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The Set List

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The Set List
By Brian Washburn

The Best Albums of 2008

And, kudos to the NWA rock scene

As the end of the year approaches, it is time to look back and reflect on a few of the most memorable moments, releases and bands of 2008. Plus, it wouldn’t hurt to put a few of these mind-blowing releases on Christmas lists.
While 2008 saw releases from some of the most notable artists in music, it is hard to argue that this was the year of Lil’ Wayne. The man sold more than a million albums in just the first week, released four successful singles and is selling out concerts all over the world. The only question remaining with Weezy is if his world domination will turn over with the new year.
With upcoming and recent hip-hop releases from Kanye West, 50 Cent and Eminem, Weezy better watch his back or else one of them might steal the hip-hop championship away from him.
Even though Lil’ Wayne sold the most albums to date this year—and it was an amazing record—it is hard to deny the brilliant records released this year, which make up my top albums of the year. Here they are:

1) Death Cab for Cutie – “narrow stairs”
Indie kings Death Cab for Cutie released “Narrow Stairs” in May, and it seems the band has not looked back. Although the Seattle-based band members have been deemed “sell outs” and other ridiculous titles since signing onto their major label before their last album, the indie rockers completely dismissed the notion they would only release “radio-friendly music.” In fact, “Narrow Stairs” is dark, experimental,
catchy (at times) and a step up from 2006′s “Plans.” It’s been a long time since the now shuttered Clunk Music Hall’s Chris Selby brought this band to Fayetteville, but he did and look at them now—two Grammy nominations, for Best Rock Song of the Year (“I Will Possess Your Heart”) and Best Alternative Music Album (“narrow stairs”).

2) MGMT – “Oracular Spectacular”
Electronic rock band MGMT burst onto the scene with their ultra-catchy, lyrically smart single “Time to Pretend” from one of the year’s best albums, “Oracular Spectacular.” However, it’s their current single – the ’80s electro-influenced “Electric Feel” that really shows the band’s diverse sound mixed with intelligent lyrics. MGMT will be a band to reckon with in 2009.

3) Vampire Weekend – “Vampire Weekend”
The New York beach-indie rockers have already swarmed college radio and the college-themed MTVU. It’s only a matter of time until the rest of the world begins to admire Vampire Weekend and their unusual sound, which makes you want to lie on the beach all day and almost genius lyrics, which makes you wish you had attended an East Coast school like the band members did. But then again, the outside-the-box-thinking of VW might just be over the heads of a majority of music connoisseurs, especially those who listen to the radio.

4) Jacks Mannequin – “The Glass Passenger”
After coming out the victor in a battle with leukemia, JM frontman Andrew McMahon had a lot of sunny themes to sing about on his solo act’s sophomore effort. While the pop, rock and piano of 2006′s “Everything in Transit” is still there, this time McMahon takes his songwriting to a whole new level. One that will not only propel him to the top of the pop/rock charts, but that will cement his foundation into piano-rock history.

5) The Killers – “Day and Age”
Overcoming the sophomore disaster that was “Sam’s Town” will not only see The Killers make an enormous dent on the national music scene, but it also landed them this spot on my top albums of the year. Plus, it’s hard to deny the songwriting brilliance of “Dustland County Fairytale.” Or the pop potential of “Spaceman,” which could be the breakout single for early 2009.

6) Kanye West- “808s and Heartbreaks”
Yes, he is a jerk. Yes, he does have the biggest ego in music today (sorry Axl Rose). And yes, he does assault photographers on a weekly basis. But it’s hard to argue with the musical brilliance of West. He took a sound that made him a millionaire over the past couple of years and threw it out the window. He had the guts to experiment with something completely different and it works to a tee.

7) The Raconteurs – “Consolers of the Lonely”
Whatever Jack White touches turns to musical gold. While The White Stripes have shot the leading man to the forefront of today’s modern brilliant songwriters, it is the full band, dual vocals of The Raconteurs that really allows White to shine. “Consolers of the Lonely” provides a platform for listeners to take in exactly how White writes, performs and dazzles.

8) Lil’ Wayne – “Tha Carter 111”
I give in. It’s hard to leave off an album as catchy, smart and fun as Weezy’s latest. Plus, it sold more than a million copies in one week. That, my friends, is what you call mind blowing.

9) Underoath- “Lost in the Sound of Separation”
The Florida metalcore band might have moved their sound drastically from pop screamo to progressive metalcore in the past five years, but the songwriting on their latest release has taken a direction not seen in the emo, screamo, metal or hardcore music scene of today. It is heavier, but that has allowed the band to attempt songs that will, and have, set them apart.

10) Anthony Green – “Avalon” and Conor Oberst – “Conor Oberst”
This has been a year when frontmen stepped away from their bands to become solo acts. While Anthony Green’s “Avalon” simply blew my mind the first few listens, Oberst’s songwriting abilities continue to amaze me with each record he releases. These two albums might not be ones for the ages, but they certainly offer a look into the future as far as letting listeners know what they can expect from two of rock’s best songwriters.

A few honorable mentions and phenomenal releases in 2008 came from The Gaslight Anthem, (“The ’59 Sound”), Fall Out Boy (“Folie a Deaux”), The Academy Is (“Fast Times at Barrington High” and yes it’s extremely poppy, but that’s what makes it stick) AC/DC (“Black Ice”) and Guns N’ Roses (“Chinese Democracy”).

Although 2008 saw the emergence of some impressive new artists, it also saw the emergence of some ridiculous new artists, such as the Jonas Brothers (just a marketing scheme), Tokio Hotel (it doesn’t
matter how popular they are in Europe, they are horrible in America) and Metro Station (with no talent, they shouldn’t be popular anywhere in the world).

The national music scene was not the only place to be in 2008. The Northwest Arkansas music scene shot to new heights this year with the emergence of new albums, artists and music venues. Unfortunately it also saw the demise of a few much loved music sanctuaries and performers.

The highlight of the year in NWA came from the local rock scene. While the region has always been well known for bluegrass and country influenced rock, the rock scene took a step up this year and proved it could compete at a national level.

There were popular releases from Benjamin Del Shreve, A Good Fight and Thanks For Nothing. Hard rockers, The Wedding, took a step forward by hiring ex-Letter Kills vocalist Matt Shelton to head the band. The Wedding’s 2008 EP features a sound that will be a force to reckon with in 2009.

Although all of the above mentioned musicians have not yet received their much deserved time in the national limelight, they have pushed NWA music to the brink of American rock music recognition.
But while NWA musicians stepped it up, the year saw some of the area’s favorite venues shut down. NWA’s “scene” hangout, The Music Hall, shut down after a decade of both hard and soft rock shows. 2008 also saw the shutdown of The Gypsy on Dickson and although the rock venue has re-opened on College, it’s simply not the same. And what was Fayetteville’s most comfortable and respected blues clubs, The Green Door, also called it quits. But the news is not all bad. New venues such as The OPO and Froggy’s, are giving local and touring acts more opportunities in NWA.

Final Thought: With the brilliance and blunders of 2008, let’s just hope 2009 focuses more on musicianship rather than image. Then again, we are talking about a music scene that made Miley Cyrus a billionaire, so we won’t hold our breaths.

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