Well, I’m feeling all limbered up from a long overdue yoga class. Who wants music list? I know you do… I see that little grin…

The following albums and songs aren’t necessarily things that came out in ’08–though I think a few may have–but rather stuff that I listened to a lot/really got to me this year. I’m pretty much listening to music all the time, and if I’m not listening to it, I’m singing to myself. And if I’m not doing either of those things, I’ve got five or so songs rolling around my head.

My sources for song discovery range far and wide, from friends and coworkers (not to mention the handful of music writers I used to edit) to blogs, movies, and TV shows (This year, a lot of my music comes from Weeds and Veronica Mars). I’m a bit of a compulsive downloader, meaning my iTunes playlist grows exponentially every week and I lose more and more space on my hard drive.

Anyway, without further ado, my music of 2008. Brought to you by uncontrollable, unchecked insomnia:

ALBUMS

Fleet FoxesFleet Foxes + Sun Giant (2008)

Hands down my number one album of ’08. Ever since I first heard “Drops in the River,” I’ve been listening to these guys pretty much nonstop. I even saw them twice in concert this year. Trying to describe their sound leads me to saying crazy bullshitty stoner-sounding things like “Mountains singing to each other across a valley” or “The sun coming up in the woods.” But it’s ALL TRUE. “Blue Ridge Mountains” and “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” are probably my faves, but every song on this album (and the Sun Giant EP) are fantastic.

Eddie VedderInto the Wild Soundtrack (2007)

I spent more time out in the wilderness this summer than I ever have, and it’s due in large part to this movie and this album. I’ve written here before about Chris McCandless, so I’ll spare you the redundancy. Suffice to say if you see Into the Wild and don’t immediately want to abandon all your possessions and head into the wastes, then your soul must be screwed on arsewise. I’ve always been pretty indifferent to Pearl Jam, but Vedder’s voice and arrangements on these songs is just gut-twisting (in a good way). Totally raw and hard and folksy. I listened to this a lot when I was stranded in airports in crutches earlier this year. Best songs: “Rise” for the happy and “Long Nights” for the sad.

The New PornographersChallengers (2007)

I’ve been a New Pornographers fan for awhile, but I nearly lost the faith when the bleh Twin Cinema came out in ’05.  Challengers completely makes up for it–lotsa variety on this one. While I still love their old, rocky stuff, this album’s stranger, subtler and more thoughtful. “Myriad Harbor” is probably the best known one (on account’a it was on the radio-tubes), but there’s a lot of juicy little nuggets in here. For every joyous spot, there’s a speckle of melancholy. Best songs: “Go Places” and “Adventures in Solitude.”

The Kinks – Lola versus Powerman and the Money-Go-Round, Part One (1970)

Leave it to Wes Anderson to introduce me to music I should’ve known ages ago. I first heard this stuff in The Darjeeling Limited, and it opened up a heretofore unmined library of Kinks awesomeness. This is good travelin’ music, and that’s my favorite kind. If you can manage to sneak your iPod on during an airplane takeoff, listen to “This Time Tomorrow” just as the wheels leave the tarmac. Best songs: “This Time Tomorrow” and “Strangers.”

Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical Soundtrack (2005)

If you haven’t seen this movie yet–and most people haven’t, it was a flash in the pan on Showtime–Netflix it immediately. It’s a campy musical sendup of an actual 1930s propaganda film touting the evils of marijuana. It’s got Kristen Bell, Ana Gasteyer, and Alan Cumming. It’s totally freaking hilarious, and it’s also a legitimately good musical. The roomie and I spent half this year either watching this DVD or belting along to the soundtrack. Best songs: “Loved by Mary Lane” and “The Stuff.”

Josh RitterThe Animal Years (2006)

More quality drivin’-to-the-mountains music. Ritter walks this line between country, folk and indie rock that’s well-nigh enviable. And his lyrics are like epic-poetic-epic. Who knew that Laurel and Hardy could be so tragical? He’s got political messages in here too, but he doesn’t beat you over the goddamn head with them. Best songs: “Thin Blue Flame” and “Girl in the War.”

Bon Iver For Emma, Forever Ago (2008)

Bon Iver is very in the mode of Fleet Foxes, but if summer turned to fall and most of the leaves who used to sing harmony fell and died, leaving just the one sad, soulful one still clinging to the branch. Great lyrics: “That was Wisconsin / That was yesterday / Now I have nothing that I can keep / Cause every place I go / I take another place with me.” Best songs: “Blindsided” and “Wisconsin.”

Grand Ole PartyHumanimals (2008)

I didn’t get to see much live music in San Diego, as I was busy being stung by a stingray and bleeding and stuff. But if most SD music is like Grand Ole Party, I seriously missed out. These guys are the funnest. Think Janis Joplin fronting a low-fi funk band. Imagine either fixing cars and/or strutting down a polluted beach while you’re listening, all while wearing huge aviator glasses. Best songs: “Bad, Bad Man” and “Look Out Young Son.”

Gabriel Kahane, Gabriel Kahane (2008)

Kahane sounds like a more melancholy, piano-reliant Sufjan Stevens. In fact, the guy’s worked with Sufjan. He’s a pianist/singer/composer based in Brooklyn whose first LP is chock full of the pensive, bouyant, place-namey kind of music I melt for on long road trips. His 2006 EP, Walking Away from Winter, put his name on a very small map with songs based on Craigslist classified ads. His lyrics are almost as crazy and beautiful as his orchestrations. Best songs: “North Adams” and “Underberg.”

SONGS

The Streets – “Weak Become Heroes” (Nothing like a little Brit-rap to get you through the rough patches. And the patches were rough this year.)

• Paul Simon – “Graceland” + “Hearts and Bones” (Quality mellow, road trip songs–and both, incidentally, about Simon’s breakups with Carrie Fisher.)

• Three Dog Night – “Shambala” (I’m not gonna lie–I first heard this one on “LOST.” But damn if a peppy song like this doesn’t have restorative properties.)

The Hidden Cameras – “Music is My Boyfriend” (“I found music / And he found me / I washed his dirty underwear / He made me toast…”)

The Thermals – “Here’s Your Future” (Heard this one on “Weeds.” Good for blasting when the world seems about to explode.)

Mike Doughty – “I Hear the Bells” (From “Veronica Mars.” Listen to this one when you’ve had a minor breakthrough and want to strut around your apartment.)

The Mountain Goats – “Cotton” + “No Children” (“Cotton” is one of my all-time faves–good for many moods. “No Children” is just hilariously sadomasochistic.)

Kings of Convenience – “Love is No Big Truth” (Drink a cup of coffee, lie back on the couch, be mellow and ambivalent till the cows come home–which they never do.)

• Cat Stevens – “Trouble” (I can’t believe I hadn’t heard this song till this year. Simple and affecting.)

MGMT – “Time to Pretend” (If I had to pick out one song to epitomize my generation, this would be it.)

Great Lake Swimmers – “Your Rocky Spine” (More driving to the mountains fun. Who knew geographic features could be so sexy?)

• Neil Patrick Harris – “My Freeze Ray” (If you haven’t yet seen “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog”… well, just go watch it, kiddo.)

Beirut – “Scenic World” + “Cliquot” (Beirut grew slowly on me, but I like him a lot now. “Cliquot” has a driving, 19th-century feel to it, and “Scenic World” is a great escape song. Accordion and ukulele POWER!)

• Ben Folds – “Effington” (I’ve been a lifelong Ben Folds fan, but I didn’t dig most of “Way to Normal.” This one’s vintage Folds, though–driving, funny, and slightly tragic.)

Neko Case – “I Wish I Was the Moon” (There’s something primal about this song, like a howl. It’s got one of my favorite lyrics ever: “God bless me, I’m a free man / With no place free to go…”)

Elvis Perkins – “While You Were Sleeping” (This guy’s the son of Anthony Perkins, of “Pyscho” fame. “While You Were Sleeping” is just kind of totally beautiful.)

Elbow – “The Bones of You,” “Station Approach,” + “Grace Under Pressure” (Elbow is one of those bands that hit it big in the UK ages ago, and is just starting to make a belated splash stateside. Why it’s taken so long, I couldn’t say. They’re like a much better version of Coldplay.)

• Rufus Wainwright – “Grey Gardens” (Rufus is another of my all-time favorites, but I always glossed over this song till this year. It probably has to do with the fact that I finally read “Death in Venice” and watched “Grey Gardens”–the two things this song is based on. I picture Aschenbach lying awake in bed, lusting after Tadzio and singing this to himself.)

Fionn Regan – “Put a Penny in the Slot” (Beautiful lyrics paired with a simple melody and a sweet voice. This guy’s an Irish singer-songwriter in the spirit of Nick Drake and Bob Dylan.)

• Death Cab for Cutie – “I Will Possess Your Heart” (A simple riff, carried on for ages. And it works.)

Alexi Murdoch – “All of My Days” (More Nick Drake-esque stuff. If Fleet Foxes are like mountains, Murdoch’s like the clouds passing overheard.)

• Morrissey – “Everyday is Like Sunday” (“Come armageddon, come armageddon, come…”)

46bliss – “The Way You Are” (Moody electronica, ideal for drowning out inane bustle on long T rides.)

• Rilo Kiley – “The Execution of All Things” + “A Better Son/Daughter” (Rilo Kiley–another late discovery on my part. These songs are anthemic, peppy, and blissfully destructive.)

Page France – “Chariot” + “Jesus” (Music for complicated weather.)

Yael Naïm – “New Soul” (Definitely check out the video for this one. French-Israeli peppiness–with a tuba! Apparently it was also in an Apple commerical, but I missed that one.)

Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings – “100 Days, 100 Nights” (Sharon Jones = prison guard-turned-badass-soul-singer. She is the tits of tits.)

Sondre Lerche – “Everyone’s Rooting for You” (Oh Sondre. I’ve seen this guy twice in concert, too. If anyone can make me crack a smile, it’s this bubbly little Norwegian kid with the mean guitar skills and the silky voice.)

• Regina Spektor – “Ghost of Corporate Future” (“Begin to Hope” was probably my top album of ’07. This one’s off of “Soviet Kitsch,” and it’s sparse, funny, and sad.)

• The Decemberists – “Los Angeles, I’m Yours” + “Sons and Daughters” (I love many a Decemberists song, but these two bloomed late for me. “Los Angeles, I’m Yours” got a lot of play when I was in California last May. Colin Meloy busted out “Sons and Daughters”at the Orpheum concert last month to celebrate Obama’s victory, and it will now and forever make me tear up.)

Badly Drawn Boy – “The Time of Times” (“Born in the UK” is not BDB’s best album–I’m still nostalgiac for “Bewilderbeast”–but this is a great climbing-to-the-top-of-the-rollercoaster song.)

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Listening to: “Blue Ridge Mountains” – Fleet Foxes

Apparently, Into the Wild has spurred a rash of pilgrimages out to the spot where Christopher McCandless met his end, in an abandoned bus along the Stampede Road in south central Alaska. I can’t say I’m surprised. If I go to Alaska–which I hope to sometime in the next few years, if and when I can cobble together enough cash–I’d probably also be tempted to make the trek.

But it’s sad. People setting off into the wilderness not in search of nature or of themselves, but in search of a grave? A monument? The Stampede Road becoming, well, stampeded by tourists?

But here’s the worst:

“Even tourists without plans to see the bus can still view a piece of the saga. Excursion businesses in Denali National Park and Preserve are offering popular off-road McCandless tours that take visitors partway along the muddy, rutted Stampede trail. Some people are disappointed that the scenery is flatter than the flashy snow-covered peaks shown in the movie, only to discover those scenes were filmed closer to the tiny town of Cantwell about 40 miles to the south.”

Do your research before you strap on the ol’ rucksack, kids; it’s a fic-ed up adaptation, not a documentary. And also, seriously, “McCandless tours”? If Chris were around today, what would he think of that? So much for a aescetic’s quest, away from all that is commercial to find the heart of things.

One more thing about this article:

“They envisioned hordes of copycats making dangerous pilgrimages for a character portrayed as a spiritual visionary rather than an ill-prepared misfit, as many Alaskans view McCandless.”

See, why does it have to be either-or? Why can’t it be both? McCandless was both a spiritual visionary and an ill-prepared misfit. I’m sure in his day, people were calling Siddhartha Gautama a freakin’ idiot, too. (Not that I’m say McCandless was the next Buddha).

Argh.

Alright, thus endeth the rant. I could use a trip into the wastes myself at the moment. Instead, I’m going to New York next weekend. Practically the same thing, right?

…………

“My brother where do you intend to go tonight?
I heard that you missed your connecting flight,
to the Blue Ridge Mountains, over near Tennessee.

You’re ever welcome with me any time you like,
Let’s drive to the country side, leave behind some green-eyed look-a-likes,
So no one gets worried, no.
So no one gets worried, no..”

Listening to: “Place to Be” – Nick Drake

So I know I ought to be writing about my Great California Adventure–getting skewered in the foot by a stingray and hobbling on crutches up and down the Pacific Coast, etc.–but instead I’m going to write about what’s on my mind at the moment.

I don’t know where to start on this, or what exactly I’m talking about. But I’m thinking of two people, people who were about my age, who have died in the past twenty years–Christopher McCandless and Rachel Corrie. I’ve talked about Corrie before in this blog. I’ve more recently learned about McCandless, after watching Into the Wild and then doing some research on my own.

There are several reasons I think of Corrie and McCandless on a similar level. First of all, I was introduced to both stories via artistic renderings–Corrie via My Name is Rachel Corrie, McCandless via Sean Penn’s film (I’m going to have to read Krakauer’s book next). Secondly, both stories really haunt me. Both Corrie and McCandless had the nerve to go off and do things on their own, against all advice–things that I myself would love to have the time, the funds, and the bravery to do.

Both, too, died tragic, improbable, and wholly avoidable deaths–Corrie in 2003 at 23 in Gaza, crushed by an Israeli bulldozer, McCandless in 1992 at 24 in the Alaskan wilderness, of starvation. Both have had cults built around them, in equal measure with people who fervently hate them. Both went into their chosen situations half-cocked: Corrie to Gaza with little prior knowledge of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, McCandless to Alaska with no prior experience in the far northern wilderness and fewer necessary supplies. Both willfully revolted against their upper-middle-class upbringings. Both loved reading and writing. Both, it seemed, had an undeniable zest for life.

With all these things in common, there’s one thing that makes Corrie and McCandless polar opposites. Corrie saw what was wrong with society and chose to dive in and fix what she could, to surround herself with people, to foster communities. McCandless saw what was wrong with society and chose to abandon it, to forsake friends, family, community and live completely on his own. Both ran–from Washington to Gaza, from Virginia to Alaska–but Corrie ran into new arms and McCandless ran into empty space.

Which is the better path? Both tempt me.

And in the end, both have come to stand for something larger than intended. Neither set out to be martyrs–both had a future in mind, never intended to die. But both ended up that way. They’ve each come to stand for something larger than themselves. They’ve each been lionized and demonized–words like brave, smart, strong, stupid, foolish, inexperienced–it’s all… I mean… what can you say about a person who died pursuing the path he/she chose, other than, it ended? Judgment doesn’t help. It never does. (Sayeth the girl who gets paid to judge other people’s artistic endeavors.)

What I’m saying is: we live in a time when frontiers, so they tell us, are few. Even the abandoned bus in the Alaskan wilds has become a tourist attraction ever since McCandless died there 16 years ago. Even as Kushner’s rabbi says of the dead immigrant woman in the opening scene of Millennium Approaches: “You can never make that crossing she made, for such Great Voyages in this world do not any more exist.” He even capitalizes “Great Voyages.” That line always makes me want to cry.

But what Corrie and McCandless prove is that yes, you can. You can be brave, you can leave it all behind, you can find something new under the sun. The rules are laid out, the path is well-trod and ready for you to follow, but you don’t have to. You don’t have to. You don’t have to. There might be a lot wrong with America, but we can still choose what we want our lives to be. It’s getting harder, when so much around us is standing at the ready to choose for us. The frontiers may be shrinking on this Earth, but they’re not gone. Not just yet.

And maybe they were naive; maybe people can tell them they didn’t have the right to do what they did. But they did anyway. And they didn’t wait till they were old, till things were settled, till they knew which way was up. They thrust out in the full thick of youth and confusion and unanswered questions. They sought the answers in new places. They dared.

Is it fair to think of Corrie and McCandless in the same discussion? Who knows. Have I oversimplified? Definitely. I just had to get this down.