Monday, December 29, 2008

Top 20 Moments in Music (2008)

Favorite Albums are one thing, favorite songs are another, but every once in a while everything boils down to a single moment of absolute bliss. The album could suck, the song itself could fail to impress, but when that one part hits, you lose it every time.

These are the 20 moments from 2008 that set me on fire every time I hear them. Where possible, I've linked to streams or MP3 files of the tunes in question, so that you can listen along and enjoy as much as I have over the past year.

20. Machinae Supremacy - Gimme More (SID)

Machinae Supremacy play SID-Metal (a sort of Comodore64 enhanced metal sound). Britney Spears plays pop music. Ironic metal covers have long since run their course, and aren't exactly all that much of a novelty anymore, but this one is special. It's not a technically fantastic solo or anything, but it comes at the perfect time, just as the absurdity of the whole cover threatens to overwhelm the song.... they break right on through to the next level. It's so ridiculous that it's awesome.

Myspace (Song is in player)

19. Coldplay - Violet Hill
"I took my love down to Violet Hill..."

Viva La Vida was a seemingly small adjustment for Coldplay. They still have their big choruses, they still seem like they're trying to relive the britpop glory days, and Chris Martin still has his poofy hair. Unlike X+Y, however, the songs seem to have a little more meat to them. Nowhere is this more evident than "Violet Hill". Featuring a driving beat, it comes dangerously close (in Coldplay terms) to rocking (again, this being Coldplay, that's a relative term). The kicker here, however, is in the waning seconds of the song. Chris Martin's gone melodramatic before, but here - backed by nothing but a light piano - his voice nearly cracks under the weight of the words he's trying to get across. It succeeds in getting the emotion out in a way that was tried a failed so many times on X+Y.


18. 3Oh!3 - Don't Trust Me
"...if he says he's got beef..."

3Oh!3 is normally an almost painfully ridiculous rap band. On "Don't Trust Me", however, they jump ship and rock out some almost painfully ridiculous synth-driven power pop. It's complete with 'ho' references, as well as a mind-boggling bridge where tell a girl to "do a Hellen Keller, and talk with your hips". Needless to say, the song is fantastic, but the height of the fun is found in the first verse, where the singer sneers "...and tell your boyfriend if he says he's got beef, that I'm a vegetarian and I ain't fuckin' scared of him". It's jaw-droppingly stupid, and mind-shatteringly great at the same time. More songs should be this fun, and more lyrics should be this willfully insane.

Purevolume (Song in player)

17. Ladytron - Black Cat
"The Perfect Opening Track"

The instant the drums hit on Velocifero leadoff "Black Cat" is golden. Once the opening synth lines start hitting (first the ominous low blaster, then the heavenly main melody), it takes the whole thing to a glorious new level of sugar-coated sweetness. In "Black Cat", Ladytron have constructed the perfect opening track to this year's guilty pleasure album of the year.

16. Elbow - Friend of Ours
"Love ya, mate"

"Friend of Ours" is a song about a friend of the band's who passed away. From the strings in the beginning to the understated lyrics, it's filled with more feeling than most bands ever manage. It all comes to a head around three and a half minutes in, with a soaring bridge, and then the piano starts. It's only five notes, but it wedges itself into your head so well that it feels like an entire song gets played out in the last minute. We should all be so lucky to get songs like this written about us.

15. The Magnetic Fields - California Girls
"Merritt goes homicidal"

"I hate California girls" Steven Merritt sings in this fantastic reverb drenched tune. Offenses like "get[ting] off like squirrels" and "breath[ing] coke and having affairs with each passing rock star" do nothing to endear the blond-headed targets of his wrath to him. Suddenly the last verse gets twisted, with Merritt picking up a battle axe before fading out the song repeating "they will hear me say, as the pavement whirls... I hate California girls...." A demented (and fitting) end.

MySpace (song in player)

14. ...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead - The Betrayal of Roger Casement & the Irish Brigade
"Catharsis, Part 1"

The Trail of Dead do epic in almost every song. On this, the last track on their new EP (and album teaser) Festival Thyme, though, they really go for it. After minutes of extremely noisy building, it all breaks free with a blast. The part in question only lasts for about 20-30 seconds, but it's so big that it grabs your attention and lands its knockout punch. Not bad for a fully instrumental throwaway track.

13. Have a Nice Life - Holy Fucking Shit: 40,000

Suffice to say, Tim Macuga does not write happy songs. "HFS40K" is as hopeless as most everything, with lyrics relaying fatalistic messages over (oddly enough) the same strange beat you hear for the first couple of seconds of "Da Da Da"

Then it hits. The song lives up to its name in full by slamming into gear about three and a half minutes in with a wall of distorted guitar and raw drums. For the next two minutes, the listener is treated to the sound of the world flying apart at the seams before an acoustic guitar comes in to put an unearthly coda on the whole thing.

12. Los Campesinos! - My Year in Lists

Like all LC! songs, "My Year in Lists" is verbose and ridiculous. This would make pretty much any band tremendously irritating, but somehow they come out all the more endearing for it. 'Lists' is incredibly short, coming in well under two minutes, but they make every second count. Just after the chorus, they begin speaking "I treasure with fondness the day..." before jabbing the word "before" in like a punch, making the phrase stand "I treasure with fondness the day (before) I met you." It shouldn't be even half as clever as it is, but it is. It's harsh, and cruel... and clever and hilarious.

...and it only takes one word.

11. Jesper Kyd - Access the Animus
"Catharsis, Part 2"

This song, off of the Assassin's Creed soundtrack, takes its time getting to where it's going. It takes seven minutes, in fact; slowly meandering along it's path. Sounds flutter in and out of the mix almost haphazardly, false starting a couple of times, only to settle back down, getting to the point where you don't think anything will come of it. After about seven minutes, it finally wakes up growing into more of a monster by the second until it finally erupts into a massive swell of strings and takes off - then it dies down again. It's maddeningly short, and leaves you wondering if the nine and a half minute length is really worth it - but it is.


10. Crystal Castles - Air War

"Air War" is insane. For those who don't know, Crystal Castles create electronic music built around 8-bit synth (think of your Gameboy) and almost banshee-like female vocals. "Air War" doesn't feature the banshee vocals quite as much, instead going with a barely comprehensible female speaker reading a passage from Jame Joyce's Ulysses. Featuring the band's trademark halting 8-bit sounds, the song goes into a slight lull around a minute in, before the voice rushes back half-shouting the word "WAR!!". It's as ludicrous as it sounds, and almost impossibly jarring the first time you hear it (especially considering the fact that the song tries to outdo itself by turning up the musical intensity a notch). It all adds up to a surreal pleasure.

9. Portishead - The Rip
"Will I Follow??"

If all you knew about "The Rip" was the lyrics, it would already be creepy, with talk of wild white horses taking the singer away to "the dark underneath." During the end of the second chorus, though, it really takes a turn. Beth Gibbons sings - much as she did in the first - "Will I follow?". Only this time, it gets drawn out... for a LONG time, until it sounds digitized and cold. The song builds around the voice as it prepares for it's end. It's incredibly eerie - and remarkably effective.

8. The Hold Steady - Constructive Summer
"Raise a toast to St. Joe Strummer"

Stay Positive kicks off on a great note with "Constructive Summer". The song goes on about the travails of small town life and the virtues of escapism drinking on top of the local water tower. After a short bridge - which serves as the only slowdown the song offers - the band roars back to life as Craig Finn belts out "Raise a toast to St. Joe Strummer, I think he might have been our only decent teacher." It's not incredibly deep, but it does rock, and sometimes (as in this case) that's enough.

7. The Magnetic Fields - Three Way (live, 2/29/2008 Herbst Theatre, San Francisco)
"Three Way!"

I've made no secret of my love for "Three-Way", the short instrumental song that leads off Distortion. This is the live version of the song, and it sounds remarkably good stripped of all its fuzz and guitar distortion. What gets it a spot on this list, though, is the "Three way!" shout at the end of each breakdown. Unlike in the original, where it somehow made perfect sense to punctuate every third of the song with a shout of innuendo, in the distortion-free live setting it sounds awkward. A half-embarassed laugh ripples through the crowd, and the band goes on. By the second and third time it happens, you realize it: it's entirely appropriate and works just as well as it did in the studio. It's exactly the type of moment live shows were made for - a subtle nuance to the song that you can't get out of a studio recording.


6. Children 18:3 - LCM
"Kicking you in the face...... again"

This track led off 2006's "Songs of Desperation", but it's been overhauled. The sinewy garage rocker has been put on steroids and placed as track #2 on Children's Tooth and Nail debut. The effect is almost enough to knock you out of your chair. As "All My Balloons" comes to close, you get hit with that delcious riff seemlessly, only this time it sounds fuller. I won't be including the song itself on my songs list tomorrow, since it's a remake (though it would probably place in the top 5 if I did), but the effect of placing it second on the album is too great to ignore on this list.

5. Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson - Buriedfed
"Everyone I know walking beside me..."

"This is my last song about myself..." and so begins "Buriedfed", one of the year's darkest (and best) songs. The song builds in intensity with every verse, with Miles practically shouting by the later verses. Just when the song feels about to fly apart, the bridge comes, and everything is momentarily calm. It's a short respite, but it's awe inspiring, the background vocals "Ah-ing" make you feel like you're out there on the empty street in the middle of the night.

Audiomuffin has the MP3

4. Why? - The Hollows
"My God..."

If I were to simply pick lyrical moments from Alopecia, I could nearly fill this list. My personal favorite moment, though, comes on "The Hollows". Yoni Wolf's lyrics, as always, are relentlessly confrontational and uncomfortably descriptive. The crux of the song comes in a short snippet where he shouts "My God! The clock's always stuck tellin' 11:11, or 3:32!" the moment to act is passing, and all anyone can do is stare dumbly at the clock.

3. Grizzly Bear - While You Wait for the Others (live, 02-27-2008: KCRW)
"All we want... want... want..."

This song hasn't even been released yet. It was recorded in a studio for the 'Morning Becomes Eclectic' radio show. The track itself is great, with a chorus to die for. When it gets to the bridge, though, it where it really shines, lead singer Edward Droste sounds almost pleading, singing "all we want... want... want...." before breaking into one last chorus. The last one sounds the same as the first, but somehow feels like a crashing wave. The brilliant breakdown has a lot to do with that.


2. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - We Call Upon the Author

"We Call Upon the Author" is a heavy song wrapped in a sneering package. Throughout the song, Nick Cave outlines the horrible, the bizzare, and the outright wrong in the world, all the while calling for answers. The genius of it all is found in the breakdown that separates the sections of the song. Explanations are dismissed with a shout of "Prolix! Prolix! Nothing a pair of scissors can't fix!", and with that the storm rages on - shouting for answers that he'll just cut down to size, anyway.


1. The Hold Steady - Slapped Actress
"Man, we make our own movies"

Nothing needs to be said about this one except that it's the best way to end a CD that I've ever heard. Listen for yourself.

There you have it. Please post your thoughts, as well as moments you've enjoyed in 2008.

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