Best and Worst CDs of 2008
Best: If I, as usual, base my choice for album of the year on what lived in my car stereo the longest, it would be Shinedown - The Sound of Madness. I think it finds them in top form, full of tight, catchy songs, ranging from uptempo rockers to powerful, emotional ballads. Definitely a bounce back in the right direction from 2005's Us and Them, which wasn't a bad disc but was a little less focused and took longer to sink in.
Most Disappointing: I've had the good fortune not to hear any truly terrible albums this year, but my most disappointing picks are albums from some of my favorite bands, Sevendust - Chapter VII: Hope and Sorrow, and Tantric - The End Begins. Sevendust, because they took a completely opposite direction from 2007's killer Alpha and went softer and more radio-friendly instead of continuing toward a heavier and moderately progressive sound. Tantric, because the departure of the majority of the original band really shows. Like I mentioned in my review, I might've been more positive had Hugo taken a new name for his new band, but this was not the Tantric we know and love and were hoping for more of.
Dawn Marie Fichera
Best: with a nod to the Supersuckers much- anticipated full-length album, Get It Together their first full-length since 2003, it was a challenge for me to select the best album this year. With so many different genres and mash-up, it is a precarious road to traverse selecting the one defining album of the year. I finally set my eyes on two choices—Pacific Ocean Blue, a re-release thirty years later of the brilliant, prolific songwriter Dennis Wilson, the once-overlooked musical, and creative genius of the famous brothers-duo that made up the Beach Boys. Pacific Ocean Blue also contains previously unreleased tracks, truly prized nuggets for the music aficionado.
My pick of the year however, is going to go to Coldplay's fourth album, Viva La Vida, produced by Brian Eno. Despite the onslaught of litigation for copyright infringement, Coldplay's album is a musical work of art. It contains all of the elements of a great story—tension, drama, beauty, complexity, universality, and a bit of a mystical other-worldliness that can be chalked up to the departure from Coldplay's previously commercially charged albums. The multi-layers of instrumentals accompanying each song tell a tale in haunting vivid melodies. Chris Martin get's a bad rap; he has matured and shows a true progression in his talent on this album. His vocals are pristine, accurate, and commanding with a backup cast of characters who can paint a picture through sound. I don't care what anyone says, the heat and backlash this band has receives is completely unmerited. Viva La Vida is a pure work of genius.
Most Disappointing: I admit, I am jumping on the bandwagon with this one. The much anticipated 14-year wait for Guns and Roses' album, Chinese Democracy, left me feeling disgusted and quite betrayed. How dare Axl Rose stamp his name on such a horrible production, and dub it a Guns and Roses album? Never mind that more than half the band deserted him. Chinese Democracy is a mockery of what GNR stood for. Good thing for Slash that he was with the now defunct, Velvet Revolver, at the time of this release and could escape the pure megalomaniacal ego-masturbation trip that Axl was on. Maybe we can wait another fourteen years for a release from him.
Best: As usual Opeth failed to disappoint in 2008 with their eclectic Watershed. Constantly pushing the borders of what can technically be called 'death metal', Watershed takes classic rock and progressive territories as its own, blending in Opeth's signature jazzy guitar lines. Right off the bat, the opener 'Coil' establishes this 'observation' as a step in a new direction, with a gorgeous female vocal cameo that complements Akerfeldt's voice perfectly. 'The Lotus Eater' is certainly the most Mars Volta that Opeth has ever sounded, and 'Hex Omega' picks up right where 'The Grand Conjuration' left off on the last album, simplified and creepy as all hell. Watershed totally warrants Opeth's place at the top of my Best Of 2008 list, and warrants my always visible Opeth tattoo (which shouldn't technically count as a cause for bias...)
Most Disappointing: On the other side of the spectrum, the 's***' side, there was no clear winner. I'd split the award between Kanye West's recent foray into robot-voiced r&b with 808's & Heartbreak and Fear Before's Sparta-ization on their self-titled piece of garbage. Those were both big disappointments because both artists had recently topped their game: Fear Before's Always Open Mouth is one of the most replayable albums ever made by anybody, all layered and complex to the point that multiple listens reveal sounds that hadn't quite presented themselves before. Then, there was Kanye's Graduation, which seemed like a major step in the right direction for him; the cheesy 80's synth marked tracks like "Flashing Lights" as some of his most memorable to date. It turns out that the only place to go from these heights was down, unfortunately, and both artists slid about 50% down my Respect-O-Meter.
To see my entire beast of a list, go here
Best: As always, I heard a lot of good albums in a lot of genres in 2008. However, there is one album stands out as my favorite album of the year. That album is Speaking in Cursive by Two Cow Garage from Columbus, Ohio. As I've come to expect from this band, the album is filled with earnest songs that quite simply rock. There isn't any other way to put it. Every song on the album is really good, but a few of them really stand out to me. "Humble Narrator" is a song rife with regret and it is an excellent way to kick of the album. "Swingset Assassin" probably has the best lines on the album. Some of the standout lines in this song are: "Don't question Mr. Lennon, boy, 'cuz he gave his life for you" and "I drink enough to be Catholic." Credit to Micah Schnabel. He knows how to write a song. "Bastards and Bridesmaids" is my favorite song on the album. This song rocks and I can never listen to this one just once.
Emmylou Harris All I Intended to Be – Let's face it. Emmylou could read quarterly earnings statistics and make a better album than a lot of recording artists.
Guitar Red Lightnin' in a Bottle – Excellent old-time blues from someone who is known as a street musician in Decatur, Georgia.
Hipbone Slim and the Knee Tremblers The Sheik Said Shake – This album from Voodoo Rhythm Records is one you need to check out for yourself.
For my favorite album of 08 I had 2 discs in mind right off the bat. The Black Keys Attack and Release or MGMTs Oracular Spectacular. Before writing this I sat down and listened to both all the way through hoping a clear winner would be revealed because both of these discs found their way onto my player often. I'm happy to say the decision wasn't as difficult as I thought it might be and right after both discs were finished spinning I gave the best disc of 08 to MGMT hands down. MGMT have their own psychedelic pop sound that's very appealing with songs that don't seem to get old after listening over and over again.
The worst or most disappointing album of 08 for me would be Metallica's Death Magnetic. I was a huge fan of Metallica through the 80's and even some of the 90's but unfortunately their latest release doesn't do anything for me. The music and James vocals just seem tired or outdated. It was nice to hear Kirk Hammet really get his chance to do some incredible guitar playing because in previous Metallica albums it seemed he was on a leash and never really let go but that still doesn't save the disc. Remember this is just my opinion and if you happen to dig this album you'll hear no dispute from me.
Keavin Wiggins (antiMusic editor/publisher)
Best: Before I get to my pick for best album of the year I have to give an honorable mention to an album that just got a wide release earlier this month (it was a Target exclusive before) and that's Collective Soul's Afterwords. Like my ultimate pick for album of the year, this CD took a while (over a year) to grow on me but now it's at the top of my favorites list. It's classic Collective Soul with Ed's melodic genius, but a bit more refined and mature and if radio programmers had any taste left, you'd hear it all over the airwaves. Those programmers now have the chance to redeem themselves… So hats off to the boys from Georgia for keeping it real… good!
And now my pick for album of the year! Chinese Democracy. This is a controversial pick that made many people's disappointed list but I agreed with Robert when he reviewed it, you have to give it an honest chance to let it sink in and really try to understand what Axl was trying to accomplish. Is this the best GNR CD? No. But I think history will ultimate judge this album a lot better than the initial reaction to it… if people give it an honest hearing. You can tell that Axl put his heart and soul into it and while he sometimes misses, when he connects it's the Axl that became an international superstar based on his unique talent. I had high hopes for Velvet Revolver but was underwhelmed by what they produced. All due respect to Scott Weiland, his voice is too generic and just lacks the power and character to be in the same ring as Axl and now hearing what Axl is up to musically, he does seem the more legitimate heir to the Guns N' Roses throne. I just hope he doesn't take so long the next time to give up the next batch of songs and I can't wait to hear these songs in concert.
Most Disappointing: My pick for most disappointing album is a bit ironic because it too once held the name Chinese Democracy and took an unusually long time to come out. You probably guessed it… it's The Offspring's Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace. It definitely wasn't worth the half a decade wait, hell it wouldn't have been worth a five month wait. The best comparison I can make to this album is with KISS's Dynasty. a band that once stood proudly away from the pack jumped right on the band wagon (disco for KISS). Not to say I didn't see this coming when I heard they brought in Bob Cock to produce the effort (look what he did to Metallica!) and we got the predicable results: an album that panders to a fading trend. This time one of the most annoying trends of all: pop-punk. The Offspring always had the perfect mix of melody and punk but they went far over to the soft side this time and delivered a below mediocre copy of the mediocre bands they probably once inspired. Shame on you Dexter.
Mark Hensch (Thrashpit editor)
Best: Boris' Smile---Psychedelic and trippy, this mindblowing album is a journey through joyously raw music and stark moments of wonder. Unbelievably heavy yet catchy beyond belief, few things in 2008 made me Smile as much as Boris and yet another of their amazing albums.
Most Disappointing : The Pig Destroyer Natasha EP---I am all for a band experimenting with form but Pig Destroyer cannot write interesting 30 minute songs when they typically have 30 second songs. Better luck next time guys.
Check out Mark's full list of the best metal releases of 2008 on our sister site Thrashpit.com
Favorite CD of 2008: Gaslight Anthem, The '59 Sound.
Yes, this is a weird pick, given no one has heard of the band or the album. Still, I find myself coming back to it over and over again, whether I'm washing dishes, heading to work, or just feeling like listening to some music. The band's sound is easy to describe – The Killers meets Bruce Springsteen – but this is one of the strongest collections of songs in recent memory. My personal favorites are the title track, "Great Expectations," "High Lonesome," "The Patient Ferris Wheel," "Here's Looking at You, Kid," and "The Backseat." But then again, that's half the record right there. So buy it.
Biggest disappointment: Kanye West, 808s and Heartbreak.
On The College Dropout, West used sped-up soul samples to create a truly unique sound, and applied the technique to some of history's best rap songs to boot. On Late Registration he stayed ahead of the curve, maintaining his love of soul but for the most part leaving the songs at their original speed. Graduation picked up where that left off, even if, in my opinion, the quality wasn't as high. So what's with the decision to fill 808s and Heartbreak with R&B songs sung through a cranked-up Auto-Tune vocal effect? That was innovative when Cher did it, and still kind of clever when T-Pain made it his trademark, but it got lame as more and more hip-hop artists picked up on it. It's a shame West is following trends instead of setting them, even if some of the songs are pretty good.
Tony Kuzminski (antiMusic Special Features Editor)
Best: James-Hey Ma
This is the one album I have returned to time and time again as it delicately balances the beauty and bleakness that life has to offer; Hey Ma from the Manchester band James is a immense masterpiece finding middle ground between relevant themes and sonic landscapes that simultaneously elicit tears of happiness and sorrow. It's almost unheard of for a group to reunite after an extended hiatus to create a work of art on par with their best offerings, but James has gone one step further by creating a biting, boiling and blissful collection of songs that align like the stars in the sky. James has made an album that lies somewhere between mainstream programming and indie fanaticism. They haven't just made a great reunion record; they've made the best album of their career. Not since U2 released All That You Can't Leave Behind has there been a collection of potent and powerful hymns as stalwart as Hey Ma. James provides an admission of emotional vulnerability and has proven to be raw and dangerously alive. The lofty topics of Hey Ma are drowned in pop sensibilities that would invigorate any FM dial. No topic goes unturned; God, war, self-loathing, desperation, dislocation, separation, temptation and most importantly revelation are all here. With each intoxicating listen, I'm drawn into the reverberating music, the ebullient melodies and the world weary lyrics. The depth of the subjects found on Hey Ma prove to be socially provocative; war ("Hey Ma" & "72"), awakening ("Bubbles" "Waterfall" and "I Wanna Go Home") and ultimately life and love ("Oh My Heart" and "Upside"). For the first time in a while, I feel an artist has created a complete album that speaks to me in the here and now while simultaneously enrapturing my ear drums with ambient pop and soulful sounds. Not since Bruce Springsteen's Born In The U.S.A. has an artist so effortlessly converged pop melodies with lofty, weighty and biting topics. James sound like a band with an insatiable hunger willing to do anything to make their mark. Their lack of innocence gives way to experience, knowledge and wisdom. James hasn't just mined a victorious reunion album with Hey Ma they've created the best album of 2008.
Most Disappointing: Marah-Angels of Destruction
Five years ago this coming February, I saw Marah deliver a rock n' soul review for the ages in a tiny club in Chicago. It was sub-zero outside, the show was on a week night and there were maybe a hundred people in the club but this band from Philadelphia play within an inch of their lives. It featured the best of their first three records, a smattering of new songs and covers that left me wanting more. It was one of the great club experiences of my life. Authors Nick Hornby and Stephen King have praised this band and they have been featured extensively in the New York Times and Entertainment Weekly. So what does the band do with this attention? They pissed it away like spoiled rock stars. Ever since then, I've watched this band self-destruct in every Spinal Tap way possible. More insulting is the lack of direction this band has had inside the recording studio. Each record has been chock full of songs that have potential, but have lacked focus and execution. Angels of Destruction is an album that is so disappointing that it makes me wish I never had seen that show five years back. There is no greater crime than having talent and throwing it away on excess and ego. There is a very good reason this band never broke through to the mainstream and it falls completely in their laps. Their PR firms and management have not helped either. I have requested over a half dozen interviews with this band in the last five years (I even offered an email interview) and I was told "the band does not have the time". It appears they were too busy with infighting and self destruction to ever allow an interview. Am I holding this against them? No way, it's just that Marah has delivered the same record three straight releases in a row and I'm tired if believing in this band only to have them deliver third rate blue-collar under produced songs done better by a dozen different artists. This is easily the most disappointing record of not just the last twelve months, but possibly the last decade and appears to be the final nail in the coffin of Marah.
Best: Metallica – Death Magnetic
The year 1991 was a watershed year for me in music with the release of classic albums by some of rock's biggest bands. AC/DC released The Razor's Edge in late 1990 and was then followed by Guns 'N Roses with the Use Your Illusion albums, Metallica's black album, U2's Achtung Baby and the grunge explosion out of Seattle.
Seventeen years later, grunge is dead but the other four bands are still around. AC/DC took eight years to return. Axl Rose finally got around to releasing the long awaited Chinese Democracy. Nothing was more surprising than Metallica's Death Magnetic.
The surprise is not in the circumstances of its release like with the other albums, but in how good it is. Both the greatness and the flaws of Metallica are on display. Death Magnetic is not a perfect album. It is a hungry album. Metallica recaptured the hunger and energy of their great records. No small feat considering this is 20 years removed from the garage days.
Biggest disappointment: Guns 'n Roses – Chinese Democracy
Forget the production price tag. Forget the 14-years-in-the-making. Forget the gossip and rumors. Chinese Democracy in itself is a very natural progression after Use Your Illusion I and II. The problem is, as a fan of the stripped down, timeless urgency of Appetite for Destruction, the last thing I want to hear is Axl singing overblown, overcooked ballads. But that is just me.
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