We’re not gonna lie, we’re mighty proud of yesterday’s list. It’s not everyday you mull over a hundred albums, and it takes a brave soul to hang it all out there, especially amongst all you voraciously hungry, yet charmingly cynical readers. But let’s be honest, it was one fatty of a list, and with so much room, it’s easier to fit more in and make everyone happy (even if we didn’t). So, we decided to amp up the challenge.
You might notice the list has moved from 100 to just 50 now. Reason for that is, we decided to slim it down some. After all, it’s “in” to be lean these days. In actuality, the data we received didn’t necessarily add up to 100, as the albums did. So, what you see is what you get. Fortunately for everyone, there’s an eclectic mix of music here; everything from Guns N’ Roses to No Age, Fuck Buttons to Madonna.
But overall and altogether, it’s that eccentricity which really underlines how vivid a year 2008 was for music. Things happened, shit went down, and artists everywhere were, pardon my French, fuckin’ “with it.” That’s what makes this list such a pleasure. The tracks here exemplify excellence in both instrumentation, musicality, and relevance. You can’t listen to David Byrne and Brian Eno and not think about the high anxiety that comes with living life in this day and age. It’s an association such as that which separates these songs from the rest of the proverbial “clutter.”
As an added bonus, we have taken the liberty of assembling a mixtape below, which features our entire list, all in numerical order, for your listening pleasure. That’s our “holiday gift” to you!
Hah, that should win over some readers.
50. Blitzen Trapper – “Furr”
49. AC/DC – “Rock N’ Roll Train”
48. No Age – “Eraser”
47. Port O’Brien – “I Woke Up Today”
46. Pharoahe Monch – “Broken Heart”
45. The Raconteurs – “Salute Your Solution”
44. The Cool Kids – “Gold and a Pager”
43. R.E.M. – “I’m Gonna DJ”
42. Kanye West – “Paranoid”
41. Fleet Foxes – “Ragged Wood”
40. Beck – “Modern Guilt”
39. Paul Weller – “22 Dreams”
38. Wale – “The Artistic Integrity”
37. Hot Chip – “Shake a Fist”
36. Protest The Hero – “The Dissentience”
35. Fuck Buttons – “Sweet Love for Planet Earth”
34. Grouper – “Heavy Water/I’d Rather Be Sleeping”
33. Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy – “I’ll Be Glad”
32. Vampire Weekend – “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa”
31. Raashan Ahmad – “If I”
30. Why? – “Fatalist Palmistry”
29. Torche – “Fat Waves”
28. The Killers – “Joy Ride”
27. Poets of the Fall – “Miss Impossible”
26. R.E.M. – “Supernatural Superserious”
25. Titus Andronicus – “Joset of Nazareth’s Blues”
24. Sun Kil Moon – “Tonight the Sky”
23. Guns N’ Roses – “Street of Dreams”
22. Destroyer – “Leopard of Honor”
21. Beyonce – “Single Ladies”
20. Vampire Weekend – “Walcott”
19. Madonna – “Miles Away”
18. The Raconteurs – “You Don’t Understand Me”
17. Okkervil River – “Starry Stairs”
16. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – “Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!”
15. The Cool Kids – “A Little Bit Cooler”
14. M83 – “Kim & Jessie”
13. Flobots – “Handlebars”
12. Gnarls Barkley – “Who’s Gonna Save My Soul?”
11. Coldplay – “Lovers in Japan”
10. Man Man – “Poor Jackie”
It’s hard to ignore a good crime story, especially if it happens to be a good tune. Philadelphia’s own obscure rockers, Man Man, are prone to create such things. Off this year’s Rabbit Habits, “Poor Jackie” tells the story of a killer on the run, fearless and highly dangerous. Lyrically, the tension builds and builds, especially in lines like, “Jackie haunts the shadows/With a bowie knife at her elbows” and “Jackie’s still on the loose/As the detectives gathered clues.” We won’t tell you how it ends, but let’s just say “pretty” isn’t a good choice of words here.
9. Kanye West – “Robocop”
808s & Heartbreak may have left devoted fans confused, but few can negate the power and emotion in the rather nerdy-titled, “Robocop.” Just last month, our own writer, Michael Denslow, said the track was “certain to be written off as a complete joke”, yet quickly followed this up by saying, “But there is such a thing as ridiculous to the point of awesome.” With its poppy soundtrack, arena rapper Kanye West bounces a bit (“You spoiled lil LA girl”), gets deep (“Keep it up enough to keep it goin on”), and then bites hard (“You need to stop it now”). On first listen, it may come off as cheesy, but that’s because you’re still just bobbin’ that head. Stop, let the emotion reel in, and you’ll see the song’s just as good as the Paul Verhoeven classic. Well, let’s not go that far.
8. The Hold Steady – “Sequestered in Memphis”
Okay, so it sounds a bit like Springsteen, but who cares? Just because The Boss built the vehicle, doesn’t mean others can’t drive it. Given The Hold Steady’s track record, it’s safe to say their “driver” is overqualified. After all, Craig Finn happens to be a catchy lyricist, a great storyteller, and a ballsy frontman. What else does he need to be? With “Sequestered in Memphis”, he’s belting out so many great hooks (“In bar light she looked alright/In daylight she looked desperate”) that it’s unfair to complain. The story isn’t too shabby either. In his review, publisher Alex Young says its, “a tale that is as entertaining as the music accompanying it.” This much is true, as Finn is hardly 100% responsible here. The band behind him works scorching-ly fast, conditioning what could have been a staple rock song into one of this year’s greatest concert anthems.
7. Metallica – “All Nightmare Long”
Okay, roll call everyone. Who here can name a song by Metallica, post-2000, that matches up to the band’s long standing back catalog. Trust us, if it were any year before 2008, you’d be hard pressed to find one person’s hand up. Truth of the matter is, the band hasn’t written a powerful tune in over a decade, yet with the release of this year’s Death Magnetic, things are changing in, to quote the former British Fab Four, “oh, so many ways.” “All Nightmare Long” is quite possibly the band’s greatest single since the early nineties, and maybe even before. When frontman James Hetfield screams, “Cause we hunt you down without mercy/Hunt you down all nightmare long”, all underneath some heavy thumping drums and killer riffage, you can’t help but pee in your pants a lil’ bit. Back in September, our own Managing Editor (and Metal-enthusiast), Jay Ziegler hailed the track as a, “should-be potential single”, which is interesting as its the band’s current hit. Prophecy or not, Ziegler is dead on, and any recent critics of the band should tune in immediately.
6. TV on the Radio – “Crying”
“Gold is another word for culture,” Tunde Adebimpe harps on “Crying”, just one more political cut off of TV on the Radio‘s incredible, Dear Science. Given the band’s track record, this lyrical content shouldn’t really surprise anyone, but who knew that Adebimpe would be so vital? When he starts to digress toward the end, there’s this haunting imagery that somehow mirrors everything that’s going to happen starting January 20, 2009: “Time to take the wheel and the road/From the masters/Take this car, drive it straight into the wall/Build it back up from the floor.” It’s not like they wrote the album within the last two months, but with President Obama’s win, the song is not only a weird harbinger, it’s eerily relevant. Take that Billy Joel!
5. MGMT – “Kids”
To be specific, “Kids” was probably a big hit with scenesters and hipsters across America five minutes before its digital release in October 2007. But for everyone else, the sugar coated third single from MGMT is every dance club’s best friend. Sure, it’s repetitive (“Control yourself/Take only what you need from it” gets somewhat tedious by its fourth or fifth listen), but there’s not one aspect of the song that isn’t a hook in some way, shape, or form. That’s not only a sign of excellent musicianship, but also a hot flashing signal that screams, “cleverly marketable.” On a side note, does anyone else think of Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree when listening to it?
4. Bon Iver -“Skinny Love”
Even if it might be a tad depressing (“I tell my love to wreck it all/Cut out all the ropes and let me fall”), Bon Iver’s inaugural single is everything any folk/acoustic songwriter salivates after. It’s not only endearing, but awkwardly catchy. Seconds after the song’s over, while mulling over past failures most likely, you’re bound to be mumbling incoherently the song’s chorus, “I told you to be patient/I told you to be fine/I told you to be balanced/I told you to be kind.” To quote Carmine Falcone in 2005’s Batman Begins, “Now, that’s power you can’t buy!” Oh, brother.
3. Ryan Adams & The Cardinals – “Magick”
Who knew a song about the end of the world could be so much fun? Oh, don’t just cry yet Michael Stipe! “Magick” is a bit different. It’s a bit more forward than R.E.M.’s previous “End of the World” epic, and that’s what makes this Cardinals track so much fun. With some tongue in cheek, pop culture references (“Zombies runnin’ all around/Eventually we hit the mall/And knock it down at nightfall”), it’s good to know Ryan Adams still has a sense of humour. With its kitschy guitar work, what’s ultimately a pop song disguised as a rocker, “Magick”, is one of this year’s greatest, shortest rock songs. The latter adjective being the song’s only negative aspect.
2. David Byrne & Brian Eno – “I Feel My Stuff”
When David Byrne announced this year he was working with longtime friend and producer Brian Eno again, who knew the two would pen the year’s best passive-aggressive social commentary? Yet that’s precisely what “I Feel My Stuff” has come to be. The sprawling epic, which clocks in at just over six minutes, touches upon the mundane lifestyles that society has come to welcome with open arms. In the jarring lyrics, Byrne goes far and deep, hypnotically whispering foreboding, lofty lines like, “It’s a safety belt, it’s a Christian crime, a rocket ship, it’s a joke of mine/I took away the day that I’d be gone- shoot!” and “The chicken shack, the rising sun, the written word in a foreign tongue/You got to hold it all before it drops, baby.” It might be a bit esoteric, but it works in this powerhouse of an epic.
1. Okkervil River – “Lost Coastlines”
What else needs to be said of Okkervil River? The Austin outfit pretty much make the cut for music’s “diamond in the rough.” In a bulletin fashion, they: a.) have an excellent leading songwriter, b.) a spotless discrography, and c.) a full fledgling sound unlike anyone else. One could say they’re one of the industry’s most promising live acts too, but let’s not get too overindulgent, shall we not? With “Lost Coastlines”, which more or less opens The Stand-Ins, band leader Will Sheff has successfully composed another outstanding representation of all the aforementioned positives. This song has everything. If it’s not the charming banjo licks, then its Sheff’s uncanny vocals, which seem to sputter one memorable line after the next. Too gushy? Probably, but when this track starts swinging, it’s really hard to let go and fight the urge to replay it. Isn’t that what any great song should do?