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Writers' 2008 Top Releases

Best Album - The Bakerton Group - s/t
Best Record - Mudcrutch - Scare Easy
Best Live Album/DVD - Neal Morse - Sola Scriptura and Beyond

1. The Bakerton Group - s/t
2. Fromuz - Overlook
3. Opeth - Watershed
4. Andrew Gorczyca - Reflections: An Act of Glass
5. Neal Morse - Lifeline
6. Tiles - Fly Paper
7. King's X - XV
8. Ayreon - 01011001
9. Xandria - Now and Forever

Saving a spot for Ty Tabor's "Balance," which I have no doubt will 
make the list when I finally get it.

Dan Singleton

Here is my top 10 favourite records released in 2008. To be honest, I only bought about 15 records released this year, and a whole lot of older records. That being said, I believe that this is a good list, and that the reason these 10 made the list is that I actually believe they are good enough to buy. This list is in alphabetical order and the numbers are for organizational purposes, not ranking.

1. Becoming the Archetype- “Dichotomy”

Epic Progressive Death Metal. Great music, solos, vocals and production. Easily this band’s best record, they have finally learned to write catchy songs and not just riffs.

2. Brave Saint Saturn- “Anti-Meridian”

The highly anticipated third part to the Saturn Five Trilogy lives up to expectations, blowing the previous BS2 records out of the water, and also showing improvement over Five Iron Frenzy’s heyday. Great hooks, melodies and excellent lyrics make this electro-pop disc a winner.

3. Child Bite- “Fantastic Gusts of Blood”

Experimental post punk based on Greek mythology. Excellent vocals reminiscent of Pere Ubu, and spastic music that is as strange as it is catchy. Also check out their remix EP “Exquisite Luxury” also released this year.

4. Jon Foreman- “Fall / Winter / Spring / Summer”

Jon Foreman’s four EPs based on the seasons take him out of Switchfoot’s hard rock territory and place him into the realm of acoustic folk and pop. Excellent lyrics and great music that truly  wouldn’t fit into the realm of his full time band. It doesn’t matter that the four seasons concept doesn’t play out in the songs, they are great slices of pop regardless.

5. Joy Electric- “My Grandfather, The Cubist”

This one is certainly a grower, not jumping out at me as quickly as Ronnie’s other records. That being said the minimalism of the music and vocals truly draws me in on repeated listens. One of JE’s best, and after 23 releases that is saying a lot!

6. Mars ILL- “Black Listed Sessions”

Not one, but two complete revisions of the classic “Blue Collar Sessions” EP. Dust consistently improves the beats, and guest producer Beat Rabbi does great on his two tracks as well. Manchild’s unchanged vocals are as convicting as ever. If Dust continues to write beats this good I don’t care if he does every Mars ILL song seventeen times, I’ll still want it. This two-disc set is a limited edition of 250 with excellent art, so pick it up while you still have the chance.

7. Norma Jean- “The Anti Mother”

Cory Brandon is not Emo. His vocals however, are blisteringly visceral and full of emotion. This album candidly discusses Brandon’s divorce, and his pain is palpable and convicting. Easily the best post-Scogin Norma Jean record.

8. Trenches- “The Tide Will Swallow Us Whole”

This sounds nothing like Haste the Day. If you get it just because of Jimmy Ryan’s presence behind the mic you may be disappointed. This is super sludgy metal, often mid-paced and epic. Comparisons to early Warlord are not without reason. In a word it is great.

9. Thrice- “The Alchemy Index Vols. 3 & 4: Air & Earth”

The most experimental music from Thrice yet. The air disc is light and airy, and the Earth disc is acoustic folk country. It takes some getting used to but it is excellent. Dustin Kensrue’s gorgeous voice and spiritually convicting lyrics shine in any musical setting.

10. Underoath- “Lost in the Sound of Separation”

The most organic sounding Underoath record, void of the vocal layering of past records, this sounds raw and live. The band has now perfected the dichotomy between pummeling metal and catchy hooks.

Honorable Mentions:

Fleet Foxes- S/T, Brendan Canning- Something For All of Us…, 
Deliverance reissues on Retroactive

Noah Salo

In order of best:

Bob Dylan--Tell Tale Signs
A Tribute to James "Yank" Rachell
Randy Newman-Harps and Angels
Mavis Staples-Hope Live at the Hide Out
Brian Wilson-Lucky Old Sun
Richie Furay-Alive
Larry Norman-Anthology
Randy Stonehill-Paradise Sky
Tom Russell-Wounded Heart of America

Terry Roland

In approximate order (best at top):

Wishbone Ash - Argus Then Again Live
Andy Hunter - Colour
Jon Foreman - Fall/ Winter
Various Artists - In the Name of Love: Africa Celebrates U2
Jason Carter / Natassa Mare - The Embrace
Brian Houston - Three Feet from Gold
Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes
Heidi Talbot - In Love & Light
Solas - Of Love & Laughter
Mavis Staples - Hope Live at the Hideout

It is particularly hard to rate these in specific order because they 
include dance, rock, world, folk, blues-gospel, 
classic-flamenco-ambient, etc.

Derek Walker

The Top Ten of 2008

Of course I’ll hate myself in the morning, when I wake up and say, “awww – how did I forget that one,” but, for better or worse, here’s what I hope will be a fairly diverse list of CDs that stayed with me, impressed me, or surprised me last year. Some of them might be border-line in terms of release date, but they belonged more to 2008 than 2007, for sure. I’ve decided to think in terms of categories…

  • Best Prog:
  • Neal Morse: “Lifeline” – Neal’s non-concept project is a pleasure to listen to and is user-friendly even for the person who’s new to prog. Yes, there are long, intricate songs, but the format doesn’t tie you into an intimidating listening experience. This one has passion, humor, stunning musicianship, great lyrics, and a sneezing sea monster!
Best Jazz/Jazz fusion:
  • Jeff Coffin and Charlie Peacock: “Arc of the Circle” – Charlie goes instrumental again with Bela Fleck sideman Jeff Coffin, giving us some out-there, infectious, funky jazz jams.
Best re-issues and collections:
  • Amy Grant: “Lead Me On: 20th Anniversary Edition” – a reminder of just how insightful, honest and artistic pop music can get. Nice extras, great sound….
  • Phil Keaggy: “Master and the Musician 30th Anniversary Edition” – Always great to re-listen to a masterpiece. This important work is re-released with a second disc of extra goodies. Essential for the Keaggy fan, and a must-have for any collector of Christian music.
  • Switchfoot: “The Best Yet” – a sensible, well-thought collection, and a reminder of how good this band has been over the years. A great starter for the new fan. The video disc is wonderful!
  • Danielson: “Trying Hartz” – an excellent best-of collection including several live recordings. Either you ‘get’ Danielson or you don’t, but this is a good way to figure out where you stand.
Best Gospel/Soul/Urban, etc….
  • Ty Tribbett and G.A.: “Stand Out!” – the Frank Zappa of black Gospel music delivers an amazing three-ring circus of funk, jazz fusion, R&B, and traditional Gospel music on this live recording. One of the most high-energy recordings of the year. Total fun, totally inspirational.
  • Mary Mary: “The Sound” – Mary Mary gets down like a Motown girl-group. It’s like summertime radio in the early sixties but with a modern twist. Infectious stuff, and strong ballads as a bonus. A great ‘record.’
  • Technically, Marvin Winans’ “Alone But Not Alone” is from the end of 2007, but Marvin stepped out of the box and gave us a moving, thoughtful, jazzy CD that can stand up to the best of them….
Best project from a ‘Classic’ CCM artist:
  • Bryan Duncan and the Nehosoul Band: “Still Dancin’” – Bryan does it again, without missing a step. This is funky, heartfelt stuff.
  • Kevin Max: OK – He gave us “The Blood” just before the end of 2007, and then gave us “Crashing Gates” just before the end of 2008. Both projects are excellent: one, an examination of the past, the other, an examination of the future. Not ban, Kevin, not bad…..!
  • Phil Keaggy: “Phantasmagorical” – Phil keeps producing some of the best instrumental work around. More than three decades after his first instrumental masterpiece, the Energizer Elf keeps going and going……
  • Sam Phillips: “Don’t Do Anything” – and nobody does it with more class and insight than Sam.
  • Honorable mention: John Schlitt: “The Grafting” – Fine, mature, Beatle-esque pop rock from this veteran.
Best Rock and Roll Album:
  • The 77s: “Holy Ghost Building” – this is the real stuff, kids.
Most surprising debut:
  • Chris Sligh: “Running Back to You” – Commercial? Sure. Good? Yes – very good. Sligh’s debut is musically strong, with great vocals and solid Christian lyrics. An excellent CD full of great songs. Try to forget that he was a contestant on American Idol, and give the guy a listen.
Best Indie projects: A three-way tie for three wonderful, creative, projects….
  • Judd and Maggie: “Kingdom of Noise”
  • Sarah Macintosh: “The Waiters, The Watchers, The Listeners, The Keepers, And Me”
  • Trevor Davis: “Nothing Ringing True”
So there you have it. Not exactly a top ten…. And not exactly all 2008 releases. So I cheated a little. I’ll hate myself in the morning, anyway.
 Bert Saraco

Here's my top 10 records released in 2008, in NO PARTICULAR ORDER, with a few lines about each.

## - Artist - "Album Name"

01 - Thrice - "The Alchemy Index Vol. 3 & 4: Air & Earth"

If their 2007 EP "The Alchemy Index Vol. 1 & 2: Fire & Water" hinted at anything, it was that the experimental direction begun on their previous record "Vheissu" was but a portent of things to come. "Vol. 1: Fire" revealed that Thrice can still melt faces with blistering post-punk rock even when they play with bizarre timings and unique structures, and "Vol 2: Water" revealed an entrancing, largely synthesized, beautiful ambient Thrice we had never heard before. In a
similar fashion, "Air & Earth" pushes that envelope further, with "Air" glistening and crackling with quiet energy and what can only be described as a whirlwind of light and atmospheric crescendos. Conversely, "Earth" shares much more in common with frontman Dustin Kensrue's solo work and is full of acoustic sounds akin to Johnny Cash and old-school folk and country records than anything else in Thrice's catalog. In a word, breathtaking.

02 - Brave Saint Saturn - "Anti-Meridian"

Not only the best BS2 record, but the best thing Reese Roper has ever written and performed vocals for - and that includes Five Iron Frenzy. A brilliant ending to the loose story arc begun back on "So Far From Home" and continued on "The Light of Things Hoped For". Lyrically strong, musically strong, and very highly rated independent release out of the remains of what will always be one of Third Wave Ska's greatest memories.

03 - Underoath - "Lost In The Sound Of Separation"

Blistering, anthemic, organic, pulsating with purpose, raw, passionate, and ultimately the best Underoath record to date. Structurally remarkable as it almost unilaterally avoids the trappings of traditional verse-chorus, and sonically/lyrically impressive as it comes across with a remarkable juxtaposition of distortion and clarity.

04 - Emery - "Where Broken Hearts Prevail EP"

Quite simply, this is a wonderful hybrid of the sounds explored on "The Question" and "I'm Only A Man". In short, they've taken the best parts of both, made a hybrid, tightened up the screws, and unleashed their best album ever - the only downside is that it only lasts 7 tracks.

05 - The Classic Crime - "The Silver Cord"

Not exactly known for pushing envelopes musically, The Classic Crime do manage to outdo their previous work both in terms of scope and in terms of sound - with the tasteful appearance of quite a few new instruments (the least of which is not frontman Matt MacDonald's visceral yells, a welcome addition). Overall, there's a whole lot more depth and maturity here, resulting in one of the best rock albums in recent memory.

06 - Becoming The Archetype - "Dichotomy"

Quite simply, Becoming the Archetype finally realized their remarkable potential on this album. Moving out of riff-city and into epic-metropolis, and from "we can write sweet bits for songs" to "we do write great complete songs". Consequently, this is the year's must-have metal record. A completely mind-blowing re-imagining of the classic hymn "How Great Thou Art" stands as an example.

07 - Dustin Kensrue - "This Good Night Is Still Everywhere"

Thrice frontman Dustin Kensrue releases his second solo effort, this time a Christmas record. Questionable choice? Sure. Fantastic results? Absolutely. Eight covers (only one or two that are unremarkable) and two amazing originals. This one will see regular rotation for many years to come.

08 - Mars Ill - "Black Listed Sessions"

Mars Ill's producer and deejay extraordinaire DJ Dust has been remixing their records since 2003, and the results are consistently as good or better than the original mixes. In this double-take on their previous "Blue Collar Sessions" EP, Dust provides us with some amazing reimaginings of classic tracks. They are so good that they might as well Blacklist them, for their release upon unsuspecting eardrums might cause the musical equivalent of a hydrogen bomb attack.

09 - Deepspace5 - "Bake Sale"

Upon finding themselves label-less after a brief stint on Gotee Records, rap supercrew Deepspace5 set out to record and release their third album independently. To fund the effort, they recorded and released this incredible 10-track equivalent of a grade school bake sale (hence the name) to raise funds for putting out album #3 (which will be called "The Future Ain't What It Used To Be"). The results, as always, are spectacular. Challenging beats coupled with
humorous/convicting/clever raps, and brief enough to leave you hungering for DS5#3 in 2009.

10 - Copeland - "You Are My Sunshine"
Copeland finds itself on Tooth & Nail Records, being produced by Aaron Sprinkle. Awesome, overwhelming serenity results. Hands down the smooth, sleepy, ambient, vocal-driven hit of the year.

Honourable Mentions:
GZA/Genius - "Pro Tools"
Coldplay - "Viva La Vida"
City & Colour - "Bring Me Your Love"
Brandon Heath - "What If We"
Sev Statik - "Shotgun"
Death Cab For Cutie - "Narrow Stairs"

Jerry Bolton

1. Coldplay- Viva La Vida
2. Christopher Ames- Everyday With You
3. Ben Folds- Way To Normal
4. Conor Oberst- S/T
5. Relient K- The Bird and The Bee Sides
6. Anberlin- New Surrender
7. Starflyer 59- Dial M
8. The Hold Steady- Stay Positive
9. R.E.M.- Accelerate
10. The Afters- Never Going Back To OK

Top EP: 

Bill Mallonee- Lower Case

Honorable Mentions: 

Death Cab For Cutie- Narrow Stairs
Jack's Mannequin- The Glass Passenger
Augustana- Can't Love, Can't Hurt
Weezer- The Red Album
Sheryl Crow- Detours
Tristan Prettyman- "Hello---x"
Mudcrutch- "Mudcrutch"
The Fratellis- "Here We Stand"
Counting Crows- "Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings"

James Morovich

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