Top ten albums of 2008

10. Q-Tip – The Renaissance: Nine years after his debut release Amplified, Q-Tip’s resurgence on the hip-hop scene is a welcome surprise. While many hip-hop artists pander to music executives and the general downloading public, Q-Tip follows his own muse. Full of big beats, smart samples and smooth flows, Q-Tip’s renaissance has only begun. (Universal Motown)

9. Sebastien Grainger & The Mountains – Sebastien Grainger & The Mountains: While this record didn’t quite make the big splash I’d anticipated, it was still one of this year’s best releases. At the beginning of 2008, it was rumored Grainger was moving towards an acoustic sound; so when he decided to introduce pop-rock influences, it made for a much more melodic release. Nevertheless, The Mountains are still an intense, fuzzed out, punk rock band bent on creating some magic with noise. (Outside Records)

8. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes: 2008’s most hyped band, Fleet Foxes were well worth all the coverage because their debut is a beautiful display of musicianship. Fans of The Beach Boys, Nick Drake and Leonard Cohen’s early work will love this record because Fleet Foxes have captured the same unearthly yet familiar vibe. For a band that has only been together for two years, this is an incredible debut and main songwriters Robin Pecknold and Sklyer Skjelset only have room to grow. (Sub-Pop Records)

7. Tindersticks – The Hungry Saw: Seven albums in and The Tindersticks have yet to disappoint. They continue making soft yet dark music that takes over your imagination. Stuart Staples’ deep baritone sets the tone and unravels haunting tales with cinematic flair as the band uses soft touches of percussion, sweeping strings and bits of piano. All these sweet elements add up to making The Hungry Saw a repeated listening affair. (Beggers Banquet)

6. John Legend – Evolver: This modern day soul man steps away from the piano and still manages to pull off the slick, R&B crooner shtick. Yeah, John Legend is that good. Evolver is a cool collection of slow burning love catastrophes (“Everybody Know”, “Cross the Line”) and dance floor hits (“Green Light”, “Satisfaction”), but Legend still thrives on the soulful ballads (“This Time”, “I Love, You Love”). Featuring first class collaborations with Andre 3000, Kanye West, Brandy and Estelle, this is a must for fans of R&B and soul music. (Columbia Records)

5. MGMT – Oracular Spectacular: This freaky duo from Brooklyn pull out all the stops on their debut, Oracular Spectacular. They changed their noise rock sound with the help of producer David Fridmann (Flaming Lips) and created a roller coaster ride of electro-psychedelic pop that have won over the indie rock masses. Opening for the likes of Radiohead, M.I.A. and Beck, MGMT’s next record is going to take over the charts. (Columbia Records)

4. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend: Vampire Weekend are on a lot of top ten lists with good reason. This quartet’s debut features dance-y keyboard licks and catchy guitar riffs with a bit of world pop thrown in for good measure. With some hilarious highbrow lyricism and not a single weak track, it’s going to be exciting to see where these Oxford boys go next. (XL Recordings)

3. Ours – Mercy…Dancing for the Death of an Imaginary Enemy: Jimmy Gnecco’s pet project, Ours is one of the music industry’s most undervalued stadium rock acts. Powered by Gnecco’s astonishing vocals (think of a mix between Jeff Buckley and Bono on hallucinogens), the band is always reaching for epic sonic territory. Mercy is all about taking you on that auditory journey and with subtle keyboard nuances, huge rock licks, tribal drums and Gnecco’s blood curdling screams/androgynous falsetto, they do so with ease. Unfortunately, this will be the band’s last release on a major label and it could not be a more fitting departure. (American Recordings)

2. Danny Michel – Feather, Fur and Fin: Danny Michel is Canada’s most underrated singer-songwriter and his eighth solo release is by far his strongest work to date. Michel is a musical pop chameleon – from touching folk pop (“Tell Sally”) to odd ball chamber pop (“Motorcade”) to full out pop-rock ( “I’m ‘a Love You Anyway”), Michel can make anything catchy and fun to listen to. The strongest track here is the stinging “If God’s On Your Side” in which he contends, “Well all I see is hate and greed, people fighting in the streets, and all these tears are washing me away, and intolerance and genocide, and your books says that mine’s a lie, If God’s on your side, then who’s on mine?” This is only one of the issues he addresses and I only wish more would do so with such authenticity. (Burnt Bun Music)

1. Jakob Dylan – Seeing Things: After five albums with rockers The Wallflowers, lead singer Jakob Dylan (the youngest son of Bob Dylan) returns to his acoustic roots for his first solo record, in what must have been one of the most daunting tasks of his career. Comparisons to his father are inevitable but for those who listen closely, you are more likely to hear influences from Bruce Springsteen (Nebraska-era), Johnny Cash and Neil Diamond. Cash and Diamond have a key player in common and that is producer Rick Rubin. Having helped capture the essence of those two icons, Dylan wisely hired Rubin to direct this project. Brought to the forefront is Dylan’s world-weary vocals, burdened with the evil of the outside world (“Evil is Alive and Well”, “War is Kind”) and deep introspection (“Will it Grow”, and “Valley of the Low Sun”). Greatly overlooked and under-appreciated this year by critics, Jakob Dylan’s Seeing Things is simple and sparse, hitting close to the heart. (Sony Music)

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