Monday, December 29, 2008

The Year in Music

Here are my picks...

TOP 10 ALBUMS of 2008

1. James, “Hey Ma” (Decca) – The Manchester, U.K. band reunited and crafted an album filled with memorable anthems, life affirming tunes and panoramic melodies, not to mention some politics and self-deprecating humor for good measure. Totally enthralling.

2. The Enemy UK, “We’ll Live and Die in These Towns” (Warner Bros.) – Inspired by the Clash, Who and Jam, the teenage trio’s brilliant debut featured incisive rockers about working class issues, picturesque lyrics and danceable tunes a la Franz Ferdinand. Added bonus: an ace cover of Bowie’s “Five Years.”

3. The Stills, “Oceans Will Rise” (Arts & Crafts) – Some albums make you feel good to be alive. The Montreal indie rock group’s third and strongest disc fit the bill, thanks to vivid environmental imagery, moody Peter Gabriel-esque numbers and chiming U2-styled guitars.

4. Jack’s Mannequin, “The Glass Passenger” (Sire/Warner Bros.) – Andrew McMahon battled leukemia, then rebounded with another piano-driven pop/rock gem. The band’s sonic palette was completely expanded amid emotionally-charged confessionals about romance (“Suicide Blonde”) and survival (“Swim”).

5. Kings of Leon, “Only By the Night” (RCA) – Caleb Followill found a confident voice and his kin proceeded to blow the Southern rock label out of the water. More ambitious than before, their atmospheric, ominous and sensual tunes truly mesmerized for the first time ever.

6. The Last Shadow Puppets, “The Age of the Understatement” (Domino) – Cinematic in scope, the enticing side project from Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner combines the epic grandeur of 1960s film soundtrack composers (John Barry, Ennio Morricone) with distinctly British pop smarts.

7. David Byrne & Brian Eno, “Everything That Happens Will Happen Today” (Todomundo/Opal) – The creative brain trust behind seminal Talking Heads albums and a world beat collaboration return for an ethereal, alluring batch of folk/electronic/gospel tunes aided by Roxy Music, Sex Pistols and Soft Machine alumni.

8. Teddy Thompson, “A Piece of What You Need” (Verve Forecast) – More upbeat and than its predecessors, the fourth effort from Richard & Linda’s singer/songwriter son is a charmer, using Roy Orbison and Neil Finn as touchstones on engaging smart pop and folk-tinged numbers.

9. The Cure, “4:13 Dream” (Suretone/Geffen) – From Robert Smith’s trademark mewling and creepy, psychedelic guitar work (welcome back Porl Thompson) to dark and breezy love songs, it doesn’t get much better on the veteran band’s 13th disc.

10. Beat Union, “Disconnected” (Science) – These British upstarts specialize in insanely catchy tunes with gang-style chants. The vigorous blend of 1970s punk, pub rock, ska and new wave (think early Police, English Beat, Elvis Costello) are extremely pogo-worthy.


11. Ryan Adams & the Cardinals, Cardinology (Lost Highway)
12. Vampire Weekend (XL)
13. Nada Surf, Lucky (Barsuk)
14. Keane, Perfect Symmetry (Interscope)
15. Charlatans UK, You Cross My Path (Cooking Vinyl)
16. Pigeon Detectives, Emergency (U.K. IMPORT)
17. Coldplay, Viva la Vida (Capitol)
18. Futureheads, This is Not the World (Nul)
19. Oasis, Dig Out Your Soul (Reprise)
20. My Morning Jacket, Evil Urges (ATO)

Honorable Mention: Kaiser Chiefs, Off with Their Heads (Universal); We Are Scientists, Brain Thrust Mastery (Virgin); Helio Sequence, Keep Your Eyes Ahead (Sub Pop)


1. Coldplay, "Viva La Vida"
2. R.E.M., "Supernatural Superserious"
3. Vampire Weekend, "A-Punk"
4. Keane, "Spiralling"
5. My Morning Jacket, "I'm Amazed"
6. Weezer, "Pork 'n' Beans"
7. Ryan Adams & the Cardinals, "Magic"
8. Kaiser Chiefs, "Addicted to Drugs"
9. Lucinda Williams, "Real Love"
10. Panic at the Disco, "Nine in the Afternoon"


(Left to right: Clarence Clemons, Springsteen, Tom Morello, Max Weinberg)

1. Bruce Springsteen & the E St. Band, Honda Center/Anaheim (April-show #2)-Not only was "Magic" the album they were promoting, it was what still happens onstage after decades together. As usual, show #2 was more relaxed. Watching The Boss duet with Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello on "Ghost of Tom Joad" two nights in a row was mind-blowing. The "Meeting Across the River/Jungleland/Born to Run" triptych was icing on the cake.
2. James, House of Blues Downtown Disney/Anaheim (October)-Seven guys crammed on a stage making a beautiful noise, with a LED backdrop like the nighttime sky, shadowy light and whirling dervish/shaman vocalist Tim Booth keeping the sold out crowd riveted.
3. Kings of Leon, We Are Scientists, The Stills, Nokia Theatre/L.A. (October)-All killer, no filler on this night of electrifying performances.
4. Yaz, Pacific Amphitheatre at the OC Fair/Costa Mesa (July)-How great it was to see Alison Moyet & Vince Clarke taking care of some unfinished business after only a handful of live dates in 1982-83. Moyet can still belt out those dancefloor classics.
5. Kraftwerk, Carbon Silicon, Coachella Festival, Empire Polo Grounds/Indio (April-Day#2)-I got the full audio-visual experience from the German techno pioneers (and learned some German). Earlier in the day, it was a blast to watch Mick Jones of The Clash and his new band have an equally fun time.
6. George Michael, Honda Center (June)-While the show wasn't wall to wall hits, there were enough in the set to confirm the former Wham! singer is one of the best soul men around.
7. Jack's Mannequin, House of Blues Downtown Disney (November)-Always a joyous and moving experience to watch the energetic Andrew McMahon pound the ivories.
8. Siouxsie Sioux, House of Blues Downtown Disney (Feb.)-Spellbound? Yes indeed.
9. Nada Surf, Glass House/Pomona (March)-The quiet introspection, shimmering melodies and heartfelt sentiments came across wonderfully in this packed gig.
10. Lindsey Buckingham, Grove of Anaheim (Sept.)-Fleetwood Mac's most successful guitarist strutted his virtuoso tendencies while fans thought, 'we're not worthy.'