Tuesday, December 16, 2008

My 19 Favorite Tunes of 2008

So, tell me, does the album even matter anymore? When I think about a really awesome album like The Who's Quadrophenia or The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's or The Clash's London Calling, these were more than a collection of songs, they were cohesive works of art.

Today, I very rarely listen to an album as a single work of art. More often than not, I listen to a song here or there because that's how I buy music. I think because of the series of tubes known as teh internets, we listen to music differently now. The era of the single is back, the era of the long-playing album is over. Of course, feel free to disagree with me as Paul Boll did over FredBurgers at lunch yesterday afternoon.

Anyway, I don't really think I can put together even a short list of best albums because I don't feel I have the opportunity to listen to enough albums to even put together a short list.

Don't get me wrong, there were some albums I really liked. Alejandro Escovedo's Real Animal may be the best album he's ever done. British Sea Power's Do You Like Rock Music? was an impressive piece of power pop. But I'm not sure the album really matters anymore.

Whether albums matter or not, I thought this was a great year for music. Here are my 19 favorite songs of the year, in something approximating order of preference. Listen, enjoy, react, disagree:

1. "Constructive Summer," The Hold Steady
The Hold Steady seems to inspire lots of debate -- some minimize them as just a bar band and other call lead singer Craig Finn pop music's answer to John Updike. The truth is probably somewhere in between -- they are a cerebral bunch of rockers who play with a lot of heart. Honestly, they remind me a lot of another outfit with Twin Cities roots, Soul Asylum. "Constructive Summer" was completely brilliant -- I could listen to it 10 times in a row right now.

2. "Sex on Fire," Kings of Leon
I was surprised this wasn't a bigger hit. I felt that this song could be a huge hit of "Hey Ya" type magnitude. It wasn't, but it was still a No. 1 hit in the UK. Lead singer Caleb Followill is sort of the male Lucinda Williams -- with that kind of raspy, ragged vocal. Not everyone's taste, but I kind of like it. Watch the video here.

3. "L.E.S. Artistes," Santogold
I think of Santi White, also known as Santogold, as an Eighties throwback -- a little bit of Blondie, Grace Jones and Siouxsie Sioux mixed up into a souffle of awesomeness. She really should be a big, big star -- in a better world, she'd be Beyonce.

4. "So Said What," French Kicks
Which Brooklyn under-the-radar supergroup do you like better -- the French Kicks or The Walkmen? The way you answer that question reveals ... something. I actually prefer the French Kicks, if for no other reason than The Walkmen are better known for their version of Mazarin's "Another One Goes By" than Mazarin is. Yeah, I'm splitting hairs because The Walkmen are rad, too. But the French Kicks ... they're just a wee bit radder. This song channels a certain Beach Boys easiness with a post-punk vibe. It's a real feel-good song.

5. "Grace," Goodwin
This is a total homer pick. I love Fort Worth. I love power pop. Tony Diaz and Daniel Gomez put those two things together quite nicely. Continue to rock, gentlemen. Here they are playing down the street from my house at The Moon.

6. "Sister Lost Soul," Alejandro Escovedo
Back in my Austin days, I worked at the same Sound Warehouse as Alejandro. I still remember the day his then wife (or ex-wife) killed herself. That's a trauma that I still think he wrestles with, and I think you can hear it in this song.

7. "Can’t Say No," Helio Sequence
I've been listening to a lot of KEXP (Damn you, Dominick!), so I've been brainwashed by the Seattle Music Mafia. All the same, Keep Your Eyes Ahead is a brilliant album, if I kept track of that kind of thing. This song is my favorite.

8. "I’m Not Going to Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance With You," Black Kids
Infectious, fun pop. If Robert Smith of The Cure made it successfully though therapy, he would probably make music like this.

9. "Lost Coastlines," Okkervil River
Representing the 512 area code on this list is Okkervil River. Actually, I could just as easily insert their cut "Singer Songwriter" here, but I'll put in "Lost Coastlines" here because, well, because I can't find a link to the video. Meh.

10. "I’m Good, I’m Gone," Lykke Li
Duffy, Adele, I want nothing to do with you. Y'all can't carry Lykke Li's mascara.

11. "Unforgettable Season," Cut Copy
More electronica. I think "Cut Copy" is Australian for "awesomeness."

12. "Northwestern Girls," Say Hi
I liked their old name, Say Hi To Your Mom, but this ambient little ode to Seattle's pretty ladies is quite a fetching little tune.

13. "Midnight Man," Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
No Tom Waits album this year -- Nick Cave is an acceptable substitute. Besides, he got the word "chrysalis" in the song.

14. "Ladytron," Ghosts
Heavy electronica. This song is surprisingly addictive.

15. "The Re-Arranger," Mates of State
Probably the best most-maligned band of the year. The husband and wife duo of Jason Hammel (drums/vocals) and Kori Gardner (keyboard/vocals) sound like they are having a good time. Why not enjoy?

16. "The Step and The Walk," The Duke Spirit
Liela Moss = Marianne Faithfull + Nico. You do the math.

17. "Sometime Around Midnight," The Airborne Toxic Event
Easily my favorite band name of the year, this song is overwrought and maudlin. What more could you want from pop music?

18. "Oxford Comma," Vampire Weekend
I agree -- I don't give a fuck about an oxford comma.

19. "You Want The Candy," The Raveonettes
Uh, yes. I want the candy. Has there been anything out of Denmark this much fun since Legos? I think not.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Waiting for January 21

I found this poem leafing through a book today, and it seemed like an appropriate poem for our current age of anxiety. I don't know what keeps you up at night, but if you are anything like me, it's probably quite a list. This poem is called "Listen" by Charles Simic. It captures the feeling I have about life right now.

Everything about you,
my life, is both
make-believe and real.
We are like a couple
working the night shift
in a bomb factory.

Come quietly, one says
to the other
as he takes her by the hand
and leads her
to a rooftop
overlooking the city.

At this hour, if one listens
long and hard,
one can hear a fire engine
in the distance,
but not the cries for help,

just the silence
growing deeper
at the sight of a small child
leaping out of a window
with its nightclothes on fire.

Caldo de Pollo at Benito's

My good friend, Paul Boll, tells me has always told me that the chicken soup at Benito's has magic healing powers. Last Thursday, I got to put it to the test after spending my morning with chills and aches, I high-tailed it over to Benito's with Dan McCarron to experience the healing power for myself.

The tasty soup gave me a temporary bounce, at least enough to get through my post-lunch conference call, but that didn't keep my health from heading south faster than a subprime mortgage lender. The flu's a bitch this season, people. I've spent the past few days in bed.

Final verdict: Magical, no. Tasty, yes.