The Morning News

Listening Diamonds From the Trough, Part 2

In every effort to outdo Mike’s first entry in this ad hoc series, I’ve gone about collecting those lapidary listens from the past year’s releases which, though somehow managing to miss my attention, became firmly lodged in the collective consciousness of list makers the internet over.

Some find the whole listing process—in the literal sense of rating songs integrally better or worse than another song—either arbitrary or too unnerving to be helpful. Am I only listening to the 27th best song this year when I could be listening to a song from the top ten? What does that say about me as a consumer? Dispensing with a numbered list altogether is wise of Fluxblog’s Matthew Perpetua, who offers his collection of the year’s finest tunes as a podcast, free to all takers. Believe it or not, several of those songs have appeared in this very space. Another group eschewing a formal list structure comes to us from the Onion’s AV Club with their offering of celebrity guests’ favorite albums. I honestly can’t tell if David Cross is just screwing with us.

Another list to note is Idolator’s continuing 80 ‘08 (and Heartbreak), which catalogs the 88 things (80 wonderful, 8 tragic; their rules) that made a cultural impact this year, many of which are songs. Songs like Andrew W.K.’s “The McLaughlin Groove” or Parry Gripp’s “Hamster on a Piano”. Songs that, while dearly loved, I was perhaps too ashamed to write about here. Idolator also brings the indie cred with great songs by Jenny Lewis and the French Kicks (listen to “Abandon” here).

Also favoring the old school, numbered list thing is a countdown of this year’s 50 best over at Gorilla Vs. Bear. It is a respectable list despite the inclusion of the way-overhyped and marginally overmaligned Vivian Girls. Oh, those Vivian Girls. Toward the top of the list, at number seven, I was introduced to Grouper, the recording name of Portland’s Liz Harris. The song “Heavy Water/I’d Rather Be Sleeping” off this year’s Dragging a Dead Dear Up a Hill features dreamy, murky, saturated vocals and instrumentation reminiscent of Beach House and Mazzy Star in their swirls of sweet, somber noise. Another great find on this list is the number two spot given to Austin trio White Denim’s “Sitting.” It bounces along amiably with a refreshingly atavistic bent, but halfway through the song the tempo is halved and an extended garage rock experiment in stereo suddenly slips in, showing everyone who cares to listen what a simple arrangement can become in the hands of musicians willing to go that extra mile. What was cute became so much more.

Finally, while not so much a list as series of kickass posts, My Old Kentucky Blog has been running a Holiday Interview Series with notable persons, most of whom are musicians. (One exception would be the artist, writer, and now record label owner Stanley Donwood who has done all of Radiohead’s packaging artwork since 1994.) One of my favorite, newly discovered tracks from the year is featured in the interview with Alejandra Deheza of School of Seven Bells. The song, “Half Asleep,” apart from being beautiful in the dreamlike, saccharine sense advocated by Grouper, also adds layer upon layer of pop perfection and glitchy programming. It’s uplifting, complex, and you can dance to it. Happy holidays! —

» Listen to "Half Asleep" at My Old Kentucky Blog

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Diamonds From the Trough, Part 3