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Top 100 Songs of 2008: #s 5-1

After almost five months, we've finally hit the end of the line. This is the longest it's ever taken me to dole out my top songs of the previous year (I think I say that every year), but 2008 was particularly notable for two reasons - both of which will be explained without self-editing (so the usual madman pontificating) below.

5 "Gardenia"
Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks
Real Emotional Trash

"It's like we're at a Ponzi scaminar / there's no escaping without a door prize."

What's scary is that these five songs were pretty solidified well before my grandmother was diagnosed with terminal pneumonia. That they all relate back to her somehow in my head is probably some combination of serendipitous fate and subconscious free will. What's especially strange to me is that Stephen Malkmus, a man whose songs meant most to me when I lived with my grandmother during high school (when he was in Pavement), and then whose solo career mostly disinterested me until this song eight years later, is on this list. Not only for the chronological coincidences, but also because the man is known for writing in astounding non sequiturs. So how does this all relate back to her passing? Well, when it happened, I knew I had to do something. I couldn't just hop on the next plane to NC all willy-nilly. I knew a time for that would come when a ceremony was planned. Flowers were suggested and I agreed it was the best offering I could give for the time being. For a couple days, I struggled with what flowers to purchase and have sent to my family. I knew nothing about them other than that my grandmother loved all kinds. Listening to a mix CD with this song on it helped make up my mind. And there's a lot of ways that Malmus's nonsense could be translated, but ultimately it was the simplicity and happiness alive in this song (something the man's been missing for a while) that made me want to pick this gorgeous flower. My love of language and very uncomplicatedly, how fun it can be, is what made me fall for Pavement in the first place, and I can only contribute this love to my grandmother - the one who taught me to read, play Scrabble, and help with crossword puzzles.

4 "These Few Presidents"

"Yours is a funeral I'd fly to from anywhere."

It took me forever to fully appreciate this album. If you remember, Elephant Eyelash was The Blogulator's (and my) favorite album of its year, but when I heard Alopecia for the first couple times, I couldn't get over how depressed Yoni Wolf and his respective instrumentation sounded. Even with flourishes of xylophone and harpsichord, it still sounded like a man romanticizing death for an entire album. This song put on repeat outside of listening to the album as a whole, along with my grandmother's death, helped me understand. Death may be morbid, and it may be ugly, but that last thing it should be is taboo. It shouldn't remain as subtext, because when that happens, it only gulps up from the inevitable course of action that any beloved elderly person (or anyone you love, really, for that matter) may endure, and suddenly you're left a wreck. And while this may seem like another "I should have done X when you were alive" songs, it's really not. Wolf has enough subdued optimism to make it obvious that dead or alive, the person doesn't go away. The bump-boo! ghosts of instruments that accompany his warble back this notion up too: there's nothing to make the loved one talk, but there's also nothing to make that person go away. And that's not a curse, it's a blessing. It gives us time to keep death in mind, remember, and love.

3 "Kim & Jessie"
Saturdays = Youth

"Somebody lurks in the shadows / somebody whispers."

Oh, M83. You're quite possibly the most consistently brilliant band of the 2000s and yet you're seemingly cursed with always being #3 on my countdown. See previous years with "Teen Angst" and "Run Into Flowers". Somebody it will happen. I can feel it. This one probably has the loosest connection back to the theme at hand of the top five, but possibly the most affective melody. I totally buy into Anthony Gonzalez's whole "this is what childhood sounds like" stance regarding his record, and this song in particular, but there's a specific kind of being a kid at play here that I think I disagree with him on. I don't feel the teenage longing and puppy love (probably because I never experienced the latter, but also maybe because I'm not quite as far removed from it as he is) when I listen to this song's washed-out sky-piercing bliss, but rather I feel like how I felt when I was 6 or 7, so when it was actually the 80s. I'm sitting in the grass, swinging on the playground, making real friends for the first time - I was experiencing life for the first time and nothing felt safe, but everything felt adventurous. The one constant I always had, whether it was when I lived in Connecticut and waited for her to visit, or when we moved back to Wisconsin and she was nearby again, was my grandmother. Everything's hazy, my powers are limitless but totally incomprehensible, and death was nowhere in my mind. It's so creepy how beautiful Gonzalez and co. make the ominous onslaught of loneliness sound, but it's only when we're alone do we realize the importance of being together, of having not just somewhere to call home, but someone.

2 "Young Marks"
The Mae Shi
[Team Shi]

"My heart's not built to hold his love."

Auto-tune, you sly dog you. You practically ruin hip hop and yet you're also partly responsible for the second best song of the year. Speaking of being a kid again, this is the musical equivalent of a 6-7 year old with the hormones of a teenager. It's brash, adorably rambunctious, and completely melodramatic all at the same time. Basically, The Mae Shi single-handedly revitalized me this year. And while almost every other song on this countdown slowly became a favorite throughout the course of the year (or even a few months), the first time I heard the above lyric blast through my headphones, I felt a mini-seizure of sorts jolt through my bones and flesh and suddenly I was convulsing to the beat and felt this intensely strange and strangely intense surge of happiness and anger. It was an addictive feeling. I couldn't get enough. I was pissed at everything - the world, God, reality, etc. - and was immensely proud to be living at the same time. There was this sense of celebration and dissonance that erupted in me every time I listened to the song. Then I saw them perform it (along with many other sweet jams) live and the dichotomy dissolved. There was no binary battle going on in my soul - part of being alive, of loving, losing, dying (which is the only common attribute we all have in living) all stems from anger. Life begets the unfair and the unfair begets life. Without that which causes us pain we are left only shells. Hearing the unamplified "oohs" at the end on stage were what caused the epiphany I think - it was pure, it was natural, and it's only thing we have left to say after we vent. So yes, five wise-ass Californian hipsters helped me get over my Grandmother's death.

1 "Rain and Revolution"
City Breathing
Look How It's Snowing Upwards, Look How They Move Towards Heaven
[Roses & Hello]

"Remember I remember you."

You might argue this was a given from the get go. You might say that just because The Arun is one of my best friends of all time, I had to pick one of his band's songs as my favorite of the year. Can I unequivocally say you're incorrect? If it were another band, another song, another year, I would let you have that opinion. But I can without reserve, especially now as the majestic guitars and ebullient synths cascade through my headphones after everything I've gone through, every other 2008 song has been listened to in advance of this, that this is the best song that was released last year. And Mr. A being in the band has A LOT to do with it. "Hypocrisy!" you cry in disgust. Ah, but be certain - music is intensely, almost tragically personal. There is no way I can listen to this song without hearing the memories of afternoons spent in his basement perfecting melodies the best we knew how as high schoolers, of pondering the very nature of remembering, of having something so certain in your mind with no way to prove its existence other than unadulterated feelings of simultaneous joy and sadness. This is EXACTLY what music is. It's what it's all about. You can touch the fretboard, but you cannot bring it to life the way you hear it magically traverse through wires and plugs until it hits your brain, and triggers those feelings from when you were young. Because of music, you dream of loved ones lost, inside jokes whose meanings will be forgotten but whose execution will always be laughed at, moments from years ago you remember so vividly that it feels like it's happening right now. Because of the notes played, in such and such order, with such and such velocity or volume, the pictures in your head are translated into, yes, something else wholly intangible, but at least the song can stay with you on CDs, on hard drives, in invisible sound waves that migrate through you ears and into your hearts. Did I choose this song because Arun is my best friend? No; Arun (and Marwan and Ron, who I am forever blessed to meet and know are as truly amazing as the friend in question) wrote this song so it could choose me. And I hope, even if you don't know him, it can choose you and give you even the slightest sense of not what it is to enjoy, to love, or even to feel - but to remember.

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  1. Blogger DoktorPeace | 4:03 AM |  

    Every once in a while, this same City Breathing song randomly runs through my head, and I am impressed that Arun is one of its creators at the same time I'm realizing that, "Hey, this is one of that Indian guy's songs."

    Still, your writeup of it is totally gay.

  2. Blogger qualler | 2:15 PM |  

    Bravo for a superb Top 100 countdown! The Why? record was also a big-time grower for me, and now I feel like I might even like it a little more than Elephant Eyelash (except for the song where Yoni starts sorta falsetto singing, which I pointed out to Brigitte was somewhat of a shark-jumping/fridge-nuking moment for the album). And who doesn't love the Roonster?

  3. Blogger Sean | 2:18 PM |  

    yeah, i'd like arun's band a lot better if they didn't choose the lamest album name of the year. unless it was chosen for ironical purposes. then it's great. but if it's not.. (and knowing arun somewhat, it probably isn't). i'm disappointed.

  4. Blogger chris | 4:48 PM |  

    I'm sorry you're afraid to feel, Sean.

    Doktor, I would get gayer with you right now (and you would like it) if I didn't just find out some of my students have been following The Blogulator.

  5. Blogger Sean | 9:35 PM |  

    time for a rebuttal.
    i'm not afraid to feel, chris. i feel all the time when i watch tv. tv characters make me cry. crying is feeling.

    the reason why the album name upsets me is because it's wording is indicative of a slight arrogance on the part of the band.

    allow me to explain. from what i've heard, arun's band is in the post-rock genre of indie rock. one of the all-stars of said genre is the canadian(?) band godspeed! you black emperor. and one of their trailblazingly cool albums is titled "lift your skinny fists like antennas to heaven". to me, that band has the coolness rights (a quasi-property right and a term i just coined) to any album title containing the image of lifting fists, antennas, or the word "heaven".
    an analogue in the world of regular rock 'n roll would be the use of those weird irish steps a la led zeppelin or a prizm separating light into beams a la pink floyd. or using the words "Abbey" and "Road" and showing the band walking down a road on an album cover.
    the thing, to me, that arun's band has done by using the world "heaven" in a long, sentence-length album title for an indie-rock, post-rock band is in a way, associating itself with G!YBE.
    it would be perfectly acceptable for the band to do so in a comedic or satirical fashion. for example, if someone made an album called Cabbie Road and had a picture of taxi drivers walking awkwardly down a street, i would laugh and think, "that band is clever."
    however, use of that imagery in a serious manner is taken by me as the band saying outright, "we are as good as G!YBE and you should love us for that." the same principle applies to why i think that canyons of static band we saw picked a silly name for themselves. they are treading worn territory. arun's band is still fresh and should name their albums accordingly. they should strive for as few as possible connections to existing bands (especially bands in their genre). yes, yes, i know, art is not in a vacuum, it's a conversation, the mirror-view of media, blah blah blah. to me, city breathing has to rock awesomely for a while to earn the right to compare itself to a band i already love. that is just the way things are.
    if pablo honey era radiohead came along and went "hey, we're like REM, our next album is called something referring to REM, i would get upset. yes, i'm sure REM was an influence on thom, but it's wrong to just attach yourself to the gained cred of others instead of seeking out your own majesty on your own.

    also, i should add, long album titles have a tendency to bother me due to the likelihood of their text scrolling on my iPod. see Fiona Apple - When the pawn eats the king the throat of a star will develop butterflies or whatever the crap that album was called.

  6. Blogger qualler | 1:01 PM |  

    Wow Sean, you're a jerk!

    Just kidding, you're cool.

  7. Blogger chris | 1:10 PM |  

    Haha yeah, what Qualler said!

    No, that's fair - I'm just not too bugged by things like that, especially when the poetics and the imagery of the title in my opinion overpower and override any "been there done that" feeling. An album title like that, while using "heaven" in a similar way as the GY!BE album, gives me more to chew on, than a 3-4 word album title.

    I also see long album titles and wintry images as motifs amongst post-rock artists, making it a communal thing instead of a rip-off or unoriginal thing.

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