tongue-tied lightning

2008: The Year in Music
December 19, 2008, 7:21 PM
Filed under: music

I didn’t listen to as much music in 2008 as I have in years past.  I mostly listened to new stuff from old bands I have loved and stuff that got really good reviews and I felt I couldn’t ignore.  I still heard upwards of 50 new albums.  What follows are the best (and worst) of them.  As this is primarily a movie blog, I will attempt to tie each entry into film when possible.

Biggest Disappointment


I am an unapologetic lover of Kanye West’s music.  Sometimes I am even amused by his egotistical antics.  This album was decidedly unamusing.  If Kanye West has strengths, they are his ability to turn offbeat samples into great beats and his propensity for self-satirical faux?-egotistical lyrics.  This album throws both of those things away.  What we are left with is unimpressive.  The music is minimal, mostly composed on the Roland TR-808 of the title.  The lyrics are stripped down and ‘soul-bearing’, but they lack the wit that made Kanye’s previous outings so enjoyable.  Perhaps the worst decision he made recording this album was to sing.  Knowing he’s incapable of singing in key, he used Autotune pitch correction software.  Think “Believe” by Cher.  Yeah, that bad.

Honorable Mentions

In alphabetical order by artist:

Beck – Modern Guilt: A slight album, but it has it’s high points.  Chemtrails doesn’t sound like Beck, but it’s one of my favorite recent Beck songs.  He seems to be playing with alot of different sounds this record.  Replica sounds alot like Radiohead.  Walls is another favorite, with Cat Power (<3) on backup vocals.

My Morning Jacket – Evil Urges: My Morning Jacket has been one of my favorite bands lately.  It Still Moves being one of my favorite records of the decade.  I enjoyed this record but don’t feel it’s quite up to snuff.  The metal stylings of “Highly Suspicious” are more entertaining than enjoyable.  Still there are some great tracks on here; “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream”, “I’m Amazed”, and “Aluminum Park” are my favorites.  Hmm, maybe I should’ve put it on the list.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Dig!!! Lazurus Dig!!!: This is the first Nick Cave record I heard.  His brilliant score for last years The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford initially brought his music to my attention.  I was aware of him, but had never listened to him.  An impressive album, he has the kind of seedy barroom boogie feeling Morphine has, only less Urban, more… country.  I like it.

The Raconteurs – Consolers of the Lonely: I am a fan of Jack White, not so much of Meg White, this makes about every other White Stripes record a rocky affair.  This is why god created The Raconteurs.  We are given Jack’s songwriting and guitar playing skills supported by a competent rhythm section.  As an added bonus we get the lovely voice and songwriting talents of Brendan Benson.  Favorite track?  “Old Enough”

Stephen Malkmus – Real Emotional Trash: I’ve loved Malkmus’ solo work almost as much if not more than I loved his work with Pavement.  This record is no exception.  For much of what was a lackluster beginning of the year in music, it was looking like this might be near the top of my year-end list.  There have been about a dozen better albums, but I still enjoy this one alot.

Jazz Album of the Year:


For all intents and purposes this album should really be on the list, near the top.  But, as Jazz is a completely different discipline than Pop/Rock music I often have trouble ranking them alongside one another.  Brad Mehldau has been my favorite Jazz pianist for a long time.  This record only adds to my esteem for him.  Hearing his new trio in a live setting is fun.  Many of my favorite Mehldau songs are his inventive covers of pop songs.  Radiohead, the Beatles, Nick Drake and Paul Simon have been preoccupations of his.  Here we are given a great cover of Oasis’s “Wonderwall” and a 23 minute version of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun.”  Not bands in the realm he usually covers, but no less great for that.

Top 10 after the break.

Top Ten Albums of 2008


Ben Folds has been a perennial favorite of mine.  I’m not sure why as, being a pianist, listening to him is often absolutely demoralizing.  His last record was good, but not up to his usual standards.  Rockin the Suburbs before that had some great songs on it.  This, however, is the first record as good as Ben Folds Five’s self-titled album or Whatever and Ever Amen.  Fold’s self-deprecating wit and power piano riffs are back in full force on the first track “Hiroshima (B-B-B-Benny Hit His Head)” an intentional reference to Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets.”  The hook is probably the best on the record.  The only low point on the record is “Bitch Went Nuts,” the misogyny I’m sure is intended as a satire of men, but it’s not funny enough to work.  This is brought out in greater relief because when he leaked a fake version of the album, the fake version of “Bitch Went Nutz” was easily the highlight.  A satire of drug-addled conservative businessmen.

Favorite Song: Hiroshima (B-B-B-Benny Hit His Head)


While I’ve loved Ben Gibbard’s work with The Postal Service.  Death Cab albums have always left me wanting more.  Something about them always seemed safe, like they were using the most basic versions of the songs.  It really underplayed his often brilliant lyrics and made for, in my opinion, uninteresting music.  They take some chances on Narrow Stairs and it’s the first album of theirs I love.  Perhaps the biggest chance they took is having a five-minute instrumental introduction on “I Will Possess Your Heart.”  But the whole album is really good, finally giving Gibbard’s songs the treatment they deserve.

Favorite Song: I Will Possess Your Heart


Calexico is probably my favorite new discovery of the year.  I was turned onto them by their work on the I’m Not There soundtrack.  Their frontman Joey Burns was a musical producer for the Richard Gere segment of the film and they acted as a backing band for several artists on the soundtrack.  I picked up Carried to Dust and it quickly became one of my favorite albums of the year.  They have a haunting sound.  I like alot of stripped down alt-countryish music.  Calexico, from Arizona, seems to blend this with a Southwestern almost Mexican sound.  It’s hard to explain.  Easy to listen to.

Favorite Song: Two Silver Trees


Fleet Foxes, in my opinion, are the best new band to come onto the scene in 2008.  Their self-titled debut sounds like the work of veterans.  Much has been made of their Beach Boys influence.  It’s apparent, but I also notice a tinge of early My Morning Jacket in their sound.  Whatever their influences.  They are a great band and I’m eager to see what they come up with next.

Favorite Song: He Doesn’t Know Why


David Berman has been one of my favorite lyricists for awhile.  On American Water‘s “Random Rules” he penned one of my favorite opening lines.  “In 1984, I was hospitalized for approaching perfection”  He’s getting closer to perfection with every album he makes it seems.  Tanglewood Numbers was his comeback after kicking a crack addiction.  Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea appears to be what may be his first optimistic record, ever.  His ability to craft offbeat but poignant lyrics is still in tact; on “Strange Victory, Strange Defeat” he sings “Squirrels imported from Connecticut/Just in time for fall/How much fun is alot more fun?/Not much fun at all.” It’s these kind of odd lyrics where you have to flip them over in your mind a few times to realize exactly what was said that make Berman a joy to listen to.

Favorite Song: Suffering Jukebox


Conor Oberst is an odd one.  His first few Bright Eyes albums were correctly classified as Emo and in my opinion were terrible.  In 2005, with I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning he experimented with a folkier Americana sound and crafted one of my favorite records of the decade.  The follow up, Cassadaga, continued this trend, and he’s back with it again in his first record released under his own name.  I suppose he’s an alt-country artist in the mold of Ryan Adams now.  No longer the young emo boy wonder.  This record isn’t quite up to 2005’s Wide Awake but I like it a great deal more than Cassadaga. The lyrics aren’t as brilliant as Wide Awake’s but they are still exceptionally good.  I guess I’m a full-fledged fan now, of an artist I once despised.

Favorite Song: Get Well Cards


Two of my favorite artists this year released projects that are the antithesis of what I consider their best works.  Mike Leigh released Happy-Go-Lucky which is really the opposite of Naked, my favorite of his films.  And Will Oldham (Bonnie “Prince” Billy) released Lie Down in the Light, which even in the title seems like the opposite of I See a Darkness.  Darkness, as the title implies was a relentlessly dark album.  The title track is one of my favorites to put on when I’m in a down mood.  Lie Down in the Light is upbeat and… well, light.  His traditional folky singer/songwriter sound is complimented by some gospel influence, which adds to the transcendant nature of the album.  It’s great to see Oldham can do happy as well as sad.  I now have an album of his to put on when I’m feeling good.

Favorite Song: Easy Does It


The Walkmen’s last two albums have done very little for me.  2004’s Bows + Arrows is nothing short of a masterpiece.  I wasn’t a big fan of their debut either, and I was starting to think Bows + Arrows was a one off.  Was starting to, that is, until I heard You & Me which may be an even better album.  They have a completely unique sound that is hard to describe.  But isn’t uniqueness always hard to describe?  It’s a bit of a dark sound, certainly very full.  Hamilton Leithauser has a unique voice that may take some getting used to for some, but it adds an air of authenticity to their sound, much like Dylan’s voice, which it could be compared to. There is also perhaps a bit of a Smiths influence.

Favorite Song: I Lost You


This is kind of a fluke entry.  I listened to it when it first came out, and while I enjoyed it, I didn’t love it.  This was a step up from previous TV on the Radio efforts.  Which did little to nothing to me, apart from a few tracks on Return to Cookie Mountain.  However, this week, after Dear Science started showing up near the top of lots of year end lists, I gave it another spin.  I loved it this time.  However, after looking back on the list, I’m sure I placed it too high.  Actually, looking back on the list, I feel like every album except 10 and 1 are in the wrong place.  Oh well.  There is a definite Talking Heads influence on this album, and indeed all they do.  I’m happy I enjoyed this album.  Lead singer Tunde Adebimpe grew up in Pittsburgh and I like supporting hometown people.  His attempt at rapping on “Dancing Choose” probably wasn’t the best choice, but he is in fine form on the rest of the album.  I can’t wait to see his acting debut in Rachel Getting Married. (Most hamfisted movie tie-in yet)

Favorite Song: Golden Age


Oddly enough I didn’t like The Hold Steady before I heard this album.  Their last two albums got great critical acclaim but didn’t do alot for me.  Much of it was Craig Finn’s voice.  Which doesn’t fit any definition of conventional and doesn’t fit most definitions of unconventional at that.  On Seperation Sunday their sound was a bit raw and on Boys & Girls in America they sounded a bit overproduced.  On Stay Positive everything clicks.  Though, I have since returned to and appreciated their two previous records.  Their strength comes from a combination of straight-forward rock and roll and literary lyrics.  The best example of this on Stay Positive is “One for the Cutters” an engaging third-person narrative about a murder investigation.  The song also features a harpsichord, a rarity in rock and roll.  The last track “Slapped Actress” directly references John Cassavetes’ Opening Night.  “We are the actors/The cameras are rolling/I’ll be Ben Gazarra/You’ll be Gena Rowlands” and “We’re the directors/Our hands will hold steady/I’ll be John Cassavetes/Let me know when you’re ready.”  There are a few low points (particularly Navy Sheets) but it’s my favorite and most listened to album of the year.  If you can live with Finn’s voice, the energy is undeniable.
Favorite Song: One for the Cutters

2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

I enjoy many of these.

Comment by monoursblanc

Great Blog! Calexico and The Fleetfoxes were good adds!
font is a little too small tho’

Comment by Christina Long

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: