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Sean Daly's top music picks of 2008

There I was, all proud of my best-of-'08 rundown, feeling swell about the year in music, when a colleague glanced at my Top 10 and rolled his eyes: "Ugh. Typical music critic's list."

"Says who?" I snapped. "Kanye is on there! Guns N' Roses, too! I'm a populist! I'm an equalizer! I'm Charles flippin' Dickens!"

"Not anymore," he scoffed, walking away. "You're a snob."

Well, I always thought I was a man of the people. I work the Idol beat. I love belt-loosening jams: "Apple Bottom jeans / Boots with the fur!" I support Katy Perry's right to kiss girls.

What does my colleague know? He wears a Journey shirt to work. Everything since '84 is out of his comfort zone.

But upon revisiting my list, I also saw he was on to something: Last year, my Top 10 hewed closer to iTunes sales than Paste's faves. This isn't good or bad. It's just a matter of taste. I hear 400 discs a year, the obscure and the Wal-Mart specials. And this year, there was a switcheroo. The pop charts lost me. This is not to say I went all indie on you. But Casey Kasem stopped taking my calls.

I couldn't stand T-Pain's drone or Nickelback's growl or Lady Gaga's porny schtick. Beyonce's record was flat. Coldplay's critical and commercial smash, Vida la Vida, was like a parody of a Coldplay album, crescendoes built for slick iTunes commercials. Feh.

Rapper Lil Wayne had the year's biggest seller, Tha Carter III. He gobbled up Grammy noms and best-of accolades. And yet, for me, listening to Weezy's squirrelly cuts was like reading those Magic Eye books. My 5-year-old can see sailboats in the static. Me? I get cross-eyed.

Instead, my faves of 2008 were usually lesser-known albums about alienation and frustration and trying to negotiate a suffocating land of Brit-Brit. Randy Newman, Santogold, TV on the Radio, Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan. Good company, to a fault.

This was a fine year for music — but a bad year for music sales. And considering that major acts ring registers the most, maybe that means I'm not the only one turning his back on pop pap. Maybe I'm not a snob.

Or maybe everyone's just listening to their Journey records.

Without further ado, or further psychoanalysis, here are my honorable mentions of 2008 . . .

The Raconteurs, Consolers of the Lonely; Vampire Weekend, Vampire Weekend; N.E.R.D., Seeing Sounds; TV on the Radio, Dear Science; Pink, Funhouse; Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan, Sunday at Devil Dirt; Flo Rida, Mail on Sunday; Gnarls Barkley, The Odd Couple; The Raveonettes, Lust Lust Lust; James, Hey Ma; Weezer, Weezer (The Red Album).

. . . followed by my 10 best, which I dedicate to the masses, whether they like it or not.

10 Guns N' Roses, Chinese Democracy: I bought this on vinyl, appropriate for a maniacal opus decades in the making.

9Tom Jones, 24 Hours: The Welsh Wonder merges '60s swing, '70s smarm and modern thump for a sexy sonic shindig.

8The Knux, Remind Me in 3 Days . . .: The year's top newcomer in hip-hop, these sparring brothers bust a move back to '80s rap.

7Lindsey Buckingham, Gift of Screws: Think of this as Rumours II. Don't believe me? Download Love Runs Deeper and Wait for You. Told you so.

6Santogold, Santogold: While waiting for the new M.I.A. album, take funky solace in this multiculti collage of found sounds and Philly spunk.

5The Ting Tings, We Started Nothing: Arty pop from sexy girl-boy duo. "Shut up and let me go!"

4The Fratellis, Here We Stand: Beer-splattered pub rock with a morning-after brain. Look Out Sunshine! is song of the year.

3Kanye West, 808s & Heartbreak: Cold, chilly and head-shrinkingly odd, 'Ye filters his depression through cyborg tears.

2Elbow, The Seldom Seen Kid: Brainy Brit Guy Garvey politely nods to Radiohead's influence. The twist? He's just as good.

1Randy Newman, Harps and Angels: A Pixar soundtrack penned with poison, this out-of-love letter to America is sad, funny and, in the end, hopeful. Just when we needed it most.

Sean Daly can be reached at or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life blog is at

Sean Daly's top music picks of 2008 12/19/08 [Last modified: Friday, December 19, 2008 2:20pm]
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