You wouldn't know it by listening to most commercial radio, but it was an excellent year for music. In fact, this list was very difficult to narrow down. Many excellent albums from this year still didn't make the cut, but here is a list of my picks for the best albums of 2008.
First up: Nos. 50 to 26 -- check back later this week for the top 25 albums of the year.
For many, it's a small miracle that this album was even finally released, but it's a complete and welcome surprise that it isn't an over-cooked mess. Sure, old fans may gripe that this isn't a true GNR album since Axl Rose is the only original member, but get over it. The modern electronic flourishes may also intimidate and upset some. In all, however, "Chinese Democracy" plays like a continuation of the band's old sound. Songs like "Better" and "Catcher In The Rye" hold up next to the other GNR classics. The truth is, so much hype was built around this album that it can't please everyone. (It's the "Star Wars" effect, if you will.) If you don't like it immediately, give it the time and spins it deserves. Think of it as a long-delayed "Use Your Illusion III." Read my original review.
"Catcher In The Rye"
This is a double-disc collection from the singer-songwriter. The first disc is mellow and delicate with a more atmospheric feel, while the second is a harder-edged, darker affair. Together both discs only add up to about 70 minutes or so, so my guess is that the disc division is due to the different moods of the material. In any case, this album is a good introduction to Rachael Yamagata, who is most famous for her 2004 single "Worn Me Down." Here, her voice is smooth as she tackles a vast range of stylistic ground. She's a star waiting for her big crossover move.
"What If I Leave"
"Duet" (with Ray LaMontagne)
Released back on Jan. 8, this is the oldest record on the list. It's also Sia's second solo album to see a wide U.S. release. The sometime Zero 7 vocalist branches out and expands from her last album "Colour the Small One." While that album mined the same chilled coffee-house terrain as her band, this album is more adventurous. The single, "Buttons" (here as a hidden track) is straight-up, slinky-sounding pop, while "The Girl You Lost to Cocaine" boasts a classic soul vibe. The Beck-assisted "Academia" is like a cleverly twisted, haunted mathematical nursery-rhyme. Elsewhere, she delivers an incredible, morose and moving cover of the Kinks' "I Go to Sleep." It is for all of these reasons and more that Sia is a singer worthy of your attention. Read my original review.
"The Girl You Lost to Cocaine"
"Day Too Soon"
"I Go to Sleep"
"Academia" (with Beck)
"Little Black Sandals"