The 50 Best Albums of 2008: Nos. 25 to 1

CDs from R.E.M., Elvis Costello, Santogold top list of best albums of 2008.

ByABC News
December 31, 2008, 12:41 PM

Jan. 2, 2009 — -- The year 2008 may be over, but its music is definitely still worth a listen. Start off the New Year with some of the best tunes from the one that just passed. Check out my picks for the top 25 albums of 2008.

The Cure began the promotion of their 13th studio album with the advance release of the album's four singles. They were released on a monthly basis counting down to the album's arrival. Each packaged with an additional B-side, these recordings were mandatory listening for any Cure fan. By the time the album dropped, all these songs were familiar. Indeed, "4:13 Dream" is one of the band's most accessible records. It's radio-friendly with few embarrassingly cheeseball "Friday I'm In Love" moments. For the past decade and a half, Robert Smith and company have obviously been struggling with finding that balance. Their last album was excellent but murky, whereas this album revels in the band's pop side. Of course, they do jam out a little from time to time, and that's where the true equilibrium lies. The album actually plays best with the four singles' B-Sides tacked onto the end as bonus tracks. Really, this is what the band should've done. (But never mind the needless remix EP the band also released. Oh, well, they can't all be winners!) That being said, "4:13 Dream," as is, is one of the band's most consistent song-cycles to date. The Cure released their first album back in 1979. How come they haven't yet been put into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?

Favorite Tracks
"Perfect Boy"
"The Only One"
"Sleep When I'm Dead"
"The Real Snow White"
"Underneath the Stars"

As far as I know, there is no actual movie attached to this album. I first became aware of this album when I was bemoaning the lack of quality hip-hop to one of my co-workers. In response, I was asked if I'd ever heard of Danny! This album is hard to find in hard copy but is available as a download from Amazon and iTunes. Danny! hails from South Carolina. He's as rapid-flowing a lyricist as he is a top-notch producer. It's evident listening to this record and the numerous references that he's sick of being compared to Kanye West. The truth is Danny! doesn't compare. He's a billion times better than Kanye. This album brings to mind the vintage Native Tongues records from the late-'80s and early-'90s. De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest leave large, evident shadows here. Common, Mos Def and Talib Kweli are also obvious influences. Danny! is a gifted beat-maker, bringing to mind luminaries like Prince Paul, the Dust Brothers and J Dilla. He also has an interesting Beatles fixation. The album's cover and title make this clear, as does the track, "Yoko Ono." All together, this makes Danny! one of the most interesting new, still up-and-coming figures in hip-hop. I hope more people continue to check this album out or hear about it from word-of-mouth, as I did. It's obvious not only that he's an excellent rapper but also a very talented musician.

Favorite Tracks
"Jet Set"
"Never Change"
"Yoko Ono"

Hamilton Leithauser of the Walkmen is the best caterwauler this side of Tom Waits. Somehow, each song by his band sounds spooky and old, as if ghosts were being harbored beneath every sonic crevice. Their albums are produced so that they sound live and spontaneous. They have a very natural yet uneasy sound full of clanging guitars and dust-caked organs. All the while, the drums clatter along like a half-drunk marching band. "You & Me" is among their best work and "In The New Year" should be mandatory listening for all of you on New Year's Eve. It would probably be better suited, though, for after the party is over and you are sitting in a room by yourself contemplating your hopes for the future.

Favorite Tracks
"In the New Year"
"Dónde Está La Playa"
"Canadian Girl"
"I Lost You"
"On The Water"

It's named after an unlucky number but Leona Naess' "Thirteens" is quite exceptional. It's an occasionally haunting and captivating batch of songs. She has never been stronger, more alluring on record than she is here. There's a gentle, beautiful sadness spread throughout the album. Read my original review.

Favorite Tracks
"Swing Swing Gently"
"Heavy Like Sunday"
"Shiny on the Inside"
"Ghost in the Attic"

"Wednesday (No Se Apoye)" is among the most beautiful songs of the year. It's the kind of song that stops you in your tracks and the most obvious highlight of Mike Doughty's fourth solo collection. The former Soul Coughing leader has ditched most of his old band's hip-hop influences to become a wonderfully quirky singer-songwriter. If you were a fan of Soul Coughing, you probably won't be disappointed by this set, even if he is sporting a different vibe these days. Read my original review.

Favorite Tracks
"Wednesday (No Se Apoye)"
"I Just Want the Girl in the Blue Dress to Keep on Dancing"
"Like a Luminous Girl"
"27 Jennifers"
"Navigating the Stars at Night"

You know the Caesars from their song "Jerk It Out." The song was used in an Ipod ad a couple of years ago and, in turn, became a small hit. In their native Sweden, their latest album, "Strawberry Weed," was released as a 24-track, double album. In the United States, someone made the unfortunate decision to cut the album down to a 12-track single disc. If you want to get the album in hard-copy, this seems to be the only domestic version available. But the "real" version is available here as a download from places like iTunes or Amazon. And if you are a fan, this is the version you should get. Strangely, the album in its entirety only clocks in at 74 minutes, thus fitting on a single disc, after all. It's a wonderfully retro-filled collection of slightly electro-infused, '60s-style garage rock. Think of it as a modern equivalent of one the "Nuggets" boxed-sets. The Caesars prove to be likable pop-smiths. You'll be go-go dancing and humming these tunes to yourself in no time.