A couple of days late but there were a few CDs in Santa’s sack so here’s my track list of highlights from 2008. Not all from 2008 but I bought them then, so hey.

Guns and Roses - Chinese Democracy
It has to be said that if even one track from the unicorn that was the new GnR album was any good, then Axl Rose was going to exceed expectations. Then lo and behold, two tracks turned out to be OK. Don’t think I’ll be holding my breath for the next album though.

Gutter Twins - Bete Noire
The Gutter Twins’ Saturnalia is probably my album of 2008 - a gleaming, polished piece of melancholia from the lead men of the Afghan Whigs and the Screaming Trees. The arrangements are simple yet heartfelt and their voices aged old from years of abuse. Bete Noire in this case showcases Mark Lanegan’s almost sub bass vocals brilliantly. The link above is to a live performance in Helsinki, but you can find the album track here if you prefer.

Alps - Hallucinations
It would be easy to pull a tracklist just from the output of Type Records 2008 releases but for me, this is the highlight, a seven minute aural spliff. Dry and desert-like, the rolling bass figure is a calm anchor for the shimmering sounds the trio put over the top.

Portishead - Machine Gun
We didn’t wait quite as long for the new Portishead album as we did for “Chinese Democracy”, but the Bristolians delivered a much bigger punch than did those from Los Angeles. Ten years later, Third is a different, angrier beast from Dummy or the eponymous album but the quality control is just as high. The highly sample drum machine and pure John Carpenter breakdown towards the end (80s synth soundtracks ahoy) are a joy.

Ihsahn - Threnody
The second solo album, AngL, from Emperor’s front man was a revelation. While The Awakening was an obvious attempt to move himself away from the black metal sounds of his former band, AngL saw him not afraid to tread wheresoever he broke a path, albeit not mix-and-matching styles within individual tracks as Opeth would. Threnody comes late in the album; a calmer moment amidst a tightly focused storm.

Joe Satriani - Andalusia
I am an unashamed Joe Satriani fan and will probably remain so for a good while to come. Unlike the previous album however, the “Professor Satchafunkilus” album that appeared last year hadn’t the immediate appeal and bright songs of Super Colossal in 2006. This one required more listening to get past the standard issue with his songs that intro, verse and solo often jarred rather than flowing into each other. The final track however doesn’t have that problem. A homage to Spain in his own inimitable style, it begins with flighty flamenco guitars laying down theme and variations until his electric enters with a longform solo and more variations on a par with classics such as ‘Echo’ and ‘Slow Down Blues’.

Vangelis \ Scott Bolton - Launch Approval
Besides Ridley Scott’s Final Cut of the film and various HD box sets to accompany it, the 25th anniversary also saw the release of a 3-disc issue of the Blade Runner soundtrack comprising the original 1994 release, a second disc of more inserts from the film and a final disc comprising original music composed by Vangelis and collaborators taking inspiration from the sounds in recognition of the anniversary. For me, Launch Approval recaptures the spirit of the film the best. You can hear the police cars flying through neon-drenched snow between pillars of flame.

Slipknot - Danger Keep Away
A revelation for me this one. While they had their moments, the first two Slipknot albums were in general a bit Meh! for me and so I ignored them for a few years. Then All Hope Is Gone came out last year and by chance I saw the previous album, ‘The Subliminal Verses’ in a bargain bin and bought it for a laugh. And then got blown away by it. In a reversal of happenstance, there was but one bad track here and 13 solid tunes with the nonet confident enough not to rage through every track. Danger Keep Away closes the album, a brooding warning to be heeded.

Kingdom of Sorrow - Hear This Prayer For Her
Side projects have a tendency to imitate marmite - you either love ’em or you hate ’em. The Kingdom of Sorrow album has been a long time in gestation and while Kirk Windstein (Crowbar, Down) and Jamey Jasta (Hatebreed) have obviously been busy, this debut album is a bit of a one track pony. Listen to it from track 1, Hear This Prayer For Her, and you’re drawn into a rhythm and groove for the rest of the album but join at any other point in time and the hook is lost. Hear The Prayer then - either five or fifty minutes long. Linked is the (better) five.

Joseph Arthur - Morning Cup
By far the best find on the KEXP Song of the Day podcast, Morning Cup is a gentle greeting for a fine, warm spring day. From Arthur’s Could We Survive EP, one of four he released in 2008, for this we can forgive the facial hair borrowed from Liam Gallagher.

Fatboy Slim - Wonderful Night
The man Norm doesn’t often put a foot wrong in the Big Beat department and this three minute wonder from his Greatest Hits album is just one of many I could have chosen. Right Here Right Now is probably the best single dance track in history, but Wonderful Night is pure joy.

Mark Ronson - God Put A Smile Upon Your Face
I’m a bit late to the Mark Ronson party - the smarmy grin on Buzzcocks spoiled him for me and Lily Allen collaborations didn’t help, but I’m happy to admit that cockney girl and one other track aside (Yes, please do “Stop”) it is genuinely good. And this big band cover of Coldplay’s only upbeat tune in three albums is a great way to start the morning.

Meshuggah - Combustion 
Meshuggah have been due a good album for a couple of years and ObZen delivered in spades for the Swedish math-metallers. Harsh angular riffs, uncomfortable time signatures and drill sharp vocals characterize the sound they have delivered over several albums - like Tool but with extra hatred.

Clint Mansell - Together We Will Live Forever
Whether you know it or not, soundtracks are a true treasure trove for great music and Clint Mansell has composed several blinders since Pop Will Eat Itself broke up. This is from The Fountain.

Happy new year everyone!!