Top Albums of 2008: 15-11

Forgive me again. I’m still really busy.

15. Joe Satriani – Professor Satchafunkilus and the Musterion of Rock

Since the 80′s, it’s been harder and harder to be a solo guitar god. The art of the guitar solo is dead in pretty much all genres except metal – there is less and less room in nearly all types of today’s genres for anything more than what amounts to a cursory 4 bar riff. And sadly, true metal itself – the kind that are worth listening to, and would even have guitar solos at all – is also rapidly shrinking to a niche genre full of weirdos.

Satch tries his hardest to stay the course, to limited success – a phrase that generally describes this album fairly well. It has a lot of good things in it – decent solos, reasonably catchy songs – but nothing particularly outstanding. Having been to a workshop of his before, I know that he is extraordinarily well-versed in musical theory and has almost a sixth sense for anything chordal, but it feels like he turned all those facilities in his head off for the album.

Ultimately? It’s unfortunately boring. The most interesting part in the entire album is the last track, because it is dominated by a well-written acoustic intro. Maybe that’s what he should try next.

Key Tracks: Musterion, Diddle-Y-A-Doo-Dat, Andalusia

14. Benga – Diary of an Afro Warrior

I don’t listen to terribly much dubstep, so only one album seems to catch my attention enough to make this list each year. While last year’s Burial album Untrue was a revelation in the range dubstep could – and hardly ever aims to – achieve, it really owed more to UK garage than to dubstep. Really, there are few genres that are better to draw from.

Benga is the polar opposite. This is dubstep, a fact he eagerly slaps you with at every turn, every bassline. No one has ever listened to any dubstep without hearing the anthemic Night. There’s not much more to say here: this is the raw core of dubstep. Go listen to it if you’re at all curious.

Key Tracks: Zero M2, Night, The Cut

13. Nik Freitas – Sun Down

I’ve often heard Nik Freitas described as a “happier Elliott Smith,” and while that label isn’t entirely inaccurate, I think it does both artists a bit of a disservice. Yes, he does have similar musical sensibilities, and yes, Nik Freitas is definitely more upbeat than Elliot Smith, but these two things combined don’t make the above a fair observation — rather, they serve as two very strong criteria along which to divide the two. Freitas’ music is full of a lot more of the whimsy and unrestrained glee that often comprise an “indie” release than Smith’s ever was, and shines in a different way for it.

Really though, Sun Down isn’t that much of a wonder to behold from a writing standpoint. Rather, it’s execution and Nik’s excellent singing chops that carry this album — and carry it they do. This is great music to unwind to at the end of the day.

Key Tracks: All the Way Down, Love Around, Shhhh

12. Opeth – Watershed

I’m a huge fan of Opeth — there is a poster flag of the album art for Ghost Reveries hanging on my wall, the only poster I’ve kept through moving for the past 3 years. It would have been for Blackwater Park had I been able to help it, but that proved to be too tricky to find.

The funny thing about Opeth is that their music is so close to broadly appealing in so many directions, and yet they refuse to move out of the niche they have created for themselves. Their acoustic work, while incredibly sombre and dark, is incredibly beautiful — you’d never know it came out of a progressive death metal band (part of this is likely due to their close work with Steve Wilson). Their death metal isn’t something I can comment on since I’m not a fan of the genre, but it’s also not quite pure enough to be satisfying to hardcore fans of that genre. The magic of Opeth, however, is how incredibly easily they drop from one to the other.

This is exactly why I’m not as big a fan of this new Opeth album as I was of their past works. The album is fantastically written as a whole, but something feels forced about the way it evolves. Particularly annoying are the jarring interludes that occur in the album’s longest work, Hessian Peel. The shorter song lengths overall also don’t seem to mesh as well with their writing style as did the 8-10 minute songs of the past.

Key Tracks: The Lotus Eater, Hessian Peel, Hex Omega

11. DJ Frane – Journey to the Planet of the Birds

“He made up his mind– and he wanted to fly…”

I’ve not delved too far into the worlds of trip-hop or downtempo, but if ever there was a great place to start, it would be Journey to the Planet of the Birds. I’ve stated many times before in top album countdowns my weakness for lavish and rich productions, and Birds is practically the definition. From the moment it opens until the moment it ends, there is the distinct impression that there is no detail the man found too insignificant to address.

It’s a bit of a trip, but it’s a trip more than worth taking. I don’t really want to say anything more about this album, because I almost feel like it would be overanalyzing something that’s just supposed to be – and definitely is – a good time. Go check it out.

Key Tracks: Nectar For Isis, Cloudy Voyage, Spice Convoy

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