Narrowcast's Top 50 Albums of 2008 (Part 1 of 2)

26. Raphael Saadiq - The Way I See It
Saadiq has paid homage to the same era less overtly and faithfully over the years to better effect (especially on Instant Vintage and with Tony! Toni! Toné!). But he has more talent and credibility to make a record like this than pretty much anyone else on the retro soul bandwagon in the past couple years, and the album flies highest when he breaks out of the stifling production aesthetic towards the end on "Never Give You Up" and "Sometimes."

27. T.I. - Paper Trail
In terms of production and guests, his previous album that this one strikes closest to is Urban Legend, a lot of hit-and-miss crossover attempts with small pockets of T.I. doing what T.I. does best mixed in here and there. But the reason it's not T.I. Vs T.I.P. muddled (i.e. much much worse) is the titular gimmick, as he raps with more clarity, thought and precision than he has in years, even over some of the goofiest pop beats of his career.

28. Rich Boy - Bigger Than The Mayor
His 2007 self-titled debut got by so much on the fact that his in-house producer happened to be one of the premier hitmakers of the past couple years, that I really didn't think Rich Boy had it in him to make a mixtape full of original tracks, and zero evident assistance from Polow Da Don, and actually end up with a totally dope record nearly equal to the official album. And based on that "Drop" bullshit that Polow came up with to push the next RB album, there's a good chance this'll be better than his official sophomore effort.

29. Blake Leyh - X-Ray Yankee Zulu Tango
I just wrote about this album a couple weeks ago, so I'll just direct you to that.

30. Ne-Yo - Year Of The Gentleman
Based on his 6 appearances on my list of favorite singles this year, you might think I'd be crazy about anything and everything Ne-Yo did in 2008, and you'd be pretty much right. But there were enough exceptions on this album that it kinda dragged for me, no matter how much I loved the singles.

31. The B-52s - Funplex
When a band comes back from a 16-year hiatus, all you can really ask for is that they top the unmemorable album they left things on, and they sure as hell outdid Good Stuff, even if they're not giving any of the '80s albums serious competition.

32. David Byrne & Brian Eno - Everything That Happens Will Happen Today
I probably would enjoy a lot of the stuff these guys have made separately over the past 20 years, but it took them getting back together for me to pay attention.

33. Firewater - The Golden Hour
I still maintain that the quality of this band's albums has been going downhill on an almost mathematically perfect slope, but a really great live show based on this subpar material reminded me that even their worst is pretty damn fun.

34. Nine Inch Nails - Ghosts I-IV
For years, Trent Reznor has been issuing platters full of experimental and instrumental music under the NIN banner, but usually with remix albums, and finally this year he gave up a double dose of the kind of freaky scraping textures that only he can really provide, with no angsty goth poetry to get in the way.

35. Dan Friel - Ghost Town
One half of Parts & Labor's synth noise nucleus, letting the same squeals and skrees and thrums wander around beautifully without any rhythm section in sight to tether the tunes to something more rock-based, and yet surprisingly maybe even more accessible than P&L at times.

36. R.E.M. - Accelerate
If we're going to play the "their best since _____" game, I'm only going to go as far back as Up, but I really liked Up, and I really really hated Reveal. I was really surprised to find myself actually going back and listening to and enjoying these songs well past the initial 6 months of obligatory feigned interest, though.

37. Ludacris - Theater Of The Mind
Luda's run of non-classics has been so consistently underwhelming over the years that it's impossible to be disappointed when he drops a hyped up new album. But that also means it's easier to take the thing at face value, and enjoy the handful of jams that there are on it.

38. Guns 'N Roses - Chinese Democracy
Not amazing, not awful, it just is. The fact that this seems like such a minor blip just a month after its release date is in itself remarkable.

39. John Legend - Evolver
After the earth tones and classic singer-songwriter pop of 2006's great Once Again, a move into synthy modern production for John Legend seemed rife with disaster. But a few missteps aside, he pulled off the switch better than anyone could've predicted.

40. Prodigy - H.N.I.C. 2
About to head to jail and drifting further into increasingly foggy conspiracy theory rap, P went from one of the most boring figures in rap to one of the most interesting practically overnight.

41. Maroon 5 - Call And Response: The Remix Album
I'd probably be excited if Adam Levine ever made a solo album with Swizz Beatz and Bloodshy & Avant and Just Blaze and Tricky Stewart and ?uestlove, but ultimately I know it wouldn't be as good as just giving them the vocal tracks from his previous hits and letting them go nuts with those instead of trying to collaborate on new hits.

42. Ron Browz presents The Wonder Years
Released in May, mere weeks before Browz bought an AutoTune plugin and became hip hop's hottest new hitmaker with the awful digital vomit of "Pop Champagne" and "Arab Money," this compilation documents the Ron Browz that made "Ebonics" and "Ether," and dozens of other lesser known NYC hardhead anthems.

43. T-Pain - Thr33 Ringz
The reigning cameo king of 2007 locked up his spot for the second year in a row, but it was with the complacent wheel-spinning of a sitting incumbent, and most of his for-hire work paled in comparison to "Reality Show," "Therapy," "Karaoke" and the singles off this album. It'd be way way higher on this list if not for the 6 minutes of awful skits, though.

44. Mike Doughty - Golden Delicious
It's a given that Doughty's post-Soul Coughing career would never be as bold and weird and fun as that band, so it's kind of heartening that he's settled into a nice Westerbergian balladeer groove without sanding off the edges of what he contributed to that band's weirdness. And if he keeps making songs as dark and gorgeous and "Wednesday," I will try not to write him off just for contributing to prime time soap opera soundtracks.

45. various artists - The Wire: " … and all the pieces matter"
I'll be the first to admit bias (hell, I'm thanked in the liner notes), but it was still a thrill to get so many great songs from the show all in one place, including all those versions of "Way Down In The Hole."

46. AZ - Undeniable
While the peer and rival he'll always live in the shadow of flails with manufactured album title controversies and underselling event releases, AZ just keeps chugging along, releasing humble indie albums with glittering R&B hooks that don't feel as conflicted or compromised as Nas's softer material.

47. Ace Hood - Gutta
By far the best Miami rap album I heard this year, but being better than Flo Rida, DJ Khaled and Rick Ross ain't sayin' much.

48. The Pretenders - Break Up The Concrete
Only Chrissie Hynde could slink into middle age with slide guitars and still make music as tense and sardonic and crisply minimalist as her debut.

49. Slim - Love's Crazy
The voice of 112 sans harmonies, which doesn't sound as naked and thin without them as I thought it would be, due largely to some pretty killer production.

50. The Roots - Rising Down
Game Theory Part Two was a much better idea in theory than in practice, especially since they didn't improve on the sound when continuing to cover the same ground. The exclusion of "Birthday Girl" is the only reason this made the list at all, though.
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