2008 was a big year all around. The collapse of a world economy, the election of a landmark president, half of my clients merged with the other half. Oh, and I had a baby this year, too.
I listened to a lot of music this year, and not all of it was made in 2008. I discovered lots of artists and albums I’d never heard, some from as far back as 2006, which in this era of instant gratification is practically a lifetime.
Now, last year I had a hard time coming up with 10 albums, and this year was basically the same. That’s not to say I didn’t find 10 new albums this year I didn’t fall in love with, I just don’t think I found 10 I could convince you were the the best of the year. I also don’t think I can really write about music (or anything) like I used to, as evidenced by the grand total of 4 posts this year.
So all that aside, I decided to write only about my ten favorite tracks this year, I think it’s easier to digest and it gives a wider range of the types of music I listened to. Also, there was no new Voxtrot this year, so you don’t have to read about me going on and on about them. Onward!
#10: Tapes ‘n Tapes – Hang Them All from the album Walk it Off
I’d resisted Tapes ‘n Tapes’ earlier efforts mostly due to a perceived hipster quotient off even my charts, and not enough substance to back up that hype. Fortunately for them, Walk it off goes a long way toward delivering on this band’s musical potential. The melodies are catchy without being cloying, and you can tell there’s some real depth here. Also, I love the reverb on the guitar and the organ used throughout.
#9: MGMT – Kids from the album Oracular Spectacular
Another example of something I resisted but ended up having to give in to. I thought I was over dance punk and that I’d never hear anything new from that or the electro-pop segment to get me excited ever again (see last year’s mention of VHS or Beta). MGMT’s Oracular Spectacular showed up at precisely the right moment for me though, right before a summer road trip across the midwest to visit the very person who’d sent MGMT to me in the first place. This song is just so.. happy. And it makes me want to bounce around a field very drunk in the middle of summer and sing at the top of my lungs. If this was the theme song of a cult, I’d have a very hard time not joining.
#8: Ra Ra Riot – Ghost Under Rocks from the album The Rhumb Line
I have a hard time resisting a song that starts out with drums the way this one does. There’s something pensive and unsure and “fuck it, we’re doing it anyway” about them. And then: cellos. Once I read that this band had lost a drummer to fucking drowning and that this album was heavily influenced by that loss, I listened to it differently and could really hear the sorrow and the pain there.
#7: Okkervil River – On Tour With Zykos – from the album The Stand-Ins
I seriously wish I could have included 2007′s The Stage Names in my top 10, but I didn’t hear it until after I’d posted my list and had read about it on someone else’s top 10 list. 2008′s The Stand-Ins is not only a follow-up equal to last year’s effort, but apparently also the second half of a 2-disc concept album. Now, I don’t really know what the concept is, nor do I really care because I find that tiresome and boring but these albums are amazing. I basically can’t say no to songs with melodies and arrangements like On Tour With Zykos, but also I get sick of them quickly. Not true with this song; I could listen to it over and over and hum along with the strings near the end for the rest of my life.
#6: Have a Nice Life – Bloodhail from the album Deathconsciousness
Of all the songs on my list, this one was the most contentious according to those who previewed it. “I can’t get into this mope rock shit.” “I feel like I want to slit my wrists, listening to this.” Which is exactly why it’s here. An album (and track) that harkens back to The Cure’s Faith album more than any I’ve heard since Sound Team’s Movie Monster, except MM had a dance beat behind it. This song will make you go hunting for your Sisters of Mercy shirt in no time.
#5: Lymbyc Systym – Birds from the album Love Your Abuser Remixed
I will be the first to admit it: using this song is cheating because Love Your Abuser was released in 2007, with the remix album not showing up until 2008, and even then, this track was remixed apparently by the band itself. I so don’t care though because it is fucking great and gets me back into the instrumental post-rock thing I apparently will never grow out of. Yes, they sound a bit like The Album Leaf (who even remixed a track on this release as well) but that’s not a bad thing. Lymbyc Systym (the only thing I dislike about this band is their atrociously misspelled name) take the concepts put forth by TAL and they push it, and they make it wider and they make it more accessible (for better or worse) and they nail it just about every time. Jimmy LaValle is freaking god, but some of his misses are just unbearable. This track is incredible, even more so in remixed form because it doesn’t have the longer buildup of the original.
#4: The Hold Steady – Lord I’m Discouraged from the album Stay Positive
It’s unfair that The Hold Steady have already released Boys and Girls in America because I think it’s going to be very hard for them to top it. That album is from front to back a masterpiece of rock unmatched by those who would try. Stay Positive is a tremendous record in its own right, however, and I believe that this track is the highlight. We’re spared the talky-ness of some of their earlier tracks (which is great once you’re into it, but hard to grasp if you’re a new listener), and given a great mid-album piano ballad that includes an amazing guitar solo that at its best recalls a Slash without the late-80s hair. It even has a great singalong lyric: “She keeps coming up with excuses and half-truths, and fortified wine, there’s a house and the south side and she stays in for days at a time.”
#3: Fleet Foxes – He Doesn’t Know Why from the album Ragged Wood
Yes, Fleet Foxes are going to be on every top 10 list you find this year, but with good reason. This album sounds like Brian Wilson and The Shins had a baby. Yes, I could have chosen the more popular “White Winter Hymnal” but in all honesty I think this song is better. It’s more dynamic and more fun to listen to. Think Panda Bear but listenable and not entirely too abstract. Oh, and I also must admit that I didn’t hear about this band until John Hodgman Twittered incessantly about them earlier this fall to the point where I had to check it out to see what he was so jacked up about.
#2: TV on the Radio – DLZ from the album Dear Science
I honestly don’t know what TV on the Radio sings about but Jesus Fuck are they amazing musicians. How on earth do you come up with music that sounds like this? Droning and immersive and melodic and oppressive and smart and amazing. I’m sitting here listening to it trying to describe it, but it basically defies any kind of feeble description I could come with. This is maybe the kind of music you’d hear in your head if you were about to jump to your death from the 40th floor of a building full of people who would basically agree that it was the right thing for you to do.
#1: Grand Archives – Torn Blue Foam Couch from the album The Grand Archives
Despite all the intense music I might listen to, I’m a sucker for a really pretty song sung by someone with an offbeat voice (see: my obsession with Joanna Newsome). Oh, and horns. If you aren’t a band that typically uses horns but you bust them out for an accent here and there, I’m sold. This song doesn’t try to do too much, it doesn’t try to beat you over the head with how indie it is, or how pretty it is, or how smart it is. It just exists. And it’s good. I imagine the Grand Archives as a band full of really honest people who just want to make good music and are focused entirely on that goal. This entire album might be a little too mellow for some people, but focusing just on this track, you can really just soft-rock out for a few minutes, forget the world, and maybe feel a little better about things.