It was weird listening to NPR's music podcast, as the whole panel was saying that last year was a much better year for records, but I really have to disagree. I had a horrible time trying to decide which of the fantastic albums of 2008 I liked the best.
10. Edgar Meyer & Chris Thile - Self Titled
It's unfair how brilliant these two are. Edgar Meyer is probably the best double-bassist in the world and Chris Thile wins my vote for best mandolinist hands down. This record didn't get my attention quite as much as Chris Thile's duet with Mike Marshall, but it's still full of great songs of unfathomable technical skill. I'd recommend it to anyone. Two excellent tracks are "Slow Song for a Dog" and "Fence Post in the Front Yard."
9. Stay Positive - The Hold Steady
Once again, The Hold Steady made a great record. A couple of the songs got a bit too repetitive for me, as is the danger with this band. Overall though, the songs that stood out really stood out. They played a great live show here as well. My favorite tracks are "Constructive Summer" and "One for the Cutters."
8. Calexico - Carried to Dust
Another excellent album from Calexico. I think it goes back to a more southwestern sound than Garden Ruin had. Happily, there's another collaboration song with Sam Beam on this one, following from He Lays in the Reins, one of the finest recordings ever made. My favorite track is certainly "Victor Jara's Hands," but another great one is "House of Valparaiso."
7. Ben Folds - Way to Normal
I've heard very few other people even mention this album, but I loved it. Ben Folds is such a great songwriter and I love that he's never stopped expanding his style and sound. There are some really funny moments on this album as well. Featuring Regina Spektor never hurts either. Hear "You Don't Know Me," "Free Coffee," and "Effington."
6. Dr. Dog - Fate
This album is tons of fun. They played it on the overhead in my store for several weeks and I enjoyed it every time. Enough so that I still got it for myself after they pulled it off the in-store rotation. That's saying quite a bit. "The Breeze" and "Army of Ancients" are notable.
5. Vampire Weekend - Self Titled
Lots of people seem to have gotten tired of or have forgotten about Vampire Weekend, and while I admit that I haven't pulled this one out in some time, it's still a fantastic record and when it came out, I listened to it over and over. It's a really unique sound and I think it's a blast. My favorites are "Oxford Comma" and "Walcott."
4. Consolers of the Lonely - The Raconteurs
I have to give the love to the Raconteurs for this album, produced and released in less than a month. They threw us for a loop when they announced it and released it two weeks later. It's great though. It provided what the first record had and gave me what I asked for, which was a longer running time. Every song is good, but I'll pull out "The Switch and the Spur" and "Five on the Five" as two of the best.
3. Abigail Washburn & The Sparrow Quartet - Self Titled
This record is gorgeous. It features Abigail singing over two banjos (one by Bela Fleck, I might mention) a violin and a cello. It's just the most haunting and beautiful combination and I love it. She also likes to write songs in Chinese every once in a while, adding a neat element to this kind of music. Standout tracks are "A Fuller Wine" and "Great Big Wall in China."
2. Fleet Foxes - Self Titled
Another incredibly beautiful record. It sounds to me like taking the Beach Boys to the Appalachians, combining those great vocal harmonies with lovely acoustic instrumentation. I can't wait to hear more from them. My favorites are probably "White Winter Hymnal" and "Tiger Mountain Peasant Song."
1. Punch Brothers - Punch
Chris Thile twice on the list! This album is a masterpiece, in my opinion. It's five of the best acoustic musicians alive today, playing some really complicated and technically demanding music. The focus is the four-part "Blind Leaving the Blind" suite, which is through-composed for vocals and bluegrass instrumentation. The story is very personal and moving and the instrumental sections are mind-blowing. It took a few listens to really grow on me, but once I got into it, I couldn't help but be amazed. As I said, the stand-out is the entirety of "The Blind Leaving the Blind."
Other honorable mentions go to Weezer, especially for "The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived," one of my favorite songs all year. Also, She & Him - Volume One was a great record made by Zooey Deschanel and M.Ward that I really enjoyed. Blitzen Trapper made a good record that I unfortunately got too late to give an honest chance to. I also really loved Okkervil River - The Stand-Ins and it came incredibly close to making the list. I can't quite figure out people's fascination with Bon Iver, but maybe I'll keep listening and it will hit me.