Joan Anderman's top CD picks of 2008
GNARLS BARKLEY, "The Odd Couple" (Downtown/Atlantic) Soul singer Cee-Lo and producer Danger Mouse conjure potent fusions on their sophomore album: vintage vibes and space-age feel, exotic sonics and primal beats, existential angst and irrepressible charisma. A danceable journey to the heart of darkness.
BON IVER, "For Emma, Forever Ago" (Jagjaguwar) Here are the fruits of heartbreak: nine tracks recorded in a remote cabin during a long Wisconsin winter, on the heels of a hard goodbye, in the haunted tempos of a man in no hurry to return to the world. A singer-songwriter gem.
DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE, "Narrow Stairs" (Atlantic/WEA) A churning, thrashing, swirling set of rock songs, Death Cab's seductive sixth album is the latest chapter in what amounts to a career primer: How to Make the Leap from Indie Darling to Major-Label Powerhouse with Grace, Intelligence, and Integrity.
TV ON THE RADIO, "Dear Science" (DGC/Interscope) Gone are the squalling guitars, distortion, and alienation. This year the Brooklyn rockers took a chance on horns and violins, sparkling textures, and human connection, and the bet paid off on the band's rich third album.
DELTA SPIRIT, "Ode to Sunshine" (Rounder) An antidote to the reams of clever, forgettable upstarts that litter the alt-rock landscape, this Southern California quintet weaves the passion and veracity of bygone eras with youthful exuberance on one of the year's most promising debuts.
BECK, "Modern Guilt" (Interscope) Maybe we've become a little too accustomed to great Beck records, because the artist's latest - a shimmering and uncharacteristically emotional collection - came out to little fanfare this summer. It's worth a spin or 10, if only for the heady collision of technology and humanity.
R.E.M. "Accelerate" (Warner Bros.) Because they're a great band that lost its way. Because they kept going. Because against all odds they found their mojo. Because, lo and behold, they still matter.
VAMPIRE WEEKEND, "Vampire Weekend" (XL) Buzz bands du jour often don't feel quite so buzzworthy by the end of the year, but the debut album from this young quartet of culture vultures brims with the joyful, scholarly cobbling of Afro-beat, indie rock, and chamber pop. Precociously charming and seriously smart.
GIRL TALK, "Feed the Animals" (Illegal Art) Beyoncé, Nine Inch Nails, Rick Ast- ley, and Yo La Tengo appear in one 90-second stretch of DJ and mashup virtuoso Greg Gillis's joyful, ingenious new album. 'Nuff said.
MY MORNING JACKET, "Evil Urges" (Red) How many rock bands pull off genuine surprises five albums in? MMJ continues to broaden its panoramic embrace of popular music with nods to disco, funk, soft rock, and prog - in the bargain erasing boundaries, obliterating expectations, and restoring faith in eclecticism.