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Ranking the year’s top rock releases

James DuBray | Sunday, January 18, 2009

A few opening remarks. First, this is only a ranking of rock albums. Thus, for example, Lil Wayne’s very good rap output is not being considered.

Second, only studio LPs are eligible. Thus, Colin Meloy’s live solo album and the next installment in Dylan’s Bootleg Series are not being considered.

Third, only records originally released in 2008 are being considered. Justin Vernon’s solo album under the moniker Bon Iver and Radiohead’s free giveaway are out.

1. My Morning Jacket: Evil Urges

Jim James’ love of funk and soul shone through in this divisive album. Already acknowledged as one the country’s best live acts, “Evil Urges” put My Morning Jacket in good company.

Who’s the best American rock band – Wilco or My Morning Jacket? It doesn’t matter; just be thankful we have both.

2. Fleet Foxes: Fleet Foxes

The debut from the bearded early 20-year-old nouveau hippies is a stunning one. An album both haunting and gorgeous, “Fleet Foxes” displays a wide knowledge of rock history. Never has appropriating from your parents’ stored-away boxes been so original and worthwhile.

3. MGMT: Oracular Spectacular

“Shock me like an electric eel. Turn me on with your electric feel.”

4. Drive By Truckers: Brighter Than Creation’s Dark

Nineteen songs, and yet you still want more when it ends.

With this tour of alt-country stylings, Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley more than make up for Jason Isbell’s absence. Credit Hood with one of the better lines of the year: “I wish everyday was Saturday morning/ Two daughters and a wife/ Two daughters and a beautiful life.”

5. The Hold Steady: Stay Positive

Much like last year’s best album, “The Boxer,” this album gets better with every listen. Craig Finn’s lyrics are as disturbing as they are fun.

Posing as a twenty-first century beat, the band roars through eleven songs chock-full of stories about barrooms scandals and rich girl criminals. The three bonus tracks display that Finn has more hits in his catalogue than most musicians can conjure up in a career.

The toast of Saint Joe Strummer? Yes, actually.

6. Cat Power: Jukebox

Chan Marshall’s voice seems to getting more beautiful with age. Woozing through covers, the best song of the bunch is hers, the “Song To Bobby.”

He’s her Guthrie, yet she’s still not Woody’s Dylan.

7. Mike Doughty: Golden Delicious

The former head of Soul Coughing delivers a listenable album of fun pop rock. While the lyrics can be lacking at times, the album’s melodies rival MGMT’s for the best of ’08.

Maybe local bars will take notice and add a couple tunes to their rotation of overused past hits.

8. Jakob Dylan: Seeing Things

Making a sparse acoustic album appeared to be a gigantic undertaking for this blue eyed father from California.

Yet, Dylan quietly delivered one of the gems of the year. Perfect for Sunday mornings, Rick Rubin helped craft this record dealing with beauty and evil. Dylan shows that the space between the two may be much smaller than we think.

9. Sun Kil Moon: April

Another great album from Mark Kozelek. What else is new?

10. Blitzen Trapper: Furr

A grower that displays how much the Pacific Northwest has changed. No longer producing Nirvana wannabes, melodic folk seems to be the drink of choice. I’ll take another, please.

Honorable Mention:

Counting Crows, “Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings,” R.E.M., “Accelerate,” The Raconteurs, “Consolers of the Lonely,” and Ryan Adams, “Cardinology.”


British Sea Power, “Do You Like Rock Music”

Somewhat annoying, overrated albums:

Vampire Weekend, “Vampire Weekend” and The Gaslight Anthem, “The ’59 Sound.”

Year’s worst album by a band that wishes it was U2:

Coldplay, “Viva La Vida.”