The Top 20 (and Far Beyond)

Big year for metal, hip-hop, and Paul Simon/pigfucker reconciliation

If it weren't for Gossip Girl, I'd listen to probably 75 percent less music.

Andy Wang
Brooklyn, NY

I think "Paper Planes" is the only record I've considered as a Song of the Year two years running. In 2007, it read like a love-hate comment on hip-hop culture. This year, recontextualized via covers (Esau Mwamwaya), films (Slumdog Millionaire, Pineapple Express), and world events (global economic collapse), it had too many subtexts to count.

Will Hermes
New Paltz, NY

So M.I.A.'s multi-culti, revolution-minded, experimental hip-hop finally won a mainstream audience in 2008. And how? By being featured in the trailer of a stoner shoot-'em-up bromantic comedy, Pineapple Express. No wonder she impulsively announced she was giving up music at this year's Bonnaroo festival.

Brandon Geist
New York, NY

I don't know how much Estelle's label paid to advertise "American Boy" on my television every night for about a month. Late night, sandwiched between South Park episodes, I must have seen the commercial for the single about 50 times. Well, it paid off. Now I'm addicted. Sometimes capitalism can overwhelm the urge to survive.

Mordechai Shinefield
New York, NY

I found it fascinating that Hercules & Love Affair's tour through the Paradise Garage barely noticed the shy boy in the corner, past and future colliding. With its bevy of sweet, reticent almost-pop tunes, a few recorded before his airy forcebeat took clubs like the Paradise Garage by storm, Arthur Russell's Love Is Overtaking Me was an evening at home, your lover on the couch asleep, the shivery contours of Russell's voice delineating the hearth without forgetting the hell. If he wants to remember what hell is like, he can spend time with the characters in Hercules & Love Affair, whose time in an oddly subdued disco is spent glancing over their partners' shoulders at handsome strangers at the bar, or following their partners' eyes as they complete their own circuit around the floor. It can drive you crazy, or in the words of the album's most intense track, blind.

Alfred Soto
Miami, FL

Re: Hercules & Love Affair: Finally, new disco music too gay for the gym's sound system.

Brandon Kreitler
Brooklyn, NY

The many storylines behind Bon Iver's For Emma, Forever Ago are a bit overplayed and under-researched. His cabin in the Wisconsin woods where he made the album really isn't all that far out there or rustic. The Big Breakup behind the record was actually many years earlier. And this year's new Mr. Sensitive Indie Guy is actually a big, burly guy who played football in high school and knows how to skin a deer. Still a great album, though.

Chris Riemenschneider
Minneapolis, MN

I didn't get the Bon Iver album when I first heard it. I'm not sure I still get it. But I wanted to get it, because everyone else got it, and I hate feeling left out. So now, I think I get it.

Michael D. Ayers
Brooklyn, NY

I love the Taylor Swift album because it sounded like my high school girlfriend: pumped full of hormones (so many walks taken, so many tension-filled car rides!); overqualified for its small hometown, but immersed fully in its stunted possibilities for romance and sex; visibly smart, but not as smart as it thinks it is.

Michael Barthel
Syracuse, NY

Nobody would give a rat's ass about the Girl Talk records if it weren't for Gregg Gillis's live show. But something's gone awry with his party-architect masquerade: His Night Ripper sets seemed like a guy trying to prove to the world he loved pop music; those Feed the Animals shows just came off like a guy trying to prove to the world he loves lady parts.

Camille Dodero
Brooklyn, NY

At what point do we acknowledge that Paul's Boutique was the original, already evolved variation of Feed the Animals?

Kenny Herzog
Brooklyn, NY

No doubt many contributors will celebrate this as some sort of celebratory year for hip-hop, what with Kanye's continued descent from art into self-expression, and Lil Wayne contributing two sort-of-interesting couplets to so many tracks that many were fooled into thinking he had created a successful album's worth of material. And then there's T-Pain, whose songs write themselves, literally, as he appears to be some sort of algorithmic program, a supercomputer that can fit inside a top hat, which might have been an achievement 20 years ago, but we have nanotechnology now, even if we no longer possess bridges and middle-eights.

D. Strauss
Berlin, Germany

Picture this . . . Ol' Dirty Bastard using AutoTune.  

Kye Stephenson
Baltimore, MD

Nothing's dead in hip-hop when every cool DJ and electronic freaky-freak remixes Lil Wayne and producer Bangladesh's "A Milli," and the original, monster radio hit's still weirder and crazier.

Brandon Soderberg
Forest Hill, MD

This year's most commanding commercial triumph—Lil Wayne—got big by giving away tracks for free (post-commercial commerce?) and ended up playing guitar with Kid Rock at the Country Music Awards on a song borrowing heavily from "Sweet Home Alabama." This world, to quote the Carter Family's favorite jam, is not my own. I'm just passing through.

Nate Cavalieri
Oakland, CA

In arguably the most barren year for mainstream hip-hop albums yet, Young Jeezy redeemed the genre with a bruising, exuberant, and unapologetic LP that fully captured this moment of economic decrepitude and political rebirth. Lil Wayne and T.I. may have topped the Atlanta rapper in sales, but their efforts were as disposable as used salt-and-vinegar Utz bags in comparison.

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