30. The Raconteurs
Consolers of the Lonely
[Third Man/Warner Bros.]
In which Jack White’s high-profile side project (featuring Detroit buddies Brendan Benson and the Greenhornes’ rhythm section) becomes a real band. Consolers of the Lonely is less pop-oriented than the outfit’s 2006 debut Broken Boy Soldiers, but the writing is stronger and the playing is tighter. The title track alternately recalls Rage Against the Machine and Led Zeppelin II, while other tracks evoke early Who (”Salute Your Solution”) and Dylan’s Desire-era country rock (”Old Enough,” “Top Yourself”). –Sean Highkin
29. Lil Wayne
Tha Carter III
Where to start? Nobody in 2008 defined the moment quite like Dwayne Carter, Jr., who capitalized on his dizzying 2007 mixtape output with a surprisingly great proper album. Wayne’s flow is like nobody else’s in hip-hop (the closest parallel is Gollum from Lord of the Rings), and Tha Carter III finds him too busy reinventing the game to follow anybody’s rules. He sings snippets of “Umbrella,” “Bitches Ain’t Shit,” and “Irreplaceable,” rhymes “Viagra” with “Adam Sandler,” quotes a Kanye West line only to follow it with 8 bars about why that isn’t plagarism, and pretends to be an alien, only to turn around and write a stunningly heartfelt ode to his hurricane-ravaged hometown of New Orleans. Not for nothing does Jay-Z use his guest spot in “Mr. Carter” to declare Weezy his heir. –Highkin
28. The Killers
Day & Age
After a very successful debut, the Killers hit a wall with the public, as 2006’s Sam’s Town drew criticism for its bombastic, blatantly Springsteen-aping aesthetic. Being one of rock’s most sensitive frontmen today, Brandon Flowers has no problem letting his audience know of his frustration on Day & Age. Lyrics like “tell your friends I’m losing touch” and “they’ll strategize and name you, but don’t you let them tame you” all reflect Flowers thoughts on Sam’s Town’s lukewarm reception. Thankfully, Flowers turns this into motivation and the Killers deliver their finest album to date. Musically, the album spans many different sounds, from Eurodance to Bowiesque glam. More importantly, Flowers has seemed to find the right spot for his vocals, previously the band’s Achilles heel. –Brent Koepp
The conventional wisdom states that R.E.M. post-1998 are a mere shadow of the Automatic for the People days or the IRS era, and that was pretty much true until 2008. Nobody expected R.E.M. to return to form this gloriously, with “Living Well Is The Best Revenge” displaying a fury not seen for at least a decade. Michael Stipe is at his fiercest since “The Wake Up Bomb”, and guitarist Peter Buck has rediscovered some of the fire that drove the band’s prime output. The first 3 songs make up one of the most in-your-face opening sequences we got all year. “Hollow Man” tricks you into thinking its a piano ballad, but in reality its a great melodic rock song a la “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” “Houston”, while short, gets its political message across much more effectively than the overwrought power ballad “Until the Day is Done.” Stipe references many of his band’s older lyrics in “Sing For the Submarine”, but the band goes even more retro with the one two punch finale of “Horse to Water” and “I’m Gonna DJ”. “Horse” ventures back to the band’s punky beginnings, while “DJ” calls for Stipe to be the one picking the music for the Apocalypse. With Accelerate, he’s earned that right. –Ryan Nichols
26. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!
Before we begin, let me just say that Nick Cave is currently the most badass 50 year old on the planet. Now does his music live up to it? Of course. Hot off 2006’s bluesy Grinderman side project, Cave unleashes his most stripped-down Bad Seeds record yet. While we may never know if all the songs tell the tales of the title character, Cave is at the top of his lyrical game for Lazarus. Vocally, he can go from wild and out of control (”Albert Goes West”) to calm and chilled out (”Hold on to Yourself”). I’d add that the run of “We Call Upon the Author” and “Lie Down Here (and Be My Girl)” is probably the best on the entire album. Cave is as hot as ever at this point, and we can only hope he keeps it up. –Nichols
25. Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks
Real Emotional Trash
It’s been nearly 20 years since the emergence of Pavement and 10 since their demise. Stephen Malkmus is now 42 years old and a father of two, but remains on top of his songwriting game. The addition of Quasi/Sleater-Kinney drummer Janet Weiss to the Jicks’ roster proves invaluable, as her precise yet powerful drumming is miles ahead of John Moen’s work on previous Jicks records, and her soft backing vocals provide an additional layer of charm to the tracks. Malkmus, as always, brings his blues licks and extended jams to the table, and Weiss’s contributions seemingly give the Jicks more kick and general direction, resulting in Malkmus’ strongest solo effort to date. –Evan Kaloudis
At 38, some would argue that an artist’s work begins to grow a bit thin. As many take the path of married life and parenting, the process of aging often tends to have an obvious impact on an artist’s work. Not so on Modern Guilt as Beck repurposes the nonsensical ramblings of Mellow Gold and Odelay, developing them into a greater sense of paranoia and introspection. “Chemtrails” is Beck at his most psychedelic, inspired by an obsession with the conspiracy theory that biological agents are deliberately left in the air by the government to influence population dynamics or for global dimming. Producer Danger Mouse’s influence is evident, as varying beats and loops are seen throughout the album, adding late-’60s influences to Beck’s ever-growing musical palette. Modern Guilt’s title track even gets slightly political, summing up the album’s commentary on the current social climate with one line: “I don’t know what I’ve done, but I feel afraid.” –Aidan Galea
23. Gang Gang Dance
[The Social Registry]
Gang Gang Dance can be best described as a fusion of neotribal beats and warped new-wave synths incorporated with variant dance genres, some deep funk, and the occasional London grime (see “Princes”). However, no matter how in-depth an on-paper description gets, it can’t even begin to to them justice. Saint Dymphna manages to take many different influences and incorporate them together while maintaining Gang Gang Dance’s own distinct sound. What’s changed most between the two albums, other than production values (Saint Dymphna is squeaky-clean in comparison to its reverb-drenched predecessor), is the stylistic jumps from track to track that are nearly seamless, perhaps due to Gang Gang’s gratuitous genre-bending. Saint Dymphna is Gang Gang Dance’s most accessible and danceable record to date. –Kaloudis
22. Okkervil River
The Stand Ins
Okkervil River originally planned to issue The Stand Ins and its 2007 predecessor, The Stage Names, as a double album, but don’t think for a second that the songs on The Stand Ins are the leftovers. This is a quality album in its own right that stands up easily to the band’s previous work. The sound of the album is very similar to the previous album and while there are fewer real songs on the album (out of ten tracks, three are instrumental interludes), than on The Stage Names, it flows better as an album and feels more complete. The highlight is as always Sheff’s lyrics and vocals, but the band complements those perfectly on both rockers and ballads. While The Stand Ins don’t show the kind of musical progress from its predecessor that has been the case with their earlier efforts, it continues their streak of high quality albums filled with stellar songwriting. –Johan Alm
21. The Last Shadow Puppets
The Age of the Understatement
What does Alex Turner do when he takes some time off from his daytime job as indie-garage rocker in Arctic Monkeys? He calls his friend Miles Kane (of the Rascals), producer James Ford and a 22-piece orchestra and sets out to make an album that sounds like a mix of late-60s pop á la early Scott Walker and a James Bond soundtrack or something by Ennio Morricone. Turner and Kane share vocal, guitar, and bass duties on the album, Ford handles the drums, and the orchestra is arranged by Owen Pallett (noted for his string-arrangement work for Arcade Fire). Despite having twelve songs, the album is only 35 minutes long and by keeping things short the album avoids the danger of being overlong and overindulgent – which you might expect when two garage rockers hire an orchestra. –Alm
Plugging away since 1999, The National finally hit mainstream success with the release of their 2010 album High Violet. Of course, this entailed their first world tour, but in the new documentary Mistaken For Strangers, it’s only the backdrop for the relationship between lead singer Matt Berninger and his younger brother Tom, who had no idea that these short videos he was shooting would turn into a public document of their troubled, if still loving brotherhood.
We talk with Israeli rockers Vaadat Charigim about some of their favorite records.
We talk with Yvonne Ambree and Jesse Barnes of Take Berlin about some of the records which influenced the recording of their debut EP, Lionize.
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