Written by: Phoebe Raven, CC2K Staff Writer
Phoebe Raven tries to come to grips with the musical year 2008. Will her list include more than the BBC's usual "Top of the Pops" as the tweaked logo suggests?
For some reason it is harder for me to rank music than it is to rank anything else. I think that is because music for me is tied very much to my emotions and what I was feeling at the time of listening. So, by all means, this isn’t an objective list and it certainly doesn’t encompass all the genres. I like a good guitar, I like a melody and I love, love, love great lyrics. Taking all of that into consideration, this is what I came up with this year:
10. I Hate Kate – Embrace the Curse
These guys are best when they let go and hit some of the heavier tones (see “Inside Inside”). They do it too little on this album for my taste, opting for the more electro and repetitive in some songs, but still their album is a lot of fun. They have youthful arrogance going for them, so you forgive the slightly melodramatic, pubescent lyrics (“I embrace the hurt, the hate and what’s worse. I embrace what I am, I embrace the curse.”). And all of their tracks are wildly danceable, which is very important in my world. I don’t know who Kate is and why she deserves to be hated, but for all purposes these guys should keep doing it, apparently it produces great music.
Favorite Song off the Album: “I’m in Love with a Sociopath”
9. The Break and Repair Method – Milk the Bee
I had been waiting for this to finally come out for a long time. The Break and Repair Method is a side project of Paul Doucette from Matchbox Twenty, but the sound is distinctively different. What’s so great about Milk the Bee is the instrumentation. One song the piano carries the melody, in the next it’s the electrical guitar and in yet another one it is the violin. When the piano and the violin work together, it almost sounds like organ music. Add to that a voice somewhere in the realm of Bryan Adams only dirtier and you have something very pleasing to the ear. And besides, anyone who can write such a cheery song as “I’m at a Low” about depression, deserves some kudos.
Favorite Song off the Album: “The Most Somebody Can Know”
8. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend
These guys provided the fun to listen to, fun to dance to, innovative, unique-sounding music Panic At The Disco and The Fratellis failed to deliver this year. Vampire Weekend sounds almost like you’re attending a Vaudeville show; there’s gorgeous orchestration with violas and violins mixed with African elements and electro infusions. And what’s more, singer Ezra Koenig can actually sing, unlike so many other indie “singers”, who belt, yell, scream, moan and caw through their songs. Sure, during all the fun of Vampire Weekend I kinda forgot to listen to the lyrics, but they can’t be much more repulsive than what Of Montreal produced this year, so who really cares?
Favorite Song off the Album: “A-Punk”
7. The Gaslight Anthem – The '59 Sound
There’s not a lot that needs to be said about these guys and their music. Anyone with ears can hear these are solid, New Jersey, old school rock songs inspired by Bruce Springsteen. Brian Fallon’s voice is unmistakable and they bring back a sound you thought had been forgotten. Grown-up lyrics and instrument played with ease make this the disc to listen to when you are driving your old, white Lincoln down a lonely interstate on a late summer afternoon. I would be surprised if we didn’t hear more, much more from The Gaslight Anthem in the future. They tapped into something universal here without making it sound generic and I commend them for it.
Favorite Song off the Album: “The ’59 Sound”/”Here’s Looking At You, Kid”
6. Jack’s Mannequin – The Glass Passenger
On the surface Jack’s Mannequin sound like just another garage rock band, cashing in on the genre hype of the day. Jack’s Mannequin, however, stick out of the crowd, not only because it was originally a side project of Andrew McMahon of Something Corporate fame, who made a full recovery from leukemia. Given that background it comes as no surprise that what JM do better than other “garage rock/post-punk/pseudo-indie” bands is having lyrics that aren’t stuck in the eternal teenage struggle of rebelling against school and parents and their favorite pastime of getting stoned. JM actually create metaphors in their songs, they express gentle feelings (“Lullaby”) and they sprinkle their songs with hummable hooks instead of smashing away on their instruments. To me that made them stand out, which is not an easy feat. And then there is the gorgeous 7-minute “Caves”, which is a promise of what Jack’s Mannequin can do in the future.
Favorite Song off the Album: “Caves”
5. Brendan James – The Day Is Brave
I discovered this album late in the year, but in my head it blew past many others on this list instantly. Numerous re-listens later I am still loving this album. It is soft, melodic, melancholic. It tells great stories of vivid characters and reveals the heart of the artist behind the songs. Brendan James is just as gentle in interviews as his music is, which only validates this album further. It is a soft-spoken truth that comes across with every note of the piano and strum of the guitar. Brendan James may make chick music, but fellas, put on this CD and you will definitely get lucky with your lady. That’s something, isn’t it?
Favorite Song off the Album: “Early April Morning”
4. matt pond PA – The Freep
The only reason matt pond PA are not at the top of my list is the fact that The Freeep is, as the title says, an EP they gave out for free. One could make the argument for it being a mini-album, since it contains nine songs and all, but in truth an EP beating out all the “real” albums would not have been fair. Hence, mppa have to settle for spot four on my list. The Freep sounds a lot like mppa of the old days, about five years back. It is rough around the edges, features only the basic instruments a band needs and it is filled with the spirit that went into its making: somehow getting by and surviving the dark winter time. Matt Pond crunches out songs by the day and since no record label can possibly keep up with that, releasing the music for free on the official website seems only logical. The wonderful blog post that went with the release of The Freep only makes this even more delicious. The three instrumental tracks invite you to dream, while the rest spell out the longing for warmth and light in all of us. If mppa have one thing going for them, it’s a concept they stick to.
Favorite Song off the Album: “Imperfect”
3. Rachael Yamagata – Elephants… Teeth Sinking Into Heart
This two-CD-release was one I highly anticipated all year and I wasn’t disappointed. Sure, I thought the second CD, Teeth Sinking Into Heart, was a bit redundant, because fast, poppy tracks are not Yamagata’s strong suit, but the first CD of her scarcely instrumented, bluesy, indie tracks that take their time more than makes up for it. The titular track “Elephants” is the most beautiful song I have heard all year (alongside the tracks of Brendan James at #5 there) and Rachael’s voice carries it like no on else could. Soulful and distinctive, knowing just when to give us little and when to give us a lot, Rachael Yamagata may just be one of the best female singer songwriters of the decade.
Favorite Song off the Album: “Elephants”/”The Only Fault”
2. Death Cab For Cutie – Narrow Stairs
This one is sure to populate top lists far and wide, because Death Cab have broken into the main stream, having signed on to a major label and all. I am not one of those people to hold this against them. If they can make money doing what they love, more power to them, as long as they don’t completely compromise what used to make them great. No doubt their sound has gotten cleaner and more conventional, but it doesn’t stop Ben Gibbard from writing some of the most poetic lyrics of the year and speaking to my heart with “Your New Twin Sized Bed”. Narrow Stairs is a unit, all songs flow together to form a sound blanket to keep you warm. Although this is also precisely the feature that might put some people off. If you don’t like one song, you probably won’t like any of the others. I love them all.
Favorite Song off the Album: “Your New Twin Sized Bed”/”Bixby Canyon Bridge”
1. Conor Oberst – Conor Oberst
Some may call me a sucker for it, but I cannot pass up anything Conor Oberst offers. We all have different reasons why we love the music we love, and short of Matt Pond there is just no one who can write lyrics that touch me quite like Conor Oberst can. When he accompanies these lyrics with a folky guitar, I am done for. Don’t get me wrong, Digital Ash in a Digital Urn is still one of my favorite Bright Eyes albums as well, but mainly because it is just as melodic as the folk songs Conor writes. And his self-titled album is full of beautiful melodies, profound lyrics and his trademark trembling voice. I would still choose last year’s Bright Eyes album Cassadaga over this solo effort of Oberst, but it is still better than the rest in 2008.
Favorite Song off the Album: “Milk Thistle”
Joshua Radin – Simple Times: if only it wasn’t for the HORRIFIC 80’s style beat to “We Are Okay”, this one might have actually made it into my Top Ten together with the Unclear Sky EP of 2008. But all in all Joshua Radin is too much of a one-trick pony to really blow me away. His sunny, very softly delivered melodies are pleasing to the ear, but ultimately he doesn’t say anything to sustain me. It’s kinda like eating pudding: sure, it tastes good, but you can’t live off it.
Peter Fox – Stadtaffe: The front man of German ska/dancehall/hip hop band Seeed, Peter Fox released this tremendous solo effort with witty lyrics, catchy melodies, thumping beats and a dose of humor. Fox is a bundle of creativity and he stays authentic in everything he does. Great music from Germany, you better believe it.
Xavier Naidoo vs. Söhne Mannheims – Wettsingen in Schwetzingen: This CD is the live recording of their MTV Unplugged session and what a session it was! Xavier Naidoo is not only a solo artist but also one of the founders of the Söhne Mannheims. What makes this such a treat are the tremendous voices that come together here. There is no one in Germany with more soul and timbre in his voice than Xavier Naidoo and his Söhne Mannheims. They have voice arrangements and harmonies to send shivers up and down your spine and their German lyrics are filled with poetry. This is smooth-melting chocolate for your ears.
Author: Phoebe Raven, CC2K Staff Writer
Born in Germany, lived in the US, now in the UK. Always taking my love for TV and writing with me. Life participator. Blogger. Gaming enthusiast.