In the annals of American pop history, 2008 will surely go down as a year when our nation had more-important shit to worry about. Music usually hovers around #1 in the stuff-I-care-about charts, but amid all the year's panic, turmoil, Hope®, and high-def widescreen YouTube videos of cats falling off things, it managed to slip down into the low #30s, somewhere around birdwatching and maritime law.
(If you were a critical thinker — and for both our sakes, let's hope you're not — you might be wondering how a dude who barely paid attention to music all year could honorably sustain a weekly pop-music column in a reputable paper. If you figure it out, please let me know.)
I gather that this is some kind of year-end edition and that I'm supposed to reflect on the music of the past year. Hey, what the hell? Let's do this thing. I now present a brief overview of artists we were maybe supposed to care about this year:
FLEET FOXES | I saw this album for sale at Starbucks, and I'm sure as hell not going to break the cultural embargo by listening to it. Willingly hearing or reviewing any album sold at Starbucks would be no less a political transgression than Elton John's playing Sun City during apartheid. It's unconscionable. You just don't do it.
AMADOU & MARIAM | Their latest, Welcome to Mali, currently holds the #1 spot for '08 on the review aggregator metacritic.com, and it's really no wonder: Amadou & Mariam hail from Mali, one of the poorest nations in the world. They're also blind. You would have to be a total dick to give their album a bad review. If you give Kid Rock a shitty review and his album tanks, he can just go back to Michigan and fix cars or whatever. If these guys don't make it, they have to go back to a place where they're already past their life expectancy. Buy two copies, you heartless bastard.
An interesting sidenote: when looking up Mali on Wikipedia for life-expectancy numbers, I came across a sentence that illustrates the beauty of collaborative knowledge: "Mali gained independence in 1959 with Senegal, as the Mali Federation in stick ur dick in matts butt 1959."
M.I.A. | Everyone already knows about M.I.A., so this shit is a freebie: "Paper Planes" is the lazy man's single of the year because it was easily accessible and musically unimpeachable. And I'm the lazy man, so whatever, I'll take it. Probably the laziest part about this whole affair is that we've been listening to this track since 2007, when Kala came out, but it wasn't released as a single till this year. Which means we get to squeak by on a technicality and hitch our wagon to a relic from back when we gave a shit.
TV ON THE RADIO | I'm sure these guys are pretty rad, and I'm hearing that they pulled out a barnburner this year, but I'm just never going to trust them. Pitchfork Media likes them too much, and Pitchfork is that guy from high school who just became "cool" two years ago and now he rides up to you at school on his fixed-gear bike and tries to shove his grimy iPod bud in your ear canal because you're a "music guy" and, hey, now he's a "music guy" too, and he just heard about this really dope new band on Pitchfork, and — shit, that just looped back on itself.
Speaking of infinite Pitchfork recursion: be sure to take a glance at its patently hilarious "Top 100 Tracks of the Year" list and take note of how pretty much all of them sound like exactly the kind of shit Pitchfork likes.
VAMPIRE WEEKEND | I'm not entirely sure what to make of these immaculately calculated Ivy Leaguers, aside from a subconscious desire to impress my mom by dating them. Their biography, their mode of dress, their unctuous lyrics, and their Paul Simon–esque African whiteboyism all seem calculated to provoke unlimited punches to the face, but they confuse the hell out of me by not setting off my bullshit alarm. It's as if the singer (who has the audacity to call himself Ezra Koenig) were smirking at me through pure earnestness, daring me to get mad at him for being an unprecedented tit, but I can't and I hate it. I think not knowing quite what to make of them is part of the point. They're like Marcel Duchamp's Fountain: I don't know whether to laud them as some kind of brilliant conceptual masterpiece or just pee on them.
A final thought: it's telling that "Vampire Weekend" + "boat shoes" returns more than 1000 results on Google, whereas "Vampire Weekend" + "mad pussy" brings up fewer than 50.