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Best Music of 2008

danps's picture
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Introduction

Here are my favorite songs this year from my RSS feeds. I use Sharp Reader as my aggregator but it requies the .NET framework, which older computers may not have. Feed Reader doesn't need it and is good too. My list as of today can be downloaded as an OPML file here for easy import into any aggregator.

Most weeks I burn as many new songs as I can fit onto a rewritable CD and listen to it throughout the week. That means my best of is about 1/52nd (~ 2%) of my favorites. I forced myself to stay under 80 minutes so they all could fit on a single CD. In a way it's an arbitrary limit but if you're going to share a "best of" list you shouldn't overwhelm your listeners - I know from experience that restraint in these matters is greatly appreciated. If you like what you hear I've listed some other great songs in the comments and linked to where I found them.

This was cross-posted from Pruning Shears, and the songs are being hosted there until Thursday. Please see the original post if you'd like to try before you buy.

Stragglers

I heard these for the first time this year but they were released earlier. I'd have probably made room for each otherwise.

"All or Nothing" - Pinto (Home page). Self-described "crazy-ass socialist swedes" who do not sell music, but accept donations. Giving away perfectly crafted pop songs certainly seems like lunacy to me, but maybe it's just the first step in a nefarious plot for world domination.

"I Am The Boy For You" - Astrid Williamson (Buy). Originally released in the UK in 1998, re-released in the US this year. I don't know what Williamson's point of view is here - adopting a male persona, what she wishes the object of her desire would say, a lesbian's heartsick plea to a straight girl, an "I want to be everything to you" vibe like Prince's "If I was Your Girlfriend" - and I don't care. It's a killer tune, and I always like a good "la la la" as well (see #15).

"The Secret Handshake" - Cannonball Jane (Buy). Goes more places than your average tune, all of them worth visiting. Sugar and spice and a bulletproof vest.

"Around This Town" - Grand Analog (Buy). Midtempo seems hard to do well. It often comes across as formulaic, uninspired or lazy. Grand Analog nails it here, though.

"We Wouldn't Want it Any Other Way" - Meanest Man Contest (Buy). I don't think what category this falls in, but whatever it is, is fine with me.

"Lord Knows" - DJ Prolifik (Buy). I made it a point to look for some hip hop streams this year. Either there aren't as many as other genres or I just don't know where to look. One of the few I found was garageband.com's hip hop track of the week, and in addition to downloading new ones I played some catch up too. "Lord Knows" was selected back in February 2007 and completely justified the effort. It's got the most sensual groove I've heard in quite a while. (If you have any good hip hop MP3 RSS feeds focusing on relatively unknown artists please drop a link in the comments.)

"Yer Motion" - Reeve Oliver (Buy). Full disclosure: My favorite genre is pop rock. That said, if Yer Motion had been released this year it would be sitting at #4. It's got exactly the kind of sound I'm a complete sucker for. Give me this, or Learn to Fly, or Get It On, or The Spirit of Radio, or I Can't Explain, or Jailhouse Rock - give me a good hook and loud guitars - and I won't even pretend to be objective.

"Headphones" - The Aluminum Group (Buy). Two of the most popular subjects in pop are the attractive stranger and the love of music itself. "Headphones" covers both.

"In The Shape" - Foreign Born (Buy). I usually don't get a feel for a new song until after at least a few listens, but with any song I end up liking there's typically a point around the third through fifth hearing when it clicks and I think, "damn, this is a good song!" In The Shape never blew me away but it may wear better over time than anything else here. After repeated listenings it still sounds new to me. Whenever I listen to it I think, "damn, this is a good song!", digging it as though for the first time.

Honorable Mention

"Liver And Tan" - BRAIDS (née The Neighborhood Council) (MySpace page). I am a huge Van Morrison fan and consider him one of the best songwriters of the last fifty years - more important (if less celebrated) than even the likes of Bob Dylan, David Bowie and other legends. So I absolutely hate to see any new group or artist mentioned in the same breath with him - they inevitably suffer by comparison. I love Counting Crows and at first they got lots of that kind of talk. It irritated me, not the least because it was completely inapt. With all that as preface I am going to violate my own rule and say that Liver and Tan has echoes of Common One-era Van. I think the best fate for BRAIDS would be to become famous enough to continue to make new music but not so famous that they all end up with ego-indulgent solo work or in rehab. Maybe a few hundred thousand sales each time out.

Best music of 2008

(And yes as proof of concept I burned them on to a CD using Winamp.)

21. "I Can't Stop" - Candy Coated Killahz (Buy). I generally dislike deliberate misspellings, and particularly loathe those involving x's, z's or umlauts. So it's fair to say I downloaded this song fully expecting to hate it based just on the group's name. But I loved it instead. Xtremely sürprizing.

20. "Number 1 Song" - Julie Ocean (Buy). For best results play in your car on the first day of spring that's warm enough to roll down the windows. Sadly, the group did not survive the year.

19. "Kiss Me Again" - Jessica Lea Mayfield (Buy). This girl could have warmed up the house for Patsy Cline.

18. "Dog Park" - The Saturday Knights (Buy). For more than a generation now it seems like rock and hip hop have been warily attracted to each other but afraid to take the plunge. Most attempts at fusion - even ones I kind of like - have a forced, contrived, "here's the guitar part/here's the rapping part" quality. Dog Park sounds seamless, though, like the two finally decided to stop furtively copping feels and just go ahead and screw.

17. "Difference" - Dave Ross (Buy album). Electric lead guitar on top of acoustic rhythym is the Reese's Peanut Butter Cups of rock and roll - two great sounds that sound great together. Dave Ross could have made the intro to this song as long as he wanted and I'd have been happy. The solo is great, too.

16."Take some time" - 13rd Project (MySpace page). If you do the basics well enough you don't need to be edgy.

15. "Born To Be Your Man" - Birdmonster (Buy). "La la la" never sounded so good.

14. "Say Hey I Love You" - Michael Franti And Spearhead (Buy). I dare you to not be charmed.

13. "I'm Not A Kid Anymore" - Sloan (Buy). (Tap, tap) Is this thing on? (clears throat) Ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to report that Parallel Play kicks major ass! (Cue wild applause)

12. "When it Rains" - The Builders and The Butchers (Buy album (12" Split with Loch Lomond)). Do you know what I love about the Internet? That some hard core music fans go to shows and spend a certain amount of time just hanging out talking about music to other fans, get tipped off to wildly creative but unknown groups like The Builders and The Butchers, then come home, listen, and post about them for the benefit of the likes of me. That's what I love about the Internet.

11. "Always a Friend" - Alejandro Escovedo (Buy). The hard-bitten survivor is a favorite persona in popular music but usually comes off to me as a pose. To me the real marks of such experience are wisdom and grace, not toughness and defiance. So a line like "I don't care if I'm not your only one" seems almost impossible to fake - something that truly could only come from someone with some rough miles behind him. And I'm glad he's around to share it with us.

10. "Cable TV" - Fol Chen (MySpace page). A very good song made great by how perfectly captures the zeitgeist. Listen to it and ask yourself: Have you seen or heard anything that better characterizes our diminished economic state as we usher out 2008?

9. "Nights Of The Week" - Apes and Androids (Home Page). 2008 may be remembered as the year Brooklyn OD'd on the hype. But like other scenes that have suffered that fate, the dosing began in the first place for a reason. It doesn't take many songs this good to justify some pretty intense buzz.

8. "This Will Never End" - All Girl Summer Fun Band (Buy). AGSFB embodies the DIY ethic. These righteous babes started their own record label, run their own top level domain and appear to record, release and tour behind new music according to the rigid schedule of Whenever We Damn Well Please. How can you not wish great success upon such an enterprise?

7. "Crying For The Queen" - Little Jackie (Buy). Coming to the defense of a beloved locale has produced some great music - Cleveland Rocks and Sweet Home Alabama spring immediately to mind - and this year Little Jackie appeared to take a certain troubled diva's no-show at the Grammys as a slight against their home town. They responded with an unabashed blast of Brooklyn attitude that almost (remember: Cleveland rocks) makes me wish I was from The City.

6. "Right Hand On My Heart" - The Whigs (Buy). Since the days of Elvis Presley great rock and roll has been just this simple. In another week, promise/In another year, promise/Put your right hand on my heart.

5. "Cudi Get" - Kid Cudi (Home Page). A killer beat, clever rhymes, a touch of supernatural dread à la Robert Johnson, and the hands-down funniest line of lyrics in 2008: How you doin' officer, nice mustache.

4. "Windowdipper" - Jib Kidder (Buy). Experimentation in popular music is risky. More often than not it comes across as either impenetrable and indulgent or a salvo in an ongoing war against a record label. But when it works, it's glorious. On first listen you might think Windowdipper is a novelty, but give it a chance - it has a great hook, too. And it slightly changed my understanding of what music could sound like.

3. "Soul 69 Part II" - A-Ko (MySpace page). Introducing the sneeze as token of affection. Pure, sheer, triple distilled brilliance.

2. "Frankie's Gun!" - The Felice Brothers (Buy). That Frankie is one crazy motherfucker. I hope he at least granted the man his dying wish: If you see my mama, please tell her / I left a little rock in a box in the cellar / That's for to wear till the kingdom comes.

1. (2008 Song of the Year) "Dreaming of the Plum Trees" - White Hinterland (Buy). This was an easy call. I love absolutely everything about it: The way the bass pops out, the electric guitar that screams in at the chorus, disappears, then growls back to life at the end, the keyboard noodling that lurks underneath then unexpectedly jumps to the front to finish the song - there's a lot to like. Best of all, on top of a happy, jazzy little piano line Casey Dienel tells a rather dark tale. Ah, complexity!

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danps's picture
Submitted by danps on

I'm glad you found some new stuff you liked, amberglow!

amberglow's picture
Submitted by amberglow on

esp Windowdipper, Say Hey I Love You, Secret Handshake, All or Nothing, and Headphones.

I'm essentially a pop person at heart -- my musical tastes were formed by 70s top 40, then disco and new wave--i need (and respond most fully to) some basic kernel of "popness", whether the song is presented that way or not, or in English or not, or with lyrics or noise or tons of layers, or whatever else or not, ... (like, when Nirvana first came out, i immediately recognized them as being "pop" and liked them -- but angered so many people by saying so) : >

(I Am The Boy For You is a really good song -- but i think i'd like it better with a different kind of style, and singer -- it doesn't read as "real" -- or ironic -- or like she really meant it, and/or was playing with the idea, etc)

danps's picture
Submitted by danps on

That's so true about Nirvana - underneath the commotion was a pop sensibility directly descended from, I don't know, Todd Rundgren or something.

amberglow's picture
Submitted by amberglow on

tons and tons of bands and music overall -- and all over the world, too.

also funny (to me at least) -- is that so many things now considered very cool -- and totally alternative -- are enormously poppy -- the 80s revival, and electroclash, and "Brooklyn bands" and the Montreal groups, and all those Scandinavians lately, and all the mashups/mixing, etc.

And what's considered mainstream and popular now is less poppy to my ears -- Pink and Britney and Rhianna, and all that Disney music/bands, as well as Coldplay and more rock-ish stuff.

Davidson's picture
Submitted by Davidson on

Lord help me, I think the "holiday spirit" got me this year (I blame the birth of my cousin's daughter this September! Damn you, adorable little baby girl!). Usually. I'm a horrible grouch but this year I'm falling hard for this little music video:

The song is from a compilation of all these great female singer-songwriters doing, well, winter songs. You can purchase the album online and a portion of the money goes to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

Davidson's picture
Submitted by Davidson on

I take everything related to misogyny way, way more personally than even before, going so far as to beating up a former friend of mine (Rape: Not! Funny!). This rage has been building for a while, but when I found out my cousin was having a girl, I felt like the crazy had been unleashed. I just saw it all as one big threat against the little one.

Ugh. OK, back to watching, "Winter Song."

amberglow's picture
Submitted by amberglow on

those we care about -- is the beginning of applying it to the wider world of us humans, for tons of people -- it has to hit close to home, it seems, or else it's abstract and not seen as the actual and terrible hurt it is (to all of us -- not just the group targeted).

we're all fundamentally tribal -- and so much of the damage done towards people as a whole tends to always come back to that in the end -- us v. them, group v. group, powerful imposing on less powerful, etc...

apolitiko's picture
Submitted by apolitiko on

....no Fleet Foxes or Republic Tigers? No Cut Copy? They produced some of the best albums of the year imo.

I know, I know, one esoteric music fanatic to another we are always going to have those songs we loved missing from other's lists.

Thanks for making this amazing list...picked up some songs to try out.

danps's picture
Submitted by danps on

I didn't listen to Cut Copy; maybe I'll add them to my New Year's resolutions. I did listen to Fleet Foxes (White Winter Hymnal) and The Republic Tigers (Buildings & Mountains). I have to say, I don't see what the fuss is about Fleet Foxes; they just didn't do it for me. I didn't dislike it, I was just really surprised as all the buzz built around them. Buildings & Mountains is a fine song though. It defies categorization.

apolitiko's picture
Submitted by apolitiko on

...slowly. Most people know the song Mykonos and rave about them from a single. Though it is a great song. Wasn't a big fan of the album at first but it slowly crept its way in. They are not, by any means, a Vampire Weekend--of whose rise I found particularly annoying. I thought VW was a po' mans Arcade Fire.

Buildings and Mountains....what a beautiful song. They never seem to match expectations after that one, but they try.

herb the verb's picture
Submitted by herb the verb on

Their second album (unfortunately named "2") which came out this year is the best album I heard this year. Not saying it was THE best, since I haven't heard everything! Oh, and no Chicha Libre (my "funnest" album this year)? No Mogwai (my "mood rockingest" album this year)? No Zero 7 (my "smoothest" album this year)? No Matthew Dear (my "groove dancingest" album this year)? No Mono (my "most contemplative/introspective" album of the year)?

Yo!

danps's picture
Submitted by danps on

Last year I listened to "7:25" by Mogwai and thought it was OK but not great. I haven't listened to them since. I try to load up on artists I've never listened to each week, so with each artist it's one and done unless I'm really blown away. (Not very fair but there's so much ground to cover!) I'll try to track down a track from the rest you mentioned. Care to recommend your favorite example from each?

herb the verb's picture
Submitted by herb the verb on

Matthew Dear - Neighborhoods (from Asa Breed Black), Deserter, Pom Pom
Mono - The Kidnapper Bell (ah hell, Mono doesn't really DO "songs", they do sonic landscapes).
Mogwai - well, I'm a sucker for Mogwai (and Mono for that matter) based on their incredible live shows. Try giving them another shot.
Since you've already been given pretty good choices for Chicha Libre and Zero 7 I'll skip to my fav band and album this year (oh, and BTW, they are INCREDIBLE live, blow your socks off awesome):

Darker My Love; Two Ways Out (grab this first), Talking Words, Blue Day. That is three. Three of the best songs I have heard in a long time. Darker My Love's music combines the best, catchiest, hooks that Guided by Voices or the Who would come up with, wrapped in a psychedelic aural swirl of old school guitars, organ, et. al., with incredible harmonies, driving bass and drum beat and exquisitely tight, professional musicianship. They are miles beyond the field.

Listen to 'Blue Day' at top volume with the windows open at 100mph on the freeway, and be 20 years old again.

danps's picture
Submitted by danps on

I've grabbed "Two ways out" and "Pom Pom". They're queued up and I'll give them a listen in a week or two.

apolitiko's picture
Submitted by apolitiko on

Chica Libre! Chica Libre! El Borrachito!

And 'Throw it All Away' by Zero 7 (not the version they have on their page) is good groovin'.

herb the verb's picture
Submitted by herb the verb on

Glad you are a fan of Chicha!
Alongside their version of El Borachito, don't miss 'Tres Pasajeros' and especially 'Sonido Amazonico' as well!

amberglow's picture
Submitted by amberglow on

not new or 08, but you might like em maybe -- (sad tho)

Adem -- these are your friends

Fog -- Pneumonia

i've been thinking about 08 music, but the only new things i really loved this year are Adele's album and some Spanish music (that i heard in Madrid, but they're not 08 either) -- until your post.

I've been starved for new music.
: >

danps's picture
Submitted by danps on

I grabbed El Borrachito and Hotellounge by Adem....