Tuesday, December 23, 2008

My Favorite Songs of 2008

Sam recently made a list of his favorite albums of the past year. I'm not a huge album person; call me Millennial, but one of the joys of my iPod is that I can shuffle between songs whenever I want, and don't have to skip the three boring middle tracks to get to the record's next single (ah, the Walkman era.) That said, here are the songs that made me go "Squeeeee!" this past year. (Note: a couple of these songs may have been leaked or released as singles in 2007, but the albums on which they appeared were not available until this year. Hooray for technicalities!)

10. "Playing with Fire," Lil' Wayne
I like Lil' Wayne, but I don't love him. Then again, I'm not a huge hip-hop fan, so I don't appreciate Weezy's music the way his diehard fans do. That said, this is pure poetry. On an album filled with radio-friendly bravado in songs like "A Milli" and "Got Money," Wayne's vulerability is what sells this song. His voice cracks as he recalls the abuse his mother received during his childhood:

Mama named Cita, I love you Cita,
Remember when your pussy second husband tried to beat ya?
Remember when I went into the kitchen got the cleaver?
He ain't give a fuck, I ain't give a fuckk neither.
He could see the devil, see the devil in my features,
You could smell the ether,
You can see Cita,
You can see the Cita, see the Cita in my features.

It's heartbreaking and strong and when I listen to this song, I get it. I get why people love Lil' Wayne. He can surprise you, which is a commendable achievement in today's cynical music world.

9. "No Redemption Song," Jason Collett
Taking a break from Broken Social Scene, Collett here opts for quieter alt-country, nowhere more effective than on this sweet slice of highway rock. Any song that begins, "Staying stoned on Highway 401" is bound to be a personal favorite, and that trickling guitar that travels up the C scale seals the deal. When I take my own cross-country trip across America, this will be the first song on my playlist.

8. "White Winter Hymnal," Fleet Foxes
Renaissance roundelays may have gone out of style, but Fleet Foxes are bringing them back. This is the perfect track for right now, when my backyard is covered in snow but I'm in my living room curled up in an afghan. If "New Slang" got high, this would be the result. With lyrics as mysterious as they are evocative, harmonies that would make Brian Wilson proud, and glorious chord sequences, Fleet Foxes make me hope it stays wintry forever.

7. "Where He At," Raz Ohara & The Odd Orchestra
Under the radar is indie music; beneath that is Raz Ohara. Settling in like a morning fog, capturing the moment when you're smoking a cigarette and staring out your window while debating whether to call that guy back, the song seems to stagger through its 4-minute-and-change length, dire strings adding to the pathos of a guy who "only takes." Thankfully, Raz and company decided to give something back.

6. "Feminine Effects," Of Montreal
I've already talked about this song, but my praise is worth repeating. It still gives me goosebumps, and the sparse instrumentals contrast nicely with the rest of the band's work, perfectly complementing that tiny fear that you're just "something to be laughed at." But it's impossible to laugh at Kevin Barnes's self-exposure; you just hope that, sometime after this song is over, he sees how wonderful he truly is. (Note: I consider this part of "Skeletal Lamping," even though it's not.)

5. "Love Lockdown," Kanye West
I don't much like Mr. West's latest album; there's too much AutoTune and not enough Kanye. By which I mean, that seemingly contradictory mix of arrogance and vulnerability found in his best stuff. (Then again, I'm not really a fan of AutoTune at all.) But here's an example of Kanye West not rapping but retaining his essence. Ominous beats and lightning-quick piano chords fill the listener with the same dread Kanye feels at having to tell his woman that "I'm not loving you." Plus, you know, it's catchy as hell.

4. "Ready for the Floor," Hot Chip
How many kids do you see at a party simply "carving up the wall," clutching a beer and waiting to get their picture taken? (I'm vain too, but I never ask for it.) Well, Hot Chip wants you to come out on the dance floor and let down your guard. Hot Chip wants to get to know you better. Hot Chip thinks "you're my number one guy." And Hot Chip has crafted the best song from Britain of the year. You don't here the key of B enough in pop music, anyway.

3. "She's Not Me," Madonna
I mean, duhhhh. If you have known me at all this year, you know how much I love this song. It's so campy and fun and totally fuck-you and there are whistles and hand-claps and it probably just quadruples my estrogen levels but I'll be damned if I can listen to this song without dancing. That includes when I walk down a crowded street. Hard Candy should have been more like this, because you can tell Madonna actually enjoyed recorded this song, and I can't necessarily say that for all of the album's tracks. It brings back the seventies without sacrificing Pharrell's studio guidance, but the real magic of this song is that it somehow managed to turn "She's not me" into the refrain of the year, quickly followed by "and she never will be." Fabulous.

2. "Time to Pretend," MGMT
Yeah, whatever, there's a reason these guys got huge. Thirty years from now, when classic-rock podcasts are replaying hits from the aughts, this is going to be on heavy rotation. Does its timeless quality lie in its drug-induced daydreamy lyrics, its harshly shimmering synth lines, or in the sheer fact that given the current economy, lots of people probably want to "make some money, find some models for wives." MGMT totally called the economic metldown, way back in January. Depression never sounded so sweet.

1. "Tú No Eres Para Mi," Fanny Lú
This is Colombia's number one song of the year! And if we welcome its cocaine, maybe we should welcome its musical choices as well. I'm a sucker for pure, feel-good pop, and despite the fact that I have no idea what Fanny's saying (besides the title, which means "You are not for me," a sentiment to which I relate all too well), Fanny sings its so well, to that extent that I think this song could melt the snow off my driveway if I played it loud enough. It's totally catchy, totally cheesy, totally Larry Rudolph, and I really hope this song becomes successful in the US so I can calypso-dance to it with all my friends. If you haven't heard it already, listen to it now. Listen and baile.
(I'm aware that it may be considered disingenuous to select a song released in December of this year as the best of 2008. But that's just how high my hopes are for Fanny; I'm willing to throw her un hueso.)


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