1.31.2009

Eighteen From 2008

This is not an FCM post, this is just me, Ben.

For the last several years I've created a list containing 20 of the best songs I heard first in that year. December of 2008 had me laid out sick, so I'm running a bit late. In addition, I am only including 18 songs this year. I want this list to be ABSOLUTE favorites and didn't water it down with two more tracks solely for consistency. I'm not a critic, just a lover of good sounds so don't do that ever-so postmodern critique-the-critic thing, please? If you see a little pink star next to an album name, it's one of my favorites for the year. Lastly, the list isn't in order of greatness - rather I tried to create a nice flow for listening. Click here to download the whole thing.

"Soul '69 (Part II)" A-ko
When I'm happy I sneeze all day
This jazz-funk, sample laden DJ creation would be fun and happy without the vocals, but the charming and ridiculous nature of the vocal performance makes Soul '69 (Part II) legendary. The melodies, both instrumental and vocal, are infectious. The horns, the swirling wah wah, and the woodwinds ride ever so lightly and tightly upon the beat and bass groove. I've spent countless weekends with this song on repeat in my head, letting out an occasional "Aah-Choo," revealing my madness.

"As If Love Was a Sword" Steven Delopoulos (Straightjacket)
And the music above was a children's choir
A week after the great Iowa flood of 2008 peaked in my hometown of Cedar Rapids, I drove there to pick up my kids who had been staying with their grandparents. Because of the flooding I had to take local highways through Iowa, rather than my typical interstate route (290,88,80,380, if you care). A mix CD was left in the car and on it was this gem of a song. It's a waltzy 3/4 - for which i have a general weak spot. The arrangement starts with a straightforward folk approach and builds to a grand, bombastic crechendo complete with a choir and what sounds like tympani. I listened over and over and over, as much drawn to the imagery in the lyrics as to the odd musical trajectory of this short song. It seemed suitably apocalyptic for the moment, driving into the disaster that visited my hometown. "The orchestra roared."

"Damn I'm Cold (Feat. Lil' Wayne)" Bun B (II Trill)
Best to get you some sleeves
The swagger on this song is so thick it's impenetrable. Lil' Wayne and Bun B come together and take turns rapping about how absolutely great they are on this remarkably smooth production. This isn't a groundbreaking song, just a perfectly executed treatise on the coldness of these two rappers. Every time this song comes on, I get a little chill.

"Everybody (Feat. Kanye West, Sa-Ra & Andre 3000)" Fonzworth Bentley
Simple elegance looking better when you dance
Up late one night flipping channels, I happened upon a string of rap and R&B videos. At some point Destiny's Child and Sir Mix a Lot segwayed into Fonzworth Bentley. The video presents the entertainers in tuxedos on a soundstage doing dance routines like they're the commodores or something. It works because the music simultaneously throws me back and catapults me into the future. It's classy as hell, sensual, sexy, and fun. Andre's verse is immaculate, his tone is smooth and his cadence buoyant. Fonzworth's songs (see C.O.L.O.U.R.S. below) have a distinctly unique style that I can't get enough of.

"Camel" Flying Lotus (Los Angeles*)
...
It was hard to pick a song from Los Angeles because the album works so well as a unit, each track a twist or turn on a singular highway of sound. I don't even know what they call this music anymore, but it's essentially electronic DJ production with hip hop influence. Listening to this record reminds me of how I felt listening to DJ Shadow's Endtroducing... in 1997. The music sounds new but familiar. I can get sucked into it completely or live alongside it harmoniously, depending on my whim.

"Until We Bleed (With Lykke Li)" Kleerup (S/T)
If Cupid's got a gun, then he's shooting
I had an incredibly overwhelming panic attack in July. I was in World Market picking up some Malteasers and it hit me like a ton of bricks. If it weren't for my headphones and this song on repeat I would have certainly gone mad or been run over by a bus in the street. Maybe it's the beat, but for me this song manages to be incredibly soothing while giving me the distinct impression that the world may indeed be ending right before my eyes. Lykke Li makes a frail yet powerful performance and Kleerup turns out what just might be the sexiest song I've heard in the last three years.

"2 Becomes 1" Karl Blau (Nature's Got Away)
All the hardships sail away
I'm sitting in a mostly-empty barroom with wood panel interior. The bartender, a woman in her 50's, hands me another jar of Miller Light, and i swivel on my stool back toward Karl Blau and his band. The warm tones of the guitar and vocals offset the draftiness of the place. I'm staring at the linoleum where my mind is projecting a slideshow of images starring the two of us. This song could never be true without you.

"Holes In Our Heads" Retribution Gospel Choir (S/T*)
It was just like she said
I was pretty exited to get a hold of Alan Sparhawk's new album, especially after reading that Mark Kozelek produced it. At first, Retribution Gospel Choir was a big letdown for me. It seemed to neither embrace the fragility of his work as Low or the heaviness that these songs seemed to yearn for. But after a couple of weeks this summer in the painting studio with this record on repeat, I figured it out. Pantera's Vulgar Display of Power, used massively layered guitars and vocals to become one of the heaviest and powerful rock productions ever (IMHO). There's power in numbers but there's power in singularity too. A single, passionate voice and one or two electric guitars strummed with abandon can be just as moving as twenty. That's where "Holes In Our Heads" succeeds - it pulls us in with a finger and pushes us out with the passion of a single, determined man.

"C.O.L.O.U.R.S. (ft. Lil' Wayne & Pimp C)" Fonzworth Bentley
I don't wear sneakers, I wear slippers
This low-key, ultra-smooth track features some of the most over-the-top lyrical content since R. Kelly's Trapped in the Closet. By that I don't mean bat-shit-crazy, I only mean that when you hear a man talking at length about cashmere, cognac, and exotic animal furs and leathers... Ummmm... Fonzworth's verse stands out - for some reason I find myself believing that he's telling me the truth, that he actually has purple silk lining in all of his coats. Lil' Wayne and Pimp C are perfect choices for filling out the song - both have such interesting voices and tend to shine when the tempo is a bit slower. Best of all, the chorus spells out this wonderful acronym, and it's fitting - what we have here are Cool Outrageous Lovers Of Uniquely Raw Style.

"Mutha'uckas" Flight of the Conchords (S/T*)
He's gonna wake up in a smoothee!
Flight of the Conchords has been a highlight of my year. I've watched season one several times and the CD is in play at least once a week. I've probably spent hours laughing to Jemaine and Bret's antics. The magic here is that the songs work as songs but come to life as videos and get raised to art in the context of the show. It was hard to pick just one song, but I chose "Mutha'uckas" because it's catchy and stands well on it's own - but you should really watch the video.

"Mr. Carter (Feat. Jay-Z)" Lil' Wayne (Tha Carter III*)
I heard somebody say church, I'm-a need a suit
Lil' Wayne has been a highlight of my year. He's on 3 of the 18 songs in this list and only this one is from Tha Carter III. There's something about the combination of his wheezy flow, his outlandish rhymes, and his complete confidence that makes me want to eat whatever he's cooking. Jay-Z makes a solid contribution to this piano-plink ridden production. While musically it's not the most interesting track on his album - I love the samples and I'm particularly fond of the inventiveness of Wayne's rhymes.

"The Way We Ride" Fulton Lights (The Way We Ride*)
They were trying to take my land
Last year Andrew Spencer Goldman took us to the city, this year he's brought us out west. "The Way We Ride," is like a cowboy version of gangsta rap. It's brimming with bravado and unapologetic street (range?) cred. The dirty-muddy production that put me off at first kept bringing me back for another listen. It's a fighting song, but popping out from the plodding vocal delivery are some great melodies. "Six bullets says I don't give a good goddamn."

"The Vowels Pt. 2" Why? (Alopecia*)
Playing the wall at singles bingo
Vocals are clearly driving us through this song, but the vehicle we're riding in is one of those toddler pull-toys with wooden oval wheels. The punchy, lunge-release, lunge-release, of the track is relentless and powerful - giving way only when we recite the vowels. Every phrase of lyrical content is an image-inducing head scratcher, delivered swiftly and melodically in series. This song makes me smile and move - I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

"Half Of Two Times Two (Newer Version)" Barr (Summary*)
So let's all be special art rebels together
On the train listening to Barr's Summary last month, a man near me interrupted to ask me what I was listening to, what kind of music was in my headphones. All I could think to say was that it was sort of like a guy talking. He said, "Like rap?" and I said, "No, not really." The truth is that on a basic level, this song really is a lot like a guy talking over a simple, repetitive bed of piano, drums, and bass. The value of this song and most of the brilliant work on Summary will not be separated from the lyrics. While these songs are certainly about the words, they are absolutely meant to be songs. Brendan Fowler's vocal delivery and approach to melody breaks up the stream of consciousness into distinct movements, emphasizing the most important phrases and infusing the words with passion. Please don't give this song one listen, listen five times in a row because I need you to see that this is so much more rich and important than a guy talking. "That's what i'm saying. Oh my god, there is soooo much!"

"Archangel" Burial (Untrue*)
...
Untrue is a sexy and nearly perfect electronic album. "Archangel" manages to be atmospheric and undulating without relegating itself to the background. The beat is gorgeous - but not just the beat - every tone and texture of every sound that creates the beat is immaculate. That apparent attention to detail is present in every aspect of this production. Each layered crackle and synth is absolutely meant to be. The vocal is repeated and manipulated with speed and pitch shifts and never comes off gimmicky or contrived.

"New Hollywood Babylon" Don Cavalli (Cryland)
And when I talk... Violence!
This quirky song could easily be tossed off as a novelty due to the vocal delivery and lyrical content but it's just too damned funky and unique. It's hard for me to pin down what keeps me coming back to it. Sonically, it's funky and weird and bouncy and joyful. I love the little wah wah guitar solo moments. This guy's accent and vocal approach makes hearing phrases like "Put your hands up, ya'll!" and "Cadillac cars, Pussycat Girls!" like eating little delicious desserts - perhaps it may be low in nutritional value, but it's pretty damned tasty.

"Bring It On Home To Me" Sam Cooke
Bring it to me
Seriously, how did I miss this song for 31 years? One night I was waiting for the blue line downtown and the trains were delayed. There was a subway musician who was playing soul music with an acoustic guitar with a crowd of delayed passengers around him singing along. I've never seen anything like it - with every song the crowd grew bigger and people around him were not just watching, they were actually singing and clapping along. At some point he went into Sam Cooke's "Bring It On Home To Me." While it certainly sounded familiar to me, I couldn't place it and quickly wrote down some of the lyrics so I could hunt it down when I got home. Sam Cooke's voice is amazing, and this type of soul music is rich and evocative. Thank you, infectious street musician, for bringing this song to my attention. Better late than never.

"Joe's Waltz" The Dodos (Visiter*)
YOU NEED HELP! YOU NEED HELP!
It's been a frustrating year for me. Maybe that's why this list has more fighting songs on it and less singer-songwriter material than years past. "Joe's Waltz" is a little of both. The first half is a good-but-harmless, folksy, melodic waltz. What the song morphs into at four minutes is something entirely different. Sweetly sung melodies give way to shouts, angst, distortion, banging drums, and energetic obscenities. There's conflict in the composition but there's continuity as well. "C'mon, this shit is real."

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1.15.2009

Sugar Plum

Chris Stiles "Sugar Plum"
This is my favorite new song, written by my friend Chris. It's a touching love song with flair. Over there is a photo of him recording it.

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