Although our music tastes are not nearly as thorough or eclectic as, say, Jerry Grit (whom we consider a kind of indie rock mentor, and who began his own year-long music project here), we’ll do our best to offer a varied list of the Eleven Best Albums of 2008 (and our eleven favorite songs).*
First, a quick note on methodology: Erin, Ben and guest critic Bevin Beers all agreed on our eleven favorite albums of 2008, then individually ranked them (numerically, from favorite  to least favorite ). Scores are included alongside each review. Ben has lodged an official protest because
THE HOLD STEADY, Stay Positive only gets an “honorable mention” with a score of 26. Erin and Bevin both ranked it 11th, while Ben ranked it 4th. We’ve already had a pro/con on this album, and it nearly ripped our marriage apart. Let’s just go straight to the list.
10. FLEET FOXES, Fleet Foxes . It was love at first listen when we heard “White Winter Hymnal.” The first (though least impressive, beard-wise) of four great bearded artists to appear on our list.
9. VAMPIRE WEEKEND, Vampire Weekend . We are sure to endure the wrath of Mr. Grit himself** for loving this album as much as we do, but our hips just can’t stop shaking to “Cape Cod (Kwassa Kwassa)” or “A-Punk.” Listening to this album again last week after it spent months on the shelf, we’re convinced it’ll hold up well.
8. CALEXICO, Carried To Dust . It’d be a stretch to say that if Cormac McCarthy wrote music instead of books it’d sound something like Calexico (albiet it with a (slightly) sunnier outlook on life). But they definitely reside in the same geographical terrain. Would Anton Chigurh have Calexico on his iPod? Or would he listen to acid jazz? Probably acid jazz.
6. TV ON THE RADIO, Dear Science . Ben’s number one did not fare as well with the Beers sisters. Everyone else — Rolling Stone, Spin and Entertainment Weekly — is anointing Dear Science best of the year. It’s the first TVOTR album that really clicks for us. “Golden Age,” “Halfway Home” and “Lover’s Day” have all received ample airplay on the Vore car stereo. The second of the four great bearded albums of the year.
5. SIGUR ROS, Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust . As close as Sigur Ros will get to releasing a radio-friendly Top 40 album. Right out of the gate, “Gobbledigook” sets a poppy tone while “Inni mer syngur vitleysingur” is a tiny masterpiece that bursts open with a joyful horn explosion. The later half of the album sags, but the first five songs more than make up for it.
4. DR. DOG, Fate . Bevin’s favorite album of the year scored decently with the Vores. The second best thing to come out of Philadelphia (after “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”).
3. BON IVER, For Emma, Forever Ago . Bon Iver [a k a, Justin Vernon] pulled an Andrew Bird/Ray Lamontagne and wrote this album at a remote cabin in rural Wisconsin (with only a DVD of Northern Exposure as escape). The runner-up for beards (and cats)!
2. THAO, We Brave Bee Stings And All . Erin’s favorite album of the year. We have Mr. Bescak to thank for introducing us, although Matthew Leathers*** claims he told Ben about it a long time ago. And Ms. Nguyen graced Cincinnati with her presence this year! Yet another reason to love Ohio.
1. BONNIE “PRINCE” BILLY, Lay Down In The Light . The only album to score in the single digits, Lay Down in the Light was no one’s top pick but it scored no lower than three on any list. Was the difference the beard? It is the most impressive of all. And Mr. Oldham’s talents are not limited to the musical realm. Thinking about just how much we played this album this year, we’re comfortable endorsing it at number one. And three of its songs made our favorites list below.
MOST DISAPPOINTING ALBUMS OF THE YEAR
MY MORNING JACKET, Evil Urges. We’ve heard MMJ is great live. We’ve heard this album praised by friends whose tastes we greatly respect. Craig Finn of The Hold Steady told Rolling Stone it was his favorite album of the year. But we just don’t get it. “Highly Suspicious” doesn’t get us excited, it just makes us want to skip to the next song. And why is Jim James writing love songs to a librarian? O-ver-rate-ded (clap clap clapclapclap).
STEREOLAB, Chemical Chords. We incurred Mr. Grit’s wrath for not liking this album. We know Stereolab are stalwarts. We’re big fans of Sound-Dust. It’s just that this was background music that didn’t have the decency to just fade into the background. Seriously, we’re selling this to the highest bidder.
WOLF PARADE, At Mount Zoomer. Both Mr. Bescak and Mr. Leathers have made the case that this album grows on you with each listen. And it’s not a bad album. But it doesn’t belong in the same breath as Apologies to the Queen Mary — which we’ll listen to twenty times for every one spin AMZ gets.
FAVORITE SONGS OF THE YEAR
“Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It),” Beyonce. If you have not already watched this video, 19,510,835 people have beaten you to it. But someone living in a cave has not. You can still get there first.
“Fated to Pretend,” MGMT. Here’s a little experiment you can try sometime: Get on the highway and start this song while driving 55 mph. Scientists predict that by the end of it, you will be going 93 mph and have a grin stretching from ear-to-ear. Out of curiosity: Just how many drugs do you think were consumed in the making of this video?
“White Winter Hymnal,” Fleet Foxes. Insanely catchy and beautiful harmonies in the round.
“Army of Ancients,” Dr. Dog. We found no good videos of this song on them there World Wide Webs, so just go buy the album. You’ll also be treated to “Uncovering the Old,” which is no slouch either.
“Walls,” Beck. No cool video here either, but you can at least listen to the song here.
“Slowness,” Calexico. And yet another without video. But it’s pretty, trust us.
“Magick,” Ryan Adams & The Cardinals. The quality’s not great, but these hooks cannot be contained by poor video and sound quality.
“Easy Does It,” “So Everyone” and “I’ll Be Glad,” Bonnie “Prince” Billy. Every song on this album is well worth a listen, but these three stand out. We found a funky version of “Easy Does It” on YouTube, but it might scare the faint of heart. We will merely link to it with this disclaimer: We prefer listening to BPB rather than watching him. (There’s a big difference.)
“Golden Age,” TV on the Radio. Is that a chicken playing bass?
(Now, if you haven’t seen it, go watch their Letterman appearance playing “Wolf Like Me.”)
Merry Christmas! Best & Worst of Movies coming Friday. Or Saturday! Depending on how much eggnog we consume.
* = As with any proper music list, this one goes to eleven.
** = We suspect Mr. Grit would concur with Mike Breen’s assessment of VW in Cincinnati’s alt-weekly CityBeat: “The ‘big album of the year that I just don’t get.’ I hear people say it’s like Paul Simon’s Graceland mixed with Indie Pop. And I always say, ‘That sounds like the music that will be playing if I ever blow my head off with a shotgun.'”
*** = Speaking of Matthew Leathers, his Top 10 music list is here.****
**** = And let’s not forget that Mark Hoobler has already posted his Best of 2008 here.