Friday, December 26, 2008

The 2008 Generic Awards Part One: Songs of the Year

With apologies to Sigur Rós, here are the best songs from 2008...

10. Fleet Foxes - "White Winter Hymnal" - Music need not be bombastic to be impressive. Using fairly basic (and at times no) instrumentation, Fleet Foxes let their uncanny ear for vocal harmonies and their pitch-perfect blending more than make up for what the song lacks in sonic experimentation or creativity. What results is a song which sounds as though it could be at home in any era, one which defines what is meant by "timeless."

9. Animal Collective - "Water Curses" - For all their wild experimentation, Animal Collective have been a pop band since their fifth and best album "Sung Tongs" came out in 2004. "Water Curses" is the most concrete proof of this that the Collective has ever offered. With a straightforward tropical percussion, easy vocals, and little signs of experimentation, it almost seems too safe at first to suit the band. However, it nonetheless remains immediately enjoyable, while still impressing more and more with each subsequent lesson.

8. Vampire Weekend - "A-Punk" - On "A-Punk" Vampire Weekend make pop music look way too easy. One listen and I was sold. Ezra Koenig's vocals are inviting, the woodwind flourishes add variety, and the drums pace everything wonderfully. The song is a great representation of the band: immediate, enjoyable, perhaps forgettable, but always welcome.

7. Bon Iver - "Skinny Love" - Justin Vernon's "Skinny Love" exemplifies all of the characteristics which made his debut under the Bon Iver moniker such a beautiful and treasured find among the vast landscape of indie albums. The lyrics are heartfelt and affecting, delivered in a fashion which conveys all of the emotions touched on by the lyrics. The composition is minimal, allowing Vernon's voice to become the focus. The bare compositions leave Vernon's exposed, forced to reveal itself and to wear its emotions on its sleeve. There is a level of power which comes from the quiet, and Vernon has found the most productive means of channeling it.

6. Lil Wayne - "A Milli" - I know. What is "A Milli" doing on this list, right? It's just a series of unrelated punchlines and non sequiturs. The beat isn't all that impressive. There's just something about it though that keeps me coming back. Lil Wayne is at full swagger, and he doesn't give a shit if things don't add up. He's here, he spits his rhymes, and then he leaves. I stand and witness, my mind left two-thirds blown and one-third confused. After enough lisens I just give in. Lil Wayne is a venereal disease like a menstrual bleed. He's the shit, and I've got loose bowels. I don't see him, but I hear him.

5. TV on the Radio - "DLZ" - As "Dear Science," slowly but surely became the go-to album for chronicalling America's transition from Bush to Obama, each of the album's songs took on additional meaning. The dark and ominous sound of "DLZ" combined with its Bush-bashing lyrics represent a fear of the direction the nation was heading in. Tunde Adebimpe's "la la la" chorus conveys a hope and light through it all. You might not agree with their message, but it's hard to knock TV on the Radio's means of delivering it.

4. Big Boi, featuring Andre 3000 and Raekwon - "Royal Flush" - With the failed "Idlewild" experiment and the overrated "Speakerboxxx / The Love Below" most recently on the minds of their fans, it's understandable to forget how great OutKast really is. Leave it to Big Boi to remind everyone how he and Andre 3000 are still ahead of any other hip-hop artists working today (although Clipse are closing the gap quickly). He and Raekwon drop some nice verses over an Isley Brothers' sample of "Welcome to Atlantis," but really they're just setting up the audience for Andre 3000 to provide further evidence that he is the most intelligent and creative and, well, essential MC working today. When he says "hey I'm talking young man / as if chalk in my hand / I will take yo' little ass to school," he's not kidding.

3. Fuck Buttons - "Sweet Love for Planet Earth" - Noise rock tends itself to fans of the avant-garde, a genre designed to be appealing only to those who crave the unappealing. Fortunate, no one relayed that message to Fuck Buttons. Combining ambience and noise, chaos and sleep, the group wound up with one of the most original and compelling compositions of the year.

2. T.I., featuring Kanye West, Jay-Z, and Lil Wayne - "Swagga Like Us" - Just as "Paper Planes" and M.I.A. hype were dying down, Kanye West resurrected them as well as his hip-hop credibility on the stand-out single from T.I.'s otherwise-disappointing "Paper Trail." Bringing together arguably the four biggest names in hip-hop, each contributes at or above expectations. Kanye makes incredible use of the M.I.A. sample while turning his best verse since "The College Dropout." Jay-Z, who typically phones-in his guest spots, brings a verse up to par with anything on "American Gangster." Lil Wayne is business as usual, which means he's exceptional. Then there's T.I., who has the verse of the year. Every rhyme is worth quoting, so to save space just listen to the track and stand back in awe. Indeed, no one on any corner has swagger like these four guys.

1. Shearwater - "The Snow Leopard" - Okkervil River is a very good band. However, they've never released anything this good. "the Snow Leopard" is nothing short of a monumental achievement in music. The piano sets the tone, Johnathon Meiburg's vocals howl and coo beautifully in an almost operatic fashion, and the guitar seals the package. In a year with many exceptional songs, "The Snow Leopard" was the only one which I would unequivocally qualify as perfect.


CoachDub said...

Interesting list, Erik. You have listed quite a few I don't know, but I will be checking them out. I'll let you know...

Josh said...

i have had a milli stuck in my head for the last six months.

like ok you're a goon, but what's a goon to a goblin?

my mind just exploded the first time i heard that.

the fleet foxes song is really good too, didn't care for the fuck buttons, i didn't hear water curses and strawberry jam has left me cold and i kind of gave up on the new animal collective after hearing it one time.