The Top 100 Songs of 2008
As with our top NYC area shows and top 50 albums lists, we came up with a bunch of disclaimers for this one too and they’re here, read them if you’re obsessive about this stuff. As great a year as it was for music, it’s sad to see that most of the blogosphere was oblivious. This was supposed to be the wild wild west, but it’s turned into just another boring suburb of the corporate media. The groupthink mentality is staggering, and it’s pathetic. But if you’re looking for the real good stuff, you’re in the right place!
1. Steve Wynn – I Don’t Deserve This
Lucid Culture’s pick for the single best song of 2008 was written by a guy who embodies the definition of “cult artist.” Adored by his fans, very popular in Europe and a volcanic live performer, Wynn’s songs are frequently imbued with considerable humor, but they’re also dark and menacing. This one’s about transcendence, a recurrent theme in Wynn’s work: just when he’s about to go postal, he has an epiphany. This darkly orchestrated backbeat-driven haunter is on Wynn’s latest cd Crossing Dragon Bridge; there are also several equally transcendent live versions up at archive.org as well. Look for a concert from Knust, Germany, fall 2008.
2. Matthew Grimm & the Red Smear – 1/20/09
The former Hangdogs’ frontman’s magnificent, bitter, vengeful anthem for everybody who can’t wait til the Bush regime is finally over and dead. “Maybe we’ll see each other again in The Hague…” Available at Grimm’s myspace.
3. The Sweet Bitters – Clocks Fall Back
A perfect capsulization of what life was like in New York City this year, the careless extravagance of wealth juxtaposed against crushing poverty. Sharon Goldman’s characteristically terse, crystallized lyric soars with harmonies from her bandmate Nina Schmir over a gorgeous, retro 60s folk-pop melody somewhat reminiscent of Simon & Garfunkel’s Hazy Shade of Winter. From the duo’s debut cd, also at their myspace
4. The Inbreeds – Unfurled
Definitely the funniest song of the year, a spot-on parody of everything rightwing distilled into four minutes of martial country bombast. Unreleased; it’s a staple of the NYC band’s live show
5. James McMurtry – We Can’t Make It Here
Hideously mained Vietnam vets joined by Iraq vets, shuttered factories, ghettos sprawling, small businesses going under, homelessness rising while CEOs make millions and pay no taxes, the corporate media and churches and antidepressants mask the harsh reality, kids gone off to be cannon fodder for Halliburton since the ruling classes sent all the jobs overseas. It’s all here in five brilliant minutes, the most accurate State of the Union address written this decade. “Take a part time job at one of your stores, betcha can’t make it here anymore.” The original is on the Childish Things cd, 2005; there are also several riveting live versions on youtube.
6. Des Roar – Ted Bundy Was a Ladies’ Man
Gleeful, savagely cynical, pounding anthem by this great New York garage/punk band. As defiantly un-PC as Son of Sam by the Dead Boys, 2008 style. We had this song on the Lucid Culture myspace for months because we never got sick of it. From their demo ep and also available at the band’s myspace.
7. Curtis Eller’s American Circus – After the Soil Fails
Intensely lyrical , historically aware, apocalyptic nouveau-ragtime cautionary tale by this superb NYC banjoist and oldtimey songwriter. From the Wirewalkers & Assassins cd.
8. Elvis Costello – American Gangster Time
Costello’s kiss-off to the Bush regime is a welcome return to his classic late 70s roots, punkish like something from This Year’s Model but louder and ruder with trebly Farfisa. From the Momofuku cd.
9. Kayhan Kalhor & Brooklyn Rider – Silent City
Written by the great Iranian kamancheh player and played with the innovative Brooklyn string quartet, this thirty-minute masterpiece is a dead-accurate portrayal of the aftereffects of shock on the human psyche, an evocation of Saddam Hussein’s poison gas attack on the Kurdish city of Hallabjah, the survivors gingerly picking through the wreckage, stunned disbelief turning to anguish. Title track from the cd.
10. Elvis Costello – No Hiding Place
Classic, slashingly lyrical Costello, this one an intensely catchy guitar-and-organ smash about the idiocy of celebrity.
11. The Brooklyn What – I Don’t Wanna Go to Williamsburg
One of the great anti-trendoid rants ever written, a defiant call to the cool kids to rise up and create a new scene that has nothing to do with celebrity or inherited wealth. From the band’s brand-new cd The Brookyn What for Borough President.
12. Katie Elevitch – Kindling for the Fire
The title track to her ferociously good new cd, the NYC noir siren and her band absolutely slay with this slowly crescendoing, macabre dirge whenever they play it live.
13. LJ Murphy – This Fearful Town
One of the most astute social critics in any style of music, this the great NYC noir rocker’s characteristically matter-of-fact, savage rail against Bush regime-induced orange-alert paranoia. Unreleased.
14. The Disclaimers – Tiptoe
A towering, crescendoing guitar-and-keyboard janglerock anthem with a stupendously good chorus-box solo from lead guitarist Dan Sullivan. Unreleased, but a staple of their live show.
15. The Disclaimers – Absolution
Like #14, this is also unreleased, but the band plays it out a lot. This is another big crescendoing anthem, a showcase for frontwomen Naa Koshie Mills and Kate Thomason to bring out every ounce of angst they can summon.
16. 17 Pygmies – Celestina V
This macabre, somewhat Yo La Tengo-ish ten-minute noise-rock instrumental is the centerpiece to the band’s relentlessly haunting new concept album about love and betrayal in outer space. Don’t laugh: they actually make the concept work.
17. Steve Wynn – Wait Until You Get to Know Me
Another track from Crossing Dragon Bridge, this is a gleefully ominous noir cabaret number told from the point of view of a drunken stalker type trying to pick up some clueless tourist girl in the wee hours.
18. Lazy Lions – Help Is Not Exactly on the Way
Superbly lyrical, Elvis Costello-inflected apocalypse anthem from the New York band’s debut ep Keep Your Love Away.
19. Haale – Ay Del Home
The Bronx rocker blends the fire of classic Iranian music with smoldering guitar-driven indie rock on this relentlessly haunting anthem, capped by a big smash on the gong as the melody explodes into flame. From her cd Paratrooper.
20. Jennifer Niceley – Shadows & Mountains
A haunting wee-hours driving song by the Nashville noir chanteuse, from her cd Luminous. The version she did at the Rockwood last spring was absolutely riveting.
21. Chicha Libre – Gnossienne #1
From the funnest cd of the year, the Brooklyn chicha revivalists’ debut Sonido Amazonico, this is a psychedelic but also considerably macabre reverb guitar cover of the Erik Satie classic.
22. Ward White – Pulling Out
Title track from the Brooklyn lyrical powerhouse’s latest and best cd, a savagely witty kiss-off anthem.
23. The Supertones – Bushwacked
A politically charged spaghetti western instrumental that literally packs a punch. Unreleased – the version the NYC surf legends played at Otto’s last winter was killer.
24. Musette Explosion – La Sorciere
Musette is accordion-and-guitar barroom music from France and Belgium in the 20s and 30s. Written by legendary accordionist Jo Privat, this was the highlight of a scorching show that the musette project of guitarist Matt Munisteri and accordionist Will Holshouser played at Barbes last spring, Munisteri wailing on banjo.
25. The Flashcubes – Blackberry Way
Cover of the classic 60s noir pop song by the Move by this long-running upstate New York band. Not clear if it was ever released on cd, but it’s on the band’s myspace.
26. Little Pink – Magic Years
Frontwoman Mary Battiata’s rivetingly haunting, stoic ballad about child abuse, told from a later perspective, looking back on the years that were anything but magic. From the cd Gladly Would We Anchor.
27. The Disclaimers – Under the Belly of the 7 Train
Eerie, somewhat Syd Barrett-inflected anthem by the brilliant Brooklyn janglerockers, a vivid night scene beneath the elevated tracks. Unreleased, it’s a live showstopper.
28. Simon & the Bar Sinisters – Dead Kennedys Instrumental
The legendary New York surf/rockabilly/punk guitarist has so many good songs, and in concert he doesn’t often introduce them by title, so we came up with one of our own. This is a particularly good surf number with evilly gleeful East Bay Ray Style chromatic guitar. No idea if it’s been released or not – Simon, you out there?
29. Mavrothi Kontanis – Arapina
One of the high points of the first of his two sensationally good debut cds released simultaneously this past summer, this is a haunting Turkish-inflected Greek song with oud, kanun (zither), violin and percussion. The high point of a particularly incandescent live show at Barbes back in the spring.
At another Barbes show this past spring, the ecstatically intense, guitar-and-horn-driven Balkan rockers teamed up with Brooklyn’s own Bulgarian vocal quartet to do one of the eeriest, most captivating songs we saw live all year. Unreleased, and Black Sea Hotel hasn’t played in a long time, but keep your eye out for both bands.
31. Lianne Smith – Hit & Run
Someday hopefully we’ll be able to hear a recording of this darkly beautiful reverb guitar smash, a song that could have been on the first New Order album. Until then, you’ll have to go see Smith live to hear it.
32. The Dog Show – Black Eye
Bitter, haunting mod punk brilliance from Dog Show frontman Jerome O’Brien, from yet another superb limited-release Dog Show ep, Nicotene & Bluz.
33. Sarah Mucho – Most Peculiar Man
A particularly spooky cover of the Simon & Garfunkel suicide ballad, it’s arguably the centerpiece to the System Noise frontwoman’s riveting cabaret show Subterranean Circus. Unreleased, although there are bootlegs kicking around.
34. Chicha Libre – Sonido Amazonico
The impossibly catchy, bouncy title track to their new cd, it’s a cover of a classic by los Mirlos, one of the pioneering bands from the Peruvian Amazon who created this amazingly fun, surfy style back in the 70s.
35. Randi Russo – Venus on Saturn
New and unreleased, it’s the NYC noir rocker at her casually dismissive, witty best, this time telling off a drama queen. Unreleased – Russo is extraordinarily prolific – but there are bootlegs kicking around, and she often plays it live.
36. James McMurtry – Cheney’s Toy
A snide, spot-on anti-Bush diatribe from the great acoustic guitarist/rocker. From Just Us Kids, recently released and long, long overdue for a review here.
37. The Brooklyn What – I’m Not Like Everybody Else
Volcanic cover of the Kinks’ defiantly nonconformist garage rock anthem, a staple of their live show: this kicks ass every time.
38. Ansambl Mastika – Hora
This probably isn’t the title, but it’s in their live set list and it sounds like one, a darkly stalking, minor-key kelzmer dance fueled by electric guitar and a blazing horn section.
In its original version, this pop standard is a requiem for a cad. The NYC noir chanteuse has made her theme, and a requiem for lost time. At Santos Party House this past fall, she and her cohort, Botanica pianist Paul Wallfisch brought out every bit of anguish they could find. Click here to watch it.
40. Mighty High – T.S. Eliot
One of the funniest songs of the year, this is a parody of rap-metal with a hysterical, long outro. From the cd Mighty High in Drug City
41. Black 47 – Stars & Stripes
Set to the melody of the old calypso standard Sloop John B (i.e. “let me go home, please let me go home,”), this is the opening cut on our choice for best cd of 2008, the Irish-American rockers’ absolutely brilliant – and important – cd Iraq.
42. Black 47 – The Battle of Fallujah
“Don’t let ’em know that they used ya,” an American soldier says sarcastically in this rousing Celtic-tinged ballad, also from the Iraq cd. “If there was a draft this war would be over by noon.”
43. Steve Wynn – Punching Holes in the Sky
Quiet anger verging on wrath in this haunting, somewhat minimalist minor-key art rock number from Wynn’s new cd Crossing Dragon Bridge.
44. Susquehanna Industrial Tool & Die Co. – I Hate You
One of the great, blackly funny kiss-off anthems of alltime by these early 50s style NYC hillbilly music revivalists. Available at the band’s myspace.
45. Monica Passin – This Cat
The first rockabilly song that the former Lil Mo & the Monicats frontwoman ever wrote, it’s a dark, minor key number. Not sure if it was ever released. She and her guitarist absolutely slayed with this at a show at Banjo Jim’s last spring.
46. Haale – Floating Down
Another riveting, hypnotic Iranian-inflected indie rock anthem from the great NYC indie rocker. It’s up on her myspace.
47. Layali El Andalus – Ya Rayyeh
A classic oldtime acoustic Levantine dance version of the Middle Eastern party anthem (and anticorruption broadside) from the 1920s, famously resurrected by Rachid Taha in the 90s. Not sure if it’s ever been recorded, but the band plays it live and there are bootlegs kicking around.
48. Chicha Libre – Tres Pasajeros
Another bouncy, eerie one-chord surf/cumbia/psychedelic rock instrumental from the band’s sensationally good 2008 debut Sonido Amazonico, this one written by Electrovox keyboardist Josh Camp.
49. Jennifer Niceley – Blind Woman
Cover of the old soul classic by the Nashville noir chanteuse. She killed with this at her Rockwood show this past spring. From the cd Luminous; it’s also on her myspace
50. Chicha Libre – Guns of Brixton
Like the Peruvian chicha bands of the 70s, Chicha Libre have a great time taking rock songs and turning them into chicha. This cover of the Clash classic is remarkably true to the original while picking up the pace a little.
51. Tom Shaner – She’s an Everyday Hipster
A subtly sarcastic, very funny anti-trendoid anthem from the excellent former Industrial Tepee frontman and southwestern gothic rocker. Unreleased, but he plays it live a lot and there are bootlegs kicking around.
52. The Knitters – Skin Deep Town
This is X’s country side project; the countrified version of this La La Land satire from Wild Gift that they played out back of Lincoln Center last summer was indescribably good.
53. Aimee Mann – Medicine Wheel
Mann at her casually savage best as a psychopathologist, expertly dissecting one selfcentered guy’s innumerable failings over a beautiful piano melody. From her latest one Fucking Smilers.
54. Roots Rock Rebel – Not Where We Belong
Fiery Irish ballad about getting the hell out of the Iraq war, by these often Middle Eastern-inflected New Jersey punk rockers. It’s up at their myspace.
55. Matt Keating – Sorry Son
Another brilliant anti-Iraq war number set to a rousing janglerock tune, this vividly recounts the lies that got us into the war in the first place. From Keating’s latest and best cd Quixotic.
56. Magges – Misirlou
Cover of the Greek classic, closer to the lushness of the original ballad than the Dick Dale surf classic, by these amazing, ouzo-fueled NYC Greek-American party monsters.
57. Bliss Blood – Blackwater
The Moonlighters frontwoman rarely plays solo, but when she does it’s a treat. At an acoustic gig at a Williamsburg dive last winter, with just her and the ukelele, she delivered a riveting version of this song from her shortlived “crime jazz” project Nightcall, a searing broadside aimed at the mercenaries killing innocent Iraqi civilians. It’s up at Nightcall’s myspace.
58. Steve Wynn – Bring the Magic
More casually gleeful noir rock by the master of the style, this one an actually somewhat joyous road song. Also from Crossing Dragon Bridge.
59. Kilifax – Bush Is an Asshole
Somebody had to write this song and it’s nice to see that it was these irreverent, lo-fi NYC punks who did. It used to be on their myspace: bring it back, guys!
60. Roy Young – Strange
Noir 60s style soul with organ from this amazing Jamaican crooner now living in Israel.
61. Notherground – Belief
Vivid hip-hop cautionary tale: don’t believe anything the powers that be tell you, the underground Queens, NY crew reminds you. Used to be on their myspace but not anymore.
62. Sarah Mucho – In Particular
Amazing, piano-driven noir cabaret version of the Blonde Redhead synth-pop song done somewhat Siouxsie style by the System Noise frontwoman and noted cabaret stylist. Unreleased, although there are bootlegs.
63. Joe Pug – I Do My Father’s Drugs
A spot-on lyrical dissection of selfcentered baby-boomer cluelessness by the Chicago acoustic rocker. From the cd Nation of Heat.
64. Aimee Mann – The Great Beyond
One of those great, quietly insistent “get the hell out of here while you can” anthems that Mann writes so well. From the Fucking Smilers cd.
65. Ward White – Beautiful Reward
Beautiful and haunting backbeat-driven janglerock, with a subtly brutal lyric by the superb and vastly underrated Brooklyn songsmith. From his latest and best cd Pulling Out.
66. The French Exit – Bad Sign
Slowly slinky noir cabaret meets goth meets Godspeed You Black Emperor on this ferocious new one by the excellent NYC underground rockers. It’s on their myspace.
67. The Snow – Russians
A hilariously telling look at what happens when a corrupt society goes even more corruptly capitalist, by the Melomane frontman’s excellent, slightly more rustic side project that now seems to be pretty much fulltime.
68. Sounds of Taraab – Bashraf Salama
This New York band has singlehandedly revived the great music of Zanzibar from the 20s and 30s, haunting Middle Eastern melodies set to bouncy African rhythms. This is a gorgeous instrumental dance tune from their new cd Zanzibar, NY.
69. Isle of Klezbos – Revery in Hijaz
70. The Toneballs – Shoot Out the Lights
At a show last summer at Freddy’s, ex-Blow This Nightclub frontman Dan Sallitt’s new band did justice to the Richard Thompson classic, right down to lead guitarist Paul McKenzie’s frenetically intense solo. Unreleased, although there are bootlegs around somewhere.
71. 17 Pygmies – Celestina VII
This track from the California art-rockers’ excellent new concept album is a reprise of its glimmering, macabre opening theme.
72. Curtis Eller’s American Circus – Sugar for the Horses
Aptly aphoristic, sardonically cynical oldtimey ragtime number from the excellent NYC banjoist/tunesmith. Also from Wirewalkers & Assassins.
Sad yet staunchly defiant, this is one of the smoky noir cabaret chanteuse’s best darkly humorous ones. So what if I behaved badly, she asks: I didn’t hurt anyone, why do we have to have all these meetings? Unreleased, but increasingly a staple of the duo’s live shows.
74. Joe Pug – Nation of Heat
Title track from the Chicago acoustic rocker’s excellent ep, this is a powerfully imagistic, sarcastic state-of-the-nation diatribe.
75. Linda Draper – Flee
Not sure if this is the title: it’s a quietly insistent get-the-hell-out-at-all-costs anthem from the brilliant New York lyricist and acoustic indie rocker. Unreleased, but it’ll probably be on her next album (her seventh if memory serves right).
76. Aimee Mann – Columbus Avenue
More kiss-off brilliance from Fucking Smilers, matter-of-factly dripping with schadenfreude.
77. Ward White – I Just Wanna
Another standout track from Pulling Out, this playfully breaks the fourth wall and plays with the listener. Brutally bitter but also very funny.
78. Lazy Lions – Your Nightmare Now
Brillantly catchy, caustically lyrical anthem by the New York new wave revivalists. Unreleased, and when is the band playing next? Stay tuned.
79. Joe Pug – Nobody’s Man
Defiant, confrontational nonconformist anthem, also from the Nation of Heat ep.
80. Dengue Fever – Seeing Hands
Hynotically catchy 1970s style Cambodian psychedelic pop with eerie reverb guitar and organ. The band killed with this at Central Park last summer. From the cd Venus on Earth.
81. Lazy Lions – It’s Just the Night
Another unreleased, lyrically-driven nouveau new wave gem, jumping along on a staccato dance beat. There’s a bootleg version or two out there, it seems.
82. Elvis Costello – Stella Hurt
Distorted punkish riff-rock from Momofuku, Costello pushing his vocals here on a long noir narrative with a long noise-rock outro.
83. Aimee Mann – Borrowing Time
This one finds Mann lighting into the worst kind of golddigger, the kind who’ll leave you with a child-support bill. Also from Fucking Smiles.
84. Tandy – The Fever Breaks
Beautifully melodic, crescendoing southwestern gothic janglerock from this NYC Americana crew. From the excellent double cd To a Friend/Did You Think I was Gone.
85. Roots Rock Rebel – 50 Miles to Baghdad
Scorching Dick Dale style Middle Eastern surf rock instrumental by the NJ punk band. It’s up at their myspace.
86. The Bedsit Poets – Hardened Ground
Amanda Thorpe’s beautifully nuanced, wounded voice carries this lament that just might be about the destruction of working class neighborhoods in New York, or it could be something even more universal. From their new cd Rendezvous.
87. Maria Cangiano – Ciudades
The Brooklyn-based tango chanteuse delivered a riveting version of this Astor Piazzolla lament at Drom recently. Not sure if it’s been released, but it’s a high point of her live show.
88. Tandy – I’m the Werewolf
Slowly hypnotic, vividly lyrical narrative nocturne from the NYC Americana band, also from the double cd To a Friend/Did You Think I Was Gone
89. The Nice Outfit – One Minute Forty-Five
Ferociously brief Radio Birdman-style garage punk with a sweet guitar solo from this excellent Milwaukee band. From their new cd Kissing Jocelyn.
90. Elvis Costello – Mr. Feathers
Opening with an eerie backward masked piano intro, it’s noir cabaret as LJ Murphy would do it, building to a poppy Penny Lane chorus. Also from Momofuku.
91. Elvis Costello – Turpentine
Truth in advertising. Also from Momofuku, this is a guitar-fueled, somewhat haunting, swampy rocker.
92. Curtis Eller’s American Circus – Firing Squad
Fast, fiery ragtime with one of Eller’s characteristically pointed lyrics. Also from Wirewalkers & Assassins
93. The Dog Show – Nicotene & Bluz
Title track to their latest ep, this is frontman Jerome O’Brien’s scary, oldschool R&B-inflected look down the highway at what’s coming at us head-on
94. Hayes Carll – She Left Me for Jesus
Absolutely hilarious nouveau-outlaw country ballad, as good as anything David Allan Coe ever did. From the cd Trouble in Mind.
95. Black 47 – Downtown Baghdad Blues
The cost of war profiteering neatly and boisterously summed up by these veteran Irish-American rockers. Another track from our pick for best cd of 2008, Iraq.
96. Livia Hoffman – Infinite Jest
Hoffman describes her songs as “lit rock,” although this scorchingly dark, terse, minor-key, backbeat-driven abandonment anthem bears absolutely no resemblance to the late David Foster Wallace. Somewhere there’s a good bootleg of a careening version of this from the upstate Beefstock festival last spring,
97. Roots Rock Rebel – Bullets to Ballots
Another dark, intense, smart, guitar-fueled anti-Iraq war broadside, also on the band’s myspace.
98. Black 47 – The Last One to Die
Blackly humorous combat anthem, from the point of view of a soldier who’s more interested in just saving his own ass than supporting any kind of regime, Bush’s or otherwise. Also from the Iraq cd.
99. Linda Draper – Bridge & Tunnel
Think this is the actual title: it’s an especially savage if hauntingly minimalist acoustic broadside from the NYC underground acoustic rock chanteuse.
100. Black Fortress of Opium – Ari
Wildly crescendoing, Middle Eastern-inflected noir art-rock from the Boston band’s sensationally good new debut cd.
And just for fun (and to give some added perspective to this list), here are the #1 songs of the year for 2007 from this site and our predecessor e-zine going all the way back to its inception in 2000:
2007: Amy Allison – Turn Out the Lights
2006: System Noise – Daydreaming
2005: LJ Murphy – Pretty for the Parlor
2004: Botanica – Good
2003: The Wirebirds – This Green Hell
2002: Bob Dylan – Mississippi
2001: Mary Lee’s Corvette – Idiot Wind
2000: Ninth House – Put a Stake Right Through It