I turned 40 this year, so I feel I earned the license to drop out of the pop culture circus. Maybe some of you got your license awhile back, but I admit, it was a little troubling for me. Anyway, I can't tell you how good the new Lil Wayne album was, because I haven't listened to him since he was a teenage guest star on Juvenile's 400 Degreez album back in 1997 (which is probably the last hip hop album I bought, legally at least). I didn't get any music by young sensitive men with shaggy beards: Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver, et al. I couldn't tell you what "autotuned vocals" sound like. And I haven't watched a season of "American Idol" since... well, I haven't watched a season of "American Idol" ever. (Although I do think about that freaky girl who sang "I Feel The Earth Move" sometimes.) No disrespect any of those performers: I am simply an old fart who knows what music I like, seeks out more of it, and thinks about it a lot when I'm driving or walking the dog. Here then--dubiously, irreverently-- is the benefit of my thinking. Behold, My Favorite Albums Of 2008


So this is what it has come to in 2008: Yo Gabba Gabba (children's TV show soundtrack)
I'm on the fence about which TV show this year was my favorite: "Mad Men," which I watch when my 3-year old daughter Amelia is asleep, or "Yo Gabba Gabba," which we watch together. "Mad Men" is of course great, but with the possible exception of the fifth episode--the flashback to Peggy's pregnancy, when Don Draper advises her to "move forward... it will shock you how much it never happened"--this season for me never quite achieved the poetry of season one (particularly its finale). By contrast, "Yo Gabba Gabba" was almost consistently pitch perfect, so I might have to give it the nod.
For those of you who don't have preschoolers or watch the Noggin channel, the concept of "Yo Gabba Gabba" is basically: what if Daft Punk were allowed to redesign Sesame Street? The characters would look even weirder, the settings would be mostly line-drawn and flourescent, and the original songs would be set to electronic music. This is a great thing for a show that urges viewers to sing along and dance to ditties like "Party in My Tummy" (which has been endlessly remixed on YouTube). Now, your children can come of age on the cutting edge of dance music without having to break curfew and take pills of mysterious origin in some nightclub.
But much of Yo Gabba Gabba is given over to short animations of random childhood whimsy where the soundtrack is frequently indie pop. I find this possibly a more signal development, because it means indie pop has found a setting that validates its on-going slide into retrogressive infantilism (a trend which began, oh I don't know... around 9/11). As a result, I finally have given an admiring listen to the Postmarks, the Trembling Blue Stars, Tahiti 80, and other indie-pop bands that bored me on college radio, Spin Magazine, and most music blogs. Amelia, of course, is blissfully unaware of the high bar set by 90s indie-pop pioneers like Stereolab, who to my recollection never sang about balloons or kites.
"Party in my Tummy"


And now... Album of the Year: Fucked Up, The Chemistry of Common Life
Yeah, I jumped on the bandwagon and discovered these Canadians thanks to the promotional push of their new label, Matador Records, and the massive hype they received on the blogosphere this year. But in this case the hype was worth it: this band has the most anthemic songs, the fattest guitar sound, the most whomping rhythm section, and the most progressive yet obtuse lyrical agenda of anything I heard this year. They're ostensibly a hardcore punk rock band, which is most apparent in the barking vocals of singer Pink Eyes, but The Chemistry of Common Life is very much a hard rock record. It seems to me we used to think of Fugazi along these lines (remember "Waiting Room"?) until they went all squally in the 90s.
"No Epiphany"


Best romantic music if your idea of romance is a bottle of champagne at a W Hotel suite: Shelby Lynne, Just a Little Lovin'
Music may be to stir the passions, but why should passion be expressed in seven octaves when a little smoldering restraint can say so much more? Shelby Lynne really put the studio polish on these 10 Dusty Springfield classics (plus one original song that you won't be able to pick out). I kind of miss her hellion country-girl sass, but this was nonetheless an album she needed to make. If you've been waiting for someone to make an album like k.d. lang's Ingenue, or yes even Norah Jones' Come Away With Me, then look no further.
"I Don't Want To Hear It Anymore"


Best romantic music if your idea of romance is a sifter of absinthe at a dank bar well after closing: The Walkmen, You & Me
For such young men, the Walkmen sure seem to work up a melancholy over the passage of time and what it has done to their ideals and commitments. A moody, spooky reverb washes over the whole album, and the singer's Dylan affectations have finally come into their own.
"Donde Esta La Playa"


Best romantic music if your idea of romance is a bottle of cough syrup at a roller rink in the afternoon: Beach House, Devotion
Really, you ought to try it some time with someone you care for.


Best old album given a new reissue: Martha and the Muffins, Danseparc
Any year is a good one to get reacquainted with these overlooked Canadian legends, but no time is better than the present now that Cherry Red Records has released a 25th anniversary edition of the Muffins' fourth album. Subdued and sexy, nonlinear and direct, funky and sublime--these tensions are the hallmark of classic new wave, and they run continuously through this album. Remind me one day to tell you my theory of how Martha and the Muffins developed in artistic parallel with the Talking Heads, from the choice of producers (Muffins: Daniel Lanois :: Heads: Brian Eno) to the creative arc of their albums. Suffice it to say, Danseparc is their Remain in Light.
"Danseparc (Every Day It's Tomorrow)"


Best new album by an old rocker: Lindsay Buckingham, Gift of Screws
Maybe everyone loves Fleetwood Mac, but I'm an advocate for Lindsay Buckingham--his distinctive pickless guitar playing, the sonic fairydust that only a filthy rich studio genius can achieve, even the cheesy Bee Gee-like harmonies he gets when he multi-tracks his backing vocals. This fifth solo album has all of these in spades. Acoustic freak-folkers could learn a thing or two from the echoey arpeggios Lindsay gets on "Time Precious Time."
"Time Precious Time"


Honorable mention for best new album by an old rocker: The Breeders, Mountain Battles
Yes, the Breeders are old now; their first album came out when my college students students were being born and, uh, bred. But this, their fourth (!) album, was a pleasant surprise from the very first note. Not all of the songs hit the mark (no for the one in Spanish, yes for the one in German), but when they do, the Breeders' increasing obscurity makes Mountain Battles feel like a secret treasure you don't have to share with anyone else.


Best new singer-songwriter: Devon Williams, Carefree
Watching Elvis Costello do his talk-show host gig on the Sundance Channel's "Spectacle" has me wondering whatever happened to the 'alternative' singer-songwriter that he introduced? I miss his caustic lyrics and the balance between compositional ambition and pop conciseness that he struck, which laid waste to the solipsism of the L.A. troubadours that reigned before him. Who gives record contracts to all these handsome young guys with their prefabricated aged denim jeans, expensive acoustic guitars (maybe a dobro for that touch of authenticity), and breathy vocals? Who is to blame for the dominance of this style: Jeff Buckley, Elliot Smith, Counting Crows? I haven't read or seen pictures of this guy Devon Williams, but I like that he's pursuing that lost tradition. Extra kudos for the Prefab Sprout touches on "Fragile Weapon."
"Fragile Weapon"


Best stoner rock (that isn't "stoner rock") album: The Secret Machines, The Secret Machines
I won't name any names (since some of those names may be reading this), but a long time ago, some of us used to gather in darkened dorm rooms, crank up side three of Led Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti, and ascend into a spacey nirvana where the whomp of the drums kept the time of a faucet drip. Now that weed has gotten all cool--quick, name three films released this year where marijuana is a key premise--I fear the youth may be losing this ancient art of geek transcendence. Thankfully, the Secret Machines are keeping the art alive. The departure of founding guitarist Benjamin Curtis seems to have done them some good after their disappointing last album. He's gone on to form the promising School of Seven Bells, while the Machines have resumed their lone-gun mission of updating Zeppelinesque psychedelia for a Radiohead era.
"Last Believer, Drop Dead"


Honorable mention for best stoner rock (that isn't "stoner rock") album: Endless Boogie, Focus Level
Man, talk about truth in advertising. This quartet of hairy, ugly old guys play a lobotomized boogie that makes 70s warhorses Molly Hatchet sound like a progressive-rock band. Check these song titles: "Steak Rock," "Smoking Figs in the Back Yard," "The Manly Vibe," "Jammin' With Top Dollar..." If anyone was wondering where Captain Caveman went, he's behind the mic for this band. The genius is, these 10-minute, two-chord jams actually work! If you ever lived in the South or the Midwest, you have both heard this music all your life and have never heard anything like this before.
"The Manly Vibe"


Best "stoner rock" album: Black Mountain, In the Future
You go, Canada. What is that, like, three albums in My Favorite Albums Of 2008? But next year Obama is coming, and the U.S. is taking its cool back.
"Stormy High"