“Record” companies struggled in 2008, fighting the digital-downloads threat by too often becoming formulaic and predictable. Seeking to build common denominator pop stars, they lowered standards instead. These artists raised them.
This list of the top 10 albums of 2008 is based on picks by Gazette music writers Michael Hochanadel and Brian McElhiney and features editor Dick Bennett. Several choices received multiple nods from The Gazette trio — Beck, Alejandro Escovedo, Tom Morello and TV on the Radio.
The following selections are listed alphabetically by artist.
Ryan Adams & the Cardinals: “Cardinology” — “Evergreen” and “Like Yesterday” are as pretty as anything on “American Beauty.” Other tunes are less Dead-like but just as effortless and strong. A skilled, rock band album by players beautifully cast in Adams’ audio movies. (Hochanadel)
Beck: “Modern Guilt” — A collaboration between the genre-hopping Beck and Danger Mouse, the DJ responsible for “The Grey Album” Beatles-Jay Z mashup, was bound to be interesting. It turned out to be one of Beck’s best, whittling away much of the fat left on previous Beck albums and leaving 10 dark, edgy tracks that fall all over the musical map. Check out “Profanity Prayers,” a driving rocker with an irresistible chorus. (McElhiney)
Alejandro Escovedo: “Real Animal” — Escovedo shows once again he is a master of many styles of pop music, from punk to alt country. The first track “Always a Friend” is one of the best songs of the year. (Bennett)
John Mellencamp: “Life Death Love and Freedom” — The influence of producer T Bone Burnett is evident here in what may be the best album of Mellencamp’s career. It’s a darker, stripped down, more bluesy sound for the singer/songwriter who tackles such weighty subjects as racism in a small Louisiana town. (Bennett)
MGMT: “Oracular Spectacular” — The psychedelia sounds of the 1960s are alive and very well with this shimmering, well-crafted album by the Brooklyn-based duo Andrew Vanwyngarden and Ben Goldwasser. Also check out their color-saturated, visually stunning videos. (Bennett)
Randy Newman: “Harps and Angels” — His best since “Sail Away.” He went back to New Orleans and didn’t like what he saw and what it said to him about America: an embarrassment he hopes maybe not irredeemable. (Hochanadel)
The Nightwatchman (Tom Morello): “The Fabled City” — After the rap-metal of Rage Against the Machine and straight rock of Audioslave, Tom Morello the folkie may have initially come as a surprise. But his second album as The Nightwatchman finds Morello settling into what may be his true calling musically. A political album that never comes across as preachy or patronizing. The best tracks strip down things to Morello’s deep baritone and stark acoustic strumming. But rockers such as the anthemic lead-off single “Whatever it Takes” are pretty great, too. (McElhiney)
The Roots: “Rising Down” — Classic and classy hip-hop: Plenty of rage-bombs and “n” words, with the lyrical richness of a global perspective and firm principles, powered by beats to take the breath away and make you jump around. (Hochanadel)
Otis Taylor: “Recapturing the Banjo” — Before there was bluegrass, there was blues and Taylor, a blues traditionalist so rigorous he sounds revolutionary, recaptures the banjo’s fierceness and fire. (Hochanadel)
TV on the Radio: “Dear Science” — This year’s “Neon Bible” (Arcade Fire’s memorable 2007 album) in bold ambition and faultless accomplishment, by a mostly black American band that began where Living Colour and the other Black Rock Coalition bands ended. Big beautiful and rocking. (Hochanadel)
- B-52s: “Funplex”
- Ry Cooder: “I Flathead”
- Duffy: “Rockferry”
- Flogging Molly: “Float”
- John Legend: “Evolver”
- Mudhoney: “The Lucky Ones”
- REM: “Accelerate”
- Raphael Saadiq: “The Way I See It”
- Shiny Toy Guns: “Season of Poison”
- Esperanza Spalding: “Esperanza”
- Rokia Traore: “Tchamantche”