Thursday, January 22, 2009
Best Songs of Whatever Year Just Was
Perhaps it’s not revelatory to suggest that the medium can significantly affect the relationship with the underlying content, but it’s at least noteworthy that the mp3 has nearly extinguished my ability to recall or even recognize the names of the songs I like. It’s not so much as the mp3 itself – all compressed with the harrowing cries of audiophiles in the distance, “that high-hat just doesn’t have the clarity!” – as it is the absence of the CD booklet; whereas years before I would eagerly devour those little doggies, special attention paid primarily to the lyrics, secondarily to nuggets of publishing registrations and studio locations, as I listened along, I now find myself surfing aimlessly, or rather continuing to, as the iTunes rolls on, blissfully unaware of what’s being sung or even what these ditties are called (or where they were recorded for christ’s sake). As prelude to the forthcoming Best Albums of the Year post (hopefully sometime before the current year’s summer rolls around), and in celebration of the songs that won’t appear on that list (aka these albums didn’t make the cut), and as an assault against this recent anti-song trend of mine, I present the loyal reader with these, the best songs of last year (from the non-best albums). If a song you like is not on here, well, there’s no accounting for taste, and it may not be too late for you to acquire some. (Yes, it is.)
10. Young Hunting / Everything Shatters! – Start if off right with a potential homer pick as this is old friend and former Via Violenta-talking guy Hari Rex’s latest band, but I think I’ve always been nothing if not unflinchingly fair and objective. Actually, these guys would have been far higher on the list had they not butchered the brilliant and should-be-forceful Engine Driver while recording/mixing their EP. Nonetheless, Everything Shatters! is a nice little song that packs a punch before turning all slow and sad at the end. Homeboy’s voice sounds as good as it ever has here (which is kinda saying something) and these guys all know exactly what they’re doing. You can hear this one and a bunch of other cool songiola’s on their myspace.
9. Dungen / Maleras Finest/Det Tar Tid – Breaking the rules a bit by including this two-song sequence, but the first one is a short, instrumental piece and provides a nice intro for the smooth and relaxed Det Tar Tid, which translates to “It takes time.” Aww. What a return to form for these guys, though one other than the fuzzed-out guitar shredding, mind-melting psychedelic glory of songs like Panda and Ta Det Laungt, but rather some vaguely recognizable, piano-infused and mellowed-out but wholly awesome form nonetheless. These short, sweet songs reminds one of a distant and non-so-well known corner of Amsterdam, far, spiritually at least, from the depraved, llama-filled, filth-encrusted underbelly I historically have been unable to escape, tucked away in a quietly hidden, acid-fueled jazz club at the end of a small canal, barely an audible nod from the too-cool crowd of home-sick Moroccans and hipster Dutch pot heads, concurrently serious and breezily self-indulgent, where I imagine Dungen has a residency on every other Tuesday nights. Hyper drumming, as always, and beautiful piano and guitar create a somber and thoughtful mood without taking away any of the fun.
8. Born Ruffians / Hummingbird – I love these guys. Really good-time and well-crafted and performed guitar-driven pop songs. No more, no less, no fuss, no muss. What is there to say about being a teenager from outside Toronto, playing gushingly-sung solos, singing shriekingly-yelped harmonies with your best friends in a different beer-soaked club every night, having to beat away the girls with your guitar case? Clearly, I made some poor life choices. Enjoy it, lads. Fly away li’l hummingbird!
7. Deerhoof / Snoopy Waves – If you’re into beautiful and silly guitar play that usually rocks out over and in between incomprehensible Japanese-accented, if not Japanese outright, squawks and squeals, in what I imagine are complicated discussions involving cartoon characters marrying flowers and living in mushroom-shaped houses, then this is the band for you. Actually, this inclusion is a bit of a sign of respect to their very brilliant previous album, Friend Opportunity, but the new one’s good too and this song particularly kicks a jam.
6. Perspex Icon / Wire – This was one was a tough call; it was originally going to be the song Water Curses from Animal Collective’s EP of the same name. But I figure since their 2009 Merriweather Post Pavillion will, rightfully so, assume the positions of 1-10 on the Album List here next year, and its songs will also sweep the Song List as well, I’d spread the wealth around and include this treat from old school post-punkers Wire. You can almost hear the wisdom and experience wrought from 30 years of living/doing it, buttressed against the enthusiasm of still loving/doing it. A great track.
5. Bodies of Water / Under the Pines – After I graduated from college, I took the first of my so-far-two sabbaticals (what’s the over/under on my lifetime number there? Let’s see some bets), that particular maiden voyage involving plans of a cavernous rehabilitation from the rigors of past and future life and love, romantic thoughts of attempting to write and learning to exist, all essentially devolved in short time into sleeping away the days and drinking away the nights, learning to play the guitar in between, and generally living off my parents’ largesse. The self-imposed solitary confinement was broken only rarely, usually in furtherance of visiting the aforementioned Hari en route to either the Troubador or another venue and ensuing raid-inhaling bacchanalia. Once it was to a party at the Hollywood hills house of some rock-star (that’s right, I was pretty fucking cool once) where I found myself sitting alone talking to a gorgeous blonde (she rolled up on me) who had just moved to the area as a model (duh) with her husband (gasp!) and they were looking for cool people to hang out with and play board games (beautiful girls with porcelain skin can say stuff like that and it’s cool, if I tried it, I would be laughed off the reservation). After eventually picking my heart up off the floor, and several drinks later, Hari and I sneaked down to the basement where the instruments were kept and almost immediately kicked into, what I still believe, was a rousing version of the White Stripes’ Fell in Love with a Girl with Hari punishing the drums and with me playing guitar outside of my bedroom for the first time and what I think may have been the only song I knew how to play. As we stood in puddles of water (or bodies of water if you will, foreshadowing) that had leaked in from somewhere, joking about the impending electrocution we would die of, some other dude eventually wandered in and found a guitar and joined in, except the fact that neither him nor I really knew how to play at all (in fact, I would argue based mostly on a terrible memory and whatever pride I have left that I was better at that point) prevented us from making anything other than jarbled, mashed-up nonsense mostly (though I recall a Smashing Pumpkins cover he attempted that I butchered). Long story short (too late!), it turned out that he was the husband of the model that was jonesing for some board game action. It also turned out that years later they formed a band that started getting some good press. I never really gave it much thought as the painful memories and dreams of what-could-have-been were too much to overcome, as well as their reputation as some kind of Christian Mamas and the Papas with full-on 4-part harmonies, etc. However, they roughed up their sound for the second album, and I must admit, nostalgia or not, it’s pretty damn good. Under the Pines starts with a cool drum shuffle thing going on and then one of the tightest little guitar lines I heard all year jumps in. A little bit haunting, a little bit rocking, there’s some good stuff going on here. The girl’s got a pretty voice, and the dude made himself a player. Congrats and good luck (call me).
4. Fucked Up / Black Albino Bones – Old school hardcore with a message, widely attempted but rarely done well. These guys do it well. Pummeling pace, monster riffage, sing-along screams, and just enough musicianship, it’s fun music to listen to, to get pumped to, and there are probably even some interesting lyrics that make you think, but I can’t understand most of what the dude’s yelling about. The album was close to my Best of, but a couple clunkers and they missed the cut. Great line from the band’s wiki about one of the members: “Zucker is a transient who was chosen as the original frontman for Fucked Up due to his confrontational manner. Zucker was replaced as frontman after missing several crucial shows while in jail for punching a Toronto police officer who had stolen a ham sandwich from him.” Our greatest strengths are faults as well.
3. Portishead / Silence – I’m not as bananas for this entire album as some of the chumps (chimps?) out there. But that fairly creepy, fairly inaudible, French/Flemish/Gibberish, I think, spoken-word intro, and after that, tribal, paranoid (android) drumming, bass and harsh guitar (guit-box?) kick in and onto the background. Entrance and trance, séance and dance. Sick. I can’t take homegirl’s voice for an entire album, but for a song or two, this one especially, refusing to stop repeating, “did you know what I lost / do you know what I wanted?” If this song was all you knew about the people making the music, how long before you called the insane asylum for/on them?
2. M83 – Kim and Jessie/Skin of the Night – I just discovered this album recently, but hot damn, this sounds NOTHING like what I remember of them (him?) from years ago. And good god, it is fantastic! Again, I couldn’t choose between these two consecutive songs because they are just so damn good and go so well together. They both kind of sound like My Bloody Valentine plus Tears for Fears plus Spandau Ballet, which is a serious complement around these parts. And I’m guessing that 1) I’m pretty spot on in that assessment, and 2) there’s some self-awareness as I now look and see the album’s cover has various figures from 80’s movies on it. Frankly, this should really be on the Album List instead because the whole thing is so good, but that would leave a big hole here, and I’d prefer to solve this problem now and deal with the fallout later.
1. Fleet Foxes / Tiger Mountain Peasant Song – A somewhat surprising choice in my mind because I resisted this band for much of the year, and because this song is essentially just a lone voice over an acoustic guitar. Perhaps an appreciative nod to them in light of my recent attempts at learning how to finger-pick (I still suck), but this song, and that voice, is jaw-droppingly gorgeous and stirs quite the feelings of grandeur and vulnerability, beauty and pain that our wonderful natural world, and nature itself, creates and is. And it inspired something as awesome as this cover: