10. Sleeping in the Aviary — Expensive Vomit in a Cheap Hotel
Indie-rock’s logophobia has grown so chronic that even singer-songwriters, who you’d think would man the last bastion of rock verbosity, are now given to inarticulate moodscapes. Elliott Kozel’s got plenty more to say than his much-lauded fellow Sconnie Justin Vernon, mostly about mortality and girls, and thankfully he’s messier about getting it all out too. Superficially Kozel resembles Conor Oberst, as much in the gang’s-all-here supporting blare of his band as in his folkie Robert-Smith-as-Dylan whine, minus the poetic excesses. And while I don’t hear Jeff Mangum myself, if all those Neutral Milk Hotel comparisons online get the kids to listen, well, bring ’em on.
9. Roots — Rising Down
Critical consensus (if such a thing still exists, or matters) may contend that it’s been downhill for ?uestlove and crew since they shed their early trappings of fusoid fuzz and the escapist nostalgia it represented. Me, I’m with Nate Patrin’s espousal of them as “intelligently aggressive firebrands.” More supple rhythmically than Game Theory, just plain more substantial than The Tipping Point, Rising Down is their hardest reminder to date that cities are far more than just white hipster playscapes. And with Black Thought but one voice among a dozen rappers here, they offer the broadest panorama of black male perspectives on disc since prime Wu-Tang.
8. No Age — Nouns
Randy Randall’s prickling riffs and Dean Spunt’s blunt barks emerge more clearly on the duo’s first genuine LP, and that newfound clarity accentuates just how much darker their lyrics are than their squall. On the paranoid “Teen Creeps,” the kids coming up behind them aren’t actually quite nice at all, and even the apparently sunny “Here Should Be My Home” has a dark undertow. Rather than trying to spook the squares with loud noises, or out-ugly the competition in a race to the bottom, Randall and Spunt summon compensatory beauty from the depths of their dissonance.
7. Erykah Badu — New Amerykah, Pt. 1: 4th World War
Retro for sure, her stoned doomsaying, acid guitar, and keyboard reverberance hearken back not just to Funkadelic but to turn-of-the-century R&B. Turn of the 21st, that is, when weirdoes like Erykah offered a muzzy organic alternative to the machine-tooled contemporary beats that have become only more oppressive and inhumane since. During that same time, she herself has grown stranger, more cryptic and confused, submerged within a sensibility well-suited to the year that gave us both a black president and a resurgence of old school racism. Hardly fool enough to resort to Ice Cube’s slanderous three Ks, she inserts herself into the name of a homeland she too hears singing — not that she’d ever be so assimilationist as to quote the dead white male who first claimed the same.
6. Orchestra Baobab–Made in Dakar
The continued existence of Senegal’s greatest Afro-Cuban ensemble might have seemed less newsworthy in ’08 than their first comeback had six years prior. But a working band can achieve a consistency that a reunion act lacks. With five singers on board and various guests sitting in, that consistency’s hardly a given, but the center holds thanks to the stabilizing presence of lawyer and lead guitarist Barthelemy Attisso and the dominant voice of original saxman Issa Cissoko. Even the title is less generic than it seems – these three oldies and five new cuts were all recorded at Youssou N’Dour’s Xippi studios, the jewel of Senegal’s revitalized music scene.