Best Of 2008: Guest Work

In which a few colleagues give us their own, annotated Top 5 singles/ albums/ whatevers lists.

Or, in the case of a certain Pulitzer Prize-winning humorist, a Top 1. And then there's that pathetic Top 0 from a certain Coldplay- and Journey-loving sports columnist.

(You can find Top 10 singles and albums lists from me and Malitz here.)

Now put your hands up/Oh oh oh.

****

Amy Argetsinger, Reliable Source columnist

1. "Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)," Beyonce
In addition to being completely nuts, this song distills the brilliant secret of the entire 'Yonce oeuvre: Crazy upbeat dance tunes shot through with an undertow of melancholy and desperation. It's what separates her from the Rihannas of the world.

2. "Bust Your Windows," Jazmine Sullivan
"I must admit it helped a little bit/To think of how you felt when you saw it." The best ever torch song about felony property damage.

3. "Mansard Roof," Vampire Weekend
The first of their songs I ever heard, and yes, like you, I too wanted to hate them. But it just enchanted me.

4. "Why Do You Let Me Stay Here," She and Him
Talk about something I wanted to hate: The starlet du jour making a cutesy-retro foray into indie rock. But, oh, it's so adorable and evokes so many happy listening experiences past - a little bit Mo Tucker, a little bit Loretta Lynn, a little bit White Album. Just lovely.

5. "Whatever You Like," T.I.
Really, my pick here is the little Atlanta school kids singing "You Can Vote However You Like" on YouTube. That they were able to turn this into a tear-jerking call to civic duty reveals T.I.'s knack for bringing a stirring, anthemic grandeur to every song. Whether he's rapping about putting a barrel in that sucker's mouth or about, uh, putting this big boy in your life, it somehow always sounds like La Marseillaise.

****

Lavanya Ramanathan, editrix of TWP's thrice-weekly Style on the Go feature.

1. "A Milli," Lil Wayne
Lyrics that are menacing and somehow wry at the same time made "A Milli" this year's "99 Problems." Bonus points for references to oral sex.

2. "Day 'N' Nite, (Crookers Remix)," Kid Cudi
I must have Stockholm syndrome. Kid Cudi's club anthem (remixed by production duo Crookers) took my booty hostage this fall, and I liked it.

3. "The Python," Tickley Feather
Philly's Annie Sachs caught my attention when she opened for Animal Collective in 2007. Then I waited almost a whole year for her to put out an album I could purchase. This muddy, shrouded pop song was worth the wait.

4. "Flume," Bon Iver
This song, and pretty much the rest of the Wisconsin folkie's debut, "For Emma, Forever Ago," is the first thing I want to hear on a cold Sunday morning. I'd sing along, but the only decipherable lyric is something about rope burns.

5. "Oh My God," Ida Maria
From the latest in a long string of just-okay Scandinavian bands, but the spirit reminds me so much of the Mekons' "Where Were You?" Really, guys, why all the yelling?

****

Gene Weingarten, humor columnist, Gene Pool lifeguard, host of the mother of all weekly Web chats, author of a Washington Post Magazine story about a musician that some people liked

1. "Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)," Beyonce
I very seldom listen to new songs because my expectations are so diminished. I do admit to liking Beyonce's "Single Ladies," but it took me some time to be able to articulate why. It turns out there is a reason, only one, and I suppose it is a low-expectations sort of thing.

Still:

"Shouldaputa"

Very fine sound. Rivals "elemeno." Very fine.

****

More lists after the jump, from Chris Cillizza, Marc Fisher, Mike Wise and many, many others.

le-petit-fleet-foxes.jpg No, this isn't the Book World staff's annual yearbook photo. It's those pastoral folk-pop harmonizers, Fleet Foxes, recommended by four out of every five Posties or something.

****

Chris Cillizza, author of "The Fix," Bob Dylan beat writer

1. Bon Iver, "For Emma, Forever Ago"
Nothing I heard this year affected me like this album. It also led me to this performance -- my favorite of 2008.

2. Bob Dylan, "Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Vol. 8"
I'd buy this for the alternate version of "Mississippi" alone.

3. R.E.M., "Accelerate"
Maybe it's because this was my favorite concert of the year, but man does REM rock. And, is there a better rock star than Michael Stipe?

4. Kathleen Edwards, "Asking For Flowers"
For this line alone: "Don't tell me you're too tired/Ten years I've been working nights."

5. Old Crow Medicine Show, "Tennessee Pusher"
I love bluegrass. I do. And I am not sorry for it.

Honorable Mention: Elvis Perkins, "Ash Wednesday"
I know it came out in 2007, but I didn't hear it until 2008. What an album.

****

Ally Schweitzer, Style's music fixer

1. Lindstrøm, "Where You Go I Go Too"
It's OK that this three-song LP from Norwegian disco producer Hans-Peter Lindstrøm would clear any dance floor outside the craziest Berlin warehouse. The eternity he spends building up to the most glorious climax heard on any electronic album this year beckons a deep, long listen.

2. Fleet Foxes, "Fleet Foxes"
Lose the dandelion headband and forget the Devendras of yesteryear-- you don't have to be a mushroom-nibbling Berkeley undergrad to adore Fleet Foxes' soaring, mystical odes to the natural world. Best enjoyed while flying over the Appalachians.

3. The Notwist, "The Devil, You + Me"
There is real happiness to be found in the glitchy, morose puzzle of the Notwist's sixth record. This German ensemble cobbles together a near-perfect pop album with a zen balance of hum-along songwriting and gently applied electronics.

4. The Bug, "London Zoo"
Lower the boombox from "Do the Right Thing" into a cavernous well and you get this dark, sludgy dubstep record from London producer the Bug. Some tracks make you want to dance-- hard-- but maybe because you're scared of what he might do if you don't.

5. Chancha Via Circuito, "Rodante"
Argentina's Pedro Canale is really onto something sexy with this pounding, pitched-down stew of cumbia, dub, and trance. Tape yourself shaking your booty, then replay it in slow motion, and you've got the right idea. (And when you do that, put it on YouTube so I can see it.)

****

Frank Ahrens, author of The Ticker, business reporter

"I Will Posses Your Heart," the first single off Death Cab For Cutie's "Narrow Stairs" clocks in at 8:35, ensuring zero FM radio play.

By contrast, R.E.M.'s "Supernatural Superserious," at 3:24, takes up nearly 10 percent of the group's spare 2008 album, "Accelerate." Unfortunately, R.E.M. is now an oldies act and the new single is just too much racket for the group's aging and irritable fans.

Oasis resurrects its trademark lush-rock sound on "Dig Out Your Soul" single "Falling Down." Too bad the band isn't as interesting when the battlin' Gallagher brothers are behaving. Maybe Liam will stick a pencil in Noel's neck.

"Grounds For Divorce," Elbow. Are we sure this isn't yet another Peter Gabriel side project? Lead singer sounds just like him.

And, an older song that I discovered in 2008: "Crosses," Jose Gonzalez. Wait a minute -- this guy's Swedish?

****

Michael Cavna, Comics Riff blogger, Style TV dude

When a remote-toting schlub watches all manner of TV for a living -- from the creatively fertile shows to the downright parched -- each inspired musical moment on the telly provides a cool oasis. Aught eight was not as sonically bountiful as some years, but there were catchy tracks to be had. Driving hard past such moments as, oh, "American Idol's" David Cook covering Chris Cornell covering Michael Jackson ("Billie Jean"), I thrived on these five:

1. "True Blood"
At the risk of going HBO-centric, the raw Jace Everett tune "Bad Things" (2005) deliciously kicked off the net's new vampire series this year. Paired with stunning visuals (Southern-fried iconography and occultism), this is HBO's best opening theme song since "The Sopranos." So good, it leaves "Mad Men's" slick-classical "A Beautiful Mine" defanged and in the dust.

2. "Stephen Colbert & Friends"
Comedy Central's "A Colbert Christmas" was chock full of tongue-in-cheek goodness -- including Willie Nelson's tribute to a "higher" holiday calling and John Legend's love song for "Nutmeg" (cardamom won't let JL "drop his love bomb"). But Toby Keith's scorched-mirth "War on Christmas" took the (fruit)cake. And as long as we're kissing Colbert's ring, then Toby ties with Wilco, which unveiled (so said Jeff Tweedy) "Wilco the Song" on "The Colbert Report." (Sample lyric: "Colbert will love you, baby.")

3. "Flight of the Conchords"
The hilarious tune "Business Time" has likely been floating in this Kiwi band's repertoire for a while, but the HBO duo (billed as "New Zealand's fourth most popular digi-folk parodists") dropped a CD this spring. After I caught the Conchords performing this live at Lisner Auditorium, "Business Time" -- a mock lothario's ode to doin'-the-do in a workaday world -- vaulted cleanly past their clever "Hip-Hopopotamus vs. The Rhymenoceros" and "The Most Beautiful Girl (In the Room)." Bravo, mates.

4. "Life & Times of Tim"
Steve Dildarian's new animated HBO show (a comedic cousin to "Curb Your Enthusiasm") strikes just the right dry tone with Hank Williams's warbled, coyote-sorrowful "I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive" as both intro and outro.

5. "Saturday Night Live"
Kanye West performs "Heartless"/"Pinocchio Story": Recent-vintage "SNL" is famed for lame live performances, but Kanye (backed by eye-candy video walls) was fairly mesmerizing as he dug deeper and deeper into "the coldest story ever told." Perhaps the best "SNL" musical performance since Beck and his table-tapping percussionists -- and puppets -- clanged their way to the show's "all time" list.

****

Mike Wise, sports columnist who apparently doesn't get out much

Here's the sad truth: I didn't even buy new music this year. I'm not sure if I listened to any. I'm like the friend who knows nothing about sports who's dating a sportswriter. Or the unhip sportswriter who's friends with the pop music critic and gets all his info from his reviews.

My iPod mix for a marathon in Sacramento recently was comprised of Vangelis's "Chariots of Fire," Coldplay's "Viva La Vida," YoYo Ma doing the theme from "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," Bill Conti's "Rocky," Kenny Loggins (I am truly embarrassed about that one, but "This is It" is one of my power songs) and, sadly, Enya. But you gotta admit, "Book of Days" rocks!

Did Journey come out with anything in '08? [Ed note: Actually, yes.]

****

Dave Sheinin, national baseball writer

My capacity for music-listening and especially rock-show-going has been seriously curtailed by the presence of my 2-year-old daughter (and will be even more challenged when daughter No. 2 arrives in February), but I still found time in 2008 to delight in these musical moments.

BEST SONG: "Top Drawer," Man Man
Man Man, out of Philly, is like nothing I've ever heard. They've been described as "viking-vaudeville," which comes close to nailing their piano-driven dark carnival of sound, but I think of them as Tom Waits on ecstasy. "Top Drawer" is a crunching, lurching, ridiculously catchy tune full of hooks and sharp lyrics. (Fave: "People say I'm possessed by the devil/But mama I know I'm possessed by your daughter.") Can't wait to see these dudes live.

Runner-up: "Frankie's Gun," The Felice Brothers.
Like some kind of lost B-side from The Band, circa 1971.

Honorable mention: "Always a Friend," Alejandro Escovedo; "Furr," Blitzen Trapper; "Country Song," Le Switch; "Suffering Jukebox," Silver Jews; "Gillian Was a Horse," Damian Jurado; "Perfect Games," the Broken West; "Sequestered in Memphis," the Hold Steady; "Skinny Love," Bon Iver; "We're No. 1," The World Record; "It Covers the Hillsides," Midlake; "She Left Me For Jesus," Hayes Carll; "Lovin' Arms," The Wood Brothers; "Ghost to Most," Drive-By Truckers; "Jailhouse Tears," Lucinda Williams w/ Elvis Costello; "White Winter Hymnal," Fleet Foxes

BEST ALBUM: Gaslight Anthem, "The '59 Sound"
Like Social Distortion all those years ago, these guys are punk-rockers at heart, but ones who get the importance of country and roots-rock music. The Springsteen comparisons are apt, especially their lyrical focus on cars and girls and death, but musically they have more in common with the Replacements or even the Clash.

Runner-up: The Hold Steady, "Stay Positive"

Honorable mention: Drive-By Truckers, "Brighter Than Creation's Dark"; Jesse Malin, "On Your Sleeve"; Old 97s, "Blame It On Gravity"; Man Man, "Rabbit Habits"; the Raconteurs, "Consolers of the Lonely"

BEST LIVE SHOW: Wilco, Baltimore's Lyric Opera House
Maybe it was the beautiful setting, or the freedom of being out from under their opening-act gig on the Neil Young tour, but for whatever reason Jeff Tweedy seemed more comfortable and engaging than I'd ever seen him, and the band was absolutely on fire. Tweedy dropped references to "The Wire" in his stage banter and heckled a fan in the front row about his neck brace, then borrowed said brace for a number or two. And the three-guitar triple-solo at the end of "Impossible Germany" was absolutely symphonic in the way it told its own story.

BEST RADIO SHOW: "Theme Time Radio Hour," Bob Dylan
Still the greatest thing on radio in its third season, it's the only place I know of (other than my iPod on the random setting) where you can hear George Jones and LL Cool J in the same hour -- and just maybe come away with a recipe for meatballs, to boot.

BEST COVER: "Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys," Lucinda Williams
I wasn't crazy about her new record, "Little Honey" -- Lucinda in love is not nearly as compelling as Lucinda with her heart broken (not that I begrudge her her happiness) -- but this cover from "The Imus Ranch Record" is exquisite. As you listen to the lyrics warning about cowboys who never stay home and who are always alone, you realize she (or at least the old, heartbroken she) was born to sing this song.

******

Juliet Eilperin, national environmental reporter

1. Bon Iver, "For Emma, Forever Ago"
Self-released in late 2007 but formally reissued by Jagjaguwar in 2008, this ranks as my favorite album of the year. Justin Vernon wrote it while staying at his father's cabin in northern Wisconsin, and its songs have an ethereal, Nordic feel which I love.

2. Fleet Foxes, "Fleet Foxes"
This album, along with their second EP, "Sun Giant," has a warm tone that evokes the late '60s without being derivative.

3. Ghosty, "Answers"
The second full-length album from this Lawrence, Kan., indie band retains the melodic tone of their debut, "Grow Up or Sleep In," along with the same sort of witty lyrics.

4. Santogold, "Santogold"
What I like about Santi White's debut album is that it mixes hip-hop and alternative music seamlessly.

5. Hot Chip, "Made in the Dark"
While not every track on this British electronic band's album is great, "We're Looking for a Lot of Love" is excellent, both in its use of rhythm and melody. Other songs, such as "Ready for the Floor," are also compelling.

******

Marc Fisher, Metro columnist, author of Raw Fisher, podcaster, host of Potomac Confidential

Here they are, as they say, in no particular order.

Kid Rock's "All Summer Long" was my choice for '08's summer song--it did what a summer song's supposed to do. It sounded fresh and familiar all at once, it captured the imaginations of listeners across generational lines (hardly surprising, given that it was a paean to "Sweet Home Alabama," the 1974 Lynyrd Skynyrd standard), and it broke through in several radio formats (if that matters to anyone anymore).

For a jazz journey to the subcontinent, check out Rudresh Mahanthappa's new album, "Kinsmen." A challenging sax man who lives in New York, Rudresh, a Guggenheim scholar, blends hard bop with Indian rhthyms and sounds in this collection of music that will satisfy jazz traditionalists, lovers of Indian instruments, and math majors.

Matt Haimovitz is a cellist who can make you cry, sing, or lash out in anger. I missed what the critics said was a stellar appearance here this fall, at the Jewish Community Center in Rockville, but take his new version of the Goldberg Variations out for a spin and I think you'll be moved and thrilled.

Not exactly new, but certainly rediscovered and reimagined: Marin Alsop's grand revival of Leonard Bernstein's Mass at the Kennedy Center, featuring the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the Morgan State Choir, a marching band, a children's choir and a cast of Broadway singers, was an almost ecstatic experience. Once considered a dated artifact of the 1970s, Mass turns out to have lasting power and import. It has strands of "West Side Story," bits of Beethoven, traces of Stravinsky and Kurt Weill, but it is also a work unto itself, a searing and bracing exploration of America and of changing social mores. It's been playing pretty much nonstop in my house for months now--my daughter the musician is obsessed with the piece and especially its remarkable shifting time signatures--and it doesn't go stale.

(Other top concerts I heard this year in Washington included Red Priest at Dumbarton Concerts in Georgetown, Chick Corea and Gary Burton at the University of Maryland, Leonard Slatkin's emotional farewell to the National Symphony, and Chuck Brown at the Kennedy Center open house.)

Finally, another piece of new music that isn't really new. In 1975, following on the success of "Shaft" and "Superfly," a movie called "Brotherman" was mostly scripted and ready to film--heck, they'd even commissioned and recorded a soundtrack, by a Curtis Mayfield-inspired soul band called The Final Solution (ugh). Well, the movie never got made, but the soundtrack existed--sort of. It took three decades before the tapes were actually mixed and made ready for release. And now we have the recorded soundtrack of a movie that never was. It's brand new blaxploitation soul, and well worth the listen.

****

Tom Ricks, senior military correspondent

This just struck me as a mediocre year for new music. But maybe that's just me. Anyway, here are the CDs that knocked off my sox this year. Oddly, 1957 loomed large for me this year -- which didn't occur to me until I compiled this list.

1. "The Soul of Ben Webster" (re-issue of two recordings, "Gee Baby, Ain't I Good to You"/"Blues a Plenty," from 1957 and 1958)

2. "Ultimate Coleman Hawkins Selected by Sonny Rollins" (compilation of recordings, 1944-57)

3. "Oscar Peterson Plays the Duke Ellington Songbook" (1952, 1959)

4. "The Complete Atomic Basie" (1957)

5. Marian McPartland with Strings, "Silent Pool" (1996)

By J. Freedom du Lac |  December 30, 2008; 9:16 AM ET Guest Lists , Rankings , Year-End Lists
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That Gaslight Anthem album is amazing. Also fantastic: LaGrecia, Off With Their Heads, Tim Barry, and Nada Surf.

Posted by: Dntheman1 | December 30, 2008 10:45 AM

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