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Albums of 2008

Having been gone for six months out of the year, I feel as though I’ve missed out on all the new music. So for the last week of December, I’m attempting to listen to, review, and rank nearly 70 albums that have been recommended by friends or have made best of 2008 lists. This page will be updated as I go.

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  • Amanda Palmer – Who Killed Amanda Palmer

I had no idea who Amanda Palmer was until Neil Gaiman mentioned that he was doing a book with her on his blog. Her show in Denver aligned perfectly with my return and, without any inkling of who she was or what her music sounded like, I dragged a few friends out and caught one of the best shows I’ve seen in ages. I was so impressed by the show, I snagged her solo debut. The album is much less upbeat and tongue and cheek than the show was, and it was missing two of my favorite songs (“Google You” which she cowrote with Gaiman, and “I Want You But I Don’t Need You” which is a song she did with The Dresden Dolls). Still, it was produced by the enumerable Ben Folds and has a lovely Tori Amos/Fiona Apple quality to it that I adore.

  • Anna Ternheim – Halfway to Fivepoints

When Halfway to Fivepoints opens up with orchestral overtones, it’s hard to tell what you’re getting out of the Swedish Ternheim, but the transition to melodic rock reminiscent of Zero Seven or Dido is surprisingly smooth. Ternheim has a wispy ghostlike voice that floats above her simple acoustic guitar plucking, evocative piano and light electronic arrangements. Her cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Little Lies” is haunting and beautiful. On “Such a Lonely Soul” it’s evident how she drew comparisons to Coldplay, albeit without the overproduction. The album as whole has enough variation to keep one listening, but enough of a theme to fit perfectly on a rainy day.
Personal Note: I picked up this album because I thought Ternheim was a local Denver artist since Fivepoints is a neighborhood in Denver.

  • Anthony Braxton, William Parker, Milford Graves – Beyond Quantum

Free Jazz just isn’t my thing.

  • Beach HouseDevotion

Slow and plodding, listening to Beach House is a little like trudging through a swamp. With a complete lack of playfulness and using some terrible percussion (including synth sleigh bells in “All the Years”), Devotion is a bland a tasteless album. Several songs show a little promise until the weak vocals kick in. “Heart of Chambers” seems to promise a solid 1950s throwback sound and “Gila” offers an Eastern European touch reminiscent of Devotchka or Beirut, but neither fulfills the promise of the their opening licks. Overall, the album doesn’t really have anything to like or hate, and might function well as background music, but that’s all.

  • Benga – Diary of an Afro Warrior

For a CD with such an awesome title, I wasn’t expecting the lovely dubstep album Benga dropped in 2008. With dubstep a still relatively unknown genre, it’s not quite clear where the dub comes into it. “Night” features electronic beats with a Rio de Janeiro twist but airy and haunting tones over the top, “E Trips” is reminiscent of something Prodigy might’ve done in their early years, and “Light Bulb” is almost click hop. Though the album is a little repetitive by the end, Diary of an Afro Warrior‘s strange and trippy sounds are more than enough to keep you listening.

  • The Black Keys – Attack & Release

Given the down home southern blues sound of the Black Keys, it’s always a surprise to remember that the duo is a couple of nerdy white guys. Of course, who case about color when you can rock out to tracks like “I Got Mine” and “Oceans and Streams.” Another 5 star effort from the new kings of the delta blues.

  • Black Milk – Tronic

With Lupe Fiasco’s 2007 release still standing as the last truly great hip hop album, it seemed possible that no one would challenge that title this year. Luckily for us, Black Milk’s Tronic appeared just before Halloween with its excellent beats and solid rhymes (if a little played out topics). “Bounce,” “The Matrix,” and “Losing Out” all have excellent and interesting beats that make this perhaps the best rap/hip hop album of 2008.

  • Brubeck Brothers Qurater – Classified

It may seem sad to ride their father’s name to fame, but Mike and Chris Brubeck are good jazz musicians in their own right and collect a ton of talent around them for this release. Unfortunately, it’s a little too strange at times and peaks with the cover of their father’s hit “Blue Rondo A La Turk.” A good effort, but not enough to vault them into a league of their own.

  • The Bug – London Zoo

This obviously wasn’t an album with Americans in mind. The odd mix of rap, reggae and electronica on London Zoo simply isn’t the sort of thing normally found stateside. Which isn’t to say that The Bug’s album isn’t enjoyable at times with club-thumpers like “Murder We” and “Insane.” It’s simply not enough to keep me listening.

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