28 July 2008

Best of '08 (so far): Steady as they go

Three great records are in heavy rotation for me right now. (Well, four. But I've already written about this one.) So maybe these are my strongest contenders for record of the year so far:

* Raconteurs, "Consolers of the Lonely": Jack White, Brendan Benson & Co. sneaked this thing out with, like, two weeks' notice. After a noisy couple of tracks — which Stephen Thomas Erlewine insinuates is an "In your face!" to critics of the last record's softer sound — the boys get down to very, very good business. In all, this is a boozier, braver and better album than their debut. And the fact that it just appeared makes it all the more magical.

* My Morning Jacket, "Evil Urges": God bless these guys for pushing at the walls. At different times in their career, they've been hailed as a great jam band, heirs to Neil Young, alt-country akin to the Drive-By Truckers. Yet they seem to be interested in none of those labels. This album's third track sounds more like Prince than anything else. Behind the quirkier cuts are songs that will appeal to fans of "It Still Moves" and "Z." But the experimental stuff should do well to separate the fly-by-night fans from the ones willing to go on a ride without knowing the destination.

* Okkervil River, "The Stand Ins": This one's not out until September, when I'll buy it. Right now I'm listening to the leak, and I love it. This is a sort of sequel/companion piece to last year's "The Stage Names," and the pop culture references from that record still abound (Zykos; Bruce Wayne Campbell; Yet another reference to porn star Savannah), but here they're nesting in a setting that's more folk-rock than pop. Musically, it sounds like a cross between "Stage Names" and "Don't Fall in Love with Everyone You See," and tracks like "Singer Songwriter" and "Calling and Not Calling My Ex" recall early Dylan more strongly than any of their previous work.

Last year about this time I was raving about the Apples in Stereo and Of Montreal records — so Georgia was definitely representing. This year, not so much. Although barring an incredible crop of music for the second half, REM's "Accelerate" will probably end up on my year-end list.

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