Monday, January 5, 2009

Best of 2008 Roundup

Old Crow Medicine Show – Tennessee Pusher – With the release of Tennessee Pusher, OCMS has transcended the classification of making a great bluegrass album and moved into the flat out great album period category. Although dominated by gritty tales of meth-labs, moon shiners and other forms of hillbilly depravity, Pusher also finds plenty of heart in tracks like “Caroline” and “The Greatest Hustler of All”. And while it is pretty safe to say that these Shenandoah Valley pickers will never touch the epic greatness of 2004’s “Wagon Wheel”, with Pusher’s “Highway Halo” they come as close as possible and that alone should be enough for any Best of list.

Lil’ Wayne – Tha Carter III – If Jay-Z is supposed to be “rap’s Grateful Dead”, Weezy must be its Ryan Adams in the fact that his massive output has often tested the limits of his talent. That being said, TCIII is the prize at the bottom of the cereal box of excessive Drought and Dedication mixtapes over the past few years. Standout tracks like “Mr. Carter” (easily one of 2008’s best), “A Milli”, and “Dr. Carter” pop with enough head nodding Martian lunacy to make even copyright lawyers bounce.

Adele – 19 – For those of us that like their heartbroken, honeyed British soul wailed through a full set of chompers, Adele’s 19 is the perfect answer to a certain unnamed craggy faced belter possessed of more swagger than sense. On her Mercury Prize nominated debut, the young chanteuse from Tottenham channels Dusty Springfield via Etta James on tracks like “Chasing Pavements” and “Hometown Glory”. 2008 also saw soulstresses Duffy and Estelle jockeying hard to brush the McNuggets and crack off of the Winehouse throne, but at years end, all hail Queen Adele.

Jamey Johnson – That Lonesome Song – After tinkering around as a songwriter for the likes of George Strait and Trace Adkins, Johnson steps out in front of the mike on a sophomore disc that moves him to the head of the line of new country artists. His tales of addiction, whores, and losing it all reach pinnacles of misery that are only about five drinks and one St. Jude’s Hospital infomercial away from Porter Wagoner level tales of woe and despair.

Squarepusher – Just a Souvenir - There are a couple of ways to look at Tom Jenkinson’s latest opus as Squarepusher. The first is to try and deconstruct the concept and backstory of time shifting drums, neon coat hangers and guitar powered kayaks. The other and I think preferable one is to say, “Words! Yay!” Even if Squarepusher’s first vocal presence in several releases does little to help piece the story together, it does offer a nice lighthearted break in the middle of the dense programming. With tracks moving more toward jazz fusion and funk and less toward math rock, Souvenir is the perfect answer key to Jenkinson’s oft time’s headache inducing equations.

Lau Nau – Nukkuu – Translated from it’s original Finnish, Nukkuu means sleep, which is about as perfect a description for the nine tracks on Lau Nau’s second album as one could imagine. That is unless they have a word to describe a cocktail of Robitussin, Ambien and peyote (searching the Hunter S. Thompson catalog reveals no such word). Nukkuu is an album filled with psychedelic folk scenery that can be both hypnotic and at times nightmarish. One tip of your favorite intoxicant and a spin of this disc with headphones can have you making snow angels while fairies nod approvingly on one turn and then participating in a unicorn orgy to the leers of gnomes in the next. Absolutely otherworldly.

Koushik – Out My Window – On first pass it would be easy to think Window is a Light in the Attic release as opposed to one from the beat heavy Stone’s Throw label. The lazy summer afternoon breeziness of track’s like “Be With” and “Coolin” would feel right at home next to any Free Design re-release. But as Window gets deeper so do the grooves until eventually you have moved from the airy goofiness of flying a kite to a session of heavy petting on a blanket with a blunt and some Love Unlimited Orchestra.

Gang Gang Dance – Saint Dymphna – Although Brian Eno and David Byrne released a proper follow up to their 1981 world beat classic My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, the results landed closer to Talking Heads range than a jungle shakedown. Not to worry, Gang Gang Dance was able to step right in and make what could be the perfect sequel to the Eno/Byrne disc. On Saint Dymphna, the Brooklyn trio employs tribal rhythms, elements of trance and patches of electronica to make an album that would sound perfectly at home in your ashram, hut, or disco.

Lykke Li – Youth Novels - Ah, Sweden. Meatballs, holding tanks for drunken skiers, Baby Bjorns, Saabs, Abba… Is there anything they can’t do? Following in the large, lush pop footprints created by Robyn and El Perro del Mar, Lykke Li’s debut album Youth Novels, was every bit as sweet as Swedish fish, but as complicated and intricate as the Scandinavian country’s tie to Nazi war profiteering. Ok, that may be a stretch but every track on this accomplished debut is a stunner including standout tracks “I’m Good, I’m Gone” and “Little Bit”.

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