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.

Ben Detrick
New York, NY

It took economists until Thanksgiving to declare a recession. Jeezy called it in September. They should've asked him about collateralized debt obligations.

Jesse Fox Mayshark
Knoxville, TN

If Young Jeezy's next album isn't called The Recovery, I'm moving to Canada.

Sam Ubl
Brooklyn, NY

I can vividly imagine Kanye West moping around the house for two days, eating a mammoth plate of crackers and peanut butter, spilling crumbs in and around his bed, listening to This Mortal Coil's "Song to the Siren" over and over and over. Eventually, he stops sniffling, lets out his inner goth, and writes "Pinocchio Story" in five minutes while sitting in front of the TV watching Edward Scissorhands.

Barry Bruner
Toronto, ON

Young blog/hipster/Internet/lazy sub-genre rappers of '08:

Wale > Kid Cudi > B.o.B > Charles Hamilton > Asher Roth > Mickey Factz

Number of those artists who released a proper album: 0

Number of albums Z-Ro released: 2

Number of albums Plies released: 2

Sean Fennessey
Brooklyn, NY

Ocrilim's Annwn should probably get closer to 90 points, if that was allowed. A big, dumb, obnoxious, out-there, tries-too-hard, and still successful masterpiece like Berlin Alexanderplatz or Infinite Jest or something. Every year, certain very-good artists will make certain very-good critics' lists, but this is a genuine, incomparable standout. The opposite of the mannered metal of the "doom" sub-genre, Annwn takes the awesome, orgasmic part of metal—the face-melting solo—and stretches it out forever.

Brandon Soderberg
Forest Hill, MD

Nachtmystium, Assassins: Black Meddle Vol. 1: Melody and groove were once as taboo in black metal as smiling, group hugs, and subscriptions to Cat Fancy, but this Chicago battering ram harnesses both into moments of dirt-beneath-the-fingernails grandeur, harsh atmosphere and Pink Floyd–indebted sonic landscaping that add new hues to the genre's once monochromatic palate. The Euros have had black metal in a headlock since its inception, but these dudes begin to pry Scandinavia's clammy hands from around its throat.

Jason Bracelin
Las Vegas, NV

Because of Krallice, I was not late to work once this year.

Nathaniel Hawks
Park Slope, NY

Proof that parental listening habits do have a significant effect on youngsters: Compare 2008 releases from Disney darlings Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers. Burnin' Up suggests the Jonases brought these boys up on a diet of reasonably tasteful, occasionally thoughtful new-wave and pop. Meanwhile, Miley's Breakout is a handy compendium of four decades of musical fashion mistakes, topped off by the eight billionth cover of "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun," which has now reached the exalted status of a classic so classic that no one ever need hear any version of it again. Insert your own gratuitous Billy Ray/mullet-to-soul-patch joke here.

Dan LeRoy
Pittsburgh, PA

Twenty-two years ago in P&J '86, it was Paul Simon vs. the pigfuckers. In October, this year's prime pigfucker (Damian Abraham of Fucked Up) and this year's Paul Simon (Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend) shared the "stage" in the Rogan Store, one block away from the remains of CBGB. And Koenig was an invitee of Fucked Up. Say what you will about the state of the music industry today, but the equality between majors and indies today is something Bob Mould could never have dreamed of in 1986.

Ethan Stanislawski
New York, NY

"All Summer Long" is proof that: 1) Kid Rock is dumb enough to think "mashups" are still cool; 2) Kid Rock is a genius; 3) Popular music is officially tapped as far as new ideas are concerned; 4) Being drunk in the summer on a lake in Northern Michigan is awesome, and no one—not smart-ass rock critics, smarmy radio programmers, or douchebag label guys—can tell you otherwise; or 5) All of the above.

James Montgomery
Brooklyn, NY

I really hope 2009 brings more Goddamn rock 'n' roll that makes me want to get butt-naked and headbang with a box of donuts in one hand and a hot chick in the other. Because 2008 was hella weak on the Goddamn-naked-headbanging-donut-hot-chick rock front. And that's just depressing.

Jeanne Fury
Brooklyn, NY

Jamey Johnson's "That Lonesome Song" wasn't just the darkest mainstream country record of the year; it was also the smartest. I love the way "Stars in Alabama" nods to the '30s standard "Stars Fell on Alabama" when Johnson sings about his mom (who could probably hum you the latter), and I respect his turn at music criticism on "Between Jennings and Jones," an exercise in self-mythologizing that, for once, is fairly true. And I was especially moved by the first verse of "In Color," when his grandpa tells him about a b+w photo from the Great Depression and how Johnson "shoulda seen it in color." Looks like he just might, along with the rest of us.

Will Hermes
New Paltz, NY

At the height of the non–David Byrne Talking Heads' bitchiness toward Brian Eno's extended role in the group, Tina Weymouth complained that Byrne and Eno were like little schoolboys so sickeningly BFFs that they'd probably start wearing the same shoes. That was around the time of Remain in Light, their last truly great album—the group stopped working with Eno, much to their detriment. Byrne and Eno's Everything That Happens Will Happen Today is the sound of two grown men coming back together and realizing that not only are they still wearing the same shoes, but those shoes look a lot better on them than they do on U2 or Coldplay.

Dominic Salerno
Phoenix, AZ

I hadn't made one of these history-of-punk compilations for a while, and the thing that jumped out at me this time is how virtually everything I put on there post-Nirvana was female: Outside of Pavement and "Fell in Love With a Girl" (which is half-female, come to think of it), it was Scrawl, L7, Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, Hole, Sleater-Kinney, Ladybug, She Mob, and the Vivian Girls. That's probably not a surprise to anyone who was following closely through the '90s, but some of these songs I discovered well after the fact, so I've just personally come to the realization that males should never be allowed to sing punk rock again. Women add beauty, sadness, reverie, and lots else that might not have worked so well for Slaughter & the Dogs, but now seems like the only way to do it.

Phil Dellio
Toronto, ON

The Vivian Girls give themselves that band name, but then apologize profusely as soon as they piss off anyone. If "Where Do You Run To" wasn't so damn good, this band would be dead to me.

Ethan Stanislawski
New York, NY

Ne-Yo's sexuality remains oddly indeterminate for such a devotee of the r&b songform, and I would believe it if a couple of years from now he comes out as a well-adjusted gay man who listens to Arthur Russell demos. It's the only explanation for why Year of the Gentleman proffered so much sage advice on how to conduct yourself in a heterosexual relationship: The album was like getting an earful from a gay pal about your love life. For one thing, I can't think of a single straight pal who sips Rosé. I can't think of a single gay one either.

Alfred Soto
Miami, FL

As a whole, Chinese Democracy, Axl Rose's long-awaited solo debut, is unlistenable, clocking in at 14 songs and 71 minutes. Cut it in half, and you have an album-rock landmark that's a solid 35 minutes—which was all you needed in the pre-CD era.

DX Ferris
Cleveland, OH

Damned if I don't genuinely love Chinese Democracy more than any other hard rock album—or rock album, period—in ages. I love the venom and rage of "Better" and "Shackler's Revenge," the melodic loop-de-loops of "Catcher in the Rye," the rock-opera theatrics of "Street of Dreams," the gorgeous "Sorry" solo by the dude with the chicken bucket on his head, and especially the way Axl Rose turns the word true into a bloodcurdling scream on "I.R.S." I'm all for the 45-minutes-or-less rule for most albums, but I really do wish this one had been a double. I can't wait to hear the rest of it —even if I have to wait until 2023.

Richard Skanse
Buda, TX

So I'm finishing a soda in the parking lot of an In-N-Out in Long Beach, and I have Death Magnetic exploding in my car. I had just got the CD and was in the initial shock mode, sitting by myself. A couple sits at one of the outdoor tables. Everyone else is either inside in the air-conditioning or stuck in the ridiculously long drive-thru line. The guy has a leather motorcycle jacket on and he's pawing his girl, who's either 25 or 55—I don't know because she's wearing so much makeup. Wilting from the sun, he takes off the jacket and says, "Turn this up." I do. His head nods silently. The guy has been through the wars, as he's missing a tooth, and there's a huge bald amid long gray hair. "This is the shit. Who is this?" I tell as my soda runs out. "No fucking way. No way." I say yeah and nod my head as if to say, Who'd-a thunk? "They turned to shit 10 to 12 years ago," he says to me. "No, this ain't fucking them." I shrug and let it play. He whispers to the girl, and she goes in and gets in the long line nearly snaking out the door. I can't get a girl to pass the salt. He sits next to the car and nods his head, eyes closed, to the music, as if I don't exist. One other guy gathers around and sits on the hood. The girl comes back with two double-doubles and shakes, including one for me. I thank her and she smiles. She's 45. The guy devours the burger and says, "Man, sounds like the demons are back, no more bullshit—I mean really back, and Kirk is playing like a muthafucka." They keep eating. My shake is strawberry. Sorry. It sits in the cup holder. The guy gets off my hood; we've been sitting listening for nearly an hour. I begin to pull out. The guy with the girl bangs on my roof lightly. "That really fucking rocks man, thanks." He's probably writing for the OC Weekly now.

Ken Capobianco
Long Beach, CA

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