I'm in the same boat as some other people - I didn't buy too much this year, and some of the stuff I DID buy came out in 2007 (or I thought it did at first, until I realized how quickly 2008 went by).
Anyway, I submit the following. I notice this is the first year I can remember where I didn't come across anything new that really 'shook my world' - usually there's at least one album in a year that does that.
No-Man - Schoolyard Ghosts.
There's really nothing 'new' about this album that No-Man haven't already done (well, maybe "Pigeon Drummer" qualifies to some extent - odd song), but they just keep getting better and better at it. "Wherever There is Light" is undoubtedly my song of the year (not too often I can pin it down so cleanly on one song), and "All Sweet Things" is runner-up!! The rest are 'merely' really good! "Truenorth" is the new standard for atmospheric, cinematic epics for me!
Funny... I got into Porcupine Tree about 4 1/2 years ago, and eventually got into No-Man less than a year later. I dare say I like No-Man more than PT by now, but both groups are in my top faves. (PT's Fear of a Blank Planet was my favorite album of 2007, so that's two years running for Mr. Wilson - maybe a year from now I'll have fallen in love with his solo album and he can make it a treble!)
Marillion - Happiness is the Road.
A double album by probably my favorite band... yeah, I'm a sucker for Marillion and have grown to love everything they do, at least with Hogarth. Even No-Man can't claim that (listened to Wild Opera lately?).
I actually think this is better than Marbles! That one had some fantastic songs, but also some weak ones. Happiness has less outright highlights, but every song has a lot of merit (except for maybe "Half Empty Jam" but that was only a download bonus anyway)!
More than anything, I love the way this album flows... really does justify everything about its track order, through both discs! The hooks are a bit buried in there, but they got through to me after a few listens, and some of the stuff ("Asylum Satellite #1", "Liquidity") simply SOUNDS awesome. Sound for the sake of sounding really good is my favorite thing about this album (and band).
Oh, and if the band wants another hit single, they REALLY should release "Woke Up"!
Opeth - Watershed.
This band keeps on surprising me - catch that little bit of jazz fusion in the middle of "The Lotus Eater"? (Hmmm, I had to skim through a few tracks to figure WHICH song it was, which is one of my few complaints about Opeth - the songs in themself aren't terribly distinguishing, but as a whole, their albums are still excellent.) "Coil" is one of the best ways to open an album that I've ever heard (not to mention a daring thing to do for a supposed 'death metal band'), and following it up with "Heir Apparent" is equally smart! This is probably the most rocking Opeth album - not the heaviest, but the coolest one to listen to, nod/bang your head along, and get chills at many points! If "Burden" is a sellout, then count me as hoping Opeth treads down that track... a truly great ROCK song, not just metal. The ending of "Hex Omega," straightforward as it is, gives me a sense of terror and awe at the same time, as only Opeth can do.
This album took several months to grow on me (about five or six listens in that time), but I love it now, almost as much as their last one Ghost Reveries. Oh, and I saw them play live in October and they topped out their own previous show (in 2005) for maybe the best concert I've ever been to!
PD Wohl - A Moment In Time.
This is a different animal than all of the others so far - for starters, I know PD. He's a good friend of mine and produced my album (which I also did last year, but I'm not gonna be so arrogant as to include it here).
I liked his first album 'A Guy I Knew', a rock/country/folky hybrid, but it wasn't really 'my thing' in the big picture. Enjoyable but it didn't truly sink in with me.
His new one is much different... he recorded it 99% by himself and it's got some absolutely beautiful acoustic guitar playing, and seriously heartfelt songs and singing. It's NOT progressive rock unlike the last three - I'd place it somewhere between James Taylor (except PD's got a very rough voice, totally opposite of JT) and Bruce Cockburn, for those of you who know him.
I'm not recommending it just as a friend, I really do think PD's album was one of the best I heard this year!
You can find it on CDBaby.
I can only truly call those my 'top anything' as everything else I heard in 2008 was 'just okay' (The Music's most recent album 'Strength in Numbers' falls under that category - I might say I'm disappointed as I absolutely loved their first two albums, but it's been four years since they released anything and I think I've changed as much as they have in that time).
Special dishonorable mention goes to the Mars Volta for 'The Bedlam in Goliath'. I submitted this on the DPRPoll as my 'Biggest Disappointment' of the year. Someone needs to remind those guys that the loud, chaotic, frantic parts of their music are only truly effective when contrasted with the quiet, tense parts that they specialize in. They seemed to make an effort to completely avoid that on their last album, thus the whole affair is pretty pointless!! (IMHO anyway)
Five years ago I would've counted myself as a big fan of TMV. Now they're actually going to have to win me back with the next album, which is pretty rare.
I only submitted that list a week ago, but I've heard a few things early this year that I like:
'The Tall Ships' by It Bites - basically the 2nd Kino album, to my ears! I can't imagine It Bites sounded so much like this in the 80's... John Mitchell is up there with Steven Wilson for me. If he's working on something, I wanna hear it, and I'll probably like it!
Which brings me to Frost's new album 'Experiments In Mass Appeal', another Mitchell-associated project. I keep meaning to buy a copy but haven't gotten around to it yet... from what I've heard, I don't expect to like it as MUCH as Milliontown (some of that album is on permanent repeat in my head, I swear!), but it still sounds pretty cool!
Enough from me.