My Year in Lists: The Best Songs of 2008

While I thoroughly indulge in the dirty habit of compiling list upon list of year-end favorites (and un-favorites), I really don’t like the lists to be long. The Onion’s AV Club handled a 30 best albums of ’08 list pretty well, I think. And then Rolling Stone came along and did fifty, at which point I felt like they were taking every album they heard this year and simply arranging them in a pleasing order. Myself, I’m doing my 10 favorite albums (I like to narrow it down) and I had thought to do maybe 20 or 30 songs. But here’s the thing: beyond my favorite song of the year, which is undoubtedly “Constructive Summer” by The Hold Steady, I really can’t rank the other ones. There are plenty of songs I loved this year, but it seems silly to line them up behind “Constructive Summer” and watch them vie for second place. So I’ll just kinda round ’em up in a more sprawling format and call it a day.

The other problem with counting down favorite songs is that I’m woefully undisciplined. For example, TV On the Radio’s Dear Science (the number one album for both the Onion AV Club and Rolling Stone) starts brilliantly with “Halfway Home” and ends beautifully with “Lover’s Day.” If I were doing some sort of countdown, I’d feel some obligation to choose between those two songs whereas, in this format, I can tell you that they are both awesome and if you’re a singles-minded listener, you should hear both of those songs from Dear Science.

Another song I’d slap on a mix CD of 2008’s finest is “Hurricane Eyes” by The Old Haunts. Craig Extine’s voice howls and shouts through the chorus while the guitars go all 1980’s Peter Buck on your ass. It’s a good thing. The Old Haunts are on the Kill Rock Stars label with Portlanders The Shaky Hands whose “You’re the Light” is another favorite of mine this year. The song is frantic and sweet, with a simple refrain of “Turns out you’re the reason why/ I don’t wanna lie.” Good year for Kill Rock Stars. Keep up the good work.

Of course, my year in lists wouldn’t be complete without mentioning “My Year in Lists” by Los Campesinos! If you haven’t heard Hold On Now, Youngster, you really should check it out. On “My Year in Lists”, Gareth Campesinos expresses a sentiment I think we’ve all felt at one time or another in our lives: “I accept that it is time for a change/ but not in places like this with people like these.” And he also makes the point that “Nothing says ‘I miss you’/ quite like war poetry carved in your door with a Stanley knife.” Of course, Los Campesinos present a similar conundrum to the one I experienced with TV on the Radio: their “Drop It, Doe Eyes,” (also from Youngster) features one of the coolest choruses I’ve ever heard: “Deer die with their eyes wide open.” If that’s true, I need to rethink my perception of deer as less-than-hardcore beasts.

If you’re making a list of the best songs of 2008, Santogold’s “L.E.S. Artistes” is going to show up on it unless A) you’ve never heard it or B) you’re Mitt Romney. Are you Mitt Romney? I didn’t think so. So go ahead and admit that  “L.E.S. Artistes” is a catchy and completely awesome pop tune.  I hope it’s worth what Santi White gives up too.

I know Pitchfork shat a brick about Bloc Party’s “Signs” being too pretty (these cheeky fuckers have the gall to ejaculate every time Sufjan Stevens strikes a glockenspiel but if you hear bells in a Bloc Party song it’s “too pretty.”  Wankers), but for my money, it was fucking beautiful.  Kele Okereke echoes my thoughts perfectly when he sings “I see signs here/ all the time/ that you’re not dead/ you’re sleeping/ I’ll believe in anything/ that brings you/ home to me.” It’s a beautiful song about loss and it came when I needed one. (And I was encouraged to see Bloc Party start to live up to their promise with Intimacy, one of the more underrated albums of 2008)

In the movie Juno, the title character wrongly dismisses Sonic Youth as “just noise.” (If “Teenage Riot” is “just noise,” then every song should be just noise) She would’ve hated Titus Andronicus. But I still love their song “Titus Andronicus,” especially  for Patrick Stickles’ melodic throw-away line “Fuck everything/ fuck me”. They’re not a band that’s for everyone, but they’re certainly for me.

You’d expect the line “There are no headlines/ when a black girl dies” to come from a song about the good ol’ U.S. of A., yeah? Unless you understand, as Kathleen Edwards does, that Canada has its share of problems as well (to be fair, she’s a native of that frosty, bacon-filled land). Edwards’ wonderfully outraged “Oh Canada” is a song for the NAFTA nations – turns out, there’s ignorance and apathy on both sides of the border.

If I had to pick my favorite My Morning Jacket song this year, I’d nominate “Evil Urges” for its pounding drums and Jim James’ wicked falsetto. That, and the fact that it’s a call to “love whoever I want”, which is a balm in the post-Proposition 8 world. If you like My Morning Jacket even slightly on disc, you would do well to see them live.

Very few people probably know the song “Pachina” by Listening Party, and I wouldn’t know it myself if I hadn’t seen them open for Wolf Parade earlier this year, but it appears on an excellent EP they put out and it’s about wandering lost with a friend and trying to sort out what to do if you die first: “If we never ever ever make it back/ from where we began/ to fall off track/ well, leave my body in the middle of the road/ I would do the same for you if you’re the first to go.” Listening Party should put out an album next year and it should be awesome because they were a fucking amazing live band.

I would also be quite remiss indeed if I didn’t mention “Keep Yourself Warm” by Frightened Rabbit as one of my favorite songs of 2008. Their The Midnight Organ Fight is the best fucked-up-and-sad record of the year and I’m glad I don’t need it for that purpose, but who can possibly resist a line like “It takes more than fucking someone to keep yourself warm”? I heard this song on a TV show, which caused me much amusement because they had to do some pretty selective editing (one would get the idea from watching it that “Can you seen in the dark?” was the entire chorus).

There was much ballyhoo and hullabulloo about the return of Guns ‘n’ Roses this year, but for my money the Triumphant Return Award goes to Portishead, who gave us Third and, among its many great songs, “The Rip”, which showcases Beth Gibbons as an amazing vocalist and also shows the band’s chops with instrumentation. I’m not one to praise keyboard licks, but that one at the end of “The Rip” is outstanding.

I suppose I should mention MGMT’s “Time to Pretend” among my favorite songs of the year as well. Their album ended up boring me in the end, but it opens with a mega-happy dose of catchiness that still pleases my ears to hear it.

So here I am at the end of the list, realizing that I forgot to mention “Right Hand On My Heart” by The Whigs, a song with such forcefully pounding drums and clanging guitars that it is impossible to deny. And what about “My Good Luck” by Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson? That song certainly deserves some praise.

See, that’s the problem with long lists of songs. If you ask me tomorrow, I’d still say “Constructive Summer” is my favorite song of the year, but the other songs would probably change quite a bit. I can focus enough to list ten albums in descending order and say, “These will always be my ten favorite records of 2008,” but individual songs are too numerous and too dependent on my mood. Oh well. There you have it: I think there’s about 18 songs on this post, so these are the Top 18 Songs of 2008. For now.

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