So my general aversion to top ten lists made me opt-out of CultureBully’s year-end hoe-down. But after reading it, it got me in the holiday spirit so I figured I’d post one of my own. These ten items aren’t necessarily the BEST albums/songs/moments of 2008, but they’re the ones that stick out to me the most right now. Lots are local (another reason I’m wary about publishing this at the higher-profile site… don’t want the music blog ethics police to come get me), some I didn’t even like all that much, and there are a billion things I’m forgetting or just missing. Yeah, I’m not very good at top ten lists. Instead, think of this as a Ten Cool Random Music Thoughts about 2008. In no order:
Chantz’s “Good Company” EP
Chantz is a rapper I work with quite often, so feel free to not believe me when I say this, but he’s an absolute monster on the mic. At only 17, his rhymes are more mature, funny, interesting and just fun to listen to than pretty much any other local emcee. The real treat on this EP, though, is producer Cory Grindberg, another young'n with brilliant hip hop chops. The beats are fresh as hell, with some great live guitar and lots of surprises. This album has not left my rotation since I got it; it’s really one of TC hip hop’s hidden secrets. The hidden track, a vocoder-heavy remix of “Gone,” is amazing. Check Chantz out here.
Read my review of this one here. Just cool music. Fun and dancy, but also really dark.
Gnarls Barkley: “The Odd Couple”
Not a whole lot to say that hasn’t been said already. These two guys just consistently make great pop/soul music. Cee-lo is my favorite rapper in the world from way back, and I DO wish he’d rap more on these projects, but it’s hard to argue with what we do get. Danger Mouse has officially won me over. I thought “The Grey Album” was insanely overrated, but his recent work has been beautiful. The whole album is listenable too, unlike their last one—very solid from front-to-back. My old review here.
Kristoff Krane: “This Will Work For Now”
Another local, another act I’ve played a lot of shows with, so sue me for bias. But this album is on that proverbial “next level shit.” This is a guy who can flat-out out-rap every emcee I’ve ever heard, but he refuses to be simply a fast-rap super technician; instead, he writes actual songs and pushes himself to go into strange and interesting directions. Not every song worked for me, particularly the faster, more overwhelming rap tracks, but even the stuff I wasn’t feeling personally is unbelievably impressive. And when Kristoff starts singing, as he does on “Easy Way Out” and “Miracle,” it’s over. This is a unique multidimensional, multidisciplinary talent that I sincerely hope the Twin Cities realizes it has. Check out Kristoff here.
Atmosphere: “When Life Gives You Lemons…”
So half the album I can’t stand. But the other half is some transcendent shit. I think it’s their most uneven album ever, but it’s also—to me at least—their best. When Channy Moon Casselle of Roma di Luna comes in on “Puppets,” it’s chilling. The storytelling tracks are great. Slug is rapping so simply, and while hip hop purists might not be down with that, I think it’s a great move—you don’t need ten syllable rhyme schemes or 130 BPM beats to affect people, to tell a story, to actually say something. Particularly coming off the free mixtape that was kind of boring to me and the EPs which didn’t do a lot for me, it was nice to see some ambition, something in a different direction.
Raphael Saadiq: “The Way I See It”
Yeah, I don’t even have this and have only listened to it once. Hoping to scrape up funds to buy it. But from what I’ve heard, it belongs here. Great retro-soul from one of the genre’s most distinct voices. “Still Ray” is a slept-on CLASSIC song, but the rest of that album did nothing for me. This album, however, seems like a winner all-around.
Read my review of this one here. An emcee with good politics, good production and a good flow? It ain’t really that much to ask, but it’s delivered so seldomly. Invincible’s got it.
New MC’s “White Jesus” and Kanser’s “Future Retro Legacy”
While he gets a lot of attention for funny punchlines and just being a cool guy, Big Zach can hit you in an emotional place when you’re not expecting it. The solo disc is full of moments like this, and the production is out of this world. I also have to mention “Future Retro Legacy” if only for “Legacy,” an absolutely brilliant song featuring one of Zach’s most compelling verses I can remember. Check out Kanser here.
Haley Bonar: “Big Star”
In a world overflowing with folky/indie singer/songwriter types, Bonar sticks out because of her songwriting. The production and the melodies on her new album are very much on point, but it’s her lyrics that really separate her from the pack I think. A great live performer too. Check her out here.
Kanye West: “808s and Heartbreak”
If nothing else, I liked this because it was something new. Kanye has ambition, which is more that I can say for a lot of other talented acts out there content to sit in their little niches while the music world burns. There’s some crap on this album (the lyrics in particular leave something to be desired), but there are also a lot of great moments, and the overall vibe is very cool. In my opinion, you have to reward ambition. Even over some more solid albums released this year.
~I know, I’m missing a whole gang of great hip hop including CRAC Knuckles, Blu, Elzhi, Foreign Exchange, Black Milk, Guilty Simpson, Jake One and more. But it’s just hard… I feel like I already know what all of this sounds like. Maybe I’m being closed-minded. If any of the above is some MUST-HEAR shit, let me know.
~The Roots’ “Birthday Girl” was unfairly hated on. People talk about them trying to sell out with this song; if you want to sell out, you don’t write a song about being tempted by underage girls. A great mix of dark humor, social commentary and a cool, guitar-driven beat. The rest of the album was good, but kind of felt like “Game Theory” throwaways at times.
~Never got around to “One Day as a Lion.” Was that a mistake?
~Brandi Carlile oversings everything, but she does it very, very well. “The Story” was a fun song, and her cover of “Creep” is pretty great.
~The Radiohead album was good, but they have so much brilliant material now that it’s kind of hard to get excited about their new stuff. As great as it is, it’s hard to compare to “OK Computer.”
~Big Quarters’ “BQ Direct” has had some killer songs. If you don’t know, find out.
~Q-Tip’s album was fun.
~”Carter 3” was mad overrated, which is probably obvious by now.
~I wish Erykah’s album had been better. Haven’t re-listened to it at all since it came out. That “Healer” instrumental, on the other hand…
~My album and mixtape were the greatest thing ever, but it’d be inappropriate to talk about that here, right?
~And a billion other things I'm forgetting.