So, here's my attempt to summarize my year in listening to albums. Once again, I don't see any harm in talking about records that weren't released in 2008. If they were records that rocked my world more than in previous years, they get listed. Also once again, no clear-cut ranking here, just a listing, save for the last few.
British Sea Power, Do You Like Rock Music?
Knowing someone who's a big BSP fan and knowing that another person had a copy of this record, I decided to take a listen to "Waving Flags" on the A.V. Club's "The best tracks of 2008 so far" feature. Sounding like the Doves covering the Flaming Lips' "Race for the Prize" (in a good way), I had to hear this record. I'm quite a fan of the drumming and the lead guitar playing in this band because of this record. I haven't really checked out their previous work, so I'm a latecomer. This record definitely reminds me of great U.K. rock bands from earlier in the decade that weren't trying to sound like a garage band.
Mates of State, Re-Arrange Us
Full credit goes to Eric for introducing me to this record. If you loved Mates of State before, you probably will dig this record. If you hated Mates of State before, here's more avoid. I've dug this band for a while, but have never gotten around to hearing a full-length. Re-Arrange Us broke that trend. Very pleasing piano/keyboard rock from this two-piece, with songs that can be hard to get out of my head.
Death Cab for Cutie, Narrow Stairs
When this record was released, I wrote the following on Frank's blog: "Death Cab is one of those bands that I have to listen to their latest record many times before I can come up with an opinion. I really didn't care for them until Transatlanticism, but upon the first couple listens to Plans, I wasn't that impressed. Well, did a few more listens and then really dug that record. So, I'm listening to Narrow Stairs a few more times before I come up with my opinion."
That was in May, and I proceeded to listen to Narrow Stairs more than a few more times after that. Once again, Death Cab's records since The Photo Album have been growers for me. Parts of the record sound like older, pre-Atlantic Death Cab while others sound nothing like what they've done before, but it's never to a point where it sounds like they have an identity crisis. Maybe that's why I like this band so much.
Abe Vigoda, Skeleton
Pundits can say this band plays the same song over and over, but in this band's case, I don't mind. The drums and melodies are what really grab me with Skeleton. As a matter of fact, not since I heard the Appleseed Cast's Mare Vitalis have I heard a band whose sound has been so critically tied to the drumming. The drumming is busy, busy, busy, and disjointed, but it all complements the guitars and vocals very well.
Fleet Foxes, Fleet Foxes
I don't really understand why this band wasn't massacred by a lot of critics (as in, the ones who get paid to write about music) for sounding a lot like older My Morning Jacket. Maybe it's because My Morning Jacket released an album this year that was massacred by critics (more on that later). That said, I find this debut album to be a wonderful late-night or early-morning drive record. There are gorgeous melodies here; in some spots they remind me of My Morning Jacket's It Still Moves. Once again, I reiterate my tongue-in-cheek theory that Fleet Foxes is actually My Morning Jacket, and Fleet Foxes is a record My Morning Jacket abandoned to create Evil Urges.
This record was featured on a "Buried Treasures" episode of Sound Opinions back in September. I liked what I heard, but wasn't drawn to immediately listen to Meanderthal. Hearing the band was coming through town last Friday, I decided to go. Man, I'm so glad I went because I had a great time watching this band play a satisfying mix of sludgy metal mixed with friendly melodies and hot licks. Here's some live footage from the show for proof (I was standing right next to the cameraman, by the way). I was very happy to find out that the band's live sound translates to record, and Meanderthal is highly recommended by me.
At the Gates, Slaughter of the Soul
I have heard great, life-altering praises of this record since it was released back in 1996. Plenty of metal bands I like have name-checked this band and album. I finally got around to hearing Slaughter of the Soul this year, and now I understand why this record was so ahead of its time in 1996. Definitely something to speed-headbang your head to, and something to marvel at even though so many bands have copied their sound.
Band of Horses, Cease to Begin
Chris suggested I check out this record after he read my 2007 list. I must say I like this record more than their debut. There's something so incredible about this band: their songs are very simple and easy to play, but they have so much conviction and passion in them. "Is There a Ghost?" is one of those songs I love to air-drum to, at any time of day or night.
The Dillinger Escape Plan, Ire Works
I loved this record when it came out last year. For some reason, I couldn't stop listening to it this year. Seeing them put on one of the best shows I saw this year only made me listen to the record even more.
Metallica, Death Magnetic
I can't help but get defensive when I see people write about how Metallica's previous album, St. Anger, was a "failure." My argument is, if the band had not made St. Anger, they wouldn't have made Death Magnetic. Moreover, to me, if the band had put out Death Magnetic in 1991 instead of the Black Album, they would have become a band not too far removed from Slayer or Pennywise. Meaning, a band who doesn't want to take any risks with their sound after finding their sound, thus making records that are only for the converted, hardcore fans. Metallica has taken plenty of risks throughout their career (before and after Master of Puppets, mind you), and Death Magnetic is an insanely awesome record.
Certain people have moaned about the sound quality of this record, saying it's distorted and poorly mixed. Well, as someone who has blasted this record out of his car since it came out in September (and still has his hearing), there's nothing wrong with the sound of this record. Now, if you try to listen to this on your iPod, there's plenty of distortion. But I argue this is not a record to listen to on an iPod. It deserves to be heard loud on CD or vinyl.
I'm firmly aware that there are people (mostly men, aged ten to fifteen years older than me, who hated Journey with a passion back in 70s and 80s, and still hate Journey to this day) that will find my credibility as a rock music fan in doubt with this choice. Moreover, naming it one of my absolute favorites of the year may make people my age wonder if I'm making some sort of funny, ironic statement about a band who doesn't have the same singer from when they were massively popular. Plus, this band is clearly treading old waters again. Well, this ain't no joke: Journey's Revelation is something I've listened to over and over this year, and have enjoyed it without any shame or guilt.
For those still reading, I think the band was becoming too much of an adult contemporary act with Steve Perry in the band. As great as his voice and songwriting was, the band was becoming less of a rock band and more of, something not as rocking. Having Steve Augeri in the band, their records got a nice kick. With Arnel Pineda now fronting the band, Journey has reaped the rewards.
For those still reading, hearing songs like "Never Walk Away," "Faith in the Heartland," "Wildest Dream" remind me of why I like the band in the first place: songs that are melodic and strong and they make me feel uplifted. With a nice mix of slower ballads and a couple of so-so songs, Revelation isn't too long or too short. It's just right for me as a life-long Journey fan.
Lastly, here are some records that I refuse to call disappointments or failures, but records that left a lot to be desired.
My Morning Jacket, Evil Urges
I'm very, very hesitant to group this record here instead of elsewhere, but I'm still going to say this. Evil Urges is not -- I repeat, not -- a bad record. Save for the second and third tracks, this record is the logical follow-up to Z. Pretty much all of the other songs are special, but the dry production kind of takes their magic away. They sounded great live and fit in very well with the band's older material.
Ben Folds, Way to Normal
I am not one of those people who completely abandons an artist I've loved for years because they made an album I didn't embrace and enjoy as much as their older records. That said, Way to Normal is not essential Ben Folds. There are some decent, enjoyable songs, but the prevailing bitterness and anger dressed up in Ben's style of tuneful piano rock bogs this record down.
The Secret Machines, The Secret Machines
I really, really enjoyed the band's previous album, Ten Silver Drops. I think the only thing that holds this record back from being on par with their older material is the absence of guitarist/singer Ben Curtis. It's just not the same band without him, even though they come close.
Parts and Labor, Receivers
The first two songs on here are great. After that, the shift in the band's lineup is what I blame for why I couldn't get into this record. The absence of powerhouse drummer Christopher Weingarten is very obvious. He was such a major part of the band's sound and style, and while I commend the band for branching out as a four-piece with a different drummer, it's not as grabbing to me. I don't know how long the band could have gone in the vein of Stay Afraid and Mapmaker without things getting stale, but still.