Top Eleven Songs of 2008:
Download Best of 2008 iMix
The Hold Steady - Stay Positive
"Me and my friends are like the drums on 'Lust for Life' / We pound it out on four toms / Our psalms are sing-along songs."
Brooklyn-based with Twin Cities roots, this quintet follows up strong to its 2006 release Boys and Girls in America. Outstanding band that traces its roots to The Band's The Last Waltz. Craig Finn continues to be one of the strongest lyricists and frontmen.
Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend
"Why would you speak for me that way? / Especially when I always said that / I haven't got the words for you / All your diction dripping with disdain / Through the pain I always tell the truth."
At face value, this band annoys me (i.e., Trust Fund Baby and Ivy Leaguer influenced by afro-beats). Over time, this album has grown on me in a big way. Imagine Alex Turner covering Paul Simon Graceland era genre, with Peter Gabriel as producer.
TV On the Radio - Dear Science
"We're laying on the shadow of your family tree / Your haunted heart and me / Brought down by bold ideas / Time has has come / And in the shadow of the gallows of your family tree / There's a hundred hearts or three / Open blood to the roots of evil to keep it young."
If Brooklyn were to hire Prince to produce an answer to Bloc Party, it would sound like this.
Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes
"Back we go to your brother's house / Emptier, my dear / Sounds of ancient voices ringing / Soft upon your ear."
This Seattle-based band exploded on the scene after their SXSW performance last March. Big thumbs-up to sticking with Sub Pop records.
Deerhunter - Microcastle
"I had dreams / that frightened me awake / I happened to escape / But my escape / would never come."
Ambient/noise rock group from Atlanta. Having released two albums in 2008 (the second titled Weird Era Cont.), this album carries influences like My Bloody Valentine and Echo & The Bunnymen. Part shoe-gazing, part shoe-tapping.
Death Cab for Cutie - Narrow Stairs
"And I want to know my fate / If I keep up this way / And it's hard to want to stay away / When everyone you meet / They all seem to be asleep / And you wonder if you're missing your dream / You can't see a dream."
Ben Gibbard & co. continue to evolve. Tracks are as melodic as ever, but darker and more exploratory.
Parts & Labor - Receivers
"Unsustainable lies build asphalt testaments/ Isolated, withdrawn, galvanized / We crow, we cry, we showed we sighed / Nowheres Nigh."
Fourth album of experimental rock band and friends of Deerhunter. Still noise rock, but has more of a melodic feel than past albums
Beck - Modern Guilt
"I feel uptight when I walk in the city / I feel so cold when I'm at home / Feels like everything starting to hit me / I've lost my bearings ten minutes ago / Modern guilt - I'm stranded with nothing / Modern guilt - I'm under lock and key / Misapprehension is turning into convention / Don't know what I've done but I feel ashamed."
From studio to release in less than four months, Beck strikes gold with co-producer Dangermouse, with noteworthy contributions by Cat Power. now that his contract with Interscope Records is fulfilled, one can only wonder which route he'll take next.
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!
"'Cause people often talk about being scared of change / But for me I'm more afraid of things staying the same / 'Cause the game is never won / By standing in any one place for too long."
Fourteenth album from Mr. Cave, and his first release since his Grinderman side-project. The result: a garage-band feel mixed with Lou Reed and early Neil Young influences.
The Gaslight Anthem - The '59 Sound
"Did you hear the '59 Sound coming through on Grandmama's radio? / Did you hear the rattling chains in the hospital walls? / Did you hear the old gospel choir when they came to carry you over? / Did you hear your favorite song one last time?"
Second album from this New Jersey based band - to no one's surprise, clear Springsteen influences. This is the album that The Killers meant to create when they recorded Sam's Town. Even a weak Robert Bradley's Blackwater Surprise couldn't make me not like this song.
Eric Hutchinson - Sounds Like This
"And I'm trying to decide / If I'm 30 and old - 'cause it gets hard to tell / It's never just black and white / She's got a mind of her own - and she uses it well."
I was introduced to Hutch's music back in 2005 at Duke (firm handshake to B-Rak). Imagine Jason Mraz with talent. Clear influences like Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, and Elvis Costello, with a few subtle Stones references in his lyrics. Plus, he's never hired The Matrix to finish any of his songs. Eric Hutchinson is pretty good.
Glasvegas - Glasvegas
"Let the raining teardrops rain down on me tonight / I think making up, faking up stories is alright / Tick tock stop the clock, fiction is my thing / My attitude is always I and me and mine."
If The Raveonettes hailing from Glasgow, they would sound like this. At times, the lyrics sound like bad high school poetry, but that's not the reason to listen to this album.
The Black Keys - Attack & Release
"I was a movin' man / In my younger days / But I've grown out / Of my ramblin' ways."
Their second appearance on Cuckoo's Eleven, two white boys from Akron that can rock. Too bad they put themselves on the cover of their album. There's probably a good number of people who still think Dan Auerbach is John Lee Hooker back from the dead.
Girl Talk - Feed The Animals
Bar none, the most creative, controversial, and revolutionary album released in 2008. Using a dozen or more unauthorized samples per song, Greg Gillis' mashup style of mixing results in some ridiculous pairings - which, most of the time, are ridiculously good. A lawsuit waiting to happen ... but you can download it for free (and without any legal concern) here.
Vivian Girls - Vivian Girls
"It's alright just leave the light on / I will never ask you why / Once you're gone it leaves a question baby / Where do you go? / Why do you leave me all alone?"
Twenty-one minutes of bliss. All-girl indie group from Brooklyn. Despite little marketing, their debut album became an underground hit on indie and college radio charts.
Atmosphere - When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That S*** Gold
"I know a guy with a Rock Star life / but he stil don't fly, so he's made at the sky / Don't ever do a dance with the Devil now / That smile is a sign that you're selling out / Judgement, gossip, ethics / Let's just exploit all this excess / You can feel how he feels / To walk around town lookin' down from them tall heels."
Who would have thought that a from Minneapolis would spawn such creative tracks? Forget Kanye and T-Pain - this is the best original work from hip-hop in 2008.
Kaiser Chiefs - Off With Their Heads
"What did you learn today (I learned nothing) / What did you do today (I did nothing) / What did you learn at school (I didn't go) / Why didn't you go to school (I don't know) / It's cool to know nothing."
This Leeds-based indie rock band joins The New Pornographers and Beck as the only bands to appear three times on Cuckoo's Eleven. While Off With Their Heads isn't as strong as their first two albums, Kaiser Chiefs continue to create great music. Great live band.
Guilty Pleasure of the Year
Guns 'N Roses - Chinese Democracy
"The hardest part this troubled heart / have ever been yet through now / You've healed the scars that got their start / Inside someone like you now / But had I known or had been shown / back when how long it'd take me / Break the charms that brought me home / That all but would erase me."
Alright, let's get a few things out the way upfront. It's not really Guns 'N Roses. Of course it's not. Izzy wouldn't have let half of these songs make it to release. And yes, most of those songs in question make it sound like Axl is auditioning for Miss Saigon. But the mystique of this album puts The Lillywhite Sessions and Smile to shame. Think about it - when the last G'n'R album came out, I didn't even have my driver's permit.