric 21 year old Swede Lykke Li released her very promising debut album “Youth Novels” and suburban New Jersey-ites Titus Andronicus came out with “The Airing of Grievances”, which was epic length punk rock meets hometown hero Bruce Springsteen. Fellow Jersey-boys The Gaslight Anthem’s “The ’59 Sound” was stripped down 50’s style rockabilly punk meets Springsteen as well. Glad to see the Boss getting his due from the indie rock and punk community. NYC’s Hercules and Love Affair paired with transsexual singer Anthony Hegarty to release their self-titled debut- one of the best full length dance records I’ve heard in a very long time. On the other side of the pond and of the dance spectrum was Crystal Castles self-titled debut which was screaming goth punk meets dance music and an Atari 2600. The Lower East side NYC based A&R talent scout and M.I.A.’s influenced Santogold’s (now Santigold after she lost a law suit) debut also sounded great in ’08- a mish-mash of styles she brought together indie, dancehall & chirpy new wave music.
Though ’08 was not an amazing year for rap music it did contain “Tha Carter III” a huge event album from Lil Wayne which sold a million in its first week, unheard of during a time of tremendous music industry doldrums. One of the biggest pioneers in alternative, “conscious” rap music, Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest, was back from a very long absence with his 2nd commercially released solo album, the excellent “The Renaissance”. Outside of those two Atlanta rapper T.I. released the decent “Paper Trail” which had a few outstanding songs on it and D.C. rapper Wale released his debut mixtape and stoner rapper Kid Cudi came out with his debut single, the great “Day N’ Nite” which he still hasn’t come to equalling. Kanye West took a break from rap to record an interesting emo rap album filled with him singing in auto-tune. Though it goes down as his weakest album by far it is still a worthwhile listen with a handful of highlights. It seems that anything Kanye puts out is worth a listen.
Veteran rockers like the Black Keys, Jack White’s other band the Raconteurs, My Morning Jacket & the Hold Steady all released albums of varying quality in ’08. MMJ’s “Evil Urges” was an experimental hit and miss affair which was a let down after their last two excellent albums even though it has its bright spots. The Raconteurs 2nd album was an improvement over their pretty good debut though still not the equal of the White Stripes best work. The Hold Steady’s “Stay Positive” was their fourth very good release in a row though also a drop in quality from at least their previous two. The Black Keys enlisted the help of hot producer Danger Mouse for “Attack & Release”- their most experimental album in a series of straight forward hard garage-rockin’ releases. Brooklyn’s TV On the Radio’s “Dear Science” was nearly as good as the previous “Return to Cookie Mountain”, solidifying their status as one of the best bands of their time (IMO). Bristol, England’s Portishead came out with the great “Third” after an enormous absence- their second album was released in 1997. They managed to sound as great as ever- somehow updating their sound but sounding like no one but Portishead at the same time. Three other underground bands who had already released excellent albums, Hot Chip, Deerhunter and M83, did so again in 2008, giving all three bands more traction and notoriety than ever.
Perhaps the biggest story of ’08 was the debut album of dance-pop superstar Lady Gaga with “The Fame”. She inspired enormous levels of both love & hatred but she was certainly the biggest new star in the dance pop realm since Madonna- ignoring lip synching robots like Britney Spears. Two blue-eyed soul stars from Britain emerged the same year- Adele with her debut album “19” who would go on to much bigger fame with her follow-up “21” and Duffy, whose excellent debut “Rockferry” belied her dud follow-up a few years later
ERYKAH BADU- THE NEW AMERYKAH PART 1: 4TH WORLD WAR
Buy New Amerykah Part One (4th World War)Amazon
HERCULES AND LOVE AFFAIR- HERCULES AND LOVE AFFAIR
Buy Hercules And Love AffairAmazon
VAMPIRE WEEKEND- VAMPIRE WEEKEND
Buy Vampire WeekendAmazon
Q-TIP- THE RENAISSANCE
Buy The RenaissanceAmazon
TV ON THE RADIO- DEAR SCIENCE
Buy Dear Science (Deluxe Edition)Amazon
DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS- BRIGHTER THAN CREATION’S DARK
Buy Brighter Than Creation’s Dark Amazon
BLITZEN TRAPPER- FURR
THE BUG- LONDON ZOO
Buy London Zoo Amazon
FLEET FOXES- FLEET FOXES
Buy Fleet FoxesAmazon
M83- SATURDAYS= YOUTH
Buy Saturdays = Youth [+Digital Booklet]Amazon
LOS CAMPESINOS!- HOLD ON NOW, YOUNGSTER
Buy Hold On Now, YoungsterAmazon
BEACH HOUSE- DEVOTION
BON IVER- FOR EMMA, FOREVER AGO *LIMITED SELF RELEASE IN OCT. 2007
Buy For Emma, Forever Ago Amazon
HOT CHIP- MADE IN THE DARK
Buy Made In The Dark [+Digital Booklet]Amazon
LIL WAYNE- THA CARTER III
Buy Tha Carter III [Explicit]Amazon
SANTOGOLD- SANTOGOLD *NOW CALLED SANTIGOLD
DEERHUNTER- MICROCASTLE/WEIRD ERA CONT.
CUT COPY- IN GHOST COLOURS
Buy In Ghost ColoursAmazon
NO AGE- NOUNS
Buy Nouns – No Age
+ 2 EP’S
ANIMAL COLLECTIVE- WATER CURSES EP
Buy Water CursesAmazon
FLEET FOXES- SUN GIANT EP
Buy Sun Giant EPAmazon