It's hard to believe that 2008 is already more than halfway over.
No need to lament about the New Year's resolutions that you thought you'd keep; six months from now we'll all be holiday shopping (again) and reading year-end top-10 lists about the best albums of the year.
And since when December rolls around it's all a blur anyway, why not check in at the midway point? As we take stock of some of the most talked-about releases thus far (Al Green learns to Lay It Down), including flops (Trina is not Still Da Baddest) and annoyances (Mariah Carey—nobody but Nick Cannon even cares anymore), here's a look at some of 2008's most buzzed-about albums.
best albums of 2008
What's the buzz? She's regarded by plenty of music critics as the black M.I.A., which is a sort of backhanded compliment in regard to her extraterrestrial creativity and hard-to-pin-down style. Someone as sonically "out there" as Santogold probably doesn't want to be compared to anybody—but then again, it can't help but boost her album sales. Along the way, she's gained the adoration of hipsters across the country. Plus, Rolling Stone, Spin and a host of other glossy magazines had previously labeled her as one of the biggest artists to watch in 2008.
Is it worth a damn? It may take critics a couple of listens to come around, but this self-titled disc is one of the most lyrically creative projects released this year. Choice tracks such as "Creator" and "You'll Find a Way" play out like musical crack cocaine to electro junkies looking for their next fix. It's hard to understand the methodology behind the record, but it's a step beyond anything M.I.A. has ever come up with (and that's saying a lot).
Chance it'll be nominated for a Grammy: 75 percent. Although the production on this album is overly computerized, Santogold's a shoo-in for a Best New Artist nod regardless of whether she wins it or not.
Tha Carter III
What's the buzz? Has there ever been a hip-hop album in history with this much anticipation? Just look at the countless online tracks and four double-mixtapes Wayne's camp has purposely leaked over the past 24 months, including The Drought Is Over 1 through 4—not to mention his nearly 100 cameos. Wayne's also the only American pop artist who does more drugs than Amy Winehouse, and the more he flaunts it, the more people love him for it. Late last year, it seemed like no rapper could have a bigger buzz than Kanye West. Now, halfway through 2008, it's like, "Kanye who?"
Is it worth a damn? After releasing so much stellar material for free, logic would suggest that Weezy couldn't possibly get any better, right? Bullshit. Spend a full week with Tha Carter III (let the excitement simmer down a bit), and you'll find that it's a hip-hop masterpiece. No, it's not perfect by any means, but Wayne does more than live up to most fans' expectations. Songs like "Mr. Carter," "A Milli" and "Lollipop" are guaranteed summer anthems. And let's face it, as far as pop appeal goes right now, Wayne can do no wrong. This album is no exception.
Chances it'll be nominated for a Grammy: 95 percent. It's been a slow year for hip-hop thus far, and if all he's got to compete with is Flo Rida, Rick Ross and an eventual Nas album that may or may not be released, Wayne might as well start writing his acceptance speech now.
Light From Above
What's the buzz? The Miami-Dade-based metal quartet is getting write-ups and cover stories galore these days—mainly because its lead singer is only 15. And yet the group already plays better than Metallica did in its prime.
Is it worth a damn? Definitely. With their scrawny, Slash-esque looks and chunky power chords, Black Tide's crew is the best young group to venture into the metal world in years. Cuts like "Hit the Lights" and "Live Fast Die Young" combine the best of '80s hair metal with four-to-the-floor adrenaline. Besides, who doesn't love tender-voiced teenagers that know how to rock out with their cocks out? Ask Catholic priests and Mary Kay Letourneau.
Chances it'll be nominated for a Grammy: 80 percent. The buzz behind these boys is strong enough on its own; couple that with a rock-solid debut album and the voting committee would be silly to leave them off the ballot.
What's the buzz? This Swedish pop star is currently having her second "coming out" year in the United States. Back in the '90s she had a few dance-pop hits, the biggest being the bubblegum hit "Show Me Love." Now she's back with a new look, new record deal and a second shot at pop stardom. She's also cute and blonder than blond.
Is it worth a damn? Surprisingly, yes. Aside from her underground smash hit, "Konichiwa Bitches" there's actually a lot of good material here to sift through at your leisure. Don't expect it to change your life, but there's something about Swedish pop that's easier to stomach than the gringo brand.
Chances it'll be nominated for a Grammy: 10 percent. It's good while you're listening to it, but once you turn it off, this release is unfortunately easy to forget. It's also nearly two years old in Europe, and the delayed American release won't bode well for her when it's time for year-end lists.
What's the buzz? Weezer's been an oddball rock favorite for the past 15 years, and there's very little that this Los Angeles-based group hasn't accomplished. Its string of eponymous releases is always wildly popular with their fans and anticipation for the band's "red album" has scored its members a Spin cover story.
Is it worth a damn? Rivers Cuomo doesn't really disappoint on this one. And, of the 10 songs included in this relatively short disc, most make you want to fall in love. Tunes like "Heart Songs" and "Pork and Beans" showcase how versatile the group is. Plus, it was produced by Rick Rubin. When's the last time he fully struck out?
Chances it'll be nominated for a Grammy: 85 percent. The one thing Weezer hasn't accomplished yet is winning a Grammy, and if rock continues to have a down year creativity-wise, the red album will likely warrant Rivers and Co. a miniature gramophone.
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What's the buzz? The Roots has been doing a ton of press in support of its new album, and with only two original members of the group left (Black Thought and ?uestlove), it's actually something of a mystery how Rising Down even manages to sound like the Roots.
Is it worth a damn? Rising Down isn't the classic album that Things Fall Apart is, and if you expect this disc to sound like that disc, you'll be disappointed. But as far as raw honesty goes, this is the group's most in-your-face album to date. Plus, Black Thought raps like he's a can of Red Bull on "75 Bars."
Chances it'll be nominated for a Grammy: 70 percent. The group gets lots of respect within the industry, and that should help. But the album is dark, angry and unflinching, so don't be surprised if it gets passed over for a more commercial rap selection.