The Year in Albums

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! (Mute): Even after last year's guttural Grinderman, jolly old St. Nick hasn't sounded this Iggyish in years. (Start with "Today's Lesson.") Springsteen-goth "Night of the Lotus Eaters" cautions, "grab your heater and your sap," while the sneering "Albert Goes West" advises, "I won't be held responsible for my actions." The industro-punk blues of "We Call Upon the Author" are flat-out prophetic — "Things are messed up around here," observes Cave, on a record that came out in March.

Lazarus points out the same thing Iggy Pop always did — at their raunchiest, sweatiest and angriest, punk rock and R&B are about a hairsbreadth apart. Soulful, scathing and dead sexy.

See also: The Kills, Midnight Boom; Kings of Leon, Only by the Night; Eagles of Death Metal, Heart On

Blue Mountain, Midnight in Mississippi (Broadmoor): Noise got back into roots-rock in a big way this year — like he said, it was a little rough in spots — and still hasn't left. This Oxford-based trio's springtime visit to the Continental Club lit that slow-burning fuse, and the songs from Midnight — written since re-forming after a six-year hiatus — supplied the matches.

Recorded in Dallas by producer/engineer Stuart Sikes (White Stripes, Cat Power), Midnight is high Dixie boy-girl drama with true Cajun spirit, set to a rollicking Bottle Rockets beat and California dreaming from the breezy Eagles vibe of "By Your Side" to the title track's X-like howl at the moon. And Rodney Crowell is no doubt kicking himself for not writing "Gentle Soul."

See also: Drive-By Truckers, Brighter Than Creation's Dark; Johnny Flynn, Alarum; Kasey Chambers, Rattlin' Bones

B.B. King, One Kind Favor (Geffen): Haunting, autumnal blues from a man all too aware his time ain't long; One Kind Favor came out shortly before King turned 83. Covering plenty of Texas territory (Blind Lemon Jefferson's "See That My Grave is Kept Clean," T-Bone Walker's "Waiting for Your Call"), the King of the blues surveys his realm, wonders when his woman might be coming back and realizes those blues before sunrise last all day long.

Producer T-Bone Burnett keeps things Sun Studios-simple — judicious horns, twinkling piano, easygoing rhythms — as King and piercing sidekick Lucille delve deep into the pathology of a world gone wrong. In their able hands, "Sitting on Top of the World" isn't a celebration, it's an elegy.

See also: Al Green, Lay It Down; Taj Mahal, Maestro; the Roots, Rising Down

Raconteurs, Consolers of the Lonely (Interscope): Start to finish, the new album Noise most enjoyed hearing for the first time this year. (So what if he only got around to it last week?) Jack White continues his annual game of one-upmanship with...himself, unleashing torrential 500-mph outpour blues on "Consoler of the Lonely" and "Five on the Five," and flashing a rare sense of humor on "Rich Kid Blues." Judging by the sprawling, "Sister Morphine"-referencing closer "Carolina Drama," he's also gaining on Bob Dylan at a rate that ought to make the old man nervous. Can't wait to listen again.

See also: Black Keys, Attack and Release; Black Crowes, Warpaint; Parts & Labor, Receivers

TV on the Radio, Dear Science (Interscope): The most "important" record of 2008, or so the glossies would have you believe. More "importantly," Dear Science rocks like a sonofabitch, from opening U2/Peter Gabriel apocalypse "Halfway Home" through frenetic James Brown/Franz Ferdinand rip "Red Dress" to closing Peter Gabriel/U2 apocalypse "Lover's Day." Along the way, the Brooklyn biracialists brush everyone from Prince and Michael Jackson ("Crying," "Golden Age") to Coldplay and Arcade Fire ("Stork & Owl"), but what they leave behind is a singularly challenging, charging, sometimes confusing and conflicting tableau of postmodern rock and all-too-current soul.

Special shout-out to the autonomic, Kraftwerkian newspaperman homage "Dancing Choose" ("He turns the page and flips the scene"). Nice to know some bands appreciate us.

See also: My Morning Jacket, Evil Urges; Ne-Yo, Year of the Gentleman; Beck, Modern Guilt

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