Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Look Back at the Music of 2008

Well, it's the last day of 2008, and I don't know about you, but I personally cannot wait to see this year be over. It seems like everyone I know was in some way touched by unspeakable tragedy, personal struggles, health problems, the loss of their jobs, and a whole veritable buffet of SUCK. Thankfully, there was a lot of cool music in 2008 to act as a distraction.

Musically, 2008 seemed like a year with one foot planted firmly in the past - more specifically, in the 80's. Since that period was when I first got into music, that really makes me happy. Ill-advised hairstyles and fashion horrors aside, I think that period was one of the best as far as creativity in pop music went (I mean, can you imagine a band like DEVO having a top ten hit NOW?!), and of course electronics were, for better or for worse, everywhere.

I always find it presumptuous when critics and bloggers proclaim lists of "The Best" of any given year. Musical tastes are so subjective and one man's Milli Vanilli may be another man's Mozart. Plus, if you've only heard a narrow selection of what actually came out in 2008, how do you KNOW what you've chosen is really the best, smart guy? Hmm? So instead of doing that, I'm just going to post a list of a bunch of songs (in no particular order) that got a lot of repeat listens from me in 2008. Make of it what you will, and by all means, please share your own discoveries!

"Magic" by Ladyhawke

I wasn't so hot on the rest of her album, but this song from the New Zealand songstress is epic! Get it on Ladyhawke - Ladyhawke - Magic

"My People" by The Presets

While we're in that part of the world, I may as well post this one from the Australian duo's magnificent "Apocalypso" album. There really isn't a single bad song on the album, but this one stands out for me. This was also one of the few concerts I attended in 2008. Get it on The Presets - Apocalypso - My People

"With Every Heartbeat" by Robyn

I wasn't familiar with this Swedish popstar until my wife picked up her album earlier this year, but I really enjoy her stuff. The entire album is good, but this track stands out for me if only because it strays from her usual cutesy vocal approach and goes into almost Kate Bush territory. Proof that pop music doesn't have to talk down to its audience and can still be a valid artform. Get it on Robyn - Robyn - With Every Heartbeat (With Kleerup)

"Universal Mind Control" by Common

Pharrell-produced tribute to the pioneering days of hip-hop (Mantronix, Soulsonic Force, Afrika Bambaataa). Probably the best synth riff of 2008, in my humble opinion. Be sure to check out the official video which the fine execs at Universal Music Group have decided to disable embedding for. Brilliant move, guys. Heaven forbid bloggers promote that video you spent millions of dollars on. Get it on Common - Universal Mind Control - Universal Mind Control (UMC)

"Paper Planes" by MIA

Though I actually think her previous album was much better than the current one, there is no denying the catchiness of this single which was elevated into public awareness via the stoner comedy "Pineapple Express". Built around a sample of the Clash's "Straight to Hell". Get it on M.I.A. - Kala - Paper Planes

"L.E.S. Artistes" by Santogold

The debut from this ex- music exec from Philly is amazing in that it varies from post punk, to reggae, to pop, and back again while still sounding cohesive as an album. No mean feat. This was the lead-off single for the album and was what grabbed my attention. If you didn't know better, you could almost mistake this for a Siouxsie & the Banshees song... Get it on Santogold - Santogold - L.E.S. Artistes

"One of Us" by Wire

Wire were one of my favorite bands back in the day, and although they had remained active, a lot of their recent output had been decidedly "un-Wire" sounding. The release of their album "Object 47" this year proved a welcome surprise, harkening back as it does to some of the band's best periods. Get it on Amazon MP3

"Machine Gun" by Portishead
Yet another video the braintrust at Universal Music Group won't allow embedding for, so here's the direct link. This song divided a lot of people. It had been ten years since the last new material from Portishead, and many reacted with an incredulous, "This is it?" But while this is far from my favorite song off their "Third" album, I listed it because I thought it was an amazingly brave way to announce their return. It totally eschewed the trip-hop sound the band was known for in favor of a dour, lo-fi militaristic beat, Beth Gibbons beautifully mournful vocals and little else. How many bands have the balls to do that? Get it on Portishead - Third - Machine Gun

"Stuck on Repeat" by Little Boots

I'm a sucker for Giorgio Moroder, and this track really reminds me of his stuff. Plus, she was a reject on Pop Idol, so that's kind of cool. Get it on Little Boots - Arecibo - EP - Stuck On Repeat

"Ghost Hardware" by Burial

Adding more prominent vocals turned out to be the key to breaking this atmospheric dubstepper to the general public, and the sophomore album was a huge hit with fans and critics alike. I actually prefer the first album, but the atmosphere in all his material is amazing. Total "headphone music". Get it on Burial - Untrue - Ghost Hardware

"Vanished" by Crystal Castles

Unrepentant 80's synthpop cheese, but undeniably catchy. It was a bit of a mixed year for this group in that their album was very successful, but they also got nabbed for allegedly stealing some musical bits from another artist. Tsk-tsk! Get it on Crystal Castles - Crystal Castles (Bonus Track Version) - Vanished

"Graveyard Girl" by M83

Sounds more like the Cure than the Cure currently does. Get it on M83 - Saturdays = Youth - Graveyard Girl

"Booty Klap" by Yo Majesty

And the award for best song about big, jiggling booties by a Florida hardcore Christian lesbian rap group goes to... (No official video, so this will have to do. No idea who the d-bag taking pictures of himself is...) Get it on Yo Majesty - Futuristically Speaking... Never Be Afraid - Booty Klap

"Poison Dart" by The Bug featuring Warrior Queen

Credited by many as the originator of dubstep, The Bug returned this year with an album on the excellent Ninja Tune label. Incredibly simple, but the groove to this is irresistible... you haven't really experienced this one until you've listened to it on a system with a subwoofer. The bass may actually cause sterility! Get it on The Bug & Warrior Queen - London Zoo - Poison Dart

"Sci-fi Epikusu" by Burikusu!!!

Okay, I am a bit biased here since I put this band's album out on my label, but I wouldn't have put it out if I didn't think it was great. The track I think that actually stands out the most on their album is "Mikeeboi" which edits samples from a Mike Tyson press conference to make it sound like he's rapping, but there's no YouTube clip of that one and "Sci-fi Epikusu" is a fine track in its own right. The album is a rare mix of experimentation and accessibility I don't think I've ever quite heard before. Check their album here. Get it on Burikusu!!! - 2080



Smalldot said...

Here's what got me through 2008:

Velocifero - Ladytron
Dig Lazarus Dig - Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Who Killed Amanda Palmer? - Amanda Palmer
In Rainbows - Radiohead
Ghosts I-IV - NIN
Kind Of Blue - Miles Davis (While definitely not 2008, this album is good any year and it gets better as it ages.)

Tom said...

Nice additions! I forgot about some of those...

Anonymous said...

To me 2008 was not a very good year musically. I bought plenty of records, but now when I think about it, it seems most of them were made before 2008. I guess to me best of 2008 was The Offspring's "Rise And Fall, Rage And Grace" and Juno Reactor's "Gods & Monsters". But next year should be pretty good with all my favourites planning to put out a new album; Assemblage 23, Covenant, Diary Of Dreams... Can't wait! Happy new year Tom and everyone!

Anu said...

1. M83 - "Saturdays = Youth" - Album of the year, hands-down. Retro-ish without being totally retro, and reminds you, for better or worse, how intense and embarrassing being a teenager felt.

2. Neon Neon - "Stainless Style"
Retro synth-pop. The hip-hop tracks feel sort of tacked-on and aren't very good, but the rest of it is amazing. Plus it's about John Delorean.

3. The Roots - "Rising Down"
Best record these guys have done. Melodic at times, heavy at times. Great stuff. Except for the phone messages.

4. Santogold - "Santogold"
Another "something old, something new" record. Great pop songs. Production was sort of disappointing, but the songwriting is superb.

5. TV On The Radio - "Dear Science"
Very dense, but catchy and heartfelt.

6. Local H - "12 Angry Months"
My wife said "aren't these guys ALWAYS angry?". Exactly. Best heavy record of the year.

7. Bauhaus - "Go Away White"
I don't know what surprised me more - that these guys made an album last year, or that it was as good as any of their other records.

8. Harold Budd & Cliff Wright - "A Song for Lost Blossoms"
Budd with guitar. So nice.

9. Anu - "Cyborg Love Songs"
My RPM Challenge record!

Anonymous said...

I really liked Microfilm's new album. They really remind me of an updated, darker New Order.

Anonymous said...

It turns out that the Crystal Castles track with the controversial sample is an unreleased track from 2004, made before the girl joined the band, predates the debut album by 4 years, never released or performed. I don't think artists should be judged by their waste baskets. More at Pitchfork:

Tom said...

Ah, very interesting Jarvis... thanks for sharing!