10. We Will Walk Through Walls – Electric President
I was immediately smitten with this song on first spin. Perhaps because its deep synths seemed to cool Toronto’s humid June weather, or because of its irresistibly tight bass/drum dynamic. Maybe it was the Beach Boys-esque harmonies that call angelically over a swell of reverbed keys or its climax in general. Or maybe…
9. Signs – Bloc Party
“‘Signs’, in all its glory, is not only worthy of being touted as their best song, it’s also among their most experimental; taking a 4/4 micro-house beat, suffocating synth and an army of bells into their own, increasingly brilliant blend of androgynous mood and Bloc-balladry.”
8. Oh My Stars – A Weather
This song has grown more important every time I hear it, growing from best moment on Cove to one of 2008’s best overall recorded moments. The lyrics are homely, touching upon petty arguments and subconscious mind-games, but the beauty derives from A Weather’s delivery; a careful acoustic under dark keys and idyllic chimes, harmonized upon by Aaron Gerber and Sarah Winchester’s cradle-still whispers. So intimate is the nature of these vocalists, their timbers carry the bass we would hear if we laid our heads against their chest while they sung. I don’t doubt they achieved what they were aiming for.
7. Arms Like Boulders – The War On Drugs
Few songs get me as excited as this one; its twanging guitars and stutter-stop drums banging new life into Highway 61, and the drifting Dylan in all of us. I recall this tune striking me dead in a downtown record store… easily one of the best opening tracks of any record this year.
6. Terminal Romance – Matt Mays & El Torpedo
Matt Mays quits with the foreplay and aims straight for Bruce Springsteen’s heart, with El Torpedo filling in as the E-Street Band on this epic centerpiece. A song about Mays’ move to New York and being separated from band, family and girlfriend, ‘Terminal Romance’ takes a soaring piano refrain and buries it in slabs of guitar for what sounds like an endless climax, from beginning to end.
5. Will It Grow – Jakob Dylan
I’ve stated this elsewhere, but it’s worth revisiting: Dylan couldn’t have written nor performed a song like this ten years ago, when the Wallflowers were headlining everything and stealing airwaves like they’d paid for them. The best material from his former band breaks down to their love of Tom Petty/Heartbreakers rock and Dylan’s folkier moments. Having fully embraced his roots here, ‘Will It Grow’ is one of the year’s best recordings; a gorgeous glance at the precipitous heights Dylan’s songwriting can reach.
4. Recent Bedroom – Atlas Sound
Marrying the best of Cox’s psychedelic explorations to tripped-out electronica, ‘Recent Bedroom’ is an album highlight; droned out, drugged-up, emotional yet nearly numb. Written about the death of his aunt, Cox recalls walking out of her house, moments later, and struggling to cry. Manifested here in song, his lyrics (the length of a haiku poem, at most) embodies the perfect outline for his debut album’s fragile grip on reality.
3. Cape Canaveral – Conor Oberst
Was there really a better song this year? Well, apparently… although not by Oberst, who has penned his best since I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning in 2005. The chords are unassuming, the tempo unwavering, but Oberst’s lyrics and vocals seem to intertwine in a building cathartic swell. The Bright Eyes frontman sells this song like his life depends on it, providing an album highlight well before the album catches up.
2. Blind – Hercules & Love Affair
“One of my most exciting musical moments of 2008 has been hearing [Antony Hegarty's] impeccable voice, used almost synonymously with quiet piano ballads, erupt over a burly disco bass and drum kicks; ‘Blind’ is truly one of those songs that knocks the wind out of you for the sake of appreciating that first desperate breath of air again.”
1. Courtship Dating – Crystal Castles
With the quality of roughly half of the Crystal Castles’ debut foreshadowed on tour EPs last year, I hardly expected the record’s other, unreleased half to eclipse my CC favourites. Not only is this consistency a testament to their self-titled’s brilliance, it’s also measured best in several songs: ‘Vanished’, ‘Tell Me What to Swallow’ and, their crowning achievement, ‘Courtship Dating’.
Sporting all the DIY indie-cred and subversive cool that made them equal parts press-magnet/press mystery, Ethan and Alice have illustrated here how willingly detrimental they are to Canada’s reputation as providers of indie-rock only. No song proves how stunningly this 8-bit NES sound can manifest into trend-setting territory like ‘Courtship Dating’ accomplishes; its deep synths gurgling and Atari soundbytes fluctuating amid Glass’ school-yard singalongs. As far as breaking new music goes, it hardly gets better than this in 2008.