The Top 100 Songs of 2008 (Part Five: 10-1)

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Now for the cream of the crop: the Top 10. Hopefully it won't disappoint.

 

10thebug10. Warning
by the Bug
from London Zoo
[Electronic/Dubstep/Hip Hop]

While the two tracks featuring Warrior Queen are also excellent, nothing else on London Zoo hit quite like “Warning.” Kevin Martin’s heavy industrial-bass beat is intimidating: a clutch of steel-fisted jackhammer crashes broken up by brief silent gaps, digital echoes and sirens. But it’s the guest performance by Flowdan that leaves the lasting impact. He slams headfirst at the listener with his ragga rapping with such ferocity that you half-expect his face to lunge out of the speakers and soak you with flying saliva.

The album is all culmination, as if Martin and his guest MCs were preparing for the end of days (or at least a good, old-fashioned revolution). And no matter how it’s done—reflexive or shoot-first—everyone aboard shares the view. But no one went berserk like Flowdan did on “Warning.” The piston breaks seem to serve only as an opportunity for Flowdan to collect his thoughts (and take a deep breath). And even if you can’t understand everything he’s saying (I had to scour the ‘net for the lyrics), the force of the performance needs no explanation. Plus, as aggressive as the track is, the entire beat is one giant hook, rattling all 200+ of your bones with each machinegun pound.

9mgmt9. Kids
by MGMT
from Oracular Spectacular
[Electronic/Pop]

“Kids” dates back to the earliest days of MGMT, but the version prepped for this year’s Oracular Spectacular is different…and may very well feature a catchier melody than anything else released this year. Their maximal use of perfectly-arranged synthesizers rivals even New Order at their best on this track. Whether providing a bass-heavy blanket during the long echoes or springing up the ladder to the next octave during that mountain of a hook, this dense monument of electropop defies dissection.

Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that my dissection defies the logical processes of my brain. The refrain is repeated several times, but my theories regarding its imagery and meaning are either too vague or too far-fetched. “Control yourself/Take only what you need from it/A family of trees wanting/To be haunted.” Elsewhere: insect picking, crawling children, proud mamas, foggy mirrors, crying newborns, and so on. But I don’t care if it boggles my mind. It’s so contagious…so unforgettable…it kept me up for more than an hour one night as I silently hummed it over and over again. That’s proof to me that it’s the best dance song of the year.

62deerhunter8. Nothing Ever Happened
by Deerhunter
from Microcastle
[Alternative/Rock]

Even after Deerhunter revealed their newly accessible sound during the early tracks of Microcastle, “Nothing Ever Happened” is still a total surprise after the midway point. That first riff sparkles so bright that you can hardly believe this is the same band from Cryptograms. They had always written pop melodies in the past, but almost dared the listener to try and uncover them under the blankets of reverb and abrupt sonic outbursts. But “Nothing Ever Happened” announces itself plainly; despite the suggestion of futility and disappointment the lyrics summon, the music invigorates your fortitude.

After passing through a pair of quick choruses where Bradford Cox repeatedly hums, “Nothing ever happened to me,” the listener gets a special treat—three more minutes of that glittering motorik guitar sunburst, changing ever so slightly to keep things interesting, but persistently chirping away with minimal fanfare. Somehow, it’s a Malkmus move that goes further than Pavement ever cared to venture. Some may decry the fact that Deerhunter has stripped away a lot of their clutter to focus on more professional songcraft, but “Nothing Ever Happened” is the band’s greatest songwriting achievement to date. Without selling away their indie cred, they’ve given former detractors an irreproachable command to eat their own words. [album review]

7nas7. Sly Fox
by Nas
from Untitled
[Hip Hop]

Nas’ untitled 2008 album (also known as the N-word) was pretty uneven, but the high of “Sly Fox” made it worth the purchase. Clearly I’m biased, but any song that cleverly eviscerates Fox News gets my vote of approval. Even if he’s still looking to match the highs of Illmatic (and has been known to spit some controversial and even contradictory stuff), Nas’ presence on the mic is still rarely matched in this age.

“Watch what you watchin’/Fox keeps feeding us toxin.” “They say I'm all about murder murder and kill kill/But what about Grindhouse and Kill Bill?/What about Cheney and Halliburton?/The backdoor deals on oil fields/How's Nas the most violent person?” “Only fox that I love was the red one/Only black man that Fox loves is in jail or a dead one.” Even after realizing that it’s not exactly tough to lay out Murdoch and O’Reilly and all the rest, thanks to its incisive and incendiary lyrics and edgy flow, it still may very well be the best rap song of the year.

6fuckedup6. Son the Father
by Fucked Up
from Chemistry of Common Life
[Punk/Hardcore]

Not many could have predicted that a hardcore album would begin with a trilling flute, but Chemistry of Common Life did, as it unfolds the epic opener, “Son the Father.” No, Fucked Up isn’t Jethro Tull. After a minute-and-a-half of that flute (and later a distorted guitar sizzle), frontman Pink Eyes lets loose a primal scream and 10,000 Marbles’ rapid, churning riff explodes out of the fuzz. After that, you only have two options: hold onto the arms of your chair real tight or get up and slam your body against the nearest wall. Don’t crack your skull, though, or else you’ll miss Pink Eyes’ message.

Scratch that. You’ll probably need to pin down a lyric sheet for this one. The vocals shred as severely as the riffs. Only the chorus echoes plainly: “It’s hard enough being born in the first place/Who would ever want to be born again?” It’s tough to blame the recording mixer: the sound is so dense that nothing could escape it (the band layered guitar tracks like they were building a Dagwood). And that texture is so vivid that only the best stereo equipment could do it justice. Without Pink Eyes’ thoughtful (and probing) fury, “Son the Father” is just a damn great artful thrasher. Discovering that you’re allowed to think when you mosh makes this leadoff one of the year’s best tracks. [album review]

5fleetfoxes5. White Winter Hymnal
by Fleet Foxes
from Fleet Foxes
[Folk/Pop]

I might have been alone in roping in praise for Fleet Foxes’ first full-length (a very good album, yes, but not one I felt deserved the flood of gushing it received from pretty much every publication in the world). But even a cold-hearted bastard like myself can’t reserve boundless affection for “White Winter Hymnal.” It’s campfire balladry that begs for assistance from everyone gaping into the firelight. That oh-so-faint echo that accompanies the vocals makes it sound like it’s being played right next to you and that everyone else in the circle may be humming along to that subtly effective rural melody.

The images summoned by the lyrics are eerie, like Black Death nursery rhymes or gory Brothers Grimm wickedness. “I was following the pack/All swallowed in their coats/With scarves of red tied ’round their throats/To keep their little heads/From fallin’ in the snow/And I turned ’round and there you go/And, Michael, you would fall/And turn the white snow red as strawberries/In the summertime.” But there is nothing sinister about the melody, turning the gruesome thoughts away like they do for, well, “Ring a Ring o’ Roses.” Robin Pecknold’s words rarely mean anything substantially, but he and the group have a gift for harmonies that is rarely rivaled today.

4sigurros4. Gobbledigook
by Sigur Rós
from Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust
[Alternative/Pop]

Considering Sigur Rós’ past, the first time I heard “Gobbledigook” was like some sort of awe-inspiring epiphany. Most of their greatest successes in the last decade came courtesy of huge epics, arranged like an electronic orchestra unleashing waves of gorgeous ambient noise. They had their more “traditional rock” moments here and there, but their bread and butter was stark and sweeping melodies pitched away from the nerves that floated on towards double digit minutes. There’s a reason why "Svefn-g-englar" may still be their greatest individual moment—they knew how to make post-rock experimentalism as beautiful as anything pop music could offer.

Comparing that with “Gobbledigook” is an apples-and-oranges debate. The former was chilly, celestial and vague, but “Gobbledigook” demands adoration within the first ten seconds. The stomping percussion is so perfectly timed that it’s a trial not to tap at least a couple of toes. The acoustic guitars are strummed in a knotty way (plausibly imperfect). And even though I can’t understand a single Icelandic word being said, there’s an almost terrifying urgency to the vocals that makes you believe you actually can. Sigur Rós has never sounded so down-to-earth, light-hearted and real before; if they can master this technique as well as they did the more ethereal stuff, I guess this group has no boundaries whatsoever.

3noage3. Teen Creeps
by No Age
from Nouns
[Alternative/Rock]

At heart a pop song but covered in enough fuzz to make J Mascis and Superchunk jealous, “Teen Creeps” offers a murky thrill solely through tuneful distortion. It’s all guitar and drums (with the expected pedal effect additions and so on), but it’s as impenetrable as anything a forty-piece collective could create. Both ends are capped with twinkling guitars but the main course sums up punk’s noise ideals and churns along on a carpet of pop music precision.

Lyrically, it’s sandwiched between Seattle and L.A. “Wash away what we create/I hate you more, I hate this place,” and, “Teen creeps, I’ve seen you on my street/Teen creeps get what they want and me/I won’t end up like them at all.” But "Teen Creeps" is a showcase for the tuneful fury of two musicians (and the noble endeavors of an imaginative and selfless DIY-style of ethics). If it weren’t so subliminally melodious, you could lash it to your arm and wield it like a shield. “Eraser” may have been the more inventive and complex single of this record, but “Teen Creeps” has the infectious enthusiasm and blunt disposition needed to master their attack.

48madeoutofbabies2. Cooker
by Made out of Babies
from The Ruiner
[Metal]

Nothing else from 2008 was as earth-shatteringly massive as this song. Opening with a warped guitar pattern that sounds like someone’s dragging blades across wires from fret to fret, the horror begins to build in your gut. And when Julie Christmas’ unearthly voice joins the mix, huffing and wailing and grunting in circles over the distorted noise (like a pixie having an orgasm), you feel a shiver race up your spine. You’re thinking, “Good God, what the hell is this?” And then the torrential riff hits you and you’re knocked right off your feet.

By the final minute and half, when Christmas is repeatedly shrieking, "Run! Run for your life! Run for the beating, the heart, the feeding, the taking!" you’re right there with her every step of the way. The mixing is so thick you swear that sludge should be dripping out of the speakers (before napalm incinerates them). You have no choice but to turn that thing up as loud as your equipment will allow—screw the neighbors and your eardrums. And fighting the urge to scream right along with her while bashing your head mercilessly is pretty much futile. It’s like a hundred thousand angels and demons were clashing under a blood-red sky for the souls of the entire planet and some teary-eyed misfit wrote a post-metal opera about it—right before the world freakin’ ended. All clocking in under six minutes. Calling this track a ferocious tour de force is like saying that shark-fighting is hazardous—just doesn’t do it justice. [album review]

1frightenedrabbit1. The Modern Leper
by Frightened Rabbit
from The Midnight Organ Fight
[Rock]

After the first few listens of “The Modern Leper,” you begin to realize just how raggedly dysfunctional this thing is. The prancing acoustic guitar strum and jittery fiddle back-up are so misleading, you actually laugh aloud when you peel away to the truth. Even when the distortion enters the picture during the devastating chorus crescendo, you still nod along to that perfect rhythm. It could have been a beautiful love ballad just as easily. But no, this is depravity. Glorious, perfectly-etched, penetrating, window-to-the-soul depravity.

“You see, I've got this disease I can't shake/And I'm just rattling through life/Well, this is how we do things now/Yeah, this is how the modern stay scared/So I cut out all the good stuff.” It’s positioned to supplant the listener’s own failings (whether conscious or unconscious) into the heart and mind of the storyteller. The disease is an addiction, but an addiction to what? Insert your own answer here. But it’s a universal concern that our own shortcomings not only get in our own way but hold back those who love us. Are we so miserable that we must infect those around us?

“Well, is that you in front of me?/Coming back for even more of exactly the same/You must be a masochist to love a modern leper/On his last leg.” He cuts away his proverbial attachments to become that leper until he can no longer stand. But even as that seriously messed up individual, he still pines away like the lovelorn loser he casts himself to be (craving drugs, alcohol, a lover, a memory, whatever you like). And while singer Scott Hutchison tries to close things on a helplessly optimistic note, the reverberating image of the self-indulged damaged goods is stained permanent on our hearts. “And you are not ill/And I’m not dead/Doesn’t that make us the perfect pair?/And you and me/We’ll start again/And you can tell me about what you did today/What you did today.” Has exasperation ever been so accurately described?

Part One (100-76)

Part Two (75-51)

Part Three (50-26)

Part Four (25-11)

Dec
21
2008
Matt Medlock

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