Music: The Best of 2008, So Far

(Editor's Note: One of the more popular features of this blog during the summer of 2007 was a short list of the best musical releases of the first six months of the year. If 2007 was a good year for music, then 2008 is already producing a bumper crop. So what follows is our now annual tradition to discuss the creme de la creme.)

by Rick Rockwell

1) Consolers of the Lonely by The Raconteurs: This is the type of release that rarely comes around these days. This record is shot full of so much adrenaline and creativity that it stands head and shoulders above a very strong crowd of other excellent material. What may endear it all the more to critics is that the public and radio programmers have been slow to come to the same realization. (This blog was an early supporter of Consolers, with two posts dedicated to the new album: a favorable review and a special note on the video for the first single "Salute Your Solution.") The crunching guitar riffs of "Salute Your Solution" are reason enough to bow to the Raconteurs on their sophomore release. However, there's more here than just one fantastic song. "Old Enough" seems like a template for alt-country or a 21st Century version of country-rock with its fiddles and harmonies and "Consoler of the Lonely" is packed with whip-smart lyrics and a punchy arrangement. This is alternative rock at its best.

2) Accelerate by R.E.M.: After more than a decade in the doldrums, R.E.M. returns to form with Accelerate. The band that bridged the eras between the new wave movement and indie rock, R.E.M. has been wandering creatively with only a smattering of hits since the late 1990s, although at one point they were one of the biggest bands in the world. Accelerate makes up for lost time. The huge single "Supernatural Superserious" returns the band to its role as FM hit makers. The rest of the album is filled with wonderful pop confections coated with Peter Buck's ringing guitar lines. Listen for "Hollow Man" (see below) and the rockin' "Living Well is the Best Revenge" if you want something beyond the current single.

3) The Slip by Nine Inch Nails: Trent Reznor, the industrial rock auteur who at one point was the only member of Nine Inch Nails, returns the band to its comfort zone with The Slip after experimenting with a concept album on Year Zero in 2007. Reznor has been especially productive lately as NIN released not just The Slip this year but also Ghosts I-IV, an experiment with instrumental ambient sounds. Perhaps that experimental release helped Reznor sharpen his vision for The Slip, the band's best material since the mid-1990s. The Slip begins with a driving "999,999/1,000,000" and rarely lets up except for the moody eclecticism of "Corona Radiata" or "Lights in the Sky," which seem like melodic echoes of Ghosts.

4) All I Intended to Be by Emmylou Harris: More than mood music, All I Intended to Be, seems an appropriate title for the first solo outing for Emmylou Harris in five years. Harris’ crystalline vocals offset haunting soundscapes throughout the album. Her mix of country, folk, and folk-rock is now often called Americana, and that also seems appropriate for music from the country’s heartland. Harris’ tender reading of Tracy Chapman’s “All That You Have Is Your Soul” is getting the most notice, along with Harris' cover of John Wesley Routh’s “Shores of White Sand.” However, the most memorable number may be Harris’ version of Mark Germino’s “Broken Man’s Lament.” This is music with spirit.

5) Attack & Release by The Black Keys: This album is front-loaded with four cuts that almost give The Raconteurs a run on the creativity meter. Almost. The single, “Strange Times,” is the perfect blend of this duo’s twin influences: blues-rock and new wave. (This blog also was an early backer of Attack & Release, with a review that noted it would ultimately be named one of the best albums of the year.) Also listen for these songs: “I Got Mine,” “Psychotic Girl” and “Lies.” If big beats, bluesy vocals and fuzz-tone riffs are what stir your soul, then this album is definitely for you.

(Promotional photo of The Raconteurs by Autumn de Wilde for XL Recordings and Warner Brothers Records. To see the video for R.E.M.'s "Hollow Man," please check below.)

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Rick Rockwell said...

For those who were disappointed not to find more videos of The Raconteurs, here are some fresh links:

”Salute Your Solution” recorded live at the Glastonbury Festival; and

“Consoler of the Lonely” recorded live on Jools Holland.


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