With 2008 nearly halfway gone–never to return, sigh–it's time for The A.V. Club to reflect on some of the music that's been released so far this year. Instead of a stuffy, academic list of what albums will change your outlook forever, we're offering a quick survey of songs that are bumping from our Benzes, Jeeps, and Geos. There was no voting involved, just a call to our music writers to champion the 2008 songs they're currently loving. We're providing streaming music for most, and even some downloads, so you can love them right along with us.
American Music Club, "All My Love"
From The Golden Age
Sadcore pioneer American Music Club may never get its due, but the band has thankfully continued to do its thing five years after getting back together. This version of AMC features a couple of new members, but it's still all about leader Mark Eitzel, who's in fine form on this gentle yet moving love song, which kicks off one of the year's finest albums.(Marc Hawthorne)
Animal Collective "Street Flash"
From Water Curses
Count this as one of many (but definitely among the best) Animal Collective songs to drift between serene meditation, vein-straining screams, and a sample of either a cackle or a shriek that somehow plays in key. It's ungainly, mesmerizing, and hard to shake. (Andy Battaglia)
Eef Barzelay, "Lose Big"
From Lose Big
Anyone barely eking out a living as a musician can attest to the inherent sacrifices, but Eef Barzelay–now free of the Clem Snide moniker–captures them with disarming sweetness on the title track of his new solo album. Over midtempo, rootsy rock, he makes his case to an incredulous partner. There's a required European tour–which Barzelay promises will finish "before that baby's knocking on the door"–but also a pledge to "take that job you want me to." It's a defense of both the home and the road, and Barzelay's weary voice reflects the tension between them. (Kyle Ryan)
Beach House, "Gila"
What if Air had more sex appeal? Then it would be Beach House, whose simple but effective formula of spacey organ plus draggy drum-machine beats, plus Victoria Legrand's torchy vocals, works best on "Gila," a beguiling baby-making jam for lonely people without baby-making partners. (Steven Hyden)
Black Mountain, "Tyrants"
From In The Future
Those who dismiss Black Mountain as a Black Sabbath rip-off a) need to clean out their ears, and b) should use those ears to listen to Uriah Heep. But there's more than sludge-shitting and retro-sexual chic going on inside Black Mountain's In The Future. After an intro that screams "stoner rock," the track "Tyrants" melts into a quavering, synth-chromed, science-fiction-folk jam that Black Mountain strips to the bone before rebuilding it, layer by gleaming layer. (Jason Heller)
Bon Iver, "Re: Stacks"
From For Emma, Forever Ago
Bon Iver's Into The Wild-style backstory quickly became an inextricable part of the Wisconsin singer-songwriter's debut For Emma, Forever Ago, but the recording's lonely circumstances wouldn't matter if the music wasn't similarly desolate. The closing track "Re: Stacks" is the last dot of light before everything goes black, and when it quietly comes to a close, it's like death. (Steven Hyden)
British Sea Power, "Waving Flags"
From Do You Like Rock Music?
The formerly rough-hewn post-punk revivalists in British Sea Power recast themselves as epic arena-rockers with this full-blown anthem, aided by crashing guitars and a grandstanding choral refrain that should make the blood surge through the veins of Arcade Fire fans. But in spite of its big-room pretensions, the band remains as archly erudite as ever, dropping common-man come-ons like "You are astronomical fans of alcohol, so welcome in" and "Beer is not death, beer is not life / It just tastes good" before making smarty-pants reference to the Vistula and Carpathians. (Sean O'Neal)
Cloud Cult, "Everybody Here Is A Cloud"
From Feel Good Ghosts (Tea-Partying Through Tornadoes)
Cloud Cult is as far from shiny and happy as music gets–death and grief are ever-present topics in Craig Minowa's songs. But the beauty of Minowa's approach, especially on "Everybody Here Is A Cloud," is that ultimately his songs are about the exact opposite. Sure, he says, there's death, and people can't and shouldn't ignore it; "everybody here will evaporate," after all. But that only means that life is even more precious, both awesome and awe-inspiring, than you might have realized–so let's enjoy it! That's about as summery as it gets. (Christopher Bahn)
From Viva La Vida
As a lyricist, Chris Martin prefers simple sentiments and even simpler couplets, but maybe it's better that way, since as a bandleader, stoked on by new production pal Brian Eno, he keeps getting more complicated. This standout grows more affecting as it builds and builds. So what if rhyming "ghost" and "close" requires more than a little poetic license? (Keith Phipps)
The Cool Kids, "What Up Man"
From The Bake Sale
The opening track on the Bake Sale EP, The Cool Kids' "What Up Man," roars out of the gate as a statement of purpose from two cool cats intent on taking hip-hop back to the Reagan era. It's a minimalist monster of slick, insinuating power, driven by insistent, rhythmic whispers of "tick, tick, tick," defiant cries of "Bass!" synthesizer flourishes, DJ Premier-style bells, and braggadocious rhymes. "What Up Man" is an irresistible slab of old-school bravado from two newcomers with a very old sound and aesthetic. (Nathan Rabin)
Death Cab For Cutie, "Cath…"
From Narrow Stairs
On "Cath…," Death Cab For Cutie looks to its own past a bit, with a song structured like something from 2000's We Have The Facts And We're Voting Yes, but with production values suiting a band that debuted at number one this year. Like the best DCFC songs, it's depressing–about an unhappy wedding, essentially–but also set atop bright, beautiful guitar-rock. (Josh Modell)
From A Mad And Faithful Telling
Half the power of A Mad And Faithful Telling comes from DeVotchKa rattling about like a band trapped inside a maraca. The other half comes from Nick Urata's songwriting. On "Transliterator," he punches through the chaos and beats that elusive "gypsy-mariachi-whatever" sound into something he can really strike home with, keeping all his weird eloquence intact: "Beautifully mutilated / instantly antiquated / I will admit I almost always underestimate it." (Scott Gordon)
Drive-By Truckers, "Daddy Needs A Drink"
From Brighter Than Creation's Dark
Whole worlds exist within Drive-By Truckers' songs, and they tend to be places most people wouldn't want to visit for more than three or four minutes. In "Daddy Needs A Drink," singer-songwriter Patterson Hood draws listeners into a crumbling household rife with alcoholism and unspoken resentments, and only John Neff's steel guitar sheds a tear. (Steven Hyden)
Earth, "Miami Morning Coming Down II (Shine)"
From The Bees Made Honey In The Lion's Skull
If shine and sludge rest on opposite sides of the universe, Earth's Dylan Carlson perfects a wormhole between the two on The Bees Made Honey In The Lion's Skull. His early instrumental work still fascinates, but it's feedback soup compared to the patiently plucked "Miami Morning Coming Down II (Shine)," which evokes a sunrise over a primordial swamp. (Scott Gordon)
The Estranged, "Static Thoughts"
From Static Thoughts
Much of Static Thoughts–the debut of The Estranged, which features ex-members of Jade Tree's crusty From Ashes Rise–is deceptively subtle. The title track, not so much: Boiling down the disc's dark pop and encrypted riffs, "Static Thoughts" might be the only song in existence equally influenced by The Rezillos and Warsaw-era Joy Division. In other words, it's the post-punk revival that should have dominated this decade. (Jason Heller)
Fleet Foxes, "Your Protector"
From Fleet Foxes
Amid an album of pastorally pleasant, gorgeously rendered folk-pop, Fleet Foxes "run with the devil" on this urgent number, which gallops through its menacing minor chords and stirring, organ-driven uplifts like the soundtrack to some lost spaghetti Western. Though the lyric is sketchy on details, the trembling temerity behind Robin Pecknold's voice as he promises "Your protector's coming home" is more than enough to strike fear in the hearts of evildoers and provide comfort to damsels in distress. (Sean O'Neal)
Flight Of The Conchords, "Ladies Of The World"
From Flight Of The Conchords
Though a version of "Ladies Of The World" appeared on an episode of Flight Of The Conchords' HBO series last year, and in their stage act before that, the fleshed-out version from the comedy duo's Sub Pop debut amplifies the smooth-rock posturing to nearly sublime levels of irreverent cheesiness. Smarmy, cooed vocals advocating "brunettes, not fighter jets" aside, the bouncy guitar line and strangely appealing, falsetto-laden coda land just this side of obnoxious parody, resulting in a tune as hummable as it is hilarious. (Genevieve Koski)
Frightened Rabbit, "Keep Yourself Warm"
From The Midnight Organ Fight
This heartbreaking slow-burner isn't the most accessible track on the Scottish band's terrific second album, but it is the most wrenching. The vocal hook: "It takes more than fucking someone to keep yourself warm." Musically, it moves deftly from quiet indie-rock to bombastic grandeur and back. (Josh Modell)
Lil Wayne (featuring Jay-Z), "Mr. Carter"
From Tha Carter III
"Mr. Carter," Lil Wayne and Jay-Z's duet on the feverishly anticipated Tha Carter III, isn't just big, it's fucking epic, with a Technicolor, Surround-sound hyper-soul beat and verses from two of the biggest, best rappers alive. For the hook, DJ Infamous and Andrews Correa borrowed a trick from The Roots' playbook by recording a new chorus, then making it sound like a scratchy old sample. Tha Carter III is wildly uneven, but "Mr. Carter" is fucking unimpeachable. (Nathan Rabin)
Los Campesinos!, "You! Me! Dancing!"
From Hold On Now, Youngster
The first version of this tweecore epic appeared on an EP last year, but the album version gains muscle without losing any of the fun. It's nearly seven minutes of playful exuberance–"it's you / it's me / and there's dancing!"–that packs smart and simple into one gloriously joyful track. (Josh Modell)
M83 "Kim & Jessie"
"Kim & Jessie" is epic and melodramatic enough to compete with the kind of old Thompson Twins songs that John Hughes slathered over his movies in the '80s. It's also hooky enough to leave listeners wondering whether they've already been accruing love for it for the past two decades. (Andy Battaglia)
Mates Of State, "The Re-Arranger"
From Re-Arrange Us
On Mates Of State's career-best album, the husband-wife duo of Jason Hammel and Kori Gardner create transcendent pop out of antiquated equipment, political frustration, and the miniature dramas of domestic life. Here, a back room becomes the site for an argument that could produce unexpected changes; it undoubtedly produces an effortlessly soaring, sing-along chorus. (Keith Phipps)
MGMT, "Time To Pretend"
From Oracular Spectacular
Reducing the rock-star lifestyle to a litany of clichés like "let's find some models for wives / I'll move to Paris, shoot some heroin, and fuck with the stars," the thrust of this soaring indie-dance number is wholly tongue-in-cheek, yet it captures both the invincibility and inevitability of youth–those days before we "get jobs in offices and wake up for the morning commute"–with surprising empathy. It's an anthem for the frustrated artist in us all, made by two kids with nothing to lose. (Those lucky bastards.) (Sean O'Neal)
Kylie Minogue, "Wow"
Kylie Minogue sounds best when she sounds like Basement Jaxx–a truism supported once again by the rapturous disco blast of "Wow." Funky guitars flit, bass runs pop, and the chorus soars to delirious heights when Minogue coos "every inch of you spells out desiiiiire." (Andy Battaglia)
Kate Nash, "Foundations"
From Made Of Bricks
Kate Nash's hit-or-miss debut doesn't live up to the "new Lily Allen" hype, but this gloriously catchy standout nearly makes up for the album's misfires. Over a simple, rollicking two-note verse, Nash denounces her failing relationship and its endless cycle of petty betrayals, then softens in the more contemplative chorus. The push-pull between sarcastic, spiteful Nash and wounded romantic Nash provides the drama, but the many hooks are what make "Foundations" memorable. (Kyle Ryan)
Jay Reatard, "Screaming Hand"
From the "See/Saw" single
Keeping up with Jay Reatard's heavy flow of limited-edition singles over the past few months has been maddening–especially when the material is as batshit awesome as "Screaming Hand." The B-side of April's "See/Saw" single, "Hand" knocks together manic hooks, puke-along chants, and enough snot to clog up a mastodon. Like the glam-droid quirk of Sparks fed through Billy Childish's toilet-brush guitar, "Screaming Hand" just fucking screams. (Jason Heller)
R.E.M., "Supernatural Superserious"
Michael Stipe's lyrics–"Everybody here comes from somewhere that they would just as soon forget"–make him sound a bit like a guidance counselor here, but the forceful song sells the sweet sentiment about learning to be okay with what gives you pleasure. It's the perfect soundtrack for the embarrassing make-out session you'll only pretend to regret. (Keith Phipps)
Santogold, "Your Voice"
This mesmerizing I-miss-you torch-dub number was somehow left off Santogold's album–Lord knows why. (The MP3 is findable on rcrdlbl.com.) It's a perfect lazy-summer-day record, whether you're on a suburban lawn or an urban subway platform. (Michaelangelo Matos)
Sun Kil Moon "Moorestown"
Originally released a couple of years ago in stripped-down acoustic form on Little Drummer Boy Live, this bittersweet love song about a Jersey girl and her family has gotten even dreamier with a full band and strings. Mark Kozelek has painted some of music's most beautifully sad portraits, and "Moorestown" proves that he's still a master storyteller. (Marc Hawthorne)
Tokyo Police Club, "Tessellate"
From Elephant Shell
Tokyo Police Club's debut full-length was a minor disappointment, but that was mostly because the Canadian band's EP (A Lesson In Crime) was so damn good. Plucked from their context, though, many songs on Elephant Shell sound absolutely amazing–especially "Tessellate," which wraps itself around buzzy bass and a piano hook. (Josh Modell)
Vampire Weekend, "M79"
From Vampire Weekend
In which the once and future blog-stars mash up baroque string quartets and pop bounce without breaking a sweat. "M79" works very hard to seem effortless, and succeeds. (Vadim Rizov)
Weezer, "Pork And Beans"
Rivers Cuomo's downhill slide gets more entertaining every year. Though it's still self-pitying gack, "Pork And Beans" is half as stupid and twice as catchy as "Beverly Hills." (Vadim Rizov)
Wolf Parade, "Kissing The Beehive"
From At Mount Zoomer
The epic finale to Dan Boeckner and Spencer Krug's new disc mashes their songwriting sensibilities together–they take a rare co-writing credit–into one huge, 11-minute distillation of what makes their band great: out-there lyrics, proggy leanings, and indie-rock structure. (Josh Modell)