The best songs of 2008 so far
Photo from Corey Meredith
Another half-year is through, and I'm feeling pretty hopeful. Thus far, it's been a promising six months with lots of great music originating from all sorts of sources. If you've been willing to put in the effort and diversify your tastes, rich rewards lurk in just about every niche. As this list of song list attests, my ear has been largely tuned to electronic and hip-hop in 2008, both of which are showing encouraging signs of life. Hip-hop in particular is on track to have its best year in a while, with great work coming from all over the map. Since I usually find the second half of the year even stronger, there's good reason to believe 2008 will go down as an excellent and far-flung chapter in the annals.
15) “Golpe de Estado” – Immortal Technique ft. Temperamento and Veneno
When Felipe Coronel trills his r's, you can almost feel the venom flecking off his tongue. His rage is so immense, it practically pounds out of the speakers. There's nothing subtle about his delivery or his topics, no room for misunderstanding. This is hip-hop at its most nakedly didactic. It's a protest speech delivered through a megaphone, a punch simultaneously directed to the gut and the brain. Though political rap has largely languished during Immortal Technique's long absence, with "Golpe de Estado," Coronel makes up for lost time. He pronounces every word like it's the last he'll ever get. He doesn't spit fire, he exhales it, incinerating any motherfucker dumb enough to stand in his way.
* MP3: "Golpe de Estado" - Immortal Technique ft. Temperamento and Veneno from The 3rd World [Buy it]
14) "Philly Codes" - Nico the Beast ft. Zilla Rocca and 2ew Gunn Ciz
Although I recently devoted five fat paragraphs to it, that still wasn't enough to point out everything I like about Nico the Beast's "Philly Codes." For one, I didn't get to mention Alex Wood's limber, spirited production, which gives the track a lot of its momentum. It's a full-bodied beat, loaded up with stirring claps and flourishes, but one that never distracts from the three able rappers. Another feature I didn't mention enough is the chorus, which finds Nico tough and territorial as ever but also allowing a nice touch of sentimentality to peek through. If I had more room, I'd also reiterate in greater depth how powerfully Zilla and 2ew Gunn Ciz rock their verses, but once again, "Philly Codes"'s positives just can't be contained in the space allotted.
* MP3: "Philly Codes" - Nico the Beast ft. Zilla Rocca and 2ew Gunn Ciz from No Beast So Fierce [Buy it]
* Previously: Home of the cheesesteak, the beef piled sky high
13) "Back It Up" - Feadz ft. Spank Rock
* MP3: "Back It Up" - Feadz ft. Spank Rock from Ed Rec Vol. III [Buy it]
* Previously: And do that stuff that your mama calls smut
12) "Dirty and Hard" - Djedtronic ft. Spoek
Just above everything you need to know about French DJ Djedjotronic's "Dirty and Hard" is right there in the title. It's steered by a messy, grubby groove, the aural equivalent of hangover bedhead. And it bangs reliably under your feet, full of deep bass and slip-and-slide electronics. Add in South African MC Spoek's flow, which is essentially just one long, satisfying hook, and "Dirty and Hard" feels like a dancefloor dream. Because this song's designed to get you grinding and sweating, it'll definitely get you dirty. As for the second part, well, I guess that's up to you.
* MP3: "Dirty and Hard" - Djedjtronic ft. Spoek [Visit Djedjtronic] [Visit Spoek]
11) "Hoobity Blah" - El-P
"Settle down, skipper, that's so September tenth of you," sneers El-P on the opening track of his tour-only mixtape. He's clearly mocking the fat-headed politicians and pundits who offer similar lines with straight faces, who try sparking culture wars with jihadist zeal. But it's also a middle finger to the rappers who act oblivious and don't speak to their times. In contrast, El-P rhymes like he hasn't slept a wink since that dark morning. He's become our bleary-eyed prophet, our sign-waving James Cole, presaging hell around every corner. It's clear he's been irreparably affected by current events, after seven years still bravely voicing a damage so monstrous and fantastic.
* MP3: "Hoobity Blah" - El-P from Weareallgoingtoburninhellmegamixx2 [Buy other El-P]
* Previously: Get it poppin' like epileptics on bubble wrap
10) "Wrestlers" - Hot Chip
Although IDM (intelligent dance music) typically refers to such acts as Orbital and Aphex Twin, I think the genre label would fit Hot Chip more aptly. After all, the London quintet is as smart as they are smart-alecky, thumbing their noses and grinning madly through much of Made in the Dark. Their song "Bendable Poseable" is as much about their malleable aesthetic as anything else, and "Wrestlers" is even more on the nose. "Hit you in the sweet spot," Alexis Taylor sings right before the music obliges with a viscerally pleasing riff. Like its subject, "Wrestlers" is all about theatricality, agility, and bouncing goofily from corner to corner. Sure, it's mostly one colossal joke, but under all that showmanship, there's also serious technique on display and even some glimpses of real pain.
9) "Home Life" - Shearwater
* Previously: Desert shores and the forest green and a limitless life
8) "Wedding Ring" - J-Direct
A delicious slice of hip-hop cheese, "Wedding Ring" finds J-Direct MC Fitzgerald in full loverman mode. "I don't lack lust, that's a cute brunette,/ I'm all over that thing with my wet palate," he croons at a bar like a last-call lothario. But what could be a simple tale of a one-night-stand grows into a terrific dialogue full of intimate details and real-life desires. It gets better and better with every line, reminding me of other great give-and-takes like "I Got A Man" and "You Got Me." It culminates with the perfect chorus, in which Fitzgerald proclaims the cause of his lust: "Your wedding ring keeps turning me on, ah-ah-on ah-ah-on." Paired with Jason Griffin's clever sample of The Flaming Lips' "All You Need Is Now," the song is hilarious, sexy, honest, and most surprisingly, oddly poignant.
* MP3: "Wedding Ring" - J-Direct [Buy other J-Direct]
7) "Mecca and the Ox" - Vast Aire ft. Vordul Mega
Dueces Wild's main accomplishment is making The Cold Vein look even better by comparison. The first way it does this is by being a mostly mediocre album with mostly mediocre production. But the other way is having "Mecca and the Ox" as its high point, a song that sets up a mini-reunion of heyday Can Ox. Reunited, the pair complements each other with strong back-to-back verses and some sharp rhymes. It's not so much yin and yang, as yang piled on top of more yang, which sounds even better to me. Now if only someone could tell Vast how to spell "deuces."
* MP3: "Mecca and the Ox" - Vast Aire ft. Vordul Mega from Dueces Wild [Buy it]
6) "20K Money Making Brothers on the Corner" - Re-Up Gang
* MP3: "20K Money Making Brothers on the Corner" - Re-Up Gang from We Got It For Cheap, Vol. 3 [Buy it]
5) "Get Busy" - The Roots ft. Dice Raw, Peedi Crack and DJ Jazzy Jeff
Outgunning Jay-Z's "99 Problems," "Get Busy" is the best song Rick Rubin never produced. It's got his trademark boombox thump, that hard rock vibe with the hip-hop attitude. Or as Black Thought puts it, "part Melle Mel, part Van Halen." But The Roots don't stop at mere homage and even with masterful production. Like the overachievers they are, we also get Black Thought and Dice Raw at their most ferocious, some old-school scratch samples from Jazzy Jeff, and best of all, a brilliant verse from Peedi Crack. He's freewheeling and light-hearted where the other two rappers are heavy, proving there's more than one way to kill a killer beat.
4) "Driving Down The Block" (Remix ft. Bun B, Pusha T, and the Cool Kids) - Kidz in the Hall
* MP3: "Driving Down The Block" (Remix ft. Bun B, Pusha T, and the Cool Kids) - Kidz in the Hall from The In Crowd [Buy it]
* Previously: Crank up my alpine, and my bass crazy kickin' it
3) "Swang on 'Em" - Bun B ft. Lupe Fiasco
If the "Drivin' Down The Block" remix is my go-to jam for suburban joyrides, "Swang on 'Em" is my essential song for walking down the street. I know, I know, most people don't need a soundtrack to cross a sidewalk, but it's really their loss. With my oversized headphones draped like earmuffs and my Ray-Bans on, nothing gets my heart rate revving like this pop-rap stunner. From the brassy drumline beat to its bouncy meter, from Bun B's blustery confidence to Lupe Fiasco's stealth-genius guest spot, "Swang on 'Em" has loads of energy to spare. Every time I put it on repeat, it ensures I'll wind up miles from home.
* MP3: "Swang on 'Em" - Bun B ft. Lupe Fiasco from II Trill [Buy it]
2) "We're Looking For A Lot of Love" - Hot Chip
Hot Chip's always been about modulation, but Made In the Dark finds them slowing their pace more than ever. Four full songs feature their weird take on pop-soul ballads, with "We're Looking For A Lot of Love" being the marvel of the lot. "You see me everywhere," Alexis Taylor sings, somewhere between the Four Tops and Flight of the Conchords. "I see you in my boots and in my hair." That's a bizarre admission for a love song, but the ache in Taylor's voice sells it as eerily true. Lately, it even has me revising my policy on Hot Chip's slower tracks. Whereas I once skipped past them to get to the dance songs, "We're Looking For A Lot of Love" has become the destination I'm racing to reach.
* MP3: "We're Looking For A Lot of Love" - Hot Chip from Made In The Dark [Buy it]
1) "Vanished" - Crystal Castles
I used to be one of the cynical masses, sneering at remixes as lazy cash-grabs. Tinker slightly with the beat or slap on a few extra verses, and you can stick it on a fifteen-dollar import single. But if I've learned anything from doing this blog (dubious but possible), it's that remixing is just as delicate and vital an art as songwriting. "Vanished" is the perfect example, transforming a decent Van She song into sonic gold. Just by altering the beat and expanding the musical sections, Crystal Castles makes "Vanished" exponentially more gorgeous. Compared to the original, it glitters and swaggers with whole new life. I can't imagine any song sounding better in 2008, but just in case, I'm going to wait for the remix.
* MP3: "Vanished" - Crystal Castles from Crystal Castles [Buy it]
* Previously: Come see the city with me
Up next: The best singles of 2008 so far