Sunday, December 14, 2008

2008 Year in Review: Top 10 Songs of 2008

Here's my big list. The only thing left is my picks for album of the year which will be up in the next few days. If you want to hear some of these songs, I'll be playing them on my Best of 2008 show this Tuesday, during my normal 5:30-7:30. Tune in at www.wdub.org! Now, without further adieu, here are my Top 10 Songs of 2008:

1. Land of Talk – Some Are Lakes

A low-profile choice, I know, but the Canadian trio put out one of the best indie-pop songs this year in the title track for their latest LP. Elizabeth Powell lets her voice soar over her guitar as the band keeps time behind her gently, falling apart just before the chorus and hitting us again, only to fall apart one more time during the bridge. Sonically, the song is both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. At one point, it’s a very straight forward love song, and suddenly, it’s a darker, more unconventional song that goes right back to where it started. If nothing else, it is an impossibly beautiful and catchy song that will stay in your long after you’ve listened to it.

2. Jenny Lewis – Acid Tongue

Perhaps the most stunning song of the year was the title track of Jenny Lewis’ fantastic album. Just Lewis, a guitar, and backing vocals from Chris Robinson and Jonathan Rice, the song is a gorgeous call for redemption that is both a sorrowful and uplifting at the same time. Lewis’ voice isn’t as soulful as Cat Power’s Chan Marshall or as silky as Feist, but it is sweet and just as powerful as both of her peers. The backing vocals add to the very soulful sound of the track, filling you with a warmth that few songs can provide. Definitely the best song she’s ever written.

3. My Morning Jacket – Touch Me I’m Going To Scream Pt. 1

Building off of the experimentation they started on their album Z, My Morning Jacket put out this track that combines beautifully their new sonic direction with their long established goal of playing to the rafters. The song seems to reach into space with Jim James’ voice switching octaves and reaching just as far as the echoing guitars and keyboards. Backed by a steady drumbeat and funky bass rhythm, the song will enter the MMJ tour rotation as a favorite of fans everywhere.

4. Okkervil River – On Tour With Zykos

Starting off with just singer Will Sheff and piano, this track builds to a gorgeously arranged string finale that is the perfect example of the band’s style and sound. The piano punctuates the points where Sheff isn’t singing his story of being songwriter that is better than his peers but stuck feeling like there is more for him out there. Normally, Sheff’s singing stands out from the music, but here it compliments it, and the band offers responses to his ponderings of loneliness and the meaning of what he’s doing. The song’s instrumental end is like Sheff’s unspoken verse, as the music captures a feeling words can’t quite convey.

5. The Hold Steady – Constructive Summer

The lead off track on their album Stay Positive, “Constructive Summer” grabs you with a driving guitar that doesn’t let up as the song rumbles forward. The song is a loud and quick ode to the summer for underachievers stuck in a dead end town. Craig Finn proclaims, “We’re gonna build something this summer,” and by golly, you believe him. This isn’t the most complex song on this album by any means, but it is a summation of the sound and attitude of the Hold Steady that for me exemplifies the album. The song also has a lot of personal meaning to me as well, which is a big factor in ranking it this high. When I think back to my summer of 2008, this is the song that will pop into my head.

6. The Mountain Goats – Heretic Pride

Ever since the Mountain Goats went hi-fi, John Darnielle’s song writing has become more and more complex. This song represents the culmination of 17 years of songwriting that went from him in a bedroom with a tape recorder to having a full band in the studio. At the song’s base is a typical Mountain Goats song, with Darnielle strumming a familiar steady rhythm, but the band helps build the song so that when it hits the chorus, the song bursts out with Darnielle’s exclamation “I feel so proud when the reckoning arrives.” Matching his uncanny ability to take dark themes and disguise them in beautiful music, Darnielle remains at the top of his game, with no sign of him coming down.

7. Eef Barzelay – True Freedom

Completely stripped down with just the former Clem Snide front man singing over an acoustic guitar, the song is in many ways reminiscent of a pre-electric Dylan. A pseudo-love song that starts off conventionally lyrically and devolves into seemingly drug-induced rambling (for the song’s characters, not Barzelay himself) before returning to it’s starting voice. The Dylan comparison comes not only from the stripped down sound, but from Barzelay’s yelping voice that adds power to an already powerful song. A fantastic track to listen to the later it gets in the evening.

8. Los Campesinos! – You! Me! Dancing!

Starting off quietly and building into chaos, this track suddenly comes alive and grabs you, never letting go. A frantic song that bounces around before slowing and becoming stable before taking off again, “You! Me! Dancing!” is all about give and take, much like dancing. What’s great about it is that it works both as a song to dance to and to listen to while wandering around with an iPod. The band already released their next record, which isn’t quite as chaotic sounding as this, but “You! Me! Dancing!” will remain one of my favorite, cherry dance songs.

9. She & Him – Black Hole

So much has been made of She & Him as we reach the end of the year that it sometimes is hard to remember they crafted a beautifully classic album in 2008. At the heart of it is this country bop that perfectly melds the sound of M. Ward’s production and instrumentation with Zoey Deschenel’s songwriting and incredible voice. The song goes along steadily until it comes out of the bridge with pretty harmonies and the steady ticking of cymbals. Listening to it, it’s sometimes impossible to tell if it was released in 2008 or 1963. A timeless song that will never go out of style.

10. TV on the Radio – Love Dog

This is the best song this band has ever written (yeah, I said it). Dark and complex, the song doesn’t start out in noise as some of their more popular tunes, instead building as it reaches an end reminiscent of some of Radiohead’s best work. Sorrowful lyrics are accentuated only with the occasional harmony and little more. The track is for the most part minimal until it hits an ending in which the band puts on more and more layers until it suddenly comes to a crashing halt. For those still unsure about Dear Science, hopefully this track can change your mind.

Honorable Mentions:
R.E.M. – Living Well’s the Best Revenge
Vampire Weekend – Campus
Coldplay – Viva la Vida
Death Cab for Cutie – Cath…
Death Cab for Cutie – I Will Possess Your Heart
Dr. Dog – Army of Ancients
Bon Iver – Skinny Love
The Walkmen – In The New Year
MGMT – Electric Feel
Of Montreal – Id Engager
Portishead – The Rip

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