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Top 100 Songs of 2008: #s 25-21

25 "The Sun Smells Too Loud"*
The Hawk Is Howling

Moment @ 3:12

Probably the most frustrating of the "Big Four" of the epic instrumental genre (the others being Explosions in the Sky, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and Tortoise) in that while I've always liked Mogwai, the only song of theirs that's made a solid impact on me was their performance of a Clint Mansell song for The Fountain soundtrack a couple years back. Their stoic matching-track-suit show at First Avenue around the same time didn't help matters much. So while I have in my memory blissed-out recollections of digging through the Glasgow outfit's entire catalog and even listening to their most recent records close to their release dates, it is here, with a song whose jokey title and playful synth crackles suggest a lighter and less dooming effect on the psyche (in comparison with past fare like Come On Die Young) that I finally feel like Mogwai is giving back to all the effort I've put into falling in love with them. A single bending riff repeats without attaining monotony, guitar and bass strings wriggle about underneath an aura of major key delight, proving that maybe cinematic sadness is not their forte after all. It remains simultaneously timid and turgid throughout, but always friendly and gorgeous, even when it's lilting undertones pull at the heartstrings if played at a high volume (something Mogwai's always been good about making sure its listeners do, and rightly so).

24 "Unlikely Rock Shock"
Exiting Arm

"What's working man's hope? / They call it cope."

I'll admit that before the #25 spot, only a few songs (those with lyrics anyway) have had lyrics that have particularly hit me deep down as much as this one has. Expect more powerhouse witticisms to populate the upcoming songs as well (those with lyrics anways, once again), because when a song not only sets up camp in a tiny corner of my heart due to its musicality and literary prowess, that is certainly quite the feat. There's so much abstractness to unpack here, especially for a song that if it had to be classified it would I suppose be hip hop (which is traditionally very straightforward in its delivery, even in the indie world), that it's not really worth trying to sum up in a paragraph. But what I will point out that the sheer intensity of this song coupled with its tangled web of vocal doubling and tripling throughout its brisk three minutes and change gives the lyrics a backseat upon the first dozen listens or so. But then the emanations from the mouth become so twisted in one's own mouth, wanting to pulse through the vocal chords as well as the pelvis while blasting the jam home alone on a stressed-out afternoon. Guesses can be made, but only the line above is semi-decipherable. And when it's absorbed, the song cuts off before we're even given a chance to cope. And we do it the best way humans do: pressing repeat.

23 "The Snow Leopard"

"The way is to lie still and let the moon do its work on your body."

Jimminy Cricket, I still remember witnessing this song live as if it were yesterday, when it was over a year ago. I both hate and love going to concerts by myself. It was a Wednesday night around 9.30pm and I had to make the decision to either go home after recording a podcast at Joe's place in downtown or to walk ten-ish blocks in the February air to check out a band that had recently caught my ear called Shearwater. The previous weekend I didn't care about them at all, but that Saturday night I had stayed up until about 3am listening to this album (which ended up placing in my personal Top 10 Albums of the Year list) at least four times in a row. It was haunting, dramatic, breathtaking, and had one piano-driven song in particular that was so harrowing and steady that it made my spine tingle. Then I saw it live, that cold Minnesota weeknight, all by lonesome, at about 12.30am, and when the band's drummer came in with that hard and simple beat and the singer cackled into the mic with his fearsome vibrato, I was glad I was alone. If anyone had been there with me, I might have subconsciously felt not vulnerable enough to let those notes and that solitude intertwine and take me so violently into a coma of awesome. I can't ever let myself forget that night - if I do, I will forget what it's like to feel cold, alone, and yet unquestionably alive. (I apologize for the pretension, but it's true.)

22 "Gobbledigook"
Sigur Ros
Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust

"You turn umbrellas inside out too often." [English translation]

Yes it feels weird putting a translated lyric as the highlighted line/moment from a song above because it's not like I ever actually knew that's what he was saying then until I looked it up on LyricWiki. However, there's also no discernible moment in this song to me that resonates with passion or exuberance or whatever. This is because this song is a freight train of excess and syncopated brilliance. There's no down moment in the entire three minutes and eight seconds. It's all equally important, incendiary, and warm like a center-cut piece of funfetti cake. Which reminds me, if Shearwater amazed me with their simplistic ecstasy in a live setting, then Sigur Ros harpooned me in the face (literally) with overindulgent fantasy. As they and their merry band of hand-drummers thunked and thumped their way through their brightest and sunshiniest song ever written as they ended their already over-the-top theater performance on their last U.S. tour, confetti busted through the sky from the gods that live with the stars, somehow transgressed through the ceiling of said theater, and floated hyperbolically and multi-coloredly into everyone's hair. The trick though was that you could only receive the paper goodies gently in your palms, eyes, and moptops if you were smiling. Luckily, everyone was so confetti was experienced by all. This is Sigur Ros saying, "yes, we were sad, but now we are not." And so we shall be.

21 "Copper Islands"
Unwed Sailor
Little Wars
[Burnt Toast Vinyl]

Moment @ 0:48

Last year a dear friend asked me to make her a "walking to work" mix. I have never had the pleasure to walk to work, like a full-time job work. The closest I came were my strolls from the dorms/friends' on-campus houses/apartments to the radio station during college, but that I think is definitely not comparable, what with classes and friends and fun all interrupting and de-routinizing the daily grind. I began to (and still do) envy that time when this friend got to walk to work. How grand that sounds. I often fantasize about teaching at the middle or high school just four blocks away from my place, wondering how awesome that fresh air must be and the jaunts to and fro that make life feel both real and formidable. It forces you to wake up, it forces your lungs to work, and it brings light and weather into the soul. Okay, enough of that silliness. Ultimately, this mix (I'll make one for you by the way, just ask) was one of my more challenging endeavors, especially to find the perfect opening track for (always the hardest part). Luckily, while unsuccessfully putzing through my grab bag of goodies, I came across this gem. I'd loved Unwed Sailor for a while at that point, and hearing a new track for the first time in ages definitely helped fuel the fire. It reinforces all those aforementioned "pushing your way through the street" feelings that I'm sure make walking to work so joyous and rewarding and just plain rocks. At the same time, it's distinguished as it is forceful, setting up the exact kind of demeanor one wants to get through another day of proving yourself to the man, the world, whatever.

*If you got my original list from the beginning of the year, this song was mislabeled as "Thank You Space Expert". Yes, for three months I have been mistaken about the name of this track thanks to the inept minds at CDDB that read the disc when I first ripped it to my computer.

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