Monday, 22 December 2008

Songs of 2008

Ah yes, the cliched "top ten" list that's being trotted out by all and sundry right about this time of year. Blame it on the fact that winter keeps everyone indoors - too much time to think about these things, see. Music's actually really exciting me at the moment; I seem to have fallen back in love with it, and fallen hard enough to have grazed my knees. Not neccessarily bands that are actually new, even, but bands and albums that are new to me, at least.

Anyway, let's not drag this triteness out any longer than we have to...

10. The Killers - 'Human'
Has anybody actually managed to get to the bottom of the human/dancer conundrum? Didn't think so; the lyrics are abstract enough to be utterly nonsensical, but when that throse drums kick in under a synthesiser worthy of the '80s, I defy you not to sway toward the "dancer" end of the spectrum.

9. Coldplay - 'Viva la Vida'
Joe Satriani had a point when he piped up that the melody from this track was nicked damn near wholesale from his 'If I Could Fly', but he ought to feel flattered, really, if this is what comes of it. Swathes of terse strings and lyrics about Roman cavalry choirs usher in a gloriously tottering climax, making damnation at the hands of Saint Peter suddenly sound magical.

8. The Streets - 'Everything is Borrowed'
Mike Skinner getting philosophical without sounding like a twat: who'd have believed it? One of the catchiest samples of the year underpins some almost poetic lyrical turns about how "you're never nothing if you didn't disappear". All in all, it's almost life-affirming. Pity about almost all of the rest of the album, though.

7. Lightspeed Champion - 'Galaxy of the Lost'
Remember Dev Hynes, purveyor of near-unlistenable noise? Well, now he's Dev Hynes, purveyor of ridiculously pretty alt-folk tunes. 'Galaxy of the Lost' showcases everything that's great about Dev's new band, with some of the most honeyed harmonies since Belle and Sebastian, not to mention fantastically wry, self-deprecating lyrics about vomiting into someone else's mouth. No, really.

6. Elbow - 'One Day Like This'
When the first piano flourishes begin, you suspect you may be onto something. You may not suspect it's the seven minute mini-epic which then unfurls, however. Sweet and simple, this is almost apologetic in its own majesty. You'll be feeling the sun on your face, even in the depths of the bleakest mid-winter.

5. Laura Marling - 'The Captain and the Hourglass'

When Laura Marling begins to sing about selling her soul to Jesus and men with hearts of sand, you could easily forget the fact that she's seen a mere eighteen summers - her voice certainly belies it, anyway. Her debut album, 'Alas I Cannot Swim', is a gentle, acoustic triumph, and this stand-out track marks Marling as a definite one to watch out for in the future. Stunning.

4. Chris Letcher - 'Scenes'
Chris Letcher is in a baffling position - well-known in his native South Africa thanks to his work with Urban Creep and acclaimed by critics, he is nonetheless almost completely unknown. And that, frankly, is a crime against music. Unnerving yet intriguingly catchy, 'Scenes' really ought to have made the world sit up and take notice, and the fact that it didn't is simply the music world's loss. Gutted on their behalf.

3. Conor Oberst - 'Lenders in the Temple'

"If you love me, then that's your fault", Oberst claims plaintively here. No, Conor: it's yours. When you insist upon writing songs as beautifully sorrowful as this, how could we resist? This track seems to carry the weight of the world upon its shoulders, but bears it like Atlas. Just try to resist the urge to weep when you hear the money clinking at the end.

2. The Mountain Goats - 'Marduk T-Shirt Men's Room Incident'
Heart-wrenching cadences, the most effective use of strings this year and chiming backing vocals make for compulsive listening here. Dark and stripped-down, this is a luscious highlight to the amazing 'Heretic Pride'. Darnielle's tenderness is enough to make you wish that you were that girl in east Berlin - a deliciously chilling thought.

1. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - 'Jesus of the Moon'
While 2008's 'Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!' was widely accepted to be a fantastic album, it certainly wasn't an immediate one. Despite this, from the very first spin, 'Jesus of the Moon' shone out as its glistening centrepiece. Cave's gift for taking an unconventional look at an oft-used image goes from strength to strength, making me completely sick with jealousy. This wouldn't be out of place on 'The Boatman's Call', which is obviously a good thing; mellow, with a subtle jazz vibe, this is one track from 2008 which I can't stop returning to.

Don't just take my word for it - - check them out for yourself.