My Favorite Music – 2008

My year-end music list this year is different. Not necessarily in style, but in form. The era of buying full albums is more or less over for me (and I think many others). I might have bought one or two full albums this year. Now I scan through albums via song samples and just buy songs. So I struggled with how to rank my tops for 2008 this year. I also didn’t get to really comb the depths as much as I have in the past, though I did find some new stuff that really grabbed a hold of me. In the end, I’ve decided to post some of my favorite songs of 2008. I hope you enjoy them and I hope I make you a rabid fan of something you haven’t heard previously – that’s really what gets me going.

The following are in no order whatsoever:

Pete & The Pirates:  I found these guys on EMusic.com, who recently revamped their music recommendation service and whatever they’re using now for recommendations is 100 times better than before! Yeah, Pete & The Pirates is a terrible name for a band, but I found some excellent stuff from them a few months back and it’s sticking. Check out “Lost In The Woods.”

[audio:lost.mp3]

The Delta Spirit: perhaps my favorite band of the new year and I just discovered them about four weeks ago when I saw them open for Nada Surf. I was purchasing their music the next morning. There is a timeless, slightly weathered feeling to this music, yet a young energy that you just can’t shake. If you only listen to one band from my list here, listen to this one (but really, I know you’re listening to all of these. You better be – these posts take a long time). This one is called “Parade”

[audio:parade.mp3]

David Byrne & Brian Eno: Again, EMusic. I am not a fan of David Byrne. Oh, I loved Psycho Killer and maybe one or two of the songs from the mid-1980s (I did love “Burning Down the House”) but I just can’t get into the Talking Heads. Any of it. Believe me, I have tried. So why did I sample this? Well, the way it was written up as a mini-review made me start sampling and I’ll be damned! It’s terrific. Most notably the song “Home,” which I also included in a November 20th post here, but it’s such an excellent song it’s here again:

[audio:home.mp3]

Blitzen Trapper: I know I’ve mentioned Blitzen Trapper here a few times. I’ve decided that their latest album isn’t as good as their previous effort, but it’s most certainly got a few phenomenal tunes on it and they continue to pretty much defy any genre or real accurate description, so of course I love them. Here’s the softer side, via a song called “Furr,” which I was so-so on until I saw them do it on Conan. Now I LOVE it.

[audio:furr.mp3]

Jenny Lewis: Perfect example of why I’m only doing songs this year: I’m a BIG fan of Rilo Kiley, Jenny Lewis and even The Elected. But Jenny Lewis’s solo album released this year really turned me off. With the single exception of this song, called “Acid Tongue,” which feels so real and so heartfelt that I couldn’t stop listening to it when I first heard it. Sometimes she can just crank out a special one. This is it.

[audio:acid.mp3]

Easton Stagger Phillips: It seems to me that no matter what Tim Easton does, it absolutely resonates with me in such a huge way. In between his own albums, he cut this one with some Alaskan friends of his and it’s pretty much a stunner. Very down home, warm, comfortable feeling with this one, so much so that I bought the whole album after hearing just one song – I didn’t have to sample the rest. I knew it would be incredible and it is. There isn’t a bad one to be found on this, so I’ll just close my eyes and poke a pencil at one song. It’s “She Was Gone.”

[audio:gone.mp3]

Okkervil River: holy SHIT! I never got into these guys before, but their latest release has some AMAZING songs on it. Just sweeping, epic stuff – great lyrics, great music, great everything! I was so pleasantly surprised. For this post I’m picking “Blue Tulip” not just for it’s emotional ebb-and-flow, but because it contains the my single most favorite moment in a song. It starts at about the 2:10 mark, really starts to stab you at about 2:40 when that guitar hits and then BURIES you at about 3:08 when the lyrics start up again. This is near-perfect song craft. Might be my favorite song of the year.

For every single inch of me, I’m going to make you mean it,
With every single cell of me, i’m going to make you mean the words you sigh
You lie

[audio:tulip.mp3]

Sam Champion: This is one of the reasons I SO love it when people leave a comment on this blog. One day out of nowhere a few years back I got an email from a woman in Wisconsin who told me she’d been reading my blog for a year or so and thought we were musical compadres. So she recommended a local named Sam Champion so I went and sampled it and thought – very good. Well, he released another record this year and I found “You Can’t Stop” and downloaded it right away – just an awesome rock song. Love that riff in the beginning and the end, because you don’t feel at all like you’re getting a great rock song – then it HITS you! The middle is a total curve ball and it’s all good.

[audio:stop.mp3]

The Hold Steady: I’m not as gung-ho on these guys as I used to be and I think their new album wasn’t as adventurous as I hoped. That said, what they did before worked, so they didn’t really have to throw any knuckleballs here. And there were a couple very good tunes on thier 2008 release. This one is my favorite, called “Slapped Actress.”

[audio:slapped.mp3]

Sloan: come on, you didn’t think I’d leave my favorite band of the last TEN years off, did you? Their 2008 release “Parallel Play” wasn’t as much of a romp as their double album from ’07, but it is, of course, full of terrific power pop. These guys can be relied on 100% to make music that will make you tap your feet. Their live show, which I think I’ve probably seen 4,356 times now, is one that ranks among my favorite. Ever. This is “Witch’s Wand.”

[audio:wand.mp3]

The Black Keys: these guys are just pure ass-kickers with a sound all their own. Some would call them bluesy, others call them straight-up indie rock. It doesn’t matter what you call them – they make good, old-school music. You pretty much know it when you hear them. This is  “Things Ain’t Like They Used To Be.” Enjoy!

[audio:things.mp3]

The Racontuers: just like their first offering, I didn’t want to like them because I just can’t stand The White Stripes. But I can’t help it – I love these guys. More old-school rock that takes me back to the days of cranking WCOZ on my parents Scott stereo system (local alert! local alert!). This is one called “Rich Kid Blues.” Classic rock lives!

[audio:richkid.mp3]

Nada Surf: of course. These guys are making a run at Sloan for me. They just keep putting out album after album of such high quality material that it’s not even funny. It’s also not even a question anymore – when there’s a new album, ALL of it is purchased. No questions asked and no songs heard. It’s a done deal. You know I love a band when I get a baby-tee from the band for my kid. If you don’t like “Weightless,” then get off my cloud!

[audio:weight.mp3]

Kelley Stoltz: one of my favorites of the last couple of years. Seriously, this guy is a genius. I don’t know what else to say at this point, besides that he’s so creative, inventive and crafts tunes that leave me occasionally quite speechless. One of them is “Put Your Troubles To Sleep.” Why can’t I  get over the guitar part that kicks in around the 2:10 mark? I can’t get over how much I love it.

[audio:troubles.mp3]

Holy shit, 2008 was better than I thought! Listen and leave comments!

Oh Redwood Tree, Please Let Us Under

Lots of people think the music business is falling apart. It is, to a certain extent, and that’s a good thing. Ever since recorded music became available for purchase, it’s largely been class warfare – the record labels (the rich) and the artists (the poor). Exploitation repeated itself time and time again and the artists were the Charlie Brown’s, always having the ball pulled away at the last second. 

No more. It’s not a done deal yet, but the collapse of the music business as we know it is almost complete. More and more artists are realizing that the emergence of downloads/digital is their chance to cut out the bullshit, i.e., the labels. As much as Lefsetz babbles on and on about everything in his blog, one thing he repeats a lot sticks as gospel to me – labels need to evolve themselves more into artist managers than the big-stick wielding entities that they are. Or they’re done. It’s kinda that simple.

A recent article over at Techcrunch showcases a telling tale. At a recent music industry conference, the keynote speech was given by Ian Rogers, who used to run Yahoo Music and realized quickly that DRM and copy protection will NEVER be the answer. He now leads the forward-looking Topspin, which is looking to be the pipe for music’s new “middle class.” Among other things, he pointed out how the recent album release from David Byrne & Brian Eno (which is actually quite a good record) might be the norm sometime in the future:

The first example is David Byrne and Brian Eno’s new album Everything That Happens Will Happen Today. By distributing digitally and keeping most of the profits themselves, the gross revenues of the album matched what they could have expected to get as an advance from a music label within the first 50 days. The second example is a lesser-known artist in his twenties, Joe Purdy, who has sold 650,000 tracks on iTunes and was able to buy a house from the proceeds.

How about that? I’ve never heard of Joe Purdy, but good for him. That’s the way things should be. Here’s the full piece at Techcrunch (not that long). And here’s one of the tracks from that surprisingly good Byrne/Eno album. It’s the best work I think Byrne has done since his Talking Heads days. 

[audio:home.mp3]

UPDATE: Here’s a more detailed analysis of the Topspin/Byrne-Eno story – excellent read.

Tapping Fingers…..

I remember back in the 1980’s when there was a huge hullabaloo across New England about the fact that Boston (the band) was finally going to release another album. The buildup to it was immense. It had taken them something like seven years to complete “Third Stage,” and in the months leading up to it, you would have thought the Pope was coming. Then the first single, “Amanda” hit radio and everyone flipped out, even though the song itself wasn’t exactly what we wanted to hear as freshman in high school. I mean, come on. Where was “Smokin’?” 

So the album came out. And of course, it was a disappointment, despite its huge sales numbers. I don’t even know that it was bad (ok, it was bad), it was just that so much was made of the wait that it became totally impossible to satisfy the buildup. 

I just heard the first Guns ‘N’ Roses single from their upcoming album, which took – get this – FOURTEEN years to make. Are you even kidding me? The last time they released an album, Bill Clinton had just taken office. Today, full albums mean nothing, sadly. We are, more and more, a music society built on single songs. Part of me thinks this is perfectly logical, as it’s very rare to come across an album that is packed front to back with quality. The other part of me, the sentimentalist, dearly misses discovering a full album – the joy of a great song here and the drag of a weak song there. Those days are pretty much over.

So anyway, Guns ‘N’ Roses don’t have a chance. Oh, people will go see them because they want a sniff of the old stuff, but the new album will be received exactly the same way “Third Stage” was. It’ll sell nicely, then after about five minutes it will hit your dustbin. Doesn’t even matter how good it is, the buildup has already destroyed it. Oh – and the single? Not. Good. At. All.

And who cares? I don’t. Not when Built To Spill and Band of Horses keep hitting home runs like they do.

Here’s an applicable song to today’s post by Built to Spill, called “The Wait”

[audio:wait.mp3]

Drugs Make Me Want To Sit Next To You

A couple of bits from the last few days:

  • Yesterday I received a mildly amusing piece of mail. The return address had the Entertainment Weekly logo on it and it said “Movie Screening Department.” Of course, I knew what it was. It was a pitch for me to subscribe to their stupid magazine – it’s really one of the worst ever, despite the fact that whenever I see one, I have to leaf through it. Can’t explain. But really, “movie screening department?” I mean, is that supposed to make me think this is an important piece of mail? I tried to figure out how they might have gotten my name, but that’s a pretty useless exercise since everyone sells everyone addresses now. It’s probably from the people at Interview Magazine, which I just subscribed to.
  • Oh – something I’ve been meaning to post for a while now. I walked into my bank and I stopped dead in my tracks because there was a song playing in there that simply had no business on a bank speaker, where you usually hear songs by Christopher Cross or ballads by Mariah Carey. It was Midlake’s “Head Home,” one of my favorite songs of the past 1-2 years. The funny thing was that I couldn’t place the song right away because the environment in which it was playing was so…..wrong.
  • I’ve been getting back into the The Geraldine Fibbers lately. The Fibbers were a mid-1990’s San Francisco band led by Carla Bozulich, a bohemian of sorts whose work today is most certainly more on the avant-garde side, but back then her band played some pretty accessible, well-crafted gothy alt-country. She was the girl who definitely wore black every day in high school and liked what a classmate of mine always calls “wierdo music.” Of course, I adore wierdo music. Here’s a great sampling of the Fibbers output, called “Get Thee Gone.”  
[audio:thee.mp3]

    We Always Hang

    The answers to my little music quiz:

    The four songs I would still listen to:

    Patience – Guns ‘N’ Roses
    Buffalo Stance – Neneh Cherry
    Wild Thing – Tone Loc
    Funky Cold Medina – Tone Loc

    Yeah, I loved that Tone Loc stuff when it came out and while I don’t actively seek it out, if it ever pops on somewhere, I don’t turn it off. The Neneh Cherry thing is probably the biggest surprise. I’ve just always loved that song. I remember thinking back then that she had a very bright future. Thankgod I didn’t buy stock in Neneh Cherry. Oh well. I haven’t actually heard any of these four songs in over a year.

    Second most hated song of all time – EASILY the Fine Young Cannibals “She Drives Me Crazy.” Boy, did I detest that band back then and I still do today. Just horrible.

    How can you look at that list and say the latter half of the 1980s were a good time for music? Ouch.