The Ten/Fourteen Best Songs of 2008

Though Metal Sucks had me write a top ten albums of 2008 list (which, in the interest of full disclosure, had me squealing giddily, as I’ve always wanted to write a top ten list for more than just my own amusement), in cliched retrospect, one has to wonder what the point of writing about albums was in a time where the youngfolk essentially pick and choose their favorite songs anyway. While I think declaring the album dead is a bold and inaccurate statement, it seemed to matter less.

Or maybe it just seemed to matter less to me. When putting together my top ten for Metal Sucks, I considered throwing in a few non-metal curveballs. I thought otherwise, thinking that this was a metal website, and that it should rightfully be the top ten metal records of 2008. However, upon thinking of my favorite new records, the only ones that rung with me were metal. Upon looking at Rolling Stone and Pitchfork’s choices, I couldn’t help but notice how I almost angrily didn’t give a fuck about what they thought were the best releases of the year. While I confess I’m still ignorant about My Morning Jacket (and have been putting it off for the better part of a decade), I must say I have no desire to know anything about the Hold Steady, Of Montreal, Deerhunter, Vampire Weekend, or Fleet Foxes. I had no particular ill will toward MGMT or M83, but I also personally saw no cause to give a shit. The non-metal music I got into this year all seemed to came from the past (and occasionally deep past): Simon and Garfunkel, Yes, the Zombies, Fleetwood Mac (and not hip Fleetwood Mac, but the lame, multimillion selling shit), 1999-era Prince, Maggot Brain, and Charles Mingus, to name a few. Is it because I’m getting older, and I even need an alternative to the alternative to today’s terminally ill pop mainstream? Almost definitely. But there was still stuff to like out there, some of it even without screaming, growling, or having Erik Rutan put the drums way too high in the mix.

10) British Sea Power- “No Lucifer”/ “Waving Flags”
The richness of British Sea Power’s Do You Like Rock Music? resonated throughout the year. While indie rock got seemingly endless mileage on forced quirk, dreadful faux-kitsch, and the fumes of overhype, the band seemed to have the goods to thrust themselves deep into the soul, with warm production and somehow simultaneously combining subtly sad melodies with epic, triumphant crescendos. “No Lucifer” sounds like the sun reemerging after a week of rain, while “Waving Flags”– with it’s plentiful melody backed by enough reverb for several rooms– sounds like the national anthem of an underachieving but goodhearted country. Both songs sounded big and heartfelt, which was more than welcome in a year where indie further doused itself in 80s minimalism fetish. I spent the end of this year wondering if I’d fallen out of love with indie rock as a whole; British Sea Power pointed out what I’d be missing.

9) Neuraxis- “Phoenix”
Though The Thin Line Between wasn’t short on great riffs or good songs, “Phoenix” was its centerpiece, pulling all out the melodic death metal stops while not sounding like a bland retread. The Zao/Poison the Well chords of the chorus could put a smirk on the face of the most hardened grindcore devotee, which coupled with its lyrics (predictably about rising from the ashes) was nothing short of anthemic. The first few seconds of “Phoenix“, no matter where I am, result in a raised fist and a sneer, which then proceeds to stay that way for the five minutes that follow. I could go on about the nuts and bolts of it, but its greatness lies simply in the fact that “Phoenix” is just fucking balls.

8) Kanye West- “See You in My Nightmares”
The epic kiss off at the center of this year’s (relatively) understated 808s and Heartbreak warrants the aforementioned raised fist, even if it’s to leaving the girlfriend I don’t have for treating me wrong. And Lil’ Wayne, pulling from his bottomless (diamond encrusted) bag of tricks manages to make his cathartic/borderline unbearable verse worthwhile by sprinkling some Weezy dust on it. But it’s West’s robotic croon of “I don’t love you no more” that lifted the song into the stratosphere. That being said, if I never hear an autotuned voice after this year, I will shed no tears.

7) Lil’ Wayne- “Mr. Carter”/ “A Milli”/ “Nothin’ on Me”
And speaking of Wayne, apparently he put out a record this year. Tha Carter III felt like many of my other favorite hip hop albums: 4 or 5 songs too long, and almost impossible to listen to from start to finish. But there are very few completely solid rap records, and one must give the man credit for not stumbling down the skit/interlude path that ruins most releases. The good on Carter III was stellar, and lived up to the half decade of hype. Wayne’s genius lies in being better than anyone around him, thus when dealing with the combative egos of other rappers– even ones that have sold tens of millions of records and are firmly established in the public’s consciousness– they tend to bring their A+ game, resulting in the best guest verses of their careers. “Mr. Carter” saw Lil’ Wayne standing eye-to-eye with the towering legacy of Jay-Z while Jay brought an almost Reasonable Doubt smoothness to his performance. “Nothin’ on Me” sports the first good Fabolous verse I’ve ever heard, and has a Juelz Santana contribution that makes me stop wondering why the fuck I should care about Juelz Santana. Of course, these dudes still couldn’t top Wayne himself, who with the brilliantly sparse “A Milli” showed he could hold down a ridiculous, ridiculous beat by himself.

6) American Me- “Said Nothing, Began Firing”
The mean riff that “Said Nothing, Began Firing” is based on the sort of instant gratification that hardcore has long forgotten. Slowing a breakdown down to a just-above-drone pace could induce boredom, but here, it provides menace. There’s nothing about Heat that was nonviolent, but this song is the apex of its temper. A hundred listens later, “Said Nothing, Began Firing” still brings about a heavy nod, and tickles the primal urge to, well, fuck shit up.

5) Darkthrone- “Hiking Metal Punks”/ “Hanging out in Haiger”
After doing away with banshee rasping and sloppy blast beats altogether on last year’s F.O.A.D., Darkthrone fully embraced their inner dopey-ass man on Dark Thrones and Black Flags, augmenting the occasional flourish of black metal with top-notch riffery and Motorhead-inspired drumming. “Hiking Metal Punks” and “Hanging out in Haiger” are both great songs, but really knock it out of the park with their outros: “Punks” rides a blackened punk riff like an icy fjord wave (is that a thing…?) and “Haiger” closes things out with a delightful ode to Boston or Deep Purple. After spending the last decade scowling in the forest, they’re getting around to enjoying themselves on this one. Oddly enough, this is probably the first time they’ve been listenable to anyone living outside of Oslo in 1992.

4) Jesu- “The Stars that Hang Above You”
I didn’t think Jesu could top last year’s Conqueror and Lifeline. And, per usual, I was right. Though this year was pretty slight for them in terms of quality, this gem taken from their split with Japanese post-hardcoresters Envy is the tender emoting by way of Justin Broadrick’s down tuned chugging guitars that made his slobbering fan boys show up in the first place. I’ve already written about this song before, but it’s worth noting again that, despite my misgivings with the Jesu of 2008, this song stands shoulder to shoulder with their premo shit. Let’s hope 2009 will be another great/ambiguously depressing year for Jesu.

3) Cult of Luna- “Ghost Trail”
Though they don’t necessarily blow their wad 3 songs into this year’s excellent Eternal Kingdom, nothing quite topped “Ghost Trail” on the three-quarters of the album that followed. Sweden’s finest post-metallers managed to sound both stately and savage, using their warm guitars to build up to crushing storm cloud-complimented peaks they seemingly promised. Cult of Luna have earned their place in art metal, and ideally, they’ll be around for a fucking while.

2) Fuck Buttons- “Bright Tomorrow”
Fuck Buttons spent all of Street Horrrsing testing patience– letting parts of songs run a minute or two longer than our pop music attention span would allow and counteracting a nice, mellow techno part with fierce, static-y blare– but nailed the formula on it’s lead single “Bright Tomorrow”. The almost-black metal noise that obliterates the cautious, polite buildup that preceded it comes from nowhere, but makes enough sense to make you think that it was always just hanging in your periphery. The music milks every bit of evocative potential from its two word title, ranging from quiet promise to jagged disappointment. An enlightening listen every time.

1) Nachtmystium- “Assassins”
Though the “psychedelic black metal” thing is already starting to feel played out, it’d be criminal to talk about music in 2008 without mentioning this solid slab of blackened goodness. Shifting from midpaced black metal to bar-punk anthem to chilly Norwegian-style blast fest to an almost post-rock coda, “Assassins” starts the album of the same name out on an Alps-ian high note. The ambition of “Assassins” probably still stands as the best single representative of the genre shifting to come, and the daring moves it takes in the interim.

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