The City Paper critics pick the best albums of the year 

The Greatest Latest

At the end of every year, music journalists and critics across the country love to make a big deal out of their own personal tastes by posting various "best of" lists. While there's often a rhyme and a reason to things, many of these lists stack up according to shaky criteria. Should a critic's "best of" list of albums reflect the top-charting albums of the year? Or the best-selling/most popular? Should it be a smug list of underground discs assembled to "out-obscure" the next critic? Who cares, really?

This year, we asked our small gang of in-house and freelance music writers to come up with 10 albums — and they could be new studio or live collections, box sets, re-issues, or EPs — that stuck in their heads and ears, 10 collections that received repeated play in the car, on the home stereo, on the iPod, etc. The following lists contain some surprises — and a few albums that earned multiple listings. —T. Ballard Lesemann

Chris Haire's 2008 Rock Rundown

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Black Mountain In the Future (Jagjaguwar)
If Roger Waters had been a member of Black Sabbath, chances are this is exactly the kind of record the Pink Floyd head cosmonaut and the fathers of metal would have made. In the Future is chock full of heavy riffs, interstellar Moogs, and mind-altering epics. Highlights include the thick-licked, space-groove "Wucan," the on-an-ether-binge high of "Angels," and the eight-minute sonic slaughter of war pigs past and present, "Tyrants." As a whole, In the Future proves that true heaviness ain't about lightning fast riffing and cookie monster vocals — it's about soul. The deeper, the darker, and the more drugged out the better.

The Last Shadow PuppetsThe Age of the Understatement (Domino)
The snot-nosed leader of the Arctic Monkeys embarks on an unexpected and totally groovy excursion into '60s spy rock.

The Black KeysAttack & Release (Nonesuch)
The Akron, Ohio, guitar-and-drums duo pairs up with producer du jour Danger Mouse and delivers their best album yet, packed with killer blues licks and lush touches.

Cary Ann Hearst & Michael TrentShovels & Rope (independent)
Charleston's own Hearst and Trent create a goth-country masterpiece, just right for vampires who wear wifebeaters and down PBR.

Blitzen TrapperFurr (Sub Pop)
This eccentric disc from Portland's Blitzen Trapper is equal parts down-home, back-porch Americana and an homage to early Bowie and Wings.

Kings of LeonOnly by the Night (RCA)
The Followill clan returns with a slowed down and sexy disc that's far removed from their original "Southern Strokes" sound.

Scars on BroadwayScars on Broadway (Interscope)
Yeah, this offering from System of a Down guitarist Daron Malakian isn't as good as his previous band's efforts, but you'll be hard pressed to find a more inventive album this year.

Guns N' RosesChinese Democracy (Geffen)
It's no Appetite for Destruction, but what is? Axl Rose scores with a bombastic and self-indulgent epic of Bat Out of Hell proportions.

The Explorers ClubFreedom Wind (Dead Oceans)
Who needs to listen to Pet Sounds when you've got Freedom Wind? The best album the Beach Boys never made.

The HeavyGreat Vengeance and Furious Fire (Counter)
The Heavy drop a disc packed with some mighty fine funk and R&B, the way that only a largely white Brit band can — without any racial hangups.

Chris Haire is City Paper's managing editor and a regular music contributor. He prefers ale to lager and likes really trashy TV shows.

T. Ballard Lesemann's 2008 Pozi-Vibe List o' Albums and One-Word Summations

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Al GreenLay It Down (Blue Note)
The funky reverend's smooth new collection maintains the classic and tight arrangements of his best work — from the 1970s and in recent years — but dives deep into the soul with a slightly more modern style, thanks in large part to production work by ?uestlove Thompson (from The Roots). Lay It Down really gets down with an impressive guest list of R&B artists. Green's breathy falsetto and howls are as strong as ever. This one's a go-to album that dissolves the distractions of the day.

Stanton MooreEmphasis (On Parenthesis) (Telarc)

"Syncopated"

The FleshtonesTake A Good Look (Yep Roc)

"Ravin'"

The Hold SteadyStay Positive (Vagrant)

"Dense"

Matt KeatingQuixotic (Megaforce)

"Poised"

Mad Tea PartyFound a Reason (Nine Mile)

"Jaunty"

Bob MouldDistrict Line (Anti-)

"Exhortation""

The FallImperial Wax Solvent (Import)

"Growling"

Elf PowerIn a Cave (Ryko)

"Sauntering"

Various ArtistsBoots, Buckles & Spurs: 50 Songs Celebrate 50 Years of Cowboy Tradition (Sony/Legacy)

"Pastoral"

T. Ballard Lesemann is City Paper's music editor. Plaid shirts, black coffee, and pale ale are his "thing."

Stratton Lawrence's List of the Best of 2008

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Hayes CarllDrunken Poet's Dream (Lost Highway)
Head-against-a-board Sunday mornings. Waking up alone when you went out together. That's the stuff Texas songwriting is made of. From the title track to "Bad Liver and a Broken Heart," Carll might be the Lone Star state's most honest voice since Townes himself. "She Left Me for Jesus," is a rolling tongue-in-cheek honky-tonker, and "Wild as a Turkey" is as true and colorful a confession as any ever told. Carll's got the lyrical wit of Guy Clark and the rock of Robert Earl Keen. As perfect as a tall tumbler of single malt served by a leggy Houston blond.

YarnEmpty Pockets (independent)
You'd never guess this laid-back pickin' and high harmony ever came out of New York City.

STS9Peaceblaster (1320)
The electro-rockers have long controlled energy from stage, and they're getting close to perfect in studio.

Chatham County LineIV (Yep Roc)
North Carolina's gather-'round-the-mic quartet defines its sound on this release. Beautiful and waltzy.

Sol Driven TrainLighthouse (independent)
A soaring set of both haunting and smile-inducing songs good enough to take the Charleston boys national.

LotusHammerstrike (Sci-Fidelity/Mri)
Shifting from electronica to indie could pay off for Lotus — tracks like "Behind Midwest Storefronts" are downright epic.

Mac LeaphartLine, Rope, Etc... (independent)
Charleston's own Hayes Carll. "Lord, have mercy on a man whose woman loves cocaine." Amen, brother!

The New MastersoundsPlug and Play (One Note)
How do you sound like Galactic, but even tighter? These guys from Leeds show that anything is possible.

Girl TalkFeed the Animals (Illegal Art)
Put it on at your post-last-call house party and watch what happens.

The Hold SteadyStay Positive (Vagrant)
White boy rock 'n' roll is alive and kicking.

Stratton Lawrence is City Paper's staff writer and a regular music section contributor. He can play all six strings at once (usually in tune).

Jon Santiago's 2008 iPod Regular Rotation Playlist

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Ruby JamesDesert Rose (independent)
We first met Ruby James after a triumphant CD release party in Los Angeles. We weren't the only ones impressed by her gutsy, expressive voice and the solid tracks penned with songwriting partner Rene Reyes. James is a fresh talent who sounds like she's been around. She certainly has the chops to stay around.

PretendersBreak Up the Concrete (Shangri-La)

Lucinda WilliamsLittle Honey (Lost Highway)

The Belleville OutfitWanderin' (independent)

YarnEmpty Pockets (independent)

Randall BramblettNow It's Tomorrow (New West)

Hayes CarllTrouble in Mind (Lost Highway)

Mad Tea PartyFound A Reason (Nine Mile)

Donavan FrankenreiterPass it Around (Lost Highway)

My Morning JacketEvil Urges (ATO/Red)

Jon Santiago is a City Paper graphic designer and a regular music contributor. He remembers the Plimsouls.

John Edward Royall's Stunning Stack '08

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The Hold SteadyStay Positive (Vagrant)
America's favorite hyper-literate bar-rock band has done what many thought impossible: it made Stay Positive every bit as good an album as 2006's stunning Boys and Girls in America. The John Cassavetes name-checking album closer "Slapped Actress" is the best song in the band's catalog.

David Byrne & Brian EnoEverything That Happens Will Happen Today (Todo Mundo)

Bon IverFor Emma, Forever Ago (Jagjaguwar)

Sun Kil MoonApril (Caldo Verde)

Girl TalkFeed the Animals (Illegal Art)

NomoGhost Rock (Ubiquity)

The Sea & CakeCar Alarm (Thrill Jockey)

Flying LotusLos Angeles (Warp)

DeerhunterMicrocastle (Kranky)

Sigur RósMed Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust (XL)

John Edward Royall is a City Paper graphic designer and a regular music contributor, known best for his sharp eyewear and haircuts.

For a full list of Critics' Picks, visit our music blog at music.ccpblogs.com.


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