The Top Ten Albums of 2008

Originally posted 2009-07-28 14:08:51. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

For the 2008 “Yes, No, or Maybe So” one-sentence reviews, CLICK HERE!

By Chris Moore:

At long last, here it is…

My top ten list of the best albums of 2008.

Top Ten Albums of 2008

1.  Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings – The Counting Crows
2.  That Lucky Old Sun – Brian Wilson
3.  Viva La Vida – Coldplay
4.  Accelerate – R.E.M.
5.  Modern Guilt – Beck
6.  Snacktime – Barenaked Ladies
7.  A Hundred Million Suns – Snow Patrol
8.  Consolers of the Lonely – The Raconteurs
9.  The Red Album – Weezer
10. Loyalty to Loyalty – Cold War Kids

Honorable Mention:

Liverpool 8 – Ringo Starr
Momofuku – Elvis Costello

Yes, No, or Maybe So: One-Sentence Reviews of 2008 Albums

Originally posted 2009-07-31 10:50:48. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

(Arranged in alphabetical order by band)

With so many albums being released every week, what are they all like?  Which are worth your time?  These one-sentence reviews are the answers to those questions!

Snacktime (Barenaked Ladies) – MAYBE SO

Review:  Fun and even educational for kids, yet substantive and musically interesting for adults – don’t let this be the one Barenaked Ladies album missing from your shelf!

Top Two Tracks:  “7 8 9” – “Pollywog in a Bog”

Modern Guilt (Beck) – MAYBE SO

Review:  Beck’s unique voice is the anchor of this rock album that successfully integrates both loops and modern effects with the simplest acoustic, electric guitar, and keyboard sounds front and center in the mix.

Top Two Tracks:  “Gamma Ray” – “Modern Guilt”

Way To Normal (Ben Folds) – MAYBE NOT

Review:  While this is a great breakup album with some typically provocative Ben Folds lyrics and strong instrumental work, there are simply too many disposable tracks and a general feeling throughout much of the album that we’ve been here before.

Top Two Tracks:  “Bitch Went Nuts” – “Brainwascht”

That Lucky Old Sun (Brian Wilson) – YES

Review:  This is Wilson’s modern masterpiece for the summer months, offering more punch than a fresh cup of coffee (“Morning Beat”), piano ballads for the ages (“Forever She’ll Be My Surfer Girl” and “Midnight’s Another Day”), and spoken word transition tracks (lyrics by SMiLE collaborator Van Dyke Parks) that won’t disappoint, all in a thoughtfully ordered and nicely blended track listing.

Top Two Tracks:  “Forever She’ll Be My Surfer Girl” – “Live Let Live”

11 (Bryan Adams) – MAYBE NOT

Review:  This is pretty much what you would expect, which doesn’t mean it can’t be great fun – clichéd, cheesy lines notwithstanding.

Top Two Tracks:  “I Ain’t Losin’ the Fight” – “Oxygen”

Loyalty to Loyalty (Cold War Kids) – MAYBE SO

Review:  The Cold War Kids’ breakthrough album (#21 on the Billboard 200) further establishes their strong, unique sound – Willett’s vocals and Russell’s guitar work being their strongest assets, set against the driving force of Maust’s bass and Aveiro’s drums – aside from perhaps a couple disposable tracks, the album is a stand out.

Top Two Tracks:  “Against Privacy” – “Mexican Dogs”

Prospekt’s March EP (Coldplay) – NO

Review:  Okay, Coldplay, it’s time to step up to the plate a la Wilco: release these tracks (only 3 or 4 are really worth the listen, anyway) on the next reissue of Viva La Vida AND offer them as a free download to anyone who has already bought the album; none of this shameful EP garbage for one of the most wildly successful bands in the world!

Top Two Tracks:  “Life in Technicolor II” – “Glass of Water”

Viva La Vida (Coldplay) – YES

Review:  Coldplay has finally hit an album-worthy home run, complete with beautiful instrumental bookends, richly explored thematic elements, big pop-radio worthy singles, and multi-movement tracks; this is the album that will help them begin living up to the hype that has surrounded the band for years.

Top Two Tracks:  “42” – “Violet Hill”

Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings (Counting Crows) – YES

Review:  The concept album of the year, Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings’ songs are aptly split between those that address the primal side of human nature, making decisions by instinct and engaging in debauchery, and the more reflective side of the psyche, reconsidering past decisions, experiences, and even dream images in the early light of Sunday morning.

Top Two Tracks:  “Insignificant” – “You Can’t Count On Me”

Momofuku (Elvis Costello) – MAYBE SO

Review:  Named for the inventor of instant ramen noodles, Momofuku may have been recorded at a breakneck pace, but there are some quality songs here: interesting arrangements, heartfelt performances, and of course, clever and poetic lyrics.

Top Two Tracks:  “American Gangster Time” – “Flutter and Wow”

Electric Argument (The Fireman) – NO

Review:  The guise of the Fireman may allow Paul McCartney the opportunity to relax, experiment, and otherwise stretch out, but a fully realized album that lives up to his vastly impressive recent work this is not.

Top Two Tracks:  “Sing the Changes” – “Dance ‘Til We’re High”

Sleep Through the Static (Jack Johnson) – NO

Review:  Filled with peaceful songs recorded in very clear sound quality… that will most likely put you to sleep – not even close to what you would expect from the follow-up to In Between Dreams.

Top Two Tracks:  “What You Thought You Need” – “Go On”

The Glass Passenger (Jack’s Mannequin) – MAYBE NOT

Review:  With their most recent release, Jack’s Mannequin has cracked the top ten of the Billboard 200 and found a bright, clean, and upbeat sound while addressing a number of serious topics; if some of the songs didn’t sound so similar and if McMahon’s vocals didn’t strain and reverberate oddly at times, this would be a great album.

Top Two Tracks:  “Crashin’” – “Bloodshot”

Seeing Things (Jakob Dylan) – MAYBE SO

Review:  Jakob Dylan finds some soothing and rootsy acoustic sounds on his debut solo album… now, let’s just hope he uses it to return with more force and feeling to a full band next time!

Top Two Tracks:  “Valley of the Low Sun” – “War is Kind”

Greenlight (Jeff Copperthite) – MAYBE SO

Review:  The first solo album from one half of the late nineties rock band Quilt, Greenlight is all you could hope for from a debut release – a range of songs that demonstrate Copperthite’s considerable instrumental abilities, including a couple standouts that will make listeners look forward to the next solo release.

Top Two Tracks:  “Home” – “Aware”

Perfectly Clear (Jewel) – MAYBE NOT

Review:  The latest phase for this folk singer turned dance/big band star turned country artist, Perfectly Clear is a well executed country album – nothing less, but not much more.

Top Two Tracks:  “Love is a Garden” – “Till It Feels Like Cheating”

Insides Out (Jordan Zevon) – MAYBE NOT

Review:  Bitingly witty at times, helplessly romantic at others, and always in-your-face realistic, Jordan Zevon’s debut release boasts finely crafted – if predictable – vocals and strong – although standard – instrumentation; he’s on his way to a great album, but hasn’t quite made it this time.

Top Two Tracks:  “The Joke’s On Me” – “Payday”

Mudcrutch (Mudcrutch) – MAYBE SO

Review:  An instantly likeable album with a classic sound that is somehow still unique and infectious, the power of Mudcrutch’s debut release – much like the faded face on its cover – tends to dissipate over time; as with many releases this year, it’s not bad for a start and is perhaps the best debut album (and one of the best new bands) of 2008.

Top Two Tracks:  “Orphan of the Storm” – “Lover of the Bayou”

Home Before Dark (Neil Diamond) – NO

Review:  An album of enjoyable three minute songs… that drag on redundantly for six minutes.

Top Two Tracks:  “Pretty Amazing Grace” – “The Power of Two”

The Slip (Nine Inch Nails) – MAYBE SO

Review:  The landscape of The Slip is that of violence and corruption, but even more acutely of the impact upon and influence of the individual in a society that is taking turns for the worse – add in Trent Reznor’s supplying this album for free online, taking intricate care to provide track (not just album) artwork and typed-in lyrics, and you’ve got a strong release.

Top Two Tracks:  “1,000,000” – “Discipline”

Break Up the Concrete (The Pretenders) – MAYBE NOT

Review:  While there’s nothing particularly remarkable here, Break Up the Concrete is a surprisingly strong release from Chrissie Hynde and company, nicely blending acoustic and electric rock with a rockabilly sensibility peeking through intermittently.

Top Two Tracks:  “Love’s A Mystery” – “The Last Ride”

Accelerate (R.E.M.) – YES

Review:  From the first notes of distorted electric guitar to the final “yeah” voiced by frontman Michael Stipe, Accelerate is a non-stop rock’n roll joy ride punctuated by numerous standout tracks, instrumental moments, and some of the strongest lyrics from Stipe in years; this R.E.M. album more than lives up to what its title implies about the pacing.

Top Two Tracks:  “Living Well is the Best Revenge” – “Supernatural Superserious”

Consolers of the Lonely (The Raconteurs) – MAYBE SO

Review:  For anyone who claims there are no new bands making great rock music, here come the tremendous Raconteurs to tell stories with urgent vocals, infectious guitar licks, plenty of distortion while maintaining a healthy respect for the acoustic guitar, horns, and so much more as traces of classic rock and modern rock are inseparably mixed.

Top Two Tracks:  “Top Yourself” – “Many Shades of Black”

The Bird and the Bee Sides (Relient K) – MAYBE SO

Review:  In and of itself, The Nashville Tennis EP is a generally middle of the road affair with a handful of standout tracks and several disposable songs; however, when combined with The Bird and the Bee Sides, it boasts new material as well as enough rare tracks to fill the gaps in any Relient K fan’s collection – never mind that 13 songs add up to a generous “EP,” clocking in for a total of 26 songs on this single disc release.

Top Two Tracks (“The Bird”):  “At Least We Made It This Far” – “I Just Want You To Know”

Top Two Tracks (“The Bee Sides”):  “Up and Up (Acoustic)” – “Who I Am Hates Who I’ve Been (Acoustic)”

Liverpool 8 (Ringo Starr) – MAYBE SO

Review:  Even though Starr split with longtime collaborator Mark Hudson during the making of Liverpool 8, this album is a worthy addition to his recent catalog, and although it may not be the strongest of the Roundhead records, it’s a must-hear for Ringo and rock fans alike.

Top Two Tracks:  “Liverpool 8” – “If It’s Love That You Want”

Detours (Sheryl Crow) – MAYBE NOT

Review:  This album is a bit of a mess, as some songs (“God Bless This Mess,” “Love is All There Is”) are heartfelt standouts and others (“Love is Free,” “Peace Be Upon Us”) seem phoned-in and generally distract from the great material this album has to offer.

Top Two Tracks:  “Shine Over Babylon” – “Detours”

A Hundred Million Suns (Snow Patrol) – MAYBE SO

Review:  Don’t let the inferior first single “Take Back the City” fool you: A Hundred Million Suns is the long-awaited next step in Snow Patrol’s evolution, offering up much to enjoy hearing and feeling and even more to interpret – and, thankfully, AHMS is a vast improvement over Eyes Open, and a worthy follow-up to Final Straw.

Top Two Tracks:  “Crack the Shutters” – “The Planets Bend Between Us”

The Red Album (Weezer) – MAYBE SO

Review:  The Red Album is something of an enigma – several tracks (“The Greatest Man That Ever Lived,” “Everybody Get Dangerous”) are among the quirkiest, most original and inventive work ever to grace a Weezer release, yet the album gets sidetracked in material that is easy on the ear, but overly simplistic (think “Heart Songs” and “Dreamin’”) – but it’s an interesting one; it is difficult to determine whether the first ever contributions from the other band members provides an exciting boost or simply more confusion to the album.  (And why no “Miss Sweeney” on the main album release?)

Top Two Tracks:  “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived” – “Thought I Knew”

Music Reviews: Counting Crows – “Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings” (2008)

Originally posted 2008-08-10 01:39:35. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

RATING:  4.5 / 5 stars

By Chris Moore:

In his personal liner notes, Adam Duritz thanks several people for “sticking by our vision for this album in the face of pretty much universal disapproval. Records SHOULD be what they’re MEANT to be.” In many ways, these notes help to tie Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings to the much larger tradition of the concept album.

Consider the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, arguably the first concept album. The Fab Four had to lock themselves away from all other distractions – including photo shoots and even live concert tours – to make what many consider to be their masterpiece. The Moody Blues were never meant to record Days of Future Passed; it was only as a result of convincing their producer to change course that this classic concept album was created. Brian Wilson arguably lost his mind in the pursuit of SMiLE, his masterpiece of an incomplete concept album that drew him back into the studio four decades later to finish it.

To compare this new Counting Crows album with the best of the Beatles, Moody Blues, and Beach Boys would be misguided; it is simply too recent to hold up to the classics. Still, this is one of the Counting Crows’ most compelling offerings and perhaps the strongest album of the year. Why, you ask? Not only do the songs shine – rocking and reflecting at the appropriate times – respectively, but the album concept unites each separate thread into a larger thought that holds up after and indeed invites multiple listens.

The album opens – rather, explodes – with the first track’s thundering drum roll and massive distortion guitar. “1492” is a personal narrative that establishes the setting and the narrator’s “dark Italian underground” exploits in a private world of “disco lights,” sexual encounters with “skinny girls,” and “mornings spreading out across the feathered thighs of angels.” Duritz’s songs have often shown interest in angelic imagery – consider his band’s first hit with “Angels of the Silences,” for one – but the imagery is tipped on its head for this album. Initially, the darkness is shocking. It is darkness that leads to the repeated question in the chorus, “Where do we disappear?” The narrator’s personal history becomes intertwined with an interesting take on Columbus and the events of 1492, a final chorus about the “people who impersonate our friends,” and then, with a final bang on the drums and harsh down stroke on the strings of the electric guitar, it’s over just as abruptly as it started.

The first half of the album is devoted to the Saturday Nights portion of the concept. The “dizzy life” that is described in “Hanging Tree” is further fleshed out in the scene-setting “Los Angeles,” and more personal details are divulged in “Sundays” – an opening mention of “coloured rubbers” followed by a description of the narrator’s conception (“My mother made me out of flesh and wine”) leads to the choral confession that he doesn’t believe in Sundays. Time and again on this first half of the album, the songs are rock n’ roll through and through; solos and driving beats are par for the course. And yet this is not at the expense of artistry. Duritz’s imagery is poetic and pulls no punches; the reference to Sundays conjures religious imagery, and although he professes not to believe in them, these tracks smack of a trip to a confessional.

The final two tracks of the Saturday Nights portion make good on the promise of “1492.” With “Insignificant,” he returns to that feeling of disappearance, declaring “I don’t want to be insignificant.” “Cowboys,” the sixth and final track of the first half, provides the perfect transition as Duritz sings, “I’ll wait for you as Saturday’s a memory, and Sunday comes to gather me into the arms of God Who’ll welcome me because I believe, oh, I believe…” This is a shift from his statements in “Sundays” and brings God directly into the picture. Duritz’s final words of the track set a mission statement of sorts for the remainder of the album – “Oh, I will make you look at me… Or I am not anything.”

So ends the Saturday Nights segment of the album; the Sunday Mornings portion begins with the subdued acoustic picking, gently fingered piano, and deliberately plucked standup bass of “Washington Square.” Harmonica and a distant electric guitar join the sound of the largely acoustic arrangement of “On Almost Any Sunday Morning.” The lyrics fit the tone of the music aptly, sparse and raw as they are. It is interesting to note that both of these tracks were written by Duritz alone, perhaps adding to the personal feel of these tracks.

Just as “Washington Square” and “On Almost Any Sunday Morning” are songs of despair and desolation, the next two tracks find the narrator beginning to pick up the pieces. In “When I Dream of Michelangelo” Duritz sings, “I want a white bread life, just something ignorant and plain, but from the walls of Michelangelo I’m dangling again.” In a sense, the conception of the album is explained through this song, even as the narrator sings of that connection to the great painter. This brings many aspects together, most notably the religious imagery and the desire of an artist to communicate. “Anyone But You” kicks off with a haunting organ and quickly falls under the domain of a steady drum beat. The message of this track? Well, although he admits “I’m almost ready – it’s almost true – for almost anyone but you,” he ends up returning repeatedly to the simple statement, “I think about you.”

It is in this song that the album really comes together. Even as drums return to the mix for the first time since the transition to the Sunday Mornings section, the singer’s dilemma is clear: after his wild “Saturday nights” and his reflections on his life, God, angels, women, and more, he can only think of this one unnamed woman.

In the next track, the truth comes clearly crashing down.

“You Can’t Count On Me,” the first single from Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings, lays it all out there – the narrator clearly addresses that aforementioned woman (described here as “just my toy and I can’t stop playing with you, baby”), and he admits that “There’s just one thing you need to know and that’s that you can’t count on me.” Not exactly a declaration of love and selfless devotion, this clearly carries with it the same blatant, raw honesty that the previous tracks have been imbued with.

From the opening chords, “Le Ballet D’Or” plays out like a dream sequence characterized by Duritz’s reflections and realizations. These set up what is perhaps the most minimalist track on the album; Charlie Gillingham’s piano and Adam Duritz’s vocals are all that you get with “On a Tuesday in Amsterdam Long Ago.” The vocals, probably the most raw of the record, lead up to the ragged, repetitive pleading by Duritz – “Come back to me.”

The album might have left off on this note, leaving the resolution open ended and the final note a somber one. Instead, the next track begins deceptively with an acoustic guitar and piano that fade momentarily before being replaced by the first distortion guitar since “Cowboys” and perhaps the most rousing drum beat and bass line of the album. Duritz’s voice returns to form as he leads the band in “Come Around,” the only track on Sunday Mornings not produced by James Brown. Rather, this track was produced by Gil Norton, the producer for the six tracks of Saturday Nights.

Thus, “Come Around” effectively brings this concept full circle, promising in the chorus “We’ll still come around.” Yes, there is pain on the Sunday mornings…

But that won’t stop Duritz from coming back to the Saturday nights time and again. If nothing else, they certainly make for good songwriting – and this concept makes for a rocking, raw, and overall excellent album.