Creme de la Creme: City Weekly's Top Albums of 2008 | CD Reviews | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly
Support the Free Press.
Facts matter. Truth matters. Journalism matters.
Salt Lake City Weekly has been Utah's source of independent news and in-depth journalism since 1984.
Donate today to ensure the legacy continues.

Music » CD Reviews

Creme de la Creme: City Weekly's Top Albums of 2008



2008—what a year for music! Creators and consumers of music took full advantage of the Internet as a vehicle for DIY distribution and even collaboration, with bands like Mercury Rev and Parts & Labor calling on listeners to contribute to their latest albums via the Web. Perhaps the interactive and immediate nature of the online community helps inform the eclectic range of great albums released in the last 365 or so days. Other publications’ year-end lists are quite diverse, from Paste selecting She & Him as its No. 1 album to Rolling Stone placing Chinese Democracy in its Top 10. Even our individual lists vary wildly, as evidenced below. We hope one of these artists makes it into your permanent collection.

The Black Angels, Directions to See a Ghost
The Black Angels could have stopped with Passover (2006) and remained one of my perennial favorites but Austin’s coolest contemporary psychedelic rockers upped the ante with Directions to See a Ghost, a sophomore LP that silences with a resounding howl critics who labeled them as little more than '60s-throwback kitsch. From the hiss and shake of opening track “You on the Run” to the groovy organ pulse driving “18 Years,” Directions strikes a pose nearly as stark and commanding as The Black Angels’ haunting live show. (Jamie Gadette)
TV on the Radio, Dear Science
I’ve always enjoyed TVotR, but I never thought they lived up to the acclaim lauded upon them by critical wankers. That is, until I heard Dear Science. It’s an album that’s experimental, accessible, heartbreaking and uplifting. Sometimes it breaks you down, and sometimes it rocks the f—king house—but it never fails to be less than brilliant. Final track “Lover’s Day” is the best thing they’ve ever done. (Ryan Bradford)
The Gutter Twins, Saturnalia
Mark Lanegan is a sexy beast. Oh sure, he put out some good records with Screaming Trees, but it’s his solo work that really turns me on, particularly the overlooked 2004 gem, Bubblegum. If you cream your jeans listening to “Methamphetamine Blues,” featuring Greg Dulli (Afghan Whigs/Twilight Singers), consider making it with The Gutter Twins. Lovingly dubbed the satanic Everly Brothers, Dulli and Lanegan’s professional relationship yields the sort of sound that—depending on the track—makes you want to screw, curl up in a ball or break things (maybe even your own heart. Awww). It’s an unholy musical union so wrong it’s right on. (JG)
Lykke Li, Youth Novels
Lykke Li has the most instantly infectious-voice in recent memory. Mixing soul and sultry with Manic Pixie Dream Girl sweetness, she carries the spectacular Youth Novels. That’s not to say the music is lacking; the minimalist dance style is the perfect complement to Ms. Li’s vocals. (RB)
The Devil Whale, Like Paraders
One of the best albums of the year is, once again, locally grown. Neat fact: Brinton Jones penned the bulk of its content prior to becoming a fixture on the Utah County and Salt Lake City music scenes. So all these songs stripped of pretense—all these heartfelt sentiments Jones issues with powerful pipes nearly silenced by a vocal polyp in 2007—offer just a hint of brilliant things to come. Jump to track 5 for your first listen and tell me that’s not a radio hit in the making! Like Paraders also features Jake Fish’s sweet bass lines, killer guitar licks courtesy of hired gun Marcus Bently, who later left to focus on his solo electronic project, Location Location (also worth a listen), plus lush instrumentation and densely layered production courtesy of Seattle’s Shawn Simmons. Next up? The world! (JG)
The Hold Steady, Stay Positive
The Hold Steady are smart yet accessible and not afraid to be deep and heartfelt. And they can rock too. Separation Sunday continues their line of intertextuality, booze and religion, and it’s the nostalgic soundtrack to a youth full of euphoria and heartbreak. Living in New York City is a lot like living in a Hold Steady song. (RB)

Silver Jews, Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea
One of the best living songwriters returns after making good on his band’s name, visiting the Holy Land and getting hitched. His wife/bassist Cassie adds to the album with her salty-sweet vocals charging along hubby David Berman’s wonderfully awkward delivery on infectious jams like “Party Barge,” “Candy Jail” and “Suffering Jukebox.” It’s a little bit country, a little bit rock & roll and a whole lot like nothing else. Long live Silver Jews. (JG)

Girl Talk, Feed the Animals
Topping 2006’s Night Ripper seemed like an impossible act, but Greg Gillis (Girl Talk) pulled out all the stops with Animals. The samples are broader, the album arc is more coherent and it all comes together with dizzying success. It’s not so much an album as an unapologetic monument in the age of internet music and sound clips. (RB)
Bill Frost’s One Album Pick of 2008
The Black Keys, Attack & Release
Live at the Crystal Ballroom
The Black Keys made their non-White (Stripes) name as a smash-and-grab blues minimalist duo, cranking out more catchy stomps with just guitar and drums than most “polished” rock “artists” could with a deep bench of instruments, processors and producers. That phase of the Black Keys peaked and exploded with 2004’s Rubber Factory; since then, singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Pat Carney (OK, mostly just Auerbach) have gone slightly more artsy and atmospheric. Attack & Release, guided by WTF?-inducing producer Danger Mouse, isn’t a perfect resolution of the band’s force and finesse, but it is a fascinating experiment and a ballsy move—they could have just put out Rubber Factory 2 and no one would have bitched. Besides, songs like “I Got Mine,” “Strange Times” and “Psychotic Girl” punch like old times, just with a bit more muscle behind the swing. Purists can revel in the sorta follow-up Live at the Crystal Ballroom, a sweat-flinging, fuzz-soaked 18-song concert film the re-establishes the Black Keys as anything but sellouts. (BF)

Bonnie Prince Billy, Lie Down In The Light
Will Oldham sounds downright upbeat on this gorgeous album buoyed by aching harmonies courtesy of Ashley Webber whose voice bears a striking resemblance to that of her twin sister Amber (Black Mountain). “So Everyone,” is true romance in stereo. If I ever get around to getting hitched, this will be my Pachelbel’s Canon: “Oh lady. Oh boy. Show how you want me and do it so everyone sees me.” (JG)

Doomtree, Doomtree
Criminally underrated Minneapolis hip-hop collective’s highly anticipated group debut might be a golden ticket out of obscurity, though, arguably, their strength owes much to the cutthroat life: “We/ be/ all in the struggle, man/grind hard/ twenty-four seven, man.” The hunger is palpable—and evenly divided. Each artist’s defiant determination bleeds through individual strengths, from Dessa’s assured grace under fire to Otter’s smooth-talkin’ cynicism and Mictlan’s confrontational roar. And the beats? This is the wine-pairing of production. Eclectic instrumentals massaging rhymes into position… Good things come to those who wait. But, uh, let’s hope the next album drops before 2016. (JG)

CarCrashLander, Mountains On Our Backs
Most of Portland recognizes Cory Gray as a consummate multi-instrumentalist spicing up works by Norfolk & Western, Decemberists, and others. But I was introduced to Gray through a little ditty called “Gold Sunset” off CarCrashLander’s debut, which I immediately picked up two days before Mountains On Our Backs arrived in the mail. Lord! It’s even better than the first outing by Gray’s solo project, linear and chaotic, sad and romp-tastic, full of smart arrangements highlighted by Gray’s keys and trumpet, jazz drums and face-melting guitars drenched in reverb and other downright psychedelic effects. It’s loud and quiet and loud, but not like the Pixies. Pick it up. Now. (JG)

Imaad Wasif with Two-Part Beast, Strange Hexes
Folk Implosion/Yeah Yeah Yeahs touring guitarist Imaad Wasif glides from the shadows with an intoxicating work of medieval black magic. Wasif establishes himself as a solo artist to watch, wielding his axe as a magic wand to transform basic declarations of love and longing into devastating testimony: “Well I’m lovesick. It’s panoramic.” Strange Hexes is sweeping, psychedelic and heavy, man. It smolders. (JG)

Land of Talk, Some Are Lakes
That Elizabeth Powell rarely enunciates actually informs her unique power as a singer—songs like the title track and “Got a Call” hit hardest when she’s basically slurring her words into a ball of unadulterated emotion. Powell ditched music school to “train” on her own, and the hard-knock study’s unique talent shines all over this debut produced by her buddy Bon Iver. It’s a cathartic work, full of soul bearing and calling out men who break things. It rocks like it’s 1993—in a good way. The one thing I took away? Even tomboys get the blues, but “you can’t keep down a girl who loves music.” (JG)
Okkervil River,The Stand Ins
Third time’s a charm. Prior to The Stand Ins, Okkervil River’s sound just didn’t do it for me. The band seemed pretentious and, well, boring. But this album, man, this album is hmm-hmm good. Not sure what it is—maybe the arrangements better highlight Will Sheff’s brilliant songwriting. He’s a true wordsmith whose romantic stories contain nary a cliché—a rare breed these days. His songs read like serialized dramas, and I hang on every word. (JG)

Kanye West – 808s and Heartbreak
Heartbreak is one beautiful mess of an album. After the hit-heavy Graduation, West tones it down with an utterly bleak, futuristic album full of raw emotion. West’s ego can get tiresome, but he’s never conventional. I’m guessing this will become a fan-favorite given some time. (RB)

Man Man, Rabbit Habits
More troupe than band, Man Man makes ugly and exciting music. If you lament the day when Oingo Boingo went from being circus performers to rock band, then Rabbit Habits is your album. (RB)

Cut Copy, In Ghost Colours
In Ghost Colours sounds like the 80s or the subsequent backlash never happened. It’s a redefining dance album without any hint of irony or hipster posturing. Unlike other electronic bands (cough MGMT cough), they can slow it down without sounding cheesy. (RB)

Shearwater, Rook
Jonathon Meiburg has one of the most haunting voices in music and it suits Shearwater’s music beautifully. Rook has somehow managed to capture the fear, awe, beauty and trepidation of our natural world and turn it into music. If Wordsworth had been a musician, his music would’ve sounded like this. (RB)

Fucked Up, Chemistry of Common Life
I’m always wary of “experimental” punk, and the flute intro to the album definitely had me thinking schtick when I first heard it. But “Son the Father” (first track) becomes one of the most unhinged, balls-out song I’ve heard in a long time. And the album just gets better after that. (RB)

No Age, Nouns
No Age use layers of noise to create beautifully-textured rock. Although the band is mostly known for their live shows, Nouns does a fine job of translating their passion and creativity onto record. Not since Daydream Nation has a band effectively used noise to their advantage. (RB)