Without further adieu, here are the 24 CDs that I listened to the most in the last 12 months.
1. The New Frontiers – Mending – Militia Group
My music-swapping buddy Jason turned me onto these guys saying that they reminded him a bit of The Damnwells. I don’t take the comparison lightly but he was right and I was instantly hooked on The New Frontiers’ road-weary Americana rock filled with spirituality and emotion. The live show turned things up a notch and revealed an ethereal Brit-rock layer (ala Doves, Coldplay) in the guitars that I hadn’t noticed when listening to this CD but made it all the more enjoyable on further listens. It figures, just when I decide that this is going to top my list due to the massive amount of airplay it got on my iPod, the band announced they were breaking up! If any of the guys go on to new projects, you’ll be able to read about it here.
2. Darker My Love – 2 – Dangerbird Records
Perhaps the greatest live show I saw in 2008 was Darker My Love’s night-before-Thanksgiving show in front of 25 or so people in Columbus, Ohio. The album blew me away as it recalls everything I loved about early Dandy Warhols, BRMC, Ride, The Beatles and the Beach Boys but the live show was even more incredible – fuzzy guitars channeled through reverb pedals, echoey vocals shared between Tim Presley and Rob Barbato and rich harmonies that were even more pronounced live than on CD.
3. Blind Melon – For My Friends – AdrenalineRecords
I had mixed feelings when I heard Blind Melon was reforming around a singer that nobody outside of Texas had ever heard of. I was happy that the guys were able to find a reason to get back together to record new music but wasn’t sure anybody could fill Shannon Hoon’s shoes. Rogers (Blind Melon guitarist) sent me 3 MP3s recorded early on with new singer Travis Warren and I could hear the magic. I happened to be at the show where Shannon’s mother met Travis for the first time and seeing the two of them hug made me think that everything was right in the world. Unfortunately, Blind Melon’s future with Travis is on shaky ground right now, we’ll have to see what happens in 2009 but if nothing else, I’m glad that the guys gave it another shot and left us with this album.
4. Dead Confederate – Wrecking Ball – Razor & Tie
Somebody wrote that if Temple of the Dog had been from Atlanta instead of Seattle and had formed 3 years ago instead of 15 years ago, the result would be Dead Confederate. I’m inclined to agree – these kids from the south draw heavily on a grunge influence without sounding like any of the token flannel wearing bands of the ’90s. I would have killed (figuratively, of course) to see a Blind Melon / Dead Confederate/ The Whigs bill in 2008.
5. The Shys – You’ll Never Understand This Band the Way I Do – Aeronaut Records
This thing screams “rock n’ roll” the way the Afghan Whigs did in their prime. Don’t be mistaken, The Shys don’t sound anything like Cincinnati’s finest, but they have the same cocksure attitude, they both own any stage they ever step foot on, they both have lead singers that all the guys in the crowd want to be and all the girls in the crowd want to sleep with and both have soul to spare.
6. All the Saints – Fire on Corridor X – Touch & Go
When I was a kid and growing up in Connecticut, we had a few TV stations that always seemed to play horror-dramas from the mid ’70s (channels 5, 9, and 11). They weren’t particularly scary in the truest sense of a horror movie (not a lot of blood or demonic creatures) and being a kid under the age of 10, they didn’t make much sense to me but I knew by the music being played that I was supposed to feel some sort of fear or dread. All the Saints play this trippy, drug-induced music that reminds me of those movies that seemed particularly eerie on overcast, grey Sunday afternoons. If these guys made a video that showed nothing but crows flying to and from an old, abandoned house with the windows boarded up, it would be PERFECT.
7. Mason Proper – Olly Oxen Free – Dovecote
Ever go to dinner and enjoy the appetizer so much that you want to skip the rest of the meal? The first 3 songs on this CD are such gems that it literally took me months to give the rest of the CD a listen. Last year I wrote that The Loyal Divide sounded like Modest Mouse covering a Cure song. Not sure I hear the Cure in Mason Proper’s music, maybe it’s more like Modest Mouse covering Radiohead. (Note to Mason Proper and The Loyal Divide – can the two of you hook up and play a show at Skully’s in Columbus sometime in the new year? Thanks). Seriously, the entire CD is great but if you’re down to $3 in iTunes credit, purchase “Fog”, “Point A to Point B” and “Lock and Key” for the best 3-song EP of 2008.
8. The Hush Now – The Hush Now
Noel, my friend, I remember a drunken evening a few years back, your then-band Cerulean had just finished an enthralling set in the confines of Andyman’s Treehouse and you had played guitar with a broken hand. I asked you what CDs you were listening to at the time and you pointed to Rick and said, “He’s the one that keeps up with what’s going on. I don’t really listen to that much music, especially not newer stuff.” I bet if I asked you that question today you’d tell me you’ve been listening to a lot of The Little Ones, Death Cab for Cutie, the Shout Out Louds, maybe some Ra Ra Riot and/or Granddaddy perhaps.
9. Warbringer – War Without End – Century Media
A lot of great metal albums came out in 2008 (Kingdom of Sorrow, Testament, Death Angel, Metallica, Motorhead) but none got more play on my iPod than the debut by Warbringer. These kids sound like they came from a Bay Area basement circa 1986 (ala Slayer, Exodus, Forbidden, etc.), which is just about the time most of them were born! The soundtrack to cruising around with Kim and Colleen during the summer of ’91.
10. Local H – Twelve Angry Months – Shout Factory
The Chicago duo’s past releases are ones that took a while to grow on me – I’ve always been more of a fan of their greatest hits/live show than I have been of any one release. But Scott Lucas passed along some demos from this album to me at SXSW in 2007 and I knew it would be something special. Sure, Local H will never lose that post-grunge/post-Nirvana sound, but the sonic palate has expanded and songs like “The One with ‘Kid'” and “Hand to Mouth” reveal a Pink Floyd influence that I’ve never heard before. One of the greatest pleasures I had in 2008 was watching Local H completely destroy a sold-out Flogging Molly crowd on a warm summer afternoon just as the sun was setting into the horizon.
11. Guns N’ Roses – Chinese Democracy – Universal
To hell with the haters, I waited 15 years for this and while I think a few of the tracks could have been trimmed to make a tighter sounding record, I’m happy nevertheless that Axl Rose has finally re-emerged with what I like to call Use Your Illusion III. My biggest pet peeve of 2008 has been when people say that without Slash, Duff and Izzy as part of the band, it doesn’t – and never will – sound like Guns N’ Roses. Um, excuse me, but have you ever listened to anything by Velvet Revolver? Slash and Duff didn’t exactly light the world on fire with the VR stuff, what makes you think that they would have brought back the “classic” sound to GN’R? Having seen the Axl-only version of GN’R on tour a few years ago, I can’t say I’d part with $50 to see the cover band version live, but as long as Axl keeps putting out recordings, I’ll buy ’em.
12. Friendly Fires – Friendly Fires – Beggars XL
This thing makes me want to dance (me, the star of “White Men Can’t Dance”) which is both exciting and scary (mostly scary according to my kids). Hip enough to be cool with the indie rock kids, Friendly Fires is sort of like MGMT meets Duran Duran. Lyrically, Friendly Fires may be a bit simple (“One day we’re going to live in Paris / I promise, I’m on it”) but you’ll barely notice with the menagerie of sound exploding through the speakers.
13. Sebastien Grainger & The Mountains – Saddle Creek
The former drummer/singer of Death from Above 1979 does an about face and turns his back on his former band’s sound for something that sounds like it was concocted on the Mercury Lounge stage during the summer of 2001 (aka, the summer of the Strokes). Throw away your Killers records (or, better yet, sell them to a used CD place) and put this on constant rotation.
14. The Loyal Divide – Labrador EP
These guys snuck up on me in the summer of ’07 even though they were right under my nose the whole time. At that time, they could have served as the opening act on tours by bands ranging from Modest Mouse to Arcade Fire to The Cure. A move to Chicago drastically changed the band’s sound, dare I say, for the better. In fact, the first time I heard the new EP I wasn’t even sure it was the same band – these recordings sound like somebody discovered a box full of Radiohead (circa Kid A) and Nine Inch Nails “ideas”, spliced them together and added vocals. The result is cool late-night crusing music. Guys, if you ever come back to Columbus to do a show, please swing by Michigan and bring Mason Proper with you.
15. Everest – Ghost Notes – Vapor Records
The resumes of the guys in this band are impressive, even if you don’t recognize the individual musicians by name. Members of Everest have played on records by â€¦ deep breath â€¦ Sebadoh, The Folk Implosion, Earlimart, John Vanderslice, Great Northern, Dig, The Watson Twins, and The Stanford Prison Experiment (among others). The band produced yet another in a long line of great late afternoon, front porch drinking albums coming out of the Silverlake scene in L.A. (see: Great Northern, Sea Wolf, The Radar Bros.)
16. Magnolia Summer – Lines from the Frame – Undertow
I usually cringe when hearing a musician say that there most recent work is the best thing they’ve ever done as I feel it cheapens their previous catalog. But hearing Chris Grabau of Magnolia Summer talk about the writing and recording of Lines from the Frame, I truly believe he stands behind that sentiment even though I thought From Driveways’ Lost View (2006) would be pretty hard to top. This release continues on in the Magnolia Summer tradition of sounding like the perfect soundtrack to a riverfront summer concert, a cooler full of Anheuser-Busch products parked next to the lawn chair. Putting that into a musical equivalent – Magnolia Summer falls somewhere between the spawn of Uncle Tupelo – Son Volt and Wilco.
17. Gregory & the Hawk –Moenie and Kitchi – Fat Cat
Wouldn’t a Noah and the Whale / Gregory & the Hawk co-headlining tour be a great idea? Before hearing this CD, I assumed GATH was a fey follower of Belle & Sebastian. Who knew a WOMAN fronted this band? Meredith Godreau and Mike McGuire write beautiful music together and Godreau’s childlike vocals sound delicate and fragile and remind me of Lisa Loeb, Tanya Donelly and Harriet Wheeler (The Sundays).
18. Two Dark Birds – Vfib Records
I’m on the shy side of 40, no reason to deny it, so I might as well embrace it. Without reading the liner notes and discovering that Two Dark Bird’s is led by Steven Koester (Koester, Maplewood, etc.), I had an idea that these musicians were more mature than most of the stuff I listen to. I described the sound in a review I wrote for The Big Takeover as “middle-aged men making middle-aged music” and that was not meant as an insult. It’s comfortable and warm, like a plate of homemade meatloaf and mashed potatoes on a cold winter day. And, to boot, Koester’s voice reminds me of Bob Forrest, former Thelonious Monster singer and current reality TV show sidekick (“Celebrity Rehab”).
19. Saints of the Underground –Love the Sin, Hate the Sinner – Warrior Records
I seriously wish the best of luck to Jani Lane (ex-Warrant), the guy has had more downs than ups in the last 10 years. There couldn’t have been too many people more excited than me that Warrant reunited with Lane this summer but the reunion was short-lived and Lane hasn’t been heard from since he was booted (again) from the band in the early fall. Despite the setbacks he suffered this year, the Saints of the Underground is a positive and the first full length CD featuring Lane’s vocals since his 2002 solo album, Back Down to One.
20. The Break and Repair Method – Milk the Bee – Bluhammock
It’s a shame Paul Doucette’s day job pays not only the bills but also allows him to bank money for the future because his solo release (being considered nothing more than a side project from what I can tell) is so much more palatable than anything he’s ever been a part of as the guitarist for – I cringe to even say it – Matchbox 20. Still the Bees features a bevy of cameos, mainly from names of yesteryear – Tracy Bonham (“Mother Mother”), Nina Gordon (ex-Veruca Salt, “Seether”), David Levita (Alanis Morrisette), Roger Manning (Jellyfish, Beck), Rusty Anderson (Paul McCartney), Jeff Russo (Tonic, “If You Could Only See the Way”), Ryan Macmillan (The Push Stars), and Matt Beck (Dog’s Eye View) – and should be played as a companion piece next to anything from Mike Viola’s catalog.
21. Ninja Gun – Restless Rubes – Suburban Home
In a review I wrote for the CD earlier in 2008, I said that I really didn’t like the band name and I’ll stick with that opinion. Ninja Gun sounds like a ska-punk band circa ’94, but thankfully the music – alt.country that uses the Drive-By Truckers backyard as a shortcut to Tom Petty’s annual poolside summer BBQ – makes up for it.
22. Brightblack Morning Light – Motion to Rejoin – Matador Records
Here’s what I wrote earlier this year: I don’t really care too much for hippies; they stink and the peace, love, flower power bullshit rubs me the wrong way. We’d all love to drop out of the white collar-working world and, maaaaan, just let the wind take us wherever it might, but I can’t pay my mortgage with good wishes and good karma. BBML – a duo comprised of a couple of hippies (Rachel Hughes and Nathan Shineywater) – should bug the piss out of me, all freewheelin’ and acid trippin’ and stuff but they are far removed from any Woodstock revival sound. Simply put and put simply, BBM’s forthcoming release, which I’m sure they’d prefer you buy on vinyl but sounds just fine as MP3s, Motion to Rejoin (to rejoin what? society? the tax paying nation?) is hands down one of the best releases I’ve heard in 2008. On first listen, I wasn’t entirely even sure this was BBML, I thought somebody had slipped a new Spiritualized CD onto my iPod and had tagged the MP3s incorrectly. Motion to Rejoin, as it is, is a better Spiritualized release than Jason Pierce’s 2008 release, Songs in A & E.
23. Torche – Meandrethal – Hydra Head
I’ve heard Torche described as “metal for those who don’t like metal”. That’s kind of like saying a McDonald’s hamburger is meat for those who don’t eat meat. Face it, Torche is a metal band though there is a mainstream rock sensibility to the vocal delivery – Steve Brooks could easily handle the lead vocals on anything you might hear on your local alt.rock radio station. Juan Montoya plays down and dirty, rumbling riffs that ripple throughout your midsection, and teeters back and force between Quicksand-inspired post-hardcore and gloomy, stoner rock. If anybody can hook me up with a live recording of Torche’s “She’s So Heavy” Beatles cover, that would be fantastic.
24. Frank Turner – Love Ire & Song – Arbors Records
The most controversial selection on my list, controversial because I only discovered this CD a few weeks ago when looking at somebody else’s list of favorite 2008 releases. But I’ve listened to this CD more times in December than I’ve spent with releases like TV on the Radio, The Fleet Foxes and Times New Viking all year. Turner’s a singer/songwriter though he’s got a full backing band and I’d pay top dollar to see him open a co-headling Snow Patrol / The Frames bill. And, you’ve GOT to track down his split with Jonah Matranga where he covers The Lemonheads “The Outdoor Type” and “You Are My Sunshine” in which he takes a traditional folk song and makes it his own.
Related link: Favorites of 2007