I used to be neck-deep in music. I’d go to two to three shows a week, had a neverending pile of CDs by my desk, download a bunch of albums in one go. When the magazine I worked for died, there was no reason for me to keep current on music for work, which meant I had more time to absorb everything I was listening to.
And I started traveling a lot, which meant that my iPod truly became my best friend. I was in Eastern Europe in March, Seattle, Alaska and Los Angeles in July, Chico, Nevada and Sebastopol in August, drove through six states in November, and ended up in Southern California, then Manila, Siargao and Batangas this month. With so many unfamiliar beds, rooms, and landscapes surrounding me, the only way I truly felt at home and comfortable was by listening to music that I knew and was familiar.
And that became the best of my 2008.
Bon Iver, “For Emma, Forever Ago” – Justin Vernon wrote this album in the Wisconsin woods, two winters ago, broken hearted and alone. I wrote about him last January, when I lived in Milwaukee. I saw him play a show in a smoky club when it was zero degrees out, and then for the rest of that cold, snowy season, would put myself to sleep with this album. During winter my toes were always cold, but at least Vernon’s falsetto soothed me, made me feel like the cold didn’t matter, that, lying in my bed, I would always be okay.
Vampire Weekend, “Vampire Weekend” – It was catchy, it was fun, it was happy. It was different, you know? It wasn’t all that hipster electronica drudgery. Its songs’ untrendy elements made it oh-so-geeky and lovable. So even though I was done with the album by May, I still would say it was one of 2008’s best.
Mates of State, “Re-Arrange Us” – This was definitely a grower. I loved it the first time I heard it in May, then promptly forgot about it. In November I drove 2500 miles from Milwaukee to California, and during the most tiring periods of the trip, listened to this album on repeat. It always made me feel better. (How unsubliminal can I get? The single “Get Better” is definitely one of the most uplifting songs I know, though.) I felt like it was the most accessible of all the Mates of State albums — not so many crazy song breaks or confusing chord progressions, still saccharinely pop but not commercially so.
Lykke Li, “Youth Novel”
Hype! Hype! Hype! This list is full of ultra-hyped artists, but so what? A ‘best of’ list isn’t just about what lasted more than 3 plays on your iPod; it’s also about songs that define the best moments of the year. All summer, “Little Bit” was ringingÂ in my ears. The rest of Lykke Li’s album — bubbling to the brim with her perfect pop tone and bouncing beats — did not disappoint. I love dancey songs on pseudo-relationships as much as I love dancing around my pseudo-relationships.
Michael Franti, “All Rebel Rockers”
Mommy Su loves Michael Franti. As in, laglag panty love. When I went up to northern California to visit her, she brought me to his annual rally/concert, “Power to the Peaceful” at Golden Gate Park. I was an instant convert. Dreadlocks and tiedye and stinky hippies aside, this album has everything you want for a party. Plus a conscience. So it’s the musical equivalent to getting stoned all night and making sure people don’t drive home while under the influence.
TV on the Radio, “Dear Science”
There are albums that you love because the bands’ previous album was so perfect you have residual emotion for their newer work, even though it’s not so great. Think Ryan Adams, or Stars, or YYYs. I think “Dear Science” is one of these albums. On the other hand, it took me more than a year to get into “Return to Cookie Mountain.” So this TVOTR album might even grow on me some more.
It was instant: I heard “Cobrastyle,” I downloaded the album, and have been in love with this Swedish popstar ever since. My usual problem with pop albums is that they have no staying power; but every song in Robyn’s re-debut has been a constant in every dance playlist of the year I’ve made.
Fleet Foxes, “Fleet Foxes”
This Seattle-based band was borne out of a kind of obscure band I loved from a few years ago, Crystal Skulls. But while Crystal Skulls was proggy and electronic, Fleet Foxes incorporates every catchy folk music -device to keep the listeners’ attention. From three part harmonies and simple guitar chords, to allusions to meadowlarks and fields, the band brings you back to the Beach Boys and Crosby Stills Nash and Young without being total copycats. It’s old school, but refreshingly so.
How I like Foals’ “Antidotes” is the same way I have residual love for succeeding albums of bands whose work I really enjoy. I love Foals because I loved Bloc Party and Battles. While they’re not of that caliber, I wanted something similar sounding but new. Foals incorporates melodic prog elements to their music, and there’s enough punk energy in it to make the album worthwhile.