Top 10 Albums of ’08

As 2008 slowly recedes out of view, we’re looking back at the best in pop culture over the course of the year. Because nothing’s more American than ranking artistic expression as if it were a horse race, here’s our list of the top 10 albums of 2008.

Surprisingly, a lot of the list is made up of debut albums, which I think reflects the fact that there’s a lot of emerging new talent out there right now. It’s not all gay, it’s not all disco, but it’s what kept us moving all year long.

Do tell us how this list is totally off by giving us your faves of the year.

1. Kanye West, 808s and Heartbreak (Roc-a-Fella/Def Jam)
Complain about the shameless use of the Auto Tune all you want, Kanye West has crafted a pop album that combines a Warholian love of artifice with a stab at genuine emotion. Highly underrated and destined to grow in stature over time.

2. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! (Anti-)
Funny, mean and blessed with the best lyrics of the year, Nick Cave’s 14th album is criminally good. The title track makes Lou Reed’s “Dirty Boulevard” look like a walk through the park, and the gritty garage rock turn that Cave has made recently keeps the cynicism sharp and sly, not preachy and depressing.

3. MGMT, Oracular Spectacular (Columbia Records)
“Time to Pretend” may very well be the anthem of the year, even if half the people listening don’t get that the song’s coke-fueled, rockstar-obsessed manifesto is mocking the impulses of excess, not espousing it. If you have to pick up one French electro-inspired rock outfit this year, MGMT’s the best.

4. Fleet Foxes, Fleet Foxes (Sub Pop)
Look, when you’re getting compared to Brian Wilson, Crosby, Stills and Nash and Animal Collective on a regular basis, you’re doing something right. Fleet Foxes feels like a throwback to a simpler time. With a predilection for multi-part harmonies and spiritual overtones, the group feels at once brand new and timeless.

5. Vampire Weekend, Vampire Weekend (XL Recordings)
About five times better than it has any right to be, Vampire Weekend takes African pop sound and marries them to yuppie lyrics about mansard roofs and Oxford commas. Somehow, the whole thing works, even if the shelf life for the group seems to already have expired.

6. Santogold, Santogold (Downtown Records)
After years of New York being dominated by the twee sounds of soft-spoken indie rockers, Santogold’s “L.E.S. Artistes” promises to bring back some edge to the downtown scene. The music’s great (as is that album cover of her vomiting glitter), but the fact that she’s calling out music stores and critics who call her sound R&B or hip-hop simply because she’s black makes her rock all the more.

7. Sam Sparro, Sam Sparro (Island Records)
While “Black & Gold” is the hit everyone knows and loves by openly gay Australian multi-hyphenate (singer, producer, actor) Sam Sparro, it’s “21st Century Life” that wound up on my iPod shuffle for months. Sure, he’s not exactly reinventing the wheel, but the trick to pop greatness is to make old sounds young again, and Sparro’s got a knack for making infectious disco-pop. The fact that I have the biggest crush ever on him doesn’t hurt, either.

8. Brian Wilson, That Lucky Old Sun (Capitol Records)
If you had said a decade ago that Brian Wilson would be a prolific and exciting musician who performed regularly, I would have laughed in your face. But pop music’s wunderkind emeritus seems to be enjoying a late-life renaissance. First he completed his long-gestating “teenage symphony to God”, “SMiLE” and then followed up this year with “That Lucky Old Sun,” a paean to Wilson’s beloved California. It’s an uneven album with at least one stinker, but overall it’s vintage Wilson: achingly personal and heartfelt while infectiously catchy.

9. Estelle, Shine (Atlantic)
For “American Boy” alone, Estelle deserves to be on this list, but the charms of the UK’s biggest female hip hop star are many, and she manages to stand out on her own (never mind that her album’s piled high with guest artists and producers). If it seems the entire hip hop world wants to make Estelle a huge success, it’s only because they recognize just how talented she is.

10. Madonna, Hard Candy (Maverick)
Just because this is a gay blog, doesn’t mean Madonna gets a nod automatically. When it comes to pop, Madge casts a long shadow across the industry and “Hard Candy” is entertaining partly because so many upcoming stars are on it, genuflecting to the greatness that is later-day Madonna. Still, this is her least interesting album since “American Life” and at times it feels more like the soundtrack to an early morning spin class than a late-night party album. Although to be fair, that seems to be where Madonna is now in her life.

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  • tyler

    Wow, you guys nailed it
    most of these I would totally agree with!
    Also just fell in love with this new remake of Kanye
    West’s good Life by Brooklyn indie electronic band
    Nite Club
    I have a feeling 09 is going to be a great year for music!

  • L

    I’m with you on #3 thru #6. I would add: Ra Ra Riot, Does It Offend You Yeah, The Kills, The Gaslight Anthem, The Duke Spirit, and Ratatat.

  • dairyqueen

    Somme of your pics are interesting and way off. Madonna’s album? Really? Hard candy is as bad as “bedtime stories”. The people she collaborated with are not up coming stars. They are actually old news. Sam Sparro album is so formulated I am surprised it up for a Grammy.

  • Jack

    Madonna’s album was appalling.

    Sam Sparro should be at #1.

  • Qjersey

    No mention of Lady GaGa (The Fame).

    how dare you, LOL.

  • JNunzio

    Where’s Robyn? That album is A-MAH-ZING. Konichiwa, Bitches.

  • daniel k

    God I must be old… I have no idea who most of these are.

  • Keith

    Once again the gays have lost their taste in music. Apparently the gays only listen to what MTV, Logo and Ipod commercials tell them to listen to. This is why I got out of DJing years ago. Why, I remember when gays told the rest of the world what to listen to. MySpace has opened up a whole world of music try a discover something fresh, different, exciting

  • fatty cupcake

    OK, Keith is on the money here. Madonna, best? maybe a mention…better to go see her tour. Check out the DJ top 19 list on My picks: Hercules and Love Affair, Juliana Molina, M83, David Bryne/Brian Eno,
    “Everything Happens, Happens Today”. OK, one for the Madonna fans: Grace Jones’ “Hurricane”. 19 years later, the gal’s still got it…fc

  • cmh

    Cut Copy should be on this list and bump madonna off. For those who hadn’t heard they are a nice mix of ELO and New Order.

  • Inertia_90

    You have great taste in music, Japhy. But the Madonna album was VILE.

  • Bob

    Madonna’s Hard Candy sucked. Hard. There is no way she should be on this list. And this is coming from someone who is a genuine fan. I loved her music up to American Life. Since then (with the exception of Confessions, which now certainly seems like a fluke), she’s made some truly horrible music.

  • RomanHans

    You guys obviously haven’t heard disk two of Rich Morel’s “Death of the Paperboy.” I’m listening to it every day, and it’s gone from great to classic in my book. The man’s a genius, not least for turning a Bowie “Diamond Dogs” cut into an amyl-snorting groove. Definitely one of the year’s best.

  • Kit Fair

    I haven’t heard of anything from Nick Cave since his duet with Kylie Minogue. Where’s Leona Lewis and “Spirit”, Lady GaGa and “One of the Boys”, Cyndi Lauper and “Bring Ya to the Brink”. I don’t even know what Vampire Weekend is.
    I like Madonna but she hasn’t released anything worth mentioning since “Bedtime Stories”. “Hard Candy” was forgettable, at best.

  • Kit Fair

    In Lady GaGa’s case, I meant “The Fame”. I don’t know why but I confused it with the title of Katy Perry’s album.

  • Alan down in Florida

    How Coldplay’s Viva La Vida… misses the list is beyond comprehension. How about TV On The Radio? Jason Mraz? Phil Vassar? Adele, Noel Gourdin? Pink? The Puppini Sisters? The Ting Tings? The Killers? Mavis Staples?

    I’m not saying your choices were bad (looks a lot like Billboard’s Critics List) but you need to be listening to a broader variety of stuff. Oh for the ’70s when everything wasn’t pigeonholed and we loved all kinds of music.

  • gayinsf

    Hard Candy? Are you kidding…it totally sucks!!!!!!!

  • damien

    Pretty good range. I’d remove Madonna and add TV on the Radio, for my list. And add my guilty pleasure, Taylor Swift – don’t judge me; she’s cute!


    I also think Headlights have one of the more underrated albums of the year. “Get Your Head Around It” is an amazing song that pretty much sums up my year.

  • Keith

    @Japhy Grant: Right now I’m digging The Last Shadow Puppets, The Rascals (UK band),The Klaxons, Presets, Peggy Sue, The Displacements, Friendly Fires just to name a few. I find Emusic’s daily download is quite helpful. I actually listen to all types of music. These were just my picks for rock/ alternative. I’ve been digging some Tom Baxter for a more mellow kick. There is a lot of great music listed in the replies. Maybe I was wrong about gays not telling people what to listen to anymore. I am impressed and proud (as I wipe away a single tear down my cheek). It makes me feel so much better.

    BTW I still don’t get Lady Ga Ga.

  • Aaron

    The albums released in 2008 that I bought were:

    M83 “Saturdays=Youth”, Bauhaus “Go Away White”, Diamanda Galas “Guilty, Guilty, Guilty” and Xiu Xiu “Women as Lovers”

    Thought about picking up the new Nick Cave but everything he’s done since “Murder Ballads” has just been really blah.

  • bigdawg

    Ok let start with the fact I’m a little older, so everything on this list to me, sounds just like the same old rehashed music industry filler. except for Brian Wilson he actually is responsible for creating that sound and setting the standards for harmony.

    Ah but Sadly 2 years from now the names will all be different, Filled with the other 10 bands they have hiding in the wings that will sound exactly the same. I have to agree with Keith it’s to bad most of the gay community only really supports what is trendy at the moment , I remember when we set the trends and didn’t just buy into them.

    Some of my faves from 2008. Snow Patrol : A Hundred Million Suns, John Mellencamp: Life, Death, Love and Freedom, Lucinda Williams : Little Honey.
    Counting Crows : Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings and The Watson Twins : Fire Songs.

    As for Madonna. I have to admit great business woman, But it stops there musically she sucks. always has always will, I’m so glad i missed that gay gene.

  • Goldfrapp

    No mention of Portishead’s “Third”? :[

  • Chile Grande

    Agree with Cut Copy all the way.. Most of these people don’t deserve to be on this list.

  • Rock

    REM’s Accelerate was a superb return to form for this veteran band.

  • Shags

    Jenny Lewis “Acid Tongue”!!!

  • ChristopherM

    Where is Duffy’s “Rockferry”?

  • Kid A

    @Goldfrapp: Absolutely, Third was one of the best albums I’ve heard in a long time.

  • kevin

    I’d add M.I.A. “Kala” , The Ting Tings, and Howlin Rain (because they rock in that 70s stadium rock sort of way). I could only listen to Santogold’s CD a few times before it grew stale. The numerous commercials that featured her music made me quickly realize that she too was just another product, like so many irrelevant indie artists are these days (which is beginning to happen to M.I.A. with all of the movie/commercial exposure she’s getting). That’s why I still love Yo La Tengo.

  • Phil

    Bon Iver’s “For Emma, Forever Ago” is by far the best album of the year.

  • Ben

    @Chile Grande: cut copy’s in ghost colours was my favorite album of 08. It’s too bad that it didn’t make this list.

  • pdnoosh

    Give Madge some credit, bitches! She’s under A LOT OF STRESS!!11!! LEAVE! MADONNA! ALOOOOOOONE!!!

    (Disclaimer: Hard Candy is probably my 2nd least fav. Madge offering, but it’s … passable, more or less. Having said that, everything else she’s done in the 2000s — even American Life — I’ve been very, very, happy with.)

  • Jason

    To all the Madonna bashers below I thought Hard Candy was a great album (with the exception of the awful Spanish Lessons). It was pure danceable pop and perfect for Top-40. The production was modern and Madge sounded like she was having fun for the first time in years. By no means was this Nelly Furtado lite, I thought Hard Candy had quite a few gems such as the Beat Goes On, Hearbeat and Miles Away. I don’t claim it’s as amazing as the truly classic Like a Prayer or Ray of Light albums (or even Confessions for that matter) but it was hands down the best mainstream pop album of 2008.

    At 50 Madonna is still the hottest chick in the game and forever the Queen of Pop.

  • In the Fine Arts Library

    @kevin: “Kala” was released in 2007. But as far as her music goes, she is far from a product. It makes me sad that the only song people know is Paper Planes when she has so much good music, but I don’t think that makes her a product. Perhaps that song…

    Ray Lamontagne’s “Gossip in the Grain”?

    I wouldn’t label your list as the top 10, maybe the top 10 most popular.

  • Cody

    I completely respect your list. But if it was to be my list there would be a few changes.

    1. Robyn’s self titled album is absolutely fantastic!

    2. Santogold would be further up on the list.

    3. I always have high hopes for Madonna (I guess I’m a stereotype, go ahead, stab me), but this album truly was a disappointment. Especially following Confessions, which I could listen to from the beginning to end. Hard Candy seems to have too many “filler” songs.

    But like I said, it’s your list, so I’m not going to hate on you and say you have no taste like some of these other people who lack a little bit of class….

  • Dickie

    Hmmm… to throw a few of my favs out there:

    Alanis Morissette’s Flavors of Entanglement
    Brett Dennen’s Hope For The Hopeless
    Buckcherry’s Black Butterfly
    Jason Mraz We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things.
    Jay Brannan’s goddamned
    Ray LaMontagne Gossip In The Grain
    Scott Weiland’s Happy In Galoshes
    and very possibly Pink’s Funhouse (although I’m not completely sold on it… Miss Understood was better)

    I’m thinking I have a different taste than most here though, but those are all great albums.

  • akn

    The Pretenders’ “Break Up the Concrete.’ God bless Chrissie Hynde.

  • Mark

    The list is nice and conforming.
    wonderful. x

  • andrew hegarty

    Where is HERCULES & LOVE AFFAIR? Especially when this is a gay blog…

  • John

    Hercules and Love Affair, Midnight Juggernauts, MGMT, Dandy Warhols (World Come On!!!) and Lykke Li has some promise for the coming year if she can keep it as fun and I’M DONE, I’M GONE. I would agree about Duke Spirit but I only really liked THE STEP AND THE WALK although I have a total crush on one of the guys from that the dude that plays the drums in The Ting Tings video for THATS NOT MY NAME…but I get side-tracked between great albums as opposed to guys I’d like shower with…

  • NotThat2008

    The Ting Tings – We Started Nothing
    and KYLIE MINOGUE’S X were by far the best 2 albums of 2008

  • NotThat2008

    Kylie Minogue is the biggest gay icon on this planet…
    Madonna doesn’t even deserve to be on this list, she listed the homophobic Katy perry tune ‘ur So gay’ as her best song…

  • Nate

    Adelle, Adelle, Adelle, Adelle, and more Adelle! Honestly it’s the best album (it’s called 19, her age) that I own. I listen to it on nearly a daily basis because every song is full of amazing lyrics and her sound is what Amy Winehouse could be if she were clean. Also, Kate Nash’s Made of Bricks is INCREDIBLE! I’m a little one-sided, being that I love angry, well-spoken women. To speak of the original list, I only knew Vampire Weekend, which was a fantastic album, but never once made me care about anything. I still don’t know what any of those fun songs are about.

  • vernonvanderbilt

    Ummm…Sigur Ros, anyone? Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust was not only a great album, but also an interesting departure from what has come to be the accepted Sigur Ros sound. And, hello, Jonsi Birgisson? Possibly the most beautiful human on the planet, and family to boot. Give Iceland some love, and give some time to my personal favourite album of the year.

    I also quite enjoyed Cloud Cult’s latest offering, Feel Good Ghosts (Tea Partying Through Tornadoes). It’s sincere, uplifting, often beautiful…if anything, maybe it’s occasionally a little too “cute” for mainstream tastes, but hey, I like a little cute in my tunage now and then. Besides, any band that echoes my (decidedly non-mainstream) spiritual ideas back to me is a golden find.

    If you must indulge your inner hipster, skip that Vampire Weekend nonsense and choose Black Kids instead. Partie Traumatic is fun, infectious, and danceable, and “Hit the Heartbrakes” is one of my favourite songs for the moment.

    Overall, 2008 was a damn fine year for music of all sorts. Some other albums that deserve mention:

    Girl Talk’s Feed the Animals – One of the better mashup albums I’ve heard in a long time.

    Joy Electric’s My Grandfather the Cubist – This formerly (and sometimes still) cutesy electro-pop project gets better and better with every album. Yeah, they’re a “christian” act, but don’t let that turn you off. Unlike the average religious outfit, these guys have some actual substance beyond the usual “god is great and we love him over and over again in many redundant ways” groove.

    Kamelot’s Ghost Opera: The Second Coming – For the metal fans out there. Love these guys.

    Pg. Lost’s It’s Not Me, It’s You! – Bringing the tasty post-rock instrumental goodness, and picking up the slack until the next Explosions in the Sky album.

    This Will Destroy You’s self-titled album – More post-rock, epic and powerful.

    I won’t pick on the list, as taste is entirely subjective. I can only say that I would have left off Madonna, Vampire Weekend, and maybe Santogold. I liked the latter, but it all ended up sounding a little same-y for me, aside from the utterly fabulicious “L.E.S. Artistes.”

  • shaquille cosse

    I dont really argue with this list to much, other then the fact lil wayne’s carter 3 should have been on here.

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