By Jake Coyle
Akron’s Black Eyes made some raw, soulful blues.
Rock music in 2008 was dominated by relics from the past, most returning with respectable albums: Guns ’n Roses, AC/DC, Metallica and, er, Coldplay. But there was better stuff to be found, even if it didn’t, like “Chinese Democracy,” take 17 years to create.
With apologies to fans of Kings of Leon and Bon Iver, here are the top 10 rock albums of the year. (Note: Radiohead’s “In Rainbows,” given away in 2007 and released traditionally in 2008, was rated last year, when it topped this list.)
1 Constantines, “Kensington Heights”: The most underrated band in North America hails from Toronto, is led by Bryan Webb’s angst-ridden growl, and is capable of leaving any beer-soaked bar crowd slack-jawed and devastated. Five years after the excellent “Shine a Light,” the Constantines are still carrying on the tradition of Bruce Springsteen with anthemic, uplifting rock dirges. What could be more vital in these troubled economic times than the pulsating and mature “Kensington Heights”? On “Credit River,” Webb sings: “I may be in the red but I’m still hungry.”
2 The Hold Steady,
“Stay Positive”: Like the Constantines, the Hold Steady worship at the altar of the Boss. This is a good thing. Though their last, “Boys and Girls of America,” may have been better, the Hold Steady, ah em, hold steady with another stellar album. The glorious single “Sequestered of Memphis” is surely the first song to make the phrase “I went there on business” sound riveting.
3 Fleet Foxes, “Fleet Foxes”: The sonorous, multipart harmonies of Seattle’s Fleet Foxes bring to mind the Beach Boys, had they moved up the coast and swapped their surfboards for a wooded campfire. Half a year after their debut, they’re beginning to age like Crosby, Stills & Nash — but there are worse things.
4 Santogold, “Santogold”: You could quibble that Santogold isn’t truly “rock,” but she really defies genre categorization. “L.E.S. Artistes” and “Lights Out” were among the best rock tunes of the year. She’ll make “name droppas” of us all.
5 No Age, “Nouns”: Who knew L.A. punk existed? And that it was so good? Nothing about No Age was expected, making it all the more exciting.
6 Lykke Li, “Youth Novels”: Lykke Li is a 22-year-old Swedish pop pixie. “Little Bit” and “I’m Good, I’m Gone” were two of the most danceable songs all year — as evidenced by no less than the ever-jitterbugging Lykke Li herself. But it’s the cooing “Time Flies” that cements “Youth Novels” as an excellent album.
7 TV on the Radio, “Dear Science”: The bouncy guitar riff on “Crying” is, alone, really enough to make this one of the year’s best. The Brooklyn brainiacs’ last one (“Return to Cookie Mountain”) was better, but TV on the Radio are nevertheless the most vital, current band in America.
8 Black Keys, “Attack and Release”: The Black Keys could be anyone’s favorite band. Two goofy dudes from Akron, Ohio, who make some of the rawest, most soulful blues. This is their most dynamic and full album yet, which can be partly attributed to producer Danger Mouse. (Danger Mouse’s most famous project, as half of Gnarles Barkley, also put out one of the year’s best, “The Odd Couple,” thanks largely to Cee-lo’s powerful James Brown tribute: “Who’s Gonna Save My Soul.”)
9 Jenny Lewis, “Acid Tongue”: Like Elvis Costello (who guests on “Acid Tongue”), Lewis will likely turn out an excellent album most every year — whether as a solo act or in her band Rilo Kiley — for decades to come. The best example of her prodigious songwriting talents here is “Bad Man’s World.” Unless it’s “Acid Tongue.” Or “Carpetbaggers.” (You get the idea.)
10 Dr. Dog, “Fate”: Some find this Philadelphia group too retro. They, after all, seemingly want to, literally, be the Band. But with a bass that thumps just like Rick Danko’s, Dr. Dog stirs up life in old sounds.
Honorable Mentions: Firewater, “The Golden Hour”; Wolf Parade, “At Mount Zoomer”; M83, “Saturdays Youth”; Vampire Weekend, “Vampire Weekend”; Death Cab for Cutie, “Narrow Stairs”; Bonnie “Prince” Billy, “Lie Down on the Light”; The Walkmen, “You & Me”; She & Him, “Volume One”; Deerhunter, “Microcastle”; Mogwai, “The Hawk Is Howling”; Portishead, “Third.”