2008 : Top Ten Records

#10 Aimee Mann : Smilers
Topping my 2005 record of the year, The Forgotten Arm, would have been nearly impossible, but this record still grows-and-grows over time. Very few songwriters of the past 15 years or so have so steadily released such great songs. In addition to the beautiful stories, Mann's records are always full of layers and the production is almost always masterful. This isn't Bachelor, No. 2 or her 2005 masterstroke, but it's still growing with each listen.
Key Tracks: Looking For Nothing, Freeway, 31 Today

#9 The Baseball Project : Volume 1: Frozen Ropes And Dying Quails
Any record that has Scott McCaughey within the credits is sure to be a blast. Whether it's with The Minus 5, The Young Fresh Fellow or R.E.M., McCaughey always leads or finds his way into some of the most raucous and original records put out each year. Here he teams up with Steve Wynn and others for a classic compilation of tracks about the national pastime. But we're not talking about World Championships and days in the sun, but rather getting bombed with Jack McDowell and well, Ted "Fucking" Williams.
Key Tracks: Satchel Paige Said, Harvey Haddix, Past Time

#8 Centro-matic / South San Gabriel : Dual Hawks
Will Johnson has fronted Centro, SSG, and also released a few solo records at a rapid pace over the past decade or so. This year marked the first time he attempted to release two projects together, while also touring with both acts on the bill. The result doesn't match the best of Centro (Love You Just The Same) or SSG (Welcome, Convalescence), but the output has some of Johnson's finest moments and the overall package is a fine summation of each band.
Key Tracks: Twenty Four, Kept On the Sly, Senselessly

#7 Old 97's : Blame It On Gravity
Oh what a pleasant surprise. It'd been seven years since Rhett, et al released anything worth listening to, and nine since the band released a truly great record. With marriages, children and side projects abound, it wasn't certain that we'd ever see a new 97's record. And when word came of a new record, I certainly didn't expect a collection this raw and youthful.
Key Tracks: No Baby I, Color of a Lonely Heart Is Blue, My Two Feet

#6 Bonnie "Prince" Billy : Lie Down In The Light
At the age of 37, Will Oldham has been on quite the roll. Having tested out various incarnations of Palace Music and numerous other monikers, it appears as if the Bonnie "Prince" Billy tag is where he feels most at home. With five-plus great records in less than a decade, Oldham is proving to be one of the most prolific (in a good way) songwriters and singers of our time. And this record proves that there's no need for him to slow down.
Key Tracks: Easy Does It, Missing One, You Want That Picture

#5 Damien Jurado : Caught In The Trees
Coming off of his one and only disappointing release, there was some worry that Jurado may have run out of gas. Nope. This record is just as haunting, authentic and honest as Jurado's best work. There's little argument that Jurado sings mostly of sadness, despair and regret, but there's a beauty that recalls none other than Nick Drake.
Key Tracks: Go First, Everything Trying, Sheets

#4 Matthew Ryan : Matthew Ryan vs. The Silver State
Rarely does an artist put out his or her two best records 11 years apart. Ryan came on the scene in 1997 with the Springsteen meets Steve Forbert gem May Day. Since then, he's seen a new label on almost every release and shown glimmers of the original promise, but couldn't sustain that spirit for an entire record. This year marks Ryan's full return to form. MRVSS is a full-on rock n' roll record interspersed with a few ballads. But as a whole, this could very well be Ryan's best work.
Key Tracks: They Were Wrong, American Dirt, Dulce Et Decorum Est

#3 Thao : We Brave The Bee Stings And All
I listened to this record more than any other this year, which may be the only reason it doesn't top this list. Released in July, this record has been on almost constant rotation for a good six months. The first release from Virginia-native Thao Nguyen is quirky, sweet, hopeful, but most importantly, a stunning opening to a career.
Key Tracks: Yes, So On and So On, Big Kid Table, Bag of Hammers

#2 Okkervil River : The Stand Ins
Will Sheff's outfit comes in at #2 two years in a row. The follow-up to The Stage Names positions Okkervil River as one of the best bands making music right now. One moment you'll be jumping up and down, while the next track will have you gazing at the sky in wonderment. Sure, his songs can sound similar, but they're so rich that repeat listens open up more sounds and stories.
Key Tracks: Lost Coastlines, Starry Stairs, Singer Songwriter

#1 Easton Stagger Phillips : One For The Ditch
A fan of Tim Easton dating back to The Haynes Boys, his new trio almost passed by the radar. Easton's quietly amassed a stunning catalog of solo records, but this project was released with nary a word from the critics, bloggers or hell, even my friends. Recorded over three days in January far north in a cabin in Girdwood, Alaska, this is the best straight-ahead American record released in years. This is The Band, Townes Van Zandt, Ted Hawkins and Bob Dylan making music in the middle of nowhere, yet at the center of it all.
Key Tracks: Red Bandana, She Was Gone, Hell of a Life

Honorable Mentions (sort of in order):
My Morning Jacket : Evil Urges
The New Year : The New Year
Beck : Modern Guilt
Murry Hammond : I Don't Know Where I'm Going But I'm On My Way
Fleet Foxes : Fleet Foxes
Robert Forster : The Evangelist
Juana Molina : Un Dia
Big Light : Big Light
Blue Mountain : Midnight In Mississippi
Absentee : Victory Shorts
The Walkmen : You And Me


12.32am said...

love aimee mann. the jurado's growing on me. i'll make note to check out the ones i don't know. i'm surprised to see fleet foxes on the honorable mentions. nice nod to big light.

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