10. Discover America – Future Paths
Discover America is former Twothirtyeight frontman, Chris Staples. I’ve followed his music almost from the beginning and it’s been a rewarding trip. To hear him grow from the kid playing emo/punk at Furnace Fest a decade ago to a thoughtful, searching and introspective songwriter has been fascinating. His latest release, ‘Future Paths’ further showcases Staples’ growth as a musician while documenting his journey as a late 20 something into a early 30 something and all the thought provoking turmoil that comes along with that.
Standout tracks: Force of Proper Wind, When You Were Young, Time Is A Bird
9. Lakes – The Agreement
Northern California pop/rock outfit Lakes’ latest release ‘The Agreement’ is a good 5 years in the making. At it’s best it’s as catchy as it is sincere, on the other end it tends to drag in keeping the listener’s attention. The songs that are great are GREAT, but there are a few “worth skipping” tracks. Singer Seth Roberts has a raw honesty about him that makes you absolutely believe what he’s singing. Almost like it’s the last song he’ll ever sing. That’s a gift that I wish more modern singers would encompass.
Standout tracks: Heart Is An Anchor, Oh Lovely, The Ghost And The Man, Back In Your Head
8. Dustin Ruth – Learn How To Love Someone
Washington based singer/songwriter Dustin Ruth is the Lloyd Dobler of indie songwriters. The songs are sweet, noble, and ring honest. Ruth pulls his influences from Jon Foreman to The Beatles. In a business where everyone is exhaustingly trying to break new ground and stand out, sometimes you just want to hear good songs with solid structure and melody. That’s exactly what ‘Learn How To Love Someone’ offers.
Standout tracks: Honey, Trouble For You Girl, Close Your Eyes
7. Vampire Weekend – Contra
Vampire Weekend had my #3 album of 2008 with their debut, and even though they’ve gone down a few notches on my list this year, they still know how to crank out fun, quirky, schoolboy indie/rock that is begging for a spot in a Wes Anderson film soundtrack. ‘Contra’ is infectious, plain and simple.
Standout tracks: White Sky, Holiday, Cousins
6. Dr. Dog – Shame, Shame
There’s no denying that the musical landscape right now is full of bands that sound (and dress) like they just came down from the mountain and are out of razors (ie: Avett Brothers, Fleet Foxes, Local Natives, Mumford & Sons) but Dr. Dog does this type of folk/rock really well. ‘Shame, Shame’ is a mix of the driving bass and upbeat drums (and tambourine) along with the multi-layered harmonies and simultaneous alternate melodies and the heartfelt ballad. Never under estimate a simple yet well timed piano hook.
Standout tracks: Unbearable Why, Stranger, Later
5. The Weepies – Be My Thrill
The third proper release from the folk/pop husband & wife duo might not be their best, but it’s certainly strong on it’s own.
‘Be My Thrill’ is chocked full of hooks and crannies that being just enough pop to satisfy that musical sweet tooth,
while managing to attach heart and honesty to it as well.
The Weepies do this kind of folk/pop as good as anyone and ‘Be My Thrill’ showcases that expertly.
Standout tracks: Be My Thrill, Hummingbird, They’re In love, Where Am I?
4. The Tallest Man On Earth – The Wild Hunt / Sometimes The Blues Is A Passing Bird EPWhen you first hear ‘Tallest Man on Earth’ the obvious comparison to Bob Dylan is almost all you can hear. By the second and third listen, the record starts to open up, and you get lost inside the images swedish singer/songwriter Kristian Matsson paints so effortlessly. It’s very stark, only using voice, acoustic guitar, and banjo for most of the instrumentation but it serves the songs well. ‘The Wild Hunt’ is a perfect summer driving record, especially somewhere rural.
Standout tracks: The Wild Hunt, King of Spain, The Drying of the Lawns
3. Jarred McCauley – Giants Among Men
Admittedly, I’m a little biased to this record since Jarred has been my best friend for the better part of a decade, and he let me sing some really high BGV’s on a couple songs. But all that aside, ‘Giants Among Men’ is gripping and real. It’s a beautifully dark, wonderfully hopeful look at a time long gone but hardly forgotten. A time when chivalry and honor meant something and couldn’t be handed off, but had to be earned. Jarred paints some amazing pictures of the old west and relates them back to present day in a relevant way without coming off “cheese ball” or trite.
Standout tracks: Clean Your Guns Boys, Letters, I Was A Cowboy
2. Brandon Flowers – Flamingo
If there was a record that owned me completely this year, it was Brandon Flowers’ ‘Flamingo.’ Overall this record is a love letter. To his home town of Las Vegas, to his wife, to his friends, to his fans. It’s a gorgeous and bold look into his heart that he has willingly placed on his sleeve. I was never a huge fan of The Killers, because I always felt like they were trying to be the biggest band in the world, and I couldn’t relate to that. This record breaks down and absolutely show Flowers’ vulnerably honest side. On some tracks he channels Johnny Cash and U2 simultaneously and without effort. Flowers is a true artist and it’s never been more clear than this recording.
Standout tracks: Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas, On The Floor, Only the Young, Magdalena
1. Ben Folds & Nick Hornby – Lonely Avenue
It should come as no surprise that my favorite album of the year involves Mr. Ben Folds. I can’t help it, no other artist speaks my language more distinctly than this guy. When I first heard that Ben was collaborating with novelist Nick Hornby (High Fidelity, About a Boy, etc) I was intrigued but not hoping for anything of true merit. I was completely wrong. ‘Lonely Avenue’ is sharp, heartbreaking, and all out gorgeous writing. Sure, irony, wordplay, and snark abound, but the record truly shines in it’s most intimate moments. Whether it’s a nine year old dealing with her recently divorced parents at her birthday dinner, or an upper middle class man trying to figure out how to appease his nagging wife’s pleas to tell the neo Nazi next door to shut his dogs up, or a rock ballad from the view point of almost two-time vice presidential “son in law” Levi Johnston telling his side of the story, each track is a different “short story” that you can’t wait to read again.
Standout tracks: Levi Johnston’s Blues, Claire’s Ninth, Picture Window, Your Dogs
Here are some records that I think are good but didn’t grab me enough to flesh them out.Perhaps next year?
The National – High Violet
Jars of Clay – The Shelter
She & Him – Vol. Two
Taylor Swift – Speak Now
Sufjan Stevens – All Delighted People & Age of Adz