Saturday, December 13, 2008

Best Music of 2008

I was going to wait a little longer to make my Best of 2008 music list, but I doubt there will be much more of interest coming out in the next few weeks. Last year I did a post of top 10 albums of 2007 in my livejournal, but unfortunately, I don't think there have been enough good releases this year to fill up a top ten. I guess it doesn't matter too much, since if I were to make a list of my top music of 2007 now, it would be a lot different than when I made it last year (for starters, The Shepherd's Dog probably would have topped my list instead of Sound of Silver) - taste changes. I imagine it will be the same with the list I made this year; come December 2009, my opinion of 08 music will have changed as well. Also, I've been listening to a lot of older stuff this year - but they'll get their mention at the end of the entry. So here it is!

Best Albums of 2008

1. Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes

So this was pretty much a no brainer. I'm sure it will be topping a lot of other people's best of 08 lists, but it's a very, very well deserved title. Although they've disappeared from my daily repertoire a little more in the last few months, this album was a complete smash hit. I thoroughly enjoy every single song on here. I still remember the day I first listened to the album. I listened to "White Winter Hymnal" about thirty times, as well as the initial run through of the rest of the album while I was at work. For the next several months, Fleet Foxes was my raison d'etre. After getting past the beauty of "White Winter Hymnal" I was surprised to find that pretty much every other song had the same listenable quality. "Ragged Wood," "Sun It Rises," "He Doesn't Know Why," "Your Protector," "Blue Ridge Mountains," and... well, yeah, all of them. When informing Adam via text of how he HAD to start listening to these guys, he replied asking for a description of the sound. I think that I came up with a pretty good one: imagine a perfect mix of the guitar based indie of The Shins and Band of Horses (not to mention the vocal similarities of Foxes's lead singer and Ben Bridwell of B of H), with the hauntingly beautiful harmonies of Grizzly Bear, and the Appalachian sound of some of Joanna Newsom's best work. It's easily the most rewarding listen (and re-listen) of the entire year.

2. Feed the Animals - Girl Talk

For anyone unfamiliar with Girl Talk (aka Gregg Gillis), he is a mash up artist/DJ. But instead of mashing up two songs with similar keys and complimentary tempos, imagine a whole album of mash ups. An album of mash ups with tracks of not just two songs, but twelve songs, fifteen songs, twenty songs all spliced together. A drum beat from "Umbrella" by Rhianna, and samples of Ying Yang Twins and Vanilla Ice, leading into Jay-Z's "Roc Boys," to the guitar riff of Radiohead's (masterpiece) "Paranoid Android." And that's just the first minute and a half of the 5th track. This is typical Girl Talk. Feed the Animals was more of the same, and when looked at objectively it's not very different at all from 2006's Night Ripper. But this is not necessarily a bad thing. Feed the Animals is filled with moments of pure pop perfection spliced with even more pop perfection, and it leaves the listener almost at a breaking point. But it never becomes too much. What normally turned me off to mash ups (before it became more of a legitimate musical endeavor at least) was it's typical inclusion of rap, which I don't care for, and the fact that the songs being mashed didn't always sit comfortably together in my ears. This is never a problem with Girl Talk. He's truly a master of what he does. There's something for everyone, no genre is left untouched. Some dutiful fans have even taken the time to dissect the entirety of Feed the Animals (and Night Ripper) on Wikipedia, so you can see exactly how many samples are contained in these 16 tracks. Styx, The Carpenters, M.I.A., Jay-Z, Radiohead, Rhianna, of Montreal, Metallica, Queen, The Band, Procol Harum, Missy Elliott, Avril Lavigne, The Cranberries, Kelly Clarkson. The list literally goes on and on. His masterful mix of Air's "Sexy Boy" and Britney Spears' "Gimme More" might be one of the most sonically satisfying 30 seconds of the entire year.

3. In Rainbows - Radiohead

I took advantage of the free download Radiohead offered for In Rainbows last October, so I had the album before it's December 31st, 2007 physical release date. But, as I've said, 2008 did not offer me the musical selection of 2007. So here it is on my list. I wasn't able to fully appreciate In Rainbows when I first got it. It took a thorough understanding and appreciation for Radiohead as a band (see end of entry) before I really took a shine to it. But after getting really into OK Computer and Kid A and seeing the innovation and skill that Radiohead has been continuously bringing to the music scene for the last two decades, I couldn't stop listening. In Rainbows is the "return to form" that everyone was waiting for from Radiohead, and they fully deliver. In Rainbows manages to recall the spirit of their rock roots on The Bends and OK Computer, as well as the experimental electronica of Kid A and Amnesiac, and it's pop sensibility makes it the perfect follow up for the anti-pop, Hail to the Thief. I finally saw (or heard) reason this year, and I'm so so so glad for Radiohead. With the current situation in the music industry, it's pretty much a given that the successes of classic rock acts like Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, and David Bowie will not be repeated. But I truly believe that when it comes to talent and innovation, Radiohead are their successors. Everything they've ever done is great, and In Rainbows has showed me that they are nowhere near finished.

4. In Ghost Colours - Cut Copy

I'm fairly certain that the reason I didn't find as much to like about this year's music is because I missed a lot of it. For whatever reasons. I missed this release at first. In one of our music trading sessions, I gave Adam some Cut Copy that I had downloaded and put on my flash drive. He texted me one afternoon while at work and told me that he was really enjoying listening to Cut Copy. I had given In Ghost Colours it's initial two or three cursory listens, and I remember liking what I heard. It became another album that I would put on, and not even focus on what the individual songs were. After the encouragement from Adam, I listened to the album some more, and it quickly became one of my new favorites. I love this album because it manages to throw me back to 80's synth, but also give a rich look at the future. I believe that electronica is definitely the new frontier in music, and I'll be looking to Cut Copy for developments.

5. Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend

I knew there would be a backlash against Vampire Weekend. Just like I know there's one in the works for Fleet Foxes. People say it was over hyped, and that it was a thoroughly average album. I thought that at first but not really in a negative way. It was an album I would put on and listen to the entire way through. Sometimes albums like that seem average at first, but there's a reason a whole album is tolerable. If the individual songs are consistently good enough to listen to the album from start to finish, then in my opinion, that's not average. It's spectacular! It's been a year long process, but I've really come to love Vampire Weekend.

6. The Mixtape Volume 1 - The Hood Internet

Not a proper album, but my list would definitely not be complete without it. The Hood Internet is a group of two mash up DJs from Chicago, and so far this year they've released three mixtapes on their website ( - go figure). The first was definitely the best, although the second has it's moments; I haven't listened to the third yet. The Hood Internet doesn't do the multiple songs like Girl Talk, but they do wonderful melds of indie favorites and mainstream tracks. Architecture in Helsinki vs Snoop Dogg ("That's the Whirlwind," which is probably my favorite), Dizzee Rascal vs Cyndi Lauper, R.Kelly vs Broken Social Scene, UNK vs LCD Soundsystem. All under three minutes, but all awesome.

7. Hold On Now, Youngster... - Los Campesinos!

I was taken with their Sticking Fingers Into Sockets EP last year, and their release this year was one I was most looking forward to. During it's trial phase on my iPod, I was initially let down because none of the songs were as immediately catchy as the ones I fell in love with on the EP. But when I began to develop my playlists this spring, instead of always just listening to albums, I threw on a few songs from this album. I have one main playlist (Obsession for Andrew - the songs I like to listen to the most), and several others with more definite themes. After giving Hold on Now, Youngster... a more thorough listen, I began to hear the real gems of the album. They're a charming band, even if a little chaotic. I just got their latest release from this fall (two albums in one year? ambitious!), and I'm hoping I'll find even more to love about Los Campesinos!.

8. Microcastle - Deerhunter

I'm still in the beginning stages of fully exploring this album, but I really enjoy it so far. It's a big step up from Cryptograms, their release last year, which I thought was way too boring of a listen, even though it had its good moments. Microcastle shows them developing their sound into something I would actually listen to on a regular basis. It was released with a second disk which I haven't gotten yet, but from what I've heard, it's also very good. I'll be listening to this a lot more as we get into 2009, and I'm really excited to see Deerhunter develop. I think that they will have a lot more to offer in the future, and the difference I've heard between the snoozer Cryptograms and the dynamic Microcastle, has made them definitely a band to watch out for.

Honorable mentions: In Ear Park - Department of Eagles, Hercules and Love Affair - Hercules and Love Affair, Oracular Spectacular - MGMT, The Singer - Teitur, At Mount Zoomer - Wolf Parade

It would have been nice to have an even ten albums. I guess I've been kind of harsh on the releases of this year, but even though I've enjoyed other artists, fewer albums have made an impression on me this year than last year. But that's why I've been looking forward to doing a top singles list. Since I don't ever listen to the radio, I don't know what songs actually qualify as "singles," but in my world, these are the top singles of 2008.

1. Becky - Be Your Own Pet: hands down, no other song has given me such a rush this year. I'm honestly appalled that this song wasn't released on their Get Awkward LP this year - it's inclusion makes it a much more satisfying album to listen to. It's more of what I loved about Be Your Own Pet (lovED because they broke up this year; a truly tragic loss for the music industry); the lyrics are direct and speak for themselves (not to mention hilarious), Jemina Pearl performs with her trademark nuclear bomb energy, and the instruments are sharper and more precise than on their first release. Like my number one song of last year, Innocent Bones by Iron & Wine (still arguably my favorite song ever), I can definitely see myself singing Becky's praises well into my future.

2. White Winter Hymnal - Fleet Foxes: had it not been for Becky, this would have been my number one for sure. It's a simple song; it works almost like a round, though not quite. I'm sure if I were to sing this with others who knew the lyrics though, it would make an excellent round. 2008 was definitely the year of Fleet Foxes, and this song surely stands as the crowning achievement of the album. Of course, the others on the album aren't far behind, but this song defined my musical life this spring and summer.

3. Cath... - Death Cab for Cutie: I really liked Transatlanticism, and I really like Plans. I was disappointed that I found Narrow Stairs so boring. But this song definitely stands out as a gem. Strong guitars, and Death Cab's trademark storytelling lyrics. A girl gets married to a man she doesn't love, but it ends with singer Ben Gibbard telling her he understands, and would have done the same if in her shoes. It's a really strong piece of music, and gives me a little more faith that Death Cab can still crank out the catchy pieces of heartfelt heart-on-sleeve pop music they're known for, and that I love.

4. Lights and Music - Cut Copy: I love when music builds up to a breaking point and just overflows into sonic bliss. I love the tension and excitement that comes with a build up, and the feeling of just letting go when it reaches the tipping point. This song does that so well. The lyrics are simple "lights and music are on my mind, be my baby one more time," but it's a perfect accompaniment to the tension and release of the verse chorus structure of the song.

5. Bodysnatchers - Radiohead: I love how Radiohead can have a song that feels like more than one song, but still feels like just one song. Like Paranoid Android. Bodysnatchers fits this as well, and I love it.

I'll be doing the same thing with this list as the one I made last year; I described some reasons for why the first five songs were good, why I liked them, etc., and then just listed the rest, with explanations for the ones where I had a specific thing to say. And since I listened to so many mash ups this year, I have a separate section for those. It's pretty much impossible to decide which Girl Talk tracks are my favorite, so I just have ones for The Hood Internet.

6. Ragged Wood - Fleet Foxes
7. My Year In Lists - Los Campesinos!
8. The Singer - Teitur
9. Womanizer - Britney Spears: you knew it was coming. This song struck me as kind of forced and repetitive when I first heard it, which really made me question if Britney was ready for her big comeback. But the more I listened to it, the more and more I liked it. Way to go Britney; I never doubted you for a second.
10. I Know UR Girlfriend Hates Me - Annie: OMG, I've been waiting for Annie's follow up to her virtually flawless album Anniemal for what seems like forever. Unfortunately, the release has been delayed till early next year, but this single gave me hope for the content of her next issue. This song is everything I love about Annie.
11. Mansard Roof - Vampire Weekend: this was another one of those perfect album openers.
12. Out There On the Ice - Cut Copy
13. The Kelly Affair - Be Your Own Pet
14. Blind - Hercules and Love Affair: I was really glad Kristine encouraged me to revisit this album, because I love this song.
15. Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa - Vampire Weekend
16. Nude - Radiohead
17. Time to Pretend - MGMT: the lyrics come off as trite, but this song is fantastic. When the rest of the song can make up for what would be sub par lyrics, it becomes not trite, but precious.
18. Graveyard Girl - M83: how could I not include a song about a graveyard? It helps that it's a pretty good song too.
19. Soldier's Grin - Wolf Parade
20. Kids - MGMT

Honorable mentions: Boston - Vampire Weekend, L.E.S. Artistes - Santogold, Broken Heartbeats Sound Like Breakbeats - Los Campesinos!, Blue Ridge Mountains - Fleet Foxes, House of Cards - Radiohead, Electric Feel - MGMT, Circus - Britney Spears, You'll Find a Way - Santogold, Call it a Ritual - Wolf Parade, Agoraphobia - Deerhunter, In Ear Park - Department of Eagles, Jigsaw Falling Into Place - Radiohead, You Belong - Hercules and Love Affair, Melodies & Desires - Lykke Li, 15 Step - Radiohead

The Hood Internet mash-ups (in no particular order - it's hard to pick a favorite): That's the Whirlwind (Architecture in Helsinki vs Snoop Dogg), I'm Shinin' Like a Crystal (The Pack vs Crystal Castles), Girls Just Wanna Fix Up (Dizzee Rascal vs Cyndi Lauper), Stuntin' Like Black Rock (Birdman & Lil' Wayne vs Black Rock), Cyborg Umbrella (Rhianna feat. Jay-Z vs Menomena vs M83), Some Cut Like a Knife (Trillville feat Cutty vs The Knife), I'm a Flirt (Shoreline)(R.Kelly feat T-Pain, T.I. vs Broken Social Scene).

My other list of 2008 music:

1. Joanna Newsom - my introduction to Joanna by Adam last fall continued well into this year, and hasn't really abated at all. I listened to lots and lots and lots of Joanna Newsom this year.
2. Radiohead - winter and spring of this year, I began to listen to Radiohead a lot more. I really liked OK Computer already, which I finally got last fall, but this year they really took me for a ride. I couldn't get enough Radiohead.
3. The Avett Brothers - my good friend Lydia and her sister Alex introduced me to the Avett Brothers (pronounced Ay-vett) at the very end of last year. At first, I only liked a few songs, but (with help from Adam, who I shared them with), I gave them a second try in the spring. We recruited his brother Gabe and mother Colleen into them as well, and as my birthday present, Gabe and Adam and I all went to see them perform in last August.
4. Guster - I only have Ganging Up on the Sun, but Guster is an integral part of this list. I listened to a lot of them this summer. Satellite and Ruby Falls in particular. It sounds so juvenile, but for a couple of weeks, Ruby Falls was like a narration.
5. Pavement - I've had Wowee Zowee since last fall, and I loved it, but this year I finally got Slanted & Enchanted, and Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. Not much to say, other than that I LOVE Pavement.
6. Rogue Wave - I'd heard of them several times before downloading their discography this past summer. I gave them the first listen and liked what I heard, but I didn't go back and give it the all important 2nd-5th listens to see which tracks really stuck out. But when iTunes debuted Genius this fall, a lot of their songs came up on shuffle. I really got into them after going back again and listening to their albums.
7. Belle & Sebastian - I've listened to a TON of Belle & Sebastian this year.
8. Interpol - this past winter and spring was all about three bands for me. Radiohead, Architecture in Helsinki, and Interpol. Mostly I listened to Turn on the Bright Lights. The entire album is beautiful, haunting, and a little melancholy. It was a really good album to have by my side this year.
9. Architecture in Helsinki - I know a lot of people who really love Architecture in Helsinki. I liked them, but I didn't see how you could love them. Until this spring.
10. Britney Spears - as many of you already know, I was already a big Britney fan before this year. But I hadn't listened to her very much in the past few years. For some reason this past summer I got in a Britney mood, and the mood hasn't completely disappeared since then. It doesn't hurt that I finally got Blackout, and Circus just debuted. Blackout, which by all logic should have been absolutely horrible, is probably her best album of all.
11. Band of Horses - the relative simplicity of Band of Horses is what draws me in every time. Our Swords is one of their most simple songs, but it's probably one of my favorite songs ever.
12. Pinback - I haven't been listening to them as much lately, but for the amount that I listened to them this winter and spring, they definitely deserve a place.

Top singles that I listened to that weren't from this year - ones listed on my Singles of '07 list won't be on here - in no particular order:

Satellite, Ruby Falls - Guster: these two songs, perhaps more than any of the others on any of these lists, have so much personal meaning and significance attached to them.
Sprout and the Bean, Peach, Plum, Pear, Swansea, the entirety of her album Y's - Joanna Newsom
Paranoid Android, Airbag, Optimistic, The National Anthem, Subterranean Homesick Alien, Electioneering, Let Down, Fitter Happier - Radiohead
PDA, NYC, Stella Was a Diver and She Was Always Down, Say Hello to the Angels, Obstacle 1 - Interpol
Maybe You Can Owe Me (this might be the only one to tie with the Guster songs in personal meaning), Frenchy, I'm Faking, Do the Whirlwind, Nevereverevereverdid, In Case We Die (Pts 1-4), Heart It Races (which would have made my top singles of 07 list, had I known about it then) - Architecture in Helsinki
Step On Inside, Priest, Poet, & Pig - Vietnam
Will You Return?, Die, Die, Die, Paranoia in Bb Major, Pretty Girl From Chile, Shame, I Would Be Sad, The Weight of Lies - The Avett Brothers
Break the Ice, Gimme More, Piece of Me, ... Baby, One More Time, Slave 4 U, Toxic, Everytime - Britney Spears
Our Swords, Wicked Gil, Monsters, No One's Gonna Love You, The First Song, Ode to LRC - Band of Horses
Nourishment Nation, Lake Michigan, Harmonium, California, Publish My Love - Rogue Wave
Grounded, Summer Babe, Cut Your Hair - Pavement
If You Find Yourself Caught In Love, Step Into My Office, Baby, Act of Apostle, Piazza, New York Catcher, Asleep on a Sunbeam, If You're Feeling Sinister - Belle & Sebastian

Well, I hope you enjoyed this. Music and making lists are two of my favorite things. I can't wait to see what happens in next year's music scene. I think what added most to my disappointment this year is that a lot of artists I liked already came out with boring follow ups to their previous awesome releases. I was really looking forward to releases from CSS and Tilly and the Wall, but they were both really boring. I was looking forward to Black Kids' debut album, but it wasn't really good. I was kind of disgusted by the treatment Pitchfork gave it - tearing it down in that way just because they could, even though they were a huge part of the Black Kids hype. I got the album anyway, just to decide for myself if it wasn't good (it wasn't good), but I thought what they did was just... really immature. But whatever, it's Pitchfork, and pretentious is what they do best. It's still my best source for finding new music, but I've been learning to take what they say with a grain of salt.

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