Sunday, December 14, 2008

Music Gets the Best of Me: 2008

10. Ra Ra Riot, The Rhumb Line
I'll be the first person to admit that I won't be listening to Ra Ra Riot in a year's time (with the exception of Suspended in Gaffa, this generation's answer to Hounds of Love), but I appreciate that this band was able to do exactly what Vampire Weekend did. Only better. V Weekend's been on my shortlist of bands to drop-kick since late in 2007, and when they appeared on SNL back in March, my cup full of rage officially boiled over. Then I saw them at Pitchfork and realized they were kind of dynamic for no other reason than they know how to work an audience. Judging from the clips of Ra Ra Riot I've seen on YouTube, I can't say the same for them, but their album works far better lyrically and captures a moment in time (see: early 21st century post-collegiate malaise) without being cloying.

9.Crystal Castles, Crystal Castles
Crystal Castles appeals to me in much the same way The Legend of Zelda theme appealed to me as a child, but instead of humming that ditty on a handball court in Los Angeles, I spent the better part of 2008 listening to two too-cool-for-school - we don't show our faces! - musicians re-appropriate bleeps, blops, and bloops for the hipster set. They've even got some lyric-writing chops ("Vanished") that show a softer side to the band that produced the all out rage of "Alice Pratice". Basically, all of this is to say that I won't be purchasing a wii-station-box until Crystal Castles starts scoring video games.

8. The Kills, Midnight Boom
Midnight Boom is the closest I came to a straight up "rock" record this year which tells you a lot about my conception of what rock is. Here we have two strung-out-looking bandmates making songs inspired by rhymes and chants that little black girls used to jump rope to in the 60's. It doesn't seem like it should work, but it does, and how! It also doesn't hurt that Alison Mosshart sounds exactly like Liz Phair on the track "M.E.X.I.C.O." and that I now have my new favorite feeling sorry for myself song with "Goodnight Bad Morning". But that's also what Jamie Hince must feel like when he wakes up every morning next to Kate Moss.

7. Madonna, Hard Candy
It's no secret that I like electronic music (see: entries 9, 6, and 1) which some may find alienating and/or cold, but if I had you giving credit to any of the other artists on this lists, here's where I might lose you: Her vocoding is insane, her lyrics are sometimes laughable, and her collaborations are completely unimaginative; still, with Hard Candy, Madonna has managed to synthesize whatever bastardized version of hip-hop she's been listening to lately, into a perfectly packaged little record. Clearly her best collaborative efforts on this album are with Pharrell (which is why they're nominated for a Grammy), but even a gruesome twosome like Timbaland and Justin Timerlake don't completely collapse under her weight. Or her thighs.

6. Hot Chip, Made in the Dark
I feel like Jan Brady every time anyone talk about Hot Chip: "Hot Chip, Hot Chip, Hot Chip!" But I suppose there's a reason that these boys have stuck around and have finally made some headway into mainstream markets. Even if their live show made me want to slaughter a few fans (read: I am intolerant of frat dudes who are into electronic music) I appreciate that they've got that special something that makes them crossover-able. And any band that appropriates Batman aesthetic for a video is a-okay to me.

5. Goldfrapp, Seventh Tree
How do I love Goldfrapp? Let me count the ways...
It's safe to say that there was NO WAY this wasn't going to be in my top ten, even if Seventh Tree isn't the revelation that was Supernature. But it really is a revelation in it's own way: It's serene, it's quiet, it can lull you to sleep almost instantaneously which is what I've used it for on more than one occasion. And then you have tracks like "Caravan Girl" that manage to be raucous and comforting all at the same time. Is it any wonder that I sometimes fall asleep to "Eat Yourself", but awake every morning to, I like dancing, at the disco...

4. Hercules and Love Affair, Hercules and Love Affair
I seriously find it comical that disco is popular again. And not popular in the they're selling a compilation record on late-night TV popular, but popular in the indie rock has given it the stamp of approval popular. I mean, was it not just last week that Mary Kate Olsen attended a fucking Grace Jones concert? But whatever. That's what American Apparel ads and Butt Magazine get you. Still... what better stamp of approval to have for Disco than that of Hercules and Love Affair? They've mined the most banal of seventies grooves and made them modern again with the help of Antony Hegarty's androgynous vocals. I don't know if Sylvester would be proud, or rolling in his grave, and frankly... that excites me.

3. Róisín Murphy, Overpowered
While not technically released in 2008, Róisín Murphy's Overpowered is going on my list because it was supposed to be released in the US this year (it's not coming out until 2009) and I don't live in Ireland (where Overpowered got its first release in late-2007). This is the sort of album that makes me wish I lived in Europe where female electronic artists with a pop sensibility who like to dress up in all sorts of outlandish stage-wear have, not only credibility, but also record sales. Róisín takes the best dark elements of 80's synth-pop and manages to make a thoroughly melodic, dance-able, and downright sexy album. She's Kosheen minus all the pesky drum and bass... she's Sophie Ellis Bextor with cajones... she's the second coming of Annie Lennox.

2. The Teenagers, Reality Check
If my life had background music, I would want it to be the backing track to "French Kiss". At the very least I would ask that they play this in the trailer for my biopic. It's gorgeous and is the only track that has seriously made me consider purchasing a turntable just so I could listen to the dub single. Other than that, this album has a lot of French guys speaking heavily-accented English and sounding, in a word, adorable. They've infused just enough machismo and snark into their repertoire, making what would otherwise be a pretty run-of-the-mill confection, into a record that makes you remember what it felt like to have that many hormones running through you at the age of 15. I never want to go back to that awful, awful place, but it's nice to visit with these guys.

1. Cut Copy, In Ghost Colours
Whereas Hot Chip has potentially jumped whatever arbitrarily-placed indie rock shark that the Internet/Pitchfork Media/The Hipster Mafia has decided to throw down, Cut Copy just isn't there yet. And I don't suppose they ever will be. Unlike The Chip, they rely much less on artifice and instead funnel all the energy that could be spent on choreographing a faux-Batdance, into delivering crazy good tracks. They get a shit-ton of comparison to New Order and for good reason. New Order's been making solid albums for upwards of 30 years and they've yet to do a video or photoshoot that upstaged their music (have you seen the video for "Blue Monday"?). So keep on doing what you do Cut Copy cause you made my favorite album this year!

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