Each December, Bob and I begin our annual debate over which is better: a Top 10 list of the year's best songs, or a Top 10 list of the year's best albums.
I've always argued that we should focus more on albums. A list of songs just doesn't seem as substantive; besides, the standard for most year-end lists has long been albums. Just look at all the other music sites and magazines out there. But for the past eight years, Bob has argued that the growing popularity of digital music, which allows people to buy specific songs instead of whole albums, makes individual songs more relevant. (For the record, I've always won this debate.)
This year, for the first time in our eight-year-long debate, I agree with him. For the past month and a half, I've been trying to finalize my personal list of the year's Top 10 albums, and I just can't do it. I just can't come up with 10 albums I felt that strongly about in 2008. "Iamundernodisguise" by School of Seven Bells is an amazing cut, but I wouldn't say the album it's from, Alpinisms, belongs among the year's most revered CDs. The Canadian trio Plants & Animals put out one of the year's most astonishing songs, "Bye Bye Bye," but the rest of the band's album, Parc Avenue, was largely forgettable.
Bon Iver aside, none of the following albums, as a whole, would end up on a Top 10 list for me. But I spent more time listening to, loving, crying and laughing over these songs than any others:
1. "Time to Pretend" by MGMT, from Oracular Spectacular: This is, by far, my favorite song of the year. The lyrics are such a wrenching mix of hope and grief. "Time to Pretend" may sound like a simple techno-electro dance track to some people, but it really touched me, deeply.
2. "The Wolves (Act I and II)" by Bon Iver, from For Emma, Forever Ago: We've exhausted even ourselves talking about how beautiful and perfect the Bon Iver record is. If I did come up with a list of the Top 10 albums of 2008, it'd be No. 1. It's hard to pick the best cut from it, but "The Wolves" always stood out for me.
3. "Business Time" by Flight of the Conchords, from Flight of the Conchords: This was a viral hit on YouTube long before it was released on CD, so it might feel a little tired to some people. But I've never laughed so hard as when I first heard it, and it can still make me smile. If I'm judging songs based on their ability to make me feel something, anything, then this track needs to be near the top of the list.
4. "Black Fur" by Fredrik, from Na Na Ni: This is essentially a hymn, and a truly gorgeous and infectious one. The band is from Sweden. I featured it on Second Stage earlier this year and found myself returning to this specific song over and over.
5. "Bye Bye Bye" by Plants and Animals, from Parc Avenue: This is simply an incredible, powerful and evocative song. Plants and Animals is a very talented group of musicians, and I believe it'll do great things in the future.
6. "White Winter Hymnal" by Fleet Foxes, from Fleet Foxes: A lot of people loved this whole album. But apart from this song, it never really got its claws in me.
7. "My" by Okay, from Huggable Dust: If I did do a Top 10 list of albums, I'd probably squeeze this one on there somewhere. But I don't have to give a second thought to picking this song as one of the year's best.
8. "Furr" by Blitzen Trapper, from Furr: I was pretty impressed with this whole album. Blitzen Trapper has really evolved and grown in a very short time, so I expect more great things. But this song is the only one from the CD that I'm sure I'll still be spinning 10 years from now.
9. "Grounds for Divorce" by Elbow, from The Seldom Seen Kid: Whenever this Manchester band puts out a new record, there's a song or two on it that just blows me away, even if I don't spend much time with the rest of the album. This time, it was "Grounds for Divorce" — a great example of how huge this band can sound.
10. "Nothing Would Matter At All" by Jeff Hanson, from Madam Owl: Man, do I ever love this song. The opening line just slays me: "I wonder what I can do for a living, something that makes you all proud, but won't keep me up at night." It's just a gorgeous, thoughtful and inspiring song.
If we were allowed to count reissues among the year's best releases (I think we should; what do you think?), then "Soul and Fire" by Sebadoh, from the band's 15th-anniversary edition of Bubble and Scrape, would be, by far, my No. 1 song of the year.
What do you think? Did songs stand out more for you than albums? If so, why do you think that is? And what were some of your favorite songs of 2008?