Saturday, December 13, 2008

My Favorite Songs of 2008

This list is numbered, but I know that right after I post it I will want to shift stuff around, so don't take the order to seriously!

1. Your New Twin Sized Bed- Death Cab for Cutie
I read more than a few reviews that people were disappointed in Death Cab's latest album, but I loved every song. My favorite was "Your New Twin Sized Bed." The lyrics were solemn but balanced by Chris Walla's rich production. The refrain (2:10), with its swirling texture in the background and Ben Gibbard's pleading vocals, is my favorite moment of the song.

2. Hallelujah- The Helio Sequence
I'd never heard the Helio Sequence before this year, and this gorgeous song is the reason I bought their latest album. This punctuated lyrics, the skittish drums and the synth and guitar undertones meshed together to create one of the most relevatory songs of the year.

3. Strawberry Swing- Coldplay
Viva la Vida was no doubt a departure for Coldplay. I honestly love every song, but "Strawberry Swing" defined my summer. It's lo-fi yet slickly-produced sound is a hidden gem on an album filled with so many anthems.

4. Skinny Love- Bon Iver
Bon Iver put all those fresh-faced, angsty troubadours to shame with this heart-wrenching track. This song alone justifies the existence of any acoustic, singer-songwriter genre.

5. Red and Purple- The Dodos
The charming lyrics and rustic, booming sound that the Dodos produced on their latest album came through strongest on this ditty.

6. Acid Tongue- Jenny Lewis
Here's why: the harmony on the chorus. I live for moments like that in a song.

7. Walcott- Vampire Weekend
8. Furr- Blitzen Trapper
9. No One Does It Like You- Department of Eagles
10. Life in Technicolor- Coldplay
11. When the Day Met the Night- Panic at the Disco
12. Lights Out- Santogold
13. This is Not a Test- She & Him
14. Spaceman- The Killers
15. How to Hang a Warhol- Little Joy
16. Kids- MGMT
17. Use Somebody- Kings of Leon
18. In the New Year- The Walkmen
19. Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)- Beyonce
20. You Are the Best Thing- Ray LaMontagne

Panic at the Disco- Pretty. Odd., Indeed.

When Panic! at the Disco hit the scene in 2005 with their skin-crawlingly annoying debut A Fever You Can't Sweat Out, they were just another Fueled by Ramen disciple cashing in on Fall Out Boy's success, with the addition of more creative eye makeup and tackier costumes. On their latest album, released in March, the boys made a few changes. One: they listened to Sgt. Pepper. A lot. Two: they began dressing like OK Go. Three: They lost the punctuation in their moniker and added some to the album title.

Pretty. Odd. is pretty odd indeed. It marks a severe departure for the baby-faced quartet. Rather than the abrasive, near-unlistenable emo-pop that marred Fever, this album is packed with sweet grooves, appealing harmonies, and sophisticated pop songs.

Normally, I would never think twice about purchasing a Panic album. I was at a record store when I heard "Northern Downpour" and asked the clerk what the song was. I was shocked, and disgusted at my taste. But then, I listened to the album more, and realized that it was a really solid set of tunes. In fact, if a group on an indie label released it, I'd say they'd have fair success in that realm. Unfortunately, their reputation is quite the turn-off. It took me months to build the courage to buy the album.

I'm glad I did. Tackiness still remains with song titles ("Folkin' Around") but hearing the jangly pop redeems any trace of sleaziness. "When the Day Met the Night," probably the best track of the album, is gorgeously textured with acoustic strums, "Within You Without You"-esque noodling, horn jabs, pulsing strings, and classically-appealing Beach Boys harmonies. Songs like "Day" and the chugging "The Green Gentlemen" showcase Panic's songwriting chops and musical maturity.

By replacing cabaret with 60's-era pop sensibility, Panic at the Disco has found a new lease on life. If they continue to grow like this, they could be one of the few Fueled by Ramen groups to live through the trend.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Indie Boy Crushes

Inspired by Stereogum's Gummy Awards, here's a list of my Top 7 Indie Boy crushes of 2008! (What do you expect, I'm a teenage girl.)

Ezra Koenig (Vampire Weekend)
From magazine covers to MTV interviews, shots of Koenig's preppy charm and boyish face added to all of that hot-vampire hype 2008 brought (Twilight, anyone?)

Conor Oberst
Year after year, Oberst brings that underfed, angled haircut, haven't slept in days look to the scene. Finally recognizing his brooding good looks, the former-prodigy/current-songwriter appeared on the cover of one of his albums. I love you, let's eat food together so you can get some meat on those bones!

Sufjan Stevens
Sufjan didn't even release an album this year, but his innocent stare will always strike me right in the blood-pumper. Put some butterfly wings on and whisper to me, Sufjan.

A-Trak (Chromeo)
When your mom asks you to bring home a nice Jewish boy, perhaps she means A-Trak, hipster extraordinaire and self-proclaimed momma's boy. He's no doctor or lawyer, but he can rock a keyboard with women's legs.

Justin Vernon (Bon Iver)
This is why:

Andrew Vanwyngarden (MGMT)
Hilarious and inventive, Vanwyngarden has shaggy, don't-give-a-damn looks that are so pretentiously hipster...and yet I can't resist for the very same reasons.

Robin Pecknold (Fleet Foxes)
I saw Fleet Foxes at the Black Cat in July. Pecknold was sporting a flannel-and-wool ensemble and drinking hot tea. In July. Thus, he's hot. Ba-dum-chhhh!

Also, most of these men get honorable mentions for weirdest names in rock.

808s & Heartbreak- Kanye West

Kanye West is a drama queen. He has thrown tantrums at award shows, compared himself to Jesus, vandalized airports and declared that George Bush doesn't care about black people, to name a few exhibitions of this fact. That said, 2008 was quite a year for West. His mother passed away (eliciting an extremely moving rendition of "Hey Mama" at last year's Grammys) and his engagement to longtime girlfriend Alexis Phifer dissolved. It seems as though for the first time, any claims of dissatisfaction or despair from West can be taken seriously.

On 808s & Heartbreak, West channels his depression into a finely crafted canon of detached yet highly emotional tracks. Using the ubiquitous AutoTune, West develops a downcast narrator who waxes despondent on the "good life," upon which he waxed rhapsodic with last year's Graduation. The songs found on Heartbreak are full of disillusion and gloom, a mood accented by the use of the Roland TR-808. The drum machine's low, tribal booms create a rumbling undercurrent to the album, appropriately suggesting an incoming storm. The robotic AutoTune, the thunderous 808 and the fact that West opts not to rap, mold Heartbreak into an intriguing and oddly lovely album.

Heartbreak's eleven songs (not counting the unnecessary live bonus track, "Pinocchio") are perhaps the most cohesive of any of West's albums, if only in the respect that they are intended to be thematically and musically related. Songs such as the 80's throwback "Paranoid" (feat. Mr. Hudson) and "RoboCop" (which samples the score from the film "Great Expections) segway neatly into each other, forming a hip-hopera of sorts. In this opera, though, the protagonist is an antihero: irreversibly depressed and dejected, with hardly motivation to improve his conditions. West chooses to bask in his tears, luckily to the benefit of the listener. The gorgeous "Streetlights" is a showcase of why West was an innovative producer in the hip-hop world before he even began to record himself. The singles "Love Lockdown" and "Heartless" are interesting and creative cuts, the former for its sparse atmosphere, the latter for its juxtaposition of a jaunty beat with glum lyrics.

808s & Heartbreak is no doubt a departure for West. While innovative and stunning in its own rite, its shroud of ice prevents it from holding a candle to Yeezy's past efforts. Reviews of the album have been divisive, and while it impresses me greatly, I hope West will pull himself from heartbreak and (excuse the pun) be stronger on his future albums.

Download these: "Street Lights," "Paranoid," "See You In My Nightmares."

Lo siento

My posting has been very sporadic, and unfortunately I have not had a chance to post since Thanksgiving! Not to worry though, dear reader (singular), there will be posts galore in the coming weeks!