Favorite Singles of 2008

Here are 20 of my favorite songs released in 2008. As usual, I’ve agonized over this list and have changed it numerous times. Like always, I only picked one song per album (otherwise artists like Bon Iver & Robert Forster would just completely dominate this list) and they’re only loosely ranked by preference.
So for better or worse:

1. MGMT – “Time to Pretend” from Oracular Spectacular

[audio:01 – Time to Pretend.mp3]
The first 60-ish seconds of this are irresistibly awesome.

2. Bon Iver – “For Emma” from For Emma, Forever Ago

[audio:08 for emma.mp3]
Possibly my favorite album of the year.

3. Langhorne Slim – “Rebel Side of Heaven” from Langhorne Slim

[audio:02 Rebel Side Of Heaven.mp3]
This dude isn’t always consistently great, but I dig a lot of this album and this song in particular.


Hello Sunshine

Relatively Clean Rivers – Hello Sunshine mp3Phil Pearlman Gadahn circa 2004

“Listen up and I’ll tell a story / about an artist growing old,” sings Daniel Johnston, presumably referring to himself. Tonight these lyrics remind me of Phil Pearlman instead. The two men aren’t even wholly dissimilar: both are outsider musicians, both are legendary figures in certain limited circles, and both have led extreme lives (though in very different ways). In fact, extremes run through the Pearlman story in many ways.

Philip Pearlman was born in 1947 to a Jewish urologist and Protestant housewife, but was apparently raised pretty agnostic. He started playing music early and became your stereotypical Californian hippie: protesting the Vietnam war and playing in various musical “happenings” — groovyspeak for jam sessions. The most famous of these was called Beat of the Earth, a loose collective that recorded epic psychedelia in loose, unorganized gatherings. Their self-titled 1967 debut is essentially just two, 60-minute tracks and is now a prized collector item — if your specialty is obscure 60’s psych-folk of course. Pearlman’s next effort was The Electronic Hole in 1970, an interesting experimental musical grandfather to more modern psychedelic groups like Elephant 6.

Nearer to the mid-seventies, the story takes a slightly more unconventional turn. As the story goes, Pearlman is walking along the beach (maybe high, maybe not) and finds a Bible on a bench. Reading it gives him a spiritual epiphany and he promptly converts to Christianity. It’s just after this, in 1975, that he records Relatively Clean Rivers, celebrating his born again life and new perspective. It’s another album that’s attained cult-like status within a peculiar underground scene. Some have compared it, perhaps oddly, to the Velvet Underground. In retrospect it seems a misguided comparison save for one fact: both groups inspired a lot of other people to make music. It’s through one of these fans, Jeff Tweedy, that I first heard of Relatively Clean Rivers, starting down my Pearlman rabbit hole via Wilco.

Relatively Clean Rivers – Easy Ride mp3

Thing is, after Relatively Clean Rivers, that was pretty much it for Pearlman. He married, settled down, and had four kids. Except Pearlman really took the hippie aesthetic to heart: he moved out to a rural country farm with no electricity and no indoor plumbing. Phil Pearlman changed his name to Phil Gadahn (a play on “Gideon”) and started raising and slaughtering goats. He claims to have invented a “humane” way to kill the goats, which he then sold to the Muslim butchers down the road who appreciated his approach. This is where the story could, maybe should, end. Typical hippie musician shuns our materialistic, consumerist, warmongering society and leads extremely stripped-down existence in the middle of nowhere. Or maybe sell the story this way: tortured artist finds God, records masterpiece, disappears into wilderness and obscurity. I have no doubt that Phil Pearlman would still be remembered in 2007 simply because of his musical legacy. Except in many ways, Phil Pearlman is now most famous, in the mainstream at least, for who he fathered.

The story of families are almost always more interesting than any single, isolated life. It’s why we love Oedipus Rex and One Hundred Years of Solitude. In terms of father-son sagas, it might be hard to beat King David and his murderous, long-haired son Absalom. But lately I’ve preferred the Phil Pearlman and Adam Gadahn story.1 Because as it turns out, one of the four children Pearlman raised on that goat farm in California, one of the four kids who would illicitly crowd around a small battery-powered TV against their hippie father’s wishes, would later end up becoming Azzam al-Amriki: radical Islamic fundamentalist, al-Qaeda operative, and, as of 2004, the first American convicted of treason since 1952.

How do you go from the son of humble Christian goat-farming beatkniks to a top suspect on the FBI’s Most Wanted list? There are no quick quips here, no relatively clean answers. Born in 1978, Gadahn did perhaps have a pretty atypical childhood. Homeschooled out there on the farm with his siblings until 16, he then moved in with relatives in the city where he developed an intense, year-long obsession with death metal music. Like his father, young Gadahn also recorded some epic 60-minute songs, though his feature slightly more screaming and atonal gothic chants.

In 1995 it all ended however, and fairly abruptly. While browsing AOL at his grandparent’s house, he began reading up on Islam and became more and more convinced of its truth. Gadahn undoubtedly remembered the neighborhood butchers his father sold goats to. He would later describe these Muslims as completely unlike the monstrous murderers the media portrayed. He officially converted under Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi, then imam at Islamic Society of Orange County. This is the same Dr. Siddiqi who presented President Bush with a Koran after 9/11 and made clear to Bush that the peace-loving religion of Islam in no way condones such brutal attacks. This is tragically ironic in that one of Siddiqi’s former students – the son of a Christian hippie, former death metal obsessive is now an Islamic extremist absolutely convinced that flying planes into buildings is a completely reasonable way to express disagreement. For after staying with the Islamic Society of Orange County, the now-renamed Yahiye Gadahn got involved with followers of a fundamentalist, and violent, strain of Islam.

A trip to Pakistan in 1998 seems to have completely sealed the deal. He married an Afghan refugee and, after starting low, worked his way up the al Qaeda ladder. In more recent years he’s been the face for messages from Osama. Now known as Azzam the American, he’s the bearded white kid you’ve no doubt seen on TV: with finger raised for effect, Azzam’s always condemning us, urging converts, and promising the complete annihilation of the American way of life.

The typical American way of life, it should be noted, is something Azzam/Adam never really had. But you can’t pin his radicalism on that no more than you can tie it to his love of death metal. I think it’s natural to feel a lot of sympathy for his parents. The last time his mother spoke to Adam on the phone, she asked him about his accented English. He flatly informed her that he hadn’t spoken English in 8 months. Neither parent really grants interviews anymore. I don’t blame them.

It seems obvious that to some, Phil Pearlman is a pretty unusual character. He did, after all, homeschool his kids on a goat farm that didn’t have electricity. On the other hand, I can’t help but still see Phil Pearlman as just one more beat dude who lived his ideals. He dropped out to get away, like many of us have desired, to rebel against a lot of what actually is wrong with this world. But unlike his wayward son, Dad never wanted to actually kill all those yuppies in LA with fancy cars and homes, and their slavish pursuit of the almighty dollar. The contrast between peace-loving father and radically violent son couldn’t be starker.

For his sake, I still think of Phil Pearlman as a happenin’ psych-folk musician and not in the ignominious terms of heartbroken father to Azzam al-Amriki, America’s most wanted terrorist traitor. I, for example, really love the groovy Phil Pearlman of Relatively Clean Rivers. An optimist who inscribed the record jacket with these words:

“Here’s a story I hope you’ve all been waiting to hear it’s about
L.A. skies, tsetse flies, alibis,
And a European-Oriental-Asian-Caucasian-Negro-African-American
Soldier, sitting in a ditch somewhere, near a Sigh-Gone city or farm
Somewhere, wanting to drain the malaria out of some
Crocodile infested swamp maybe,
Hoping we can all get together, the Arabs and the Jews,
And melt down weapons into water sprinklers,
Tractors, shovels and hoes,
Irrigation pipes…”

Relatively Clean Rivers – Journey Through the Valley of 0 mp3

As for brothers, lately I’ve also been really intrigued by the story of Edwin Booth, highly-revered Shakespearean actor, and John Wilkes Booth, deluded assassin of our greatest president.


  • Azzam the American
  • Radical Conversion
  • Beat of the Earth
  • Becoming Muslim
  • Peace, Love, and Death Metal
  • Best music of 2006

    Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears: December means year-end lists and oh giggity do I love lists. A pretty good year in music if you ask me; what follows is my much-agonized mix, a combination of “best of,” “my favorites,” and an “2006 sampler.” These 30 are loosely in order but many of the rankings are dependant, obviously, on my mood and/or the alignment of the moon & stars…
    Read more … »

    3. TV on the Radio“Wolf Like Me” from Return to Cookie Mountain
    Undeniable power. One of my favorite musical moments of ’06 starts around 2:20 — you’ll know what I mean when you hear it. Also, guitarist Kyp Malone wins Best ‘Fro + Beard Combo.

    4. Destroyer“European Oils” from Destroyer’s Rubies

    5. Band of Horses“Funeral” from Everything All the Time

    6. Midlake“Roscoe” from The Trials of Van Occupanther

    7. The Decemberists – “Sons and Daughters” from The Crane Wife
    Frank at Chromewaves sums it up perfectly for me: “It’s funny, I never think I’m an especially big Decemberists fan until they release a new record, and I’m reminded of how singular, engaging and idiosyncratic – and with their latest record, moving – their music can be.” My Crane Wife epiphany came somewhere in the middle of “The Island” where I just stopped whatever I was doing and said, probably out-loud, “Holy shit this is fantastic.” That song, however, is 12 minutes long so I went with “Sons & Daughters” instead since it’s also great and much more accessible.

    8. Beirut“Postcards from Italy” from Gulag Orkestar
    Beirut is essentially just 20-year-old Zach Condon and I really have to give props to any single individual who can re-create an entire gypsy band all by himself. Oh, and there’s a good brass part to this song and I’m a sucker for horns.

    9. My Morning Jacket – “One Big Holiday” from Okonokos
    I’m cheating a little here since technically this song is off 2003’s It Still moves but this is actually the live version from a concert at the Fillmore. MMJ kick so much ass that I had to sneak them on this list one way or another.

    10. I’m From Barcelona – “This Boy” from Let Me Introduce My Friends
    It’s tempting to label I’m From Barcelona (who’re actually from Sweden) as a “guilty pleasure” — after all, they kind of stand in stark contrast to the rest of the “serious artists” on this mix. But you know, I’m From Barcelona (let’s also note what a truly shitty band title this is) makes some ridiculously infectious music that’s provided me with hours of musical bliss. This 29-member collective seems a bit less cultish than The Polyphonic Spree (though the Spree only have 24 members: noobs!) but share the same OMG-SO-HAPPY aesthetic. Their songs are short, simple, and a lot of fun. They make me smile and hit repeat and that’s enough to qualify for the list this year.

    11. The Stills – “Destroyer” from Without Feathers

    12. Shearwater“Seventy-four, Seventy-five” from Palo Santo

    13. Final Fantasy“This Lamb Sells Condos” from He Poos Clouds
    Nerdy boy wonder Owen Pallett first found acclaim by arranging the strings for The Arcade Fire’s Funeral. Final Fantasy is his own geeky creative outlet, love songs to Zelda included. -10 points for the horrible album title though, Owen.

    14. Cold War Kids“Hospital Beds” from Robbers & Cowards

    15. Tobias Froberg – “God’s Highway” from Somewhere In the City

    16. David & the Citizens“The End” from Until the Sadness Is Gone

    17. Danielson“Did I Step on Your Trumpet?” from Ships
    I was going to post this or the other song I really love, “Ship the Majestic Suffix.” There’s probably a pretty good chance I went with this one simply because of the title. Daniel Smith is one of those Christians that nobody in CCM listens to but is a fairly well-regarded artist in the secular underground. His voice may be a bit off-putting at first but his stylings can really grow on you.

    18. Jeremy Enigk“World Waits” from World Waits

    19. Sufjan Stevens“The Henney Buggy Band” from The Avalanche

    20. Guillemots“Made-up Love Song #43” from Through the Windowpane

    21. Islands – “Rough Gem” from Return to the Sea

    22. Two Gallants“Steady Rollin'” from What the Toll Tells

    23. Elected – “Not Going Home” from Sun, Sun, Sun

    24. Sparklehorse – “Don’t Take My Sunshine Away” from Dreamt For Light Years In the Belly of a Mountain
    Anybody who’s been clinically dead for two minutes, as Mark Linkous has, deserves a few minutes of my time. It’s been five years since the last Sparklehorse album, but Linkous is back and apparently doing better than ever.

    25. Sunset Rubdown – “Stadiums & Shrines II” from Shut Up I Am Dreaming

    26. Grizzly Bear“Knife” from Yellow House

    27. Ray Lamontagne – “Gone Away From Me” from Till The Sun Turns Black

    28. Joseph Arthur – “Too Much to Hide” from Nuclear Daydream

    29. Joanna Newsom“Cosmia” from Ys
    Eek, if I had to predict the “Song Most Likely to Be Hated by the Majority of My Readers” it would have to be this gem. I mean there’s no middle ground here – either her voice is completely unbearable or totally bewitching. Now I was by no means an instant fan of Newsom’s music and really struggled with “getting it” for a long time. But somehow I just kept coming back to her crazy songs, vocal squawks and squeaks and all. Newsom, to me, is punk rock done by pixie and she’s provided 2006 with some of the most creative and original work out there.

    30. The Hold Steady“Chips Ahoy” from Boys and Girls in America

    So who else did I miss? Which songs completely suck ass? Leave me a comment and let’s start a internets fight!

    p.s. – most mp3’s provided by Insound, the rest are from various corners of the web.

    « … Done reading!

    To Go Home

    You know who Daniel Johnston is, right? I’d tried his music some years ago and was, um, a little put off to say the least. But last month something just clicked and I’ve been scrambling to grab any Johnston mp3s that I can find. Well the night before leaving for Rochester I rented The Devil and Daniel Johnston and was very moved. It’s pretty much sealed my love for this guy’s raw music. Even if you know nothing about Johnston or his peculiar songs & art, I very strongly recommend you watch that documentary. PLUS, I think I mentioned earlier that I love M. Ward — well to complete our cosmic circle, Matt Ward covers a Daniel Johnston song on Post-War. For your aural pleasure, both songs:
    M. Ward – To Go Home | Daniel Johnston – To Go Home

    Jim James connection

    This is all I’ve been doing for the last days before November hit us. I was trying to hit GoldStar (VIP club) and I did just 4 hours before the midnight deadline on the 31st. Now I’m on a bit poker’d out so I’m going to take it easy for a while and re-charge.

    I did nothing but listen to music yesterday. I’m really into a lot of older stuff right now (Dylan, Van Morrison, Nick Cave, Tom Waits, etc) but if I had to recommend a few cds off the top of my head they’d all be from 2006 and they’d all be connected to Jim James: start with the live masterpiece of Okonokos by James’ My Morning Jacket; then hit up M. Ward’s Post-War which James plays on (he might’ve produced it too, not sure). Last is the undeniably MMJ-influenced disc by Band of Horses called Everything All the Time. Dig it.

  • RIP William Styron
  • Stephen Colbert Has America by the Ballots – a couple weeks old but still a good read.
  • Open directory full of Ray Lamontagne demos and live cuts
  • The Daily Drawing
  • How You Remind Me That Nickelback Sucks

    Three Doors Down sucks. Change the vocals slightly and you have Nickelback. Which is why they suck too. From Linkfilter here’s an mp3 of How You Remind Me of Someday (*.mp3) – it’s two Nickelback songs put on top of each other. Thing is, you can hardly tell because the songs are nearly identical. Plus the funniest thing I’ve seen yet today is Nickelback walking off stage after only two songs because they were being pelted with rocks and bottled water (*.mpg).