Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Top 20 songs of 2008

As can be heard on my latest podcast, which you can subscribe to here.

20. “Fascination” by Alphabeat
I struggled with this one. It’s so hyperactive, it could have been Number One or Number 20. I chose the latter. History will be the judge. Best line: “Passion / Is our passion.”

19. “Language City” by Wolf Parade
I have a soft spot for Wolf Parade and their various offshoots (especially Handsome Furs). And while I didn’t really enjoy the full At Mount Zoomer record — and its hideous, worst-of-the-year cover — it had at least one majestic track. Best line: “All this working / Just to tear it down.” (Also on JeffMix2008.06.18.)

18. “Squeeze Me” by Kraak & Smaak
Championed by BBC’s Zane Lowe, this one may have been lost in the shuffle, but Ben Westbeech’s soulful vocal stands tall over a jittery house beat. Sweet. Best line: “But you make everything alright / When you hold and you squeeze me tight.” (Also on JeffMix2008.03.28.)

17. “Angry” by The Bug ft. Tippa Irie
I’ve heard angrier songs, but the funky dancehall riddim simply can’t be beat. Fire! Best line: “So many things they get me angry / And so many things they get me mad.” (Also on JeffMix2008.08.24.)

16. “Jump In the Pool” by Friendly Fires
I caught Friendly Fires opening for Lykke Li a few months ago, and trust me when I tell you that “Jump In the Pool,” with its constant bongos, whistle blasts and complicated rhythm, is as subdued as the band gets. It’s also a great pop song. Best line: “Keep breathing / Keep searching / Keep holding on.” (Also on JeffMix2008.08.24.)

15. “Sway” by The Kooks
A finely crafted tale of desperate love, with an aching guitar solo and the best lyrics of the year. Best line: “Still I need your sway / Because you always pay for it / And I need your soul / Because you’re always soulful.” (Also on JeffMix2008.10.18.)

14. “There Will Be Tears” by Mr. Hudson
My favourite Auto-Tune song of the year (it’s a genre now?) comes from the land of Rick Astley and a little-known white UK soulster who’s already worked with Kanye West (on the terrific “Paranoid” off 808s & Heartbreak). Crazy. Best line: “Oh, no / I stubbed my toe / Crack comes the pain / Like a bullet but at least it goes.” (Also on JeffMix2008.12.20.)

13. “Lights Out” by Santogold
I keep using the word “effortless” to describe Santogold’s debut album and especially this track, which, as Pitchfork pointed out, seems to bridge The Pixies and The Go-Go’s. Effortlessly, by the way. Best line: “Lights out / Shoot up the station / TV’s dead / Where’s there to run.”

12. “Many Shades of Black” by The Raconteurs
This song’s got it all: Stax-inspired horns, a blistering Jack White guitar solo, and the second-best song finish of the year (the best is coming up), complete with a drum roll. Well done. Best line: “Take it as it comes / And be thankful when it’s done.” (Also on JeffMix2008.07.20.)

11. “I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You” by Black Kids
I can’t lie: my five-year-old daughter loves dancing to this song, and I love that she loves it. Lotta love. Best line: “He’s got two left feet / And he bites my moves.”

10. “Sex On Fire” by Kings of Leon
It seems I include at least one Springsteen-esque song on each best-of list, and Kings of Leon take this year’s spot with a rooftop-down new classic. You just have to get past the stupid title... Best line: “Hot as a fever / Rattling bones.” (Also on JeffMix2008.08.24.)

9. “Girls & Boys” by The Subways
My hardest rocking song of the year (Rock Band faves Black Tide just missed the list!) comes from a band that few know west of the Atlantic. Not their fault. Butch Vig, of Nirvana and Garbage fame, produced this one, a throwdown tribute to a more grungy past. Best line: “Another statement / Another daydream / Why do you always say / What you don’t mean?” (Also on JeffMix2008.04.24.)

8. “Black & Gold” by Sam Sparro
Again, big in Britain – come on North America! — “Black & Gold” is slow-building brilliance, a chillout track that’s part sci-fi and part love song. Best line: “‘Cause if you’re not really here / Then the stars don’t even matter.” (Also on JeffMix2008.03.28.)

7. “Oh, La” by Ra Ra Riot
Yet another non-sensical title, this one isn’t about sex but holding onto a relationship and sticking together. Extra weight coming from a band that had its key member die in a drowning accident. Exquisite. Best line: “Some days our future / Seems to hang on so tight.” (Also on JeffMix2008.09.14.)

6. “Eyes Wide Terrified” by Johnny Foreigner
I’ll admit that this song is hurt by the fact that few people have heard it — it deserves better. Johnny Foreigner out-Campesino everyone on this track, with its shout-out (yet ironic) chorus, and a crashing finish, the best of the year. Best line: “Your life is a song / Your life is a song / Your life is a song but not this one!” (Also on JeffMix2008.07.20.)

5. “Hearts On Fire” by Cut Copy
Cut Copy may be indie-rock darlings, but this song really shows how well they understand dance music. From the “It Takes Two” sample, the chunky Chicago house beat, and the sexy sax outro, “Hearts On Fire” is built for straight-up grooving. Best line: “There’s something in the air tonight / A feeling that you have that could change your life.”

4. “DLZ” by TV On the Radio
I’m not big on putting album cuts on my year-end list; I mostly try to keep it to released singles. But these days, that’s almost impossible to keep track of. So, just as Pitchfork and NME have done, I’ve opened up my year-end lists to include any song released or promoted within the year, whether as a single or an album track. That can make it harder to put a best-of list together because some tracks need time to grow; it can take a while to realize that Track 8, not Track 3, is the best one – I had been so focused on Track 3! But there was never any worry of that with “DLZ,” a song that bullied its way to the top of the Dear Science track listing, and subsequently this list. Congratulations on the mess you made of things: I don’t know if this song is about George Bush, but every time I listen to it, I want to throw it at Dubya, along with my shoe, of course. Best line: “Eternalized / Objectified / You set your sights so high.” (Also on JeffMix2008.11.16.)

3. “I’m Good, I’m Gone” by Lykke Li
The year of Lykke Li finishes with a top-three track, and to be honest, it could have been any of a handful of stunners from her debut Youth Novels (“Little Bit,” “Tonight,” “Breaking It Up,” “Time Flies”). But this one, with its minimalist Peter Bjorn & John-ish production, gets my hands clapping every time. Best line: “‘Cause I know I’ll get it back / Yeah, I know your hands will clap.” (Also on JeffMix2008.03.28.)

2. “Dance Wiv Me” by Dizzee Rascal ft. Calvin Harris and Chrome
Dizzee and Calvin have been on my radar for a while — the former’s “Pussyole” was No. 18 last year, while the latter has had a couple of songs on previous podcasts. But together the two have created a true dancefloor killer. When those synths first come in, it’s over. Best line: “Get away from the bar / Tell your boyfriend hold your jar / And dance wiv me.” (That’s wiv, not with.) (Also on JeffMix2008.06.18.)

1. “Oh My God” by Ida Maria
I have a lot to say about this song — it might take you longer to read this than it will take to listen to the song itself. (That, btw, is one of my requirements for a great pop song: keep it short. Get in, get out. That’s how the great pop songs of the ’50s and ’60s did it — keeping songs to two, maybe three minutes. And “Oh My God” changes worlds in just three minutes, 12 seconds.) Perfect pop songs don’t come around often – I can really only think of three in the last four decades: The Boss’s “Born to Run” in the 1970s, ABC’s “The Look of Love” in the 1980s, and “Smells Like Teen Spirit” in the 1990s. Now add “Oh My God” by Norwegian unknown Ida Maria. From about the 12-second mark, after the initial guitar burst, she grabs hold and doesn’t let go, trashing the listener around, hollering and yelping, and laying herself out for three glorious minutes. One cover I’ve seen for the single has Maria flailing on the stage floor, guitar in hand, possibly in pain. (I have read that she has hurt herself performing this song.) It’s an instant energy boost, a musical Red Bull, that would work in any hockey arena, dancefloor, treadmill, or mosh pit — anywhere extra adrenaline is needed. One point of clarification: the version I included on my year-end podcast is a version that has apparently been floating around since 2007 (and that I first heard in January 2008). Pitchfork says it’s a demo (!) that includes vocals from guitarist Stefan Törnby. A Törnby-less version, all cleaned up, was released in late 2008 — but the cleaning up wasn’t necessary. This is the real deal, the best song of the year, and a song for the ages. Just don’t hurt yourself. Best lines, all of them: “Find a cure, find a cure for my life / Put a price, put a price on my soul / Build a wall, build a fortress around my heart / Oh my god! / Oh you think I’m in control / Oh my god! / Oh you think it’s all for fun / Is this fun for you?” (Also on JeffMix2008.01.26.)

And please make sure to check out my list of the Top 10 albums of 2008.

6 comments:

liz said...

great song list - i'm a fan of many of your inclusions and based on your taste i'm going to check out the unfamiliar tracks. again, thanks for sharing!

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