Tops in 2008

Pub date December 17, 2008
SectionMusicSectionMusic Features


This year saw American pop (Rhianna, Kardinal Offishall, and Sean Kingston) broadly embracing Jamaican music. Likewise, Jamaican artists emulated, covered, and incorporated American pop and R&B motifs more than ever. The trend in JA was toward hot singles over hot albums, while dozens of new artists broke out. Women in particular had a massive resurgence in reggae (Queen Ifrica, Etana, Cherine Anderson) and dancehall (Tifa, Timberly, D’Angel, Tami Chynn). Money — having it, making it, spending it — was the most prevalent song topic. Here are six categories of reggae artists who made as big an impact on music as Jamaican athletes did on the track in Beijing.

TOP DAWGS Dancehall chart-toppers included Mavado, Vybz Kartel, Beenie Man, Elephant Man, and Busy Signal.

ROOTS REFRESHERS Taj Weekes, Dwayne Stephenson, Morgan Heritage, Pressure, and Tarrus Riley enlivened one-drop traditional reggae.

LADIES IN CHARGE Women charged the charts, including Spice, Tifa, Natalie Storm, Timberlee, Pompatay, D’Angel, Etana, and Queen Ifrica.

CATCHING FIRE Newcomers galore emerged, like Bugle, Serani, Demarco, Erup, Black Ryno, and Konshens.

SOLID AS A ROCK Veterans who didn’t let us down included Beres Hammond, Tony Rebel, Jah Cure, Mr. Vegas, and Junior Reid, as well as Damien and Steven Marley.

POP GOES REGGAE These reggae/pop/R&B combinations and remixes made us smile: Estelle/Sean Paul, Jazmine Sullivan, John Legend/Buju Banton, plus French roots-boots remixes of Mary J. Blige, Lil Wayne, Nas, and Motown.


Art Lessing, Sleeping Ghost (An Electric Eggplant)

Der TPK (Teenage Panzerkorps), Games for Slaves (Siltbreeze)

Endless Boogie, Focus Level (No Quarter)

Expo 70 and Rahdunes’s split-LP (Kill Shaman)

Fabulous Diamonds, Fabulous Diamonds (Siltbreeze)

Los Llamarada, Take the Sky (S-S)

Nothing People, Anonymous (S-S)

Sic Alps, US EZ (Siltbreeze)

Suicide, Live 1977–1978 (Blast First)

Times New Viking, Rip It Off (Matador)


Grouper, Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill (Type)

Krallice, Krallice (Profound Lore)

Mount Eerie, Lost Wisdom and Black Wooden Ceiling Opening (P.W. Elverum & Sun)

Ecstatic Sunshine live

Prurient live

Bulbs, Light Ships (Freedom to Spend)

Mincemeat or Tenspeed in a cave

Thee Silver Mt Zion Memorial Orchestra and Tra-La-La Band, 13 Blues for Thirteen Moons (Constellation)

Pukers cassette


Testament, The Formation of Damnation (Nuclear Blast)

Gama Bomb, Citizen Brain (Earache)

Bloodbath, The Fathomless Mastery (Peaceville)

Cannabis Corpse, Tube of the Resinated (Forcefield/Robotic Empire)

Hail of Bullets, …of Frost and War (Metal Blade)

Bison B.C., Quiet Earth (Metal Blade)

Grand Magus, Iron Will (Rise Above/Candlelight)

Jucifer, L’Autrichienne (Relapse)

Gojira, The Way of All Flesh (Prosthetic)

Enslaved, Vertebrae (Indie)


1. MGMT, Oracular Spectacular (Sony)

2. Zion-I, "Juicy Juice" (Gold Dust)

3. Grouch, Show You the World (Legendary Music)

4. Weezer, "Pork and Beans" (Geffen)

5. Santogold, Santogold (Downtown/Atlantic)

6. The Foals, Antidotes (Sub Pop)

7. T-Pain, "Chopped ‘N Skrewed" (Jive)

8. Tapes ‘N Tapes "The Dirty Dirty (Recession Remixes)"

9. Jamie Lidell, Jim (Warp)

10. Hottub, "Man Bitch" (LeHeat)


10. The Kills, Midnight Boom (Domino)

Hince and Mosshart’s latest was forceful and impressively consistent, which, yes, meant it was professional, and which, no, didn’t mean it was soulless. The pair spotted the rhythmic snap and hypnotism in ’60s playground sing-alongs. Working with these features instead of nostalgia or camp, they had the basis for a percussion-driven ’00s rock.

9. Steinski, What Does It All Mean? 1983–2006 Retrospective (Illegal Art)

Steve Stein’s influential ’80s tracks were extreme hip-hop: not only any song, but any sound that society had made could be sampled and woven into his boom-box fabrics. Of course, this made for legal nightmares. In 2008, we got the gift of a straightforward packaging.

8. Benga, Diary of an Afro Warrior (Tempa)

The Croydon dubstep man shoved the movement forward with Warrior, but he played it as a nudge. An eclectic, graceful, and terrifically undogmatic outing, it seemed to stroll along the Thames, picking up a new rhythm in each neighborhood. Through that, it remained fierce.

7. Bon Iver, For Emma, Forever Ago (Jagjaguwar)

When you head off to the cabin in the woods to record your masterpiece, it doesn’t tend to work out well. You realize the woods are cold and boring, and that you are missing some helpful equipment. Justin Vernon’s excursion into the Wisconsin snow should inspire a new crop of such failures, because it polishes the myth. In its austerity and bone-cooling effect, Emma recalls a more focused Bonnie "Prince" Billy.

6. The Magnetic Fields, Distortion (Nonesuch)

In 2008, soaking an indie album in Jesus and Mary Chain noise was about as original as what Bon Iver did (see above). Yet it too worked. Critically, Stephin Merritt never let his latest become a disc about texture: he knew that the key to noise pop is the pop. And Distortion delights in the girl-group drums and pert melodies while dramatically cringing at the feedback it pretends is just part of every record. "Drive on, Driver" is more indebted to Fleetwood Mac than anyone else.

5. Lucinda Williams, Little Honey (Lost Highway)

We extend the same sort of charity to Lucinda Williams as we do Chan Marshall — we just really want those gals to be in a happy place. For the first time in a while, Lucinda cut a studio set with optimistic poetry, and Honey not only warmed anyone who got close to Essence or West (both Lost Highway; 2001, 2007), it even matched the elegance of those discs — and with a way juicier palette.

4. Vampire Weekend, Vampire Weekend (XL)

The culture-jamming ("Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa") wasn’t as deeply meaningful as some held, but the light touch with which it arrived made the record a bit of a marvel. It was sweet, it was for parties, and it had nothing to do with Paul Simon. And the lyrics cribbed from freshman classes at Columbia were remarkably workable and unsophomoric.

3. Lil Wayne, Tha Carter III (Cash Money)

Wayne has a monopoly on ink. What doesn’t make it onto his neck goes into his paeans. Both outlets — the tats, the praise — can seem excessive, but the latter just keeps on being reasonable. Wayne is the rapper as post-rapper, deliciously self-aware. Rapping is a funny thing to do, and rap albums are increasingly funny things to make. He’s getting inside it: looking with awe at that thing he just said, then riffing off it, then riffing off that, wheezing and grunting until his syllables morph, and enjoying himself.

2. Beach House, Devotion (Carpark)

The Baltimore pair found a sound on their debut. On their second record, they improved it and grew into it. Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally seemed to be operating in some last outpost of melody, where tart country-pop hooks could be heard in a final, furry form before they collapsed. That made Devotion both comforting and lonely.

1. Drive-By Truckers, Brighter Than Creation’s Dark (New West)

For starters, DBT are shaping up as their generation’s premier bards of booze. When not singing mid-bender, they’re suffering through the aftermath or plotting the next go-round. What that really means is that their songs teeter powerfully between the concomitant bitterness and shame. The 19-song Creation was built to have room for all the less proud emotions.

Honorable mentions: Lykke Li, Youth Novels (LL); White Hinterland, Phylactery Factory (Dead Oceans); Kathleen Edwards, Asking for Flowers (Rounder); James Pants, Welcome (Stones Throw); Fleet Foxes, Fleet Foxes (Sub Pop)


1. Various artists, Obsession (Bully)

2. Kurt Vile, Constant Hitmaker (Gulcher)

3. Jonas Reinhardt, Jonas Reinhardt (Kranky)

4. Ariel Pink, Oddities Sodomies Vol. 1 (Vinyl International)

5. Lindstrom, Where You Go, I Go Too (Smalltown Supersound)

6. Bum Kon, Drunken Sex Sucks (Smooch/Maximum Rocknroll)

7. La Dusseldorf, Viva (Water)

8. John Maus, Love Is Real (Upset the Rhythm)

9. RTX, JJ Got Live RaTX (Drag City)

10. Sic Alps, US EZ (Siltbreeze)


1. Godwaffle Noise Pancakes

A cluster of floor-crouching noiseniks + a heaping helping of syrupy waffles hot off the griddle = a great way to kill two hours on a Saturday afternoon.

2. Beth from Times New Viking tells me outside the Great American Music Hall that she likes my cat sweatshirt: And according to her, she only gives out one sweatshirt compliment per year — oh, snap!

3. Spire Live, Fundamentalis (Autofact/Touch)

Dynamite double LP compilation of live recordings dubbed in various European cathedrals from the likes of Philip Jeck, Christian Fennesz, BJNilsen, and more.

4. Eat Skull, Sick to Death (Siltbreeze)

Hurrah to the Philadelphia noise imprint for releasing this gem of a debut.

5. Kevin Drumm, Imperial Distortion (Hospital)

The Chicago native once again falls head over heels for the drone.

6. Wavves, Wavves (Woodsist)

I love this kid! Bedroom-spun beach punk in the vain of Beat Happening and the Embarrassment.

7. Common Eider, King Eider, Figs, Wasps, and Monotremes (Root Strata)

If I could fork a Goldie over to Rob Fisk for every time this album made its way through my stereo speakers, he would have a lot of Goldies.

8. Excepter, Debt Dept (Paw Tracks)

The Brooklyn electronic performance troupe sings about burgers, sunrises, and killing people on its new disc.

9. Blank Dogs, On Two Sides (Troubleman Unlimited)

New-wave synths soiled in grime, decayed vocals, and tape hiss galore from this prolific newbie.

10. John Wiese at the Lipo Lounge

Sounded like chunks of metal swelling to the size of balloons and then bursting into my chest for 10 awesome minutes.


1. Yellowtail featuring Alison Crockett, "You Feel Me" (Bagpak)

2. Dave Aju, "Crazy Place" (Circus Company)

3. Jazzanova featuring Randolph, "Let Me Show Ya (Henrik Schwarz Remix)" (Sonar Kollektiv)

4. Grace Jones, "La Vie en Rose (Casinoboy Version)" (Trackybottoms)

5. Mike Monday, "The 11 11" (Om)

6. Recloose, "Catch a Leaf" (Loop Sounds)

7. La Vida Buena, "Humanidad" (Amalgama)

8. Sebo K, "Too Hot" (Mobilee)

9. Art Bleek, "Modern Spaces" (Connaisseur)

10. Jimpster, "Dangly Panther" (Freerange)


John Maus, Love Is Real (Upset the Rhythm)

Hercules and Love Affair (DFA) and at Mezzanine

Erykah Badu, New Amerykah, Pt.1: 4th World War (Motown)

Magnetic Fields, Distortion (Nonesuch)

Stereolab, Chemical Chords (4AD)

White Magic, New Egypt (Latitudes)

Cluster at Aquarius Records and the Boredoms at the Fillmore

My Bloody Valentine at the Concourse

Flying Lotus, Los Angeles (Warp)

Grouper, Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill (Type)

I can’t not mention: Sparks, Exotic Creatures of the Deep (Lil Beethoven); Beach House, Devotion (Carpark); Cut Copy, In Ghost Colors (Modular Interscope); Nagisa Ni Te, Yosuga (Jagjaguwar); the Alps, III (Type); Paavoharju, Laulu Laakson Kukista (Fonal); Antony and the Johnsons, Another World (Secretly Canadian).


Gas, Nah und Fern (Kompakt)

Fennesz, Black Sea (Touch)

Mavis Staple, Live: Hope at the Hideout (Anti-)

Various artists, Thank You Friends: The Ardent Records’ Story (Big Beat)

Abdel Hadi Halo and the El Gusto Orchestra of Algiers, Abdel Hadi Halo and the El Gusto Orchestra of Algiers (Honest Jon’s)

Skyphone, Avellaneda (Rune Grammofon)

Autechre, Quaristice (Warp)

Susanna, Flowers of Evil (Rune Grammofon)

Raymond Scott Quintette, Ectoplasm (Basta)

The Last Shadow Puppets, The Age of the Understatement (Domino)

Tape, Luminarium (Hapna)

Al Green, Lay It Down (Blue Note)

Beach House, Devotion (Carpark)


Fleet Foxes, Fleet Foxes (Sub Pop)

Various artists, Victrola Favorites: Artifacts from Bygone Days (Dust to Digital)

Moondog: The Viking of 6th Avenue: The Authorized Biography by Robert Scotto (Process, 2007)

Barack Obama

Blitzen Trapper, Furr (Sub Pop)

What It Is: What It Is by Paul G. Maziar and Matt Maust (Write Bloody)

Various artists, Eccentric Soul: Trager and Note Labels (Numero)

Immortal Technique, The 3rd World (Viper)

Grayceon, The Grand Show (Vendlus)

Two Gallants perform Dec. 26, 8 p.m., at the Fillmore.


I Got the Feelin’, James Brown in the ’60s DVD (Shout! Factory)

It will remind you why you decided to play music in the first place. If you don’t play music then it will make you want to start.

Silentist, Silentist (Celestial Gang)

Mark Burden always keeps me interested. Nancarrow or Reich with blast beats.

Over the course of more than two months of touring I saw and got to know several bands that were new to me. Coconut, Experimental Dental School, Parenthetical Girls, Flying, and so many more. I can’t remember ever getting to see so much inspiring music made by so many creative, energetic, and completely fun people.

Weasel Walter, solo, duos, trios, and on and on

No matter what the setting, he pushes the situation further with his drive, talent, and humor (all of which are refreshing and needed in the improvised music scene).


Nominated for the best act of commitment that didn’t involve self-mutilation. All in unison, shaving their heads onstage and then revealing perfect Marine dress uniforms under their smocks. They looked so good it inadvertently might have been the best recruiting campaign since Kid Rock and NASCAR teamed up to con kids across the US.

Death Sentence: Panda! and …


I went to every show of both these bands over the year whenever I was in town. Without fail I would be deaf, destroyed, and smiling, or dancing, laughing, and smiling. Check them out to match those descriptions to the correct band!

Earth, Wind and Fire: In Concert DVD (Geneon, 2000)

I work at Lost Weekend Video, so I watch more new music DVDs more often than I get new CDs. But maybe you’ll do the same after watching this bass player do high kicks for an hour and not miss a note.

Touring with old friends KIT and Hawnay Troof. Watching Vice Cooler get a bunch of crossed-armed kids dancing, cause bartenders to leave their posts to run to the stage and move, and VC almost break his neck jumping off monitors all in single-digit minutes. With KIT, add in the insane attack of Steve, the bouncing energy of Kristy, and the apologetic guitar soloing of George Chen, and try not to beam.

Joining Deerhoof! Getting to spend so much time of 2008 with John, Greg, and Satomi has made this year feel like no other.