Wednesday, February 18, 2009

My Favorite Music of 2008 (Part II: The Songs and the Concerts)

Quibble with my choices for favorite songs if you will.  But compared to the Billboard Top 10, I can guarantee you, our readers the following:

  • 30% less Chris Brown
  • 145% more guitars
  • An overlap of only one song


Christ, that’s a shitty Top 10.  It’s almost entirely slow/mid-tempo R&B ballads.  No wonder Chris Brown went all Ike Turner .  He had to be all backed up with rage from singing such dreck. 

Let’s see if I can do better...

As with the Top Albums article, eligibility was independently determined via the iTunes Year field.  I sometimes struggle trying to put into words exactly why I love certain songs or artists.  It’s usually much more of a gut reaction.  So of course, this will be another lengthy, wordy post about my favorite songs.  At least there’s lots of A/V goodness. 

Just about all the music I list here can be found in an Amazon aStore I created.  So help a brother out, would ya?


The Top 10 Songs

10. Old 97s - “Dance With Me

Love the surf guitar-propelled urgency and the insistent lyrics demanding to know if someone…

Wants. To. Dance. With. Me.  Tell me now, or I’m gonna be setting up camp a certain distance from you.  That distance would be the distance as defined by the restraining order plus a foot or two.

Ah, that felt good.  Here’s a live clip of the song and a bonus performance of “Doreen”.

9. Two Cow Garage - ”Skinny Legged Girl

It was a tough choice between this and “Bastards & Bridesmaids”, but I love the internal math of this one. The protagonist is counting up the “drunken Bukowski ramblings” he’s written a girl he’s fallen for.  Hard.  Against his better judgments.  The verses establish the intensity and the chorus releases that tension with a pent-up burst  of angry, rueful acknowledgement.

I’ll spare you from posting the vid of the kid rocking out on stage again. Instead you get a brief clip of some poor bastard getting hen-pecked at an exceedingly early age.  Feel free to use this as litmus test for your current relationship.  If it seems familiar AT ALL, run fast and run long from her emotionally needy grasp.

8. The Streets - “The Escapist

This song has had a strong grip on me since I first heard it.  The lyrics and delivery are standard-issue Mike Skinner, which is not a bad thing.  But I want to live inside the persistently world-weary, yet optimistic hooks.

Here’s the video for the song, which is a good match for its tone.  It documents his alleged 770 mile walk from England to France.

7. DJ Khaled - “Go Hard” 

I discovered this guy via Hip-Hop Nation on Sirius with “I’m So Hood”.  This fantastic slice of hip-hop braggadocio (redundant?) tops it.  T-Pain vocoders the chorus, while Kanye uses a fully human voice to mix some silliness with the bravado.  He even name-checks Dubya.  And Khaled’s beats are almost as good as his shout-out intro.

Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at the filming of the video for this song.  For some reason, it’s hosted by an awkward Asian jewelry magnate

6. My Morning Jacket - “Aluminum Park

This one just leaps off the album.  Unlike some of their anthemic efforts which would take a while to get into 5th gear, this one has 2 speeds.  Breakneck and hellzapoppin’.

I regret not having seen them live this past year, because I keep envisioning this one being played in a windy, sun-splashed outdoor amphitheater.  Also in this vision, I’m a fireman/astronaut.  This clip from Bonnaroo will have to hold me over till I see them next:

5. Jenny Lewis - “Acid Tongue

Simple.  Beautiful.  Breathtaking.

But enough about my ass.  This song’s pretty good too.

4. She & Him - “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?

There’s a lot of things going on in this perfect little nouveaux-retro slice of pop.  I love Zooey Deschanel’s vocals and the production keeps things interesting from the first note to the last.  Just perfect.

As cute as Miss Deschanel is (which would be significantly more than a bug, slightly less than that of a button), she desperately  needs to work on her stage presence.  I’ve seen more energy and movement at a Teddy Pendergrass show.


3. Felice Brothers - “Love Me Tenderly

They set aside the noirish elements pervasive throughout the rest of the album for a wordy, whimsical grab bag of visuals that I *think* is a love song.  If so, it’s probably the first where the lead singer breaks character to name-check the piano player.  Either way, it’s the musical equivalent of that elusive hop in your step.

“A bottle of scotch… <cough> a dime sack and a diamond watch… wouldn’t you like that?"

A bottle of gin… a typewriter and a violin… wouldn’t you like that?”

Here’s a live take on it:

2. Flo Rida (f. T. Pain) - “Low

It’s the one song from 2008 guaranteed to increase the indigenous population of the sovereign nation of Dancefloorvania.  The genius of the song, beyond the beats, hooks, and Mr. Rida's rapid-fire delivery, is that it’s basically an invitation for everyone within earshot to reenact its nightclub narrative lyrics. 

Here’s some guy cwalking to “Low”.  After 20-30 seconds of hardcore Internet research that apparently “cwalking” is short for “Crip-walking”, popularized in the early 70s by LA street gangs.  Apparently this is so threatening to Whitey that MTV has banned any videos that depict it.  Luckily, MTV doesn’t control YouTube:

1. Hold Steady - “Slapped Actress

This was actually a pretty easy choice.  It’s been my favorite song off of Stay Positive from the first spin.

This song has so many twists and turns, you could make a pretty good mini-series from it.  The bombastic guitar & piano intro sets the stage for the drama & glory to come.  There’s lots of name-checking, both the familiar (“don’t tell them Ybor City almost killed us again…”) and the awesomely retro change of pace (“I’ll be Ben Gazzara, you be Gena Rowlands…”).  The lyrical motif of negative instructions (“don’t tell my family, they’re all wicked strict Christians…”) is a perfect framework for Finn’s wordsmithing.

Around the 3 minute mark, however, a brief intermission is followed by “Sometimes actresses get slapped…”, and things get all kinds of epic.  The lyrics which were very personal in the first half of the song are now much more meta.  Finn seems to be commenting on the his and the band’s role in life:

Some nights, it’s just entertainment, and some other nights, it’s real…

Man, we make our own movies…

At around the 4-minute mark, the “whoa-oh’s kick in”, and they propel the song the rest of the way.  This takes a chorus-less song which doesn’t translate fantastically live and gives the crowd something to sing along with. 

Well played, sirs.


And here’s the Top 10 in all their original glory:

Top 10 Songs of 2008

The Rest of the Best Songs



  1. Marah - “Angels on a Passing Train
  2. Black Kids - “I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance With You
    • I wrote a bit about this song way, way back when.  It still holds up as a good example of why Robert Smith should hook up with The Go Team!.
  3. Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings - “100 Days, 100 Nights
  4. Nick Cave - “Dig Lazarus, Dig!!!
    • He’s always struck me as a too morose to get into, but Cave’s telling of a resurrection from the perspective of the resurrectee really jumps.
  5. Jonatha Brooke - “There’s More True Lovers Than One
    • I loved the Mermaid Avenue projects.  Wherein Billy Bragg & Wilco created songs using some recently discovered handwritten Woody Guthrie lyrics.  Loved it to the point that I hold out hope of some day marrying (or kissing) a woman from California so that “California Stars” could be played at my wedding (or while we kiss, before the police come).  So I was wary of another album that was doing essentially the same thing.  But I’m a big fan of Miss Brooke, and if the rest of the album is as good as this song, hot damn!
  6. Mates of State “My Only Offer
  7. Dolla (f. T. Pain & Tay Dizm) - “Who the Fuck is That?”
    • Got this after hearing it in a Girl Talk song.
  8. Gutter Twins - “Idle Hands
  9. Hayes Carll –“Bad Liver & a Broken Heart
  10. The Whigs – “Right Hand on my Heart
  11. Coconut Records - “West Coast
    • First, Max Fischer.  Now, this slice of pop genius.  If I were Jason Schwartzman, I’d retire, post haste.
  12. Japanese Motors - “Single Fins & Safety Pins
  13. Thao - “Bag of Hammers
  14. King Khan & The Shrines - “Torture

The Top 5 Concerts (in no discernible order)

5/20 The Swell Season @ The Tower in Upper Darby, PA

I splurged on some not-cheap tickets and made a rare trip to the Tower to see the duo (Glen Hansard & Markéta Irglová) from my favorite movie of 2007 (“Once”) on a full band tour.

It’s a credit to the singers, the songs, and their performances that I enjoyed the show as much as I did.  The emotions that night were of the mixed variety, since “Once” was a shared discovery with a girl who had taken a rusty cleaver to my heart about a month prior.  We even had plans to attend this show together. 

But as the night progressed, the beautiful and the harmonic won over the ugly and the bitter.

They closed with a cover of an old Irish song (“The Auld Triangle”).  The crowd sing-along is cliché, but with the entire Tower audience singing along to a mournful Irish dirge (the best kind), I left there with an uplift in my heart region.

So apparently in Wisconsin, a middle school choir got to sing a few songs with them.  Here’s a Pixies cover which gets all “Another Brick in The Wall” with their children of the corn vocals:

And just because I love this song:

6/8 The Felice Brothers @ Drew's House Concert in Ringwood, NJ

Drew Eckman hosts house concerts at his house on beautiful Lake Cupsaw.  It’s a hike to get there (2+ hours), so I don’t go as often as I’d like.  I’ve seen Marah there a couple of times.

This was the first time I had seen The Felice Brothers while knowing their songs, and it was just incredible. I sat on a couch about 2 feet away from them. They plowed through a bunch of their stuff as well as a few old blues covers.  I was pretty much addicted after this show.

I took a few vids, and here's one of them.  All of them can be accessed here.


6/21 ellipsis @ The Cline Compound in Media, PA

Inspired by people like Drew, I hosted my first (and so far only) house concert at my palatial Delaware County estate.  All the servants were polished to a high shine.

ellipsis is a folk/pop trio comprised of 3 Swarthmore grads and friends of mine.  Vale Jokisch’s drawn-butter baritone is accompanied by Joel Price on mandolin/violin/vocals and Matt Murphy on guitar/vocals.  

To have good friends play fantastic music in my house was enough to stir some sentimentality on my part. I reveled in the fact that those notes and the memories had become part of my house’s history.

There was some terribly lit video, which got all classy and intellectual when it was converted to B&W.  I need to upload a bunch of it, but here is a cover of Old Crow Medicine Show’s Wagon Wheel:

ellipsis House Concert - "Wagon Wheel (OCMS)" (13 of 18) from Chris Cline on Vimeo


6/27 The Hold Steady @ Ram's Head Live in Baltimore, MD

This was the first time seeing them do their new stuff, and also the first time I had seen them in a while.  RHL is a pretty cool venue.  Big and open with several levels of railings, it reminded me of that bar in Cocktail where Cruise read his awesome poetry.

The crowd was hot, the beer flowed, the company was excellent, and it all made for a fantastic evening.

11/8 The Hold Steady/Drive-By Truckers @ The Electric Factory in Philadelphia, PA

I wrote about this one at length already, so I’ll keep it brief.  It’s rare when 2 of your tip-top favorite bands do a show together.  It’s even rarer to have bands with such disparate musical styles (though they do share musical attitudes) find the vibe these 2 acts did that night in Philly.

The Rest of the Best

  • 1/26 Social Distortion @ House of Blues in Vegas
  • 4/11 Felice Brothers @ FU Church Chapel in Philly
  • 6/5 Rilo Kiley @EFactory in Philly
  • 6/17 Centro-Matic @ Johnny Brenda's in Philly
  • 7/31 Old 97s @ Bottle and Cork in Dewey
  • 11/7 NYC – Various jazz musicians @St. Nick’s Pub in Some Part of NYC North of Harlem

The Rest of the Rest

  • 6/24 Slo Mo @ Some Town Center in Exton, PA
  • 7/12 Ellipsis @ A Pig Roast in Pipersville, PA
  • 7/12 O'Death @ The Fire in Philly
  • 7/29 Spiritualized @ TLA in Philly
  • 8/12 Lucero @ North Star in Philly
  • 8/29 THS/Sonic Youth @ TLA in Philly
  • 9/18 OCMS @ EFactory in Philly
  • 9/18 Adam & Dave’s Bloodline @ M Room in Philly
  • 9/21 DBT/Avett Brothers @ Pier 6 in Baltimore
  • 10/2 Felice Brothers @ FU Church in Philly
  • 10/9 Girl Talk @ Starlight Ballroom in Philly
  • 11/6 Gutter Twins @ Warsaw in Brooklyn
  • 11/7 DBT/THS @ Terminal 5 in NYC
  • 12/5 Philly - Caithlin Desmarrais @FU Chapel

What I’m looking forward to in 2009

  • Andrew Bird - “Noble Beast”
    • I picked this up recently, and beyond the first track and single (“Oh No”), it hasn’t really grabbed me much.  Out now.
  • Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – “Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit”
    • His second solo album, though his first billed with his backing band.  Curious as hell in what direction he goes with this.  Comes out 2/17.
  • Booker T. - “Potato Hole”
    • With some help from the Drive-By Truckers & Neil Young, this is the most intriguing project I’ve heard about for 2009.  Comes out 4/9.
  • Neko Case - “Middle Cyclone”
    • Have only heard the first track (“People Got a Lot of Nerve”), but dig it despite her copping lyrical conceits (“killer whales”) from The Hold Steady.   Comes out 3/3
  • Sleater-Kinney Reunion, New Album, and Tour
    • I can dream, right?
  • Slobberbone plays a reunion show outside of Texas, within driving distance.
    • Still dreaming, but less impossible than the S-K reunion.

1 comment:

Billy Jacks Music Box said...

What a great list. I first heard the Felice Bros. when I ready your Top Albums of 08 list, I have to agree, Love me Tenderly is one of my favorites.

And The Hold Steady, for sure are one of my best finds of the year. Heard them first when they toured w/ DBT.

Speaking of DBT, my list would have to include something from Jason Isbell, even though Sirens from the ditch was from 07', I know.

Keep up these awesome music post, I think you have an awesome tate in music. I have recently become a huge fan of this blog. LOVE IT