It's never an easy task to settle on just five recordings over the course of a dozen months, and this year was no exception. But if I had to sift it down to just five, and assign them numbers ranked on their importance, I suppose I couldn't do worse than these top albums of 2008:
1. The Gaslight Anthem—The '59 Sound
The last thing I expected in a year that brought such great highlights as the wounded rural folk of Bon Iver, or TV on the Radio's bold strokes of evolved rock, is to heap praise upon a pop-punk band. Yet here we are, ready to anoint the Gaslight Anthem's visionary The '59 Sound as a record that shatters the modest ceiling of their tired genre, and ranks as the best of 2008. This group of Springsteen-obsessed (never a bad thing) New Jersey toughs pull from the same post-teenage wasteland—drugs, boredom, and grand gestures of romance—that the Hold Steady have been relying on for years now, but they do it in a manner entirely their own. The '59 Sound is proof that every moment in life—no matter how mundane—is worth living.
It's impossible to describe Au given the limited space here, but whatever Luke Wyland has been doing to the poor genre of pop music is downright revolutionary. On Verbs, Wyland (the lone voice of Au, when he's not joined by a wall of backing vocals, courtesy of his closest friends) disassembles and rebuilds the pop framework before creating something akin to a friendlier version of Frankenstein's monster. There is no accurate reference point to contextualize what Au did with Verbs, and to try and decipher it would be a futile affair. Just slide on some headphones, sit back, and enjoy a recording like no other.
3. Blind Pilot—3 Rounds and a Sound
3 Rounds and a Sound is a polite example that at the end of the day the songs are the only things that really matter. Blind Pilot's confident debut is not a complicated affair, and while their peers on this list are rightfully praised for their ambitious dismantling of musical structure, songwriter Israel Nebeker's warm, comforting voice and effortless gift for penning comforting songs make this record absolutely unforgettable.
4. Janelle Monae—Metropolis: The Chase Suite
Had this baffling debut of sci-fi hiphop been more than just an EP, it would most likely sit confidently atop this list. As a performer Monae possesses the aw-shucks demeanor of a 1950s nightclub crooner, but her musical output exists on another plane, one where her scorching amalgam of evolved hiphop, cyborg love, and obsession with Fritz Lang's Metropolis are considered totally normal. Perhaps this is why her fanbase runs the gamut from comic book nerds all the way to Diddy and Prince.
5. Lackthereof—Your Anchor
Danny Seim's long-running Lackthereof project took a crippling turn toward flat-out misery with Your Anchor, and, to be honest, it's a lovely thing. A despondent look at love and loss, the album from the drummer of Menomena—who, musically, share a similar sound with Lackthereof—is the beauty in the aftermath of a sunken relationship; best explained with this line from "Chest Pass," the album's gloomy opener: "It's the best of times when times are tough/Giving shelter, giving love/Eventually just giving up."
Let's hear it for the honorable mentions: A Weather—Cove, Lykke Li—Youth Novels, TV on the Radio—Dear Science, Astronautalis—Pomegranate, Bon Iver—For Emma, Forever Ago, Frightened Rabbit—The Midnight Organ Fight, Erykah Badu—New Amerykah Part One (4th World War)