Friday, November 28, 2008

The Songs, the Words, and the Reasons: The Music of 2008

As has become tradition, I offer surefire Black Friday stocking stuffer advice. What follows wasn’t necessarily released in 2008, but these are the artists, albums, and songs that moved me in some way this past year.

The Gaslight Anthem
Yeah, no surprise here. I’ve already written rather extensively about them this year, so I guess there’s nothing much more to say than in 2008 this New Jersey quartet grabbed a hold of my heart and soul, cementing itself as one of my all-time favorite bands. They’ve engendered in me a fervor that I’ve felt for only a few other musicians in my life. May it never end.

Runners Up:
Kings of Leon
The National
The Raconteurs
Eddie Vedder
The Whigs

“The ’59 Sound”/“Senor and the Queen,” The Gaslight Anthem
I spent all last week in Orlando for work, and was so busy I didn’t get to listen to music for eight straight days. When my plane took off Sunday morning, I slammed on my headphones and woke the iPod out of its hibernation. Out of all the albums on my little friend, there was only one I wanted to hear: “The ’59 Sound.” This a record that is as rewarding after 25 listens as it is on the first—more so, even. It’s one of the best I’ve ever heard.

And speaking of, a year ago I wrote a piece about my favorite EPs. Well, now “Senor and the Queen” goes straight to the top of the list. It is perfect: Four five-star songs, released just because they were there and the band wanted to put them out. Amazing.

Runners Up:
“Boxer,” The National
“Consolers of the Lonely,” The Raconteurs
“Konk,” Kooks
“Mission Control,” The Whigs
“The Odd Couple,” Gnarls Barkley

“The ’59 Sound,” The Gaslight Anthem
Completing the 2008 TGA trifecta, this song still stops me in my tracks even after hearing it I-don’t-know how many times. It raises the hair on my neck when Fallon yells “GRANDMAMA’S RADIO!!!” and that’s just one little moment among 3 minutes, 10 seconds of perfection. It mourns the dead, reaffirms life, commiserates with the downtrodden, lifts the spirit, and worships the Almighty all at the same time. Not bad for a little rock and roll song.

“3 Dimes Down,” Drive-By Truckers (from 2008’s “Brighter Than Creation’s Dark”)
One of my disappointments of this year is I didn’t make time to get to know this expansive album better (same could be said for TV on the Radio’s new record). I’ll have to rectify that in 2009, but for the meantime I can wholeheartedly recommend this Uncle Tupelo-style thrashing alt-country jam.

“A Little Better,” Gnarls Barkley (from 2008’s “The Odd Couple”)
Though it didn’t generate the type of buzz and breakout hits like its predecessor, this disc was solid from start to finish and deserved more hype and praise this year than it received. This soulful ballad closes the record, and I don’t know if Cee-Lo’s voice has ever sounded better. One of the group’s best songs.

“Angel of Harlem”/“When Love Comes to Town,” U2 (from 1989’s “Rattle and Hum”)
I never imagined I’d ever get to stand where these two songs were recorded. One of the coolest afternoons of my life. I love my job.

“Another Way to Die,” Jack White and Alicia Keys (from 2008’s “Quantum of Solace” soundtrack)
Jack White had a very good year. Again.

“Arc,” Eddie Vedder (from 2002’s “Riot Act,” as performed live 8.16.08//8.17.08)
Performances of this song were mesmerizing.

“Boots of Chinese Plastic,” The Pretenders (from 2008’s “Break Up the Concrete”)
Chrissie Hynde goes rockabilly. Wonderfulness ensues.

“Both Crosses,” The Hold Steady (from 2008’s “Stay Positive”)
While the group’s known best for their rambunctious rockers, this quiet, moody acoustic affair made the biggest impact on me from their excellent new album, evoking Zeppelin circa “Tangerine” or “The Battle of Evermore.”

“Carcinogen Crush,” AFI (2007)
This one-off was nice, but it really just whet my appetite for more. Here’s hoping in 2009 …

“Fans,” Kings of Leon (from 2007’s “Because of the Times”)
Could’ve picked any of a number of great tracks from these Tennessee hooligans, but the riff/rhythm combo of this one made an indelible impression.

“I Am Mine,” Pearl Jam (from 2002’s “Riot Act”)
I covered the impact this song made on me in my reviews of PJ/Eddie Vedder shows this summer (here, here, and here). I guess there’s no more praise I could give this song than to say it, along with “Arc,” makes “Riot Act” seem not so bad anymore. It’s also cracked my list of all-time favorite Pearl Jam songs.

“I Walk Alone,” Saliva (from 2006’s “WWE: Reckless Intent”)
What on EARTH is a Saliva song doing on here? Well, it’s not the song, really (I don’t even own a copy), but the man associated with it. I took my dad to see WWE’s “Monday Night Raw” this summer and, while the show itself wasn’t that great, being in the building was a ton of fun. Of particular impact was Batista, who uses this song as his entrance music. I had never paid that much attention to the D.C. native, but in his return to “Raw” this summer he’s worked over his character a bit from a brooder to include more condescension and sarcasm, and it fits him quite well. Plus, the guy’s a beast in the ring.

“If You Want Me,” Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova (from 2007’s “Once” soundtrack)
“Falling Slowly” may have won the Oscar and everything, but this haunting ballad is both my favorite song and scene from that tremendous movie.

“In the Air Tonight,” Phil Collins (from 1981’s “Face Value”)
Sometimes a song just strikes you exactly right at the exact right time. Such was the case when myself and my four best friends at IAAPA heard this track on the way home from dinner at the beginning of what we knew would be a long, difficult week. A moment of preemptive group catharsis—and rockin' air drumming.

“Love It All,” Kooks (from 2008’s “Konk”)
The lighter, poppier cousins to the Arctic Monkeys delivered another standout record this year, somehow managing to better their excellent and infectious 2006 debut. The hooks are stronger, the songs even better crafted. Could’ve picked any number of tracks to highlight, but this slow burner stood above the rest.

“Man in Black,” The Bouncing Souls (from 2008’s “All Aboard: A Tribute to Johnny Cash”)
My favorite type of cover: A band stays true to the original without simply copying, making the song their own. (This is a rather good cover collection; The Gaslight Anthem’s more straightforward take on “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” is a standout, as is Ben Nichols’ incredible gravelly take on “Delia’s Gone.”)

“Memphis,” PJ Harvey (from 2000’s “Good Fortune” single)
Just came across this excellent b-side this year (if anyone knows where I can find her entire b-side collection online, please let me know!). The fact that this great song is relegated to toss-off status is just further proof that she peaked with “Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea.”

“Paper Planes,” M.I.A. (from 2007’s “Kala”)
Every year it seems there’s a movie trailer that makes perfect use of a particular song. Last year it was “American Gangster” and Jay-Z; this year it was “Pineapple Express” and M.I.A. I had to have this song from the moment it hit the speakers during that hilarious trailer. Ironically, I didn’t even end up seeing the movie, but this album is great.

“Right Hand on My Heart,” The Whigs (from 2008’s “Mission Control”)
This is the album review I’ve been writing in my head all year. I don’t know how it hasn’t actually come to pass, but such is life. There are a half dozen songs on “Mission Control” that could justifiably be on this list, but if I had to play someone just one song to convince them why The Whigs are so good, “Right Hand” would be that song.

“41”/“Say Goodbye,” Dave Matthews Band (from 1996’s “Crash”)
A virtuoso performance by saxophonist Leroi Moore, who died way too young this year.

“Shady Grove,” Mudcrutch (from 2008’s “Mudcrutch”)
From Tom Petty’s long-gestating side project, this song gets the nod because, after moving to a new house, I get on the Metro at Shady Grove every day now.

“Slow Show,” The National (from 2007’s “Boxer”)
Wow, I could put at least a dozen National songs on this list after finally giving in this year and realizing how incredible this band is. “Boxer” is now on my all-time favorite albums list, but that’s not to overlook how amazing their other records are. “Slow Show” was the song I came away humming to myself after seeing the band in May, so it gets top billing here. But it’s real tough to not mention songs like “Fake Empire,” “Start a War,” “Mistaken for Strangers,” “Daughters of the Soho Riots,” “Secret Meeting,” "Lucky You," "About Today" … the list could (and does) go on and on. I don't think they've written a song yet I don't like.

“Sometime Around Midnight,” Airborne Toxic Event (from 2008’s “Airborne Toxic Event”)
It had me at the violin solo.

“Strange Times,” The Black Keys (from 2008’s “Attack and Release”)
Though the album didn’t quite live up to my expectations, this lead single is one of the Keys’ best tracks.

“The Battle of Evermore,” Led Zeppelin (from 1971’s “Led Zeppelin IV,” as performed live by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, 6.13.08)
Stunning. Just heart-stoppingly beautiful. Let the old Zep geezers find a new lead singer for their last-chance cash drive; Plant’s making absolutely the right decision.

“The Golden Floor,” Snow Patrol (from 2008’s “A Hundred Million Suns”)
Though Snow Patrol’s new album is chock full of the big anthems they do so well, this quiet, mellow track is a standout from the band’s solid fifth album. I love the stripped-down vibe and handclap rhythm. A nice cousin to The Hold Steady’s “Four Crosses.”

“There Is a Thunder (Out in the Distance),” This Charming Man (from 2008’s “Every Little Secret …” EP [re-release])
And to think, this is the band Brian Fallon threw away to form The Gaslight Anthem …

“These Stones Will Shout,” The Raconteurs (from 2008’s “Consolers of the Lonely")
The Raconteurs’ evocation of Zeppelin’s “Over the Hills and Far Away” always gets my blood pumping. Here’s another album that could’ve had multiple entries on this list (“Carolina Drama,” “Top Yourself,” “Consoler of the Lonely”—this album was deep).

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