The Scotties: A Look Back at the Year in Music

I realize that my opening remarks don’t vary much from year to year. But it gets frustrating to hear over and over how there isn’t any great bands or albums these days.
It’s so untrue, at least from my perspective. Every era has great bands, great songs, and great albums. It’s just harder to discover these sounds as the industry continues to downsize and radio playlists continue to shrink. The mass media loves celebrity more than ever, but “real” music continues to thrive in the trenches of blogs, e-mail lists, and MySpace pages.
The proof sat in the piles and piles of discs that I considered for this year’s overview. Even after narrowing the field, I still had at least twice as many candidates as I had room to recognize them. That’s why my usual rambling narrative is cut down. Way, way down, but the less room I take the more space there is for great music.
It’s probably no surprise to anybody that knows me, however, that the official soundtrack for the entire year was Replacements leader Paul Westerberg, both solo and in his former band. It couldn’t be helped, though, as the reissues of the entire ‘mats catalog combined with multiple albums worth of solo material made this the most prolific year of his life. The bonus tracks on the reissues alone add up to three full discs of previously unheard material. No wonder my Last.Fm statistics indicate that the Replacements and Westerberg are the two most played artists of the year.
Enough blather. Let’s move on to the highlights of 2008:

Disc 1 (The Best Albums of 2008: #1 – 20)

1. Paul Westerberg – 49:00. The former Replacements leader cleaned out his closets this year, releasing a number of singles and EP’s. The highlight was this 49-minute, $.49 download that was a collage of full and fragmented songs that led the listener through a variety of emotions. Exhilarating and frustrating at the same time, 49:00 was quite possibly the album of his career.
2. The Hold Steady – Stay Positive. America’s greatest bar band just keeps getting better and better.
3. Nick Cave – Dig, Lazarus Dig!!! The Grinderman project clearly has inspired the British legend to keep the guitars cranked to 11.
4. Beck – Modern Guilt. Of the seemingly dozens of projects associated with acclaimed producer Danger Mouse, Beck’s latest was easily the most natural collaboration.
5. R.E.M. – Accelerate. After almost a decade of mainly uninspired releases, Peter Buck is finally allowed to crank up the amps. Quite possibly their best albums since Automatic For the People.
6. Ryan Adams & the Cardinals – Cardinology. After an uncharacteristic wait (for him, at least) of almost 18 months, Adams unleashes his most coherent albums since 2001’s Gold.
7. Alejandro Escovedo – Real Animal. A concept album of sorts that sees Escovedo looking back at his historic career dating back to the 70’s with the Nuns to his more recent experiments with an electric string quartet. Famed Bowie/T. Rex producer Tony Visconti was an inspired choice as producer.
8. Conor Oberst – Conor Oberst. For his first “official” solo album in over a decade, Oberst rounded up a bunch of friends and camped out in Mexico to record this playful collection of sing-along folk-rock.
9. The Raconteurs – Consolers of the Lonely. This band is clearly no longer a side project for White Stripes leader Jack White, as they sound like they’ve been bashing away in bars for years.
10. Sigur Ros - Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust. Iceland’s greatest band score with their most accessible album to date.
11. Deerhunter – Microcastle. I never thought I’d hear the term “ambient punk”, but that best describes this outrageous Atlanta band. Recorded in just a week, this double disc could someday be viewed as this generation’s Daydream Nation.
12. Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago. Justin Vernon lost his band and girlfriend at around the same time. To contemplate his life, he spent an entire winter holed up in his father’s Wisconsin cabin. The result is an album that lays bare all of his personal and professional demons.
13. Lucinda Williams – Little Honey. Lucinda’s best work usually is the result of bad relationships. In this case, though, she claims to be happier than ever and it shows in her most rocking release ever.
14. Foxboro Hot Tubs – Stop Drop and Roll!!! How do you follow up a multi-platinum Grammy Award winning album? If you’re Green Day, you quietly put out a power pop album under a pseudonym. The results are the best Kinks album in decades.
15. My Morning Jacket – Evil Urges. While the nods to Prince and 80’s pop are considered controversial moves by their hardcore fans, the majority of Evil Urges proves that MMJ remain one of Americana’s biggest secrets.
16. Jenny Lewis – Acid Tongue. The second album by the Rilo Kiley chanteuse is a showcase for a beautiful voice that can jump from genre to genre without losing a bit of believability.
17. Grand Archives – The Grand Archives. Mat Brooke leaves Band of Horses and almost immediately releases a folk/pop album that stand proudly next to anything released by his former band.
18. The Cure – 4:15 Dream. Stripped down to a quartet, Robert Smith’s veteran band puts out their punchiest album in over a decade.
19. Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks – Real Emotional Trash. While all of the releases by the former Pavement frontman are worthy of purchase, Real Emotional Trash marks the moment where Malkmus comes into his own as a solo artist.
20. British Sea Power – Do You Like Rock Music? Raw and spacious, BSP’s third album is not only their most accessible but it’s also their best yet to date.
21. Ike Reilly – Poison the Hit Parade. America’s modern-day version of Joe Strummer deserves to be discovered by the masses.
22. MGMT – Oracular Spectacular. Psychedelic, indie-pop electronica? Well, yeah, and it’s fantastic.
23. The Breeders – Mountain Battles. The Deal sisters return after over a decade with their most introspective and emotional album to date.
24. Pretenders – Break Up Concrete. Who would have predicted that Chrissie Hynde would put out such a fantastic album almost 20 years after their last noteworthy release?
25. Ben Weaver – The Ax in the Oak. Just over a year ago, I saw the Minnesota singer/songwriter perform to a dozen people at Black Sheep Coffee. Now he’s on an acclaimed label (Bloodshot) with an album that’s getting rave reviews even in Europe.
26. Ra Ra Riot – The Rhumb Line. Vampire Weekend may have received all the accolades, but this is the band that truly modernizes the influence of the Talking Heads.
27. Centro-matic/South San Gabriel – Dual Hawks. Two bands, two discs, but one lineup. Centro-Matic is the garage-rock side of leader Will Johnson, with South San Gabriel representing his more introspective side.
28. Joseph Arthur & the Lonely Astronauts – Temporary People. 2008 was a busy year for Arthur, as this full-length was accompanied by four rather long EP’s. All of these releases were certainly worthy of purchase, but especially this Stones-y guitar rock.
29. The Gaslight Anthem – The ’59 Sound. Punk and classic rock, along with a love for Johnny Cash and Bruce Springsteen, mesh together perfectly in this heart-felt collection of heartfelt stories.
30. Giant Sand – proVISIONS. Howe Gelb’s vision of Americana is achingly cinematic – so much so that even with the presence of Danish musicians and guest stars such as Neko Case and Isobel Campbell one can’t help but envision the dusty Arizona desert where Gelb resides.
31. The Kills – Midnight Boom. Electronica-inspired White Stripes-ish grit at its best.
32. The Night Marchers – See You in Magic. John Reis’ fourth full-on riff rock band (after Rocket From the Crypt, Hot Snakes, and The Sultans) combines the best elements of his previous bands with a newly found, almost nostalgic, love of power pop.
33. Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan – Sunday at Devil Dirt. The surprise of last year was the first collaboration between the former member of Belle and Sebastian and the leader of The Screaming Trees. Their second album may not equal the highs of that album, but it’s certainly much more varied and darker.
34. Drive By Truckers – Brighter Than Creation’s Dark. Another year, another Southern gothic masterpiece.
35. Kings of Leon – Only By the Night. Britain’s favorite American band aims for the American charts…and scores.
36. Elvis Costello and the Imposters – Momofuku. Costello made headlines last winter by announcing his retirement from recording. Inspired by his participation on Jenny Lewis’ album, he reconsidered and recorded this primarily rocking album in just a few days.
37. The Last Shadow Puppets – The Age of the Understatement. Acclaimed 60’s orchestra-poppers the Walker Brothers are the obvious inspiration on this collaboration between Arctic Monkeys leader Alex Turner and The Rascal’s leader Miles Kane.
38. Old 97’s – Blame It On Gravity. Their first album in over four years takes their usual mix of alt-country, Big Star, and the Replacements and adds more than the usual grit and grime.
39. Jon McKiel – The Nature of Things. Sure, McKiel sounds a lot like Ryan Adams, but instead of Gram Parsons and the Dead as his musical inspirations he leans more toward punchy indie-rock.
40. Death Cab For Cutie – Narrow Stairs. Dark, epic-length major-label indie rock.

Best Outtakes On Replacements’ Reissues

1. Can’t Hardly Wait
2. Nowhere Is My Home
3. Kiss Me On the Bus
4. Talent Show
5. You’re Getting Married

Best Reissues (Other Than the Replacements)

1. Whiskeytown - Strangers Almanac (Deluxe Edition). Whiskeytown’s greatest album gets the deluxe treatment with a total of 26 extra demos, outtakes, and radio sessions.
2. Pavement - Brighten the Corners (Nicene Creedence Edition). The Pavement reissue series has been a collection of treasures for their fans. Brighten the Corners is possibly their most underrated album, and there’s no drop-off in quality in the extras.
3. Beck - Odelay (Deluxe Edition). Ok, you get the drill. Deluxe Editions include tons of demos and radio sessions. This one is no exception.
4. U2 – Boy, October and War Deluxe Editions. Same here.
5. Mudhoney – Superfuzz Bigmuff. Even landmark grunge albums were given the expanded remaster treatment this year.
6. Air – Moon Safari.
7. R.E.M. – Murmur (Deluxe Edition). The live recording showcased on the second disc is well worth repurchasing this landmark album.
8. Lemonheads – It’s a Shame About Ray (Collector’s Edition).
9. Van Morrison Reissues. Van the Man’s catalog has been due for remastering for years. This year saw the first two sets, with almost a dozen albums finally cleaned up. The extras are a little skimpy, but the increased fidelity makes them worthy for re-purchase.
10. Nick Lowe – Jesus of Cool. The first Nick Lowe album, and arguably the best.

Best Live Albums

1. Rolling Stones – Shine a Light. The Stones have released more live albums than most band’s entire catalogs, but few of them since Love You Live have been worth a damn. The soundtrack to their Scorsese movie, though, is a definite exception. It’s so good that even Christina Aguilera can’t ruin it.
2. Lou Reed – Berlin: Live at St. Anne’s Warehouse. Almost 30 years after Berlin was released (and quickly died), Reed is convinced to resuscitate his most overlooked album for a concert film. Beautifully filmed…and performed.
3. Cowboy Junkies – Trinity Revisited. Twenty years after the recording of their debut album, the Cowboy Junkies return with a few friends (Ryan Adams, Vic Chesnutt, etc.).
4. Rocket From the Crypt – RIP. Rock and roll as it’s meant to be played – loud and fast.
5. Willie Nile – Live From the Streets of New York.

Best Covers On Replacements’ Reissues

1. Heartbeat (It’s a Love Beat)
2. Route 66
3. Gudbuy T’Jane
4. 20th Century Boy
5. Hey, Good Lookin’

Best Covers

1. Paul Westerberg, “AM Radio Nightmare”. The climax to “49:00” is this recreation of multiple radio stations fading in and out. Clips of covers of the Beatles, Stones, Hank Williams, Elton John, and a few others are heard before climaxing with an amazingly straight version of the Partridge Family’s “I Think I Love You”.
2. Cat Power, “I Believe In You”. The best Dylan cover since Jason and the Scorcher’s version of “Absolutely Sweet Marie”.
3. Lucinda Williams, “It’s a Long Way to the Top”. Lucinda covering AD/DC? Yep.
4. Jesse Malin, “Sway”. The Stones done semi-electronically…and somehow it works.
5. Glen Campbell, “Sadly, Beautiful”. Hey, it’s a Replacements cover.

Best Covers Albums

1. Allison Moorer – Mockingbird.
2. Jesse Malin – On Your Sleeve.
3. Shelby Lynne – Just a Little Lovin’
4. Scarlett Johansson – Anywhere I Lay My Head.
5. Smithereens – B-Sides the Beatles

Best Box Sets

1. The Pogues – The Pogues Box Set. Five discs of previously unreleased material from their entire career. Fantastic stuff.
2. The Jesus and Mary Chain – The Power of Negative Thinking. Who knew the Jesus and Mary Chain had four discs of incredible music hiding in the vaults?
3. Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison (Legacy Edition). Both legendary shows in their entirety (along with opening acts), and a DVD documentary.
4. Robyn Hitchcock & the Egyptians – Luminous Groove. A handful of mid-80’s Hitchcock albums, along with two discs of unreleased tracks.
5. Cheap Trick – Budokan! Three discs of Budokan recordings, and a full show on DVD to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the album that made them stars.

Best “From the Vaults” Release

1. Bob Dylan – Tell Tale Signs. Outtakes and other rarities from the last 20 years that at times even improve on the official versions. More proof that Dylan is almost as vital today as he was in his so-called heyday.
2. The Clash – Live at Shea Stadium. The only band that matters opening for the Who’s (first) final tour.
3. Neil Young – Sugar Mountain: Live at Canterbury House 1968. Recorded just days before the release of his first solo album, Sugar Mountain is an engaging recording that finds Neil at his most talkative.
4. Belle and Sebastian – The BBC Sessions.
5. David Bowie – Live Santa Monica ’72.

Best EP
1. Gary Louris – Acoustic Vagabonds
2. The National – The Virginia EP
3. The Decemberists – Always the Bridesmaid: A Singles Series.

Best Compilations
1. Eels – Meet the Eels and Useless Trinkets
2. The Smiths – The Sound of the Smiths
3. Camper Van Beethoven – Popular Songs of Great and Enduring Strength and Beauty.
4. Golden Smog – The Best of Golden Smog.
5. Morrissey – Greatest Hits.

Best Concert – Radiohead in Noblesville, IN, 8/3/08. Paulisded Weekend II, also featuring Gaz and the Jandreas, were highlighted by this amazing show.


Anonymous said…
As stated in a previous 'post a spaz rant comment', I was inspired (by FM radio no less) to order the first big album by 'Danger Danger'. Geez the whole album is great. The songs 'Live It Up' and 'Saturday Night' are great, but really the whole album is strong. I know it's not socially correct to like '80's hair bands, but I really believe this is the style of music people miss the most. And Scott listens to old music too, so why can't I. Think I'll be ordering more of their albums, along with Bullet Boys too. I know I should be ashamed, but it's addicting.

Anonymous said…
" gets frustrating to hear over and over how there isn’t any great bands or albums these days."


That's kind of a convoluted observation when assessing the broader music industry. It’s no controversy that the country western industry has been going through a music renaissance for the last 10 years. Sales in country albums and concerts is through the roof. Pop (Popular) music and Hip Hop have also enjoyed great success. It’s the rock industry that lost its identity - and I’m sorry Scott, but Beck, REM, The Replacements and Radiohead have questionable fan followings and even “Rock” status.
I pooled opinions from a wide variety of people that I know, and the list of names for your favorite “rock bands” weren’t the names other people came up with as their choices. Believe me, I have my fair share of favorite cult bands that I like, but I don’t look into a crystal ball and see Beck and REM as the future of music, and I’m not sure they defined any generation. (Although I did get into an interesting debate today about the impact of Nirvana.)
I did take notice last night of Ozzy’s album interview regarding his new album “Black Rain”. I think if someone can maintain record outdoor Ozfest concerts across the globe each year, perhaps his hard rock longevity speaks volumes in a rock industry that’s lost it’s way. And his new album is great.

"It’s just harder to discover these sounds as the industry continues to downsize and radio playlists continue to shrink."

The monopoly given to the big FM parent companies killed rock music. So much good music never made it to consumer ears because of the choke-hold created by an FM radio industry that’s only interested in selling commercials for max profit. Write to Obama and demand the breakup of the FM monopolies ASAP. The Democratic majority in Congress and soon-to-be Democrat White House should be on board - provided people send in letters and emails demanding the monopoly to be stopped. You have to take action to get action, just like you have to attend good concerts to get more good concerts.
Scott said…
Kurt, please point out exactly where I stated that any of the artists I noted were destined to be the next Beatles/Stones/Zep/Nirvana/Danger Danger? And even if I did, I certainly wouldn't point out old artists such as Beck (15 years since he emerged) or REM (25 years). This was MY list of albums that moved me this past year - nothing more or less. Big deal if you our your hayseed friends have never heard of them.
Anonymous said…
"Big deal if you our your hayseed friends have never heard of them."

They weren't my hayseed friends, just random hayseeds who were willing to share their hillbilly opinions. I thought maybe you were attempting to link some concepts together here as a blog thesis. Such as: if people listened to your favorite bands they would be more artistically enlightened, and large concert arenas could be filled with these overlooked bands. I didn’t realize you were giving a likes and dislikes list, short of here’s my favor color too.

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