With thanks to the late Layne Staley I try not to plan the funeral before the body has died but there's only one Tuesday left in 2008 and there's nothing I'm in a hurry to go out and buy. Three years down the road I may come across a 2008 album I missed and want to amend this list, but for now, for better and worse these are my Top Songs of 2008.
The best thing about this list is no song from my Album of the Year appears on it. As odd as that may seem, it underscores my reason for naming it my Album of the Year (we'll get to that discussion soon enough).
What follows is a list of the best songs I heard this year. In some cases, they've come from albums I loved and in others they were the best thing on an album that disappointed. I've limited myself to one song per album in order to keep some sort of order here. These songs may not work for you, but they're a few of the ones that got me through.
“Consoler of the Lonely” – The Raconteurs, Consolers Of The Lonely: This feels less like a song and more like a collage. Brendan Benson and Jack White trade lines over a start-stop riff with some squalls of Jack's lead guitar racket interspersed. Something this disjointed shouldn't be this catchy, but I'll be damned if it's not. This is a house favorite.
“So He Won't Break” – The Black Keys, Attack & Release: The Black Keys shouldn't make all future albums with Danger Mouse, but their work on Attack & Release came off much better than I'd have predicted. DM's sonic touchups reveal these guys are capable of executing their ideas with more than riffs and grit. “So He Won't Break” mixes some alt-pop with the blues and DM's tasty sonic accents.
“Birmingham” – The Bittersweets, Goodnight, San Francisco: I live 90 minutes from Birmingham and believe me when I say never imagined anything this lovely and wonderful could spring from there. This is one of Hannah Prater's best vocals and that is saying something.
“Short Street” – Dave Carter, Commitment and Change: If I become a jazz fan before I die, Dave Carter's Commitment and Change will have something to do with it. Just as with “Muhammad Ali” on Barrett Martin's The Painted Desert (Martin serves as drummer and producer for this fine quartet), within the first few bars of album opener “Short Street,” I sensed the presence of something special. This composition has such a great feel to it and Carter, Martin, Luis Guerra, and John Rangel maintain that over the course of the entire record.
“Somebody's Baby” – Jon Foreman, Winter EP: This might be the single saddest song I've ever heard in my life. This could have easily become maudlin and melodramatic, but the arrangement is spare and Foreman's vocal is warm and genuine. The lyric is bleak, but Foreman's vocal exudes a compassion that is profoundly affecting.
“See That My Grave Is Kept Clean” – B.B. King, One Kind Favor: Longevity is one thing, but this is ridiculous. There are a lot of 83-year-olds in the world, but only the King of The Blues could still sound this engaged and in control. King's singing and playing are timeless, just like the man himself. This is the highlight of one of King's best albums, making it mandatory listening.
“The Spirit of Shackleton” – Glen Phillips, Secrets Of The New Explorers EP: The North Pole has been the subject of many a song, but the South Pole has been largely left out in the cold (I couldn't resist), until now. Okay, "The Spirit of Shackleton" isn't about the South Pole, per se, but Ernest Shackleton did lead expeditions to the South Pole and his spirit has lent his name to the song. There is no classic singalong chorus or obvious pop hook, but the loneliness and disconnection in the lyrics and vocal are a great contrast for the shiny synth sounds and off-kilter, electronic percussion.
“Falling Down” – Oasis, Dig Out Your Soul: I found the task of picking a single song to represent this album damn near impossible. Gem Archer's “To Be Where There's Life” and Andy Bell's “The Nature of Reality” (both sung by Liam Gallagher) are both huge, massive, brilliant towers of songs but I'm hopelessly in the Noel camp. You can pretty well bet I'll take Noel's best every time out and that's what I've done here. This might be the best full band song Noel has ever recorded and released on an Oasis album. The ruminative side of Noel is often kept for acoustic B-sides and is therefore one of Oasis' best-kept secrets. “Falling Down” could have been one of those but is instead adorned with effects and otherworldly sounds, giving it additional mystique and helping it feel at home with the rest of the album.
“The Journey Home” – Phil Keaggy, Phantasmagorical: The Master & The Musician II: This song is special to me because I feel like I can actually hear the narrative in the notes. This is as beautiful a melody as the masterful Keaggy has ever written. His lyrical touch and the superb flow of this song yearns to tell a story without words. It's impossibly beautiful.
“Fix It” – Ryan Adams, Cardinology: I hate to say it, but Cardinology really didn't get it done for me as an album, but man, did I love this song. I listened to it 10 million times, at least. In this great little number, love is a game and our boyo Ryan isn't looking to play fair. He wants to fix the game. Love as game has been used countless times in music, but I like the idea of fixing the fight.