- Birthday - The Very Best (Esau Mwamwaya & Radioclit) [from 'The Very Best' Mixtape] This is everything a cover song should be: incredibly inventive and original, yet incorporating and accentuating the best elements of the original song. The vocals and music on this one are provided in part by The Ruby Suns, an excellent band out of New Zealand to which you should be listening. The whole mixtape this song is from is incredible, you can check it out (for free!) here.
- The Kramer - Wale [from The Mixtape About Nothing] Washington DC's own Wale confronts racism and rap's use of the N-word head-on in this incredible track that starts off with a very disturbing clip of Michael Richards's infamous night at the comedy club. This track warrants several listens to really catch all the lyrics. I'm optimistic for Wale's future - he's got an incredible way with words. Check out the rest of the amazing Mixtape About Nothing.
- Million Dollar Boots - Lord T & Eloise [from Aristocrunk] I don't know a lot about these 2 white dudes who crafted ridiculous alter-egos and invented the word aristocrunk, but I first heard them on a mix of all the 2007 SXSW Music artists. I love that they are basically a rap version of Billionaires for Bush.
- Jakolando - Extra Golden from Hera Ma Nono Extra Golden hails from both Kenya and Washington DC, and they make beautiful music that makes me smile. I hope you like it, too.
- Prefix Free - Parts & Labor [from Receivers] I heard about these guys from my brother (of course), and I like their sound. They remind me of a mix between Wire and Six. By. Seven. This song is a little more chill than the rest of the album, but it's a great album.
- You're Gonna Miss Me - The 13th Floor Elevators [from The Psychedelic Sounds Of The 13th Floor Elevators] OK, so this song is 42 years old and I just heard it this year. So what? It's still awesome. For me, this is everything that Gloria should have been.
- Death to Los Campesinos! - Los Campesinos! [from Hold On Now, Youngster] I had a hard time deciding between this song and My Year In Lists off the same album, but this one won out because of the chorus effect on the word "sugar." Dig it! I also like the Pixies reference in the title. I wasn't as enamored of their newest album, but it's still pretty damn good.
- Mexican Standoff - Elbow [from Leaders Of The Free World] My friend Kate introduced me to this band in 2008, and I've since gotten a bunch of their albums and really like them all. They remind me a lot of Radiohead, sometimes of Leonard Cohen, sometimes Super Furry Animals, sometimes Badly Drawn Boy, but yet they always end up sounding original despite the heavy influences. This song is one of my favorites off their award-winning album.
- Colors - Portugal. The Man [from Censored Colors] Despite their weird name, this band is really good and you should listen to them. This song is not really indicative of their sound, which is cool because they tend to have a lot of different sounds, even on one album. I promise they will not bore you, even when you're listening to their 23-minute long album opener off this other album. This song really reminds me of The Sleepy Jackson, which is a good thing.
- Circus of Horror - Quiet Village [from Silent Movie] One reviewer of this album, which is built out of all sorts of retro samples and riffs, as "the soundtrack to a dream," and I agree. Sometimes the dream is dull, but mostly the dream is beautiful. And in the case of this track, the dream is funky.
- Bye Bye Bye - Plants and Animals [from Parc Avenue] This song is catchy, melodic, nicely orchestrated (a piano! a chorus!), and overall high quality. That's as specific as I can get right now, I have a headache. Just listen to it and enjoy.
- The Art Of Driving - Black Box Recorder [from The Facts Of Life] If you like the sound of this song (repetitive background, spoken lyrics, a sung chorus thrown in occasionally, barely hidden themes of sex and unrequited love), then you're in luck. Every song on the album sounds exactly like this one.
- Geno - Dexy's Midnight Runners [from Let's Make This Precious (The Best Of)] Before this year, I thought of Dexy's Midnight Runners as the people behind Come On Eileen. And that was all I thought of them. But my brother showed me that they could be more. Much more. They're actually pretty damn good. I likes me some horns.
- Lackthereof - Fake Empire [from Your Anchor] This album showed Lackthereof to be much more than just a Menomena side project. It's a great album, full of emotion and beautifully understated songs. My favorite track is their cover of The National's Fake Empire. I actually prefer it to the original.
- One Pure Thought - Hot Chip [from Made In The Dark] You can read how much I fucking love this song here. I'm still somewhat obsessed with it.
- In The Rushes - Islands [from Arm's Way] I wrote about this song previously here. It still blows me away when they change gears and go into A Quick One..., but now I appreciate the rest of the song, too. It's good.
- Campus - Vampire Weekend [from Vampire Weekend] I tried hard to resist Vampire Weekend, but I failed. They're just too damn catchy. I'm glad the younger generation now has their own version of Graceland. [Editor's note: I'm not equating those two albums in terms of quality, but rather pointing out that one of them really ripped off the other one. You decide which one.]
- Joset Of Nazareth's Blues - Titus Andronicus [from The Airing Of Grievances] This band reminds me of the Clash, but a little angrier. This song is a little more mellow than the rest of the album, but it's a fantastic album.
- Tonz 'o' Gunz - Gang Starr [from Hard To Earn] This is turning into a long-ass list, and I'm getting tired. So I'll just say that I'd never really listened to Gang Starr before this year, and I wish I had. This album is great.
- Pwnd - The Mae Shi [from HLLLYH] Don't let the first few seconds fool you, they're going to start yelling! This is another great album about religion (see also: The Thermals). The words are great, the music is loud, and the beer is cold.
- Flesh Failures - Lightspeed Champion [from Covers EP] After seeing Lightspeed Champion at SXSW last year, I listened to his album over and over again and became something of a fan. His cover of one of my favorite songs from Hair makes my spine tingle.
- Palmitos Park - El Guincho [from Alegranza] When I heard this in January, my brother told me it was destined to become one of his (and my) favorite albums of 2008. He was right. This album is like a party in your ears.
- What Up Man - The Cool Kids [from The Bake Sale] I love the use of a human being saying "clap" and "bass" in the background of this song as percussion as opposed to using the actual sounds. Brilliant. Also they can rap pretty well.
- The Twist - Frightened Rabbit [from The Midnight Organ Fight] This song almost makes me cry. It's that sad. But it's also totally awesome. The lyrics are just so sad, e.g. "Twist, and whisper the wrong name/I don't care, and nor do my ears/Twist yourself around me/I need company, I need human heat." Sigh.
- Don't Run Our Hearts Around - Black Mountain [from Black Mountain] This song reminds me of Black Sabbath on their day off. Or something.
- So It Goes - Nick Lowe [from Jesus Of Cool] I can't believe I went this long without listening to Nick Lowe. Thanks to my anonymous friend for turning me on to him. I don't care if this is a thinly veiled ripoff of Reeling In The Years, it's way more fun because it doesn't take itself half as seriously.
My friend Alex recently sent around his "best music of 2008" email, and it had a fascinating twist which I've decided to rip off: instead of listing his favorite songs/albums/whatever that were released in 2008, he listed his favorite songs/albums/whatever that he first heard in 2008. I like that approach - some of my favorite stuff I listened to this year came out long ago, but in my mind I'll always associate these songs with this year, regardless of their official release date. And so I present to you: some of my favorite songs that I heard for the first time in 2008.
I need to say that this list is extremely incomplete, and is of course distorted by memory...meaning that many songs were left off through no fault of their own, and some songs made it on due to repeated listenings trumping song quality. But whatever, it's a list. Enjoy! (It's kind of long; I had a hard time editing this one down.)
Here's some reading notes to keep you busy:
Well, that was exhausting. What did you love that you first heard this year? Tell me in the comments, and happy (almost) new year!
Sigh. First Muxtape, now Mixwit. I've written about Mixwit before, and posted a few mixtapes on this blog. But now the bad guys have won and they will be gone forever come January 2009. I (and their other users) received this email today:
We regret to announce that Mixwit will cease to exist at the end of the year.The website and profiles will be turned off around Dec 27th and all embedded widgets will stop playing before the end of December.We’ve put a year of work into Mixwit so this choice wasn’t taken lightly. I won’t go into the details of our situation but state simply that we boldly marched into in a position best described as “between a rock and a hard place.” We’re very grateful to be have been part of the mixtape revival of ‘08 and are satisfied to be able to to bow out while things are still good.You guys are all amazing. It’s clear that all of you put a ton of time and effort into your mixes. For me personally, I was looking forward to all of the designs people created for their tapes. There was a lot of basic tapes and many lovely photos, but the designs and artwork - WOW!We’re very sorry that this has to end. We’re going to try to figure out some way to archive the artwork and playlists, if for nothing at leasthistoric value. As for now, everything needs to be shut down by the end of the year just to make sure we’ve got a clean start for 2009.We’ll return early next year with a new company and new toys. Until then, enjoy the holidays and please take good care of yourselves,your families, and your friends =)- Radley & Mike
It was great while it lasted. Anyone know any other good playlist services that aren't gone yet?
|Picture courtesy of flickr user elycefeliz|
UPDATE 2: Click here to download this year's playlist.
Well, it's that time of year again. All my favorite December accoutrements are back in vogue: eggnog, pagan winter trees, mindless consumerism, and of course...Holiday music! Now I should clarify, my usage of "holiday" here is not because I'm actively engaged in the War On Christmas (though I am), but rather because many of my favorite songs of this season have little if anything to do with Christmas. Frosty the Snowman? How did that ever get labelled a Christmas song? Did the power of Christ compel Frosty to come to life? Sounds pretty damn Voodoo to me. Others, of course, are overtly religious, but even an atheist like me can admit that that doesn't mean they can't be wonderful songs.
Growing up Jewish, I never really got exposed to good "Christmas music," but I did get exposed to many beautiful Chanukah (and other Jewish) songs. My only experience with Christmas music would be the horrible crap I heard repeated ad naseum at the mall, in drug stores, on the radio, in TV commercials, and basically everywhere else my ears were from late November - New Year's. And frankly, I fucking hated it. And for good reason: most of the music played in public this time of year is simply fucking awful. Even good songs (like the aforementioned Mr. Snowman) get mangled over and over again by hack "artists" looking for a quick buck.
Well, I'm glad to say that Wired for Music is here to help. In addition to some really good resources for decent holiday music, I'm giving you my very own playlist of holiday favorites. This time of year is when every musician in the world becomes a cover band, and half the fun is seeing how 50 different bands treat the same tune. The other half is hearing your favorite bands come up with some originals about the same topics. And the third half is drinking eggnog.
Those of you know who me (i.e. my readers) may be surprised that there isn't more indie rock here - but that's because I think it takes more than a hip band covering a classic tune to make it good holiday music. What it takes is an appreciation for what's good about a song, and an artist's ability to put his or her own unique twist on it, thereby heightening the good qualities of the original piece while making it sound new and interesting. And of course, the most important factor in good holiday music is that it sound....good. Not grating, cloying, hip for hip's sake, or whatever else. Just good. This is by no means a complete list of "good" holiday music, but I hope it's enough to get you through the rest of your holiday shopping.
Here are some quick notes on each track so you have something to read while you listen:
- Everything's Gonna Be Cool This Christmas - Eels I was torn between this track and the Eels' excellent "Christmas Is Going To The Dogs," which has the added benefit of also being about dogs. But this one won out because A) the tune is way better, and B) it features the line "baby Jesus, born to rock." (Well, the lyrics claim it features that line, but I can't hear it, but whatever).
- Frosty The Snowman - The Ronettes You may recognize this one from Goodfellas. My favorite thing about this (other than the production, which is of course spectacular) is the thick accent that comes through on the word "Frosty." Hilarious, yet awesome.
- Christmas Wrapping - The Waitresses The horns! It's all about the horns! Also the heart-breaking lines: "The perfect gift for me would be/Completions and connections left from/Last year ski shop/Encounter, most interesting/Had his number but never the time/Most of '81 passed along those lines."
- Blue Christmas - Johnny Cash This starts out lame, but within 5 seconds, Cash's voice simply takes over your brain and you know that he's telling the truth, regardless of the "oohs" and "ahhs" in the background.
- Christmas Night in Harlem - Louis Armstrong & Friends The voice, the horns, the little laugh he does in the middle of the line "everyone will be all lit up like a christmas tree" - Louis does this one up right.
- Christmas In Hollis - Run DMC An instant classic, which I first heard pumping out of Argyle's limo speakers in Die Hard. Man, that's an awesome movie.
- Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer - Ringo Starr Another Jewish boy tries to come to terms with Christmas his own way. I feel you, Ringo. UPDATE: According to the Internet, Ringo Starr is not Jewish, and never was. Discuss.
- Santa Baby - Eartha Kitt This, for me, is the definitive version of "Santa Baby." You might have your own opinion on the matter, but you are wrong.
- Santa Claus is Comin to Town - The Jackson Five Despite the horrible emotional pain all those children singing were no doubt experiencing at the time of this recording due to being forced to rehearse night and day, this song still just sounds like an expression of pure anticipatory joy. Maybe they thought Santa would kill their parents and set them free?
- Oi to the World - No Doubt A heartwarming Christmas tale sung by a hot blonde. What more could you ask for?
- Entr'acte - Duke Ellington Ellington does Tchaikovsky. Need I say more? Yes, I need: do yourself a favor and check out this whole album. Every track is fantastic. Ellington the orchestrator/composer is every bit as fascinating and listenable as Ellington the jazzman.
- We Three Kings of Orient Are - John Fahey Crazy record collector, crazy record label creator, and crazy gifted guitarist John Fahey makes this sound both melancholy and hopeful in equal turns. This just calls out for a roaring fire and some cocoa.
- I Saw Three Ships - Sufjan Stevens Five discs is a but much for Sufjan's Christmas music, but taken one at a time, most of the songs are pretty good. I don't know what kind of wind instrument that is over top of the banjo at the beginning of this track, but I like it. And you will, too.
- Silver Bells - Doris Day A beautiful voice, an animal rights activist, and easy on the eyes. Doris Day was a class act. This one is definitely traditional, but it passes the "good" test in my book. I hope you agree.
- Sleigh Ride - Spice Girls The talking almost ruins this one, but the amount of fun the Spice Girls are obviously having during the actual musical bits make it all worthwhile. Can they sing? No. But they can have fun, and isn't that worth something? If you're looking for more musical quality, check out Mel Tormé's version of this song. It's good.
- I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm - Kay Starr (remixed by Stuhr) There are a lot of holiday music remix albums, and lots of them are bad. Some of them are good, and some of their tracks achieve, dare I say [Editor's note: I dare] greatness. This one succeeds because you can tell that both the original and the remix are good. And like I always say, too much of a good thing is totally awesome.
- Carol Of The Beasts (Instrumental) - Pete Seeger Banjos + whistling + holiday times would probably = fun, right? Not to Pete Seeger. Pete Seeger keeps it real. Deal with it.
- Jingle Bells - Sammy Davis, Jr. What can I say? Jews do Christmas music right. Always have, always will.
- Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis - Tom Waits This stretches the definition of "Christmas song," and for that I'm grateful. Keep the Kleenex handy for this one, it's a tearjerker.