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Top 100 Songs of 2008: #s 60-56

Santogold
Santogold
[Downtown]

"You don't know me / I am an introvert, an excavator."

Does it stand for "Last Empirical Stand" or "Lower East Side"? I don't care. There's not even a period after the 'S' so maybe it doesn't stand for anything. The fact is that this song is our "turning point" for this countdown, where the songs switch from simply amazing to amazing and deeply meaningful for me personally. It's funny that a song whose title denotes a group or categorization of peoples is actually remarkably intimate and focused on self-actualization. That dichotomy is evident in the track's instrumentation as well, where the tempo plods along with long stretches of brain activity, but the beat punches and kicks with dance club leanings, as if it doesn't really know if it wants you to shut yourself in your room and put the headphones on or get on the floor and bust a move in front of the world in slow motion. The stare that this woman, and I can't help but comment that she is probably the most beautiful musician to come out of the woodwork in 2008, exudes in the song's video communicates this dilemma as well: "Is it worth it to get into my head as you listen to my words? Can you learn anything?" she seems to say with her eyes.

59 "More News From Nowhere"
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!
[Mute]

"He asks me for my autograph / I write 'nobody'."

I've had a deep respect for Nick Cave ever since I first saw his video for "In My Arms" late at night on MTV toward the end of high school. I had never known that a man's voice could sound like that (I had yet to discover Leonard Cohen at this point in my life). It was so deep, so rich, and so sad with a tinge of sardonic hope. I thought it was the perfect singing voice. I followed Cave through the years almost solely because of that song, but never did another tune of his latch on to me as much as that one did. Until now. And truthfully, it might have something to do with his appearance in two movies that have become favorites over the past few years: The Proposition and The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, both westerns. His acting and inclusion as a bar bard in the two movies respectively made me realize something about why I've always followed the man and his music, while it's never hit me as hard as that aforementioned ode: he tells great stories. No matter how much the music hasn't grabbed, he's always telling the most detailed and ebullient stories out of pretty much everyone else in sadsack rock music today. This one's no different - it's depressing, fascinating, and weird all at once and also has an amazing hypnotic melody keeping time underneath it all just to make it that much more awesome.
58 "Chasing Ghosts"
Snob Scrilla
The Day Before...
[Phantom Sound & Vision]

"Cash, rules forgo benevolence."

It's a shame that if you hear hip-hop and lyrics about "cash", I automatically get a cringe in my stomach. Thank God Scrilla's hook cuts deep enough to give me reason to go back and find out that it's actually a song about charity. Has there ever been a rapper spitting about giving green to the needy and underprivileged? Check the video at the link and see Scrilla denouncing the idea of a music video in favor of simply a "clip" showing him hanging out with the youth from an organization that he donates to (including profits from his music). It's bizarre hearing a song with so much anger and hatred toward those who choose independent wealth over helping others that can also bring a tear to one's eye. Now I'm not one to talk - I don't donate nearly as much as I probably should, but when a song (3.5 minutes of clanging and yapping, that's it) can make me realize that I don't do enough, that's quite powerful I think. And I'll definitely think twice next time I walk by that opportunity to help someone out because of it.

57 "Reckoner Lockdown"
DJ Earworm
djearworm.com

[Self-Released]

"I can't keep my cool / so I keep it true."

Mash-up number two of three on the countdown. And this one proves that the novelty of coalescing two genres isn't where the pleasantries stop in this subsection of electronic music. Kanye's perfection of the auto-tune is probably the best a cappella of 2008 and Jonny Greenwood's guitar lick is probably one of the best from 2007 in mainstream world, so together of course they become one magnanimous behemoth of brilliance in the indie world. And the parts, both separately and especially placed on top of each other, aren't just technically proficient; they're two incredibly moving pieces of melody that go beyond kitsch value and wriggle their ways into the soul. Kanye sounds even more desperate with Greenwood's help and Greenwood sounds even more emo with Kanye's help, and the outer-space sound comes off as even more desolate with the acoustic/electric guitar overlapping. With the woody forest drumming keeping it all from sounding resigned, it ends up being an orgy of devastation, of doors shutting and faces disappearing. Also fits our recurring theme of love, death, and memory of course.

Gang Gang Dance
Saint Dymphna
[The Social Registry]

"You can't carry my tears to you."

One of two very big surprises to make it on the list (the other one is coming in another 20 or so). This band, like the other one that is to come, was one that I desperately wanted to like in the past but just never could get myself to. They've always spent more time on smeared-out tonalities of tribal drums and sample-happy sequencers, never really congealing into anything substantive, for me to fully sink my teeth into. Looking back on that description of their past efforts, it sounds like I would love them. But they just played around, sounding disconnected from that which they were composing/improvising/whatevering. Here, though, this is such an effective unification of the blissed-out and the freaked-out, all spread evenly over a nice slab of melty sexiness, that I completely succumbed to its power even upon its first vocal synth chord progression. Then come the slick trance patches and drip-droppy bleeps slinking behind a damn fine dreamy guitar noodling, and I've turned into water, rippling to the rhythm and splashing to the cymbals. If anyone wonders what idealist music critics mean when they say they want something equally familiar and foreign, simultaneously accessible and challenging, this may just be the touchstone example to come back to in 2008.

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