Hi all. It's Jeff here, with a post that many of you might not be interested in. So feel free to disregard this one, if you were really just hoping for some cute pics of kiddos. Anyway, I spent quite a bit of time in December thinking, worrying really, about what my 'Album of the Year' was going to be. I would occasionally give Steph updates on my thoughts, and one day she asked me if I even ever share this info with anyone else, to which I replied, "Huh? No. I just need to decide about it for myself." But her question did point out to me that I've got some music-loving pals, some of whom read this blog, that might be interested to know my thoughts at the end of this year of new music. Which leads me to this post...

To begin with, I want you to know that the winner this year is definitely not as clear-cut as it has been in years past. A quick recap of the winners from recent years (with iTunes links, if you're interested):

2004: "Who We Are Instead" by Jars of Clay
(An amazing album by one of my alltime favorite bands. This album was sort of a return to awesomeness for these guys, and made me love them more than I ever had before. If you've not heard it before, it's a low-key rock album, with a slightly southern feel, sweet elec. piano and organ on a few tracks, and good thought-provoking lyrics.)
Honorable Mention: "The Beautiful Letdown" by Switchfoot, "Redhead" by Bleu, "Feels Like Home" by Norah Jones

2005: "Nashville" by Josh Rouse
(This album flat-out blew me away right from the outset, which is saying a lot for a pretty low-key album by a not-too-flashy singer/songwriter. There's not a bad song in the bunch, and some of the catchiest and/or prettiest songs I've ever heard. I kind of liked Josh Rouse before this album, but I've loved him ever since.)
Honorable Mention: "Haughty Melodic" by Mike Doughty, "In Your Honor" by the Foo Fighters, "Guero" by Beck

2006: "The Dust of Retreat" by Margot and the Nuclear So & So's
(What a fantastic find! The station manager at my school, PHHS, kept telling me I'd like these guys, and I finally listened to him sometime in the autumn, and I didnt' listen to hardly another album all year. An awesome blend of acoustic guitar/folky feel with a whole bushel worth of other instruments, giving it a very unique, sort of mysterious, feel. The balads on this album are some of my favorites, ever.)
Honorable Mention: "Subtitulo" by Josh Rouse, "Plans" by Death Cab for Cutie, "Ben Kweller" by Ben Kweller, "Some Cities" by Doves

2007: "Oh! Gravity" by Switchfoot
(I was hesitant to buy this album by one of my former favorite bands, after I was let down on their previous release. But thank goodness and Bob Thompson that I gave this one a chance, because it sort of became my soundtrack for life as Steph and I were pursuing the big Colorado move. The lyrics on several songs are amazing motivators to take life by the reins, and the balads are beautiful, and the rock songs, well they rawk.)
Honorable Mention: "Memory Man" by Aqualung, "Amos in Ohio" by Kyle Andrews

So now here we are at 2008, and here's the deal... This year gave me lots of really good albums, but no real standout. In the past couple of years, the winner was either a new band that blew me away and changed my life, or an old favorite act that returned to glory with a new fantastic album. But this year, well, it was good, but nothing clear-cut. So I don't wanna bum you out before we finally hit the meat of this blog post, but that's the facts. This is why I had to think so long and hard about it, and I did come to a decision that I do feel good about. The weird part is that I really liked several albums, so the winner could have gone a few different ways, but it was odd that nothing took hold of the award and said "This is mine, sucka!" So without further ado, here's what I've come up with for 2008...

Honorable Mention:

"Spring/Summer" (EPs) by Jon Foreman
These are the last 2 of the 4-part set of solo EPs from Switchfoot's lead man. These probably would have been my album of the year, except that I got the first two in 2007, and the fact that there are 4 different albums made me a little less excited about each subsequent album. In fact, each one is great, and I simply love the overall feel of these acoustic but still well-produced songs of depth by a great songwriter. If you haven't heard any of this, don't worry about whether or not you like Switchfoot, but please go listen to these. Now. Seriously.
Tracks of Note: "House of God, Forever", "Your Love is Strong"

"Narrow Stairs" by Death Cab for Cutie
I started getting into these guys over the past couple of years, and they've really grown on me a lot. I was looking forward to this album, and it didn't disappoint. I got it a couple weeks before I saw them in concert at Red Rocks, which wsa freakin' awesome! So it's hard for me, actually, to decide whether I really love this album or I really loved the concert or, most likely, both. Parts of this album are a little spooky and serious, and other parts just plain rock - in that nerdy way that only Death Cab is capable of.
Tracks of Note: "Cath", "Long Division", "No Sunlight"

"Raise the Dead" by Phantom Planet
These guys had a great album back several years ago, but have sort of disappointed me since then. So when I got this new album at the library - notice that I didn't even trust them enough to go buy it - I was really pretty blown away. It's a lot harder than the old stuff I loved, but still retains a lot of the melodic qualities that make them great. There's a lot of musical surprises, I think, plus some really catchy tunes. Good album, and a really pleasant surprise to get to listen to an old favorite again.
Tracks of Note: "Leader", "Do the Panic", "Raise the Dead"

"Words and Music" by Aqualung
I just got this album as a Christmas present, and so it's giving me a problem that several albums give me every year. When I've only had an album for a week or two, there's really no way that it can make itself seem as 'important' as an album that's been impacting me for several months. Also, though, I don't want to jump the gun and throw something on the list just because I'm enjoying it a lot in its initial few plays in my CD player. Will I still be enjoying it as much in a month or two? Anyway, I think that this album, by a guy who's becoming one of my favorites, has the staying power to make this list. It's a little lighter than his last one (which is an album that I looooooved) but I think that's okay. He's still basically a serious lyricist, and it's nice to just have some easy-to-like-in-any-mood songs, plus some nice horns here and there.
Tracks of Note: "On My Knees", "7 Keys", "Nothing Else Matters"

And the winner is...

"#%&*! Smilers" by Aimee Mann
I'm not really sure what's up with the title, either, but it is nonetheless my pick for album of the year! I have been a pretty big Aimee Mann fan ever since the early 90's when I luckily picked up her first solo album in a used CD store, because I liked how the cover looked. (I used to buy lots of CDs.) Well, I loved that album, and the one after that, because of the simple songwriting that was beautiful and catchy song after song after song. But then she released an album or two that I missed (because I was listening to more alternative stuff than her at the time), and then she released an album or two that I didn't love much. But then last winter, I was going to be seeing her in concert, so I went back and listened to all of her albums, many times, and realized that she is just a fantastic songwriter. She writes about things that make you think, and that make you feel, and she writes very poetically. And the songs just have such great melodies! And the harmonies, whew! And the instrumentation is great, simple, but adding a touch of something interesting here and there at just the right places.
So anyway, I realized that she's great, and that her albums always grow on me, but that she hadn't released an album that I initially liked in a while. So this year when Steph gave me this album for father's day, and I liked it right from the outset, I knew I was in for something special. It grew on me as much as her other albums have, but since I already liked it, the growth was growth into a love for a truly great album. It wasn't a standout for album of the year, because Aimee Mann has been such a mainstay with me for so many years, and because her songwriting is so simple that it doesn't always jump out at you. But I feel good about this choice as the winner, because it's a great album, and because it was so fun to enjoy an Aimee Mann album right away this year, instead of having to wait a couple years to realyl appreciate it.
As far as specific songs go, I love the horns on "Borrowing Time". They're great throughout, and especially when they get their own little solo section. "It's Over" is a very pretty song, just like most of the ballads that she writes. "Thirty-One Today" is catchy and peppy, and contains just the right amount of that trademark harmony she gets from that guy in her band. "Medicine Wheel" is a nice one toward the end of the album that doesn't grab you right away the first time you listen to it, but that has an awesome little Motown-ish feel to it.

Well, congratulations if you stuck around to read this whole thing. I hope there was something interesting in there for you, and that maybe you even find a song or two you like out of all of this. Talk to you again in a year.


  1. j.ro on January 5, 2009 at 2:02 PM

    i love this! you know i depend on you for good music. i look forward to checking these out!

  2. darbistrahle on January 5, 2009 at 5:05 PM

    So, I went ahead and took some of your "previous" advice and bought the Josh Rouse Nashville album on itunes today. I think I remember you mentioning him to me before. Thanks for the yearly post. :)

  3. James M on January 10, 2009 at 7:50 AM

    I'll be checking out some of these on iTunes. Thanks for the past recap too! I've really enjoyed Josh Rouse (Subtitulo) since our trip to CO.

  4. Jo on January 12, 2009 at 4:06 PM

    I actually read all of this, though I'm not half as into music as you, Dave, or Bob. Still, I recognized a lot of names I liked, and it made me interested in checking out some others that I had never heard of before. So well done Jeff....your Album of the Year post has influenced me (and many others, I see).