It’s been strange year for music. 2006 may have been my favorite year for music ever, and 2007 had a ton of fantastic songs. 2008, however, has very few songs I would consider all-time classics. Something like “Girls in the Their Summers Clothes” which only managed #8 on my list last year would be challenging for #1 this time.
That said, I feel like my albums list is incredibly strong and deep. Which means there were tons of very good, but comparatively few great, songs this year. And there’s definitely something to be said for that. I certainly discovered far more good songs than I could ever listen to this year. After much trimming and paring, here’s my 40 favorite.
As always, it’s limited to one song per artist. And I’m continuing my tradition of not really talking about the whole song, but instead focusing in and highlighting the single best moment.
40 . Feel Alive – Metermaids
1:51 – It’s the sound the subway at 3 AM, of kids in Central Park, of hipsters on the Lower East Side, of the afternoon in Harlem. Most of all its an expression of joy, tempered by the recognition of hard times and tough places, but still resplendent in spite of it all.
38. Me and Mary – Asobi Seksu
2:14 – Yuki Chikudate can do things with her voice that defy even the furthest boundaries of human imagination. Included on the list because it was released this year, even if the full record won’t be out until 2009.
37. I Kissed a Girl (youtube link) – Katy Perry
0:33 – Much as I’d like to deny it (and thus not be forced to include such an embarrassing song on my list) this chorus is one of the best pop/rock moments I’ve heard in a long, long time.
36. Flocks III – Collections of Colonies of Bees
9:52 – After almost ten minutes of buildup, the core collapses in upon itself and then bursts out in a cascade of light that quickly fragments and scatters in a million directions. In this moment, you can hear everything.
35. The Gardener – The Tallest Man on Earth
3:17 – Two lovers standing in the garden. Deep inside, I think she knows. But it’s easier to pretend. Which means they’re both guilty.
34. Viva La Vida (youtube link) – Coldplay
1:34 – Look, I don’t like Coldplay. I think they represent a lot of things that are seriously wrong with music. And it’s frustrating that a boring band like them gets so much reward while so many superior acts toil below the radar. That said, they do occasionally write a pop masterpiece. This is one of those times. I’m happy to report that the rest of the album is pretty wretched, though.
33. Overcome – Juliette Commagere
3:05 – So over the top that all you can do is sit back in wonderment.
32. White Winter Hymnal – Fleet Foxes
2:00 – After dialing up and up over the cycles of verses, it’s all stripped away and you’re left with a pure beauty shorn of all embellishments. You almost can’t breathe for fear of knocking apart the delicate latticework upon which these harmonies rest.
31. I Want You Back – The School
0:38 – A piece of twee perfection. The chorus hits you like a rush of dopamine to the brain.
30. A&E (youtube link) – Goldfrapp
1:02 – He had heard that women often fell in love with unattractive and quite ordinary men, but he did not believe it because he judged by himself and he could fall in love only with beautiful, mysterious and exceptional women.
29. The Trees Were Presidential (Andrew Bird vs. Youngbloodz) – ABX
1:33 – The whistle fits here so perfectly that you wonder how it could have ever existed anywhere else. I’m not a huge fan of mashups and the like, but when done well they reveal a depth in the music you never would have imagined.
28. Gumdrops – The Smittens
1:01 – In a song that’s almost too cute for its own good, this is the essential moment.
26. New Country – Birdmonster
1:12 – I love the way the lyrics bleed into these perfectly struck keyboard notes, and the way the guitar is growing slowly behind them.
25. Cath… – Death Cab for Cutie
1:04 – “She holds a smile like someone would hold a crying child” – easily Ben Gibbard’s best bit of songwriting in many years.
23. Blitzed – The Raveonettes
0:48 – Feel yourself drift out into the blissed out waves and watch the fireworks burst all across the horizon.
22. Julian of Norwich – Bombadil
1:28 – The fullness of Joy is to behold God in everything.
21. Journey of the Featherless – Cloud Cult
2:15 – As Samwise Gamgee once put it: “just like being inside a rainbow.”
19. Get Better – Mates of State
2:36 – The album was a bit disappointing, but the buildup and release in this song is as good as anything they’ve done.
18. Graveyard Girl – m83
2:33 – The spoken interlude is overdone, ridiculous, and yet perfectly sublime. The way the music returns – gentle and forgiving – makes this clear. It’s a moment of genuine compassion, even love.
17. Slow Down Csilla – The Spectacles
1:58 – One of the most intense moments of the whole year, made even more so by the lo-fi atmosphere
16. Travel in Time – Marching Band
3:27 – Everybody lives, Rose. Just this once. Everybody lives!
15. 14 Forever – Stars
2:18 – The single most pure moment in music since…well, since Set Yourself on Fire. The things Amy Millan can do with her voice continue to astonish me.
14. Lost Coastlines – Okkervil River
1:34 – Have I mentioned that I think Okkervil River is the best band in the world right now? That’s in large part due to moments like this. What other band could even conceive a line like: “Is that marionette real enough yet to step off of that set to decide what her dance might be doing? Ruining the play to, in the ensuing melee, escape?” – much less pull it off with such style and grace?
13. My Eyes – Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog
2:06 – Strange that my favorite harmony of the year was sung by two non-musicians and written by Joss Whedon. The overlap and interplay between the two is lovely, in that way that only the best show tunes can manage.
12. The Nun’s Litany – The Magnetic Fields
1:52 – I’ve always thought Shirley Simms was the best of the many Magnetic Fields singers, and here she shows why.
11. Barrowland Ballroom – Amy MacDonald
2:48 – Hard to pick a single moment from a song so packed with urgency, but for some reason the phrasing of this line absolutely demolishes me.
10. Lights Out for Darker Skies – British Sea Power
3:04 – The first three minutes are exactly the kind of great New Wave-tinged rock song you’d expect from them. This is the moment when you realize that something far greater is going on.
9. Anna – Hello Saferide
1:25 – You could write an entire novel and fail to capture the inner-workings of a broken heart as well as she does in this one moment.
8. You, Me, and the Bourgeoisie – The Submarines
0:49 – I get at least five hits every day of people searching for the line “every day we wake up, we choose love, we choose light” – given my feelings about this blog, this band, and the world at large, I think that’s pretty appropriate.
7. Alexandria – Caithlin De Marrais
1:39 – This song brims with the gentle pathos of everyday life on the road, the confusion, the fights, the aches and pains. Picking one moment is difficult, but this one feels the most evocative to me, for reasons I can’t really explain. It’s a blanket wrapped around you on a cold night, a warm cup of tea, a tired smile shared between friends.
6. Black Fur – Fredrik
1:59 – A glorious noise – it’s the sound of things we take for granted, but which would bowl us over in amazement if we really stopped to think about them.
5. Orange Juice – Grand Archives
0:17 – Ninety seconds of effortless beauty. You wouldn’t go wrong picking any part of it but for me, the opening line is perfect: “If you could believe in all the things that they told you, then you could be leaving with me.”
4. The ’59 Sound – The Gaslight Anthem
1:02 – It’s anthemic in all the best ways. Not because it tries to make itself large, but because of the way it takes an intensely personal and individual moment and lets it burst forth – inviting you into a world where you have permission to set aside the jaded, ironic distance that convinces us that it’s weak to feel pain and sorrow.
3. Present/Infant (Daytrotter session) – Ani DiFranco
2:24 – I think this may be the happiest Ani has ever sounded. And also the most secure in herself. For all the astonishing talent and beautiful songs over the years, there’s something tremendously comforting here that I’m not sure we’ve heard before. The style is reminiscent of her earliest records, but it’s tempered by age, and a recognition of the fact that even the most precocious people must take time to fully grow into themselves.
2. Ruins of the Realm – James McMurtry
2:45 – A brilliant rumination on the long decline of empires. It hits closest to home here. Thinking about the ruins of the South in the context of 2008 provides the glimmer of optimism necessary to offset the fundamental pessimism imposed by the promise a collapsing new world order. It’s a triumphant sadness.
1. Head Rolls Off – Frightened Rabbit
2:50 – This is the return home, where everything comes right. It’s here that we come to understand the meaningless of grand plans, the temporality of our lives. The fear this inspires in us, but the fundamental optimism of it all. What we used to look for in God we now see reflected back in the world around us, in the eyes of a million hopeful souls, living, loving, singing, dancing, touching hands, writing stories. And this song is a mirror for it all.