When I first started my favorite albums of 2008 list, I didn't realize how difficult it would be. How difficult was it? Well, my list of honorable mentions has eight albums on it and there are three EP's I would include if this were not a list of albums. I also did not properly listen to some great 2007 releases until 2008.
Thus, in the spirit of those re-releases record companies love, this is a Deluxe Edition of my favorite albums of 2008 list and is full of extras. As always, this list isn't ranked. Everything is presented in alphabetical order by artist name.
Now, my 10 favorite albums of 2008:
Black Milk – Tronic: I first noticed this producer/rapper from Detroit with an Internet release (see honorable mentions below) that came before this commercially released album. I didn't hear this album until only a month before 2008 ended but it left an impression on me. The production is top-notch, the lyrics pretty strong, and the guest appearances (what few there are) are solid. It's a great hip-hop album that deserves your attention.
Coldplay – Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends: The best way for me to describe this album is audio comfort food. Excellent production, wonderful melodies, and pretty good songwriting lead to a very enjoyable album. From the celebratory atmosphere of “Viva La Vida” to the infectious beat of “Lost!” and the beauty of “Lovers in Japan,” there is a lot to like. While it may be reminiscent of a certain Irish rock band, I'd rather they acknowledge their influences instead of overthinking their music to mush.
Girl Talk – Feed The Animals: It takes a lot of talent and skill to take artists as diverse as The Jackson Five, Lil Wayne, Nirvana, and The Beach Boys (among countless others) and merge them together into a great party album that's part mix and part mash-up. No matter what genre you enjoy most, there is something to like here. You'll never think of your favorite songs the same way after you finish listening to this.
Gnarls Barkley – The Odd Couple: Cee-Lo and Danger Mouse's follow-up to St. Elsewhere doesn't have an instant crossover hit like “Crazy.” Instead, this album is a richer experience overall. Whether it's the haunting “Who's Gonna Save My Soul,” or the upbeat craziness of “Run,” there is just so much good stuff to be found here. While it's more of a pop album than their last one, it gets better with every listen.
Hot Chip – Made In The Dark: This is an album that I started to like a bit more after I wrote my review. There's a nice mix of great dance tracks (“Ready For The Floor,” “Shake A Fist”) with more delicate, slower songs (“Made In The Dark”). I've been following this group since their first album, Coming On Strong, and it's something to see how much they've grown.
Kanye West – 808s & Heartbreak: You know an artist is great when their failures are this good. This ambitious combination of 1980's-esque electropop and hip-hop doesn't entirely work. When it's bad, it's kind of frustrating and silly. However, when it's good, it's really good. Tracks like “Paranoid” and my personal favorite, “Welcome To Heartbreak,” are some of the most interesting music I heard in 2008. I wish more artists were willing to “fail” as beautifully as Kanye did.
N.E.R.D. – Seeing Sounds: This underrated album is one of the more purely enjoyable albums I heard in 2008. The group's hip-hop/rock hybrid sound is played with a bit more here. “Spaz” manages to feature rock guitars, speedy electronic drums, and hip-hop beats without feeling like a disjointed mess. There are times when it's a little ridiculous (“Everybody Nose”) or self-indulgent (“Sooner or Later”) but it's never boring, which is more than I can say for some albums.
Portishead – Third: This is the comeback of 2008. You'd think that a new album after more than 10 years would sound a bit dated or stale but that's not the case here. This group made the bold choice to update their music for the times and the result is stunning. There is a surprising amount of variety but it never feels like anything other than a Portishead album. Let's hope we don't have to wait another decade to hear the next one.
Rhymefest – Man In The Mirror: This “dedication album”, released free on the Internet, is a loving tribute to Michael Jackson and a stellar work in its own right. Overseen by Mark Ronson, it cleverly combines dozens of samples of songs and interviews from Jackson's entire career with new audio from Rhymefest. Rhymefest “talks” to Michael about a variety of things while paying tribute to him by rapping over tracks that sample his work. It's a great album that never, ever, could've been released any other way.
Solange – Sol-Angel and The Hadley St. Dreams: This album was the most pleasant surprise of 2008. Beyonce's younger sister sets herself apart by combining her love of old-school R & B with her quirkier side. The list of collaborators is impressive (Thievery Corporation, Cee-Lo, Mark Ronson, The Neptunes, The Freemasons) and so is the music. Solange is an artist who can sing about her regrets over a smooth soul beat one day (“T.O.N.Y.”) or sample Boards of Canada the next (“This Bird”). She'll probably never be more popular than her sister...but her music just might be better.
Bonus List #1 – The Honorable Mentions:
Black Milk – Music From The Color Purple: This Internet-released collection of instrumental beats was my first introduction to this producer/rapper. The beats take songs by a certain artist and make them damn near unrecognizable...and funky at the same time.
Murs & 9th Wonder – Sweet Lord: Another free Internet release, this is an album that's good enough to want to pay for. Both rapper and producer are on point and there are some great tracks to be found.
Nas – (untitled): This album did not live up to the hype nor its controversial former name. However, it's still a pretty solid Nas album with some good tracks including the hilarious “Fried Chicken” with Busta Rhymes.
Nine Inch Nails – Ghosts I-IV: I love instrumental music, so I enjoyed this massive collection from Trent Reznor and crew. With the group no longer tethered to a record label, I hope we see more experiments like this.
The Roots – Rising Down: Any album that starts with a recording of an angry exchange between a group and their former label is not going to be a happy one. This album is darker than their last but, unfortunately, not quite as hard-hitting. It's still quite good so it's unfortunate that it got completely overlooked.
Snoop Dogg – Ego Trippin: This is probably one of the most interesting albums of Snoop's career. He's not afraid to do whatever he wants whether it's a Roger Troutman-inspired jam (“Sexual Eruption”), a remake of a classic song by The Time (“Cool”) or a country track (“My Medicine”). Never let it be said that Snoop follows the crowd.
Various Artists – Verve Remixed 4 & Verve Remixed Christmas: 2008 was the year I got into the Verve Remixed compilations and these two, both released in 2008, are my favorites. Verve Remixed 4 is worth a purchase for a stellar James Brown remix by Kenny Dope alone. Verve Remixed: Christmas is a worthy addition to my holiday music collection.
Bonus List #2 – Great EP's of 2008
AmpLive – Rainydayz Remixes: This collection of hip-hop remixes of tracks from Radiohead's In Rainbows is approved by the group and a lot better than it should be. Released for free on the Internet and featuring rappers like Del The Funkee Homosapien and Too $hort, this collection respects the spirit of the original tracks while giving them some flavor.
Animal Collective – Water Curses: Featuring tracks not used on Strawberry Jam (one of my favorite albums of 2007), this collection is a little less manic and more fun.
Janelle Monae – Metropolis The Chase Suite: This is a stellar debut that combines multiple genres (including hip-hop, rock, and R & B) into something unique. “Many Moons” is one of my favorite tracks of 2008. I cannot wait for this artist to release a full-length album and really let her artistry shine.
Bonus List #3 – Great Albums of 2007 Not Recognized Until 2008
Daft Punk – Alive 2007: A fantastic live album that has the duo remixing and reinterpreting their catalog in wonderful ways.
Ghostface Killah – The Big Doe Rehab: Yet another excellent Ghostface album that proves that if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Lupe Fiasco – The Cool: A larger, more ambitious album with plenty of great songs.
Panda Bear – Person Pitch: This solo album from the Animal Collective member is a bit psychedelic and more accessible than AC's work.
Wu-Tang Clan – 8 Diagrams: A sometimes difficult album that dares to tweak the Wu-Tang sound. It's not their best but does remind you of Wu's earlier, more experimental days.