2008: music in review
I'm taking a cue from Geof and Brad, and posting a list of my 2008 music in review. ObNote, of course, is that my account on last.fm made it incredibly easy to compile this list. This December marks four years of tracking my listening habits through their software, and it's been a fascinating exercise.
My last.fm profile: last.fm/user/domesticat
First, the broadest strokes of all: the artists, which I suspect will correspond closely with the albums:
- The National
- Girl Talk
- Mute Math
- Snow Patrol
- TV On The Radio
- City and Colour
- Death Cab For Cutie
- Delta Spirit
- The Weepies
- The New Pornographers
- Sara Bareilles
and next, the confessions of the earworm ... time to 'fess up on what caused me to hit repeat, over and over and over again, in 2008:
- The Weepies - "Antarctica"
- The New Pornographers - "The Bleeding Heart Show"
- Spoon - "Don't You Evah"
- The National - "Slow Show"
- Spoon - "The Underdog"
- Beirut - "Guyamas Sonora"
- Beirut - "Cherbourg"
- Spoon - "Finer Feelings"
- XTC - "King For A Day"
- The National - "Mistaken For Strangers"
- Beirut - "Cliquot"
- The National - "Apartment Story"
- The National - "Start A War"
- The National - "Squalor Victoria"
- Spoon - Rhthm & Soul
So - taking that all into consideration, what would I consider the music of 2008? I can't just go blindly by the numbers; some albums and artists skewed high because a particular song lodged in my head. (The Weepies' "Antarctica" being a prime example of a song that caused an album to skew higher than it deserved overall.) I also have to weigh in one x-factor I cannot account for: music played in my car. Drivetime music is the only music listening I have left which isn't counted on last.fm, and that knowledge leads me to weight certain albums more highly than their last.fm ranking would indicate they deserve.
- XTC's "Oranges and Lemons." This 1989 album is spearheading XTC's rise in the past 18 months from "band I like but should listen more to" to "standing out from the pack with a high likelihood of becoming a top-five favorite in future years." It is technicolor and extravagant, but with deft turns of musical and lyrical phrasing that just tickle me every time I listen to it. It doesn't help that "King For A Day" is one of my candidates for all-time-favorite-pop-song-ever.
- Delta Spirit's "Ode to Sunshine." One of the few bands or albums on this list I can claim to have discovered on my own. They opened for Matt Costa, and it's the only time I can think of in my concert-attending years in which I was bored by the headliner but bought the CD of the opening act. This album doesn't fully live up to their potential. It's fun, it's dirty, it's rootsy -- and if you've seen them live, you know they are capable of better.
- Death Cab For Cutie's "Narrow Stairs." Finally, I get it. For years, DCFC was a source of differing opinions between Adam and me, which is unusual given how strikingly close our music tastes are. I liked the occasional DCFC song, but the albums just never clicked for me. This album clicked, and hard -- from bitter to emo, from meditative bass line to turn of phrase, this album grabbed me quickly and didn't let go.
- The National's "Boxer." If I pick one album to sum up 2008, this is it. This is the outlier, the album my charts can't account for; all of the listening on last.fm doesn't show that this album stayed on repeat in my car for months. Even more ironic was that I found it more compelling than likable on first, second, and third plays. Adam insisted, so I continued, and I think he still remembers the stunned commentary when this album finally clicked for me. For me, 'Fake-Empire' is 2008, from its somber beginning to its incongruous, joyful horn outro. In the stats it looks close, but if you factor in the unrecorded playing time, it wasn't even close.
- The New Pornographers' "Twin Cinema." Partially an earworm, but there was more to it than that. "The Bleeding Heart Show" was as fantastic on the album as the concert was disappointing, but I'd be willing to give this band another try. I found this album to be a straight-up rock pleasure that stood up well to repeated listens.
- Ida's "Heart Like A River." A favorite for reasons I cannot quite explain. By all rights Ida should be boring, quiet, and dull, but they just aren't. There is something hushed and lovely in their harmonies, something that gets drowned out by background noise and concentrating on other things, but it's an album I keep returning to, over and over.
- TV On The Radio's "Dear Science." I'm unsure how this album will hold up in future years. I found it fascinating, interesting, musically complex, but the fact that I can only name you one song title tells me that this album may have less staying power than its chart position might otherwise imply.
- Girl Talk's "Feed the Animals." Dear God, this album is a monster. Monstrous, fantastic, hilarious, mean-spirited, and gloriously trashy. I'd call it a triumph of illegal mashup art. It is everything you loved and hated about the music of the past 30 years, smashed together into sixty minutes of profane intelligence.
- Spoon's "Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga." A straight rock anthem of a record, laced with earworms that held on for months. I suspect I'll come back to specific songs, but I don't know that I'll return to the full record in future years. I defy you to listen to "The Underdog" and say otherwise.
- The Twilight Singers' "Powder Burns." Not a pretty album, but instead a dark, wrathful album of killing secrets recorded in New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina. Angry, compelling, visceral rock. Not for everyone. Might just be for you, though.
- The Beatles' "Revolver." Picked up on a classics lark, after saying to myself, "I know their music, but I've never listened to an album." This is, quite frankly, worth the hype. A standout then and now.
- Scott Andrew's "Save You From Yourself." Gets bonus points for "the only artist on this list with whom I've had coffee this year." Disclaimer: he bought the coffee, but he would have made the list even without doing so. I have a soft spot for well-written indie folk, and Scott fits the bill; he's as funny and genuine in person as he is in his music. I like knowing that, somewhere out there, he's got a bedroom with recording equipment in it. It means I'll have something to listen to next year.
- Snow Patrol's "Eyes Open." Adam tried to tell me about Snow Patrol a few years ago, and I missed the boat. This year I rectified my mistake, and had a lot of fun reveling in their arena-ready indie bombast. It's a good album to rock out to on a Saturday afternoon.
- Fleet Foxes' "Fleet Foxes." This album holds slow-burn status for me. I think it is running six months behind The National's "Boxer" in my head; there are songs that I find compelling and interesting and lovely, and I sense that the moment this album clicks it's going to be a big favorite. Track standings put them middle of the road, but with this antsy, quavering stance that tells me they're about to go somewhere.
- Beirut's "The Flying Club Cup." Another album that fared far more poorly in the rankings than was actually deserved. The stats don't tell the full level of the tale, of how songs from this album played in my head and my car over and over; of how much of this album stands as the kind of grandiose gesture one makes toward an absent lover; how it lies, luscious and layered, in my head even now.
In short: National's "The Boxer" and Beirut's "The Flying Club Cup" take the year. To paraphrase Tom Lehrer, they were the year that was.