I’ve had a full week to reflect on all that was last year, and I’ve come to the conclusion that a lot of good came out of 2008. There were solid albums from new acts, great albums from old acts, and some of the down-and-dirtiest shows I’ve ever been to. Here are my Top Ten albums and live shows (that I attended) in the past year. Let me just say that ’09 better bring it if it wants to keep up.
Top Ten Albums of 2008
1. Tea Leaf Green – Raise Up The Tent
This band gets my vote for Band Most Likely To Blow Up in 2009. It will mark the 10-year anniversary of their first album release, and they are finally getting the recognition they deserve. Their fifth album Raise Up The Tent features their new (and newly permanent!) bassist Reed Mathis (of JFJO fame), and he brought a new energy to the studio that is evident. I could go on forever but in a few words: tight baselines, beautiful lyrics, a few killer guitar solos (just a sampling of what Josh Clark is capable of bringing live), and a nice, clear sound. The boys keep it to the point in the studio on this album, but don’t be fooled … they will melt your face live.
2. Dr. Dog – Fate
Beautifully crafted album that gets back to the basics of song-writing, but is full of subtle surprises. And three little words: Three part harmonies.
3. Deerhunter – Microcastle
If you haven’t heard “Nothing Ever Happened” off of this album, you missed out on a crucial part of last year. I dare you not to get antsy and jumpy and excited about the build-up, the climax, and the way it all comes together in the end.
4. Drive-By Truckers – Brighter Than Creation’s Dark
Yet another solid album from a band which continues to recreate the sounds of southern rock. In my opinion, their most diverse album … some songs quite delicate, and others feet-stomping instant classics.
5. Kurt Vile – Constant Hitmaker
Way under the radar gem from The War On Drugs’ Kurt Vile might have been the album I listened to most, I think out of sheer curiosity. His sound is hard to pinpoint … sort of Devendra Banhart (without the feathers and warpaint and jewels and the Spanish) meets a young Bob Dylan (without the rasp or the pretension, and who’s singing underwater) recording lo-fi songs under a pillow in some sleepy, sedated world you’ve never been to but want to be in. Deliciously poppy, but in a strangely mysterious way.
6. The Avett Brothers – The Second Gleam EP
A collection of six exquisite and refined, yet slightly melancholic, songs. A near-perfect EP that leaves me wanting more.
7. The Felice Brothers – s/t
This album gives me the desire to be at the turn of a century in a dusty bar waiting for someone to come in and start some trouble at which point I prove I am the baddest in town after a series of dirty fights in which many blunt objects lying around the bar are thrown and then everyone gets together around an old piano and dances in glorious rejoice because this tumultuous life is all we know and we think it’s beautiful.
8. The Ruby Suns – Sea Lion
Sub Pop newbies who debuted with a memorable collection of psych-pop tunes that deliver a punch with their clear global influences without appearing tacky (unlike certain other ’08 favorites who managed to top lists with songs such as “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa”).
9. Born Ruffians – Red, Yellow, & Blue
Catchy, catchy, catchy. Hear them once and you won’t forget them. A very distinctive sound that I would love to see expand.
10. Beach House – Devotion
This duo is such stuff that dreams are made of. Dreamy, sleepy lo-fi that you wish you could come up with while dozing.
Jackie Greene – Giving Up The Ghost
The Dodos – Visitor
The Walkmen – You & Me
Top Ten Shows of 2008
1. Wilco & Andrew Bird | Aug 12 | Tanglewood Shed, Lenox, MA
2. Tea Leaf Green | Nov 15 | Recher Theatre, Towson, MD
(the May 9 8×10 show in Baltimore, MD should also make this list, but I made a rule no repeat artists)
3. Allman Brothers Band & Phil Lesh and Friends | Sept 30 | Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia, MD
4. Umphrey’s McGee | Nov 21 | 930 Club, Washington, D.C.
5. Radiohead & Grizzly Bear | Aug 4 | Blossom Music Center, Cuyahoga Falls, OH
6. Neil Young & Wilco | Dec 12 | The Spectrum, Philadelphia, PA
7. Dr. Dog | Dec 3 | 930 Club, Washington, D.C.
8. Perpetual Groove | July 10 | All Good Festival, Marvin’s Mountaintop, West Virginia
9. Grace Potter & The Nocturnals | Oct 11 | Recher Theatre, Towson, MD
10. Eric Clapton | May 31 | Blossom Music Center, Cuyahoga Falls, OH
Good shows that didn’t quite make the cut:
New Mastersounds | Nov 7 | Sullivan Hall, NYC
Yonder Mountain String Band | Oct 3 | State Theatre, Falls Church, VA
Beach House | Apr 4 | Rock and Roll Hotel, Washington, D.C.
Lotus | Nov 1 | 930 Club, Washington, D.C.
of Montreal | Oct 9 | 930 Club, Washington D.C.