Top 50 of 2008 :: 5-2 [Is your heart still beating?]

5) Airborne Toxic Event - "Sometime Around Midnight"

Airborne Toxic Event wrote one of the most secretly destructive albums of the year. The songs were catchy; the melodies bouncy. There was no sense that the entire album was actually about break-ups, mortgaging your future, and being absolutely destroyed by a woman. It helped that their lead-singer and lyricist Mikel Jollet used to be a novelist. One can assume, a really morose novelist. Which brings us to "Sometime Around Midnight," a song about going out, trying to get over the girl you love, and having her go home with someone else - right in your face, seemingly to prove a point. I mean, he puts it more eloquently than that but you get the gist. From there it's about walking out of a bar so drunk that you don't realize, "everyone's staring at you." The closer is the pathos and breakdown. Jollet screams, "you just have to see her/you just have to see her/you know that she'll break you in two." It's fragile. It's demanding and it's prophetic. The best part: the guitars and arena-style arrangement that explode around Jollet as he finds the place where he can handle his miniature disaster. It's tragic as hell. It might break you in two.

4) Mates of State - "The Re-Arranger"

It starts plodding and meditative before moving into something more urgent, and eventually finding a pedantic but resonating final call. What makes "The Re-Arranger" so perfect is not that it is one good song; it's that it is two, and maybe three separate good songs - all dealing with the same issue. Ostensibly, the song is about trying to recover a relationship. Essentially, "if you really wanna shake it off/you gotta re-arrange us." This can happen. Things can go wrong and they can be fixed; but how that happens is always a larger and more complicated problem. Mates of State have never presented nuanced solutions but they have always managed to put a pretty face on an ugly situation. So, they pull out a bridge which, we can assume, is about the value and productive quality of vicious, shouting arguments. "Love loud/don't lose loud" is a different way of saying you'd rather fight than not talk at all. "Love loud/ don't lose loud" is a little like stuffing a rainbow up the asshole of a disaster. But sometimes you need to do that. Sometimes you need to believe that you can do the re-arranger. Sometimes you need to re-arrange us.

3) We Are Scientists - "After Hours"

We Are Scientists took a great leap forward this year and no one noticed. Their album, Brain Thrust Mastery was a combination of dangerous power-pop and Duran Duran synth-slick ambitiousness. It wasn't With Love and Squalor. But it didn't try to be. And "After Hours" was the third best song of the year. It was huge. More than that, it was ready and willing to be huge. The lyrics were about going out drinking in New York, trying to stay out as late as possible, and challenging the nerve of bartenders to close their bars. It doesn't necessarily have a lot to say but that's less of an issue. It charges forward with no regard for personal safety as the band ends up demanding, "say/that you'll stay." It bleeds togetherness. It bleeds those early hours and late nights and times that are always running out. It bleeds the here and it bleeds the now. "This door is always open." And no one has the guts to shut us out.

2) The Killers - "Human"

In a year that embraced electro, disco and synthesizers like never before, we needed someone to bring us back down. Someone to bring it back down, bring it back down tonight. And ironically, it was one of the most digestible (read: "vapid" if you're a hater) synth-rock bands of the last 10 years who had a mind to do it. Brandon Flowers and The Killers, chipping off a Hunter S. Thompson lyric questioning our humanity, managed to pose a grammatically incorrect, if dreadfully important question: are we human or are we dancer? You gotta let me know. And the case was, we are dancer. We've gathered up our innately human qualities and taken them down to the electro-house pawn shop and all we got in trade was "D.A.N.C.E." Flowers is almost demanding to know why we've let ourselves become a breed of kids who plugged so deeply into the main-frame, so intimately into the scene, and so mindlessly into the disco that we can't define our humanity. Are we human or are we dancer? I probably can't do this better justice than what I wrote the day the song leaked. So, go back and read that. It's just new tab and Google in your browser and search for "Human" and "32ft" and then click search and select from your search options the link that best describes the your desired location. Plug in. Shut off. And God help us all if that MGMT record is the best thing the kids can get down to. Give my regards to soul and romance. They did the best they could.


Top 50 of 2008 :: 10-6 [Today I stood and walked away]

10) Hercules and Love Affair - "Blind"

It was a confusing year for music and Hercules and Love Affair made it a confusing year for sexuality. Even though "Blind" officially has Antony and the Johnsons' frontman on recorded vocals, in concert they've featured an unnamed, yet extremely attractive transexual. Which led roughly to the following exchange between me and a close friend:

Me: So ... she's a dude, right?
Tom: Yeah, but she's still hot, right?
Me: Oh, absolutely.
Tom: Ok, good.

Where does that leave us? Confused. Lost. Alone? Never. We had the dance-floor burner of the year to dance to.

Blind (Album Version) - Hercules And Love Affair

9) Does It Offend You, Yeah? - "Dawn of the Dead"

Maybe not the best of the "bands who have full English sentences as names" but certainly in the discussion, Does It Offend You, Yeah? still had one of the best singles of the year. In ways it was misleading, sounding little like the rest of the songs on their electro-clash debut, aptly named You Have No Idea What You're Getting Yourself Into. But that didn't change what "Dawn of the Dead" was: a Simple Minds sound-alike with warm Cure-synths and a xylophone-infused chorus that was just sing-songy enough to be cute and bombastic enough to stick in your head for 36-straight hours. The lyrics were as contradictory as their album title: "Today I stood and walked away/I'm never coming back this way/I've got my things, I'm here to stay." It wasn't rocket science. More like a dirty secret, whispered to a friend on the same major label: "shhhh ... this song is better than that 'not gonna boyfriend dance with whatever' tune." Don't tell anyone. Sony Would Hate If You Found Out. Which, come to think of it, makes a killer band name.

8) Tokyo Police Club - "Tessellate"

Fair being fair and spades being spades: this was probably an emo song off an emo album. And it wasn't for the worst. "Tessellate" was a great leap forward for a band that had previously mastered just 2-minute twitch-outs to perfection. It was a fully functional song with a dominant guitar-riff and hand-claps that were as contagious as they were necessary. But ultimately, it was the lyrics that would stick in our heads. "Dire times call for dire faces." The lyrical couplets were simple but they held power. "We showed them what the backs of our hands were for/the divide is clear/in the coming year/the rich will take the poor." It wasn't specifically about switching to Saddlecreek and getting a nearly blank-check record. It wasn't about ending up on MTV and Desperate Housewives (yeah, true story). It was about self-actualizing; and that was something this band did better than most in 2008. We're holding out for posterity and self-defense...

7) Matt and Kim - "Daylight" (click through for download)

Indie rock has always courted other styles, owing mostly to the fact that "indie rock" isn't really a style in and of itself. Songs get filed under "indie rock" and then another sub-category: glam, indie-pop, synth-rock, freak folk, etc. It gets confusing. Well, 19-seconds into Matt and Kim's face-melting "Daylight" you can start using hip-hop as the newest "indie rock" sub-heading. The song has an almost-driven-to-insanity piano loop and then, bam, seemingly out of nowhere comes a go-go hip-hop beat with what sounds like all manner of other synthesized instruments (horns, strings) thrown in the mix. By the end you're nodding your head and singing along. This is not usually in the "indie rock" playbook of acceptable behavior. Nodding? Singing? Ugh, gross. Maybe it was the courting of hip-hop style that made this so fascinating but I think it was something else: It was the most fun anyone had making or listening to music all year.

6) Coldplay - "Viva La Vida"

Ok, raise your hand if your irritated that Coldplay is this high on a year-end list? I'm going to stop you right there. We need big bands whether we admit it or not. And after X and Y, that legacy seemed questionable. We were waiting for their take-over to become something even more comprehensive. If "Clocks" was good, well, then what was the ceiling? How awesome could their next big single be? And out of nowhere came "Viva La Vida." Initially, it seemed that "Violet Hill" would be the lead single off Viva La Vida and then like the churning, orchestral pop sucker-punch that it was, "Viva La Vida"- the song, dropped into your lap like a ton of bricks. It was epic. It was risky. It was transformative. And forget the iPod commercial and the rumors (from two bands now) that "Viva La Vida" lifted its chorus from someone else. No moment defined what it was to write an epic, arena pop song like Coldplay's crushing performance on MTV's Movie Awards back in June. Halfway through, Martin looks at the crowd and says, "Everybody ok?" Then he smiles the biggest, dumbest smile of the year. Confetti is stuck to his face. It's entirely absurd and the song is exploding around him. It was the great reveal. The band was back with a cry out to pop music heaven. Everybody ok? Hands down? Good.


Top 50 Songs of 2008 :: 20-11 [And everything's going to the beat]

20) Frightened Rabbit - "Modern Leper"

Frightened Rabbit is band that has been around for awhile and nonetheless hit me like a ton of bricks in February. I was sitting at my roommate's computer reading, of all things, Pitchforkmedia (still a tastemaker, hate it or love it). "Modern Leper" was advertised in a song write-up as crushingly sad and willfully pain-inducing. I right-clicked. Save as. iTunes open. And three-minutes and 49-seconds later, I was destroyed and built again in the same breath; leveled like an outdated sports arena and constructed like a brand new one. You could say they sound like Snow Patrol - but with true emotional problems. You could say the Scottish have a knack for catharsis. You could say a lot of things. The only one that will stick is: "Well I am ill but I'm not dead/And I don't know which of those I'd prefer/Because that limb which I had lost/It was the only thing holding me up." Scream it. Holding me up.

19) Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin - "Think I Wanna Die"

On paper it seems a little absurd to have "Think I Wanna Die" slotted ahead of "Modern Leper." Well, consider the confusion associated with your average Major League Baseball MVP-race. In the unlikely event that two worthy candidates are from the same team, they do what is called "splitting votes." Writers from their home city/region/fan base can't decide who to vote for, so they divide their votes between the two, unintentionally hurting the chances of both players. This usually opens the window for a dark horse; an unexpected third-party, valid in his own right but probably not better than either of the two split-voters. So, "Modern Leper" split votes with two or three other songs of its own record. Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin only offered one truly great song off their album. No vote splitting. "Think I Wanna Die" gets the nod on my immediate reaction at the time. It's a complicated process. Just blame Pete Gammons.

18) Passion Pit - "Sleepyhead"

I'll cop to not getting "Sleepyhead" the first three times I heard it. Coming on great authority as "the newest of the new shit," I wanted to like it. I even made a few comparisons to other bands. "Hey, like Ratatat with more focus and lyrics." Then I disagreed with myself. "Really, I was thinking Tigercity trying to make a hip-hop single in a synthesizer factory?" The debate raged but my excitement-level didn't. Then I caught the middle night of their Piano's residency. It's not like it was an "ah-ha" moment. It didn't become suddenly clear that this was THE band. But "Sleepyhead" made a lot more sense at ear-splitting volume in a packed room with kids just waiting for the first synth breakdown at 1.21. The place absolutely erupted. I was moved. All the way to 18. Oh, and the video might make you car-sick. Everything going to the beat can be a dizzying experience.

17) The Official Secrets Act - So Tomorrow

The band that meant the most to me in late 2006 and into the summer of 2007 was Winter Kids. It absolutely killed me that more people didn't end up liking them. So how much of my current level of excitement about The Official Secrets Act is motivated by how much they sound like Winter Kids? Hard to say. But the facts are these: 1) They sound exactly like Winter Kids. Wait. Let's start again: 1) "So Tomorrow" was one of the most widely downloaded song from the blog all year. 2) "So Tomorrow" elicited somewhere between four and seven emails about what a good song it was and how thankful people were that I had posted it. 3) You could argue, "who cares what the readers think?" and I would tell you to shut it. 4) This is one of the three most propulsive songs of the year (secret's still out on the other two) and when they get to the bridge and discuss all the things that people spend their lives waiting for, they finally resolve, "all this waiting just might kill me." Cue an incredibly emotive 11-seconds of music before the last chorus. Cue me feeling connected to this song in ways I can't and won't explain here or maybe ever.

16) Vampire Weekend - "A-Punk"

Ok. Just say it. Whatever you think about this band: just say it. Right now. Give yourself one paragraph. Once you've aired your feelings, now hear this: it doesn't matter what you think. It doesn't matter when you got into them or if you like them or if you hate them. Or if you think wearing boat shoes to the Bowery Ballroom is dangerous/badass/not cool. The record was good. The production was an improvement. Did they get too famous? Sure. Did they deserve it? Who knows. Was this band far more relevant/likeable in early 2007? Yes. "A-Punk" isn't new but that doesn't mean it's bad. And anyone who can get away with what sounds distinctly the Pan Flute setting on a Yamaha keyboard deck is alright with me. Hipster hypemachine: Live with your Frankenstein's monster. Just hope they don't kill your wife like in the book you didn't read in British Literature.

15) Lykke Li - "I'm Good. I'm Gone" (Chuck Brody Remix)

This song grabs you by the throat in the most subtle way possible; not unlike an extremely destructive relationship. Without realizing how addicted to this song I was, I listened to it innocently for a few weeks before it invaded every possible corner of my life. She was in my car. My iPod. My apartment. In my conversations. I would listen to it on the way to things. It made everything just. a little. better. I realized, too late it's worth noting, that I was in love with it. But "I'm Good. I'm Gone," as the title would indicate, didn't return the favor. I poured my heart out to her and she smiled at me. I broke myself for her and she pushed my pieces around her plate like a disinterested, if extremely picky, eater. I didn't stop. I kept calling and calling. She just wasn't at the phone.

14) Empire of the Sun - "Walking On A Dream"

Is Empire of the Sun secretly Phoenix writing the soundtrack for a mummy movie? With a band name that sounds like it should come after a colon and right before "Starring Brendan Frazier and Jet Li," Empire of the Sun was a tough sell. The cover art looked absurd. The measureables pointed to this being a terrible album. "Walking On A Dream" spoke for itself. It sounded like the slick, metallic Euro-pop that, left unchecked, leads to things like The Pet Shop Boys. This wasn't that. It was the song that could stop people in their tracks. It was the song that could make the kids who like Katy Perry say, "hey, what is that song you're playing?" It was everything to everyone. It didn't ask for much of your brain power and delivered consistent satisfaction. Not unlike a major Hollywood action movie.

13) TV On The Radio - "Dancing Choose"

Now, I'm no mad man. But that's insanity.

Dancing Choose - TV On The Radio

12) MGMT - "Kids"

I don't love doing this. The record was good but not great. Columbia Records stuffed them so far down everyone's throats that it seemed like they were the biggest band in the world. All of this made me angry. All this being said, "Kids" is still a slam. It has been almost a year since the record came out and more than a year since a VP at Virgin/Capitol slid the LP into my hands and said, "I know you don't want to like it. Give the album a try." I cracked pretty quickly. The 10-note synth riff the song opens with is one of the most memorable, if not one of the best, moments in music this year. On some level, this song speaks to everyone. I can hate it/them all I want. It doesn't change the facts. Turn it up in Williamsburg. The kids are alright.

Kids - MGMT

11) Fujiya and Miyagi - "Knickerbocker"

The bass-line for "Knickerbocker" thumps with such urgency that you could be led hypnotically, not unlike a cult follower, into perfect alignment with your leader. Your steps match their beat. You turn it up. You realize the lyrics might be nonsense. You walk faster. You turn it up. You know nothing is going to match how deep you got into LCD Soundsystem in 2007 (to present) but this is close. You feel like everything is happening at once. You feel like you could walk out of your life and into a music video. You are having the coolest four-minutes of your day. Drink the kool-aid, kid. Everybody is riding the spaceship into the sun.

Knickerbocker - Fujiya & Miyagi


Top 50 Songs of 2008 :: 30-21 [Live inside your Jesus dreams]

30) Dead Confederate - "The Rat"

Trends considered as an oceanographic metaphor: Dead Confederate aren't riding the front of a wave full of grunge bands. They're standing on the beach, waiting for everyone to get out of the water. And they've been there for awhile now. "The Rat" happens to be the most digestible, but probably least demanding song off their eponymous self-titled EP and debut LP, Wrecking Ball. They play harder than almost any band you've seen ever and they're turning indie rock on its ear and shaking until all the skinny kids admit that, yes, yes, YES, they once liked Pearl Jam and Nirvana. There ain't nothing wrong with calling rock, "rock." And bands like My Morning Jacket: you're on notice. The fox is in the hen house and your Southern stoner rock isn't going to survive this (apologies to Zach) rogue wave.

29) The Stills - "Everything I Build"

The Stills followed up their largely misunderstood Without Feathers with a largely understood Oceans Will Rise. If the title indicates an impending disaster, the content indicates something different. The Stills weren't warning anyone about anything; they were eulogizing us all. And "Everything I Build" is every bit a funeral. The lyrics are straight-forward but the melody was the most haunting of the year. "Been an open book, been a slammin' door/apple of the Trojan war," it's clear the band feels the emotional impact of having not announced our demise sooner. But if you're the face that launched a thousand ships, you might feel like "the tide is high/I've never been so low." It's an absolutely crushing song. And it will speak to you. Whether you want it to or not.

Everything I Build - The Stills

28) The Cassette Kids - "You Take It"

I know next to nothing about Cassette Kids but I do know that their lead-singer is a chick with enough sauce to blow the doors off any rock club from here to Liverpool and back. This is the kind of rock voice that can peel paint and could be used to repave most of the Lower East Side. There's real power here and it's not fake. By the time she's gotten to the chorus and is demanding "you take it" over and over again, it's not a request. But we're beyond pleasantries. This is not a negotiation.

27) The Clips - Space Kidz

You could argue The Clips didn't need to replace the "s" with a "z." You could argue that writing a song that is ostensibly about a girl doing coke from coast-to-coast is woefully irresponsible. You could argue that we've had our fill of synth bands. You could argue a lot of things. But no song touched more, and more easily, on the wasted youth of 2008. In fact, what better invocation than, "this one's out to the wasted space kidz?" Sure, it's a play on words. But it rhymes so well with: "everyone hopes that she knows she knows shit."

Space Kidz - The Clips

26) Temper Trap - "Sweet Disposition"

The Temper Trap aren't leaving a whole lot on the table here. With a charging (read: simple) bass line and a pedaled-to-death guitar lick that sounds like climbing stairs, Temper Trap create an arrangement that would be as comfortable in an arena as it would be on your computer speakers. So, when you're listening to "Sweet Disposition" don't imagine your room or house. Think big. Think of the biggest room you've ever been in. And then think bigger. Think about empty stadiums filling up with people. Think about the least elevating moment of your last twelve hours. Now reverse that.

Sweet Disposition -

25) Santogold - "L.E.S. Artistes (XXXchange Remix)"

Santogold was as confusing as she was ubiquitous in 2008. How could you have an individual relationship with an artist who was so busy helping sell Bud Light Lime? It was concerning to say the least. But as the first track of her genre-hopping, mish-mash of marketability debut LP, "L.E.S. Artistes" is a little dose of irony. It says, for all the cool kid affect I'm about to market to you, in the end, it's only marketing. Quote: "Feeling so good, the hope is that you cannot see me later" seems to indicate that no matter what you get out of the album, you won't get one inch closer to the artist involved. It was a brilliantly self-aware facade. And it was all about the money. Ironically, she found credibility in mentioning that in no way was she credible. But that didn't make it bad. In fact, it made "L.E.S. Artistes" the perfect harpoon attached to a ship of cash.

24) The Weeks - "Buttons"

This is, perhaps, unexpectedly high for a band 90% of you don't know. Let me explain. This track is about 90-seconds too long but other than that it's perfect. This is what alternative rock should sound like: ambitious, crushing, hooky, with a wailing chorus that will stick in your head for days. But largely what keeps this song in rotation is a few turns of phrase. "Pull your knife away from my throat/she said 'smoke your cigarette/I hope you choke'/she kissed my lips and quickly ran away." And that's not even the hook. The chorus is a dying plea for young love in the throws of disaster: "I know, I know. It's not that bad. Take a look at what we have."

Buttons - The Weeks

23) Friendly Fires - "Skeleton Boy"

Friendly Fires have one of the best albums of the year. They put on a great live show, seem like nice guys and even had Paul Epworth produce lead single "Jump In The Pool." Problem is, "Skeleton Boy" is the best song off the album. Better than "Paris" and "Lovesick" and just a shade better than Epworth's majestic plea for waterborne entertainment, "Jump In The Pool." "Skeleton Boy" leaps out of the gate with a bass-line, guitar strum, and keyboard line that I defy you not to nod your head to. But it's really the chorus ("your love is hot") and especially the second-half of the chorus, where the band has a synth peel-off sail over the top of everything, that puts us into rarefied air. It's enough to set this night on fire. Which I think was the point anyways.

Skeleton Boy - Friendly Fires

22) Bag Raiders - "Shooting Stars"

Remember Franz Ferdinand's "Take Me Out?" Remember where you were the first time you heard it? And you went from thinking, "what the hell is so special about this song?" to thinking "holy shit, this is the best rock song of the year" in less than four measures. Once "Take Me Out" settled-in you were sold. But it took a minute. And "Shooting Stars" takes longer. Around about the 2.40-mark, the song becomes something else. It goes from being a mediocre electronic meditation to being something explosive; something that is worthy of the plane take-off sound effect that happens, well, right when "Shooting Stars" takes off. The irony is, that same down-stroke guitar riff that propelled the second movement of "Take Me Out" almost, almost happens in "Shooting Stars." It's lighter and it's right at the bottom of the mix but it is definitely, definitely there. In fact, it's the last thing you hear before this song takes its non-stop journey to outer space.

Shooting Stars - Bag Raiders

21) Team Waterpolo - "Letting Go"

Team Waterpolo may have found the best 12-measures of music for 2008. The driving chorus, based around two simple questions, "do you wanna/do you wanna know?/ have you gotta/have you gotta let it show?" and the answer, "I don't wanna, I don't wanna know," and yet another question, "have I gotta go?" Simple, right? Exactly. This is mindless, driving (and I mean highway), pop rock. It's a simple formula with a satisfying outcome. How does it work? Well, that's just a dumb question with an easy answer. I don't wanna know.

Letting Go - Team Waterpolo