- Various Artists: Mountain Music of Kentucky -- I've listened to some difficult music this year, and I think it's fair to say that no CD presented me with more challenges and rewards than this one. This is about as naked as music can possibly be. And by naked, I don't mean supermodel naked, I mean naked the way most of us look without any clothes: completely flawed, yet absolutely beautiful.
- Kings of Leon: Aha Shake Heartbreak -- Of every rock album I heard for the first time this year, nothing won my heart the way Aha Shake Heartbreak did. This album possesses nearly everything that makes rock music wonderful.
- Lord Invader: Calypso in New York -- This record completely changed my mind about calypso, and began a year-long journey into an incredibly compelling style of music. Anybody who truly loves hip-hop should give this a listen, because the parallels between hip-hop and calypso are fascinating.
- Harry Belafonte: Belafonte Returns to Carnegie Hall -- I love it when I'm forced to change my opinion on an artist, and this record forced me to change my opinion about Harry Belafonte. I'd previously dismissed the man as a musical and social lightweight, a provider of fluff for the masses. In truth, the man was incredibly courageous, both musically and socially. No, his calypso doesn't move me the way Lord Invader's does, but Belafonte is truly a heavyweight.
- Various Artists: Nicky Siano's Legendary "The Gallery" The Original New York Disco 1973-1977 -- About 10 years ago, I learned about the differences between original underground disco and the corporate swill that was spoon fed to the masses throughout the '70s. It wasn't until I stumbled onto this gem at the EPFL, however, that I discovered Nicky Siano. This is a fantastic CD that captures the original spirit of disco.
- Moby: Play -- This CD proves that musical genres are meaningless, and maybe we should spend more time categorizing our music as either "good" or "not so good."
- Fela Kuti: The Underground Spiritual Game -- An intriguingly simple summary of Fela's incredibly complex music.
- Lead Belly: Keep Your Hands Off Her (a.k.a. Leadbelly Sings Folk Songs) -- It shouldn't have taken me nearly 40 years to find Lead Belly, but I'm thankful I finally got around to listening to him. No single artist commanded more of my attention this year than Lead Belly. This collection is a concise and interesting introduction to a great musician.
- Mclusky: The Difference Between You and Me Is that I'm Not on Fire -- I played this CD expecting bad emo. Instead, I got one of the most energetic and exciting albums I heard all year.
- Horace Andy: Dance Hall Style -- Dance Hall Style was not only my favorite of the half-dozen reggae albums I reviewed this year, but it's become one of my very favorite reggae albums, period.
There were three albums I reviewed in 2008 that have been on my personal "favorite albums" list for years: U2 Pop, The Postal Service Give Up, and Death Cab for Cutie Plans. Since these albums weren't new to me in 2008, they weren't really candidates for this list. All three, however, are very strong albums that deserve a listen. Particularly the U2 record: it was largely dismissed by critics and fans alike, but the last three tracks on Pop are as good as anything the band ever wrote.
Finally, an honorable mention goes to Goldfrapp Seventh Tree. It's a very dull album, but "A&E" is one of the best songs I heard in 2008.
Thanks for reading. If real life doesn't consume too much of my time and energy, I look forward to hearing and reviewing another 80 or 90 CDs from the EPFL this year!