Here we go: I sincerely planned on avoiding this list, but I was prodded by Kieron Gillen’s choices into putting up some of my own. In general, his list is a fine list, and a well-considered one. So, allow me to present my slapdash alternative.
“Methodology? What methodology?”: I chose the music I listened to most often. In a lot of cases, that meant deciding on a single track from an album I usually played straight through. When that happened, I defaulted to the song I most remember humming or singing in the subway like a dork. More to the point, I just felt like making a list with The Hold Steady in the top 10. So, with that in mind, enjoy!
[Links point to YouTube videos]
30. Ben Folds (feat. Regina Spektor) – You Don’t Know Me
You Don’t Know Me is the only song that appears identically on both the real and fake versions of Way to Normal, and the standout on an album with no real filler.
29. Sons and Daughters – Gilt Complex
Sons and Daughters are at their best with their heavier stuff, and Gilt Complex plays to their strengths. It’s tough to make the call between this track and Chains, so I recommend just picking up the album, This Gift.
28. Chairlift – Bruises
I predict Chairlift will be to the next couple of years what MGMT was to 2008, and this song only hints at what they’ll come up with next. Even if my faith is misplaced, Bruises has charmed me with its through-and-through cuteness, and I wouldn’t blame Chairlift if they rested on their adorable laurels. Plus: Bonus points for sneaking a song that could totally be about fellatio into an iPod ad.
27. Gutter Twins – The Stations
This is one of the best album-openers of the year. Dulli and Lanegan’s stature in the pantheon of early-90′s rock allows them to pull off the “don’t know what they mean / and I say …” at the beginning without coming off as ironic or derivative. The fact is, The Stations is a perfect entry point for the dark, heavy atmosphere of Saturnalia. It plays the same role to great effect in their live performances, reinforcing Dulli’s dual roles as intimate performer and tough guy. It wouldn’t surprise me if Dulli had written this song with his stage entrance in mind. In fact, I would like it even more.
26. Weezer – Pork and Beans
Weezer has really won me over again, for the first time since Pinkerton.
25. Atmosphere – Dreamer
Dreamer tosses together classic Slug storytelling — the saga of a determined single mom — and a hook that refused to get the hell out of my frickin’ head for the entire summer of ’08. The message also resonates in a tough year: “It’s all the same / we all struggle / sometimes you gotta say fuck you.”
24. The Little Ones – Morning Tide
The opening snares on this song make me smile, bigtime, and it just builds from there. The music video is a self-conscious acknowledgment of how happypoppysummery the whole affair sounds, mixed in with a bit of wanton clown abuse. I listened to a lot of Sunday’s Best and The Jealous Sound in college, but none of the buzz I had heard about the Little Ones mentioned that they’re former members of those bands. Of course! That’s why this feels familiar in the best way. I’m glad to have these guys back on my playlist, and hopefully getting more attention than they did with their previous projects.
23. Vampire Weekend – A-Punk
During the summer, while I waited in line at a café near NYU, A-Punk started up on the sound system. I recognized it immediately, even if I didn’t remember what it was called, and everyone else recognized it too. The spectacle of an entire roomful of cute hipster girls and boys involuntarily nodding their heads and moving their feet amused the hell of out me. I was in a cliché, but it was a comfortable cliché. That’s really Vampire Weekend to me: a peppy, preppy, drum-heavy fantasy.
22. David Byrne and Brian Eno – Strange Overtones
When I try to write about an Eno song in Eno-speak, it always reads as bullshit. If I had to take a stab, I’d guess this one is mostly about distance. Maybe Eno would agree, maybe not. What I know is that it’s got one of the most addictive beats I’ve heard all year, and I’m utterly unable to get sick of it.
21. Ting Tings – Shut Up and Let Me Go
I heard this on the radio and initially thought it was the new CSS. Let’s be fair, though: nothing on last year’s CSS album really had the pop that this track does. There’s nothing really deep to get here, so I suggest you just go with it and dance.
20. Kupek – Monday Morning
You might know Bryan Lee O’Malley for his Scott Pilgrim graphic novels, but he’s also a (mostly) one-man band called Kupek. If this were a list of songs that reassured me when I felt like crap last year, Kupek’s Monday Morning would be right at the top. He just keeps getting better as a songwriter, and his ’08 album, Tries Again, is his tightest stuff yet. If you like this song, you should download the whole Kupek discography at radiomaru.com.
19. Sloan – Witch’s Wand
I’ll admit I worried about how Sloan could possibly follow up 2006′s 30-track masterpiece Never Hear The End of It. I didn’t need to, because Parallel Play is a strong album in its own right. Although I recommend listening to the whole record straight through, Witch’s Wand is a kickass singalong single that doesn’t lose much when you play it on its own. It also makes a strong case for Jay Ferguson as the best of the band’s four songwriters.
18. Why? – The Vowels, Pt. 2
Why?’s Alopecia probably contains 5 of the best 10 lines I heard in last year’s songs, and at least one or two them are from The Vowels, Pt. 2. Yoni Wolf’s particular rap-singing vocal style helps him densely pack this song with more great lines than an entire album by some run of the mill singer-songwriter. I’m really into the handclaps in the first part of the song, and my single favorite thing about it is the way Yoni spits out a staccato “but-but-but-but– nothing but the rear bumper’s blown.”
17. Foals – Olympic Airways
Gillen has a point: Foals’ lyrics basically make no sense. Thing is, they could be singing in Esperanto and this song would still be damn good. Keeping things tight seemed to be the general theme in ’08, and Foals definitely do that on Olympic Airways. All the instruments lock together perfectly — honestly, I can’t even count them — and I get a kick out of the result. Hell, with some real lyrics, I might move this into my top 10.
16. Creature – Brigitte Bardot
I should credit Paul Ford for finding this one during his grueling South by Southwest six-word review project. This was his review: “Super pep rally in sexy heaven.” Yep, right on the money.
15. Beck – Gamma Ray
I’m really in this one for the vocals, the way Beck just murders those “ow” sounds. It also doesn’t hurt that the percussion is like something out of an awesome old-school cartoon car race.
14. Cut Copy – Far Away
This is where Pitchfork went way wrong with their Top 100 list. Cut Copy put out four songs that were listworthy this year, and the ‘fork picked two of them, but somehow managed to leave off the best of the bunch: Far Away. It sounds like Cut Copy took three pretty good ideas for a song and stuck them together to make something even greater.
13. Black Kids – Look At Me (When I Rock Wichoo)
Everybody put I’m Not Going to Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You on their year-end lists, but I have to give the nod for best track on Partie Traumatic to Look At Me. It’s got the highest energy and greatest shout-along potential of anything on the album, and that’s saying a lot.
12. Hercules and Love Affair – Hercules Theme
If I ever get a theme song, I hope it will be as good — and use as many horn stabs! — as Hercules Theme. The video I linked comes from someone who apparently agrees with me. (The camera’s pretty jerky, but you’ll get the idea.)
11. TV on the Radio – Dancing Choose
The opening vocal salvo on Dancing Choose (“He’s a WHAT? He’s a WHAT? He’s a newspaper man”) stuns you so the rest of Tunde’s chanting can grab hold and drag you from chorus to chorus. Really, every song on Dear Science deserves to be on a best of 2008 list, as trying to pick a favorite is just a matter of mood. The whole album is scary-good.
10. MGMT – Electric Feel
Electric Feel announces that the primal urge to dance and have amazing sex is alive and well in the land of MGMT, and it’s a beautiful thing. How could anyone resist those drums?
Just for fun, and speaking of MGMT: Allison Weiss, on whom I have a total nerd-crush, does a great acoustic version of MGMT’s Kids.
09. Alphabeat – Go-Go
Alphabeat became my guilty pleasure this year: delicious pop with a liberal dusting of shiny euro-dance beats. It’s glamorous as all hell, and this is probably the best track on the album. Alphabeat’s weakness lies in the lyrics department, but Go-Go makes up for it with singsongy call-and-response vocals: “When you come around — whaaaat do you doooo? — I hammer on the door, a million times or more.” It’s frighteningly cute.
08. Simon Bookish – Dumb Terminal
Dumb Terminal starts out perfectly calm, gradually becomes more frantic, and degenerates toward raving madness by the end. Bookish has a strange charm, both as a vocalist and a lyricist. He’s apparently also a trained composer, and the orchestral elements in Dumb Terminal make it much more interesting than the average pop song.
07. Of Montreal – Id Engager
The first single from what’s being touted as Of Montreal’s “raunchy album,” Skeletal Lamping, is this lascivious disco rave-up. Think of it as She’s a Rejector with all the dials turned up, especially the sexy dial.
06. The Week That Was – Scratch the Surface
The mechanical feel of the instrumentation on Scratch the Surface compliments the stressed-out, paranoid lyrics perfectly. I played this for someone who told me it reminded her of a factory, and I think she was right on.
05. Jake One (feat. Freeway and Brother Ali) – The Truth
The Truth teams up two of my favorite MCs over a track by Seattle’s favorite beatmaking son, Jake One. Jake makes some solemn, serious horns sound seriously hot, and both Freeway and Brother Ali kill their verses. Ali sums it up better than I can: that feeling you just got inside your stomach is the proof that they’re the truth.
04. Crystal Castles – Crimewave
Crystal Castles make music that seems to work equally well for writing and for dancing. Something about all the vocal distortion, the beeps, bleeps and blips, just gets me feeling really productive. All the warm fuzzies of classic video-game nostalgia don’t hurt Crystal Castles’ chances of capturing hearts, either. New year’s resolution: more dancing to this band, less working to them.
03. Estelle (feat. Kanye West) – American Boy
I’m not a Kanye West fan, and I love this song. MY MOM loves this song, so broad is its appeal. Estelle has a classic voice, a little sass, and some help from the only Kanye verses I’ve ever really liked. American Boy is fun, sexy, flirty, and everything I could ask for in a pop hit.
02. The Hold Steady – Sequestered in Memphis
When it comes to telling a story, I’d put the The Hold Steady up against any other band working today. The sheer amount of information Craig Finn packs into a single song impresses me every time, and Sequestered in Memphis is a prime example. On top of the great writing, it delivers one of my favorite hooks of the year, and a break to drums and clapping near the end that gets me all shivery.
And finally …
01. Neon Neon – I Told Her on Alderaan
Super Furry Animals singer Gruff Rhys and producer Boom Bip got together as Neon Neon and made a concept album about the bizarre, troubled life of car designer John DeLorean. They called it Stainless Style, which, in a just world, would earn them an award for coolest album title ever. Knowing all this, I would have been a Neon Neon fan before listening to a single track. Here’s the thing, though: I heard I Told Her On Alderaan before I had a clue about Neon Neon, and I loved it. That huge, fun 80′s synth sound! That unstoppable chorus! It’s playful and a bit kitschy, but it’s perfect. And, for extra credit, there’s a Richard X remix that adds a whole different dimension to the thing.