Lucid Culture


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 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.


30. Black Sea Hotel and Ansambl Mastika – Boima Boima

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.


39. Little Annie & Paul Wallfisch – Yesterday When I Was Young

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

Slow, slinky, haunting accordion-driven instrumental by the great trumpeter Pam Fleming, from this haunting and spirited all-female (well, mostly all-female) Metropolitan Klezmer offshoot.


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.


73. Little Annie & Paul Wallfisch – The Other Side of Heartache

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

December 22, 2008 Posted by | Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

The Top 50 Albums of 2008

Conventional wisdom be damned: the cd is far from dead, in fact maybe more alive than ever since independent bands and artists have reclaimed their turf from the major labels. Most of what’s here are independent releases, with a few smart independent labels represented. For the rationale behind this list, we set up a rationale page for the truly obsessed.


Three of these cds in particular stand out from the hundreds of thousands – or maybe even millions – released in 2008. Our pick for best album of 2008 wasn’t by a multimillionaire New Jersey trust fund kid living in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, or a computer nerd with glasses the size of Elton John’s head, or a silicone-poisoned porn actress with a cable tv reality show. Rather, it was put out by a veteran Irish-American rock band whose lone brush with mainstream stardom came and went in the blink of an eye about fifteen years ago. Iraq by Black 47 isn’t just a good collection of rousing, Celtic-tinged rock tunes: it’s the most important album of the year, an unforgettable look at the war through the eyes of the soldiers just trying to get out of there alive. Black 47 frontman Larry Kirwan is also an accomplished novelist, and it shows in these songs: the black humor, the dialogue and the war’s sad drama have never been portrayed more powerfully or evocatively than they are here.


The party album of the year, the one that everybody was talking about and to which we assigned the #2 spot, was Sonido Amazonico by Chicha Libre. With this wickedly smart, fun, sometimes lovingly satirical collection of classic covers and originals, the Brooklyn band singlehandedly spearheaded a revival of the wildly psychedelic, surfy sound that was all the rage in the slums of the Peruvian Amazon 35 years ago. With its playful, hypnotic bounce, it made an irresistible soundtrack for the summer of 2008.


The darkest and most haunting album of the year, clocking in at number three, was Celestina by long-running California art-rockers 17 Pygmies. Based on a short story by frontman/guitarist Jackson Del Rey about love and betrayal in outer space, it’s a majestic, epic, eleven-part symphonic rock masterpiece.


And the rest of the list is incredible as well. Last year, our best albums list stopped at #20; this year, it felt egregiously unfair to cut this one off at #50. Many of these you know; some you may not. Enjoy!


4.  Marcel Khalife – Taqasim

A dark, stately, beautiful trio suite for oud, bass and percussion from the great Palestinian oud virtuoso.


5.  Kayhan Kalhor & Brooklyn Rider – Silent City

The Iranian multi-instrumentalist string player/composer teamed up with the adventurous Brooklyn string quartet for a lush, intensely beautiful, powerfully compelling collection.


6.  Matt Keating – Quixotic

This gorgeously jangly double cd marks the high point in the New York rock songwriter’s career.


7.  Erica Smith & the 99 Cent Dreams – Snowblind

The NYC noir Americana songwriter/chanteuse proved equally mesmerizing at janglerock, bossa nova and even an early 70s style heavy metal song.


8.  Mascott – Art Project

Simply gorgeous, sunny, gemlike guitar-and-keyboard pop song perfection.


9.  System Noise – Give Me Power

The NYC rockers’ second official release proved they could be as melodic and danceable as they are savagely ferocious, frontwoman Sarah Mucho’s unearthly wail soaring over the din.


10. Aimee Mann – Fucking Smilers

She just keeps going, maybe better than ever; this one’s more keyboard-based but no less brilliant than anything she’s ever done.


11. Elvis Costello – Momofuku

A return to his lyrically dazzling, scorched-earth late 70s style guitar-and-keyboard lyrical rock, yet another addition to his pantheonic body of work.


12. Steve Wynn – Crossing Dragon Bridge

Wynn’s best cd studio cd since…his last one is a sometimes majestic, sometimes stark detour into hauntingly orchestrated rock, his trademark menace front and center as always.


13. Melomane – Look Out!

Frontman Pierre de Gaillande’s ongoing disaster song cycle is a clinic in brilliantly lyrical, orchestrated rock understatement, a particularly timely release.


14. Ward White – Pulling Out

His best album: the New York underground janglerock songwriter has never been more catchy, more brilliantly acerbic or savagely funny.


15 Mavrothi Kontanis – Sto Kafesli Sokaki

One of the oud virtuoso’s two debut cds released this past summer, this is a haunting mix of Greek and Turkish songs from decades past, many of them obscure but all of them first-rate


16. Mark Sinnis – Into an Unhidden Future

The Ninth House frontman’s solo debut, a haunting collection of Nashville gothic songs, was impeccably produced with the same dark, minimalist restraint as Johnny Cash’s Rick Rubin albums.


17. Amanda Thorpe – Union Square

The darkly riveting chanteuse’s second solo release was worth the wait, all stark, rain-drenched beauty and anguish.


18. Patty Ocfemia – Heaven’s Best Guest

There are few songwriters who tell a story as well as this relatively under-the-radar New York artist with a strikingly subtle, breathy vocal delivery.


19. Curtis Eller’s American Circus – Wirewalkers & Assassins

The oldtimey banjoist is also a first-rate songwriter with a potently lyrical edge and a distinctly oldtimey New York ragtime feel.


20. Teslim – Debut cd

The Bay area Middle Eastern improvisers blend klezmer and Arab maqams into a deliriously psychedelic acoustic brew.


21. Ljova & the Kontraband – Mnemosyne

The multistylistic Russian/Balkan string band mix rousing dances, haunting ballads and atmospheric soundtrack-type stuff on their superb debut cd. 


22. Natacha Atlas & the Marzeeka Ensemble – Ana Hina

A career-best for the former Transglobal Underground frontwoman,  mostly acoustic, heavily Fairuz-influenced versions of classic Arab film music and also a Frida Kahlo poem set to music.


23. Sounds of Taarab – Zanzibar, NY

New York‘s pioneering Zanzibar revivalists have singlehandedly renewed interest in the great dance music and ballads from the area from the 20s and 30s, dark Middle Eastern melodies over catchy African rhythms.


24. Katie Elevitch – Kindling for the Fire

The NYC noir siren’s finest hour, a rivetingly lyrical, passionately intense effort.


25. The Dixie Bee-Liners – Ripe

The brain trust of the RMA’s Bluegrass Band of the Year, 2008, Buddy Woodward and Brandi Hart are the Richard and Linda Thompson of the bible belt, pushing the envelope with a fire and a dark vision unsurpassed in their field.


26. Mavrothi Kontanis – Wooden Heart

The second of the great oud player’s debut cds released this year – the title refers to the oud, made of wood –  is a stark, mostly instrumental mix of Mediterranean classics and originals that sound like classics.


27. Des Roar – Demo ep

One of NYC’s most exciting rock bands, with a viciously satirical edge, their punk/garage intensity never lets up. This one contains the classic Ted Bundy Was a Ladies Man


28. Black Fortress of Opium – First cd

Aptly titled, this dark, anthemic Boston band adds a majestically beautiful Middle Eastern tinge to their eerie, macabre, noisy gothic-tinged anthems.


29. The Dog Show – Nicotene & Bluz

The band may be on hiatus, but frontman Jerome O’Brien keeps writing and recording good songs, in a smart, virtriolic mod punk vein not unlike the Jam.


30. Metropolitan Klezmer – Traveling Show

One of New York’s finest live acts, this live cd was a stroke of genius and is pure bliss to listen to, every style of haunting or boisterous Jewish roots music you could ever want.


31. The Roots of Chicha compilation

Barbes Records’ collection of brilliant, obscure Peruvian surf-dance songs available for the first time ever in North America.


32. Lee Feldman – I’ve Forgotten Everything

A subtly powerful, rivetingly dark piano-based concept album that traces one man’s descent into madness.


33. Patti Rothberg – Double Standards

The powerpop masterpiece that the Go Go’s should have made after Talk Show but didn’t.


34. Municipale Balcanica – Road to Damascus

The Italian Balkan dance band crosses genres and raises the temperature to boiling point with their fiery instrumentals.


35. Jenny Scheinman – Crossing the Field

The latest smart, counterintuitive instrumental album from the multistylistic violinist/composer and frequent Bill Frisell collaborator 


36. Willie Nile – Live from the Streets of New York (live)

Also available as a DVD, this is the great underground NYC anthem songwriter and his volcanic band at the absolute peak of their power, live at the Mercury Lounge. 


37. Serena Jost – Closer Than Far

Imaginative, subtly nuanced, utterly captivating, artsy songs that bridge classical, jazz, torch song and rock, by the former Rasputina multi-instrumentalist.


38. The Nice Outfit – Kissing Jocelyn (ep)

Slashing, somewhat Radio Birdman-inflected garage punk from these excellent Milwaukee vets. 


39. The Lash Outs – First cd

True to the spirit of classic punk, this ferocious Dallas band refuses to submit to authority, stands up for the cool kids and generates a lot of laughs on their debut cd.


40. This Reporter – Five Smooth Stones (ep)

Mostly acoustic dreampop with sultry vocals from frontwoman Jennifer Curtis. One of the most captivating ipod albums of the year.


41. Devi – Get Free

This snarling yet beautifully melodic, guitar-fueled, female-fronted power trio just gets more and more interesting, with a smartly improvisational edge.


42. The Romeros – Better Than Your Girlfriend

Roaring punk-pop in the style of Stiff Little Fingers from this fiery Chicago band.


43. Lazy Lions – Keep Your Love Away

When they’re at the top of their game, this New York band’s snarlingly lyrical, sardonic songs rank with anything Elvis Costello ever did.


44. Burning Spear – Jah Is Real

The best studio cd in ages from this roots reggae legend, a contemporary of Bob Marley who though now in his sixties remains absolutely undiminished.


45. Mighty High – Mighty High in Drug City

Arguably the funniest album released in many moons, this heavy metal parody band nail absolutely everything they set their sights on because they know the source material so well. 


46. Zikrayat – Live at Lotus

Classic and obscure Levantine dance music, slinky and gorgeous, recorded all-acoustic so as to capture the vitality of the originals.


47. Little Pink – Gladly Would We Anchor

Frontwoman Mary Battiata and her rootsy Washington, DC band evoke Richard & Linda Thompson at their most lyrical on this impeccably crafted, often haunting cd.


48. The Bedsit Poets – Rendezvous

The harmony-driven New York band explore new territory – pretty much every cosmopolitan European style from the 60s – as well as bossa nova and Mediterranean ballads on their sophomore effort.


49. The Sweet Bitters – Debut ep

The folk/pop duo of Sharon Goldman and Nina Schmir blend their beautiful voices together in a mix of deviously funny and wrenchingly haunting songs.


50. Edward Rogers The Bedsit Poets’ singer offers a masterfully crafted mix of late 60s/early 70s Birmingham, UK style anthems and irresistible pop hits.


And just for fun – and to add some perspective to this list – here’s Lucid Culture’s pick for best album of 2007 along with our predecessor e-zine’s picks for best album of the year going all the way back to its inception in 2000:


2007: Rachelle Garniez – Melusine Years

2006: Radio Birdman – Zeno Beach

2005: LJ Murphy – Mad Within Reason

2004: Botanica – Botanica vs. the Truth Fish

2003: Richard Thompson – Semi-Detached Mock Tudor

2002: Bob Dylan – Love & Theft

2001: Steve Wynn – Here Come the Miracles

2000: Mary Lee’s Corvette – True Lovers of Adventure

December 20, 2008 Posted by | Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

About Our Best of 2008 Lists

This is strictly for background: don’t bother reading this unless it’s 2009 or later and you’re obsessed with how this was put together. To all the pissed-off musicians who didn’t see their stuff on our lists, if it’s really that good, chances are we didn’t hear it. And we’d love to! Click here for contact info.

About the Best NYC Live Shows List:

This one’s the most subjective, the one we like best, and ultimately the cruelest one. In no way do we mean this to be definitive, nor could it be, since there are more live shows in New York in a single evening than any organization, no matter how far-flung, could see in a year. Consider this instead to be a sounding of sorts, a snapshot of some of the best things happening in live music in New York City over the past year. Also bear in mind that in keeping with the spirit of Lucid Culture, we typically choose to review shows by lesser-known artists. And of those lesser-known artists, many who were reviewed here in 2007 weren’t in 2008 (we’re trying to cover as much ground as we can with limited time and a skeleton crew). Also keep in mind that since we don’t review shows that cost $40 or more, that automatically eliminates a small handful of bills that you may see at blogs that cater to the rich (obviously, we’re not exactly chasing that demographic).

Also, by contrast to recorded music, the quality of a live show is affected – often to a crucial extent – by factors completely beyond any musician’s control. A band may play their guts out onstage, but if the sound engineer is incompetent, the crowd drowns them out, or the overall experience is soured by hostility from club employees, overcrowding, lack of sightlines and the rest of a pandora’s box of potential problems, all that is going to consciously or unconsciously factor into how it rates as an experience. In putting the list together, it also became clear that doublebills and the occasional multi-band extravaganza always ended up squeezing out single-artist performances that on balance were just as good. To those musicians who’re feeling the squeeze here, sorry, keep playing and we’ll try to squeeze you in one of these days.

About the Top 100 Songs of 2008 List

As with our other lists, don’t consider this to be definitive by any stretch of the imagination. We do these lists for fun and to hopefully stir up interest in artists who otherwise might fall under your radar. For that reason, we deliberately look harder to find New York-based artists and bands than we do for artists who aren’t from here. You’ll also notice that this list isn’t limited strictly to songs released during calendar year 2008: rather, this is a list of what we discovered during the year. Although so far we’ve restrained ourselves from including all the great Peruvian chicha music and Italian symphonic rock from the 70s that we’ve been devouring lately on youtube and limewire.

And what constitutes a “release” these days, anyway? The day the cd goes onsale, even though it might have been recorded four years ago? The day the song goes up on itunes or myspace? The day somebody puts up a crude home video on youtube? What if we asked all these artists when these songs were “released?”  If they knew that their answer would determine whether they’d make this list or not, don’t you think they’d say this year? And how would we ascertain that, one way or the other?

In putting the list together, we did make an attempt to rank the top 20 or so. After that, the list is completely random, the difference, qualitywise, between #100 and #1 being pretty infinitesimal anyway. As with our other best-of lists, if the song you wrote, or the song you love is really all that good and it isn’t here, that means we probably didn’t hear it, or maybe it was already on our best of 2007 list…or maybe it’s scheduled for our best of 2009 list. It would take more than a small army of serf/scribes to hear more than a tiny fraction of all the music that came out in 2008: and if there’s something really special that fell under our radar, we’d love to know about it, click here for our contact info.

About the Top 50 CDs of 2008 list

Again, as with our Top 100 Songs of 2008 list, this is necessarily biased in favor of New York artists. Although most everything here was physically manufactured in calendar year 2008, a few of these may go back as much as a couple of years (who’s counting, anyway?). This is simply the best new stuff that we discovered during the year. Don’t consider it to be definitive: despite the “CDs are dead” myth, musicians are still making them, maybe in greater quantities than ever before, a reality that necessarily pretty much dooms any best-of list right off the bat since it’s impossible to hear more than a tiny fraction of everything released over a full year. If your cd, or the one you love isn’t here, that doesn’t mean it’s unworthy, it probably just means that we didn’t hear it…or we already listed it in 2007, or are going to list it in 2009. Or maybe it just isn’t that good after all. In putting this list together, we decided to include artists’ official releases only, which means no bootlegs or mix cds since they aren’t typically made available to the public. However, there are a small handful of limited-release albums here which were so good that we didn’t feel right excluding them. Like our other best-of lists, after you get past the top ten or so, we gave up on any attempt to rank them, the difference in quality between #50 and #1 being trivially slight in any case.

Careful readers will also note some cognitive dissonance, in that several of the year’s best cds are not represented in the top 100 songs list. Answer: many of those songs appeared on the list in previous years, whether here at Lucid Culture or in our predecessor e-zine’s annual best-of issue.

December 17, 2007 Posted by | Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Live Events, Music, New York City | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment