December 18, 2008
Here is the much-anticipated conclusion to my favorite songs of the year list (if you haven’t already take a look at the first 25 and read the foreword/ground rules). These are my favorite 25 songs of the year. As before, there’s a link by each song choice where you can download/hear the song or you can get all the tracks in a handy zip file by clicking this link. Let me know what your favorite songs of the year were in the comments. Thanks for reading!
The Dodos could have easily got lost in the mix of new 2008 bands with the ever popular freak-folk-organic-psych sound, that Animal Collective brought to the forefront of indie music. Due to heavily melodic, constantly shifting songs like “Fools” though, they stood out amongst the pack.
“Eraser” may get all the attention, and while it’s an amazing track in it’s own right, “Teen Creeps” really takes the cake for showing off the sharp production and killer guitar work of this band. The song sounds like a lost 80’s punk classic except way noisier, fuzzier, and better.
This song remains one of prettiest and affecting songs I’ve heard from the entire year. From the extravagant string build-up that sound like bubbles coming up to surface to the choir of voices singing “All you need to know / is you are made of water” during the climax while the instrumentation swells, this is a beautiful piece of work.
When I first heard this track I was completely taken back by the strong pop sensibility and the undeniably beautiful arrangements. I found an immediate accessibilty in the song that was exactly what I was missing from Grizzly Bear. It’s simply an enchanting piece of music that takes you to another time and another place when you listen.
“The Re-Arranger” may be the most fully realized Mates of State song in their catalogue. It takes everything there is to love about the band: the incredible melodic charm, gorgeous harmonies, whimsical piano/organ, clever arrangements, and exuberant vocal outburts, and they bump it up a notch. With this song, Jason and Kori crafted one of the most perfect pop singles of the year.
These are some of the words I cam up when listening to “Waving Flags”: anthemic, moving, earnest, grandiose, guitars, larger-than-life, rousing, epic. This is a song that makes you throw your fists into the air, makes you feel like you can take the world by storm. This is not a sappy attempt at making a stadium hit like Keane or Snow Patrol might cook up. It’s just a brilliantly executed, pure, bombastic rock song.
I said: Jenny Lewis experimented with gospel on Rabbit Fur Coat, but this is her first shot at full out Sunday morning choir music. What’s noticeable from the very beginning is how stripped down and vintage the sound is. The old-fashioned acoustics gives the song its life, making Jenny Lewis’ lovely voice and the multi-layered harmonies even sharper. What’s more is that this song seems like the somber, beaten-down cousin to the Rilo Kiley track, “With Arms Outstretched”. It’s as if Jenny arrived at the promised land, optimistic and wide-eyed, got in with the wrong friends, dropped acid a few too many times, and is leaving wiser for the wear.
There is such an irresistible, alluring quality to this song. I’m completely blown away by how sinister and yet seductive Beth Gibbons vocals are. Sonically this sounds like a cousin to Radiohead’s “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” (it was a no-brainer for the band to cover “The Rip”). After playing with solely acoustic arpeggios the song is overtaken by electronic beats, which, while the new trippy noises are fascinating, is overshadowed to me by the granduer of Gibbons holding a single high note for 50 seconds, whic is the greatest vocal feat of the year in my book.
It’s obvious that Nick Thornburn has a flair for the dramatic and with “I Feel Evil Creeping In” he focuses all his theatrical qualities and hefty musical ambitions into the band’s best song since “Swans”. The macabre atmospherics of the music are matched with deliciously wicked lines like “When I behave nobody cares, when I behave badly nobody dares cross me”. The movements are tied together by an ominous organ/violin combo and it all builds to a spectacular climax where in Poe-ish fashion Thornburn announces “it was me who committed the felony” and is then joined by the entire band enthusiastically singing the title line, producing an incredibly overwhelming, anthemic climax.
Will Sheff continues his obsession with seafaring metaphors, in this song taking the role of drifting captain making his way aimlessly through life’s journeys. The vocal responsibilities are shared as Jonathon Meisburg provides a smooth baritone to Sheff’s yelp and the song is made even more poignant by the fact that Sheff attributes the disoriented, “lost at sea” lyrics to Johnathon Meisburg’s departure from the band. There is optimism though, portrayed through the song’s brisk, upbeat demeanor and the hopeful idea that “there might just be another star, that’s high and far in some other sky”. When seen in this light, the lively sing-a-long outro becomes a fitting farewell to Jonathon and a spirited celebration of the music the two made together.
The sprawling opening track to Sun Kil Moon’s fabulous album, April, “Lost Verses” is an intimate, hypnotic, and beautifully-played epic. The lush acoustics and string flourishes of the song beautifully match the tender, heartbreaking lyrics which about death and loss. It makes sense that another sensitive-acoustic-guitar-guy, Ben Gibbard would do guest vocals and added to Mark Kozelek’s chilling baritone it makes the song even more drop-dead gorgeous.
With their angular guitars and playful keyboards, The Mae Shi have made the feel-good song of the year, which is extremely suprising considering their artsy name and the morbid-sounding song title. The song is truly blissful though, I’m talking like Polyphonic Spree-level joyousness, complete with a ridiculously catchy chorus and gospel choir handclaps. There’s also a wonderful mid-song breakdown which strips everything except the vocals and drums and builds to a thrilling everybody-sings climax. And, hey, it turns out if you listen to the lyrics the running to the grave are more about living life to the fullest and seizing the day instead of actually dying faster.
Cut Copy’s album is full of awesome singles, but it’s the exquisite opening track, “Feel The Love” that has kept me coming back again and again. What’s amazing about the band is how warm and expressive the songs are when they have so much complexity. In addition to the multiple electronic elements that make songs like “Feel the Love” irresistable on the dance floor, there’s live drumming and acoustic guitars that adds a sense of genuinity. Another defining aspect seen particularly on this track is how strikingly sunny and colorful their music is. As the opening line says “all the clouds have silver linings” and there’s a positive, bright attitude surround the song and that makes it completely refreshing and uplifting.
While others can be addictive, even infectious, this is my pick for catchiest song of the year. I should mention that I used this song in my wedding as background music while we were cutting the cake, so it also has that going for it. In February I said: “Cherry Tulips” mixes pop, folk, and alt-country influences and puts it in one scrumptious mix. Erin’s vocals are at their best here and the harmonies during the chorus are absolutely perfect with the love-crazed “I want the sea / I want the whole sea / for you and me” lyrics. Once the slide organ starts, you’re in indie pop heaven.
While Vampire Weekend are most famous for borrowing from Afropop, their best grab is the waltzy, string-embellished “M79” which sounds more like Johann Strauss then Paul Simon (although you can still hear Simon’s influence too). The way the strings spiral in and out as the song progresses is completely delightful. It makes for a riveting chamber pop song and proves (to me at least) that these guys aren’t one-or-two track wonders, they’re highly skilled songwriters and capable of making compelling and unique music.
Hot Chip are about the most laid-back electronica band out there, so while “Ready For The Floor” isn’t a D.A.N.C.E. club rager, it’s masterfully written song, with too many great hooks to count, and it’s probably the best semi-mainstream pop song that was released this year. Even moreso, it’s an incredibly fresh and vital song, and I’ve been spinning all year and has never gotten even close to being worn out. Just the “number one guy” section alone is enough to secure it a spot on this list.
For how much I love Spencer Krug, it was Dan Boeckner that created the key track to Wolf Parade’s sophomore album. This tune starts out as a pretty basic prog rocker (albeit a very good one), but it slowly builds momentum until about the 2:50 mark when those vivid keyboards that Krug likes so much come into play. The tempo is slowed ever so slightly to allow room for a staggering bass line before everything is kicked into overdrive and the absolutely thrilling finale kicks in. I’ve almost driven my car my car off the road from the playing the double-time drums of the last few seconds on my steering wheel. Seriously breathtaking stuff.
I said: Everything about “The River” is simply gorgeous from the piano line that carries the song, to the trumpet and strings that provide accents, and the tribal-sounding drums which give the songs life and movement. The vocal melodies and harmonies, though, are what keeps me coming back to “The River” over and over. Anathallo has really begun to utilize Erica Froman’s backing vocals beautifully. Just listen to the way her alluring, delicate vocals perfectly complements Matt Joynt’s graceful melodies during the bridge and through to the end …. It all makes for one of the most stunningly beautiful track songs I’ve heard this year.
I love that out of all the crazy Kevin Barnes experimentalism on Skeletal Lamping there came one of band’s best, most accessible pop songs in “an Eludardian Instance”. Opening with a delightful trumpet fanfare, the song has Kevin briefly straying away from his Georgie Fruit counterpart to view his “memory reel in reverse”. He focuses his nostalgic efforts on the summer when he and his wife first met (their “last summer as independents”). The whimisical music is matched perfectly by playful and occasionally touching lyrics about his early experiences with his wife, from plotting midnight raids on the Swedish plum trees to teasing mountain goats. Meanwhile the song twists and turns from bouncy to psychedelic to glam-funk with Barnes’ falsetto and his bittersweet lyrics tying everything together. A massively entertaining and euphoric song.
“Leviathan Bound” is song that while playing seems to transcend time and space, “beautiful and terrifying” as one blogger put it. The track is backed by instrumetnation of glockenspiel, piano, bells, and strings. No drums or guitars are not to be found, which is fine, because it gives the strongest instrument, Jonathon Meisburg’s angelic vocals a chance to stand out. This a song I can’t help but be moved by. It’s so gorgeous it’s almost unsettling. I completely stand by what I said earlier: If you can listen to “Leviathan Bound” without getting chills, you probably don’t deserve to have ears.
This was the hardest song to choose because Dear Science is such a consistentally amazing album. “Halfway Home”, “Dancing Choose”, “Family Tree” and “DLZ” could have all gone in the spot but in the end, it’s this epic closing track about passion, desire, romance, and most of all, balling so hard you smash walls and the neighbors have to call the cops. After an album full of hopes, worries, dreams, and fears it makes sense that the last track would be a huge emotional release, using sex as a means of liberation, of sorts. The ever-heightening marching-beat of “Lover’s Day” sets the pace for the song while Tunde Adebimpe’s moving vocals provide the soul, and a variety of horns, woodwinds, and a choir of voices add to the monumental wall-of-sound that makes up the climatic thrust of the song. This is how you end an album, folks.
It’s nearly impossible to find a song that’s so infinitely quotable as “Constructive Summer”. From nostalgic lines about drinking on top of water towers to metaphors that compare his friends to the drums on “Lust for Life” to poignant words of wisdom like “let this be my annual reminder, that we can all be something bigger”. Craig Finn’s drunken poet persona has never been put to better use than here, plus this song rocks harder than anything else released this year. Singing the call-and-response “build something this summer” chorus to this song at their concert last month was one of the most amazing things ever. I can’t wait till next June to blast this track out of my car radio and play air guitar on the highway, this is now my official theme song for every summer.
This high school fantasy tale of a conflicted goth girl (the one who spends her nights in the cemetary but has a bubblegum heart) gives an idealistic look at high school nostalgia. It captures all the angsty, melodramatic emotions of a high school girl and puts it to huge, sweeping synths that explode out of the stereo. The mid-song poem is an obvious teenage cliched, but that’s what it’s suppose to be. It gives the song that cinematic, John Hughes feeling (how else would you explain the Molly Ringwald reference). The airy keyboards that proceed and climatic build is absolutely magnificent, providing an lush, overwhelming listening experience. Like I said before: This is how nostalgia is suppose to sound.
From the first few words of the opening stanza, the sole lyrics of the gorgeous ballad, “White Winter Hymnal”, I have been utterly hooked on this song. The warm, comforting vocals provided by Robin Peckhold echo through the speakers as if they were recorded in a cathedral (or just a room with some really really good acoustics) and the harmonies provided by his fellow band mates intensify the hypnotic quality of the music. The imagery of the lyrics is also quite stunning (even though the band called “White Winter Hymnal”‘s fairytale-like story “fairly meaningless”). When matched with the amber tones of the music and the outstanding vocal harmonies the words seem to jump out at you, making the phrase “red as strawberries in summertime” sound like the most profound thing that’s ever been spoken. This song shows why one of the most exciting new bands in years.
This year my favorite song is not one that’s been universally praised like “All My Friends” in 2007 or “The Funeral” in 2006. In fact, I haven’t seen any songs list with this track even mentioned. Nevertheless, there is no other song this year that has inspired, uplifted, and touched me like “Inní mér syngur vitleysingur” (“Within me a lunatic sings” in English). Although the song uses much of the same instrumentation that Sigur Rós is known for (strings, horns, glockenspiels) it’s actually a bit of departure from their normal sound. The song is more melody-driven, the mood more jubilant and celebratory, and the running time a good bit shorter than the norm for the Icelandic group. Yet with it’s quickened pace, the band is allowed to pack in more unforgettable hooks and dazzling layers into their songs.
With the band’s newfound pop sensiblities, one thing they haven’t lost (in fact, I’d argue they’ve improved upon) is their songwriting ingenuity. From the opening burst of trumpet to the ringing piano chords, glockenspiel, and hand claps that grace the intro the song shifts perfectly one beautiful movement to another, until reaching a buildup that is exemplifies musical excellence in every possible way. The sheer magnitude of instruments that are layered on each other in a short time span is absolutely awe-inspiring and it makes for one of the most triumphant, mind-blowing climaxes I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to. Add onto this Jonsi’s stunning vocal performance of which has never sounded more determined or excited then it does here, and you have what I believe to be Sigur Ros’ crowning achievement and one of the most perfect songs I’ve ever heard.
Other Songs Lists:
Pitchfork: 100 Best Tracks
gorilla vs bear: Best Songs
Rolling Stone: 100 Best Singles
Said The Gramophone: Best Songs
Time Magazine: Top 10 Songs
MTV.com: Best Songs
Culture Bully: 10 Best Songs (Four Takes)
Amazon.com: Best Songs / Bestselling Songs
SPIN: 20 Best Songs
Tags: Anathallo, British Sea Power, Cloud Cult, Cut Copy, Department of Eagles, Fleet Foxes, Headlights, Hot Chip, Islands, Jenny Lewis, M83, Mates of State, No Age, Of Montreal, Okkervil River, Portishead, Shearwater, Sigur Ros, Sun Kil Moon, The Dodos, The Hold Steady, The Mae Shi, TV on the Radio, Vampire Weekend, Wolf Parade