In his work on journaling, scholar Tom Romano talks about imagining an audience for his journal writing: himself as an old man, an old man who may or may not remember what it felt like to be 20 years old, or 35, or whatever age. Lists freeze a moment like few other genres can.
As a fairly obsessive music fan, the music lists are by far my favorite. As an old man, maybe forgetful of what my 34th year was like, what will I remember as my favorite music of 2008? Here's the recorded music I most enjoyed...
10. Tie: Hard Lessons, "See and Be Scene" and Estelle/Kanye West, "American Boy"
Two great duets. The Hard Lessons let the boy-girl vocal sharing mirror the fact that the guitar and organ share lead duties too. The vocals, which critique hipsterism, are a bit predictable, but that doesn't stop the song from being a great 60s pop throwback anthem. Meanwhile, Estelle (yes, her voice is gorgeous) and Kanye raise the bar for r&b ballads.
9. REM, Accelerate album
Is this the greatest thing REM's recorded? Of course not. But listen without prejudice and find lean, fast rock songs like "Living Well is the Best Revenge" and "Man-Sized Wreath." Who cares if they're old? So am I.
8. Belle and Sebastian, "I'm Waiting for the Man"
From the two-disc BBC Sessions record, this live Velvet Underground cover is, out of nowhere, one of B&S's essential recordings. How can a band that does twee get so gritty?
7. Beyonce, "Single Ladies"
I'm not a big fan of much top 40 music, but Beyonce turns out such hooky, well-written, well-executed singles, you can't help but listen.
6. The Kills, Midnight Boom album
They do dirty blues-rock better than The Black Keys in my opinion. Antagonistic lyrics and an overall aggressive ethos, but without sacrificing melody. Standout track: "Tape Song."
5. SSM, Break Your Arm for Evolution album
Psychedelic synth-rock from Detroit. The weirdest record I heard all year. Best when consumed loudly.
4. Dengue Fever, Venus on Earth album
Dengue Fever gets tagged with the dreaded "dad rock" and "NPR rock" labels all the time and, well, I first heard them on NPR, so I guess the tags have merit. Who cares? DF is a psychedelic-rock band fronted by a Cambodian diva who on some tracks sings gorgeous love songs in her native tongue. Other tunes, sung in English by various band members, take a more traditional rock approach. The opener, "Seeing Hands" is hypnotic. "Sober Driver," a kind of re-telling of Wilco's "Passenger Side," is funny and sad all at once.
3. TV on the Radio, "Golden Age"
What a messy and beautiful collision of funk, Afrobeat, pop, and rock: "It comes like a natural disaster/all blowin' up like a ghetto blaster."
2. Santogold, s/t album
Like TVOTR, genre and race boundaries are a non-issue for Santogold. Take a little ska, a little punk, a little dance, a little electronic...you get the point. A lot of the year's best music seems influenced by the mash-up movement that was so popular a few years back, except now artists are mashing the disparate genres on their own, making later mashes unnecessary.
1. The Dirtbombs, We Have You Surrounded album
Thematically, the tightest record yet from the best band in Detroit. Lyrics about urban unrest and anxiety set to a fast and fun amalgamation of soul and punk rock. The perfect soundtrack for a year when things fell apart in motown.