Top of the First

A number of weeks ago one of the Popdose writers came up with the idea of having each writer rank their top ten favorite albums that were released during the first half of 2008. Someone bitched that ten was too many, so the number was reduced to a minimum of five. A week later, just about everyone had shared their lists, we all patted each other on the backs, and that’s the way it stayed through most of the month of June. Eventually, someone pointed out that nobody had written the actual post, and that the site’s editor-in-chief hadn’t been included on the original e-mail, so his own picks were then added. And finally, one intrepid soul spent an inordinate amount of time figuring out how to add tables to a WordPress post, and the end result is what you see in front of you. Enjoy! (Zack Dennis is the intrepid soul in question. The rest of us will brag for him.)

 

Taylor Long
1. Death Cab for Cutie, Narrow Stairs

This is the most interesting album the band has released in years. It not only shows a revision of old techniques, but it finds them exploring new territory. Apparently you can teach an old dog new tricks.

Death Cab for Cutie – “Grapevine Fires”

2. Dengue Fever, Venus on Earth

Bands appropriating sounds from other countries’ genres and styles have been everywhere this year, but Dengue Fever’s psych-surfer take on Cambodian pop has an air of legitimacy since their lead singer is actually from Cambodia.

Dengue Fever – “Sober Driver”

3. Kidz in the Hall, The In Crowd

The Kidz from Chicago find more things they can do on their sophomore release. The In Crowd is your one-stop shop for hot soul beats, dance tracks, soulful crooning, and clever throwdowns.

Kidz in the Hall – “Mr. Alladatshit”

4. Hercules and Love Affair, Hercules and Love Affair

I have a very tumultuous relationship with dance music. Hercules and Love Affair is changing everything. Whatever you think electro-dance pop is, everything that it has been up until now, Andy Butler turns it on its head.

Hercules and Love Affair – “You Belong”

5. Thao Nguyen & the Get Down Stay Down, We Brave Bee Stings and All

Thao Nguyen knows how to write a pop hook, and she knows how to have a lot of fun. Those things go well together.

Thao Nguyen – “Bag of Hammers”

 

 

Darren Robbins
1. Nada Surf, Lucky

Just when I thought they couldn’t top Let Go, Nada Surf came up with The Weight. And just when I thought they couldn’t top that one, they came up with the beautifully elegiac, brilliantly understated Lucky. Damn. Can’t wait to hear them top this one.

Nada Surf – “Beautiful Beat”

2. Local H, Twelve Angry Months

I admit loathing Local H. To me, they were a part of that whole Chicago signing frenzy that took place in the ’90s. Then, of course, as even they must have recognized their one-trick-pony status, they seemed intent to go in a different direction with each new record, each one seeming just as forced as the last. This one, though, is absolutely inspired. A brilliant career-defining statement and one of the better breakup records to come along in quite some time.

3. The Birthday Massacre, Looking Glass

Okay, this one’s not so much a new album as an EP built around the song “Looking Glass” from 2007′s Walking With Strangers. Two mixes of “Red Stars” and a few new tunes, including a remake of “I Think We’re Alone Now” that both recalls and surpasses Tiffany’s version. Completely nonessential for the most part, but to my ears the Massacre can do no wrong.

4. Slow Runner, Mermaids

These guys are the @#$% shit. Imagine if Death Cab were from Charleston, South Carolina, and the role of Ben Gibbard was played by a smart-ass in flip-flops. (I kid, Michael.) Last year’s Shiv was the “rock album,” and this year’s Mermaids is the more atmospheric and introspective counterpart.

5. My Morning Jacket, Evil Urges

Sure, it hasn’t come out yet, but the album has been streaming from the band’s MySpace page for a while now, and I haven’t been able to stop listening. Forget the fact that the critics and hipster blogs have been giving these guys a full-body tongue bath the past few years. This is the kind of album that makes you miss the whole experience of tearing away the shrink-wrap and freeing a chunk of black vinyl from its gatefold sleeve, losing yourself in the artwork as song after song creates a universe in your head.

 

David Medsker
1. Midnight Juggernauts, Dystopia

Daft Punk-loving rock band makes dance music with both balls and soul. This is what I was hoping Duran Duran’s Red Carpet Massacre would sound like. Sigh.

Midnight Juggernauts – “Road to Recovery”

2. Derek Webb & Sandra McCracken, Ampersand EP

McCracken’s song “When the Summer’s Gone” will erase every negative thought you’ve ever had of Sheryl Crow. Hard to believe this married couple had never recorded together before. More, please.

Derek Webb & Sandra McCracken – “When the Summer’s Gone”

3. Panic at the Disco, Pretty. Odd.

Apparently the kids hate the band’s new direction. Fuck the kids.

Panic at the Disco – “Do You Know What I’m Seeing?”

4. The Republic Tigers, Keep Color

Insanely melodic pop band from Kansas City. Like a Bourgeois Tagg for the new generation.

Republic Tigers – “Feelin’ the Future”

5. We Are Scientists, Brain Thrust Mastery

Bigger and better than their quirky dance-pop debut. Fans of Curve should listen to “Chick Lit” at once.

We Are Scientists – “Chick Lit”

Bubbling under: Charlotte Sometimes, Madonna, Goldfrapp. Albums that need more time to sink in: Coldplay, Aimee Mann, Foxboro Hot Tubs, Death Cab for Cutie, Vampire Weekend, Joe Jackson.

 

Dave Steed
1. Meshuggah, Obzen

Always one of the most challenging metal bands to listen to, I’m one of those dudes that just never could grasp their weird time signatures. So either I’m getting smarter as I age, or this is the most accessible Meshuggah album to date. (Many people can verify that the former is not happening.)

Meshuggah – “Pineal Gland Optics”

2. Foxboro Hot Tubs, Stop Drop and Roll!!!

Oh, shut up. I’m allowed to like Green Day if I choose.

3. Elvis Costello & the Imposters, Momofuku

Nice to hear what the Imposters can still do for Elvis’s music. A rollicking good-time album that nearly matches When I Was Cruel in quality.

4. Testament, The Formation of Damnation

Thrash is back! If this was the new Metallica record, they’d be the biggest band in the world again. Not too many are going to hear The Formation of Damnation, but Testament (along with Exodus) is blowing away the competition to usher in the new wave of thrash metal.

5. Local H, Twelve Angry Months

Before Jack and Meg White made the rock duo popular, there was Local H. Four years after the disappointing P.J. Soles album, they’re back and rocking as hard as they did in ’96.

Just Missed: Def Leppard, Songs From the Sparkle Lounge

Really, I mean it. The lyrics are stupid and every chord sounds like it could be from a hundred other songs, but somehow put together this is a remarkably fun record if you don’t take it too seriously.

 

[Dw. Dunphy is a hippie liberal communist and refuses to rank his selections for fear that it will negatively affect their self-esteem. -Ed.]

Dw. Dunphy

Vampire Weekend, Vampire Weekend

Forget all the indie, trendy, Pitchfork crapola. I’m still listening to this album after a handful of months, so it can’t be bad.

Vampire Weekend – “A-Punk”

No-Man, Schoolyard Ghosts

Melancholic duo Tim Bowness and Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree, Blackfield) expand their somber pallet with wonderful new sounds. A personal best for the band.

Opeth, Watershed

Mikael Akerfeld (singer/guitarist/chief songwriter) has managed to graft his classic-rock/prog side onto his death metal side before, but never so convincingly as he does here. It’s like the perfect mix of the Damnation and Deliverance albums.

Elvis Costello & the Imposters, Momofuku

He hasn’t sounded this ballsy in years. Proof positive that fine wines can sour into piss and vinegar and still be pretty darn good.

Shelby Lynne, Just a Little Lovin’

A tribute to Dusty Springfield that doesn’t lose Lynne’s own eccentricities in the process.

 

Mojo Flucke
1. Marah, Angels of Destruction!

Alt-country Exile-era Stones folk mush that sounds mighty tremendous. New full-time member Christine Smith apparently reinvigorated this veteran band.

Marah – “Angels of Destruction!”

2. Joe Jackson, Rain

The old hand has done it again, writing a superb set of tracks laid down with his power-trio pals of yore.

3. The Lions Rampant, Play Rock N Roll! [EP]

Absolutely sloppy garagey blues coming out of Kentucky. If you feel the Black Keys would be well served by a little Jon Spencer kick in the pants, you’ll love this.

4. Lettuce, Rage

Old-skool 1970s funk through and through, played by members of Soulive and Britney Spears’s studio compadres (read: polished pros).

5. Rev. Organdrum, Hi-Fi Stereo

Jim Heath, a.k.a. the Reverend Horton Heat, hasn’t put out the best-sounding organ-jazzabilly album ever, but … oh wait, that’s never been attempted before. So technically if it’s the first ever, it’s the best ever. Rev. Organdrum is one wacko side project, but a very interesting one indeed.

 

Ken Shane
1. Kathleen Edwards, Asking for Flowers

Her third album delivers brilliantly on the promise of the first two. The songs are like 11 puzzle pieces that fit together perfectly.

Kathleen Edwards – “Asking for Flowers”

2. The Gutter Twins, Saturnalia

The potentially toxic alliance of Greg Dulli (Afghan Whigs, Twilight Singers) and Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees). Dark, dense, powerful.

3. Al Green, Lay It Down

Reverend Al recaptures the sound of the glory years with producers Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson and James Poyser. Easily Green’s best work in years.

4. Shelby Lynne, Just a Little Lovin’

Shelby‘s tribute to Dusty Springfield. She wisely avoids any attempt to emulate the legendary singer, creating classic versions of her own.

5. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!

A band with a wholly original sound that still manages a nod to the masters. Literary, funny, harrowing.

6. Matthew Ryan, Matthew Ryan Vs. the Silver State

Ryan moves away from the bedroom ambience of his last album and into the garage for this one. He has a knack for speaking to our common experience.

7. Marah, Angels of Destruction!

The perennial underdogs address themes of religion, redemption, destruction, and the struggle for sobriety in a world awash in blood and whiskey.

 

Jeff Giles
1. Dr. John & the Lower 911, City That Care Forgot

The rest of the country may have stopped thinking about what Katrina did to New Orleans, but the Night Tripper is still pissed — and he’s lined up a bunch of his friends to work out some of that anger in typically funky fashion. A politically oriented album you can dance to. (Read the full review here.)

Dr. John – “Say Whut?”

2. The Felice Brothers, The Felice Brothers

Dirty. Ragged. Perfect. Sounds like someone cloned the members of the Band in the early ’70s, kept the doppelgangers in deep freeze for 30 years, and brought them out to record this album. (Read the full review here.)

The Felice Brothers – “Frankie’s Gun!”

3. Matthew Ryan, Matthew Ryan Vs. the Silver State

Hot on the heels of the melancholy, electronics-infused From a Late Night High Rise, Ryan strips back his sound, cranks up the amps, and fights for your soul. A bloody-knuckled stunner of a record. (Read the full review here.)

4. The Roots, Rising Down

How do these guys keep managing to avoid having giant hits? Lil Wayne is talking about lollipops, but Rising Down is one of the smartest, most pissed-off records of the year. (Read the full review here.)

The Roots – “Rising Up”

5. Steve Poltz, Traveling

The erstwhile Rugburn returns with his best album yet — sweet, funny, and rockin’ in equal turns, with some of the best pop production of the year. You must hear it. (Read the full review here.)

Steve Poltz – “I Believe”

6. Vampire Weekend, Vampire Weekend

Backlash? What backlash? Vampire Weekend might’ve been the hipster outfit du jour this spring, but for good reason. Months later, I still can’t stop listening to their album.

Vampire Weekend – “Oxford Comma”

Zack Dennis
1. Say Hi (To Your Mom), The Wishes and the Glitch

What can I say? Even though he’s left the lovable androids of Ferocious Mopes and the socially stunted vampires of Impeccable Blahs behind, I still love Eric Elbogen’s music more than anyone else’s.

Say Hi – “Back Before We Were Brittle”

2. The Raveonettes, Lust Lust Lust

The Copenhagen duo probably would’ve been my #1, except their mirrored vocals and throwback chord progressions get a bit repetitive at times. Even so, this is a fantastic album.

The Raveonettes – “Dead Sound”

3. Dodos, Visiter

Meric Long’s jangling guitars and Logan Kroeber’s thumping rhythms combine to produce the perfect expression of the traveler/youth hostel/backpacker lifestyle.

Dodos – “Fools”

4. Frightened Rabbit, The Midnight Organ Fight

I only very recently discovered this Scottish band, but I’ve been absolutely hypnotized by the urgency and frustration that come across in Scott Hutchinson’s vocals.

Frightened Rabbit – “The Twist”

5. Pomegranates, Everything Is Alive

I’m decidedly less excited about these four Ohio kids than I was three months ago, but for a debut album this is some pretty solid stuff.

Pomegranates – “Thunder Meadow”

Honorable Mention: Cloud Cult, Feel Good Ghosts (Tea-Partying Through Tornadoes)

It feels a bit disingenuous to include this in my top five based simply on the strength of a live show, but listening to some of the songs they played that night brings back terrific memories.

Cloud Cult – “When Water Comes to Life”

 




  • http://www.austinsoundcheck.com Ana

    Foxboro Hot Tubs ftw!

  • http://www.bullz-eye.com DavidMedsker

    Ooh, I like that Kathleen Edwards song.

  • PeteLanceley

    I agree Frightened rabbit are fantastic, i bought the midnight organ fight within about a day of hearing them

  • http://www.popdose.com Zack

    That's why I love listening to KEXP so much – it's mostly good, and every once in a while they'll play a song that really knocks my socks off. I'm gonna send them some money.

  • http://www.t-sides.com TaylorTSides

    This looks nice – great job putting it together.

  • Ken Shane

    Great job on the assembly. It's amazing how only a couple of albums got more than one vote. There's just so much music out there these days. It's great. By the way Jeff, I just heard that Felice Brothers album for the first time today. If I had heard it earlier, it probably would have made my list.

  • http://yahoo.com eric

    No love for The Weepies – Hideaway? OK. Most of the list I have not heard, but they must be formidable albums to top the bittersweet pop harmonies and tight production of The Weepies. Plus, for all the banner ads I have seen for that album on this site, you should sell out and give them a top five rating. :)

    Shelby Lynne did a great job on her Dusty tribute. About half the songs I don't care for, but it isn't a problem with Shelby and the band. I just didn't care much for those particular songs. Anyone Who Had A Heart and How Can I Be Sure bowled me over, though. (An aside: Tim Curry recorded a bombastic but great cover of Anyone Who Had A Heart, if you can track it down.)

  • http://www.septenary.blogspot.com Allen

    Really? No love for the Mountain Goats?
    I submit that you just haven't heard Jukebox the Ghost. Or it would have made one of these lists.
    I guess these lists are fine. It's a pretty crappo year.

  • http://www.poltz.com Kanike Aloha

    Steve Poltz is amazing live as well. And I do concur, 'Traveling' and 'Unraveling' are his best releases to date with Billy Harvey as producer.

    Steve Poltz – http://www.myspace.com/stevepoltz
    Billy Harvey – http://www.myspace.com/billyharvey

  • http://www.popdose.com jefito

    I looooooooooooooooved the last Weepies record, but this one doesn't move me as much.

  • mojo

    nice wrinkle with the wordpress tables. We're hi tech stylin' today. Digg, people, digg!!!!

  • http://mulberrypanda96.blogspot.com rwcass

    Ronald Isley and Burt Bacharach's cover of “Anyone Who Had a Heart” five years ago was great as well.

  • http://www.drcastrato.blogspot.com drcastrato

    I want to say thanks for putting together these lists, including short descriptions, and providing mp3s when you can. It really makes for a great way to try to absorb a bunch of new music that I have not heard. I consider myself a fairly “with it” person, musically (I'm only 31!), and I have not listened to ONE full album from this post. Not even Vampire Weekend. So thanks again for doing this, and pretty much the whole website for that matter.

  • http://www.popdose.com jefito

    Glad you enjoyed it, Dr. C!

  • http://www.bullz-eye.com DavidMedsker

    I've heard Jukebox the Ghost and like it. I just liked these others better.

  • http://www.popdose.com jefito

    Yep, same here.

  • http://www.grayflannelsuit.net/ GrayFlannelSuit

    Because nobody asked, here's mine:

    1 – School of Language, Sea from Shore
    2 – Russian Circles, Station
    3 – R.E.M., Accelerate
    4 – Fleet Foxes, s/t
    5 – Portishead, Third

  • http://www.kenshane.com kshane

    I just don't like that Fleet Foxes album. It seems that I'm pretty much alone in that opinion. And by the way, don't wait to be asked, just contribute.

  • http://www.t-sides.com TaylorTSides

    For what it's worth, I liked the last Mountain Goats album more than any others of theirs I've liked.

  • SHWA25

    HELIO SEQUENCE: KEEP YOUR EYES AHEAD.

    DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS: BRIGHTER THAN CREATION'S DARK.

    THE KILLS: MIDNIGHT BOOM.

  • Grace

    Port O' Brien!!!!

  • http://www.t-sides.com TaylorTSides

    Good call on the Helio Sequence – that's a great little album.

  • http://www.t-sides.com TaylorTSides

    Ken, you should try the EP. I like the album, but I think the songs on the EP are more immediately memorable.

  • Ryno23

    I just dropped everything and purchased the Derek Webb & Sandra McCracken Ampersand EP. It's fantastic. I wish more of the entries were of this (and Kathleen Edwards') nature, but great job, guys.

  • Ryno23

    I just dropped everything and purchased the Derek Webb & Sandra McCracken Ampersand EP. It's fantastic. I wish more of the entries were of this (and Kathleen Edwards') nature, but great job, guys.

  • Ryno23

    I just dropped everything and purchased the Derek Webb & Sandra McCracken Ampersand EP. It's fantastic. I wish more of the entries were of this (and Kathleen Edwards') nature, but great job, guys.

  • Pingback: The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance: Vampire Weekend @ The Wiltern | Popdose