As tradition established last year dictates, I'm going to list my oddly-named awards in no particular order before I get to the final album on my list of favorite albums for the previous year. Therefore...
The Andy Roddick Memorial Award: Atmosphere - When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold, Rise Against - Appeal to Reason, The Roots - Rising Down, The Gutter Twins - Saturnalia, Fucked Up - The Chemistry of Common Life
The Stretch Armstrong Tribute Award: Genghis Tron - Board Up The House, These Arms Are Snakes - Tail Swallower And Dove
The Salvador Dali Memorial Award: Brian Scary & The Shredding Tears - Flight of the Knife, Earth - The Bees Made Honey In The Lion's Skull
The Spirit of Planet of Ice Award: Coldplay - Viva La Vida, or Death and All His Friends
The Bourne Identity Soundtrack Award: Lil Wayne - Tha Carter III, The Roots - Rising Down
The Phantom Award: Metallica - Death Magnetic
The Die Hard with a Vengeance Tribute Award: Opeth - Watershed
The "Holy Shit! I Care About You Again" Award: R.E.M. - Accelerate
The Samuel Beckett Memorial Award: Portishead - Third
The Live Free or Die Hard/Lethal Weapon 4 Tribute Award: Foxboro Hot Tubs - Stop Drop and Roll!!!!, Disturbed - Indestructible
The '04-'05 Phoenix Suns Tribute Award: Eddie Vedder - Into The Wild Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
2008 was a good year, with the exception of the virtually worldwide collapse of the financial sector, and confidence therein (I suppose that's not necessarily bad, depending on what kind of person you are, but as someone who depends on his job in order to, you know, stay alive, statewide budget cutbacks inspired by a decline in tax revenue, itself inspired by a deflation in consumer confidence are not a good thing).
2008's status as a good year is what most directly influenced my selection of Randy Newman's "Feels Like Home" as my favorite song of the year (the runners-up, for those of you keeping score at home, were Kanye West's "Love Lockdown," followed by TV On The Radio's "Halfway Home" and Nine Inch Nail's "Discipline" - if 2008 had been a different year, my favorite song would've been a different one, but, c'est la vie), for personal-life reasons that are instantly apparent to anyone who knows me at all (or has read anything I've written in the last 5 months... Having found the most amazing, ideal, ridiculously awesome person I could've ever hoped to find has adjusted my attitude somewhat - for the better, I would say).
For the first time that I can remember, I love a song not just because it's well-written (musically and lyrically), or witty, or different from every other song I've heard before - Mr. Newman himself has described it as a fairly standard love song, even though I think he's selling himself short - but because it articulates my personal feelings in a way that I don't think I'm capable of doing myself. Four lines from "Feels Like Home" go quite a long way towards illustrating that exact point:
"Something in your voice/
Makes my heart beat fast/
Hope this feeling will last/
The rest of my life"
As I wrote before, reading Randy Newman's words doesn't even hold a flickering candle to hearing them come out of his mouth, so you'll just have to trust me on this: never, ever have I heard a song that pierced me to my... center? Core? Spirit? Even though it's a song he wrote for his musical version of Faust, it came along at the perfect time for me, the perfect situation. Let me put this another way: I didn't know how hard I was going to fall for this song until I heard it (a nice mirror of something else that happened last year).
In any case, I've heard it said - frequently - that timing, if it's not everything, than it's at least 40%. After 2008, I understand that a whole lot better.
Let's look at another couple of lines, just for fun:
"If you knew/
How much this moment means to me/
Ad how long I've waited for your touch/
If you knew/
I wanted someone to come along/
I never thought I'd love anyone/
Much of what makes Randy Newman so special is his word economy, how he's able to say more with less than, well, almost anyone (a trick I have yet to master, clearly). Movies and song titles keep getting longer, but Randy Newman still says what he has to say, then moves on. I appreciate that for a variety of reasons (many of which I've stated before).
In the interest of paying slight tribute to Mr. Newman, I'll leave my reaction to his song at that, and move on to the final album in my list: United Nations' self-titled record.
I love this cover more than any reasonable human being should; as an image that's supposed to embody the spirit of the band, and the music contained within, it's perfect. Totally, unquestioningly perfect. Irreverent, abrasive, hysterical (to the right audience), and far smarter than nay-sayers would ever be willing to give it credit for being, the cover of United Nations (which no record store in the country was willing to stock - they had to go with a backup that still wound up violating copyright) is as successful a cover as any album has ever had, ever.
I wrote a pretty thorough reaction to the album last year, so this'll be my first attempt in this little space that I attempt to call my own to address the same topic twice and do my best to not repeat myself (not to beat a dead horse here, but I think I'm going to play the brevity card once again - better to say what you have to say and get it the hell over with rather than waste everyone's time, including your own).
There are really two useful things I can say as a follow-up to my earlier posting (three, perhaps, but that might be stretching it. Read on). First and foremost, unlike, for instance, the Atmosphere record (an album that I overdosed on, more or less), I have yet to tire of United Nations. Every time I listen to it (and here I'll compare it to Pearl Jam's self-titled album), it's over before I really even process that it's begun. Sure, some of that might be attributable to its sub-30 minute running time, but that's not giving United Nations the proper amount of credit. Every aspect of the record blows me away whenever I listen to it: the purity of its fury, the dense layering of the sounds that make it up, how flat-out funny it can be, and the confidence with which the entire thing is pulled off. There's an almost swagger to it ("Filmed in Front of a Live Studio Audience" makes that case for me) that I've not heard on many "hardcore" records. I like it.
Here's my second point: I said in my earlier posting that I'd never cared about/for either Glassjaw or Thursday before listening to the UN album. Well, that opinion's found cause to change, and fairly dramatically, too. Having found cause to uncover Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Silence and War All The Time, I have to cop to a fear that I may have missed the boat on these bands. Not entirely, I hope, seeing as how I'll now happily count myself among the ranks of their respective fan bases, but I've missed them both in what was probably their heyday. That is to say, I doubt Thursday will release a better album than they already did in War All The Time, just as I doubt Glassjaw will produce anything superior to EYEWTKAS. One can always hope, but I feel pretty certain in my analysis.
Finally, but in a significantly different way from before, United Nations was, for me, absolutely the right record at the right time. My total disaffection with the Bush administration was passing the "total" marker, to the point that I contained enough hatred and loathing within me to account for three or more people, I was feeling as though the cracks in the system were widening and deepening to the point that they were truly going to fuck things up, rather than just be unjust and inconvienent, and I'm generally sick of treading water. United Nations gave that rage and despair a voice, an identity. That, more than anything else, is why it's my favorite album of 2008.
Post-script: Recently, I've picked up, and listened to, three more releases from last year. I'll briefly respond to both of them.
The Decemberists' Singles Series: "Valerie Plame" is a fantastic song. I think I've found my diving board into their music.
Thursday/Envy Split [EP]: I never expected to see a Thursday release on Temporary Residence (they do Explosions' releases - when I think of Explosions, I don't think of Thursday), but it's an interesting thing to do. If they're really serious about integrating some post-rock compositional/playing style into their music, my assertation about them having released their masterpiece may be premature (but we'll see). I'd never heard of Envy before, but I'd be willing to check them out.
Red Sparowes - Aphorisms [EP]: "We Left the Apes to Rot, But Find the Fang Grows Within" (see what I mean about overly verbose musicians - a funny thing to say about an instrumental band, but still) may be the angriest Red Sparowes song yet, but the rest of it's pretty normal, as far as they go. Good enough to remind me I'm interested in their new album that's supposed to come out this year.