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Top 20 Best Albums of 2008

February 6, 2009

Although 2008 was a horrible year for my personal life, it was a great year for music. So many good solid albums came out, and from many different talented artists. As it grew closer to the end of the year, the more excited I got about new releases from my favorite artists. Here are my 20 favorite albums released in 2008.

20. The Bedlam in Goliath by The Mars Volta (Jan. 29)

marsvolta

The Bedlam in Goliath proved to be more funky, innovative, and experimenal than most music released today. Tracks such as “Soothsayer” added a world music influence.  Although a decent experimental progressive-rock record, sometimes the cacophany of sounds are overbearing and eliminates any room for melody. Hopefully with the next record they can evolve and mature their sound, giving it more structure while remaining creative. Highlights include: “Aberinkula,” “Ilyena,” and “Goliath.”

19. Microcastle by Deerhunter (Oct. 28th)

deerhunter-microcastle

Personifying the college-radio alternative-rock sound, Microcastle is the perfect record for road trips, relaxing in the bedroom, background tunes while online, or for any activity of leisure really. While being appropriately “indie,” Deerhunter manages to flirt with psychedlia without getting lost in it. Microcastle turned out to be one of the more solid albums released in 2008. Highlights include: “Agoraphobia” and the title track.

18. Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams by Solange (Aug. 26)

solange

It’s difficult living under the shadow of superstar Beyoncé Knowles, especially if she’s your big sister. This is the criticsm Solange Knowles faced with the release of her second album Sol-Angel…, but with this record she established her own identity and distanced herself from Beyoncé’s style of music as much as she possibly could. The album is a retro throwback to ’60s soul, with many catchy tunes. Solange proves to be a rare breed of a very talented songwriter. Her biggest critique is the fact that her voice can not hold up to the grandiose talent of Beyoncé’s, but it is strong enough to carry the songs on this record. Solange have been very public about not liking to be compared to her sister. Regardless of who she is related to, her bohemian-soul sound is fun, witty, and even refreshing. Sol-Angel holds up as being one of the most enjoyable albums of 2008; I personally  had it in constant rotation after its release. Solange also shows off that she’s the more rebellious of the Knowles sisters, being as blunt to sing lines such as “Shut the fuck up,” as she did in “This Bird.” Highlights include: “I Decided,” “Cosmic Journey,” “Dancing in the Dark,” “T.O.N.Y.” and “Would’ve Been the One.”

17. Something Else by Robin Thicke (Sep. 30)

thicke

Thicke makes a departure from the world of redundant contemporary pop and decides to make the ultimate retro throwback album. Something Else is indeed something else, posessing a certain sophistication not heard on a soul album since perhaps John Legend’s Once Again. On “Dreamworld” the singer wishes that he could live in a world without racial injustice or pain. On “You’re My Baby,” Thicke sounds like the ghost of Marvin Gaye, and “Cry No More” is one of the best ballads of the year. And to top it all off, the only guest apperance on the album is from undisputable rapper of the year, Lil’ Wayne. Highlights include: “Dreamworld,” “Shadow of Doubt,” “Loverman,” and “Cry No More.”

16. Paper Trail by T.I. (Sep. 30)

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The King of the South puts on his MC face with the release of his sixth studio album, Paper Trail. He opens with “56 Bars (Intro)” which leads into perhaps one of the hottest rap songs of our time, “I’m Illy.” T.I. manages to even the balance between radio-friendly sing-alongs (“Whatever You Like,” and “Swing Ya Rag”) and raw lyricism. In “Live Your Life,” he manges to do both quite effectively, providing a song that became a mainstream radio hit and that was lyrically impeccable and on-point. And managed to squash beef with Ludacris on “On Top of the World,” and floss with fellow rap-stars Lil’ Wayne, Jay-Z, and Kanye West on “Swagga Like Us.” Highlights include: “I’m Illy,” “No Matter What,” “Live Your Life,” “Swing Ya Rag,” and “Swagga Like Us.”

15. Evolver by John Legend (Oct. 28th)

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On his third album, Legend decides to go with a more casual sound that seems to be a subtle nod to ’90s R&B. With it are songs that range from the futuristic up-tempo, “Green Light” featuring Andre 3000 to the humble gorgeous, “I Love, You Love.” Highlights include: “Good Morning,” “Satisfaction,” “Quickly,” and “I Love, You Love.”

14. The Odd Couple by Gnarls Barkley (March 18th)

gnarlsbarkley

The Odd Couple should be thrown in a time capsule to represent the music of the future created in 2008. This futuristic indie-soul-electric wonderland is no doubt one of the most audio-creative albums of the year. “Would Be Killer” is perfectly weird, while “Going On,” is an upbeat coming-of-age hit. On several tracks the songs get a little too strange, but all is forgiven with the mechanical acoustic soul track “No Time Soon.” Highlights include: “Who’s Gonna Save My Soul,” “Run,” and “Going On.”

13. 808s and Heartbreak by Kanye West (Nov. 24)

kanye

This is Kanye’s very unique and auto-tune friendly version of Marvin Gaye’s Here, My Dear; it is the ultimate break-up album of our time. The songs seem to dive into the future while simaltaneously paying homage to the ’80s. “Heartless” is a break-up anthem, while “Love-Lockdown,” which received much criticism before its official release, became an instant hit. “Bad News” sounds like an errie Moby b-side, while “Street Lights” is Kanye’s Radiohead-esque fan favorite. The album close with the depressing, yet deeply personal Pinocchio story. Although he stands on stage before hundreds of fans cheering and screaming, you get the feeling that he’s really all alone. 808s and Heartbreak is unconventional, sometimes cheesy, yet a certain kind of genius- especially coming from a witty wordplay-savy rapper that dared to leap outside of his home-genre. Highlights include: “Say You Will,” “Love Lockdown,” “Heartless,” and “Street Lights.”

12. LAX by The Game (Aug. 26)

thegame

LAX is perhaps the most solid gangsta rap album since Dr. Dre’s Chronic 2001. Each track is a hit of its own, and Game steps up his “game” on delivery and rhyming-skills, demanding to be respected as a legitimate MC. Opening track, “LAX Files” is cinematic, while “Touchdown” with Raheem Devaughn is classy, showing a much maturer side of Game when referring to the ladies. “Never Can Say Goodbye” shows Game utilizing his creative side as he steps inside the shoes of Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G. for a verse each. “Letter to The King” is one of the realist songs of his career, Nas only puts the icing on the top. Each guest apperance on the album fits in perfectly and lends the proper hand to its specific song. LAX is not only the best album of Game’s career and of 2008, but just may be one of the best period. Highlights include: “My Life,” “Ya Heard,” “Touchdown,” and “Letter to the King.”

11. I Am… Sasha Fierce (Deluxe Edition) by Beyonce (Nov. 18th)

sashafierce

The regular retail version of this album is really suited to be a double EP. The real version (or at least what I consider to be a real version), is the deluxe edition. Beyonce gives her alter-ego a project of her own for this double-disc 2x platinum (already), album. Beyonce reignited girl-power with the simultaneous release of her first two singles, “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” and “If I Were a Boy.” The video for “Single Ladies” became another internet phenomenon, with numerous imitators posting their version of the video’s dance to sites like youtube.com. Even grown men were guilty of singing along to the lyrics. The video got so popular that it was even spoofed on Saturday Night Live with Beyonce herself and Justin Timberlake. The second pair of singles to be released were “Halo” and “Diva” (the ghetto-femme anthem) in early 2009. Disc 1 of the album is Beyonce outside of her comfort of urban music, a beautiful take on soft-rock. Disc 2 is electronic R&B, with sass and quintessential “Ego.” I Am… Sasha Fierce may not be the best album ever, but is nonetheless one of of the most compelling and addictive records to be released in 2008. Highlights include: “If I Were A Boy,” “Single Ladies,” “Diva,” “Smash Into You,” “Ave Maria,” “Save The Hero,” and “Scared of Lonely.”

10. Some People Have Real Problems by Sia (Jan 8th)

sia-some_people_have_real_problems-cover

With a corkiness that can be vaguely catagorized as Björk, Sia channels her happiness and joy into an album that is nothing short of a hidden masterpiece. Riding off the success of her epic song, “Breath Me,” Sia greatly exceeds her expectations on this record. “Day Too Soon” is beautiful and positive, while “Death by Chocolate” is humble, yet grandiose. Her soulful and unique voice gives the songs life that can only be a gift from the music Gods. Although still a subterranean artist, this album is hands down one of the best released in 2008. Highlights include: “Little Black Sandles,” “Day To Soon,” “Academia,” “I Go To Sleep,” and “Death By Chocolate.”

9. Untitled (Nigger) by Nas (July 15)

nas-untitled

Nas is never one afraid to speak his mind or hold his tongue, so when he decided to name his next album Nigger, it didn’t even phase his fans. However, after receiving enough criticism and being put under pressure he decided to rename it Untitled. The socio-political record sums up afrocentric frustations damn-near perfectly and is one of Nas’s most lyrically on-point albums (as a whole) since perhaps, God’s Son. He’s bold, clever, and witty- challenging Fox News in “Sly Fox,” and giving props to Barack Obama on the closing track “Black President,” (before he was actually elected president). “N.I.G.G.E.R. (The Slave and the Master)” is an anthem that speaks volumes for our times. The Nigger Tape with DJ Green Lantern was even more impressive (perhaps even a better record than the official release). In December 2008 the album received a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Album. Highlights include: “Queens Get the Money,” “Hero,” “Sly Fox,” “Fried Chicken,” “N.I.G.G.E.R. (The Slave and the Master),” and “Black President.”

9. Dear Science by TV on the Radio (Sep. 23)

tvontheradio

It seems like every major and indie magazine named Dear Science as the best album of the year. I, however, thought that it was an impressive album, but not the best. The first four tracks are growers (as in they have to grow on you). But the rest of the album is eclectic modest-bohemian bliss. “Golden Age,” is funky and random. “Lover Dog” and “DLZ” are surprisingly moving and seems to be artistically more serious in tone. Overall, it’s a good album, and I can understand why many called it their favorite of the year. Oh, and by the way, opening track “Halfway Home” is more than a grower, it’s a kick-ass song! (Ok, so maybe about three tracks on the album are growers). Highlights include: “Halfway Home,” “Golden Age,” “Family Tree,” and “DLZ.”

7. Rising Down by The Roots (April 29)

roots

One of the most slept-on albums of the year, Rising Down is another great example of hip-hop at its finest. It is, in my opinion, the best Roots album since Phrenology. It opens with an almost errie phone conversation that turns into a disturbing brawl (“The POW Wow”) and leads into the hungry lyrically on-point title track. Mos Def delivers one of his best guest verses in years. “75 Bars (Black’s Reconstruction” is raw MC’ing , but in “Rising Up” Chrisette Michele delivers and blends in perfectly. It’s a shame that it didn’t receive the recognition it deserves. Highlights include: “Rising Down,” “Get Busy,” “Criminal,” and “Rising Up.”

6. The Renaissance by Q-Tip (Nov. 4)

qtip

So good, it took him 9 years to release it- The Renaissance is a quintessential hip-hop lesson listening. After A Tribe Called Quest fans had mixed feelings about his more mainstream-friendly solo-debut, Amplified (1999), fans were gratefully treated with a hip-hopper’s album. Apparently Q-Tip knew what he was doing by releasing a more authentic and organic hip-hop album. In “Move” he says, “So what’s a industry if the listeners will always stand beside me?” ‘Nough said. Highlights include: “We Fight/We Love,” “Move/Renaissance Rap,” “Life Is Better,” and “Believe.”

5. Parc Avenue by Plants and Animals (March 25)

plantsandanimals

Eclectic, innovative, and retro- Parc Avenue is psychedelic bohemian bliss and provides a refreshing combination of noises for the ears to enjoy. Dare I even say, they utilize the art of extended jams even better than The Mars Volta at times. Highlights include: “Feedback in the Field,””Keep It Real,” “Good Friend,” and “Faerie Dance.”

4. Only by the Night by Kings of Leon (Sept. 23)

kingsofleon

Every great band have a period of maturation; Kings of Leon are working their way towards great. Only By The Night shows the band breaking out of a mold that maybe some Aha Shake Heartbreak, (the King’s second album) fans want to hold them in. They stuck to the standard “good album” formula of 10 to 11 tracks, and delivered an album that is musically superior to many other rock bands out right now. And “Sex on Fire” is an unshy anthem for our time, with a classic Caleb Followill line, “Head while I’m driving.” The album earned a recent Grammy nimination for Best Rock Album and is the King’s (a rising indie-rock band) most successful album thus far. Highlights include: “Closer,” “Sex on Fire,” “Be Somebody,” and “Cold Dessert.”

3. Attack and Release by The Black Keys (April 1)

blackkeys

If I was to serve on an international music committee and I had to pick the finest of American music for our representation, I would sumbit this album. I’ve followed the Black Keys for a little over 4 years now, and I can say that Attack and Release is their best album to date. The Black Keys have always been a hidden jewel, a very talented band that never received the recognition that it deserved. My only complaint about it is that the band never switched up their sound- they finally did that on Attack and Release. With the unconvetional production of Danger Mouse, the Black Keys were able to approach its songs with a fresh and different influence that utiltized its talents well. With better direction and a wider influence the Black Keys can grow to be one of the best American rock bands of our time, they are well on their way. Highlights include: “Strange Times,” “Lies,” “Pyschotic Girl,” “Remember When (Side B),” and “Oceans and Streams.”

2. Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends by Coldplay (June 17)

coldplay

Coldplay’s activism and political critiques are like its music, smooth and subtle. Viva la Vida is an audio wonderland, with international influence and the grandiose arena sound that help elevate the band’s status and place in rock-and-roll. “Viva la Vida,” is incredibly European, yet contemporary catchy and uplifting. Similar to Q-Tip’s The Renaissance, the album have hidden songs attached to the end of tracks. “Chinese Sleep Chants,” attached at the end of “Yes,” is reminiscent of U2’s rebellious punk days- but in a happier feel-good kind of way. The songs on Viva la Vida are full of atmosphere. “Death and All His Friends,” is the perfect close to the album, somber yet optimistic at the same time. It is a sophisticated, yet still youthful album for the legends in the making. The EP released later in the year (Prospekt’s March),  is a nice little addition of b-sides to accompany the album, and even includes a full-length version of the intro-song “Life in Technicolor.” Highlights include: “Cemetaries of London,” “Lost!” “Lovers in Japan,” “Violet Hill,” and “Yes/Chinese Sleep Chant.”

1. New Amerykah: Part 1 (4th World Order) by Erykah Badu (Feb. 26)

 

new_amerykah1

 

Hands down, the most thought-provoking artistically innovative album to be released in 2008 came from Ms. Erykah Badu (in my opinion). New Amerykah was part socio-political activism, part funk, part soul, and some weird sprinkled throughout the album. On “The Healer,” Badu boldly states, “It’s bigger than religion, hip-hop/It’s bigger than the government.” Honest with her fans, on “Me,” the  youthful soul singer confess “This year I turned 36.” New Amerykah has a strong hip-hop presence, but Erykah’s voice couldn’t sound more tender or sweet on tacks like “That Hump” and “Telephone.” And she even had the nerve to work with Mars Volta front-man, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez on “Twinkle.” The album is profoundly smart and not just the best of this year, but one of the best period. It’s set up so well that she even placed “Honey,” the album’s leading single as a bonus track- distinguishing more vanilla generic-soul from the urban evolution that is the main 10 tracks of New Amerykah. Like Coldplay and Q-Tip, it seems like the best artists know that giving their friends little gifts at the end of each track could actually be a good thing. Highlights include: “The Healer,” “Soldier,” “Master Teacher,” and “Me.”

 

Honorable Mentions

And here are some other good albums released in 2008 that deserve recognition, but didn’t make my list.

Oracular Spectacular by MGMT (Jan. 22)

The Carter III by Lil Wayne

Santogold by Santogold (April 29)

Year of the Gentleman by Ne-Yo (Sep. 16)

Another World by Antony and the Johnsons (Oct. 7)

Universal Mind Control by Common (Dec. 9)

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