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Top 100 Songs of 2008: #s 80-76

Cloud Cult
Feel Good Ghosts (Tea-Partying Through Tornadoes)
[Rebel Group]

"And when it's my time to go / I need you to know..."

The first on the countdown to fit with this year's theme of love, memory, and death: inspired by my grandmother's passing at the jaw-dropping age of 94 this past November. I've never called her by her name (Helen) before, so from here on out I will in Fight Club-honorary fashion refer to her as such, as she will be coming up a lot, especially toward the end of the list. Despite its massive heap of saccharine guitar weeping and heart-bludgeoning cymbal accents (not to mention its refusal to say anything remotely subtle or symbolic), which probably ultimately kept this track from reaching higher (though also contributed to its placement on the list period), I know that death is constantly on Cloud Cult's leading hippie, Craig Minowa's, mind. The sudden passing of his own son inspired him to create this musical project in the first place, and now for the first time, he's starting to think about his own exit strategy in life, and his dangerously sincere/emotionally manipulative Autotune hits hard. I've always liked Cloud Cult, but this song is the first to dig into me so deep despite its flaws that I cannot help but include it. Plus, it's exactly what I hope Helen heard (and I hope everyone hears) before I go.

79 "White Shade"
Lake Toba

Moment @ 1:11

I like to call these guys "Mew, Jr." because they're basically walking the same walk and talking the same talk as the band that held the #4 position for the 2006 countdown, just in Norway instead of Denmark. Take away a tad of the gloss, obscuring the equally dreamy and pixie-esque vocals, and add a bit more accessibility, meaning they don't sound like cartoon giraffes on heroin, and you've got Lukestar. Almost eclipsing Sigur Ros in their ability to affect with lyrical delivery without knowing what the hell the singer is saying, every single piercing rhyme sounds like it's delicately building a skyscraper to the heavens and/or tearing that very same structure down to rubble strewn on the ground. Similarly, the very generically distorted guitars and blinking keyboards manage to garner as much respect due to their meticulous arrangment and stop/start powerhousing. It's like a pop song from an alien race, pouring down with simple saturnalia that we recognize in a "you're here to help us, not hurt us" kinda way, but cannot begin to comprehend, which ultimately leads to the human race's extinction. Because really, it's obvious that Scandinavians are on a completely different musical playing field than most Americans.

78 "My Beau"
Daedelus feat. Paperboy & Erika Rose
Love To Make Music To
[Ninja Tune]

"Today I'm gonna be your best friend / the worst and the best, it's the same thing."

There aren't enough duets in indie rock/electronica/whatever. Originally just featuring Rose on the Fair Weather Friends EP from the beginning of the year, at first I couldn't decide how much I liked the small but game-changing choice of adding Paperboy onto the other half of the song, which had previously rested on the instrumental strength of Daedelus's delicious beats and whirrs. A few listens on headphones later and I'm sold on the effortless vocal exchanges between male and female, with their own voices piled on top of themselves at some key points towards the end. I'd be curious to hear from someone who hadn't hear the original version if the back-and-forth sounds awkward or not - yet at the same time, I think it also works when it feels a bit off, because the song's all about the hesitation of holding on. The drowning timebomb synth underneath it all is the song's constant, as if everything if fighting between ending in explosions or whimpering last breaths 20,000 leagues under. Part of its appeal is the natural chemistry the cautious Paperboy and sensual Rose have with each other, but its jaggedness is just as curious as its romanticism.

77 "Yesterday"
When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold

"I've been meaning to ask you if I'm doing alright."

Album title of the year? Possibly. Best song with a twist ending this year? Probably. But definitely best song to use a corny piano riff that reminds me of one of my favorite song titles from my high school/early college years of being in a band: "Our Anthem Of Rebellion Will Be The Theme From Cheers". Also entry #2 in the countdown's love, death, and memory theme and coincidentally another MN artist I have always liked but never fell for until now, Sean Daley aka Slug is at his barest and seemingly most honest (and once again, straightforward) in this simple track. Not a smidgen of angst or even the emo-rap that jumpstarted his career and an entire subgenre of hip hop is present. It's quite simply a sunny lyrical ditty with an old school beat and Sesame Street-influenced ivories prancing down the street as we hear an all too familiar tale of a haunting past, regrets, and [at this point, make sure you listen to the song for the twist before you keep reading, aka SPOILER ALERT!] familial love. Before Helen passed, the only death that greatly affected me was my father's. And though I barely remember him, I still can't help but constantly wonder what he'd think if he saw me today. It's a fleeting thought in this hazy future of my past, but has risen in me to great degrees having experienced another death in the family this year.

76 "Faraway From Cars"
Mercury Rev
Snowflake Midnight
[Yep Roc]

"Far away from here / far away from the past."

Totally facile in its poetry, it makes up for it in spades with its ethereal orchestration and tensed-up handclap percussion. It's totally a "moment song", or a track that I always associate with a particular moment, and that moment has no grand connection or larger symbolic meaning or anything. It's just a natural moment in my life where this song soundtracked it perfectly and basically without explanation. Cold and gray on a fall sweater day. In my car on the freeway trying to get the windshield wiper fluid to wash away the muck on my windshield. On my way home from work, stuck in traffic. Wishing I was anywhere but there. That probably describes a lot of moments in my school year weekday hours between 3.30 and 4.30pm, but I assure you this is one moment in particular, where it feels like the symphonic ambience underneath Jonathan Donahue's earnest tremble is propelling my body out of the monotony of daily routine and finding meaning in the escape of music. It's overly trite, even cliche, but that moment is burned into me as such a pure instance of floating away from reality that it gives me a tingle of calmness (bordering on insanity, but calmness nonetheless) every time I hear it.

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