Song Roundup 8: Club Music–Indie Mix

Let’s not even talk about the massive gap in posts this time.  Maybe later.

I hate club music.  I try not to hate much music, but club music just represents some of my least favorite parts of sound and sonic mentality.  Club music represents sweaty parties full of people drinking to be drunk and dancing only for the sexuality.  I appreciate fun, but this style of music turns heavy bass into a disgusting sensation, rather than an invigorating one.  So on this latest Song Roundup, I want to look at indie music that would make me more comfortable at that next awful party (if only for a few minutes).

There weren’t truly limits on this list, but I did purposefully avoid “indie” techno, as Daft Punk and Justice are essentially definitive dance music.  I can hope that they’re a given for this type of list.

“Idioteque” by Radiohead

Sometimes they’re guitar gods, other times they fiddle with electronics.  Radiohead is a proven musical powerhouse that can touch many genres.  “Idioteque” is one of the most singular songs in their catalog.  That’s quite an accomplishment, but it goes further, making disaster sound exhilarating.  The terrifying sound of primordial computer composition blends perfectly with the rest of the band.  I always get chills, but the rhythm keeps me from a statuesque state.

“Daft Punk is Playing at My House” by LCD Soundsystem

Most LCD songs would be fair game here, but “Daft Punk” is one of the group’s most muscular efforts.  The song really pops with good speakers or headphones and deserves to be played loud.  I’m personally very fond of the version on the London Sessions release, but whatever rendition you get should do the trick.

“Whoo! Alright – Yeah… Uh Huh.” by The Rapture

Dance punk died too quickly in the early 2000s.  That is to say, I wasn’t really aware of it until it was already dead.  But we do have artifacts like this to keep us happy.  The tastefully complex variation on a simple disco drum is the real foundation of this song.  It keeps everything moving at a high tempo and lets the funky guitars work their magic above the rhythm.  But what pushes this over the edge and into greatness is that last bit of lyrical breakdown at the 2:34 mark – almost makes even me want to dance.

“I Can Talk” by Two Door Cinema Club

Two Door Cinema Club has been my guilty-pleasure band-of-choice ever since I first heard them.  Their debut record (Tourist History) is nothing innovative, but it’s simply brimming with energy.  “I Can Talk” is amongst the highlights.  The song has a blistering guitar attack, fun vocals and a massive disco drum/bass pattern filling all the space.  Embrace this Irish band – I think they’re in for big things.

“Dancing Choose” by TV on the Radio

I normally associate TVotR as dense, thinking music.  But at least a few tracks off their most recent record have worked to break my mental stereotype.  Dear Science has some heavy soul power, and tons of personality, and “Dancing Choose” highlights all of that.  Impassioned vocals blend with a propulsive tempo and wild horns to make the art-centric TVotR seem loose and fun.

“Heads Will Roll” by Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Many have discussed this before, but it’s always shocking to listen to YYYs change from a raw garage band to something more like glam rock or disco rock.  In particular, singer Karen O has removed some of that punk edge and suddenly sounds like a powerful diva.  “Heads Will Roll” is the most powerful example of this change, and makes a strong case for why we should embrace the “new” YYYs.  They do this kind of music the right way.

BEST SONGS OF THE DECADE: 20-1

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Here concludes my look at the best songs of the decade.  For this edition, I will also have a link to each track on YouTube.  Just click on the last part of each write-up.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this version of favoritism.  Please leave some comments about what you view as the best songs.  Also, check in tomorrow to see the first part of my Decade’s Best Albums list.  Thanks for reading!

20. “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” by Daft Punk

Techno is a tough thing for me to get behind.  I appreciate all the rhythm and neat computer-ish music.  But the whole thing just seems so fake and cold to me.  But then there’s Daft Punk.  I can’t help but like them.  They know how to conjure a beat and get your body to move.  “Harder, Better” is the highest point of their work.  Thanks to an amazing vocoder breakdown and a real swagger, even just hearing the song causes heads to bop and feet to tap.  I like to believe that, were I a break dancer I would freak out to this song.

19. “Staralfur” by Sigur Ros

Soundscapes can tend to be a bit boring, generally left for those relaxation mixes to be heard before sleep.  Sigur Ros manages to pull the soundscape into a new land, thanks to innovative instrumentation.  The powerful strings blend with light piano notes and production noises.  Things take off when the voice comes in.  Sigur Ros has a real give in their lead singer: he transforms songs from otherworldly to angelic.  You needn’t know what he’s saying, you just feel it.

18. “Energy” by Apples in Stereo

It’s a pretty instant attraction when this song turns on.  The mood can be completely somber, but then “Energy” turns everything bright.  The bright chords, bright voices, optimistic lyrics and fun tempo all add up to something great.  Where Sigur Ros could bring you to another planet, Apples in Stereo carry you to a better place – a state of personal satisfaction.  “And the world is made of energy / And there’s a lot inside of you, and there’s a lot inside of me.”

17. “Pyramid Song” by Radiohead

It bothers me to leave Radiohead so low on my list.  But such was the nature of song content this decade.  “Pyramid Song” has the distinctive nature of being a decidedly unique song in the Radiohead canon.  Everything feels eerie, right from the start.  Syncopated piano rhythms ride above strange electronic sounds and strings.  Soon enough, the drums kick in, slowly dragging their way in, adding to the strangely swung feel.  The whole thing feels like it’s carrying you off to heaven, or maybe hell.  But then Yorke’s last clear claim rings out in your mind: nothing to fear and nothing to doubt.  Believe in this song.

16. “Lisztomania” by Phoenix

One of the best songs from this year, “Lisztomania” is a pop masterpiece.  Catchy lyrics and bright music carry this song along.  Great guitars and solid bopping music are complimented by a touch of electronica, giving the song an interesting touch.  Really, you could pick “1901” here, too.  Both are great songs, proving Phoenix one of the best from 2009.

15. “Blind” by Hercules & Love Affair (feat. Antony)

Disco tends to seem cheesy to me.  Maybe it’s the stereotyped guy-in-white-suit thing.  Whatever the case, “Blind” is strangely freed from any sort of bad disco feeling.  Maybe it has to do with Antony’s vocals.  They really steal the show here, transforming the careful emotional classical singer into a dominant power.  I can’t help but feel like dancing through this song and yet feel terrible for doing do.  Perhaps that is where Hercules & Love Affair really succeed.  They get complex emotions to work in music.

14. “Reena” by Sonic Youth

“Reena” is so wonderfully constructed, making it one of my all-time favorite Sonic Youth songs.  First, it grabs you with those ringing guitars.  Then Kim Gordon manages to sing without sounding annoying.  But after all of the introductory “pop song” stuff, they decide to go all Sonic Youth on us.  For my money, it’s one of their best breakdowns since Daydream Nation.  Everything just goes crazy, drums pounding, guitars thrashing, and then Steve Shelley pulls it back together.  Very circular, very awesome.

13. “The Funeral” by Band of Horses

Songs can have some powerful effects, but it’s rare for me to be actually bothered by music.  Band of Horses succeeds here with those haunting, lightly plucked notes that open the song.  Instantly, you realize that this is something very weighty and somber.  Of course, the careful vocals only add to this effect.  “The Funeral” is so powerful that even the loud rocking sections manage to add to the mood.  Repeated listens diminish some of this song’s power, but never leave you feeling comfortable.  Maybe it’s better that way.

12. “Maps” by Yeah Yeah Yeahs

For all of the loud rock and crazy moments on Fever to Tell, it is the one ballad-like song that we all remember.  Everything about this song gives shivers down the spine.  Those crashing drums, that intro guitar, even the loud rock guitar.  But, of course, it’s Karen O that we all adore here.  Instead of yelling and stalking the stage, she lightly explains her love.  It’s powerful, tragic, and stunning.  This is an impact song.

11. “I’ll Believe in Anything” by Wolf Parade

This song and “Shine a Light” stand tall as the highlights from Wolf Parade’s debut album.  But for some reason, “I’ll Believe in Anything” always seems a step ahead.  I think it has to do with the unashamed emotion that flows in this song.  Seemingly a tale of longing for a lost lover, the whole thing is a bit difficult to dissect.  But it is clear that there is a distinct pain in Spencer Krug’s voice.  The loud crashing music only adds to the raw strength of this song.  By the end of the song, you are also willing to believe, if only for your own happiness.

10. “Clocks” by Coldplay

Coldplay is a very overrated (yes, really) band that garners popular attention because of their refined combination of Radiohead and U2.  They’re big, don’t really have a distinct message, and can generally be described as dull.

So why are they in my top 10?  Because this song is so good.  Perhaps Coldplay was just meant to play this one song and get on with their lives.  I’m a sucker for a good piano song, and this thing is just fantastic.  Chris Martin sings without getting overly annoying, and the looping piano phrase is just brilliant.  And I can’t help but feel taken away when that last phrase hits: “Home, home, where I wanted to go.”

9. “Mothers, Sisters, Daughters & Wives” by Voxtrot

This may be the most low-key song included on my list.  But the whole thing is wonderful rock.  A great, clear voice works well with the instantly appealing guitars and tight drums.  It’s a shame that this band hasn’t really caught on.  With the EP named for this song, they unleashed a set of five amazing tracks.  Every one of them features memorable music, but this is the best of the bunch.

8. “While You Wait for the Others” by Grizzly Bear

Grizzly Bear made a huge leap from enjoyable folk to super songwriters.  The key track off this year’s Veckatimest is a real highlight.  Its atmosphere is powerful and evocative, bringing forth real emotional responses.  Those voices, that guitar… it’s musical brilliance, with just enough muscle to keep it around your brain for months.  This song clearly eclipses all others from this year, constantly echoing in my head.  This is one to remember.

7. “3rd Planet” by Modest Mouse

It starts so simply.  Lightly plucked, quietly entered.  And then the self-admissions happen.  And then the world starts to open up with giant faith statements, and comments about the nature of the earth.  Oh, yeah, the guitars kick it up too.  This song is a great way to enter the land of The Moon & Antarctica, it’s familiar and disarming all at the same time.  Of course, this was the one song where we all wondered, “Is this really Modest Mouse?”  It’s unfortunate they haven’t reached a height like this again.

6. “White Winter Hymnal” by Fleet Foxes

If you don’t like the singing, then I don’t know what you’re doing.  I mean, first there is the lead voice, strong, right on pitch, beats the pants off any American Idol-type pop artist today.  Then there are the backing voices.  Each of these singers could take the lead spot and this song would still be in the top ten.  Instead, they blend and create a harmonious point of glory.  This only functions to add to the amazing musical arrangement, thus creating a powerful, memorable song.

5. “Nothing Ever Happened” by Deerhunter

In an album full of abstract ideas, “Nothing Every Happened” stands out as a beautiful culmination of all the strange noise-rock, but with a very accessible mindset.  Of course, it helps to have one of the best outros of the decade working for you.  Big bold drums give up the limelight for the stunning guitar work.  From the noisy breakdown comes the huge finish: clear, powerful, singular notes.

4. “My Mathematical Mind” by Spoon

It’s sometimes hard to point out what makes Spoon so great.  I guess it’s that they break down their songs into the most minimal of ideas, removing the unimportant fuss.  They kind of make you work for it – fill in the gaps almost.  Here, there’s a sort of self-assured power on display.  I don’t really know why exactly this song strikes so much more than any other Spoon song though.  I think it has to do with the pianos, the ideas (“I’m gonna stop riding the brakes”), and Britt Daniels’ smooth voice.  Or maybe it’s just that this song is really one of the four best of the decade.

3. “A-Punk” by Vampire Weekend

The best song of last year is certainly the best pure pop on from the decade.  It’s extremely bright, and from the moment you hear that chord structure, you’re hooked.  For the next two minutes, you have no choice: you bop your head, and you let the music get at you.  Or you watch the video and enjoy even more.

2. “Rebellion (Lies)” by Arcade Fire

Arcade Fire are all about big song and big emotions.  While some may argue that a few of the “Neighborhood” songs are better, I don’t think you can go wrong with “Rebellion (Lies)”  It stands out as such a strong song.  Call-and-response ending in yells of “Lies,” and a string part that acts as primary instrumental melody.  The guitar flourishes and an enraged lead voice closing out the song.  Each of these moments mean so much to those who have heard the song.  If you’re not amongst the believers, let this song prove the might of the Arcade Fire.

1. “All My Friends” by LCD Soundsystem

So Pitchfork nearly got it right, placing “All My Friends” at second in their decade-list.  But I view them as wrong.

There are so many great songs focusing on emotion, devastating tragedy, and difficult choices.  But it’s rare for a song to confront the idea of growing up like this.  Yeah, many have taken the general “I hope I die before I get old” path, but how many have really taken the idea of age and turned it into a 7-minute opus?

The whole song grapples with life and this transitional idea.  It’s really strange at first, but by the third minute you’re left wondering where else this guy will go.  It’s an intelligent analysis of the self, and James Murphy has some of the best lyrics in recent memory strewn together to make “All My Friends” work.

Of course, without the backing track, his words are just a poetic reflection.  Instead, the base layer of piano kicks the whole thing along, allowing a gradual build across the entire song.  More guitars are added, louder drums, and even more piano.  Everything almost becomes overwhelming, finally ending in the stunning, maybe empowering reflection, “If I could see all my friends tonight.”

James Murphy has penned the greatest song of this decade.  Its musical, lyrical, emotional, and human elements are all greater than any other single track from another source.  His mastery of his craft and an understanding of himself have resulted in a brilliant song that is forever echoing for me.  It is like no other.

BEST SONGS OF THE DECADE: 50-21

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Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to my look at the best of this decade.  It has been an amazing time for music, and thanks to that vehicle that is the internet, we can actually witness a great deal of the music around us.  It is actually a lot of fun to be able to look back like this and see what has been so good.

Keep in mind: I am one person.  There is no way that I’ve heard everything possible from this decade, so what follows is a personal list of favorites.  Feel free to leave comments: what do you think I’m missing from this list?

Please note my self-imposed rule for this list: ONLY ONE SONG PER ARTIST.  This is done in the interest of expanding the selection.  Otherwise, this might be a Spoon, Radiohead, and Modest Mouse love-fest.

So without further ado, here starts the list.

50. “Jesus, Etc.” by Wilco

This unexpected song centers around strings and a humming keyboard.  But its soul is instant and powerful.

49. “The Rip” by Portishead

Sad, raw and very reserved.  The combination of held-back drums and straining vocals is unforgettable.

48. “Paper Planes” by M.I.A.

This song was literally everywhere, but with good reason.  Insanely catchy and it even holds a message.

47. “Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse” by Of Montreal

An artifact of its source album, this rundown of mental trouble works well even outside the original setting.

46. “Touch the Sky” by Kanye West (feat. Lupe Fiasco)

It’s the horns!  As soon as the song kicks in, you don’t have a choice – you listen.

45. “Keep Fishin’” by Weezer

Most of post-2000 Weezer has been dreadful. Maladroit is the exception, and this song is a classic.

44. “The Wolf is Loose” by Mastodon

In a word, blistering.  From that opening drum attack, it doesn’t let up.  Metal at its finest.

43. “The Zookeeper’s Boy” by Mew

The startup riles the mind, but then they disarm you with that magical voice.

42. “Melody Day” by Caribou

That guitar holds you tight to the song, but the ethereal vocals make it stick in your mind.

41. “Knights of Cydonia” by Muse

In general, Muse is overwhelming and a tad annoying.  Here, they’re just too big to ignore.  Very fun song.

40. “This Tornado Loves You” by Neko Case

Her voice is big, but this song captures her excellence. Great, light music and a slightly over-the-top metaphor make this a late-decade great.

39. “1 2 3 4” by Fiest

Yes, the iPod commercials were popular.  But the song is so much better than just an ad.  The melody, catchy vocals and a slightly painful tale of teenage love all add up to a full composition, worthy of repeated listens.

38. “We’ll Make a Love Of You” by Les Savy Fav

The band may be known for their crazy stage antics, but this song proves them a worthy rock band in general.  Interesting lyrics and singing are mainly a way to get those brilliant guitars in.  The echo is there like U2, but it is so much more muscular.

37. “PDA” by Interpol

Dark and brooding, the lyrics are plainly idiotic, and the voice seems out to copy Joy Division.  But you know what: the song is still great.  The dark is excellent, thanks to a beefy bass and tight drums.  Of course, the whole thing just turns amazing through that final breakdown.  The drums go, the guitars lock in and then it all comes back.  Brilliant every time.

36. “Atlas” by Battles

Huge.  Epic.  Massive.  Yeah, very redundant, but it’s hard to pound in just how big this song is.  Structurally, everything is very simple.  Big drum beat, some bass and guitars following behind.  But the crazy vocals and just the scope of the operation make this worth hearing.

35. “23” by Blonde Redhead

Washed out, Sonic Youth-type sounds aren’t anything new.  But when you play it this well and have a cooing siren as your lead singer, you tend to garner a bit of attention.  I really love the drum pattern that carries throughout this track, and it helps drive this manic, swirling track right into your brain.

34. “Living Well is the Best Revenge” by REM

This is an amazing way to make an entrance.  Even more so when it heralds a return to form like this.  After a few albums of mindless wandering, REM snap right into place with this searing song, lashing your ears with big guitars and angry lyrics.  Bonus points: that entrance lick makes a great ringtone.

33. “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” by Death Cab for Cutie

This song can seem cheesy, but I love it anyway.  It really hit for me during a Scrubs episode.  The kind of deep affection and real sadness seen here are difficult to describe without sounding pathetic.  Here, the sparse arrangement and the light vocals manage to tackle the subject without fear.

32. “Kissing the Lipless” by The Shins

Decidedly poppy, yet deceptively complex.  “Kissing the Lipless” really shifts into a different place when it transitions to a faster song through those guitar attacks.  The song is very refined, but still manages to feel raw and realistic through the strained singing.

31. “My Girls” by Animal Collective

Pitchfork has vastly overrated this song.  However, it is still worth hearing.  Strong emotions and personal convictions drive this track.  Personal reflection should probably result in all people having the hopes and dreams of Animal Collective in “My Girls”.

30. “Smile” by Lily Allen

Swanky and deliciously pop, this song is too catchy to be left off any decade list.  But the whole thing gets turned over immediately when Allen complains about her man “f***ing that girl next door.”  Very spiteful, but self-serving in how his guilt brings the singer joy.  Personal redemption can be awesome.

29. “2080” by Yeasayer

I’m not very familiar with the rest of Yeasayer, so I don’t know if this is a very representative song.  But if so, they must be astronauts, making brilliant space music.  The whole thing seems out of this world, and cements its place through both the chorus and the children shouting at the end.

28. “Wolf Like Me” by TV on the Radio

TV on the Radio know how to make a song.  First, they pull you in with a cool drum pattern.  Then, they keep you interested with the guitars and insane production.  Just as you grow “bored,” they slow things down, let you feel it out.  And then before that goes on for too long, they kick up the speed to a new high and ride it out.  Nicely done.

27. “Casimir Pulaski Day” by Sufjan Stevens

Religion and cancer are not often encountered in popular music.  Yet here we find a quiet, caring man examining his own faith and reflecting on the death of a loved one.  In the midst of the sprawling Illinoise, it is interesting to find this charmingly sad song, featuring acoustic guitars and a restrained banjo.  Sonically beautiful, and mentally stimulating.

26. “Use It” by The New Pornographers

I’m never really sure what The New Pornographers are ever singing about.  But, here they are anyway.  The strength of their lovely singing, bold poppy hooks and great variety of songs keeps me coming back.  “Use It” is no different – strong singers and a memorable piano are enough to make this song rise so high.

25. “Auto Rock” by Mogwai

Ah, the slow build.  This song is different than all others in the list so far, in that it features no vocals.  Instead, a haunting piano line slowly grows louder.  More sounds are added, a quiet electronic blip.  Then the wall of guitar sound comes in off the horizon, this also building.  It’s a very inspirational song to me, leaving a feeling of rising out of the ashes.  By the end, it’s fist-pumping good and you feel ready for battle.

24. “Millstone” by Brand New

Dear crappy punk rock: please take notes.  After being a mediocre punk rock band, Brand New decided to grow up and write meaningful songs with interesting music.  “Millstone” is a stunning song coming from a band that wrote “Jude Law and a Semester Abroad.”  There are layers of sound, slow nuance, and lyrics that comment on personal failure in an intelligent way.  This is a real evolution in music: Brand New are now a spectacular, respectable group of artist.

23. “Take Me Out” by Franz Ferdinand

It is all about that transition.  Yeah, the start and the finish are both wonderful, but holy god.  That moment around 55 seconds in is just magical.  The guitars go tight, the drums get all wonky and the song is never the same.  They never try repeat this stunning change at any point in their career (thus far), so you really must enjoy the moment.  It is the point where indie garage rock and disco meet and it’s fantastic.  Yeah, you’ve heard this song a million times now, but it is really good enough to carry a whole album.

22. “Sixteen Military Wives” by The Decemberists

The apex of all Decemberists songs.  Perhaps this is more surprising in that it is so different than anything else off of Picaresque.  Whatever the case, the song is brilliant and scathing in its poppy abandon.  A discourse on what is wrong with America, this track also manages to pull together an amazing horn group.  And yet again, the little moments really win big points.  Here, it’s the way the song finishes off, bringing the horn line back around for one last flourish.  Perfect ending.

21. “Fell in Love With a Girl” by The White Stripes

I wish more garage rock sounded like this.  Very fast, relentless in its thrash, “Fell in Love With a Girl” is such rush.  Yes, we’ve all heard the crap about Meg’s drumming, but it is actually very fitting here.  You only need a simplistic drum figure for Jack White to dance around.  Tip: turn this up really really loud in your car, open all the windows and sing along.  Bonus points if it’s winter.  Afterward, try to tell me that this song is not awesome.

BEST SONGS OF 2009: 10-1

Yet again, you can click on the last phrase of each comment to see a stream of each track.  The video is embedded for the Top 3.  Let’s see where it ends…

10. “Guilty Cocker Spaniels” by Modest Mouse

It is an absolute shame that little attention was paid to Modest Mouse this year.  No One’s First and You’re Next was a fantastic EP, offering more great music in its few tracks than most bands have in a full-length album.  “Guilty Cocker Spaniels” is a highlight on this album, built on classically-jangling guitars and Isaac Brock’s clever lyrics.  It’s a bit lighter than some of their other fare, but the song has a great construction, offering no real structure, yet never straying too far into uncharted waters.  What really wins me over is the lightly plucked intro and outro; it’s lovely and innocent – a great foil to the titular dogs.

9. “Mind Eraser No Chaser” by Them Crooked Vultures

The supergroup of Dave Grohl, Josh Homme, and John Paul Jones sounded very exciting from the start.  I would argue that even if this was the only result from their meeting, the whole thing was a complete success.  Hard rock has been missing the thunder provided by Grohl’s drums and the thump brought forth by Jones’ bass.  Interestingly, it’s Homme (the least legendary member) that pulls the whole thing together.  His great guitar and singing presence really elevate this tale to a fantastic new high.  Listen in and let your mind be done anew by this instant classic.

8. “Cannibal Resource” by Dirty Projectors

“Stillness is the Move” may have a better sense of R&B, but Bitte Orca is at its peak where it begins.  This song ultimately summarizes what makes the rest of this Dirty Projectors album so great.  The structure is fairly random, bouncing back and forth between a semi-call-and-response verse, a cooing comment on the “arbitrary life”, and an attacking guitar structure.  What really pushes this song ahead is the previously mentioned guitar.  From the startup, through the midsection, right until the end, the song stands out thanks to great singing and sight guitar.  Hear it and break into this album the right way.

7. “Zero” by Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Breaking away from the garage rock of Fever to Tell, suddenly the Yeah Yeah Yeahs act as a brilliant electronic glam rock unit.  Here, Karen O takes a full leap into a super-diva.  Her voice is still explosive, but now it’s wide-ranging stunning with the new musical backdrop.  “Zero” is interesting in lyrical content, not just vocal delivery.  The song is directed at the loser (the zero of the title), a sort of realist’s view and inspirational all the same.  They offer that you “No one’s gonna ask you [your name]” and you “better find out where they want you to go.”  It’s mildly humbling, but really pushes you to reach the top.

6. “Daylight” by Matt & Kim

Yes yes, this song has been everywhere.  But honestly, it’s really worth all the attention.  The piano basis is so simple yet utterly brilliant, offering a rhythmic and melodic template for the entire song.  Of course, this would mean nothing without that fantastic swagger that seems to carry through the song.  It is fun and high quality.  A great example of where popularity is deserved.

5. “My Girls” by Animal Collective

Pitchfork has made this the year of Animal Collective, and that sort of labeling is pretty well wrong.  Yes, Merriweather Post Pavilion is a good album, but it is nowhere near the top of the decade.  It’s overdone, too big, and generally quite boring.  The main exceptions to this are “Brother Sport” and “My Girls.”  However, it is “My Girls” that is clearly the top Collective song and one of the best of the year.  Sincere and heartfelt, this song explodes with stunning creativity.  The premise alone would probably make this song worth mention; it’s a reflection on the need for family and only the basic essentials necessary to carry out such a life.  This song’s power only increases in the context of the dead singer’s father.  MPP may not be worth $20, but this song is golden.

4. “1901” by Phoenix

Back in June, I may have commented something about Phoenix existing as an unknown band, guessing that Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix would never sell much.  Whoops.  Turns out that Phoenix has gone crazy this year, finding themselves on the Billboard album charts for months, playing on SNL and being prominently featured in car ads.  “1901” is one of two super-songs on the album, reaching past the regular excellence seen in the rest of the album.  Electronics blend brilliantly with the guitar and drums.  Of course, “1901” would be nothing without the great personality from the band.  Oh, to be French and brilliant musically.  So much more than just a commercial jingle.

3. “King Rat” by Modest Mouse

Guess what: Modest Mouse is still amazing.  This song features the insane brilliance of Isaac Brock, his psychotic lyrical delivery, bombastic guitars, and some powerful horns.  This song is the crown jewel in the fantastic No One’s First EP, offering a song that is miles better than anything off We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank.  It’s stunning, especially when accompanied with the crazy video directed by the late Heath Ledger.  Certainly one of the best songs of the year.

2. “Lisztomania” by Phoenix

So Phoenix unleashed a pretty great album with Wolfgang Amadeus.  The top highlights are the stunning one-two punch that start the album in “Lisztomania” and “1901.”  I personally find “Lisztomanina” to be the superior tune, with the catchier lyrics and the brighter music.  Of course, I don’t think you can go wrong with either tune – they’re superb pop with a touch of electronica to keep things interesting.

1. “While You Wait for the Others” by Grizzly Bear

“Two Weeks” is wonderful, but “While You Wait for the Others” really takes the top prize this year.  Ever since its debut on Conan, this song has been a beautifully haunting reminder of how great Grizzly Bear might become.  The development of this song and eventual outcome on Veckatimest is spectacular.  The atmosphere is powerful and evocative, bringing forth real emotional responses.  Those voices, that guitar… it’s musical brilliance, with just enough muscle to keep it around your brain for months.  This song clearly eclipses all others for the year, constantly echoing in my head.  This is one to remember.

Last year, the top song was a catchy pop piece, now my cell phone ringtone in “A-Punk.”  This year, we find nearly the inverse.  Instead of bright, happy pop, there’s a moody, introspective baroque-pop song.  Does that lessen either?  Not really, but it provides an interesting point of comparison and a great way to realize how amazing and broad popular music has become.

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this look at the best songs from this year.  Come around tomorrow night to find out what I view as the best albums of 2009.  It should be fun!

BEST SONGS OF 2009: 20-11

To check out these songs for yourself, click on the last word of each commentary.  You’ll find a link to YouTube for a stream of the track.  Here we go…

20. “I’m On a Boat” by The Lonely Island

It’s cheesy, stupid, childish, and clearly pandering to the college-jock type.  Yet here writes an engineering student with no real affection toward rap, thoroughly enjoying this song.  “Boat” is just so silly and fun, and you can’t help but love the premise.  The whole thing is made even better by the brilliant self-parody offered by T-Pain.  He is well aware of the setting, and lays down some fantastic fake-singing just for SNL.  It’s made better (obviously) with the video.  Watch it over and over on Lala or here.

19. “WIlco (The Song)” by Wilco

I’ve become a more devoted Wilco follower in recent days thanks to a great run with Summerteeth over the past year.  However, the brilliance of modern-day Wilco shouldn’t be overlooked.  “The Song” is a slight bit of parody, but manages to encapsulate most of what makes the band great in one place.  I think the big bells in the last third of the song really bring it together for me.  It’s the idea that, yes they’re more straightforward today, but they’ll still make magical music.  Listen to it here.

18. Young Adult Friction” by The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

For those not in the know, it’s about love in a library.  I personally find the lyrics to be annoying and a bit overdone.  This is all pushed aside by great guitars and a rhythm section that gives a sense of direction.  Think of combining the jangle and drums of R.E.M. with a New Wave attitude and you’re nearly there.  Lyrical delivery certainly counts for a lot here – enthusiasm is very present.  The 80s would have loved this band, and I’m glad we have them.

17. “Send Him Away” by Franz Ferdinand

The Scots best know for the crazy rhythm change in “Take Me Out” are back with a fairly angry tune.  This discussion of female infidelity fits in nicely with the whole “night out” theme within their latest album.  The singer ultimately ends begging to stay the night.  While he may be a tad pathetic, the music is tight, offering a nice guitar jangle that swings around a phenomenal bass line and a complex-yet-digestible drum part.  I’d argue that this is the top highlight of the whole album.

16. “I am Leaving” by Blue Roses

Blue Roses was described by someone else as the sound of a rainy day repeated over a whole album.  I think that’s a pretty apt feeling, but it sells the music short.  “I am Leaving” is at its core a song about a breakup or exiting a family.  But more important is the sheer beauty of the song.  Aching guitars are placed with bright chimes.  I’m a real sucker for great vocals, and this also propels this song.  Laura Groves has an amazing voice, and after this song, you’re left sorry for her and yet entirely elated.

15. “These Are My Twisted Words” by Radiohead

When this was originally leaked, it seemed like an obvious Radiohead song.  Perhaps that is because it sounds like a stereotypical Radiohead song.  Tight drums, wandering guitars, Thom Yorke’s ever-present voice.  But let me ask: isn’t that also what makes Radiohead so amazingly great?  If they were to release an album full of songs like this, wouldn’t we all flip out and proclaim it one of the greatest in recent memory?  Yeah, “Twisted Words” isn’t very special in the Radiohead cannon, but that it holds many Radiohead trademarks makes it better than 90% of music today.

14. “Pieces” by Dinosaur Jr.

I completely missed out on the first round of Dinosaur Jr, so I can’t really compare this song to anything that came before.  Instead, I have the perspective of an outsider on this.  Frankly, I’m disgusted.  How did I not find this band earlier?  Straightforward rock with the best guitars I may have heard from all of music… where has J Mascis been all my life?  This is a great song on an album full of great songs and the band really deserves all the praise offered lately.  A great first impression (the leadoff track from Farm) for this new fan.

13. “Two Weeks” by Grizzly Bear

There is a very puzzling blogosphere “general opinion” that “Two Weeks” is better than “While You Wait for the Others.”  I really don’t agree with that view of things, and see “While You Wait” as an vastly superior track.  However, that does not leave “Two Weeks” as a poor piece of music.  Rather, the bright pop and fantastic arrangement of “Two Weeks” is a fantastic entry point to the music of Grizzly Bear.  It’s very catchy, the vocal harmonies are splendid (even close to the power of Fleet Foxes) and the whole thing is just very pretty.  It is sometimes difficult to accept a song for being essentially beautiful, but this track is fantastic.

12. “Convinced of the Hex” by The Flaming Lips

There are certainly more catchy songs on Embryonic, but there is nothing more attention-grabbing.  The strange introduction only pulls you into a great blend of crazy rock.  Superb funky guitars and a crashing set of drums manage to set up an amazing atmosphere for the whole album.  Nothing since The Moon & Antarctica has set up such an otherworldly feel.  It’s great, and you’ll be left thinking about that bass line for weeks.

11. “This Tornado Loves You” by Neko Case

Left just short of the top ten, but not because of Ms. Case’s pipes.  Wow can she belt out some music.  Of course her voice is pointless on a “traditional” album unless the music can keep up.  Here, everything is great.  Guitars, pianos, drums, all working in tandem to build the foundation of this song.  Then Case fires on all cylinders to send everything into the stratosphere.  “What will make you believe me?” she belts with all her might.  The whole tornado-lover metaphor thing would seem a bit heavy-handed if not for the great holistic production.  That, and her voice is big enough to be an F5.

Come back for the next 10 songs tomorrow night!

Song Roundup 7: Revisiting Old Friends

A few weeks is quite a long time in modern musical terms.  In that time span, countless albums will have surfaced (legally or otherwise) and artists will be shifting and working to get your attention.  The internet is rather to blame.

When I ignore a song for months this is like an eon.  Music can go away so quickly, forgotten in favor of the “next best thing.”  I’m glad to say I occasionally go through my collection on random or on Genius from iTunes (a lovely feature) to see how it all comes together.  Here are a few songs I’m glad to be hearing again.

Losing My Edge” by LCD Soundsystem

I hold a deep respect for what LCD Soundsystem does.  They manage to bring dance music into my life without letting me realize such an intrusion.  The dance-as-rock idea has shown up through the guise of semi-disco before, but I don’t think anybody executes the trick as well as this band.

The best trick in thrown out in this song is the drumming.  About a third of the way through, the drums just explode with crashing cymbals, but only briefly.  The bass carries on with this heavier tone, but you’re left wanting more, like the Dance Police caught you in banging your head in some rock show.

LCD Soundsystem rewards your patience by bringing the drums back around a few more times, but only after getting you totally hooked on the groove build from that booming bass.  Finally, by the third time through, you can stop anticipating the drums quite as much, and appreciate the great lyrics.

But they’ve still got you by your rock-ears.

The Engine Driver” by The Decemberists

Colin Meloy has a distinctive voice, seemingly built to tell stories.  Here, Meloy carries you through a light melody of false love and regret.  The song really hits you in the refrain, as he becomes a “writer of fictions.”

The description is apt, fitting the band’s act perfectly.  But this gem doesn’t just stand tall through personal observation.  The instrumentation fully supports the melancholy verses by offering introspective guitars, accordions and brilliant backing vocals.

The Decemberists had many great tunes on Picaresque, but this stands one of the most memorable, leaving the listener with a yearning for Meloy’s lost love.  Yes – he brings you into the character.

“Short Fuse Burning” by Less Than Jake

The song bursts right at you and lacks a large number of the lovely horns of most great Less Than Jake songs.  But “Short Fuse Burning” is among my favorite from the band because of the drums.

It’s such a derivative punk song: take a few chords, play it fast, make it short, and talk about some sort of angst.  But it works so well here.

That fast drum part as they sing “So I’m looking tonight / For some peace of mind” just sends the punk fan in me over the edge.  If I had a pogo stick, I’d be bouncing off the walls during that phrase.

Nothing about this song is overly special, but it’s just so immediate that you can’t help but fall for the hooks.  Take a listen to this song and you will also become a fish.  Even without the amazing horns!

Song Roundup 5: The Cold Stopgap Version

Winter has struck with its full fury. This means negative temperatures and the fine distraction known as “college.” However, I have not forgotten the existence of this blog. Here are some songs I’ve been listening to in the past few weeks.

“Beautiful Day” by U2

Understandably, U2 doesn’t always find favor in indie critics. Instead of pushing forth on a small label and aiming for personalized songs, Bono and company scale everything to as massive a scale as possible. The sound, the message, the concerts and the personalities are simply enormous. U2 is that rare band that really fits the idea of being the “biggest band in the world.” The first track off All That You Can’t Leave Behind is no different: the pounding drums, the echoing guitars and the soaring vocals are classic U2. But this doesn’t lessen the impact of the song. The lyrics hit hard in a very powerful combination of joy and sorrow. Clearly, the initial reaction is in the jubilant chorus. Bono sounds positively ecstatic, noting that this day is simply “beautiful.” But the lead-up and follow-up shift the scope. The initial sounds are not happy and the text matches the tone: “there’s no room” and “you’re out of luck” in this town. So the resultant cry is suddenly more urgent. It’s not just a beautiful day, “It’s a beautiful day, don’t let it get away.” This plea has a personal appeal, but it manages to touch all who listen. This is a keeper.

“Millstone” by Brand New

My initial reaction to Brand New was from the radio nonsense that had been spread in the early part of this decade. Your Favorite Weapon and Deja Entendu didn’t seem to have any real value. Of course, this judgment was only based on my experience with their singles. Imagine my surprise when I encountered this song – a complete, poignant piece with powerful lyrics and stunning musical composition. Was this really the same band?

The latest release by Brand New (The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me) is one of the most amazing records of the past five years. The whole thing is full of breathtaking sonic structures and touching lyrics, all while maintaining the work ethic exhibited by so many “punk” bands. There are standouts everywhere on the album, but perhaps the best song is “Millstone.” The piece begins with a tight bass line and a light guitar as the singer discusses his joyful past. The chorus then explodes as self-defeat takes over. Fortunately, this outcome does not come across as whiney or pretentious. Instead, we see Brand New working an excellent rock song as their singer laments in a very legitimate way. It’s not emo – it’s excellence in music.

“A Spoonful Weighs a Ton” by The Flaming Lips

The inimitable Flaming Lips have struck musical gold in nearly every facet of their career. However, The Soft Bulletin sticks out as the top Lips album in my mind. “A Spoonful Weighs a Ton” simultaneously takes off in many directions, offering reflective strings one moment, crashing guitars the next, and a harp somewhere in between. The whole thing is psychotic, but manages to hold together with the constant narrative voice of Wayne Coyne leading the way. It’s a fun song and proof of the brilliance of the Flaming Lips.

“The Bleeding Heart Show” by The New Pornographers

The New Pornos have been fighting for the title of “best pop band” for a few years now. Their resume includes great singing, insanely catchy melodies, and tightly constructed songs. “The Bleeding Heart Show” may stand as a summarizing statement of all that makes this band so great, offering varied dynamics, dueling vocalists, full-out chant-choruses and bright guitars. But there are two elements that make this song so worthy of repeated listens. First, the drumming in the final section is simply divine. Kurt Dahle uses phenomenal fills that are vastly more innovative than any seen in current pop radio. Instead of merely sticking with a consistent repeated statement throughout, Dahle goes everywhere, working each element of his set. Miraculously, he never loses a single joule of energy or a second of the beat. It’s a very refreshing experience.

And then there are the lyrics. While this is a relationship song, the vast sea of love clichés is seemingly avoided. The story explains a love that forms between two former friends instead of two star-crossed lovers. This pairing seems “as if I picked your name out of a hat,” and the idea is strange to observers. Yet the whole thing falls down as the perceptions disappear. In the aftermath of such a strange spark is the epic final phrase: “We have arrived too late to play the bleeding heart show.” It’s a perfect song and represents the hope of those looking for the future of pop.