It's hard to believe that 2008 is already halfway gone. There's no need to lament the New Year's resolutions you thought you'd keep; six months from now, we'll all be holiday shopping again and reading year-end top-ten lists of the best albums of 2008. Since it'll all be a blur by December, why not check in at the midway point? Taking stock of some of the top releases thus far (Al Green learns to Lay It Down), 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 talked-about albums.
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 with 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; then again, it can't help but boost her album sales. Along the way, she's gained the adoration of hipsters across the country, and Rolling Stone, Spin, and a host of other glossy magazines have labeled her 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 like "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 actually wins it.
Tha Carter III
What's the Buzz? Has there ever been a hip-hop album 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, plus nearly 100 cameos. He's the only American pop artist who does more drugs than Amy Winehouse, and the more that he flaunts it, the more people love him for it. Late last year, it seemed no rapper could have a bigger buzz than Kanye West. Now we're halfway through 2008, and 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 what you're left with is a hip-hop masterpiece. It's not perfect by any means, but Wayne does more than just 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.
Chance 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 a Nas album that may or may not be released, he might as well start writing his acceptance speech. Oh, wait, I forgot. Wayne doesn't write shit. Right.
Light From Above
What's the Buzz? This Miami-Dade-based metal quartet is getting write-ups and cover stories galore these days — mainly because its lead singer is only 15, yet the group already plays better than Metallica in its prime.
Is It Worth a Damn? Definitely. With their scrawny, Slash-esque looks and chunky power chords, the guys in Black Tide make up 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. The fact that they're local only makes it better for us as music lovers. Besides, who doesn't love tender-voiced teenagers who know how to rock out with their cocks out? Just ask Catholic priests and Mary Kay Letourneau.
Chance 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 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 "Show Me Love." Now she's back with a new look, a 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.
Chance 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 easy to forget. It's also nearly 2 years old in Europe, and the delayed American release won't bode well for her when it's time for year-end lists.
Weezer (Red Album)
What's the Buzz? They've been oddball rock stars for the past 15 years, and there's very little that these L.A.-based dudes haven't accomplished. Their string of eponymous releases is always wildly popular with fans, and anticipation for the Red Album just scored them a cover story this week in Spin magazine.
Is It Worth a Damn? Rivers Cuomo doesn't disappoint in the slightest. Of the ten songs included in this short-but-sweet disc, all of them 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 struck out?
Chance It'll Be Nominated for a Grammy: 85 percent. The one thing they haven't accomplished yet is winning a Grammy, and if rock continues to have a down year creativity-wise, the Red Album should warrant this band a miniature gramophone for sure.
What's the Buzz? The Roots have been doing a ton of press in support of the album, and with only two original members of the group left (Black Thought and ?uestlove), it was a mystery how much Rising Down would even sound like the Roots.
Is It Worth a Damn? Rising Down isn't exactly the group's classic album, Things Fall Apart, and if you expect it to sound like that, you'll be disappointed. But as far as raw honesty goes, this is its most in-your-face album to date. And Black Thought raps like he's a can of Red Bull on "75 Bars."
Chance It'll Be Nominated for a Grammy: 70 percent. The group has lots of respect with industry insiders, 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.