DECEMBER 10, 2008:
I listen to a lot of music, and I love talking about it. I love contextualizing it. I love debating it. And I love that the human brain has evolved to the point that we can take something as subjective as music and attempt to objectively assign it a ranked order. "I think Song X is somehow better than Song Y." How many levels of abstraction does that require? It's insane. This is why the dolphins will never take over.
So I've made a list of 100 songs that I really enjoyed this year, and I have listed them in the order of roughly how much enjoyment I was able to wring from each one. And you know what? This list is totally worthless. There are so many incredible songs that I have yet to hear, probably many more that I will never hear. In a couple weeks, Pitchfork will release its list of the top 100 singles, and I will dutifully download all of them, and there will be so many amazing songs on that list that I have never heard that I will wonder why I even bother listening to music in the first place.
And that, I hope is the point. Pop music is an almost unlimited resource. Play these songs till you're sick of them. It's okay. There will always be more. There will be new songs recorded, there will be past gems unearthed, and every time you turn on the radio, every time you follow a link, the possibility exists that a song will stop you in your tracks. If you're like me, you remember the first time you heard almost all of your favorite songs. The best thing about pop music is that every day can be the first time.
So here's the list. Thanks for indulging my obsession.
1) The Hold Steady – Two Handed Handshake
I mean, I LOVE the Hold Steady. I cannot say enough about them. If you want to expose yourself to my further rantings on the topic, go here and you can read a piece I wrote for Elliot's sadly defunct blog. I love the Hold Steady, and I love everything about Stay Positive as an album. Incredibly, this song isn't even on the proper album. It's the third bonus track on an apparently limited number of copies. And it's my favorite song of 2008. It's the only song on this list that actually changed my life in real (albeit small) ways. It can work for you, too. The hardest part of compiling this list was trying to rank spring and summer songs I'd heard hundreds of times before against fall releases that were still new and exciting. I first heard this song in June, and it still gives me chills every time.
2) Mountain Goats – Sept. 15, 1983
And my two favorite bands hold down the top two spots on my singles list. The system works. The beauty of this song lies in the unusual phrasing, the interplay of vocals and guitar, and the fact that the couplet "Try try your whole life, to be righteous and be good / Wind up on your own floor, choking on blood" perfectly encapsulates the fear and randomness of life, but at the same time just makes life seem that much more of a precious gift. Also, seeing the Mountain Goats live is just such a life-affirming experience that I may be reading things into the lyrics at this point. There are a lot of Mountain Goats songs on this list.
3) The Ting Tings – That’s Not My Name
This is what pop songs sound like in England. Seriously. This is a heavily-produced band fronted by a pretty girl, marketed to young teens. There's nothing indie or hipster or street cred-worthy about it at all. And yet ... this builds on itself, with intricate pieces locking into place, it has a distinct beginning, middle, and end. It goes places. It's brilliant. And it's the definition of pop music. This is what American radio could be. Kinda makes you want to punch Fergie in the throat, doesn't it?
4) Decemberists – Valerie Plame
This song is absolute liquid joy. It starts with a simple acoustic guitar, and you say, "Yeah, this is pleasant." Then the tuba kicks in, and you think, "Wow, yeah, this is much better." Then the trumpets kick in, and you think, "How much better can this song possibly get?" And yet it keeps getting better. It hits like five separate highs. And, the whole time, you're thinking, "Why would anyone write a song about an American spy who had her cover blown like three years ago? Is that still even newsworthy?" And the answer is that I would give just about anything to sit in on just one Decemberists rehearsal. It must be like watching Nobel Prize winners taking previously-unknown designer drugs.
5) MGMT – Kids
My problem with dance music has always been that the majority of it is pretty much just noise to take drugs to. Ten minutes of looped computer effects is not a song. I need verses, choruses, some kind of structure. Hearing the Kooks cover this song on acoustic guitars highlights just how well it could work on any level. MGMT decided they wanted to do it with synths and pulsing drums - it doesn't make the song any less awesome.
6) Vampire Weekend – M79
The amazing thing about Vampire Weekend is that the blog backlash actually started BEFORE their album came out. And yes, there's a lot to hate about this band in the abstract: they are a bunch of over-hyped Ivy League kids slumming on the same simple afro-centric riffs Paul Simon used 40 years ago. All that is true. And yet, the music speaks for itself, and anyone who denies the sheer lie-on-your-back-and-shake-with-glee feeling of hearing this song for the first time will probably hate the rest of this list.
7) Los Campesinos! – Death to Los Campesinos!
I first heard live demos of this song in 2006, and it was the sound of a band with energy and undeniable ideas, but one that didn't sound like it quite knew how to put a song together. So many bands never make that jump, never turn energy into a finished product in the recording studio. I've probably heard four or five versions of this song, and each one got a little better, adding polish without sacrificing uniqueness. The band released their first full length album, Hold On Now, Youngster ... this year, and it's an unmistakeable triumph, with this song as its crowning achievement. I feel like I grew up with this band. I'm so proud of them.
8) The Hold Steady – Constructive Summer
Now that every album leaks online a month before it's actual release, listening to an album for the first time has a very different feel. You scour the internet for it (immediately after an album leaks, the record label usually goes on the offensive to stop it, before surrendering to the inevitable, so it can be tough to find for a week or so). You wait for the files to download. And you wonder: is this the real thing? Is it some kind of joke? Are these unlistenable low-quality tracks that sound like someone tried to record them over the phone? And you've been waiting for so long to hear the new Hold Steady album, and you finally find it on some Russian web site at three in the morning, and you're supposed to fly somewhere (can't remember where) in the morning, so you put the songs on your iPod, and you finally get around to listening to it at the airport the next morning, and the first song kicks in, and ... it's real. It's real.
This may be the only song on this list that gets two paragraphs, but I have to talk a little bit about how quickly this song became my favorite song to see live. It's a combination of the whole crowd screaming a couple of key lines ("Double whiskey, Coke, no ice" being my favorite), the way Craig goes nuts after the line "Raise a toast to St. Joe Strummer" (I can't listen to the studio version without hearing him yell "Get 'em up! Get 'em up!" in my head), the way the rest of the band sings along with the "This summer!" part (even those that don't have microphones) ... it's a revelation. It really is.
9) TV on the Radio – Family Tree
Were it a non-Hold Steady year, TV on the Radio's Dear Science would have been my favorite record of the year. It tones down the noise from Return to Cookie Mountain, but keeps all the intensity and emotion. As such, it's hard to single out one song for inclusion here, but this song has always been my personal high point.
10) Ra Ra Riot – Ghost Under Rocks
The band's Vampire Weekend meets Arcade Fire MO seems almost too perfect in the modern indie rock market, but they still comes off as entirely genuine. While I'm not sure what this song is actually about, the part toward the end where the male and female voices combine to yell "Up as an offer!" makes me feel ... well, something, anyway. Also gets points for being the opening song of a really good album.
11) Architecture in Helsinki – That Beep
As you'll see from this list, the hottest trend in band names is to reference a place that your band is not actually from. Architecture in Helsinki is from Australia, but this song is all Minneapolis, with its fusion of "Funkytown" and all the best qualities of Prince's female backup singers. The story is that the band went to the studio to record a single, but they had so much fun that they've decided to record a full-length album, and so this song gets a little pre-credit for the gems it will undoubtedly spawn
12) AC Newman – There are Maybe Ten or Twelve
Every day, I check a handful of websites to make sure that Newman's new album hasn't leaked yet. As of right now, only this lead single is available. I feel perfectly safe in predicting it will be one of the best of 2009. The leader of the New Pornographers, he finds a way to keep his solo sound coherent with the band's sound as a whole, while at the same time maintaining a stamp of originality on his solo work that sets it apart.
13) Girl Talk – Play Your Part (Part I)
I didn't know what to do with Girl Talk for purposes of this list. Feed the Animals, like any Girl Talk project, is a cohesive whole, a non-stop party that cannot be appreciated track by track. It's whirlwind of samples has to be experienced as a whole. This one track, for instance, contains 24 distinct samples, according to Wikipedia. Many of the songs on the record have more. So I put the first track on this list, with a note that Feed the Animals was most definitely a Top 5 album for 2008, and I hope that, if I look back on this list years from now, I don't need the reminder. I hope I'm still playing this record at every partying opportunity.
14) My Little Pony – MacGyver Blues
The quickest way to my heart is almost definitely by writing an almost-too-cutesy song about St. Cloud State University's only famous alum. How Norwegians know this much about American pop culture is anybody's guess. Details include MacGyver's first name - "Angus" - and the fact that, in addition to making bombs out of paper clips, he was "great at hockey, too"
15) Secret Dakota Ring – The Fade to Black
Side project of the lead singer from OK Go, this song might be the poppiest tune on this list, which is really saying something. Try to ignore the fact that you can basically sing "Stacy's Mom" over the chorus ... all that means is that we're even closer to mapping the Perfect Pop Song genome
16) Tilly and the Wall – Beat Control
Okay, no, maybe THIS is the poppiest song on this list. I would call it a guilty pleasure if I felt at all guilty about liking it. There may not be any substance here, but I'm not sure there needs to be. This song is the sonic equivalent of eating cookies for dinner - sure, you couldn't do it every day, but once in a while ... oh boy.
17) Conor Oberst – Souled Out!!!
Disclaimer: Those three ridiculous exclamation points are really in the song title. If you can get past that, you'll never find a more uplifting song about how heaven is full and you're not getting in. Conor brings that Bright Eyes lyrical depression to his solo stuff, but musically it's all alt-country goodness
18) Robyn – Be Mine!
So I'm cheating here since this song has been out for a few years in Europe, but was only released this year in the US. Also, more exclamation points. Pop music from Sweden is just light years better than pop music from anywhere else. I'm actually a little surprised that this is the highest-ranked song from Sweden on this list. There are like 115 more to come.
19) TI – On Top of the World (f/Ludacris)
Since it's first on the list, this is apparently my Rap Song of the Year, and I'm okay with that. While Luda released another mediocre album this year, here he cements his status as the greatest guest rapper of all time. DJ Toomp rips himself off pretty good with another "What You Know"-style beat, but it's not like I'm really a hip hop purist anyway. As for TI himself, I think he's succeeded in making his career more about the abstract concept of "swagger" than anything having to do with actual rapping. And here he succeeds admirably.
20) Black Kids – Listen to Your Body Tonight
So Black Kids took all the songs from Wizard of Ahhhs, their critically acclaimed 2007 EP, re-recorded them to make them sound processed and bland, and then re-released them as a full album in 2008. And yet this song STILL cracks the Top 20. Two reasons: first, "When I first met you / You was livin' in your Daewoo" is one of the greatest opening lines in music history. Second, they get crazy bonus points for how much Ilana loves that "Alright hello?" bridge section.
21) Jonas Brothers – Burnin’ Up
What? I like pop music. I thought Hanson had some good songs, too. Sadly, nothing from High School Musical 3 makes the list.
22) Lil Wayne – Let the Beat Build
One of the great musical tragedies of 2008 will be that, instead of releasing this song as a single, or any of other awesome songs on Tha Carter III, Lil Wayne instead subjected America to what seems like 35 horrible auto-tune songs about "bottles in the club"
23) The Hold Steady – Sequestered in Memphis
You know those people who want their favorite bands to remain obscure, so they can still feel cool, like they know the password to some kind of secret club? That is not me at all. This song was the first single off of Stay Positive, and I was so nervous for it. I wanted everybody to like it. I needed everybody to like it. Luckily, most everyone liked it. Probably because it's so completely wonderful.
24) Vampire Weekend – Ottoman
Probably the only good thing to come out of the whole "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist" indie-rock shark jump, this song (hopefully) proves that Vampire Weekend has staying power and range. The "Today is for you" one-line chorus is simple and beautiful
25) New Pornographers – Joseph, Who Understood
No proper New Pornographers album this year, but we got some b-sides, including this one, which imagines the strain that Immaculate Conception must put on a relationship. The acoustic guitars and sensitive lyrics kinda make you imagine a dramedy about New Testament life, starring Zach Braff as Jesus' dad.
26) MGMT – Electric Feel (JUSTICE Remix)
I have an all-purpose party playlist filled with songs that most everybody knows and likes. I put it on whenever we have people over, not so much to impress with my musical knowledge, just to keep people happy and comfortable in familiar surroundings. I rarely ever add new and/or obscure songs to the list, but I've added this one. I just can't see how anyone would dislike it.
27) The Killers – Human
Here's the thing: I'm perfectly aware of the fact that this song might suck. I really can't articulate one objectively good thing about it. And yet I listen to it compulsively, and never get sick of it, and look forward to hearing it again. How does THAT work?
28) Captain – Keep an Open Mind
In compiling this list, I've realized that I have heard two Captain songs ("Frontline" being the other one), and they are both blindingly awesome. And yet I've never made any real effort to hear any other Captain songs. Why is that? Am I afraid of being disappointed? Feel free to psychoanalyze me as you listen to this song.
29) Santogold – L.E.S. Artistes
Though Santogold herself might take this as an insult, I've always thought she sounds like a street-smart Tegan and Sara on this one. I consider that a compliment. Plus, she puts on an unexpectedly great live show, with backup singers that have to be experienced to be understood. I drag people to a lot of concerts, and most of them are pretty good. But when someone suggests a concert to me, it has an even higher probability of success. Thanks Stacie!
30) Lil Wayne – Mr. Carter (f/Jay-Z)
See #22. Here's another great song, and it's even got Jay-Z. And yet, turn on the radio and we get Lil Wayne trying to sing like a police siren. What kinds of focus groups are telling him to do this?
31) Los Campesinos! – We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed
And then, as miraculous as Hold On Now, Youngster ... was, Los Campesinos! put out a SECOND killer album in the same calendar year. And it had great songs like this one on it. People would kill for the ideas in just this song alone, and Los Campesinos! records a second whole album of songs like this, yet they're hesitant to even call it a proper album for fear that people will think they're rushing albums to capitalize on what minimal fame they currently have. The year these guys had could be a career that just about any band would be happy to claim.
32) The Very Best – Dinosaur on the Ark
December is a magical time for any serious music pirate. Every self-respecting blog will try to out-indie the competition in its year-end best-of list, as if there were a prize for coming up with the most obscure act. These blogs will provide MP3 links. And I will download the songs. And I will go from "What is this? Some kind of African tribal mixtape? Then why are the lyrics about World War III?" to "I have to stop everything and listen to this song ten times in a row" in about thirty seconds.
33) TV on the Radio – Dancing Choose
Though "Family Tree" ranks higher on my personal list, this is probably the most accessible TVOTR song, though it doesn't match up to the impossible-to-duplicate "Wolf Like Me" from the previous album. Plus its protagonist is a newspaper man. Just like Curt and Elliot. Their lives must be so exciting!
34) Mountain Goats – Heretic Pride
I have a lot of hard-to-pin-down thoughts on the value of the concept of a judgment day to any belief system. You could listen to me spout nonsense for a few minutes, or you could just listen to this song. It pretty much sums up what I was trying to say. It's better for both of us this way.
35) Coldplay – Viva La Vida
Enough things have already been said about Coldplay. My question now is, with this album, and their triumphant resurgence, does Coldplay enter the "Band of a Generation" debate? Maybe not MY generation ("Yellow" came out when I was a freshman in college), but somebody born in, say, 1987. "Yellow" comes out when you're 11 or 12, a slave to the whims of radio, confused about relationships and given to big, grand statements of love. Continued at #74.
36) Islands – The Arm
I saw Islands at Bimbo's this summer under less than perfect circumstances. I went to at least two other concerts the same week, and I was kind of musically exhausted. The same night as this concert, I could have had free tickets to see Tim Lincecum pitch, and I love Tim Lincecum. But I went, because Elyse really wanted to go, and she was about to move to Chicago, and she has never invited me to anything that wasn't a great time. And this show was the little unexpected gem of the summer. The band was high-energy from the beginning, the crowd hung on every note ... there's nothing better than watching a band completely surpass your expectations for them. Going in, I probably knew about five Islands songs, and I liked them okay. This concert transformed every one of those songs. So, if you don't like this one, I don't know what to tell you. Go see the band.
37) TI – Live Your Life (f/Rihanna)
It took everyone awhile to get over that horrible "Numa Numa" sample, but I think we can now admit, as a nation, that this song is good. You've heard it a thousand times - I don't have anything to add here, except that it's good to get Rihanna on the list, as she dominated radio with good songs from a 2007 album - "Disturbia" would have made this list had it been released this year.
38) The Virgins – Rich Girls
I'm not ashamed to admit that I like basically all of the bands they play on Gossip Girl and the new 90210. Okay, maybe I'm a little ashamed. But it's true. And listen to that bass line. Music doesn't always have to be significant. It can just be fun. And no one is more fun than these guys.
39) Islands – Pieces of You
See #36. These two songs are the first two songs on the Islands album, and, as much as I loved this concert ... there's really no reason to go any deeper this record. Maybe go get their first one, Return to the Sea, instead. But wow, if this were a two-song album, it would be among my all-time favorites
40) Black Kids – I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance with You
See #20. What was once a song of the year candidate becomes merely good. Just because you have all the recording technology in the world doesn't mean you have to use it. This song was way more fun when there were like three people singing at all times, and no one could tell who the lead singer was, and no one cared.
41) Mates of State – Get Better
So everyone agrees that you should never date someone you work with. So how is being in a band with your spouse (and nobody else) not the most stressful thing in the world? How do they keep making such incredible music? Side note: I think that the worst situation for a couple to be in would be on a professional sports team. Imagine the tension there. "I was open. Why didn't you pass it to me?" "I don't know, why don't you ask Steve, I bet he'd pass it to you." Imagine if one of them got traded to a rival team. This is why I can't wait till we have openly gay athletes. The storylines are going to be so much better than the lame trash talking we currently have to deal with.
42) Dr. Dog – The Rabbit, the Bat, and the Reindeer
This is a band I feel like I should enjoy a lot more than I do. It seems like I have the same taste as people who really like them. I enjoy all of their influences. Their cover of Architecture in Helsinki's "Heart it Races" has to be one of my all-time favorite two-chord songs. And yet I feel like something is just not clicking between me and this band. On the other hand, I DO like this song a lot.
43) Ex-Otago – The Rhythm of the Night
I don't know where this song came from. I think the band is from Italy. I think this is a cover of a terrible cheesy 80s song. And yet, it makes me happy. So ... #43 sounds about right.
44) Despot – Get Rich or Try Dying
I saw this guy open for Islands this summer. I have no idea why a somewhat experimental rock band would want a white rapper (whose "DJ" did nothing but push PLAY on an iPod before every song) as their opening act, but I was immediately enthralled. Most everyone I was with hated him. But this isn't their list, now is it? Sorry. I get defensive about this guy.
45) Vampire Weekend – The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance (Chromeo Remix)
Chromo take Vampire Weekend's least-Vampire Weekend-sounding song and make it sound even LESS like Vampire Weekend. Specifically, they make it sound like techno-era Sting revisiting the Police catalog. Somehow this makes the song exponentially better
46) Young Jeezy – Put On (f/Kanye West)
Even when I think I have some idea what rappers are talking about ... I really have no idea what rappers are talking about. When Jeezy says "I put on for my city," I understand that this is the same thing as "repping" or "riding for" your city. But what, really, does that mean? How do I put on for San Francisco? I already live here. Should I wear a shirt that says "San Francisco" on it? Doesn't that seem kinda redundant?
47) Mates of State – The Re-Arranger
The best part of making lists like this is when you come to decisions like this one: Which song do I like better, a gangsta rap song from an album almost exclusively about dealing drugs, or a sweet song (by a band whose two members are husband and wife, remember) ostensibly about raising a young child? What possible basis for comparison could there be here? As Chuck Klosterman said: It's not like comparing apples and oranges, it's like comparing apples and the early work of Raymond Carver, or apples and a baby wolverine.
48) Drive-By Truckers – Self-Destructive Zones
I finally started listening to Drive-By Truckers in 2008, due mostly to the fact that they toured with the Hold Steady. 2008's Brighter than Creation's Dark is a solid album, and this song is definitely a standout on that record, but I'm far more excited about discovering their incredible back catalog. "Marry Me," "Let There Be Rock," "Ronnie and Neil" ... if you like this song even a little bit, check out their older stuff.
49) Good Old War - Coney Island
I have friends who play in a band called The Civil War, and I sometimes make fun of them about that name. Make no mistake, though, it's a way better name than Good Old War. What does that even mean? They're lucky this song is so charming. It sounds like the perfect marriage of Ryan Adams and Death Cab for Cutie.
50) Santogold – Lights Out
When we talk about musical versatility, we're often just talking about the fact that a band has both fast and slow songs. Santogold, on the other hand, might have multiple personalities. This album just does so many different things. This song has such a smooth finish to it, almost metallic, but still a little bit soft in the right places.
51) The Killers – Spaceman
No matter what Elliot says, The Killers will always be a singles band. And they will always make awesome singles. And their albums will always be padded with all kinds of filler. And it will never be cool to like them. And I will be okay with this.
52) Mountain Goats – Lovecraft in Brooklyn
The lyrical attention to detail here is incredible. "Some kid in a Marcus Allen jersey / Asks me for a cigarette." Either John Darnielle has the most vivid imagination in the business, or he's literally just writing down things he sees and making that information into songs
53) These United States – Get Yourself Home
I'm a sucker for very simple alt-country songs. Is this song really four spots worse than the Good Old War song at #49? How are they even really different? I don't know. They're both good. I love all my alt-country songs equally.
54) Low vs. Diamond – Don’t Forget Sister
Every press release about these guys compares them to U2, but really, I don't know how you can think of them as anything other than a lite version of The Killers. That can be a good thing, as it is here. I just don't think the lead singer of Low vs. Diamond is ever going to be voted Time Magazine's man of the year. Really, we're probably good with only one Bono anyway.
55) Two Hours Traffic – Stuck for the Summer
These guys are apparently from the darkest, coldest, most depressing part of Canada. And yet they write these giant sing-along hooks that just perfectly encapsulate summer. If they moved to Southern California, would their songs get even happier (and thus fulfill humanity's destiny of writing the perfect pop song), or would they flip and start writing dirges about moose hunting or something?
56) Hot Chip – One Pure Thought
I don't have much to say about this song. There's a line about the Macarena in there. That's good ... or ... bad ... I dunno. I like this song. It's ... good. Let's move on.
57) Dan Black – HYPNTZ
This is probably the only purely novelty song on this list. I just like hearing British people sing gangsta rap lyrics. "Biggie, Biggie, cahhhn't you seeee ..." Plus it's got the "Umbrella" drums. So ... everyone wins!
58) The Submarines – You, Me & the Bourgeoisie
It's never cool to take your musical cues from commercials, but really, almost every song that's ever been in an Apple ad is good. And yet, I take special care to always pirate them. I have $85 in iTunes gift cards, and I still pirated this song. Otherwise, listening to it would feel cheap.
59) Okkervil River – Singer Songwriter
Wow are these guys cynical. A Dylan-esque takedown of those who think they can buy culture, it's basically an update on "Like a Rolling Stone." While it doesn't have a catchphrase chorus to match up with Dylan's "How does it feel?", it does include reference to "outsider art by an artist who arguably kidnapped a kid"
60) Wolf Parade – The Grey Estates
Tough to pick one standout song from the consistently good but not great At Mount Zoomer. This spot could really go to "Call it a Ritual" or "Language City." Ranked this high for a combination of their awesome concert at the Fillmore this summer and the fact that, for personal reasons, the phrase "a parade of wolves" will always make me smile.
61) Lykke Li – I’m Good, I’m Gone
The further I get into this list, the more I come to understand that, if I were to move to Sweden for the sole purpose of listening to the radio, it would be an entirely defensible decision. These songs have convinced me that socialism could work. Think about this song, and then think about Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl," then think about the economic and political systems where they originated. Still think the free market is a force for good?
62) The Hold Steady – Stay Positive
This song is basically an intricately-crafted inside joke for diehard fans. A fun game would be to count all the references to other Hold Steady songs. And when I say, "a fun game," I mean, "a thing that would be mind-numbingly boring for anyone but me." So I'm not going to do that here. Still, I think this song rocks hard enough for even the casual fans.
63) Mountain Goats – Thank You Mario But Our Princess Is in Another Castle
If you're John from the Mountain Goats, and you've written literally hundreds of songs about every topic imaginable, eventually you get to the point where you think, "Hey, how come no one has ever written a song from the perspective of Toad, that little guy in the Super Mario Brothers games whose only purpose was to tell you that, even though you just beat some minor boss, you still had to go on to the next level? Someone should really try to get into his psyche." If you were on a major label, someone would tell you how incredibly stupid that sounds. However, you're John from the Mountain Goats, and you're a fiercely independent artist, and so you record this song, and it's one of the most strangely moving things in existence. Who else could make the lyric "And I told you the one thing I know how to say / Through the bright ringing drone of 8-bit choirs" sound this poignant?
64) Raconteurs – Old Enough
I think the whole idea of The White Stripes has run its course. Which is why I'm glad The Raconteurs exist. Jack White still has some good ideas.
65) The Virgins – She’s Expensive
I like that the internet has given everyone a forum for everything, but really, people take that way too far. I was looking up the lyrics to this song and, in one section where the lead singer clearly says "Let's have a cocaine brunch," one of the open-source lyrics sites had it down as "Let's have a court cave brunch." First of all, what does that even mean? Second, it's obvious that it doesn't mean anything, and the person who posted this version of the lyrics MUST have known it didn't mean anything. So why post this? They're not paying you. No one has a gun to your head. I don't know what the poster gets out of this.
66) The Rapture – No Sex for Ben
The Rapture have always been just a little too hipster-cool for me, but this song is undeniable. Plus I've concocted this whole backstory about how the band really has a friend named Ben, and this song now follows him everywhere, like "Scotty Doesn't Know" in "Eurotrip." If it turns out that this "Ben" is just a lyrical fiction, I would have to drop this song about fifteen spots.
67) Estelle – American Boy (f/Kanye West)
Does anyone else think Estelle is going to be incredibly disappointed when she gets to America? I mean, look at the lyrics: she wants to see a 'hood in Brooklyn, she wants to go to a cafe, she wants to ride the subway, etc. Do you not have slums, coffee shops, and public transportation in England? I really expect the next line to be about how much she wants to visit America so she can use the internet. And yet ... huge hit. The people who write pop songs are much smarter than me.
68) Robert Pollard – Gratification to Concrete
Pollard is solo now, but this is a template for every Guided by Voices song ever: guitar and drums somehow sum up the history of rock music in three minutes, lyrics hit levels of inscrutability previously only hinted at in experimental research, yet somehow leave you with the idea that you ALMOST know what he's talking about
69) The Ting Tings – Shut Up and Let Me Go
See #3. I don't know, maybe if I heard this song ten times a day on the radio, I'd get sick of it, too. I just can't help thinking its somehow objectively superior to anything Alicia Keys has ever done.
70) Drive-By Truckers – The Righteous Path
This song has the added bonus of a lyric about "trying to hold steady." Subliminally, that makes me happy. I still think this song is good on its own accord, but maybe it's just a Pavlovian thing with me.
71) TV on the Radio – Halfway Home
I was hoping this wasn't going to be some cheesy inspirational song abut being "halfway home." Turns out the title is referring to a literal "halfway home," like where paroled criminals go. So what does it mean that I like this song much more due to the fact that it's not at all uplifting?
72) The Mountain Goats – Black Pear Tree
Like Bob Dylan, John Darnielle from the Mountain Goats writes hundreds of songs, and sometimes slips into minor ruts. For both artists, hearing their songs through the voice of another can make the familiar seem incredibly new. For Dylan it was Hendrix or The Byrds. For Darnielle, it's Kaki King, who adds vocals to this one. Darnielle's backing vocals keep the whole thing grounded, and, if there weren't so many other incredible Mountain Goats songs released this year, this one could have been much higher on the list.
73) Air France – Collapsing at Your Doorstep
Despite the name, another Swedish band. On the other hand, the music DOES sound French for some reason. You could eat a baguette to this, right?
74) Coldplay – Death and All His Friends
... Then, a couple years later, A Rush of Blood to the Head comes out, and suddenly the band that you liked even though it wasn't cool becomes cool, and you get caught up in "Clocks" and "The Scientist" and this album gets you through high school. X and Y disappoints, but you're going off to college now, and you don't need them anymore, though occasionally you hear "Fix You" on the radio and get a little sentimental. Then, out of nowhere, Viva La Vida re-affirms your faith in love and music, and everyone lives happily ever after. Continued at #94.
75) Love is All – Big Bangs, Black Holes, Meteorites
This song is less than two minutes long. Which is exactly how long shouty-girl art-punk is novel and enjoyable. Good work, Love is All. Also ... Sweden!
76) TI – Whatever You Like
Really the best thing this song has going for it is that it's better than the rest of the crap on the radio. Also, it turns out that if you know just a LITTLE more hip hop slang than your girlfriend, hilarity will ensue. One unfortunate sidenote: apparently hearing TI say "It ain't trickin' if you got it" turns me into some kind of Puritan.
77) Ryan Adams – Magick
Here's the thing with Ryan Adams - for years, everyone complained that his albums were too sloppy, underproduced, cast off, etc. So this year he comes out with Cardinology, and everyone realizes that the GENIUS of Adams was that all of his best work sounded like demos, that he needed that space in his music, sparse instrumentation and vocals that sound like maybe they could have used another take. The new album is overproduced, cramped, and claustrophobic with layers. This song is pretty good, though.
78) The Indelicates – We Hate the Kids
Fun extra credit project: Compare this song with the Okkervil River song above. Who does a better job of eviscerating the idea of culture as commodity? Who would be more of a downer at parties?
79) Biffy Clyro – Mountains
It's possible I saw these guys open for The Cooper Temple Clause at the Oxford Zodiac in the spring of 2002. If that's true, it might be my best hipster trump card. On the other hand, it's much more likely that no one cares.
80) The Streets – Heaven for the Weather
This is mostly here to piss off Elliot Mann. Also, because I believe hip hop needs more playful sing-alongs. And I just love Mike Skinner. Good use of "fecking" as a kind of pre-emptive radio edit, too.
81) Bored Man Overboard – Love is a Lie
Sweden! Followed by ...
82) Orphan Songs – America
More Sweden! One possible downside of the Obama presidency: will the indie musicians from other countries stop writing wistful songs about how "America is lost"? While you were in that voting booth thinking about "hope" and "change," you didn't think of all the songwriters you'd be putting out of business, did you? For shame.
83) Ra Ra Riot – Dying is Fine
Most of the time, when you see a band, it's a foregone conclusion that they'll save one of their big hits for the encore. Sometimes, though, you see a band like Ra Ra Riot, who have only one album, and no discernible hits, and as the concert goes on, you realize they've played every song on their album. And then you really start looking forward to the encore, because, seriously, what are they going to play? As for Ra Ra Riot, they did a cover of Kate Bush's "Hounds of Love." It was great.
84) Franz Ferdinand – Lucid Dreams
Despite the title, I don't think this song is really about the phenomenon of lucid dreaming at all. Regardless, how awesome would it be if you could really control your dreams? Can people really do that? I would sleep like 18 hours a day.
85) Blitzen Trapper – Furr
There was a time, when I was about 15, that I really thought this kind of Byrds/late-period Grateful Dead folk Americana was the greatest pinnacle music would ever achieve. I'm over that now, but it's still pleasant in small doses.
86) The Very Best – Tengazako
I really, REALLY fought over including MIA's "Paper Planes" on this list. It was a 2007 song (and I first heard it on Pitchfork's Top 100 of 2007, so I can't really claim ignorance on that), but it blew up in 2008. So, as a compromise, here's an African remix of it.
87) The Muttering Retreats – The Capitalist & the Communist Vie for Our Hero’s Affection
"She said the working claaaaasssssss / Is gonna kick your aaaaaaasssssss" Can a song make my Top 100 list based on one one great lyric? Absolutely.
88) Los Campesinos! – We Are All Accelerated Readers
See this is why you have you have both a male and a female lead singer, so you can have exchanges like this:
Guy: And no more conversations about what Breakfast Club character you'd be / I'd be the one that dies
Girl: No one dies
Guy: Well than what's the point?
And this happens in about five seconds of rapid-fire delivery. I love this band.
89) Conor Oberst – Danny Callahan
So I've finished the other 99 blurbs, and I come back to this one. You win, Conor. Your storytelling is so flawless that I have absolutely nothing else to add.
90) Hockey – Too Fake
Someone described this as Julian from the Strokes backed by LCD Soundsystem, and that's probably about right. The one thing I know is that I'm not nearly cool enough to listen to music like this. I'd have to live in a loft in some trendy NYC district for like five years before they would ever let me in to see these guys in concert.
91) Destroyer – Blue Flower/Blue Flame
Destroyer is Dan Bejar, the guy who writes all the weirdest New Pornographers songs. He, um, made an album this year called Trouble in Dreams, and, since it took us 90 songs to get anything on it, you would be safe in assuming that it didn't live up to the incredible standards I have for any member of the New Pornographers. So he gets a song here, and that's it. It's tough love, Dan.
92) Amanda Palmer – Oasis
So ... this is ostensibly a song about a rape victim getting an abortion ... so it' a sad song ... but it has those magical Beach Boys backing vocals ... so it's a happy song. I don't know how to feel.
93) Fol Chen – Cable TV
I know absolutely nothing about this song, and I kinda like it that way. Which is why I'm not going to try to say anything about it. That way, I'm making a kind of subtle point about context. Or I'm just being lazy.
94) Coldplay – Strawberry Swing
... I mean, how is that narrative more compelling than anything you could think up for Green Day, or the Foo Fighters, or, I dunno, Linkin Park? Throw in the Chris and Gwyneth in the tabloids, baby Apple and the "weird celebrity baby names" phenomenon, the evolution of fame in the internet age, Make Trade Fair and the accessorization of causes, and how does Coldplay not pretty accurately sum up the last ten years in music? And who saw THAT coming?
95) Fredrik – Black Fur
How would you categorize a song like this? It's an anachronism piled on itself. If super-talented employees of Medieval Times gained access to a state-of-the-art recording studio, they would make this song.
96) Old 97s – The Fool
As with the Destroyer song above, this song is mostly a reminder that incredible songwriters like Rhett Miller still exist, and, while he didn't really set the world on fire this time around, part of the problem could be that I have such incredibly high expectations for him. He's still the king of making lines like "Tomorrow we're all gonna burn" sound like euphoric declarations of victory.
97) I’m From Barcelona – Mingus
Like Air France, I'm From Barcelona is another Swedish band for some reason choosing to obscure their awesome musical heritage. I'm thinking of starting an American band called We Are Swedish and, Like All Swedes, We Write Airtight Pop Songs That Are Just Weird Enough to Reward Repeated Listening, and So Do Not Fall Victim To the Perils of Overexposure That Plague American Pop. You'd go see a band with that name, right?
98) Adele – Chasing Pavements
I know this is coffee shop music, but I spend a lot of time in coffee shops, and this is the best of the bunch (maybe this spot could have gone to Duffy's "Mercy," but whatever ...). Also, this spot would have gone to "Love Song" by Sara Bareilles, but that came out in 2007
99) Los Campesinos! - My Year in Lists
See ... it's a song about lists ... and it's ON a LIST! I KNOW! Anyway, if you're not yet sick of Los Campesinos!, here's a handful of songs you should check out: "Don't Tell Me to Do the Math(s)," "Drop It Doe Eyes," "We Throw Parties, You Throw Knives," "Sweet Dreams Sweet Cheeks"
100) Flobots - Handlebars
I just don't know how this song exists. Like "Human" by The Killers (see above), I understand that it may suck (and Ilana HATES it), but it's just so weird that it gives me hope. Listen to this song, then explain to me how it gets airplay on so many radio stations. Who thought there was a market for this? Is it supposed to be deep? I understand that it's supposed to be about a dictator's rise to power (and it's fun to imagine the first verse being sung by a young George W. Bush, especially the part about seeing a platypus), but ... why do I want a song about that? And it's got a trumpet solo?!? The mere existence of this song proves that I know nothing about music, and that makes me happy.