Pop top-10 lists, and 2008's recommended albums
In the grand tradition of top-10 list-making, we bring you rankings from each Pop & Hiss contributor. Selected highlights from each comprise the 2008 Pop & Hiss shelf. Take note that in the case of lead pop critic Ann Powers, she stretched her list to 15. And we let her because we figured more stellar albums from her is only good for you, dear reader. You also get Ann's top-20 songs list -- don't say we never do anything for you! Enjoy and please weigh in with what you think we missed.
Pop & Hiss 2008 shelf:
Erykah Badu, "New Amerykah, Pt. 1: 4th World War" (Universal Motown): This album's prescient apocalyptic groove only sounded all the more like the cracked transmissions from a glowing crystal ball after our first black president-elect inherited a crashed economy and the broken spirit of a country still at war. (MW) Photo: Ken Hively/Los Angeles Times
Eric Benet, "Love and Life" (Warner Bros.): Can we please stop talking about his ex now? Having thoroughly moved on from Halle Berry, this inventive, meticulous soul man delivers an album that's about all aspects of grown-up love, from first seduction to lifelong commitment. Delicious. (AP) Photo credit: Ken Hively/LAT
Steven Bernstein, "Diaspora Suite" (Tzadik): Best known as the slide-trumpeter for NYC party-jazz collective Sex Mob, Bernstein went to a more exploratory place for his fourth solo release, "Diaspora Suite." Slow-burning, hypnotic and loosely inspired by traditional Jewish music, Bernstein glides to center stage amid contributions from Bay Area jazz heavyweights such as Scott Amendola and Will Bernard as well as L.A.'s own guitar gadfly Nels Cline. Equally impressive? Most of it was recorded live in six hours. (CB) Photo credit: Tzadik
Boys Noize, "Oi Oi Oi" (remixed) (Last Gang Records/Turbo): When it comes to dissonant dance music, Alex Ridha, a.k.a. Boys Noize, is 2008's crossover champion. His fascinating "Oi Oi Oi" (a remixed version was released in March) rarely left my iPod this year, and the Berlin-based producer/DJ's set at Coachella was arguably the best of the fest. But consider yourself warned: This is hardly music to shake a leg to -- more like the soundtrack to robbing a bank on crystal meth. (CA) Photo credit: Last Gang Records/Turbo
Cut Copy, "In Ghost Colours" (Modular/Interscope): This Australian trio didn't come heralding any au courant sound, vibrant visual presence or much to do with the latest techno trend toward noisy Third World pileups on "In Ghost Colours." They simply made one of the smartest, catchiest and flat-out enjoyable dance-pop records in years. (AB) Photo credit: Modular/Interscope
Deadmau5, "Random Album Title" (Ultra Records/Ministry of Sound): A collection of tracks already known to serious fans of Joel Zimmerman, a.k.a. Deadmau5 (pronounced Dead Mouse). This Toronto-based musician-producer makes mesmerizing, multi-layered and haunting songs that have attracted the ears of just about every top trance and house DJ in the world. (CA) Photo credit: Ultra Records/Ministry of Sound
Fleet Foxes, "Fleet Foxes" (Sub Pop): One of the most feverishly discussed debut albums of the year was also one of the quietest. Through 11 songs, Seattle's Fleet Foxes explore the subtle art of harmony. Vocals pour out of songs such as "White Winter Hymnal," and one can get lost in the space created between the lush, finger-picked guitars and gleaming piano interludes of "Quiet Houses." The latter point is key, as the Fleet Foxes aren't just pastoral folk rock -- they're a trip.(TM) Photo credit: Kevin P. Casey/For The Times
Hayes Carll, "Trouble in Mind" (Lost Highway): This Texan is the country find of the year thanks to sharply etched sketches of people and situations that always feel pulled straight out of the honky-tonks and blue highways rather than market-researched to expand a demographic. With his laconic, off-the-cuff vocals, it's easy to underestimate just how smart his songs are. But there's no question: Hayes Carll is the real deal. (RL) Photo credit: Keith Carter/Lost Highway Records
Hercules and Love Affair (DFA): DJ Andy Butler crafts a song cycle that goes way back, not only to the sounds of early 1980s house and early 1970s disco, but all the way to the ancient world, where he finds a message of beauty and strength for lovers of today in the story of the mythic strongman and his soldier boy. Antony Hegarty, who's better known for torch songs, shines in the personage of a Greek disco god. (AP) Photo credit: Jacek Bednarczyk/European Pressphoto Agency
Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson, "Rattlin' Bones" (Sugar Hill): The Australian wife-husband team of singer-songwriters created a batch of new songs that sound lifted from antiquity, addressing eternal human travails with a power that comes only from a combination of emotional honesty and musical simplicity that traces a straight line back to Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family. (RL) Photo credit: Patrick Riviere/Getty Images
Flying Lotus, "Los Angeles" (Warp): After J. Dilla's death, hip-hop needed a new producer of fractured fairy tales, where beats are less about nodding your head than lying flat on your futon with a fine herbal supplement. The 25-year-old Northridge producer Steven Ellison, who records as Flying Lotus, seems poised to grab that brass gravity bong. "Los Angeles" blew out the narrative he explored on his "L.A." ep series into a Technicolor dream sequence that's as sensually overwhelming and as physically exhausting as its titular city. (AB) Photo credit: Warp
Ladyhawke (Modular/Interscope): No, not the movie, but the singer known to her friends as Phillipa "Pip" Brown. The New Zealand native has a soft spot for late '70s/early '80s pop songs such as Gary Numan's "Cars," but her fantastic debut record is no irony-drenched exercise in mockery. Songs like "My Delirium" are the real deal for those who have a predilection toward unabashed pop and new wave --with hooks that should make acts such as Missing Persons think about reuniting (for real this time). (CA) Photo credit: Modular/Interscope
Los Campesinos!, "We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed" (Arts & Crafts): Just a few months after releasing a recklessly catchy debut album, Britain's Los Campesinos! returned with a bleaker sophomore effort. But nothing is ever too dreary in Los Campesinos! land, where accordions, glockenspiels and violins dress up bar-band guitar riffs. Songs are loaded with neurotic quirks (example: dieting for three days to lose weight for a date), but when the computer bleeps of the title track give way to a frustrated chant ("There is no... future!"), the album's intent becomes clear: This is recession-time party music. (TM) Photo credit: Arts & Crafts
Randy Newman, "Harps and Angels" (Nonesuch): Thank God Randy Newman exists; if he didn't, we'd have to invent him. As always, Newman dispenses with the filters of civilization to plumb the depths -- and shallows -- of the human psyche with unparalleled wit and illumination, whether he's tackling the fall of the American empire, dicey family relations or the blasted inconveniences of aging. (RL) Photo credit: Gary Friedman/Los Angeles Times
No Age, "Nouns" (Sub Pop): If your L.A.-based band writes short songs, employs a Radio Shack stockroom worth of noise-making gadgets and enjoys tasty vegan snacks, you probably had a good 2008. The Mae Shi, Meho Plaza, Abe Vigoda and Health each had fizzy and spastically rad albums this year (Health had two of them), but No Age ran laps around them all by welding those scraps of noise into a dizzying mosaic. The Smell scene is always whatever a given year's crop of kids makes of it, and this year it was the dead center of forward-thinking rock. (AB) Photo credit: Kevin P. Casey/For The Times
Portishead, "Third" (Mercury): After a ridiculous 11 years since their last studio album, no one would've blinked or even complained if this trio had just recorded "Dummy 2: Electric Boogaloo" and rode the post-Coachella reunion circuit for all it was worth. Instead they released their most challenging and beguiling album yet, essentially delivering a message writ-large that those looking for another soundtrack for a dinner party/gallery opening could seek elsewhere. (CB) Photo credit: Robert Lachman/Los Angeles Times
Q-Tip, "The Renaissance," (Universal Motown): After years of jumping from label to label -- including Arista, who suppressed Q-Tip's last solo record because they didn't think it was commercial enough -- one of the most admired MCs in hip-hop returned with his second official solo outing, a casually complex, brilliantly executed work of neo-soul made for the street philosopher. It's a renaissance with redemption and humility but maybe also, if the adage about success is true, a touch of sweet revenge. (MW) Photo credit: Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times
Rhymefest, "Mark Ronson Presents Rhymefest: Man in the Mirror (The Michael Jackson Dedication Album)" (Self-released): There was plenty of hullabaloo surrounding the 25th anniversary of "Thriller" this last year. But skip the needless reissues and head straight for quasi-tribute album, courtesy of Midwest rapper Rhymefest and producer Mark Ronson. The pair reimagine classic Jackson tunes and manage to humanize the King of Pop, all while letting Rhymefest have some fun with his hero's music. Added bonus: It's free. (TM) Photo credit: Rhmyefest
Raphael Saadiq, "The Way I See It" (Columbia): He's worn every soul hat from a New Jack Swing fedora to a backpacker hip-hop skullie in his long career, but for this one the Oakland-bred studio genius fits into retro-soul garb so perfectly, you'd think he was Michael J. Fox in "Back to the Future." Year's best song in the Hurricane Katrina subgenre too. (AP) Photo credit: Lori Shepler/Los Angeles Times
Santogold (Downtown): This former A&R rep was the cool girl of the year, commanding the party with her shiny, smart mix of dub reggae, art-pop, hip-hop and whatever else she wanted to smuggle into her colorful grab bag. The first few images of her video for "L.E.S. Artistes" seems to touch down precisely into a femme-minded zeitgeist -- and yes, we're talking about that jet-black horse straight from our little girl dreams. (MW) Photo credit: Downtown
Sugarland, "Love on the Inside" (Mercury Nashville): In an ever more niche-oriented pop scene, somebody's got to make big, beautiful pop that throws its arms around the world. Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush may be country by classification, but they go beyond genre boundaries with songs that soar as much as they twang, and pierce the heart. (AP) Photo credit: Robert Lachman / Los Angeles Times
John Zorn, "The Dreamers" (Tzadik): From his past leading punk-jazz freakout combo Naked City to his mystical work with his shape-shifting Masada ensemble, there wasn't much reason to expect a record like this from Zorn. On "The Dreamers" he sounds almost mannered, in the best sense. Backed by like-minded cohorts Marc Ribot, Trevor Dunn and Jamie Saft, "The Dreamers" touches on surf, spaghetti western soundtracks and straight-forward jazz, with detours into spooky blues and skronk just to remind you whose warped world you're exploring. (CB) Photo credit: Tzadik
1. Boys Noize, "Oi Oi Oi" (remixed) (Last Gang Records/Turbo)
2. Deadmau5, "Random Album Title" (Ultra Records/Ministry of Sound)
3. Ladyhawke (Modular/Interscope)
4. Flight of the Conchords (Sub-Pop)
5. Cut Copy, "In Ghost Colours" (Modular/Interscope)
6. The Raveonettes, "Lust, Lust, Lust" (Vice)
7. Dizzee Rascal, "Maths + English" (Definitive Jux/XL)
8. Polysics, "We Ate the Machine"(Myspace Records)
9. Crystal Castles (Last Gang Records)
10. Sander Van Doorn, "Supernaturalistic" (Ultra Records)
1. Portishead, "Third" (Mercury)
2. Steven Bernstein, "Diaspora Suite" (Tzadik)
3. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, "Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!" (Anti-)
4. Nomo, "Ghost Rock" (Ubiquity)
5. Fleet Foxes, "Fleet Foxes" (Sub Pop)
6. John Zorn, "The Dreamers" (Tzadik)
7. Erykah Badu, "New Amerykah Pt. 1, 4th World War"(Universal Motown)
8. Jeff Gauthier, "House of Return" (Cryptogramophone)
9. Dodos, "Visiter" (Frenchkiss)
10. William Parker Quartet, "Petit Oiseau" (AUM Fidelity)
1. Cut Copy, "In Ghost Colors" (Modular)
2. Lil Wayne, "Tha Carter 3" (Cash Money)
3. Hercules and Love Affair (DFA)
4. Megasoid, "Tank Thong" (self-released)
5. No Age, "Nouns" (Sub Pop)
6. Gas, "Nah Und Fern" (Kompakt)
7. Gaslight Anthem, "The 59 Sound" (Side One Dummy)
8. Friendly Fires (XL)
9. Flying Lotus, "Los Angeles"/"L.A." e.p. series (Warp)
10. Gang Gang Dance, "Saint Dymphna" (Social Registry)
Randy Lewis: Overall Top 10 for 2008
1. Randy Newman, "Harps and Angels" (Nonesuch)
2. Hayes Carll, "Trouble in Mind" (Lost Highway)
3. Jackie Greene, "Give Up the Ghost" (429 Records)
4. Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson, "Rattlin' Bones" (Sugar Hill)
5. Lucinda Williams, "Little Honey" (Lost Highway)
6. Neil Young, "Sugar Mountain -- Live at Canterbury Hall 1968" (Reprise)
7. David Byrne and Brian Eno, "Everything That Happens Will Happen Today" (Todo Mundo)
8. Rodney Crowell, "Sex and Gasoline" (Yep Roc)
9. Jamey Johnson, "That Lonesome Song" (Mercury)
10. Brad Paisley, "Play" (Arista Nashville)
Randy Lewis: Country Music Top 10 for 2008
1. Hayes Carll, "Trouble in Mind" (Lost Highway)
2. Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson, "Rattlin' Bones" (Sugar Hill)
3. Lucinda Williams, "Little Honey" (Lost Highway)
4. Rodney Crowell, "Sex and Gasoline" (Yep Roc)
5. Jamey Johnson, "That Lonesome Song" (Mercury)
6. Brad Paisley, "Play" (Arista Nashville)
7. Taylor Swift, "Fearless" (Big Machine)
8. Sugarland, "Love on the Inside" (Mercury Nashville)
9. Hank Williams III, "Damn Right Rebel Proud" (Sidewalk)
10. Charlie Haden, "Rambling Boy" (Decca)
1. Kanye West, "808s and Heartbreak" (Roc-A-Fella/Island Def Jam)
2. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, "Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!" (Anti-)
3. Parts & Labor, "Receivers" (Jagjaguwar)
4. Rhymefest, "Mark Ronson Presents Rhymefest: Man in the Mirror, The Michael Jackson Dedication Album" (Self-released)
5. Portishead, "Third" (Mercury)
6. Gnarls Barkley, "The Odd Couple" (Atlantic)
7. She & Him, "Volume One" (Merge)
8. Fall Out Boy, "Folie Ã Deux" (Island)
9. Fleet Foxes, "Fleet Foxes" (Sub Pop)
10. Los Campesinos!, "We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed" (Arts & Crafts)
Ann Powers: Top 15, in no particular order
1. TV on the Radio, "Dear Science" (Interscope)
2. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, "Dig! Lazarus! Dig!" (Anti)
3. Hercules and Love Affair (DFA)
4. Labelle, "Back to Now" (Verve)
5. Martha Wainwright, "I Know You're Married But I've Got Feelings Too" (Zoe/Rounder)
6. Santogold (Downtown)
7. Raphael Saadiq, "The Way I See It" (Columbia)
8. Ashton Shepherd, "Sounds So Good" (Mercury Nashville)
9. The Knux, "Remind Me in 3 Days" (Interscope)
10. Eric Benet, "Love and Life" (Reprise)
11. Inara George with Van Dyke Parks, "An Invitation" (Everloving)
12. Sugarland, "Love on the Inside" (Mercury Nashville)
13. DeVotchKa, "A Mad and Faithful Telling" (Anti)
14. She & Him, "Volume One" (Merge)
15. The Very Best, "Esau Mwamawaya and Radioclit are the Very Best" (Radioclit)
Ann Powers: Top 20 Songs
1. Lil Wayne, "A Milli"
2. Jenny Lewis, "Acid Tongue"
3. Grace Jones, "Williams Blood (Aeroplane remix)"
4. Ne Yo, "Fade Into the Background"
5. Ting Tings, "That's Not My Name"
6. Sam Sparro, "Black and Gold"
7. Hayes Carll, "She Left Me for Jesus"
8. Robyn, "Be Mine!"
9. Spiritualized, "Death Take Your Fiddle"
10. Ray LaMontagne, "Meg White"
11. Brad Paisley, "Letter to Me"
12. Jordin Sparks and Chris Brown, "No Air"
13. Carrie Underwood, "Just a Dream"
14. Tricky, "Puppy Toy"
15. Watson Twins, "How Am I to Be"
16. Jennifer Hudson, "Pocketbook"
17. Justin Townes Earle, "South Georgia Sugar Babe"
18. Jazmine Sullivan, "Bust Your Windows"
19. Zac Brown Band, "Free"
20. Leona Lewis, "Bleeding Love"
1. Erykah Badu, "New Amerykah, Pt. 1: 4th World War" (Universal Motown)
2. TV on the Radio, "Dear Science" (DGC/Interscope)
3. No Age, "Nouns" (Sup Pop)
4. Q-Tip, "The Renaissance" (Universal Motown)
5. Portishead, "Third" (Mercury/Island)
6. Santogold (Downtown)
7. Hercules and Love Affair (DFA/EMI)
8. Gang Gang Dance, "Saint Dymphna" (Social Registry)
9. Thao Nguyen, "We Brave Bee Stings and All" (Kill Rock Stars)
10. Nick Cave, "Dig!!! Lazarus, Dig!!!" (Anti)
Related: Ann Powers on pop music in 2008