The Year In Music From All Songs Considered

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It was an impressively bearded year — a year when many bands seemed to retreat to the woods, literally and figuratively, to make quieter, more personal recordings. 2008 was less about innovation and more about getting back to basics: solid songwriting, with simple guitar lines, percussion, and stunning harmonies. While bigger, more established bands like Coldplay and My Morning Jacket returned with bold, anthemic albums, debut CDs from new, smaller acts were the most memorable.

On this edition of All Songs Considered, host Bob Boilen talks with Carrie Brownstein (Monitor Mix blogger), Stephen Thompson (editor for Song of the Day), and Robin Hilton (All Songs producer and host of Second Stage) about the year in music. What were the biggest surprises of 2008? What were the best new bands, or the best songs? Listen and let us know what you think by joining the NPR online community, and sharing your comments below.

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The Year In Music From All Songs Considered

cover for bon iver

Bon Iver

  • Artist: Bon Iver
  • Album: For Emma, Forever Ago
  • Song: Flume

Best New Artist: "Justin Vernon retreats to the woods of Wisconsin and makes this beautiful, haunting and very dark (but with glimmering moments) album. Which, just from the first time you hear his voice, you realize you've entered a whole other realm. It's the album that probably took me the most off guard." -- Carrie Brownstein

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Song
Flume
Album
For Emma, Forever Ago
Artist
Bon Iver
Label
4AD/Beggars Group
Released
2007

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Coldplay

  • Artist: Coldplay
  • Album: Viva la Vida
  • Song: Lovers in Japan/Reign of Love

"I have to admit, I think I just dismissed (this album) completely when it first came out and thought, 'I'm not even going to bother with it.' But then I put it on and actually really like it. I guess it's a little boring, maybe, but I like it. It's nice. I can imagine driving in a convertible down the highway listening to this song. And I love Chris Martin's voice. I was really surprised. I liked it a lot more than I thought I would." -- Robin Hilton

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Song
Lovers in Japan/Reign of Love
Album
Viva la Vida
Artist
Coldplay
Label
Capitol
Released
2008

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My Morning Jacket

  • Artist: My Morning Jacket
  • Album: Evil Urges
  • Song: Evil Urges

"I thought they challenged themselves. I thought they made a very different record. I thought it was all over the map, and maybe that was part of its problem. It didn't hold together from beginning to end, but I loved a lot of the songs on it." -- Bob Boilen

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Song
Evil Urges
Album
Evil Urges
Artist
My Morning Jacket
Label
Red
Released
2008

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Death Cab for Cutie

  • Artist: Death Cab for Cutie
  • Album: Narrow Stairs
  • Song: Cath...

Biggest Surprise: "I actually put this down as my biggest surprise, because my initial reaction to this record was incredibly lukewarm. And I put it on again as part of the end-of-the-year preparation and just loved it. Each song had something interesting to say, had an interesting story, was catchy, was charming. I love this record now." -- Stephen Thompson

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Song
Cath...
Album
Narrow Stairs
Artist
Death Cab for Cutie
Label
Atlantic/WEA
Released
2008

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Fleet Foxes

  • Artist: Fleet Foxes
  • Album: Fleet Foxes [Bonus Tracks]
  • Song: White Winter Hymnal

Best New Band: "Gosh I love this group. I was listening to this Neil Young record that came out recently called 'Sugar Mountain' and all the songs on that record make we want to cry because they're so beautiful, and (the Fleet Foxes record) touches the same place in me that those Neil Young songs touch. They're great songwriters. They're a good band getting better." -- Bob Boilen

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Song
White Winter Hymnal
Album
Fleet Foxes [Bonus Tracks]
Artist
Fleet Foxes
Label
Cooperative
Released
2008

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Blind Pilot

  • Artist: Blind Pilot
  • Album: 3 Rounds and a Sound
  • Song: One Red Thread

Best New Band: I randomly came across (this record) when one of my writer's picked it for Song of the Day, it's been on Second Stage, and I love that record from start to finish. It's one of the most consistently appealing records. It's not necessarily going to blow anyone away. I just respond very well to the voices. It fits into that same sound we've been talking about: rich harmonies, very catchy, very sound songwriting." -- Stephen Thompson

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Song
One Red Thread
Album
3 Rounds and a Sound
Artist
Blind Pilot
Released
2008

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Son Lux

  • Artist: Son Lux
  • Album: At War with Walls & Mazes
  • Song: Raise

Best New Artist: "The thing that's great about this record is that it has this incredible range of energy and emotion. The songs have this great narrative arc. They may start off really quiet and intimate and solitary. And then they just kick you in the stomach. They just erupt. I feel sometimes, when I'm listening to this record, like the songs just grab me by the collar, throw me to the ground, and then apologized." -- Robin Hilton

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Song
Raise
Album
At War with Walls & Mazes
Artist
Son Lux
Label
Anticon
Released
2008

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Santogold

  • Artist: Santogold
  • Album: Santogold
  • Song: Lights Out

Biggest Surprise: I kept reading about her and I completely wrote her off before I'd heard a single note. She just seemed part of something I wasn't going to like. Meaning, she was going to borrow from people in an obvious way and that it'd just come across as kind of soulless. I finally heard one of her songs, and I finally thought I need to check her out. What surprised me about the songs I was attracted to is that they did borrow from familiar bands. It reminded me a little bit of Le Tigre. They had this pop sound. But I found them infectious and I couldn't help but continue to listen to them. And they were so different from the really dark emo, boy music I'd fallen in love with this year. So it just came as a relief. It was like a breath of fresh air. I thought, 'I don't have to lie in bed and hug my Bon Iver record anymore.'" -- Carrie Brownstein

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Song
Lights Out
Album
Santogold
Artist
Santogold
Label
Downtown
Released
2008

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Sparks

  • Artist: Sparks
  • Album: Exotic Creatures of the Deep
  • Song: Let the Monkey Drive

Biggest Surprise: "Sparks got caught up in the glam rock period. They did this kind of discoy sound in the '70s. Then they just kept making really original records. What's great about them is their words. Their vocals are a little hard for some people because they're always a falsetto. But their words are hilarious, always." -- Bob Boilen

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Song
Let the Monkey Drive
Album
Exotic Creatures of the Deep
Artist
Sparks
Label
Lil Beethoven
Released
2008

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Mates of State

  • Artist: Mates of State
  • Album: Re-Arrange Us
  • Song: Re-Arranger

Best Song: "I absolutely love this record. I think part of it for me is I have a seven year old and a four year old and they do not stop listening to this record, they love it so much. I think it's the year's most romantic record. It's a song cycle about maintaining a loving relationship, and growing up as a couple, with kids. (This song) has a chorus 'love loud, don't lose loud.' And I just love that." -- Stephen Thompson

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Song
Re-Arranger
Album
Re-Arrange Us
Artist
Mates of State
Label
Barsuk
Released
2008

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Chad VanGaalen

  • Artist: Chad VanGaalen
  • Album: Soft Airplane
  • Song: Inside the Molecules

Best Song: "He started out as a street busker, I believe, in Calgary and he's a visual artist. And this album came out on Sub Pop. I don't know what happened to me this year, but I really just embraced the "beard rock," the kind of "sensitive boy rock." Chad Van Gaalen doesn't have a beard, but he is definitely a sensitive boy. So this song, it has a little bit of a Neil Young sound to it, and it's really simple. But I just think he has a great voice and he's a solid songwriter." -- Carrie Brownstein

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Song
Inside the Molecules
Album
Soft Airplane
Artist
Chad VanGaalen
Label
Sub Pop
Released
2008

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TV on the Radio

  • Artist: TV on the Radio
  • Album: Dear Science
  • Song: Halfway Home

Best Song: "Without question, when I look at the five-star songs of the year for me, TV On the Radio, this song, "Halfway Home," the opening cut, is so absolutely killer. I just love this song." -- Bob Boilen

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Song
Halfway Home
Album
Dear Science
Artist
TV on the Radio
Label
Geffen
Released
2008

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Plants and Animals

  • Artist: Plants and Animals
  • Album: Parc Avenue
  • Song: Bye Bye Bye

Best Song: "This is probably my favorite song of the entire year, and I wanted to love the rest of the album just as much, and I really didn't. I think they're a really talented group of guys, and I think they'll probably do great things later on. But this song, in particular, is just amazing." -- Robin Hilton

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Song
Bye Bye Bye
Album
Parc Avenue
Artist
Plants and Animals
Label
Secret City
Released
2008

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Blitzen Trapper

  • Artist: Blitzen Trapper
  • Album: Furr
  • Song: Furr

Best Song: "I like about this band, in contrast to some of the other bands that I love, is that they have an energy to them. And a lot of energy is what was lacking in some of my other favorites. This band makes me really excited. They have really interesting guitar parts. A lot of their faster stuff borders on psychedelia. Gets a little out there. They bring back in, but it's just really forward moving rock music." -- Carrie Brownstein

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Song
Furr
Album
Furr
Artist
Blitzen Trapper
Label
Sub Pop
Released
2008

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Ladyhawk

  • Artist: Ladyhawk
  • Album: Shots
  • Song: S.T.H.D.

Best Song: "Every once in a while there's a band that reminds me that I allow a little nostalgia to creep in. And this band reminds me a lot of the great Northwest rock bands of yore. And this is a real kind of 'teenage' song." -- Carrie Brownstein

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Song
S.T.H.D.
Album
Shots
Artist
Ladyhawk
Label
Jagjaguwar
Released
2008

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MGMT

  • Artist: MGMT
  • Album: Oracular Spectacular [Bonus Features]
  • Song: Time to Pretend

Best Song: "I love this record and I love this song in particular. I know it's the hit that's getting played. First of all, it's just absurdly catchy. If a song is catchy, you usually think 'upbeat, uptempo, fell-good song.' And there's something in the lyrics to this song that make me feel so hopeful, but yet so utterly depressing. It's exactly what life is: it's beautiful and hopeful and glorious, and also crude and horrible and painful, and so conflicted." -- Robin Hilton

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Song
Time to Pretend
Album
Oracular Spectacular [Bonus Features]
Artist
MGMT
Label
Columbia
Released
2008

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Vampire Weekend

  • Artist: Vampire Weekend
  • Album: Vampire Weekend
  • Song: A-Punk

Best Song: "The problem for this band is just that the hype burned so hot, right at the beginning of the year, before the record even came out. Before the album even came out, it became fashionable to be sick of this band. The album came out on, like, January 29th and on January 28th there was a backlash to the backlash to the backlash. I think it's a good record. I don't love this record. But every time it's on I enjoy it." -- Stephen Thompson

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Song
A-Punk
Album
Vampire Weekend
Artist
Vampire Weekend
Label
XL
Released
2008

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Featured Artist

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