Thursday, December 11, 2008


While we wait for the publication of my top 10 songs of the year (in the Bookends section of this coming Sunday Observer) here is the listing from 11-50. Last year I did a top 100 and that was the intention this time around but due to an unexpected change of my computer set up, I lost all those songs I had amassed. I'm bummed by the loss but my PC has never moved quicker so...

Many of these songs will appear on other lists and I'm not surprised because the quality of them all is unimpeachable. Quite frankly, the order at times could have been switched up and i would not have minded. Ok, here we go:

Run (Gnarls Barkley): the one really great rump-shaker from the sophomore album that wasn't quite a slump but not exactly mind-blowing either. This is the type of jittery blast of cool magic that Cee-Lo can accomplish in his sleep and here he does it like the ringmaster we've come to love and accept.

49. Kids (MGMT): fun stuff yes but as much as a call to arms as a return to innocence dance retreat. MGMT prove here that they are not just about airy, flimsy pretensions but skimming that surface to give a glimmer of a, growing up.

48. Beat (Health, Life and Fire) (Thao and The Get Down Stay Down): a breathy, manipulative feat under the three minute mark. Thao frames her feminism mystique slowly, sweetly but ultimately to the detriment of her doomed lover.

47. What New York Used to Be (The Kills): no matter that the 'used' could drop its last letter to describe that lovely modern continuum, lead singer Alison Mosshart nails the decadence we're all hustling towards.

46. Sax Rohmer #1 (Mountain Goats): I tried hard not to like this track, I tried to classify it as too earnest, too insistent but for all its flawless traits the song hints at a type of moralistic right of way that is oddly affecting.

45. Galaxy of the Lost (Lightspeed Champion): an interesting pop/rock/country mix from this dude who most critics would have forgotten already but Lightspeed deftly proves that mashing genre boundaries can be fun yet vital.
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44. Apocalyptic Friend (Eef Barzelay): a fuzzy, one-tone social commentary aimed at getting you ready for the afterlife? Hmm...maybe Barzelay is the pop soothsayer we've been dreading all this time but it's hard to hate this pretty awesome message.

43. Skeleton Man (The Evangelicals): wispy, fragile like breath blowing in the wind, Skeleton Man treads nicely but the scary bit towards the end fantastically puts it over the top.

42. Keep Your Eyes Ahead (Helio Sequence): somehow I just knew this would end up close to the previous pick and why they remind me of each other is unclear but this yin yang effect remains vivid. It's the best track from their solid latest album because it best resonates their simplicity bordering on greatness.

41. Many Shades of Black (The Raconteurs): while I was not a fan of the last White Stripes project it wasn't because Jack White was slacking off but rather because he wasn't peeling away layers fast enough. This slow burner stops you dead in your tracks every time you think a rocker can't be tender or find tender things to say.

40. Keys to the House (Mono in VCF): a real tear-jerker of love lost, labored over and finally put away with cool professionalism.

39. Mummy Beach (Hot Lava): a luscious throw-away to a lusty past, full of recollections that seem more than just a passing fixation of the older woman.

38. Royal Flush (Big Boi featuring Andre3000 & Raekwon): hopefully this is just a tasty treat to sate us from the impatient wait for the next album from Outkast---hell who am I fooling, from either of the principals. It's another major sample project but really no one does this pastiche better.

37. Poison Dart (The Bug featuring Warrior Queen): though only non-Jamaicans will fall ape shit over the entire album, this track stands out because it doesn't try too hard to be just is. Warrior Queen nails the bad chick prototype and could actually teach her local counterparts a thing or too.
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36. Transitional Joint (Elzhi): hip/hop at its old school finest.

35. Santa Claus (Lee 'Scratch' Perry'): though Repentance is largely laughable fun (I mean that in a good way of course) it's good to know that the original stepper can unsheathe himself into a powder keg of power from time to time, just so you know who the boss is.

34. Snake in the Grass (Thomas Function): a joyous throw-down of punk attitude encrouching upon guitars.

33. Mercy (Duffy): if Amy Winehouse was the drunk, beaten-down Brit hope last year then here comes Duffy, shining white Chanel suit-light upon a pop landscape that was/is willing to accept her gorgeous 60s-loving ditty.

32. Down the Line (Jose Gonzales): a perfect, seamless ode to those hoping against despair and somehow managing against the odds.

31. Flowers Forever (Black Rosary): psychedelic, lush wonder.

30. I've Got Your Number (Passion Pit): a Valentine gift for a girlfriend, Michael Angelakos lays a wickedly insistent falsetto down to prove how the retro feel of electronic music can have heart and a good head for what just sounds right. You can dance to this mutha too.

29. Paper Planes (M.I.A): it had seemed too unreal for Miss Arulpragasam to land a Grammy nomination for this her American hit but lo and behold even stuffy suits are taking note. By now you've all heard about the Clash sample hijacked with cash registers and her whiny vocals so no need to beat it to death here but note the perfection of the pastiche method and creed: steal, beg, borrow, use. That is the trademark being celebrated here.
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28. Creature Fear (Bon Iver): even though the rainy season is behind us, this song--hell, the entire brilliant album--still makes me feel like a downpour of raw emotion. The breathy, desperate end is rushed but you sense of longing has never ever been better etched within a pop song.

27. He's My Man (Jean Grae): 'each morning/my man/goes downtown' croons Grae bordering on a double meaning that is as stunning as it is subversive but if Grae excels in positing a feminine level of intelligence on other songs, here she incorporates another element, something shouldering relationships and it is poignant, desperately self-involving.

26. My Manic & I (Laura Marling): the Grammy website claims that it recognizes excellence in music irrespective of album sales but if that's the case then why did Duffy and Adele land nominations and the amazing Marling did not? That's a side issue but as proved by this track, Marling's depth as a singer-songwriter runs circles around the other two.

25. Highly Suspicious (My Morning Jacket): yes, it's an excuse to imitate Prince but I'm not complaining.

24. Knots (Pete and the Pirates): not bad for a rock song trying to plug into emo a bit too much.

23. Crimewave (Crystal Castles): electro-clash see, this is possible with vocals.

22. Wicked Wisdom (Of Montreal): Kevin Barnes aka Georgie Fruit aka black she-male unleashes his,, manifesto?

21. I'm Good, I'm Gone (Lykke Li): toe-tapping pop nugget.

20. You Cheated Me (Martha Wainwright): sister of Rufus but with this track she has supplanted him as head diva of that family. The track is the ultimate trap of male-female relationships...evolving to a type of Fatal Attraction level of letting go and all the difficulties that get entangled along the way.

19. Blind (Hercules & Love Affair): their debut is a tad overrated but with Antony Hegarty old-mail vocals soaring, this track literally sizzles, whether in the gay clubs or at your week-end treadmill work-out.

18. Gamma Ray (Beck): still locked out of his funk mansion but Beck is at least on the road searching hard and this pop jam is the perfect clue.

17. Cold Shoulder (Adele): I'm not sure what spell Chasing Pavements has worked on you but this soaring, jazzy number made me believe that this brash Scot could have something going for her after all.

16. Williams Blood (Grace Jones): sixty you say, sixty...for real?!
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15. Mr. Carter (Lil Wayne featuring Jay-Z): ho-hum, the two male power-houses of rap not named Outkast team up to assess each other as well as to flow their crank. Weezy twists his lines crisply---note the subversive use of 'parapalegic' twice---and that pussy rant will crack you up. Brilliant.

14. Divine (Sebastien Tellier): the other French pop act on the list, Tellier's Sexuality opus didn't contain enough frothy tracks like this one but who knew you could dive head first into pop and find super pop?

13. Block of Ice (The Oh Sees): screaming 'leave me alone yet play with me' at the same time, just add a touch of weirdness and, presto, here's the end result. I'm surprised I love it this much too.

12. Waves of Rye (Department of Eagles): spins so gorgeously that its beauty makes me giddy.

11. Mykonos (Fleet Foxes): if I read one more year-end list praising their debut--easily the most over-hyped album of '08---I'll literally puke but their EP contains sunny moments of raw joy and this was the most haunting track on it.