As discussed in the All Songs Considered year-end podcast, songs outshone albums in 2008. Call it a sign of the times -- the death of the album, a bad omen or just an off year -- but I found myself replaying single tunes over and over again. I'm not sure whether I like this abbreviated version of my usually completist musical affection; the stammering and stuttering of a collection of singles cohering around a playlist as opposed to the fluidity of an entire album. But I'm too busy enjoying the bits and pieces that I cobbled together from different artists to care -- at least for now.
I think if I had to pick a theme this year, it would be "teenage." The adjective might sound derogatory at first, but there's something really exciting about letting go of the self-consciousness that comes with maturity and wisdom. Not that the best songs of 2008 weren't intelligent, or that they were all made by youngsters; it's just that they weren't overly considered or contrived. And "teenage" differs from "puerile." The songs I loved weren't immature so much as immune -- inoculated from fear. Maybe this is what happens when you record in your bedroom, or you stop caring about record sales because you can never take for granted any sales at all -- but a lot of the best songs just sat there exposed, as if out on an unsteady limb.
I started off the year with an almost adolescent adoration for Ladyhawk. The band's song "S.T.H.D." remains one of my favorites from 2008. Sure, the tune conjures Sugar and Silkworm and maybe a little Screaming Trees, but it's its own force that never loses an ounce of potency. The guitar interludes come in more like scratches than solos -- which is exactly the sound you want from the Pacific Northwest.
[Listen to the track S.T.H.D from Shots]
Deerhunter, "Nothing Ever Happened." I love lopsided songs. Riff-based, almost poppy at the beginning, noisy at the end, never to return to the familiarity with which it began. The momentum in this song is not just a ride; it's an awakening.
Chad Van Gaalen, "Inside the Molecules." The first verse comes back again; a structural choice, certainly, but perhaps also a means of convincing the narrator (and thus the listener) that the song's happiness isn't fleeting.
Tapes N' Tapes, "Time of Songs." A simple song built upon a resplendent melody. By the time you near the end of the song, you realize the whole tune has been a weight that's been slowly lowered down on top of you. It always leaves me with a feeling of subtle devastation.
No Age, "Here Should Be My Home." It starts out all excited and never lets up. Sometimes an exclamation point is all you need.
Kanye West, "Love Lockdown." It's all about the snare drum in this one, used as a rudimentary but no less effective weapon.
Santogold, "Lights Out." Infectious without ever being saccharine. There's an edginess to the words that makes the whole song a little sly.
Blitzen Trapper, "Gold for Bread." I'll excuse the cleverness of the lyrics because I keep singing along.
And I'd be remiss not to mention Bon Iver. I've written about Justin Vernon on this blog before, and if I keep that up, well, it might just be awkward.