My 2008 was without question dominated by The Gaslight Anthem, who released one of my favorite albums of all time. That doesn’t mean there weren’t other outstanding CDs that managed to horn in on TGA’s spotlight, though. They are:
“Attack and Release,” The Black Keys
I was initially disappointed with the duo’s latest effort, because with Danger Mouse at the helm I expected … more. Instead, “Attack and Release” basically sounds like any other Keys album, with a few subtle twists (like flute! and banjo!). After it sinks in, the album settles just fine, with standout tracks like “I Got Mine,” “Psychotic Girl,” “Remember When (Side B),” “Oceans and Streams,” and my …
Favorite Track: “Strange Times”
“The ’59 Sound,” The Gaslight Anthem
For their second album, The Gaslight Anthem fully manifest their mission to turn classic R&B and soul music into punk rock with an ear for pop accessibility. With its lo-fi, reverb-drenched feel, this is an album that matches its writers’ old souls. Every song is good and more than half are great, making repeated listens not just a must, but a joy. With this record, the band shed all comparisons and fully crystallized their own sound. More than a year later, it continues to reward.
Favorite Track: “The ’59 Sound”
“Senor and the Queen” EP, The Gaslight Anthem
Stunningly, “The ’59 Sound” was the other great record this New Jersey quartet released in 2008. This EP offers up four of the band’s best songs, and provides a good transition from the more straightforward punk of their 2007 debut to the soul/punk of the next album—“Senor and the Queen” sounds like “The ’59 Sound” minus the reverb. And have they ever delivered a better mission statement than the title track? “We’ll bury these old ghosts here …” indeed.
Favorite Track: “Wherefore Art Thou, Elvis?”
“The Odd Couple,” Gnarls Barkley
Wow, possibly the most underrated album of the decade. Though it didn’t have a breakout smash like the duet’s stunning 2006 debut, “The Odd Couple” also eschews “St. Elsewhere’s” spacey detours. Gnarls’ second effort is a more cohesive album, focusing on Cee Lo’s evocative depth in soul singing. It may not be quite as frenetic an affair as the previous record (“Run,” aside), but that’s fine by me. Never understood why this second great album from Gnarls Barkley didn’t get more attention.
Favorite Track: “A Little Better”
“Stay Positive,” The Hold Steady
“Constructive Summer” opens this album with an explosive guitar riff, and The Hold Steady never look back over the course of 14 sprawling, brawling tracks of good ol’ rock and roll. Frontman Craig Finn’s lyrics put up a barrier between me and his music, but that doesn’t mean these songs don’t speak to me as pure grooves. Though 2006’s “Boys and Girls in America” is considered the band’s best work, I slightly prefer this record for its broader sound and changes in direction. There are still big rockers like the aforementioned “Summer” and “Sequestered in Memphis,” but there are also tender numbers like “Lord, I’m Discouraged” and my …
Favorite Track: “Both Crosses”
“Only by the Night,” Kings of Leon
Ironic that Kings of Leon’s weakest album of their past three was the one that finally made them superstars in the U.S. “Weakest” is a relative term, though. The first half of “Only by the Night” is outstanding and as good as the Kings have ever been; it’s the second half that falters, with one too many slow songs bogging things down. Still, these are nitpicks. “Only by the Night” was a breakthrough because it delivers a handful of outstanding tracks, namely “Closer,” “Manhattan,” “Use Somebody,” “Sex on Fire” (though, yes, it’s silly) and my …
Favorite Track: “Crawl” (also the first KOL song I heard—live and in person)
No slippage here for these spry Brits, who followed up an outstanding 2006 debut with something even better. “Konk” is almost painful it’s such a perfect pop/rock record. It’ll put a smile on your face, get your head bobbing, and your toe tapping. Start to finish, this CD is just fun, with hooks, melodies, and harmonies to spare. The Kooks are one of the more underrated bands of the decade (at least in the U.S.).
Favorite Track: “Love It All”
“Red of Tooth and Claw,” Murder by Death
I covered everything I love about this album a few weeks ago. To sum up: The dark vocals of Adam Turla and the haunting electric cello of Sarah Balliet combine to make modern cowboy songs unlike anything else I’ve heard this decade.
Favorite Track: “Fuego!” (but this changes all the time)
“Consolers of the Lonely,” The Raconteurs
The Raconteurs’ second album fulfills all the promises made in my head the first time I heard Jack White and Brendan Benson were teaming for an it’s-not-a-side-project. 2006’s “Broken Boy Soldier” was … nice, but was more a tease than a fulfillment of their potential. “Consolers of the Lonely,” on the other hand, is massive, with White and Benson channeling all their considerable power into 14 of my favorite tracks of the year. This is what Jack White sounds like with a full band at his disposal. Be afraid.
Favorite Track: “Carolina Drama” (but this changes all the time)
“Mission Control,” The Whigs
For their second album, it’s like the Whigs went through my CD collection and decided to make a best-of compilation in their own words. The Athens, Ga., trio takes a whirlwind trip through the past three decades of rock and roll, delivering one of 2008’s best records. If you don’t like a particular song, just wait about three minutes because the next one won’t sound anything like it. “Mission Control” is an astounding feat for one band to take so many sharp turns in so short a span (the album clocks in at less than 40 minutes). I don’t pretend to know what the Whigs’ actual influences are, but here’s what these ears hear: Pearl Jam, The Clash, Snow Patrol, Foo Fighters, the La’s, Social Distortion, and more.
Favorite Track: “Right Hand on My Heart”
“Sea Sew,” Lisa Hannigan
“Break Up the Concrete,” The Pretenders
“Slumdog Millionaire,” soundtrack
“Dear Science,” TV on the Radio