Some more personal picks on the album list, sandwiched between the previous heavyweights and the coming heavyweights.
It seems odd in a year so desperate — and desperately contentious — that there was so little music that acknowledged the colossal mess the world is in, as if all of pop music colluded to deal with it by dancing our troubles away. And there was no greater house party than Kish Kash. Brit DJs Basement Jaxx decided to make one thing we could all have when it all crumbles down, and they invited a jumbled assortment of friends — young rappers and old punks, second-tier teen-poppers and garage-rock soul belters, art-funk chanteuses and (literally) the girl next door — to help them do it. The result: the most ecstatic and warm-hearted party record in recent memory.
Song Sample: "Hot N' Cold"
Single: "Alcohol" — Brad Paisley (2005)
In personifying Jack Daniels (brand, not man), Old Milwaukee, and a fine bottle of French merlot, Paisley crafts a sing-along drinking song that looks askance equally at teetotaling, boozy romanticism and drunken self-pity. The result is that rarest of things: a rousing anthem of moderation.
In a world rapidly turning into an ashtray, David Johansen sees superfluous beauty everywhere, including in the form of the 56-year-old high-heels-and-mascara-wearing man in the mirror. Down to two original members of the classic gutter-glam '70s band and missing the careening guitar of the late Johnny Thunders, the New York Dolls nevertheless concocted the greatest rock-band comeback album ever, bringing the band's long-latent spirit of generosity fully to the surface. Where so many codgers making comebacks get hosannas for death records, this is a life record: mortal and eternal all at once. Oh, and my 2-year-old and I both insist "Dance Like a Monkey" is the song of the year.
Song Sample: "Dance Like a Monkey:
Single: "Stan" — Eminem (2000)
An epistolary meditation on the fan-star nexus that provided proof of his artistry to dolts who still needed it.
As a sprawling, gender-balanced indie-rock ensemble whose music is not terribly guitar-driven, Wales outfit Los Campesinos! can't help but resemble genre heavyweights Arcade Fire. But across a two-year body of work that includes two full-length albums and a gaggle of singles and EPs, these underdogs prove to be the smarter, funnier band. On Hold On Now, Youngster ..., the first of their two 2008 albums, co-leaders Gareth and Aleksandra trade off verses like conjoined twins completing each other's thoughts while their bandmates bop around behind them in a tumult of handclaps and vocal interjections, dancing to the breakbeats of broken hearts. This young band obsesses over their messy lives (favorite title: "My Year in Lists") and is always ready with a sardonic rejoinder ("I cherish with fondness the day before I met you"). But they're the kind of sarcastic, introspective wallflowers delighted to discover themselves having fun ("You! Me! Dancing!"). The music is springy, chaotic, breathless: It has to be to keep up with their overactive minds and racing hearts.
Song Sample: "My Year in Lists"
Single: "Kick, Push" — Lupe Fiasco (2006)
I remember watching cable hip-hop video countdown shows when this was out: Nine videos of MCs trying desperately to stay inside the boundaries of cultural expectation, and then this kid skating right past them. Said video here.