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Albums of 2008

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  • Jack’s Mannequin – The Glass Passenger

Given Something Corporate’s history, the pretty power-pop of spin-off Jack’s Mannequin is surprising. It’s solid and well written, though it lacks the clever appeal that made Semisonic’s Dan Wilson so enjoyable when he went solo. Admittedly, they come from different directions, and it’s not as if The Glass Passenger is a bad album. A few songs, such as “Miss California” and “Annie Use Your Telescope,” are quite nice and well done. It simply feels unoriginal and rather mundane.

  • Jason Mraz – We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things

With “Make It Mine,” Mraz opens up We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things with a catchy, danceable pop song. Unfortunately it’s hard not to go downhill from a solid start. When Mraz sticks to soulful sounds, as on “Coyotes” and “Butterfly,” he’s better than a lot of artists, but with bubbly songs like “Lucky,” things just don’t seem to come together. We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things is another solid pop album in the list, but definitely not a threat for best album.

  • John Legend – Evolver

Though certainly not his strongest effort, Legend’s Evolver attempts to shift things up and try a few styles he may not have considered previously. It doesn’t always work, but there are a few tracks which are interesting (“Green Light,” “If You’re Out There”).

  • Kanye West – 808s & Heartbreaks

After 2007′s Graduation it seemed as if Kanye could do no wrong. Then 808s & Heartbreaks came out. There’s nothing outright wrong with it—if you enjoy lackluster beats, bad singing hiding behind aan auto-tuner, and a nearly complete lack of musicality. Of course, given how the Kanye produced John Legend album Evolver turned out, I’d have expected his solo work to turn out better. Unfortunately, this is one Kanye album to forget about.

  • Lady Dottie & the Diamonds – Lady Dottie & the Diamonds

With the soul revival in full swing thanks to people like Sharon Jones, more and more classic soul is appearing. And it’s wonderful. Lady Dottie & the Diamonds rock out from start to finish, sometimes sounding like Otis Redding’s hardest songs (“Love Me or Leave Me”) and sometimes even like the best of Oasis (“Come Along Together”). Their cover of Jefferson’s theme song “Movin’ On Up” is fantastic, and the blues roots are evident throughout. I hate using marketese, but I would definitely call this one of the hottest albums of 2008.

  • Lili Haydn – Places Between Places

I admit that I have a soft spot for female singer/songwriters. Fiona Apple and Tori Amos are both staples of my record collection, so it’s really no surprise that I fell in love with Lili Haydn’s latest at first breathy vocal. Though “Strawberry Street” is a beautiful pop song and “Powers of Five” elicits an eerie calm, the long and stunning “Maggot Brain” is what really worked for me. And therein lies the rub: it’s really her violin work that puts Lili Haydn among the top of 2008.

  • Los Campesinos! – Hold On Now, Youngster…/We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed
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A band that released two albums? In the same year!? Crazy. But what’s even more amazing is that they’re both good albums. Hold On Now, Youngster… is a great poppy and upbeat entry into the indie rock world. “Drop It Doe Eyes” and “Don’t Tell Me To Do The Maths” shine as standout tracks with great beats and slick lyrics. Truly what makes the album are the fiddle and fantastic harmonies of the massive ensemble. We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed isn’t quite as happy-go-lucky as their earlier release, but it’s just as fast paced and danceable. A great double outing for a band I’d never heard before.

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