NY Daily News: Farber’s top 10 albums for 2008, Hard Candy #3
Off the charts: Farber’s top 10 albums for 2008
BY JIM FARBER
DAILY NEWS MUSIC CRITIC
Sunday, December 28th 2008, 4:00 AM
Who says no one’s batting out great new music these days? Anybody who thinks that’s the case has spent too much time suckered by what clogs the top of the charts.
Were they to look maybe 50 or 100 positions below — or better, soar through the galaxy of the Internet — they’d find more to love than they’ve got time to listen to. I easily tallied over 75 albums I cherished from ’08. The teeth-gnashing part came in trying to hack that number down to a top 10.
The depressing part came in discovering that no hip hop or R&B albums made the grade for the first time in 20 years — which certainly says something about the state of those genres, but it says even more about the stiffness of this year’s competition. Here’s a look at the works that thrilled and intrigued me most:
1) Kings of Leon, “Only by the Night”
Lead singer Caleb Followill always had a yowl and mutter like no other. His mush-mouthed cries on the band’s first three albums, churning over the group’s neo-boogie riffs, helped reinvent Southern rock. But for their latest work, Followill cleaned up his act, singing with a diction that led him into far more feeling. Aided by the band’s catchiest music to date, Followill made a crucial leap — from being just a guy lucky enough to have a great voice to a guy who could use that gift to become a great singer.
2) Joan as Policewoman, “To Survive”
The woman born Joan Wasser stands at the vanguard of a new brand of art-song. A kindred spirit to artists like Jeff Buckley and Antony, J.A.P. creates romantic tone poems, enlivened by her supple flutter of a voice. Whether eerie or beautiful, ethereal or harsh, Joan’s music finds an eccentric way to cut to your soul.
3) Madonna, “Hard Candy”
Finally, the ex-Mrs. Ritchie stopped trying to educate the world with songs about starving children, world politics and spiritual growth and relented to make the disk fans wanted all along — one packed with pure, catchy dance-pop — the best of its kind since her debut, in fact. Facing 50, Madonna threw herself a kind of party record that doubled as the best present fans could hope for.
4) Portishead, “Third”
The first album in 11 years from one of the pioneers of so-called trip-hop is a holy terror of a thing, a brave collection of lacerating sonic textures and harrowing vocal fissures that, in the end, carries its own shocking beauty. More, Portishead’s album provides one of the few examples of a revolutionary group making even more jarring music in middle age than they did in their furious youth.
5) Ray LaMontagne, “Gossip in the Grain”
LaMontagne sings in a feathery hush of a voice over songs that mainly stay soft and slow. His third album takes a few breaks from the mold, hurrying the pace and intensifying the volume more than usual, but the disk’s power lies in its understatement and concentration. Along the way, LaMontagne also managed to reinvent soul, subverting its love of the shout with the power of the whisper.
6) She and Him, “Vol. 1”
Nothing strikes fear into listeners’ hearts like an actor who has decided to sing. So imagine our surprise when culty film star Zooey Deschanel came up with a CD that’s not just competent but a delight. True, she got crucial help from the “him” of the group (M. Ward). But it’s Deschanel’s girlish voice, and the sureness of her songs, that star. Her compositions have the polish and formality of classic pop songs from the ’60s and ’70s, with a special bent toward vintage country-rock. Think: Linda Ronstadt singing “Different Drum.” The best news? She and Ward already have planned “Vol. 2.”
7) Gary Louris, “Vagabonds”
The solo debut CD from Jayhawks mainstay Gary Louris brings his long-standing talent for country-rock melody-making to a new high. His latest songs could double as outtakes from The Dead’s two classics of the genre: “Workingman’s Dead” or “American Beauty.” Better, Louris sings them in a voice of sweet candor.
8) Various Artists, “What’s Happening in Pernambuco”
Brazil has given the world a greater variety of innovative genres than any country other than the U.S. Now you can add a new one — or a series of them, actually. They’re corralled in this compilation a survey of the “mengue” scene from the city of Recife in the northeastern state of Pernambuco. The range of artists here mingle hip hop, electronica and rock with various Brazilian styles to create a sound that’s at once folkloric and futuristic, ancient and cool.
9) Supergrass, “Diamond Hoo Ha”
The sixth album by this U.K. act has the energy and flash of a first. It distills the best instincts of the ’90s Brit-pop movement that birthed them. Call it English rock at its most classically brash.
10) Joan Osborne, “Little Wild One”
The first album to pair Osborne with the guys who produced her breakthrough hit, “One of Us,” 10 years ago does more than just return Osborne to her pop-rock peak. It offers a terse sonnet to New York, a Walt Whitmanesque mash note to the city’s noisy verve.