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Top Ten

The Year in Music

Top Ten 2008

The Year in News If we had to pick one word to define 2008, it would have to be "crisis." National headlines this y...

The Year in Film Movies went pop this past year, if this list is any evidence to current tastes and predilections. ...

The Year in Television The year began in a writer's strike that threatened to sentence viewers to a spring season of noth...

The Year in Music Yes, the list that follows is staggeringly bent toward indie-rock. Why? It's hard to say--it cou...

The Year in Local Music A nice mix of already heavily lauded records and sleeper gems, this year's local top 10 astounds f...

The Year in Books Publishers recently announced staff cuts. The book itself remains in the digital age's cross hairs...

The Year in Art Baltimore's art community continued to grow in activity and quality in 2008, and it's increasing sc...

The Year in Stage As this list attests, Center Stage had a banner year. From its spry production of an Edward Albee ...

The Year in DVDs 1. Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (Criterion) Even in an age where you can search up footage of an... | By Lee Gardner and Bret McCabe

The Year in Video Games 1. Fallout 3 Fallout 3 is one of the biggest--if not the biggest--games ever made. It is so loa... | By Benji Anft

Posted 12/10/2008

Yes, the list that follows is staggeringly bent toward indie-rock. Why? It's hard to say--it could just be this was a banner year for white hipster music (and Matador Records), but we're more inclined to think it was a banner year for music in general, and ballots got split something fierce in other genres (folk, hip-hop). But, hey, if this is indie-rock in 2008, good thing. At least it found its balls again. This year's list is compiled from weighted ballots from 17 regular City Paper music section contributors--yes there are 17 of us, at least--including Raven Baker, Judy Berman, Christina Bumba, Michael Byrne, Ray Cummings, Jared Fischer, Neil Ferguson, Lee Gardner, Jess Harvell, Geoffrey Himes, Marc Masters, Michaelangelo Matos, Bret McCabe, Mike McGonigal, Al Shipley, Brandon Soderberg, and Tony Ware. To view individual ballots, visit citypaper.com.

1 Erykah Badu, New Amerykah Part One (4th World War) (Universal Motown)

Wherein Dallas' favorite homegirl talks to her peoples and emerges with an indispensable blend of the personal is political is the freed mind leading the freed body. New Amerykah takes the rallying insistence of futuristic '70s funk, the intimate conversations of confessional '60s soul, the militant jolt of observational late '80s hip-hop, the sensual seduction of '90s neo-soul, the blunted joy of right-now producers, and the dream-of-consciousness flow of anytime Eno and turns out a perfect-fit patchwork jacket of hybridized black music that is positively prescient and absolutely essential. It's bigger than the government. (Bret McCabe)

2 Portishead, Third (Mercury)

'08 was a year of comebacks. My Bloody Valentine, AC/DC, "Guns N' Roses," Indiana Jones, a blue Oval Office. It was a year when the story was often two-thirds time put in and one-third what came out. Thankfully, the first Portishead album in over a decade was no Chinese Democracy. Reuniting the analogous triad of vocalist Beth Gibbons, guitarist/programmer Adrian Utley, and producer Geoff Barrow, Third is an achromatic cipher on first listen, 11 post-industrial tracks thick with gunmetal gray humidity pierced by percussive castoff and furrowed lament. Unlocked through the minor key, however, Third's code reveals what comes after the smoky poise of trip-hop: Much like Daniel Craig's steely take on James Bond, the new millennial Portishead is resilient and smoldering, paced and frayed, tautly clipped and bristling. (Tony Ware)

3 Torche, Meanderthal (Hydra Head)

A big ol' ray of Florida sunshine piercing the basement dim of the metal scene, Miami's Torche sub yearning melodies and polished vocal harmonies for the usual throat-fulla-blood gargle or frosty keen. But it's not just frontman Steve Brooks' play-nice pop interface that makes Meanderthal such an all-encompassing rush. The drum-kit cannonade and the downtuned downstrokes never let up, driving the 13 short, sharp tunes past your traguses, but not so fast that the fist-pumping/head-bobbing hooks of "Grenades," "Across the Shields," and "Fat Waves" don't snag you along the way. Talk about heavy anti-depressants. (Lee Gardner)

4 Gang Gang Dance, Saint Dymphna (Social Registry)

As if more proof were needed that this is a band that can be whatever the bloody the hell it wants to be at any given nanosecond like some odd Brooklyn-bred metamorph, it arrives with an album so deft in its shape shifting it makes anything else look unnatural. While Saint Dymphna's by now distant predecessor God's Money fucked with enough indie-electronic-"other" formulas to hold our attention this long, the new one hunts with a weapon of hopelessly alluring, tightly crafted electronic pop. "House Jam"--sublime, sensual near-diva vocals; shimmery, fuckable guitars; a beat bent startlingly toward the dance floor--is perfect; "Blue Nile" feels like everything trip-hop could have been; "Princes" is, what, grime? Infinitely listenable. (Michael Byrne)

5 Vivian Girls, Vivian Girls, (In the Red)

The Vivian Girls' sound pits reverb-soaked, minor-keyed harmonies against punk-rock textures. There are some bands they sound a lot like, but there's something wholly their own in the manner in which they approach shoegazey pop-punk. The exact way they force the '60s and '80s to collide lands them squarely in the present. On the haunting song "Where Do You Run To," they dramatically pile harmonies atop each other like a tower of playing cards. Slowly un-coiling sounds and narratives wavering between melancholia and menace, the tunes show how much these young women from Brooklyn are capable of--and that's a hell of a lot. (Mike McGonigal)

6 Fucked Up, The Chemistry of Common Life (Matador)

In some ways, the restless punks in Canada's Fucked Up still dig on hardcore convention: Frontman Pink Eyes has the girth, on-stage demeanor, and abdomen-damaging bellow of your classic NYHC tough guy. The music combines late '80s/early '90s hardcore's mosh-friendly heaviness with a strain of raunchy, riff-centric late '70s rock. (Think metal boogie as much as upchuck punk.) But from the hippie hand drums to the caustic layers of space cadet feedback, no one would mistake the overwhelming wallop of The Chemistry of Common Life for an exercise in boots-and-braces retro. And for all the anti-pit aesthetes, the band even tosses in some subtle hooks and vocal harmonies and other cops to semi-pop. (Jess Harvell)

7 Times New Viking, Rip It Off (Matador)

You won't find an immediately hummable, endlessly catchy track like 2007's "Teenagelust!" on Times New Viking's latest. Expect, instead, a slower burn that scorches through the major defeats and small disappointments of post-adolescent life. In a year that's brought bankruptcy and unemployment, defeated lyrics like, "Waiting for something more than a bad idea" and "I need more money 'cause I need more drugs," only increase their strung-out potency with every listen. It doesn't hurt that we find these insights buried in perfectly paranoid, two-minute bursts of distorted, treble-heavy pop and punk, either. And as for last year's teenage lust? According to this year's "(My Head)," it's "just a phantom," anyway. (Judy Berman)

8 the Mae Shi, Hlllyh (Moshi Moshi)

Do you feel sluggish and depressed? Are you sick of staring into the morose, navel-gazing abyss that is indie-rock in 2008? Then let us introduce you to the Mae Shi, the spazzcore antidote to all of modern life's afflictions. Yes, Hlllyh is a concept album, but don't get it twisted with the paeans to prog-rock egotism we've come to associate with such projects. The album splits the difference between the second coming and a midnight zombie flick, with new singer Ezra Buchla blurting out such commands as, "Get 'em out of those bodies!" and "Stop with the melody!" If Hlllyh doesn't get you off your lazy, hipster ass, nothing will. (JB)

9 No Age, Nouns (Sub Pop)

Based on the raw brilliance of last year's EP collection Weirdo Rippers, it seemed clear that L.A. duo No Age had even better songs in its future. But 12 better songs right away? Believe it or not, that's what Nouns delivered, in a barrage of concise, catchy bullets. From the stomping riffs of "Teen Creeps," to the caffeinated glory of "Sleeper Hold," to the wistfully frantic "Brain Burner," the album showed drummer/singer Dean Spunt and guitarist Randy Randall's pithy hybrid of noise-punk energy and twee-ish melody is no fluke, but a formula built for speed and endurance. Toss in a couple blissed-out soundscapes, and Nouns adds up to an instant classic. (Marc Masters)

10 Hercules and Love Affair, Hercules and Love Affair (DFA/Mute)

This is a roots-music album in the best, most generous sense, reaching way back while sounding utterly right-now. The secret is that H&LA mastermind Andy Butler hears disco as the big tent that it is: "Iris" could be a Yaz ballad, while "Hercules Theme" and "Athene" huff and puff and blow the house down like prime mid-'70s live-band stuff on the West End label. Even better, Butler's meticulous writing isn't limited to the music: "Blind" is as apt and touching a lyric as any disco song you can name, and is made all the more so by Antony's vocal--simultaneously hard and tender, just like the rest of the album. (Michaelangelo Matos)


Top 10 Music Ballots

[Some ballots are not numbered because the writer didn't assign a ranking to his or her picks.]

Geoffrey Himes

  1. James McMurtry, Just Us Kids (Lightning Rod)
  2. Lafayette Gilchrist, Soul Progressin' (Hyena)
  3. the Steeldrivers, The Steeldrivers (Rounder)
  4. Drive-By Truckers, Brighter Than Creation's Dark (New West)
  5. Alejandro Escovedo, Real Animal (Back Porch)
  6. Michael Franti and Spearhead, All Rebel Rockers (Anti-)
  7. The Hold Steady, Stay Positive (Vagrant)
  8. Shelby Lynne, Just a Little Lovin' (Lost Highway)
  9. the Roots, Rising Down (Def Jam)
  10. Raphael Saadiq, The Way I See It (Columbia)

Jared T. Fischer

  1. Deerhunter, Microcastle (Kranky/4AD)
  2. Times New Viking, Rip It Off (Matador)
  3. Vivian Girls, Vivian Girls (Mauled by Tigers/In the Red)
  4. High Places, High Places (Thrill Jockey)
  5. Miley Cyrus, Breakout (Hollywood)
  6. Lucinda Williams, Little Honey (Lost Highway)
  7. Thank You, Terrible Two, (Thrill Jockey)
  8. Fleet Foxes, Fleet Foxes (Sub Pop)
  9. Man Man, Rabbit Habits, (Anti-)
  10. Marnie Stern, This Is It and I Am It and You Are It and So Is That and He Is It and She Is It and It Is It and That Is That (Kill Rock Stars)

Jess Harvell

  1. Fucked Up, The Chemistry of Common Life (Matador)
  2. Portishead, Third (Mercury/Island)
  3. Erykah Badu, New Amerykah, Part 1 (4th World War) (Universal Motown)
  4. Jay Reatard, Matador Singles 08 (Matador)
  5. Torche, Meanderthal (Hydra Head)
  6. Subculture/Optimo, Sub Club: 20 Years Underground (Soma)
  7. Nachtmystium, Assassins: Black Meddle Pt. 1 (Century Media)
  8. TV on the Radio, Dear Science (DGC/Interscope)
  9. Fennesz, Black Sea (Touch)
  10. No Age, Nouns (Sub Pop)

Lee Gardner

Lil' Wayne, Tha Carter III (Cash Money)
Gang Gang Dance, Saint Dymphna (Social Registry)
El Guincho, Alegranza (XL)
Erykah Badu, New Amerykah, Part 1 (4th World War) (Universal Motown)
NOMO, Ghost Rock (Ubiquity)
Fuck Buttons, Street Horrrsing (ATP)
Beach House, Devotion (Carpark)
Harvey Milk, Life . . . the Best Game in Town (Hydra Head)
Matt Baldwin, Paths of Ignition (American Dust)
Torche, Meanderthal (Hydra Head)

Bret McCabe

  1. Erykah Badu, New Amerykah, Part 1 (4th World War) (Universal Motown)
  2. Torche, Meanderthal (Hydra Head)
  3. the Do, A Mouthful (Wagram)
  4. the Roots, Rising Down (Def Jam)
  5. Nicolay and Kay, Time:Line (Nicolay Music)
  6. J Spaceman and Matthew Shipp, SpaceShipp (Treader)
  7. Los Campesinos!, We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed (Arts & Crafts)
  8. Estelle, Shine (Atlantic)
  9. Hercules and Love Affair, Hercules and Love Affair (DFA)
  10. Vivian Girls, Vivian Girls (Mauled by Tigers/In the Red)

Christina Bumba

  1. The Cure, 4:13 Dream (Geffen)
  2. Nine Inch Nails, Ghosts I-IV (Null Corporation)
  3. Cradle of Filth, Godspeed on the Devil's Thunder (Roadrunner)
  4. Misery Index, Traitors (Relapse)
  5. Opeth, Watershed (Roadrunner)
  6. Ihsahn, Angl (Candlelight)
  7. Portishead, Third (Mercury/Island)
  8. Coldplay, Viva La Vida (Capitol)
  9. Death Cab for Cutie, Narrow Stairs (Atlantic)
  10. One Day as a Lion, One Day as a Lion (Anti-)

Michaelangelo Matos

  1. Ne-Yo, Year of the Gentleman (Def Jam)
  2. Various Artists, Poplife Presents Poplife Sucks (541)
  3. Erykah Badu, New Amerykah, Part One (4th World War) (Universal Motown)
  4. Raphael Saadiq, The Way I See It (Columbia)
  5. Hercules and Love Affair, Hercules and Love Affair (DFA)
  6. Portishead, Third (Mercury/Island)
  7. Lil' Wayne, Tha Carter III (Cash Money)
  8. Flying Lotus, Los Angeles (Warp)
  9. Fucked Up, The Chemistry of Common Life (Matador)
  10. Solange, Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams (Geffen)

Judy Berman

  1. Ponytail, Ice Cream Spiritual! (We Are Free)
  2. Times New Viking, Rip It Off (Matador)
  3. the Music Tapes, Music Tapes for Clouds and Tornadoes (Merge)
  4. the Mae Shi, HLLLYH (Moshi Moshi)
  5. Of Montreal, Skeletal Lamping (Polyvinyl)
  6. Marnie Stern, This Is It and I Am It and You Are It and So Is That and He Is It and She Is It and It Is It and That Is That (Kill Rock Stars)
  7. Deerhunter, Microcastle (Kranky/4AD)
  8. Matmos, Supreme Balloon (Matador)
  9. The Mountain Goats, Heretic Pride (4AD)
  10. Blood on the Wall, Liferz (Social Registry)

Brandon Soderberg

  1. Ocrilim, ANNWN (Hydra Head)
  2. Glen Campbell, Meet Glen Campbell (Capitol)
  3. M83, Saturdays=Youth (Mute)
  4. E-Major, Majority Rules (Under Sound)
  5. The Sea and Cake, Car Alarm (Thrill Jockey)
  6. Mount Eerie, Black Wooden Ceiling Opening (PW Elverum and Sun)
  7. ABN, It Is What It Is (Rap-A-Lot)
  8. Krallice, Krallice (Profound Lore)
  9. Lil' Wayne, Tha Carter III (Cash Money)
  10. Tim Hecker and Aidan Baker, Fantasma Parastasie (Alien8)

Marc Masters

  1. Earth, The Bees Made Honey in the Lion's Skull (Southern Lord)
  2. Rhys Chatham, Guitar Trio Is My Life! (Table of the Elements)
  3. Gang Gang Dance, Saint Dymphna (Social Registry)
  4. the Mae Shi, HLLLYH (Moshi Moshi)
  5. Robedoor, Rancor Keeper (Release the Bats)
  6. No Age, Nouns (Sub Pop)
  7. Brown Wing Overdrive, ESP Organism (Tzadik)
  8. The Dead C, Secret Earth (Ba Da Bing)
  9. Religious Knives, Resin (No Fun)
  10. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! (Anti-)

Al Shipley

  1. Erykah Badu, New Amerykah, Part One (4th World War) (Universal Motown)
  2. Young Jeezy, The Recession (Def Jam)
  3. Parts and Labor, Receivers (Jagjaguwar)
  4. Jaguar Love, Take Me to the Sea (Matador)
  5. Nine Inch Nails, The Slip (Null Corporation)
  6. Robin Thicke, Something Else (Interscope)
  7. Coldplay, Viva La Vida (Capitol)
  8. Raphael Saadiq, The Way I See It (Columbia)
  9. Evangelista, Hello, Voyager (Constellation)
  10. Lil' Wayne, Tha Carter III (Cash Money)

Tony Ware

Torche, Meanderthal (Hydra Head)
Amy Ray, Didn't It Feel Kinder (Daemon)
Hercules and Love Affair, Hercules and Love Affair (DFA)
Steinski, What Does It All Mean? 1983-2006 Retrospective (Illegal Art)
Gang Gang Dance, Saint Dymphna (Social Registry)
Lindstrv?m, Where You Go I Go Too (Smalltown Supersound)
Portishead, Third (Mercury/Island)
Of Montreal, Skeletal Lamping (Polyvinyl)
Max Tundra, Parallax Error Beheads You (Domino)
Move D and Benjamin Brunn, Songs From the Beehive (Smallville)

Mike McGonigal

  1. Sic Alps, U.S. EZ (Siltbreeze)
  2. Vivian Girls, Vivian Girls (Mauled by Tigers/In the Red)
  3. Wooden Shjips, Vol. 1 (Holy Mountain)
  4. Grouper, Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill (Type)
  5. Nodzzz, Nodzzz (What's Your Rupture?)
  6. Crystal Stilts, Alight of Night (Slumberland)
  7. Eat Skull, Sick to Death (Siltbreeze)
  8. Mingering Mike, Super Gold Greatest Hits (eMusic)
  9. Dan Melchior Und Das Menace, Christmas for the Crows (Daggerman)
  10. Famous L. Renfroe, Children (Big Legal Mess/ Fat Possum)

Raven Baker

  1. Flying Lotus, Los Angeles (Warp)
  2. Matmos, Supreme Balloon (Matador)
  3. No Age, Nouns (Sub Pop)
  4. Atlas Sound, Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel (Kranky)
  5. Times New Viking, Rip It Off (Matador)
  6. Vivian Girls, Vivian Girls (Mauled by Tigers/In the Red)

Raymond Cummings

  1. Matmos, Supreme Balloon (Matador)
  2. The Atlas Sound, Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel (Kranky)
  3. Prurient, And Still, Wanting (No Fun)
  4. Jason Crumer, Ottoman Black (Hospital Productions)
  5. Silver Jews, Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea (Drag City)
  6. Harry Pussy, You'll Never Play This Town Again (Load)
  7. Nisennenmondai, Neji/Tori (Smalltown Supersound)
  8. Burning Star Core, Challenger (Hospital Productions)
  9. Thurston Moore, Sensitive/Lethal (No Fun)
  10. Little Joy, Little Joy (Rough Trade)

Neil Ferguson

  1. Portishead, Third (Mercury/Island)
  2. Goldfrapp, Seventh Tree (Mute)
  3. Vampire Weekend, Vampire Weekend (XL)
  4. Fleet Foxes, Fleet Foxes (Sub Pop)
  5. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! (Anti-)
  6. Gnarls Barkley, The Odd Couple (Atlantic)
  7. The Last Shadow Puppets, The Age of the Understatement (Domino)
  8. Tricky, Knowle West Boy (Domino)
  9. Felice Brothers, Felice Brothers (Team Love)
  10. Hercules and Love Affair, Hercules and Love Affair (DFA)

Michael Byrne

Grouper, Dragging a Dead Dear Up a Hill (Type)
Sascha Funke, Mango (Bpitch Control)
Fucked Up, The Chemistry of Common Life (Matador)
Milton Cross, Light in the West (Digitalis Arts and Crafts Editions)
Erykah Badu, New Amerykah, Part One (4th World War) (Universal Motown)
Torche, Meanderthal (Hydra Head)
Harvey Milk, Life... the Best Game in Town (Hydra Head)
Vivian Girls, Vivian Girls (Mauled by Tigers/In the Red)
Fuck Buttons, Street Horrrsing (ATP)
Death Vessel, Nothing Is Precious Enough for Us (Sub Pop)

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The Year In Tracks (12/15/2009)
. . . just in the case the album really is dead.

The Year in News (12/9/2009)

The Year in Movies (12/9/2009)

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