REWIND 2008: The Year In Music We Loved


DEMOCRACY IS MESSY: Phawker Best of 2008 staff meeting. [Photo by PAUL PUGILESE, Copyright 2008]


(In No Particular Order)

boniverforemma_1.jpgBON IVER
For Emma, Forever Ago

Classic story: Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy goes to cabin in the Wisconsin woods and, over the course of three months of complete isolation and living on nothing but venison and Leinenkugels, records confessional folk/rock masterpiece with the hope of catching the ear of the girl he lost, and catches the ear of the world instead. This is pretty much the story of Bon Iver — AKA Justin Vernon — and For Emma, Forever Ago. Layering his high reedy voice into ghostly choirs of wasted sadness and bone-deep heartache, Vernon strums his acoustic guitar like Ben Franklin holding a kite in a thunderstorm — like it will eventually go electric if he stands there long enough. “Skinny Love” and “Creature Fear” sound like what it must feel like to discover electricity. Which is just a long way of saying For Emma, Forever Ago sounds like lightning caught in a bottle. Go let it out. — JONATHAN VALANIA

BON IVER: Creature Fear (feat. Ingrid Betancourt)



raphael_saadiq_the_way_i_see_it_1.jpgRAPHAEL SAADIQ
The Way I See It

Some of the best soul music of the mid-60s has been made in the last few years: Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, Amy Winehouse, Duffy, this. Having long since outgrown the kiddie R&B of Tony! Tone! Toni!, Raphael Saadiq — now a dapper 42 in a slim, three-button sharkskin suit — further proves that 40 is the new black with this triumphant return which garnered a handful of Grammy nominations and snagged iTunes Album of the Year. And for good reason — this suave, swivel-hipped pastiche of the finest moments of Sam Cooke and Smokey Robinson was hands down the feel good record of year. — JONATHAN VALANIA






dr_dog_fate_a_1_1_1.jpgThere are few greater pleasures in this American life than listening to a young, gifted rock band in the prime of its youth deliver the goods with the confidence of five young men who’ve come to realize that — after all the blood, the sweat and the tears that got them to this point — they are making their mark on the world.  It’s even better when the young, gifted band is local. With the exceptional growth exhibited on Fate — the ambitious arrangements, the crystalline harmonies, the impeccable tone choices — it has become apparent that this little slackerchoo-choo train that could from West Chester had morphed into a mighty locomotive capable of transporting large numbers of people, and fully deserving of their hard-won transatlantic rep. — JONATHAN VALANIA

DR. DOG: The Breeze


Fleet_foxes_1.jpgTHE FLEET FOXES

Since June, there’s been a new rule in my household: When you’re done listening to Fleet Foxes, the self-titled debut from the Seattle five-piece, you leave the record on the turntable. Furthermore, if for any reason you should have to put something else on, you return Fleet Foxes to the platter immediately after finishing. With this rule in place, the mysterious harmonic convergence that is Fleet Foxes is always only a needle drop away. From the campfire sing-a-long “White Winter Hymnal” to the haunting “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song,” Fleet Foxes’ debut is nothing short of American splendor. Just sit back and grin and feel your beard grow. — MICHAEL DONOVAN


SONG OF THE YEAR: Fleet Foxes “Winter Hymnal”



feed_the_animals_1.jpgGIRL TALK
Feed The Animals

Somewhere in the nether zone where the rip-and-burn ethos of the Digital Age bumps up against the you-break-it-you-bought-it copyright laws of the Analogue Age is where Girl Talk opens his laptop and throws a party. That may sound about as sexy as an algebra equation on paper, but as parties go, it’s a deathless, breathless unstoppable good time: smoke, confetti, toilet paper streamers, and, like, all your favorite songs — together at last! Unlike most, DJs, Girl Talk, aka acclaimed Pittsburgh-based mixologist Gregg Gillis, doesn’t cut and paste from obscure vinyl b-sides and deep cuts from rare albums, he goes for the hits, the bigger the better, and lots of them — it would take up the better part of the Internet to to name all the songs that you and me and everyone else knows by heart that have been cut, chopped, tweaked and mashed-up in ways that surprise, shock and above all demand a physical response from the listener. Resistance is futile. –JONATHAN VALANIA





Nerdy? Yes. Pretentious? In a good way. Catchy-as-hell? You’d better believe it. Say what you will about the boat shoes  and the Oxford collars — I dare anyone to listen to the opening riff of “A-Punk” without cracking a smile. It simply can’t be done. Though released forever ago, and hyped even before forever ago, Vampire Weekend’s self-titled debut is still a light, breezy and damn near perfect study in the art of making effort look effortless. Which is easier said than done, my friend. Plus, you can play it for both your girlfriend and your mother without anyone getting embarrassed or having their feelings hurt. Again, easier said than done, my friend. — MICHAEL DONOVAN





ED_KING_1.jpgBY ED KING, ROCK EXPERT Along with Dionne Warwick, the late-60s hits by Glen Campbell represent, in my memory, the best of the failed aspirations of middle-class America. I still see those albums sitting in front of the huge, wooden stereo consoles in our neighborhood, resting on plush, burnt-orange carpeting. Some elongated sculpture of a conquistador on a horse decorates one end of the console. A reproduction of some painting by one of the Dutch Masters is centered over the stereo; it matches the colors of the heavy velour drapes and couch. “Galveston”, “Wichita Lineman”, and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” made vaguely country music safe for those of us on the more urban coasts–East Coast city dwellers and California dreamers alike. Plus, Campbell was pretty cool and sophisticated for a guy playing twangy guitar tunes. As some of us grew into rock nerds, leaving behind the fractured dreams of middle America circa 1968, there were unexpected depths of Campbell to plunder, such as his work as a session man for The Beach Boys and his role as mouthpiece to the surprising cult of Jimmy Webb, The Great Songwriter. It was these after-the-fact revelations that kept the increasingly irrelevant Campbell on the right side of “cool,” despite the cheesy career apex of “Rhinestone Cowboy,” the rough-and-tumble Tanya Tucker years, the coke slide, and the more-recent Jesus-friendly infomercials. When I first heard of this album – a good 24 hours before it showed up in my mailbox – I thought, “Oh man, another Rick Rubin reclamation project! What’s he going to do next, produce a ‘cool’ comeback album for Vicki Lawrence?” (Turns out it’s not a Rick Rubin production, but the brainchild of Julian Raymond, who’s produced Roseanne Cash and The Wallflowers, among others.) After a few minutes I thought, this is Glen Campbell, we have a history together. I wouldn’t have it any other way.



Stay Positive

It was inevitable: The band hell-bent on having fun forever made an album about — possibly, just maybe —  growing up. Craig Finn and company aren’t partied out, though—instead they’re renewing their vows with their ideals of old, even if “the kids at the shows have kids of their own.” Finn’s voice has become less of a drunken yell and is closer to knocking on the Boss’s door (you can thank singing lessons for that), but the keg-stand chant delivery is still there. To any youngin’s who mistakenly believe 40somethings don’t know how to party, the overwhelmingly positive Stay Positive is gonna fuck you up and then set you straight. — MICHAEL DONOVAN

THE HOLD STEADY: Stay Positive





Just when I’d concluded that R.E.M.’s three-legged dog don’t hunt no more, they turn in their most powerful and cohesive work since 1992’s Automatic for the People, a record brimming with all the things that made them great in the first place: clangy autumnal melodies, droney proto-emo vocals, trippy nuance, the haunted poetics of regret, the routine eschewing of the obvious and the familiar in pursuit of the sublime and the unexpected. This one goes out to the long-suffering superfans, the kind of people whose faces light up when you say that the piano on “Until the Day Is Done” reminds you of the glorious sun-kissed bridge from “The Flowers of Guatemala,” or that the stunning “Sing for the Submarine” has the same Ken Burnsian antebellum feel of “Swan Swan H,” or that the whole things rocks harder than their cover of Aerosmith’s “Toys in the Attic.” Call it their post-post-rock period, but Accelerate lives up to its adrenalized title with a handful of ripping, gutbucket rock-outs (”Living Well Is the Best Revenge” and “Mansized Wreath”) to balance the epic torch-folk balladeering (”Hollow Man,” “Houston”). And unlike, say, 1994’s Monster, Accelerate is not just loud, but hard, as if these songs were actually lived-in and jammed-on, and possibly even sweated over. Hooray for everybody! — JONATHAN VALANIA




TVOnTheRadioDearScienceCover_1.jpgTV ON THE RADIO
Dear Science

With George Clinton presumably summoned back to his home planet, somebody’s gotta tear the roof off the sucker. TV on the Radio’s earlier albums were heavier on the interplanetary than on the funk, but “Dear Science” brings things, firmly and delightfully, back to Earth. This time out these Brooklyn bangers ditch artsy complexity for funky clarity in a way that makes me think they are finally getting laid. The album’s warm, busy sound, produced by the band’s multi-instrumentalist DaveSitek, is crowned with the double-headed lead vocals of Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone and the results are radical, multi-racial, and guardedly jubilant — just like 2008. — DAVE ALLEN

TV ON THE RADIO: Dancing Choose


ManManRabbitHabits_1.jpgMAN MAN
Rabbit Habits

I’ve often thought that the best rock-and-roll makes you fear for your life — makes you worry that your ears can’t handle the sound, or that your heart wasn’t built to contain all the joy. Philly natives Man Man turn this notion on its head: during their set at the Download festival in Camden, I worried that they would dive into the audience and feed on our flesh. Their sound — blaring horns, tinkling xylophone, ungodly shrieks, five-man percussion freakouts, conceptual-art tricks like pouring bowls of water — is just that volatile, and their stage presence is even more so. They didn’t stop between songs, made no announcements or apologies, and didn’t even acknowledge the pseudo-hometown crowd. They simple tore into it, occasionally allowing some killer hooks to sneak in amid the noise. — DAVE ALLEN

MAN MAN: Mister Jung Stuffed



Rising Down

The Roots have great taste; the buying public wants rap that tastes great. Their problem is that the drummer is more iconic than the frontman. This isn’t entirely the fault of Black Thought: As an MC his formidable skills should theoretically pay the bills. He’s just not enough of a cartoon: no gold tooth, no Courvoisier to pass, no big clock hanging around his neck, no bullet holes, no body count, no body armor. He does, however, have words. More words than you would think could possibly fit in three minutes in twenty seconds — sometimes he spits them with devastating Uzi-like rapidity and other times he lays it down sparingly, thin and even, like dry rub on a spare rib. The sum and essence of Black Thought’s words mirror Jules’ famous imprecation in Pulp Fiction: “The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and goodwill, shepherds the weak through the valley of the darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who would attempt to poison and destroy my brothers.” Amen, right? Still, it’s hard to dress those vows up in bling and boo-tay, gunplay and G-units, and sell it to horny 14-year-old suburban white boys with bottomless appetites for destruction. And to their credit, the Roots have never even tried. History will be kind to them, even if radio isn’t, because the Roots always did the right thing. — JONATHAN VALANIA

 THE ROOTS: 75 Steps (Black Reconstruction)


No_Age_Nouns_Sub_Pop_1.jpgNO AGE

Just a guitar and some drums, what more do you need to make room-shaking, life-changing, worlds colliding rock n’ roll? Like all great rock albums, Nouns embodies the rebelliousness of youth inherent in people of all ages. We just want to have fun, but we’re not happy with the things going on around us so we’re forced to speak out and take action. Recently, Randy Randall got into some trouble with CBS when he and Dean Spunt were scheduled to play on “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson”. They were scheduled to play 8 days before the presidential election and Randy was wearing a t-shirt with Barack Obama’s face on the front. Apparently it violated the Equal Time Rule from the FCC’s Communications Act of 1934. But what they really meant was the Fairness Doctrine, even though Congress abolished it in 1987 — so you tell me if there is really such a thing as Free Speech in this country. Sorry for the rant, now where were we? Oh right, I was telling you about the time when No Age played the First Unitarian Church back in July, the room was deafening with everyone screaming in chorus to “Sleeper Hold” and I had to back up for safety when the head banging and jumping started during “Teen Creeps.” People still talk about that show, remembering it as one of the best live shows that they could remember going to in a very long time. — TIFFANYYOON


THE SUMMER OF SHOVE: No Age,  First Unitarian, July [Photo: TIFFANY YOON]



When Deerhunter played at the First Unitarian this past November, it was 2 days after the presidential election and the day after Probo 8 was put into effect in the state of California. It was a rainy night with a surprisingly sparse crowd, but when Cox stood with his hands on his hips, his mouth to the mic and went on a rant about people being raped of their basic civil liberties, everyone in the room seemed to nod their heads along with him. Sounding like the Clientele on steroids, Cox and his gang put on a mesmerizing show with looped drones, twanging rock guitars and lyrics that betray endless hours of self-inspection. All together, the perfect packaging of the trepidations we all felt this year. — TIFFANY YOON

DEERHUNTER: Agoraphobia



[Illustration by JAY BEVENOUR]

Dig_Lazarus_1.jpgNICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS

Dig, Lazarus, Dig

Nick Cave is not dead yet.  Without hanging too much on the whole “Lazarus” metaphor, Nick Cave does seem to be back to doing what he does best.  The greasy factory as church and even greasier congregation groping through the darkness as they approach judgment?  Yeah, still intact.  (SEE “We Call Upon the Author”) Biblical parables that veer into porno and somehow emerge as romance? Yup.   (SEE “Lie Down Here (and Be My Girl)”)   Songs that start out delicately and comforting with the patient beauty of an emerging butterfly before shaking you awake with visions of baby-eating wolves? Hell yes!  Literally. (SEE “Midnight Man”). — JAY BEVENOUR


Drive_ByTruckers_1.jpgThe Drive-By Truckers write songs about the dirty South, where life is hard and folks die soft and squishy and often emphysemic, dirty deeds get done dirt cheap, and everyone goes to church but nobody really goes to heaven. These songs are like the weeds in the cracks of the trailer park, or the pile of broken beer bottles in the woods, or the lipstick traces on the stubbed-out Kools overflowing the ashtray. Oh, the things they have seen. It also bears mentioning that the Drive-By Truckers totally rock, more specifically they rock in that sweet spot where Lynyrd meets Skynyrd. The Truckers have two main singer-songwriter-guitarists these days: Patterson Hood, burly and bearded, whose voice sounds alternately like an angry Neil Young or a stoned Don Henley; and Mike Cooley, a tall drink of water who bears a passing resemblance to Townes Van Zandt, and sings like a honky-tonk Mick Jagger. It goes without saying that both these gentlemen totally shred as axemen. Personally, I prefer Cooley’s songs, not to mention his twangy snarl and dead-eye for dark, pulpy detail. — JONATHAN VALANIA


Beach_House_1.jpgBEACH HOUSE

Devotion is an eerily gorgeous album full of haunted, lovesick songs drenched in funeral parlor organ, tambourine and reverb, like The Doors with a sex change or Nico without the needles and the damage done. This Baltimore two-piece — singer Victoria Legrand and guitarist/organist Alex Scally Comprised of singer — sounds a million miles away from the mean streets of Homicide, Life On The Streets and or the Wire. More like the catacombs of Paris with a half a bottle of absinthe, a pack of Lucky Strikes and just one match.  — TIFFANY YOON



PUNK ROCK MOMENT OF THE YEAR: Amy Poehler’s “Sarah Palin Rap”

More than any appearance by Tina Fey as Sarah Palin, this Weekend Update bit represents the redemption of SNL’s years of toothless political commentary (no more Will Ferrell = no more credible Bush send-ups). The show no doubt benefited from having a GWB-caliber buffoon to satirize, but as Palin herself raised the roof and Amy Poehler spit parts of her stump speech a la Cypress Hill (“Obama/Ayyyers, Obama/Ayyyers”), the idea of professional decorum by major political candidates seemed to crumble and catch fire. There’s something, too, about the sight of Poehler’s pregnant belly after so much attention paid to the reproductive affairs of Palins young and old. What else to do but shoot a mother-humpin’ moose and “Drill baby drilla”? — DAVE ALLEN



CLOSING CEREMONIES: Phawker Best of 2008 staff meeting concludes. [Photo by PAUL PUGILESE, Copyright 2008]

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