Thursday, January 1, 2009
Even though danceable pop tunes including Britney Spears’ “Circus” and Beyonce’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” dominated iTunes’ Top Songs charts in 2008, there were many magnificent rock songs crafted this year just below pop music’s mainstream radar. The following sturdy songs will continue to haunt music fans’ heads.
Bon Ivor’s “Skinny Love”
Bon Ivor (the stage name for Justin Vernon) had one of the most compelling stories of 2008. After the breakup of his band, DeYarmond Edison, Vernon sequestered himself away in a cabin in northern Wisconsin. After three months with his solo debut, For Emma, Forever Ago, nine ruminative tracks that Vernon sing in falsetto over stripped-down arrangements. The lyrics, haunted by images of loons and wolves, could double as nature poetry. The most accessible is “Skinny Love,” a shot fired at an old love with lines including “Now all your love is wasted?/ Then who the hell was I?”
Bob Dylan’s “Most of the Time”
The best song that evokes Dylan’s seminal early work was released this year by the master himself. An alternate version of a track from 1989’s Oh Mercy, “Most of the Time,” from Tell Tale Signs, the latest installment of The Bootleg Series, shows how compelling Dylan can be with just an acoustic guitar and a harmonica. Tell Tale Signs is full of other songs that deserve a listen, including an expansive take on Modern Times’ “Someday Baby” and a live version of “Ring Them Bells.”
Black Mountain’s “Angels”
The Canadian rock band’s In the Future was all over the place. It jumped from Black Sabbath-inspired metal (“Stormy High”) to Neil Young-like folk (“Stay Free”) to moments of early Pink Floyd psychedelia (the middle section of the almost-17-minute “Bright Lights”). But it never got better than “Angels,” a blast of catchy guitar rock.
Blitzen Trapper’s “Furr”
The title track of their Sub Pop debut, “Furr” sounds like vintage Dylan with hallucinatory lyrics, blasts of harmonica and acoustic guitar strums. Another standout is “Black River Killer,” a song about a sociopath with a spacey organ sound on the chorus.
Megapuss’ “Adam & Steve”
Surfing, the debut CD from overexposed folkie Devendra Banhart (who is nude on the CD cover) and Greg Rogove as Megapuss, is an uneven affair. Rather than suffering through childish, song-sketches like “A Gun on His Hip and a Rose on His Chest,” just download “Adam & Steve,” which sounds like a garage band channeling the Doors.
Fleet Foxes’ “White Winter Hymnal”
Sure to turn up on most critics’ “Best of the Year” lists, the Fleet Foxes’ self-titled debut is full of folk rock with generous dollops of intricate vocal harmony. Easily one of the most well-crafted pieces of pop rock this year, “White Winter Hymnal” starts off as an a capella song before morphing into a rich pop number with a dramatic bass drum and complex vocals reminiscent of the Beach Boys.
Jay Reatard’s “Screaming Hand”
Punk is still not dead– thanks in part to Memphis act Jay Reatard, who combines punk, garage rock and New Wave into a potent brew. Check out “Screaming Hand,” a slab of glammy punk done on acoustic guitar with a New Wave-inspired chorus.
The Black Keys’ “Psychotic Girl”
The Black Keys’ Attack & Release was an unlikely collaboration between the raw blues-rock duo and Gnarls Barkley producer Danger Mouse. On “Psychotic Girl,” The Black Keys bring weathered vocals and banjo while Danger Mouse adds a light plinking piano and a danceable drumbeat.