Monday, December 29, 2008

What the Kids Thought Was Great in 2008

(Hint: it definitely wasn't SSD.)

I posted my best of 2008 list on Friday and the general reaction I got from my friends over the weekend was "I didn't I know any of the bands on your list." Or alternately "I didn't I know any of the bands on your list except for one," the Vivian Girls being the exception. My retort probably should have been "Well, I didn't know any of them either until someone told me about them" thus casually diffusing any implications of cultural elitism. Unfortunately, I didn't think to say that until just now.

One friend told me I should do another top ten but this time list records people know, which is sort of an odd proposition. Hey guys, I know I told you the stuff I really like but just to let you know I'm with it here's a bunch of records you're already familiar with, shuffled into a slightly different order than all the other year-ends you've been reading. I actually thought it would kind of funny to do just that and denounce my previous list as being too snobby or perhaps imply that none of its bands actually exist other than in my mind. However, as with most things I think are funny, I run a huge risk of no one but me getting the joke.

My ultimate decision was to give my thoughts on the top ten tracks of the year as decided by the folks at Pitchfork Media, who are as good a barometer for what the kids listen to nowadays as any. I purposely avoided reading the write-ups of each track as to not have the opinion of the author sway my thought process in any direction. I hadn't heard most of these songs until I listened to them just now, or if I had I didn't really know who the artist was. That doesn't make me better than you or anything. It just means that we have different interests and tastes. Stop being so insecure, goddammit.

10: Estelle
"American Boy"
I like this song. I've heard it many times at clubs/bars/wherever-guys-with-laptops-"DJ." It's readymade-for-the-dancefloor pop fluff but it's good pop fluff. It's involving and memorable and it doesn't insult the listener's intelligence. I still might like "Single Ladies" (Number 23 on the Pitchfork list) better though.

09: Portishead "Machine Gun"
Even at their mid-90s peak, I was never a fan of Portishead. That "Nobody Loves Me" song was pretty ubiquitous back then and it was decent enough aural wallpaper. This song however is a thoroughly unpleasant listen and not in a good Electric Eels-kind of way. Some might call that "challenging" but to my ears it's just kind of repetitive and lazy-sounding.

08: Air France "Collapsing at Your Doorstep"
Songs like this are fodder for my theory that most music fans these days mainly use music to provide a non-distracting soundtrack to dozing off on the subway. I'm sure there will be more examples before we get to the end of the list.

07: Cut Copy "Hearts on Fire"
I heard a friend of a friend of mine play Cut Copy at a BBQ this past summer and I remember liking one of their songs. It might have been this one but the fact that I'm listening to it and still don't remember if it was or wasn't is probably not a good sign. Is there any way I can possibly discuss this song without mentioning New Order? I suppose it was inevitable that hipster band emulation of Joy Division a few years back would be followed by NO copyists. There are worse sources of inspiration to be sure but this cut reminds be more of New Order's post-Technique output than their 80s peak. And it's not even half as good as "Regret."

06: Deerhunter "Nothing Ever Happened"
I know more than a few people whose opinions on music I respect that dig Deerhunter plenty. However, when I first checked out the band a while back via the cuts on their myspace page, they didn't make much of an impression and I never bothered to explore further. I gotta say though, this song is pretty good. Good enough to make me want to check out the rest of the album. I'll get right to that after I'm done listening the rest of the dozen or so albums in my "I guess I missed this one" pile.

05: M83 "Kim & Jessie"
Sounds a bit like the Brains' original version of "Money Changes Everything" crossed with Flock of Seagulls' "Wishing (If I Had a Photograph of You)." And we all know what prolific, artistically-rewarding careers those bands had. An attractive, lush sound but I wish that the band would have been kind enough to provide something in the way of a hook as well.

04: Santogold "L.E.S. Artistes"

03: Hot Chip "Ready for the Floor"
I like Hot Chip's song "Boy From School." Nothing else they've done has impressed me very much. This is no exception.

02: Fleet Foxes "White Winter Hymnal"
This is the band that also won PFM's best album of 2008, a choice so controversial that even noted Pitchfork apologist blog A New Nuance publicly disagreed. (A move that's somewhat like Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the door of the Schlosskirche.) I've actually never heard the band myself. I heard someone describe them as "they're kind of like My Morning Jacket but not as good" and that was enough to keep me far, far away. However, when I read Popmatters' Joe Tacopino say that on this album they "reinvent themselves as Hüsker Dü," it made me somewhat intrigued. Um, Joe, are you sure you're aren't confusing Fleet Foxes with a completely different band? You know, one that sounds like Hüsker Dü? Because this sounds like the Shins covering the O Brother Where At Thou? soundtrack.

01: Hercules and Love Affair "Blind"
This is the best song of the year? Really? Really? If I wanted to hear a shitty version of Blur's "Girls and Boys," there's plenty of examples on YouTube.


Tim Duffy said...

i liked this article, it talked about stuff i know!!! i was able to look at the band names and already have my own opinion!!!

(note: i knew almost all of the bands on your list. i think it's strange someone who reads your blog wouldn't since you've written about most of them at other points during the year.)

PB said...


I think you're writing under the false assumption that anyone reads my stupid blog. A quick list of 10 records they can handle, especially since they can look at each record listed without reading the accompanying text. Actually navigating to and absorbing the information I provide on a semi-frequent basis is another matter entirely.

I salute you for doing just that. If I'd had a blog 2 years ago, you could have said you knew about Times New Viking way back then.

Anonymous said...

I like your subway soundtrack theory. Now if people could only turn their headphones down so I don't have to listen to what they really don't want to listen to.

Deerhunter/TNV/Vivian Girls was my favorite show of 2008. For some reason Bradford Cox sounds a lot like Ben Gibbard in "Nothing Ever Happened" which isn't a good thing. That's not the case with Agoraphobia which is one of the best and creepiest songs of the year.

J said...

Paul, you should reread my Fleet Foxes post. What I did say was that Fleet Foxes "take an alternate approach"...
as opposed to:
"the big indie rock monoliths (who)reinvent themselves as Husker Du and drench their guitars in reverb'd distortion,"
-- ya know like Band of Horses (reverb) and Hold Steady (wanna be Husker Du).

I was making a contrast between the two approaches.

other than that i guess i would like to say I enjoyed your other list better with Oxford Collapse and The OhSees.

why pander to people who dont take their music as seriously as you do.

PB said...

Joe, I totally misread your comment on Fleet Foxes. My apologies.

I don't think I'm pandering as much as I'm, you know, making fun of pandering. But maybe that's just pandering incognito. My motives are a mystery even to me.

Tim Duffy said...

I knew about Times New Viking two years ago! While missing Thomas Function is easy, missing the resurection Shiltbreeze Records would've been of particular embarassment for someone who made most of his connections to indie rock in the mid 90's.

PB said...

I'm sorry, Tim. I know there's no reason to mock you like I do. (Other than it's fun.)

Anonymous said...

Spot on with the Portishead blurb. I downloaded that record because it was #2 on Pitchfork's list and wasn't able to make it through a single listen. It's so sparse and depressing. Like music made for suicidal goths.

Oh and Cut Copy and Hercules and Love Affair are terrible too. It's like Pitchfork will put anything electronic that few people have heard of in their top 50 no questions asked.