My Favorite Music In 2008

I’ve been putting off my 2008 music post, because to be perfectly frank much of my music listening in the last year has consisted of mining and, eventually, memorizing the Mountain Goats' back catalog. Nevertheless I did find a fair amount of other good stuff (though much of it was also not released in 2008) and I wanted to share it. This post will be more of a hodgepodge than previous ones, not that I get the impression that people pore over my music posts anyway.

Here are the albums that managed to get me out of my Mountain Goats headspace in 2008, in no particular order:

Fleet Foxes, Sun Giant EP and Fleet Foxes (2008)

I’m not going to spend too much time on these, because of all the bands that went from being unknown to suddenly being huge buzz targets this year, the Fleet Foxes were probably the biggest. Simply put, these sons of bitches write good music: catchy, with wonderful harmonies, glimmering instrumentation (including some absolutely wonderful guitar lines), and lyrics that (to my ear) aren’t always particularly noteworthy but never get in the way. I can understand people not being super enthusiastic about the Fleet Foxes, because they’re not really treading any new ground, but I find it hard to imagine anyone actively disliking them. Both their albums are solid from start to finish and I feel very privileged to have been able to see them in a small venue before they became a household name. At least in households like mine, where my mom listens to the Current and my teenage brother quotes Destroyer in conversation. If you have to listen to just a couple songs from these albums, I’d recommend “Mykonos,” the song from the EP that got me interested in the Foxes in the first place, and “White Winter Hymnal,” the song from the LP that might best sum up what these dudes are all about.

Destroyer, Trouble in Dreams (2008)

Speaking of which: Destroyer released a damn fine album early last year, certainly a worthy successor to Destroyer’s Rubies, which got a fair amount of attention and was widely regarded as Destroyer dressing up nice for public attention. With Dan Bejar’s crazy-ass elliptical/nonsensical/post-modern lyrics (and his distinctive, possibly unpalatable voice) at the forefront, Destroyer will never be radio fare. I remember reading something about the band (people looooove to write about Destroyer) saying Bejar turns music, and postmodernism, and Destroyer itself, into a joke, and while he never quite lets the listener in on it, you can at least tell that’s what it’s supposed to be. In any case, though, Trouble in Dreams brings the tunes: “Foam Hands” is one of Destroyer’s most listenable ballads, and “Shooting Rockets” is a sprawling song that holds my interest, at least, for its entire eight-minute play time. The freakouts on “The State” and “Plaza Trinidad” are notable too: Bejar seems to be comfortable enough with this band to do some wacky shit, and it’s a fun time.

The Fiery Furnaces, Widow City (2007)

Speaking of wacky shit: I didn’t listen closely enough to Widow City last year, despite the Fiery Furnaces being my favorite band for a period of time after Blueberry Boat rearranged the inside of my head a few years ago. Widow City is not as good as Blueberry Boat: the lyrics don’t invite me to try to shape them into a cohesive story, and some of it I find nigh-unlistenable in certain moods. But then there’s, like, “Ex-Guru” and “Duplexes of the Dead,” which are the Fiery Furnaces actually writing straight-up pop songs that a radio station might be willing to play in their entirety (and, indeed, they had fairly heavy rotation on the Current for a while), and “Clear Signal from Cairo,” which despite the repetition and the clunky cadences of the lyric I find extremely compelling for the massive guitar onslaught alone. The guitars on Widow City are heavier than any the FFs have deployed in the past, and despite some saying that they’re just treading choppy, psychedelically multi-colored caffeinated water, I find that Widow City has a different feel to it because of the arrangements alone, and I found myself warming up to it much faster than I originally anticipated.

My Morning Jacket, Z (2005)

I listened to My Morning Jacket the first time because of repeated comparisons to the Fleet Foxes, and while I can sort of see it, they have a pretty different feel to them. While I’ve listened to two other MMJ albums this year — Evil Urges and It Still Moves — I wouldn’t recommend either of them as wholeheartedly as I would Z, which strikes the perfect balance between mellow and rocking, with good, optimistic melodies and an appropriately epic-sounding wash of vocal reverb all over it. One review site seemed to think “Anytime” was the worst song on there, but the soaring melody makes it one of my personal favorites; that should, maybe, indicate that there’s something for everyone on here. Despite the variety, though, there is a consistency of sound underneath that makes for a cohesive listen, and it’s short enough not to overstay its welcome. The only demerit I’d give Z is for its lyrics, which are serviceable but too often trite or horribly underenunciated and incomprehensible. I get the impression they’re supposed to be secondary to the music, but if I didn’t care about lyrics then the Mountain Goats wouldn’t be my favorite band.

Deerhoof, Offend Maggie (2008)

This is a new Deerhoof album for people who like Deerhoof. You will like it if and only if you like Deerhoof and are not put off by the singer. I like Deerhoof, therefore I like this album. It’s spazzy but melodic, weird and fun, and I agree with the drummer (and de facto voice of the band) who says he thinks the singer’s voice is a perfect foil for the music. Maybe give “Chandelier Searchlight” a try; as some dickhead YouTube commenter gushed, “This is actually the only Deerhoof song I was able to listen to without feeling like ripping my fingernails out with my teeth!”

Vampire Weekend, Vampire Weekend (2008)

This is the other album that went through the huge buzz/backlash cycle this year, and because it was so hyped and anti-hyped and anti-anti-hyped I tried to wait out the stuff before listening. I don’t see what all the fuss was about, really; the album is just a fun one to listen to, full of peppy pop songs that you might find insufferable if the idea of a song named “Oxford Comma” (the first line is “Who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma?”) makes you gag but that I think are very agreeable. People made a big fuss about African drumming and Graceland comparisons, but I think that’s just music critic bullshit. It’s definitely a summer album, so I’m actually kind of glad I waited until winter to give it a shot. I’m looking forward to hearing it with seasonal ears when summer finally rolls around again.

Los Campesinos!, Hold On Now, Youngster… (2008)

Speaking of stuff that some people might find insufferable, this album is arguably quintessential twee college-educated twentysomething hipster white person music, but I think all the music that I, as a college-educated twentysomething hipster white person, listen to is guilty of that somewhat. Still, Hold On is overflowing with hyperactive, hyperliterate (seriously, people throw this word around a lot, but look at this shit) pop songs with shouted lyrics (believe me, every one of the exclamation marks in that link is clearly audible in the song), boy/girl verse tradeoffs and lots and lots of BPM. Honestly I’m kind of physically exhausted by the time I’ve listened to it all the way through, but it’s undeniably great fun in that certain way that makes certain people want to punch certain other people in the face.

Okkervil River, Black Sheep Boy (2005) and The Stage Names (2007) and The Stand Ins (2008)

I admit that I’ve saved my current favorites for last. I listened to these in the order in which they’re listed above, and Black Sheep Boy has probably come closest in feel to Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (a recent classic album if there ever was one) than any other album I’ve heard: by turns melancholy, furious and exultant, it coheres, exhilarates and tells a satisfying but loose story in under 50 minutes. Will Sheff’s lyrics are among the best I’ve heard in recent memory, and while some people complain about his vocal histrionics, I think they represent the titular main character well. For me, “A Stone” encapsulates the appeal of the album pretty well.

After all that, I was hesitant to listen to The Stage Names, which has at its center the loose concepts of fame and celebrity adulation, and the artifice that is necessary to them and gives them their appeal. It didn’t take long for it to grab me too, and while I did a cover of the fifth track, “Plus Ones,” a while ago in response to a request from a friend, I find that the initial run of three songs “Our Life Is Not a Movie Or Maybe,” “Unless It’s Kicks” and “A Hand to Take Hold of the Scene” is far superior: a nearly perfect trio that sets the stage so perfectly that it’s kind of hard not to be a little let down by what the band does once they’re on it. Still, there’s decent stuff on the back end of The Stage Names, particularly the wistful but punchy closer “John Allyn Smith Sails.”

Anyway so then after The Stage Names, or more accurately its first three songs, I was hesitant to listen to The Stand Ins, but actually it’s good too. I haven’t listened to it as much yet, and with the possible exception of the first song, “Lost Coastlines,” I don’t think it ever reaches the heights of that magical trio on The Stage Names, but the lyrics are characteristically good. “On Tour with Zykos” and “Calling and Not Calling My Ex.” Also the song about the porn star on this one is not as boring as the one on The Stage Names.

I swear I have been downloading (legally!) some hip-hop as well but I just haven’t been in a hip-hop mood much this year. I’m not sure why. But here’s some stuff that’s sitting and waiting for me to get to it. Most of it I have listened to a little, like once or twice, and it just didn’t grab me. If any of you like it and have a kind of point of entry for me, let me know in the comments: