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I’ve been compiling an annual 80-minute compendium of songs for the last few years. In past years, I’ve followed strict criteria for inclusion on the playlist. I’ve simplified things this year, because the rules were interfering with my musical decisions. For example, the main rule used to be "Each song must evoke a snapshot of my year". Bearing that in mind, I was overly conscious of the impact of which CD I grabbed for a road trip, because if something interesting happened on the journey, that artist would likely end up in the end-of-the-year playlist. That insanity was sucking the fun out of this annual project, hence the revised 2008 Soundtrack Rules:
1.> The compilation should represent songs I first discovered during 2008, songs in heavy rotation during 2008, or songs I associate with a 2008 event.
2.> I must enjoy each song.
3.> More than one song per artist is discouraged.
4.> All songs must fit on a standard 80-minute CD.
5.> Songs should be placed in a pleasant sequence.
See? Simple. The soundtrack to my year is as follows:
The Zombies – “Care of Cell 44”
I loved Elliott Smith’s live cover of the song, despite the lackluster audio quality, and was similarly wowed by the original. You’d expect nothing less from the band that introduced the world to sparkling lyrics like, “What’s your name? Who’s your daddy? Is he rich like me?” I’ll be searching for more of their greatest hits in 2009.
Glen Hansard & Markéta Irglová – “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” (Bob Dylan cover)
I really liked this Dylan cover the first time I heard it, enough so that I contemplated purchasing the “I’m Not There” soundtrack. I saw it had two Mason Jennings tracks and promptly dismissed it. Weeks later, watching the Oscars, it finally clicked that Glen Hansard was the guy from The Frames, who I’d never listened to, and “Once”, which I hadn’t seen.
Neutral Milk Hotel – “Holland, 1945”
When “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” was released, I was still happy with mainstream music. That’s why I didn’t hear “Holland, 1945” until ten years later, when I read this blog post:
Last week, Stephanie went to see The Colbert Report live. What follows is an instant-message re-enactment of our real-life conversation after the show:Maybe I should be accustomed to the internet by now, but coming to love this song in such a roundabout way feels strangely but certainly rewarding.
Me: How was Colbert?
Stephanie: AMAZING!!! OH MY GOD STEPHEN SANG NEUTRAL MILK HOTEL TO ME!
Me: What?? (Beatlemania screaming face, actual screaming, etc)
Here are the facts as we know them. Between segments, the Neutral Milk Hotel song "Holland 1945" came on (as, apparently, it often does) and Stephanie began absentmindedly lip-synching along to it. A few seconds into the song, she realized Stephen was pointing at her and singing along. According to witnesses, Stephen and Stephanie continued to sing along to the song while making eye contact for over a minute until their reverie was interrupted by the end of the commercial break. During this time, Stephen:
- Appeared to know all of the words to the song.
- Moved his head to look around a producer when his eye contact with Stephanie was briefly blocked.
- Acknowledged his and Stephanie's mutual understanding of the sad nature of the song, which is about Anne Frank, by making a "sad face" and tracing the motion of an invisible tear down his cheek. Stephanie, in kind, mimicked this motion back to Stephen.
In Stephanie's words: "I can die now."
The Dodos – “Fools”
Gavin gets credit for this suggestion. I’d downloaded the song, but didn’t pay too much attention until he underscored it. It’s taken me all year to finally attempt to decipher the lyrics, because I always get wrapped up in the beat.
Bon Iver – “For Emma”
I see Bon Iver’s album is ranked in many year-end best-of lists, but I’m not as excited by what I’ve heard. His music and production are beautiful – “For Emma”’s horns are expertly mixed with its acoustic guitar – but his falsetto is less appealing. I looked up the lyrics to this song a few days ago and read words that I’d have never guessed. And at 3:40, this isn’t a short song, but it feels like it fades out too soon.
Okkervil River – “Lost Coastlines”
This is my favorite song of 2008 -- nice rhymes and good assonance (“Is that marionette / real enough yet / to step off of that set”), a driving beat, duetting unorthodox vocal melodies, and more la las than you can shake a stick at.
Sebadoh – “Soul and Fire”
This song represents my mindset toward music in 2008. Instead of trying to find the new artists I liked, I sought “new to me” music, looking back for classics, like that famous novel you’ve never read. I owned and loved one 1997 Sebadoh album, so I dug deeper. The same approach was taken with the Pixies, Sleater-Kinney, The Jayhawks, The Lemonheads, and Yo La Tengo.
The Ting Tings – “Great DJ”
I’d seen things written about The Ting Tings, and I saw the photos that accompanied that text, and figured I had them pegged. One morning as I drove to work, a local radio station played a song that sounded like an Americanized version of The Prototypes. “This must be The Ting Tings,” I thought. I had them pegged.
The Jayhawks – “Bottomless Cup”
I used Love Garden’s used CD sale and the need to break a Christmas $50 as excuses to splurge on The Jayhawks’ back catalog. I bought “Tomorrow the Green Grass” and “Sound of Lies” during that first sale, and “Hollywood Town Hall” and “Smile” at a subsequent event. I already owned two great live albums, but it’s hard to settle for live recordings when the studio versions are so lush. The word “lush” makes me sound like a homosexual. Maybe you are all homosexuals, too.
Vampire Weekend – “A-Punk”
2008 was the year I started to fall asleep during “Saturday Night Live” rather than afterward, and I’d usually wake up when the musical guest was on stage, such as Vampire Weekend’s string-quartet-accented performance of “A-Punk”. I stand by my January assessment of how to enjoy the band:
1. Completely ignore their name.
2. Assume they all went to Columbia on well-deserved scholarships.
3. Pretend they live somewhere less hip than Brooklyn. (I suggest Sacramento, CA or Harrisburg, PA.)
4. Convince yourself you didn't first hear of them through a music blog, but instead from an off-the-cuff, onstage comment made by Bono during the 1992 Zoo TV tour.
5. Imagine all of their material is actually cover versions of never-before-released Paul Simon songs.
Mates of State – “Help Help”
“Re-Arrange Us” was the only 2008 CD purchase that fully satisfied me; granted, though, I didn’t pay for much music these past 12 months. It put me in good spirits while on the road, particularly when my destination was the airport.
Yo La Tengo – “You Can Have It All”
Another internet-inspired acquisition, this song was #73 on an “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” writer’s list of favorite songs:
Yo La Tengo makes some of the prettiest music there is, music that makes you want to crawl inside it and float around for a while. This is their prettiest, and certainly on a short list for prettiest songs of all time. That Bom-ba-bom-BA-ba-bom-bom loop in the background will burrow its way into your head. Seriously, like sititng on a cloud, this song.
This is on my "Romantic Fucking" iTunes playlist. Works every time.
Coldplay – “Viva la Vida”
I like to include at least one song you could have heard on mainstream radio in my yearly soundtracks. With time, I upgraded the new Coldplay album from “terribly boring” to “meh”. Still, “Violet Hill” and “Viva la Vida” are hard to hate, especially when you’re listening to the latter on the way home from the late “Role Models” viewing and you change all references of “king” to “Kim”.
Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – “Baltimore”
I heard “Elmo Delmo”, “Cold Son”, “Real Emotional Trash”, and “Baltimore” off of his new album. They all have good moments, and they all outlast their welcome. Still, the world could use more guitar work like this. Bring back the solos, please.
Pixies – “Here Comes Your Man”
I burned a discful of free Pixies songs prior to departing for the Elk River. The first listen came on the return drive through southeast Kansas, and I came away unimpressed. “I don’t see what the big deal is,” I said to Floyd. I discovered my error a few days later, when I listened at a much higher volume. Everything was excellent. I bought a greatest hits compilation. “Here Comes Your Man” was my favorite song to perform, singing in the car or participating in some Playstation 3 Rock Band.
Fleet Foxes – “Mykonos”
I was unsure where to stand on Fleet Foxes after hearing several offerings. Then I found myself in a used bookstore when “Sun Giant” started to play, and I thought, “Yeah, that’s about right.” “Sun Giant” is a song you’d want to hear while spending a quiet Sunday hour in a quaint bookstore. “Blue Ridge Mountains” helped me relax on the flight to New York City, where I saw their impressively harmonious live show. They’re good. Still, with lyrics like “I was waiting down at the ancient gate”, they often leave me cold.
Throw Me the Statue – “Lolita”
I don’t have anything to say about this except that it’s catchy, and that’s why it ended up in a commercial for Rhapsody or something.
Blitzen Trapper – “Stolen Shoes” (live @ Daytrotter)
Before Muxtape became a blocked site at work (and before the site was shut down for questionable treatment of copyrights), I played The Muxtape Game. I’d try to guess if I would like a playlist based on the composer’s username. The correlation between awful handles and terrible music was fairly strong. Carrie Brownstein, former Sleater-Kinneyist and current NPR blogger, created a Muxtape with a killer one-two punch: The Band’s “Up on Cripple Creek” followed by Blitzen Trapper’s “Silver Moon”. Sadly, that BT song can only be found on an EP distributed during their previous tour, or streaming at their MySpace page or NPR. Since I’m not allowed to purchase that song, SINCE THE LABEL APPARENTLY DOESN’T WANT MY MONEY, I’m left with “Stolen Shoes”, free from Daytrotter.com.
Immaculate Machine – “Dear Confessor”
They were technically a 2007 discovery – the female lead is also a member of The New Pornographers, who breezed through town last fall – but were in my listening rotation through early 2008. Immaculate Machine is a three-piece that sounds like a band assembled by plucky movie characters to win the climactic talent show.
Liz Phair – “Ant in Alaska”
A B-side from the remastered “Exile in Guyville”, with lyrics that are technically nonsensical and immature... but they are expressed so perfectly that it sounds like Shakespeare... if Shakespeare was a chick with relationship issues. Some people could never love this song, its imprecise strumming, its off-key notes, but I listen to it and wish I was a rejected 16 year-old spending a lonely night in my bedroom.