Category: 2008: Year in music

Epitaph reissues Refused: The shape of punk that came

Refused wasn't the first punk band to incorporate drum machines and synthesizers (that would be Suicide), nor the first to turn hard-core's regimented song structures inside out (that would be the Minutemen). But they were the first to very seriously suggest that both of those things belonged in stadiums of thousands.

Released in 1998, "The Shape of Punk to Come" was as sonically ambitious as its title was fantastically arrogant. The album didn't just make room for free-jazz breakdowns, glitchy sampler wrangling and scalpel-sharp guitar interplay alongside Refused's noise detonations -- they made them inseparable and necessary to each other. But even more unexpectedly, the end result wound up sounding absolutely huge, maybe even with the potential of a "Nevermind" to bring brutal, innovative music to a very mainstream audience.

A three-disc reissue of "Shape," out today on Epitaph, underscores that potential, sadly never fully realized as the band broke up soon thereafter. "New Noise" still feels like a jock jam for Marxist eco-terrorists, "Summerholidays vs. Punkroutine" takes the dry-cleaned guitar licks of ESG and gives them Fugazi's fangs. The great irony of hard core is that, at heart it's an orthodox, conservative genre, and Refused was one of the few bands in that tradition that could capably upend it.

But the package's extras add some necessary context as to why Refused was both special and sort of doomed. The accompanying live album finds the band just demolishing a festival in its hometown of Umea, Sweden, while the accompanying documentary "Refused Are F- Dead" has a title as prophetic as that of "Shape." Ambitions like theirs often comes in a difficult personality, and singer Dennis Lyxzen is as flinty in person as his band is on record (and the band's members seem to know what fate awaits them the whole time).

That said, let this completely essential reissue be a hint to Paul Tollett's reunion-alchemy department that they would be really, really nice to have at Coachella 2012.

-- August Brown


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Madonna, AC/DC and the year's highest-grossing pop acts

Madonna leads our annual list of pop's highest-grossing acts.

Madonna_500

It's official: Madonna tops Calendar's Ultimate Top 10, our annual survey combining sales of concert tickets, albums and digital downloads to measure which acts were most popular with the broadest swath of music lovers.

Madonna was the No. 1 concert attraction in North America during the year, according to Pollstar, the concert-tracking magazine, and she enjoyed album sales to the tune of $12.5 million in addition to downloads of $2.3 million.

For the year, there's also a total split between Nielsen SoundScan's ranking of the 10 biggest-selling performers of 2008 and Pollstar's Top 10 highest-grossing North American concert tours.

In recent years the Pollstar and SoundScan rosters have veered away from one another. Typically, classic-rock acts that appeal to well-heeled baby boomers rake in the most money at box offices, while hot but still developing pop, R&B and hip-hop artists sell more albums.

The highest any Top 10 SoundScan act finished in Pollstar's 2008 ranking was No. 13, where the Jonas Brothers (No. 7 among album sellers) landed after playing to 1.3 million fans last year.

Concert revenue hit $4.2 billion in 2008, according to Pollstar, a 7% rise over the previous year, even though the number of tickets sold was down. An 8.4% increase in average ticket prices was behind the rise, figures that are "astounding considering the economic environment in which they were generated," Pollstar Editor Gary Bongiovanni said.

The road is still where artists tend to make the most money. Only three of the Nielsen SoundScan biggest-selling artists of 2008 -- AC/DC, Coldplay and the Jonas Brothers -- make the Ultimate Top 10, even folding in their revenue from digital track sales, which we began including in the Ultimate Top 10 ranking last year.

Ultimate_top_10


The best example? Taylor Swift sold more albums than any other act last year: 4 million, giving her $52 million in revenue from album sales using $13 as the average price of a CD. But she placed No. 12 in the Ultimate Top 10 calculations because she played only a handful of concerts as a headliner. She spent most of the year as a supporting act on Rascal Flatts' tour.

That leaves the upper reaches of the Ultimate Top 10 to the veterans, and no one outperformed Madonna, whose combined income of $120 million is a drop from the previous year's winner, the Police, which logged $140.7 million.

In fact, Madonna's total is the lowest for a No. 1 since the Ultimate Top 10 began in 1997, when the Rolling Stones posted $100 million on concert ticket and album sales. The record belongs to 'N Sync, which earned $212.9 million in 2000 at the height of teen pop.

Click here for the complete list.

--Randy Lewis

Photo credit: Ken Hively / Los Angeles Times

And that's a wrap: Lil Wayne crowned 2008's top seller, but he's no Josh Groban

Wayne_500

In some of the most anti-climatic music news of the final week of the year, Lil Wayne's "Tha Carter III" was named the top-selling album of 2008. There was no doubt Lil Wayne would finish at the top. The only question was how much it would sell, and his Grammy-nominated release sold 2.88 million copies, according to Billboard's year-end chart-wrap.

That's a significant lead over Coldplay's "Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends," which was a distant second with 2.11 million. Taylor Swift is right behind the British pop stars with "Fearless." The country upstart's recently released set has sold 2.11 million copies since its November release.

Billboard's story has this interesting little tidbit: Lil Wayne's "Tha Carter III" marks the first time since Nielsen SoundScan began tracking data in 1991 that the top-selling album of the year sold fewer than 3 million copies. For a little perspective, the top-selling album of 2007 was Josh Groban 's "Noel," which sold a mighty 3.7-million copies.

Wayne's "Tha Carter III" sold just over a million copies in its debut week back in June. In the five months since it was released, the album has sold about 1.88 million copies.

Billboard has the full run-down of the 10 top-selling albums of the year but worth noting is that CD sales accounted for 84% of overall album sales, down from 90% last year. Making up the difference were digital-album sales, up from 10% to about 15% of the market.

This also marked the first year that more than 1 billion digital tracks were sold, led by Leona Lewis with "Bleeding Love." The digital cut tallied 3.37 million sold.

Worth watching will be how the declining price in MP3 albums affects album sales and digital market share in 2009. Amazon.com is leading the charge and is selling 2008's top-selling MP3 albums for $5. Amid the crop are releases from Zooey Deschanel-led She & Him, the aforementioned Lil Wayne, Ne-Yo, Sugarland, Cut Copy and on and on. Although it's not exactly good news for the music biz as the value of the CD treads closer and closer to zero.

-- Todd Martens

Photo: Lil Wayne. Credit: Ringo H.W. Chiu / For The Times

2008 gets mashed up, and it sounds a whole lot like Coldplay

For the second year running, San Francisco's DJ Earworm took on the top-25 songs on the year-end Billboard charts, mashing them together in one 4 1/2-minute mix. So how does one tie a mess of Rihanna, Chris Brown, Sarah Bareilles, Pink and Lil Wayne together? The serene strings of Coldplay's "Viva La Vida" do the trick.

Compared to Earworm's mix of 2007, the sound of 2008 is more wistful than clubby. Earworm (real name: Jordan Roseman) writes on his site, "This year in the charts, we’ve gone all soft. The songs are sexy and defiant, less macho than in previous years."

Indeed, Earworm's mix seems more fit for a year-end news montage than something you'd hear at a three-figure party this evening. Here is where Pop & Hiss was going to insert the obligatory sentence about not feeling like partying in a depressed economy, but maybe everyone just sounds kinda sad with a little Coldplay behind them. Take a listen below.

Here's the list of songs in the above clip:

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Before and After: The Year in Popular Songs. Day 5: 'Apologize' by Timbaland featuring OneRepublic

One_republic_500

The past year is one we can fairly divide into "before" and "after" -- the economic crash and Barack Obama's presidential election have both irrevocably changed the flow of American life. Pop & Hiss is going through Billboard's year-end singles, considering how the impact of the most popular songs has changed since 2008's fateful fall (see the previous entry, on Lil Wayne's "Lollipop," here.)

The fifth, and final entry in the series, is after the jump.
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Before and After: The Year in Popular Songs. Day 4: Lil Wayne's 'Lollipop'

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The last year is one we can fairly divide into "before" and "after" -- the economic crash and Barack Obama's presidential election have both irrevocably changed the flow of American life. Pop & Hiss is going through Billboard's year-end singles, considering how the impact of the most popular songs has changed since 2008's fateful fall (See the previous entry on "No One" by Alicia Keys here).

Number 4 is after the jump. Number 5 will be posted on Monday.

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Pop top-10 lists, and 2008's recommended albums

In the grand tradition of top-10 list-making, we bring you rankings from each Pop & Hiss contributor. Selected highlights from each comprise the 2008 Pop & Hiss shelf. Take note that in the case of lead pop critic Ann Powers, she stretched her list to 15. And we let her because we figured more stellar albums from her is only good for you, dear reader. You also get Ann's top-20 songs list -- don't say we never do anything for you! Enjoy and please weigh in with what you think we missed.

Pop & Hiss 2008 shelf:

Erykah140 Erykah Badu, "New Amerykah, Pt. 1: 4th World War" (Universal Motown): This album's prescient apocalyptic groove only sounded all the more like the cracked transmissions from a glowing crystal ball after our first black president-elect inherited a crashed economy and the broken spirit of a country still at war. (MW) Photo: Ken Hively/Los Angeles Times



Benet_140 Eric Benet, "Love and Life" (Warner Bros.): Can we please stop talking about his ex now? Having thoroughly moved on from Halle Berry, this inventive, meticulous soul man delivers an album that's about all aspects of grown-up love, from first seduction to lifelong commitment. Delicious. (AP) Photo credit: Ken Hively/LAT



Suite__140 Steven Bernstein, "Diaspora Suite" (Tzadik): Best known as the slide-trumpeter for NYC party-jazz collective Sex Mob, Bernstein went to a more exploratory place for his fourth solo release, "Diaspora Suite." Slow-burning, hypnotic and loosely inspired by traditional Jewish music, Bernstein glides to center stage amid contributions from Bay Area jazz heavyweights such as Scott Amendola and Will Bernard as well as L.A.'s own guitar gadfly Nels Cline. Equally impressive? Most of it was recorded live in six hours. (CB) Photo credit: Tzadik



Boys_140 Boys Noize, "Oi Oi Oi" (remixed) (Last Gang Records/Turbo): When it comes to dissonant dance music, Alex Ridha, a.k.a. Boys Noize, is 2008's crossover champion. His fascinating "Oi Oi Oi" (a remixed version was released in March) rarely left my iPod this year, and the Berlin-based producer/DJ's set at Coachella was arguably the best of the fest. But consider yourself warned: This is hardly music to shake a leg to -- more like the soundtrack to robbing a bank on crystal meth. (CA) Photo credit: Last Gang Records/Turbo



Cut_copy_140 Cut Copy, "In Ghost Colours" (Modular/Interscope): This Australian trio didn't come heralding any au courant sound, vibrant visual presence or much to do with the latest techno trend toward noisy Third World pileups on "In Ghost Colours." They simply made one of the smartest, catchiest and flat-out enjoyable dance-pop records in years. (AB) Photo credit: Modular/Interscope




Dead_140_ Deadmau5, "Random Album Title" (Ultra Records/Ministry of Sound): A collection of tracks already known to serious fans of Joel Zimmerman, a.k.a. Deadmau5 (pronounced Dead Mouse). This Toronto-based musician-producer makes mesmerizing, multi-layered and haunting songs that have attracted the ears of just about every top trance and house DJ in the world. (CA) Photo credit: Ultra Records/Ministry of Sound



Fleet140 Fleet Foxes, "Fleet Foxes" (Sub Pop): One of the most feverishly discussed debut albums of the year was also one of the quietest. Through 11 songs, Seattle's Fleet Foxes explore the subtle art of harmony. Vocals pour out of songs such as "White Winter Hymnal," and one can get lost in the space created between the lush, finger-picked guitars and gleaming piano interludes of "Quiet Houses." The latter point is key, as the Fleet Foxes aren't just pastoral folk rock -- they're a trip.(TM) Photo credit: Kevin P. Casey/For The Times



Hayes140 Hayes Carll, "Trouble in Mind" (Lost Highway): This Texan is the country find of the year thanks to sharply etched sketches of people and situations that always feel pulled straight out of the honky-tonks and blue highways rather than market-researched to expand a demographic. With his laconic, off-the-cuff vocals, it's easy to underestimate just how smart his songs are. But there's no question: Hayes Carll is the real deal. (RL) Photo credit: Keith Carter/Lost Highway Records



Hercules140_2 Hercules and Love Affair (DFA): DJ Andy Butler crafts a song cycle that goes way back, not only to the sounds of early 1980s house and early 1970s disco, but all the way to the ancient world, where he finds a message of beauty and strength for lovers of today in the story of the mythic strongman and his soldier boy. Antony Hegarty, who's better known for torch songs, shines in the personage of a Greek disco god. (AP) Photo credit: Jacek Bednarczyk/European Pressphoto Agency




Chambers140 Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson, "Rattlin' Bones" (Sugar Hill): The Australian wife-husband team of singer-songwriters created a batch of new songs that sound lifted from antiquity, addressing eternal human travails with a power that comes only from a combination of emotional honesty and musical simplicity that traces a straight line back to Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family. (RL) Photo credit: Patrick Riviere/Getty Images



Flyinglotus140_ Flying Lotus, "Los Angeles" (Warp): After J. Dilla's death, hip-hop needed a new producer of fractured fairy tales, where beats are less about nodding your head than lying flat on your futon with a fine herbal supplement. The 25-year-old Northridge producer Steven Ellison, who records as Flying Lotus, seems poised to grab that brass gravity bong. "Los Angeles" blew out the narrative he explored on his "L.A." ep series into a Technicolor dream sequence that's as sensually overwhelming and as physically exhausting as its titular city. (AB) Photo credit: Warp



Ladyhawke140_ Ladyhawke (Modular/Interscope): No, not the movie, but the singer known to her friends as Phillipa "Pip" Brown. The New Zealand native has a soft spot for late '70s/early '80s pop songs such as Gary Numan's "Cars," but her fantastic debut record is no irony-drenched exercise in mockery. Songs like "My Delirium" are the real deal for those who have a predilection toward unabashed pop and new wave --with hooks that should make acts such as Missing Persons think about reuniting (for real this time). (CA) Photo credit: Modular/Interscope



Los_campesinos140 Los Campesinos!, "We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed" (Arts & Crafts): Just a few months after releasing a recklessly catchy debut album, Britain's Los Campesinos! returned with a bleaker sophomore effort. But nothing is ever too dreary in Los Campesinos! land, where accordions, glockenspiels and violins dress up bar-band guitar riffs. Songs are loaded with neurotic quirks (example: dieting for three days to lose weight for a date), but when the computer bleeps of the title track give way to a frustrated chant ("There is no... future!"), the album's intent becomes clear: This is recession-time party music. (TM) Photo credit: Arts & Crafts



Newman140 Randy Newman, "Harps and Angels" (Nonesuch): Thank God Randy Newman exists; if he didn't, we'd have to invent him. As always, Newman dispenses with the filters of civilization to plumb the depths -- and shallows -- of the human psyche with unparalleled wit and illumination, whether he's tackling the fall of the American empire, dicey family relations or the blasted inconveniences of aging. (RL) Photo credit: Gary Friedman/Los Angeles Times



Noage140 No Age, "Nouns" (Sub Pop): If your L.A.-based band writes short songs, employs a Radio Shack stockroom worth of noise-making gadgets and enjoys tasty vegan snacks, you probably had a good 2008. The Mae Shi, Meho Plaza, Abe Vigoda and Health each had fizzy and spastically rad albums this year (Health had two of them), but No Age ran laps around them all by welding those scraps of noise into a dizzying mosaic. The Smell scene is always whatever a given year's crop of kids makes of it, and this year it was the dead center of forward-thinking rock. (AB) Photo credit: Kevin P. Casey/For The Times



Portishead140 Portishead, "Third" (Mercury): After a ridiculous 11 years since their last studio album, no one would've blinked or even complained if this trio had just recorded "Dummy 2: Electric Boogaloo" and rode the post-Coachella reunion circuit for all it was worth. Instead they released their most challenging and beguiling album yet, essentially delivering a message writ-large that those looking for another soundtrack for a dinner party/gallery opening could seek elsewhere. (CB) Photo credit: Robert Lachman/Los Angeles Times



Qtip140 Q-Tip, "The Renaissance," (Universal Motown): After years of jumping from label to label -- including Arista, who suppressed Q-Tip's last solo record because they didn't think it was commercial enough -- one of the most admired MCs in hip-hop returned with his second official solo outing, a casually complex, brilliantly executed work of neo-soul made for the street philosopher. It's a renaissance with redemption and humility but maybe also, if the adage about success is true, a touch of sweet revenge. (MW) Photo credit: Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times



Man_in_the_mirror140 Rhymefest, "Mark Ronson Presents Rhymefest: Man in the Mirror (The Michael Jackson Dedication Album)" (Self-released): There was plenty of hullabaloo surrounding the 25th anniversary of "Thriller" this last year. But skip the needless reissues and head straight for quasi-tribute album, courtesy of Midwest rapper Rhymefest and producer Mark Ronson. The pair reimagine classic Jackson tunes and manage to humanize the King of Pop, all while letting Rhymefest have some fun with his hero's music. Added bonus: It's free. (TM) Photo credit: Rhmyefest



Saadiq140 Raphael Saadiq, "The Way I See It" (Columbia): He's worn every soul hat from a New Jack Swing fedora to a backpacker hip-hop skullie in his long career, but for this one the Oakland-bred studio genius fits into retro-soul garb so perfectly, you'd think he was Michael J. Fox in "Back to the Future." Year's best song in the Hurricane Katrina subgenre too. (AP) Photo credit: Lori Shepler/Los Angeles Times




Santogold_140 Santogold (Downtown): This former A&R rep was the cool girl of the year, commanding the party with her shiny, smart mix of dub reggae, art-pop, hip-hop and whatever else she wanted to smuggle into her colorful grab bag. The first few images of her video for "L.E.S. Artistes" seems to touch down precisely into a femme-minded zeitgeist -- and yes, we're talking about that jet-black horse straight from our little girl dreams. (MW) Photo credit: Downtown



Sugarland_140 Sugarland, "Love on the Inside" (Mercury Nashville): In an ever more niche-oriented pop scene, somebody's got to make big, beautiful pop that throws its arms around the world. Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush may be country by classification, but they go beyond genre boundaries with songs that soar as much as they twang, and pierce the heart. (AP) Photo credit: Robert Lachman / Los Angeles Times






Zorn140 John Zorn, "The Dreamers" (Tzadik): From his past leading punk-jazz freakout combo Naked City to his mystical work with his shape-shifting Masada ensemble, there wasn't much reason to expect a record like this from Zorn. On "The Dreamers" he sounds almost mannered, in the best sense. Backed by like-minded cohorts Marc Ribot, Trevor Dunn and Jamie Saft, "The Dreamers" touches on surf, spaghetti western soundtracks and straight-forward jazz, with detours into spooky blues and skronk just to remind you whose warped world you're exploring. (CB) Photo credit: Tzadik



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The 39 most memorable pop music moments of 2008

From electronically enhanced vocals to a "peanut butter pudding surprise," the Pop & Hiss staff reflects on the 39 most memorable moments in pop music in 2008. Why 39? We're saving a spot in case something crazy happens in the next week.

Tpain90 The year Auto-Tune blankets the world
If there was any one definitive tone of pop music in 2008, it was not a genre, instrument or voice. It was a $400 pitch-correction plug-in from the software company Antares. You know it when your hear it -- that little flutter between vocal phrases that lends a certain robotic tang to vocalists. Auto-Tune burst into mainstream pop consciousness courtesy of T-Pain, who made it an instantly identifiable timbre on the radio. Now, it's practically impossible to get through two songs on Power 106 without one featuring a warbly and suspiciously in-key T-Pain, Akon, Kanye or Lil Wayne. It makes anyone's voice sound expensive, uncanny and a bit lonely. Quite metaphor as the record business burns, no? (AB) Photo: T-Pain. Credit: Getty Images


Fob_90 Best excuse for investing in some fancy stereo equipment: Fall Out Boy's "Folie à  Deux."
Fall Out Boy's latest is completely over-the-top. "Nobody wants to hear you sing about tragedy," the band announces in the album's opening moments, and things take off from there. With left-turn melodies, multipart harmonies and a Cheap Trick-like knack for a hook, Fall Out Boy crafted one of the more exuberant, zany rock 'n' roll records of the year. By the time the thing comes to a close, the listener has been subject to a dizzying rush of adrenaline, one that isn't afraid to slam together punk rock anthems, glam-rock falsettos and some '70s-inspired light rock. (TM) Photo: Island Records



Thicke_90 Best teasing out of a metaphor: Robin Thicke's "You're My Baby"
How many times has a lover tenderized his pitch by using the word "baby?" In this funky seduction, Thicke goes all the way with it, using the language of early parenthood to celebrate an utterly absorbing bond. It's weird, but it works, even when he croons, "I'm you're blanket." Soft! (AP) Photo: Lori Shepler /Los Angeles Times



Reatard__90 The king of the rock 'n' roll single: Jay Reatard
There hasn't been as much talk this year about the death of the album as in years past, mainly because musicians just keep putting out, lo and behold, albums, but if the album is indeed slowly asphyxiating, Jay Reatard's here to tie a plastic bag around its neck. Matador Records released some of the garage-punk's singles in a batch unceremoniously titled "Matador Singles '08," and it's all racing guitar fever and bloody-nosed beauty. (MW) Photo: Alex Gallardo /Los Angeles Times



Shehim_90 Best good news on TV: "Spectacle" (Sundance Channel)

If you haven't tuned into this new series, find it; if you don't have cable, subscribe. Elvis Costello is the ultra-informed, congenial, sometimes provocative host, giving each week's guest the time, respect and knowledge to explore music -- not gossip -- in a way that hasn't been seen on the small screen for what feels like eons. So far, he's conducted wide-ranging talks and musical demonstrations with Elton John, Lou Reed with Julian Schnabel and former President Clinton (talking about how playing sax and understanding music informed his duties as chief executive). Among those still to come this season: the Police (at the tail end of their reunion tour), Rufus Wainwright, Tony Bennett, James Taylor, Herbie Hancock, She & Him (pictured) with Jenny Lewis and Jakob Dylan. For real music lovers, this is must-see TV. (RL) Photo: Merge Records


John_legend_90 Best come-on: "Green Light," John Legend featuring André 3000
"Do I have a girlfriend? Technically, no." Somehow, Legend makes that the smoothest line of the year. (AP) Photo: Associated Press



Jolie90 Most unlikely display of a rock 'n' roll heart: Jolie Holland
For the most part, Holland's albums have felt a lot like holiday china. You're really glad it's there, but it's so tasteful and lovely it's difficult to pull it out more than a few times a year. That all changed with "The Living and the Dead," an album where Holland scuffed up her uniformly beautiful blend of smoky jazz and folk with some flinty rock guitar and moody atmosphere that only amplified her best traits. Proof positive, even the most beautiful things become even more so when opening themselves up to a little weathering. (CB) Photo: Los Angeles Times


Coachella90 Best Coachella performance hardly anybody saw: Black Mountain
The Canadian neo-psychedelic band had the unenviable slot playing in the Mojave tent while Roger Waters performed "Dark Side of the Moon" on the main stage. There were probably more flies in their audience than people. But their set was totally immersive, gorgeously spooky and glorious. And they didn't need a giant pig. (AP) Photo: Los Angeles Times



Miley_90 Best rebound: Miley Cyrus with "Breakout"
Britney Spears would seem to be the comeback pop female of choice in 2008, but let's face it, Britney had MTV championing her every move, what with all the VMA awards and a documentary. Also, when Britney appears half-naked in a magazine, it's marketing. When Miley does so, it's a S-C-A-N-D-A-L. But she recovered quite nicely, thank you very much, with the largely fast and spry "Breakout." It's a showcase for her beyond-her-years rasp, as well as her devilishly fun snyth-rock takes on teen life (see "Fly on the Wall"). (TM) Photo: Associated Press


Mbvlorisheplerlat Best near-death concert experience: My Bloody Valentine @ Santa Monica Civic Auditorium
The concert was outstanding, but specifically the 15-odd minutes of single-toned afterburner thrust that was "You Made Me Realise" brought things home with an astonishingly physical touch. See you guys in another 15 years or so. (CB) Photo: Lori Shepler / Los Angeles Times


Dido_90 Best song featuring a crazy recorder solo: Dido, "Grafton Street"
Dido's first instrument was the recorder, and on this song -- a chronicle of her beloved father's last days -- she plays it with the ferocity that Ian Anderson applied to his flute in Jethro Tull. Brian Eno cowrote and co-produced the track, which you can tell by the way the recorders become a wiggling wall of sound at the song's climax. (AP) Photo: Jennifer S. Altman / For The Times



Why90 The year's most equal-parts annoying and interesting record, sometimes in the same song: Why?, "Alopecia"
Just the fact that one of the band's vocalists goes by the name Yoni Wolf is reason enough to approach Why? with care, yet there was something compelling about this record, even with the often grating, too-much-information half-raps. (CB) Photo: Anticon



Tings_90 Best U.K. No. 1 that failed to duplicate its success in the U.S.: The Ting Tings' "That's Not My Name"

The Tings seemed poised to break in the U.S., coming out of SXSW with a bevy of buzz and an iTunes commercial. They're not exactly an unknown entity, but spunky single "That's Not My Name" hasn't become the inescapable hit on these shores as it has overseas. That's a shame, as it's got a hip-hop brashness, a slinky beat and it builds to a grand, shout-along finale -- all of it craftily delivered with a sly sense of rage by the dashing Katie White. (TM) Photo: Getty Images


Fleet_f_90 Album most likely to get critics arguing: Fleet Foxes (Sub Pop)
The twee-est phenomenon since Sufjan Stevens entranced many music lovers, but others find the band's medievalist take on Laurel Canyon hippie pop unbearably cloying. Me, I was convinced when I saw the band play at Marymoor Park near their hometown of Seattle last summer. Three thousand utterly hushed and reverent listeners can't be wrong. (AP) Photo: Getty Images


Sugarland_90 Best tearjerker about scrapbooking: Sugarland, "Very Last Country Song"
"Today is my birthday, and all that I want is to dig through this big box of pictures in my kitchen 'til the daylight's gone," sings Jennifer Nettles in this gently heartbreaking ballad. She's giving voice to a middle-aged woman reflecting on her life, something that happens all to rarely in pop. You can almost smell the tacky adhesive on her hands as she reflects on loved ones lost and lessons learned. (AP) Photo: Associated Press

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Ann Powers on pop music in 2008


The genre got further fragmented, but there were standouts nonetheless.

Putting together this list, I pinged friends to ask what albums I absolutely should not have missed this year. Sixty replies quickly poured in. Only one release -- the big rock mountain "Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!" by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds -- was mentioned twice. Some picks were already in my best-of pile; many haunted my get-to-it list. Others I hadn't heard, or even realized existed.

The fragmentation of pop is getting to be an old story. As personal and music-industry budgets shrink, it's less likely than ever that we'll all end up purchasing the same music and sharing a conversation about it. For variety addicts, that's great; for believers in the dream of a common language, it's depressing. For a critic, it seems like a mandate to rethink one's entire enterprise. In the meantime, here are a few trends and individual efforts that made me happy this year.

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Before and After: The Year in Popular Songs. Day 3: Alicia Keys, 'No One'

Alicia_keys___

The past year is one we can fairly divide into "before" and "after" -- the economic crash and Barack Obama's presidential election have both irrevocably changed the flow of American life. Pop & Hiss is going through Billboard's year-end singles, considering how the impact of the most popular songs has changed since 2008's fateful fall (See the previous entry on Leona Lewis' "Bleeding Love" here).

No. 3 is after the jump.

Continue reading »
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