2008 Year End Music Review: David Medsker
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Abraham Simpson once succinctly explained about how he used to be “with it,” but then they changed what “it” was. Suddenly what he was “with” wasn’t “it,” and what was “it” seemed weird and scary to him. He then pointed a bony finger at his son Homer and said, “It’ll happen to you.”
It happened to me this year.
The thing is, I’m okay with it. Pop is a young man’s game, and I just turned 40, so the vast majority of songs climbing the charts are not aimed at me. In fact, I feel sorry for anyone who feels compelled to remain hip and cool as they hit their late 30s. It’s hard work, and you will invariably find yourself on the other side of the fence from the hordes of people who think (insert indie band of the week here) are the saviors of rock and roll. Don’t fight it: embrace it. Circle of life, etc.
Having said that, I made a concerted effort this year to give a listen to the music that was being aimed at our impressionable youth and see if I could hear what they hear. After trolling through the muck that is Rocco’s ”Umma Do Me” and contemplating whether I wanted to live on the same planet with people who gave Rocco their hard-earned money, I found a few pop singers that I quite liked. The problem is that no one bought their records, which sums up my CD collection – and my favorite songs and albums from 2008 – better than anything: pop music that isn’t popular. Sigh.
1. Midnight Juggernauts: Dystopia
A little Goth rock, a little Daft Punk dance, a little Muse-ish paranoia, and a whole lot awesome.
2. Panic at the Disco: Pretty. Odd
The kids, apparently, were furious with Panic at the Disco’s decision to make a, ahem, more traditional pop album. To that I say: fuck the kids, Panic. I’ll take this over the needlessly wordy songs from your first album any day of the week and twice on Sunday.
3. Airborne Toxic Event: Airborne Toxic Event
I still haven’t read Pitchfork’s brutal 1.6-rated review of this album. Just knowing that they would do such a thing to an album so completely undeserving – their song “Sometime Around Midnight” is worthy of three or four points all by itself – is confirmation that I need not worry what their opinion is about anything, ever.
4. Attic Lights: Friday Night Lights
Odds are the debut album by this Scottish quintet will never see the light of day in the States. The reason? It’s filled with smart, sunny, harmony-laden pop songs that aren’t produced within an inch of their lives, which fell out of favor with Stateside radio programmers about ten years ago. Still, I’m willing to bet that more people are listening to this album ten years from now than anything Akon ever does.
5. Republic Tigers: Keep Color
Much like the Attic Lights, though the Tigers were lucky enough to get their fabulous debut album released on this side of the pond. Being American certainly had a lot to do with that, though it didn’t help them much with getting on the radio. I guess that spot on the “Gossip Girl” soundtrack will have to suffice.
6. Raphael Saadiq: The Way I See It
Again, showing my age here, but this is my idea of R&B. Saadiq’s slavish attention to detail results in the finest Smokey Robinson album in decades. Could have done without the drop-in by Jay-Z, though.
7. They Might Be Giants: Here Come the 123s
So maybe I am into music aimed at the kids, if the kids happen to be my two-year-old. They Might Be Giants’ follow-up to their wildly popular Here Come the ABCs is even better; “Seven” was produced by the Dust Brothers, for crying out loud, and the kids’ screams of “We want cake! Where’s our cake!” will stick in your head for days. The videos on the accompanying DVD are awesome as well. Anyone with a toddler should buy this, stat.
8. Joe Jackson: Rain
At long last, a proper follow-up to Ben Folds Five’s The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner.
9. Sunny Day Sets Fire: Summer Palace
Think New Pornographers, on a global scale.
10. Benji Hughes: A Love Extreme
Occasionally juvenile, yes, but hot damn, is Hughes hard to beat when he’s on his game. Look for Beck to cover half of the songs here before long.
Coldplay: Viva La Vida
Keane: Perfect Symmetry
Derek Webb & Sandra McCracken: Ampersand EP
James Hunter: The Hard Way
Flight of the Conchords: Flight of the Conchords
Army Navy: Army Navy
We Are Scientists: Brain Thrust Mastery
Foxboro Hot Tubs: Foxboro Hot Tubs
“Never Miss a Beat,” Kaiser Chiefs
Instant classic, this one. All bands should be challenged to write a catchier melody using five notes or less, like the verse here.
“Shut Up and Let Me Go,” The Ting Tings
You just know that Debbie Harry loves this.
“Chasing Pavements,” Adele
This song went Top 10 in eight countries. In the States, it peaked at #82. Jesus, people.
“You Don’t Know Me,” Ben Folds w/ Regina Spektor
The one truly brilliant moment on his most recent album, though once you’ve been married four times, you should by law lose the right to complain about how it’s your ex’s fault.
“A-Punk,” Vampire Weekend
Ey! Ey! Ey! Ey!
“Wow,” Kylie Minogue
Meow, meow, meow, meow!
“I Will Possess Your Heart,” Death Cab for Cutie
Eight and a half minutes of delusional stalkerism disguised as bold determination. We’re used to the former from them, but not the latter. Bravo.
“Money, It’s Pure Evil,” Bigelf
I haven’t done a side-by-side comparison yet, but I’m pretty sure a chunk of the guitar solo here is taken note-for-note from “Comfortably Numb.”
Hollies, Hollies, Hollies, get your vocals here.
“Join with Us,” The Feeling
For being a bunch of pop boys, they freaking bring it at the end. As of press date, their second album (this is the title track) has no US release date. D’oh.
“This Is Only,” Charlotte Sometimes
‘She’s Half My Age,’ Crush #1. I am positively smitten with this girl. Cute as a button, sassy lyricist and with one of the most unique voices in pop, I can’t believe a major actually signed her. And that’s part of the hypocrisy with the music press: had this been an indie release, and not as slickly produced, people would be lining up with Liz Phair-style rapture for the girl. Ugh.
‘She’s Half My Age,’ Crush #2. Here’s another one that would be better served positioning herself as a modern rock goddess than a Goth-tinged popster, and this song’s the proof. Oh, and don’t ever use the ‘G’ word in her presence, if you don’t want your eyes gouged out.
“Slave to the Rhythm,” Shirley Bassey
Dame Shirley Bassey covering Grace Jones, with Primal Scream’s “Loaded” serving as the drum track. Does it get any cooler than that?
“Girls,” Walter Meego
Daft Punk, crossed with David Cassidy.
“They Live,” Evil Nine
Daft Punk, crossed with zombies.
Aimee Mann: @#%&*! Smilers
She may have hated making albums for the majors, but they sure were better when she did.
Better than Good Stuff, but that’s not exactly saying much.
Gary Louris: Vagabonds
I still think he has one of the finest voices in music, but this record could have used a couple shifts in tempo.
Jack’s Mannequin: The Glass Passenger
Want a little cheese with that whine?
Are all of the good band names truly gone? You’d certainly think so, judging from some of the releases we saw this year. Even good bands – including two bands in my Top 10 – gave themselves bad names. Here is a small list of the ones I found to be particularly bad.
Unicycle Loves You
Biography of Ferns
Does It Offend You, Yeah?
Airborne Toxic Event
Sunny Day Sets Fire
Uh Huh Her
The Sound of Animals Fighting
What Laura Says
The Number Twelve Looks Like You
Dancer vs. Politician
We Landed on the Moon
Katy Perry. “I Kissed a Girl” and “Ur So Gay” are such manufactured controversy that even Madonna blushed.
Junior Senior has called it quits. Damn.