Best Non-Album/Strays/Compilation-Related Music Of The Decade.
Soundtrack Related Original Material:
Special Soundtrack Award to Rufus Wainwright
Rufus Wainwright has given us more single track contributions to soundtracks than perhaps anyone else in the last ten years. He's done covers of some really excellent songs and some super terrible ones, which he then made better. Anyway he gets an award. What's the award look like, you ask? Fuck you for being so materialistic! If you were nicer maybe you'd get a made-up award like Rufus Wainwright. I'm sorry....times are tough...this damned economy.... Specific Songs:
"I'll Build A Stairway To Paradise" - Rufus Wainwright - The Aviator
Martin Scorsese's The Aviator had a shit-ton of cool period specific stuff but Rufus Wainwright's performance was the best bit of pastiche they concocted. Wainwright does a winking/straight rendition of this excellent song at a party while Howard Hughes asks Johnny Weismuller and David O. Selznick if they want to have threeway sex....or something...the movie was a long time ago, the details are blurry.
"Malaguena" - Brian Setzer - Once Upon A Time In Mexico
Brian Setzer's rocking version of the old guitar piece is a touch like the movie it came from: it rocks at first, then gets dull, then Johnny Depp shoots some people even though his eyes have been cut out...you know I don't remember much about this movie, either, other than it sucked, but christmas what an awesome goddamned song!
"To Be Surprised" - Sondre Lerche - Dan In Real Life
Sondre Lerche scoring a romantic comedy made a lot of sense, actually. He does a sort Elvis Costello via Cole Porter impersonation on his less successful records, so to ask him to come up with a half-dozen playfully sad trumpet themes was like asking Damon Albarn to do something unexpected on his next album. Anyway, sandwiched in between some old tracks and a bunch of great snippets that don't amount to a great album was a really excellent pop song that could have been a single in any country if whoever handles Lerche had a goddamned brain in his head. Seriously, how is this guy not an international celebrity? Not that I probably wouldn't hate him if he got famous, but I feel like someone's dropping the ball in the Lerche camp....unless....are you staying unfamous for me...? Sondre....I'm....I'm touched, I don't know what to say....you truly are my hero! (Note: I love Sondre Lerche and would love to see him succeed but remain glad that no one knows him. I'm kind of impossible).
Various - New Moon Soundtrack
If I may be allowed to say how much I fucking take issue with the whole Twilight franchise. Fucking abstinence vampire bullshit! Ok, now that I've said my piece, let's talk about this unfairly excellent soundtrack for New Moon. None of these songs are in the movie (none of the good ones, anyway) but we have not only great songs from Thom Yorke, Bon Iver with St. Vincent, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Grizzly Bear with Victoria Legrand, but great songs from bands that I thought had used up all their good song karma. The Killers, Death Cab For Cutie, Ok Go, Editors, The Magic Numbers (bonus track), Band of Skulls all give great songs as well, and each one seems to harken back to a different era of great songwriting. It's not fair, I tells ya! Why do the goddamned vampire movies get such amazing soundtracks. They don't deserve them! But you really should hear the soundtrack, it's incredible.
Various - I'm Not There
There were a handful of songs on that I'm Not There soundtrack that were just amazing. I figured out a little while ago that Dylan's songwriting is great, it's just that his execution is totally unappealling to me. So an album full of people I like doing his songs sounded like an excellent proposition. The problem with it was that everyone wanted to sound just like him at the end of the 70s, so there was almost no diversity. Luckily Sufjan Stevens, The Swell Season and Sonic Youth were there and totally goddamned rocked the house. Sufjan Stevens should be on every compilation ever, far as I'm concerned; his "Ring Them Bells" is a standout for its wierdness, something the whole record could have done with more of. The Swell Season did a pretty straight run-through of their song so I can't really explain why it works for me the way it does. Finally Sonic Youth's version of the title track is...well, it's the song they were born to play. Cool and haunting and smoky and hip as two independent coffee places, "I'm Not There" came right when Sonic Youth were rediscovering how awesome they are. Then they did that Eternal record which rocks hard enough for three albums.
"Daytona 500 (Iron Lung Remix)" - Ghostface
Ghostface & Radiohead....if you don't go find it you've no future as king/queen of the planet.
"Everything Hits At Once (For Discos)" - Spoon - Amos House Collection Vol. 2
Really the only thing different between the two versions of this song is that instead of keyboard, the disco version used for the Amos House Collection has a thumb piano. And yet, it kinda makes all the difference.
"Eighth Station of the Cross Kebab House" - Belle & Sebastian - Help! A Day In The Life
This song was one of the few standouts from a record that boasted some of Britain's best bands Help! A Day In The Life (Radiohead's rather moody "I Want None of This" being the only thing that comes close. Elbow, Coldplay, Manic Street Preachers and everyone else had no excuse for being so bland...although Antony & Boy George did a pretty ok version of that Lennon tune). As is too often the case for charity records, the songs don't really do it for me, but I'll buy them cause I want to support the cause. This song is a creepy Post-Punk dub track and was the last great thing the band did as far as I can see. What was up with that God Help The Girl record?
"Dearest Foresaken (Live At KCRW)" - Iron & Wine - Passing Afternoon
Two songs do not a great EP make, but this one was so infectious that I let the relative suckage of the Passing Afternoon EP slide. Sam Beam's guitar playing is rarely so impressive and aggressive while never actually getting that loud. The riff in the middle is amazing.
"I Woke Up With This Song In My Head This Morning" - Bright Eyes - Lua
This song, the only thing to write home about on the Lua EP, is really about the happiest damn thing in the world. Lord knows where Conor Oberst got this burst of energy from because it was seated between his two most moody and anxious albums ever (not that I don't love the hell out of his two 2005 records). Anyway, from the chirpy mandolin riff to the scraped guitar solo in the middle, the song is all about embracing but tweaking conventions and it's a joy to hear on winter mornings.
"Satellite" - TV On The Radio - Young Liars
This girl I used to work with put on the Young Liars EP one day and then sort of had her own personal freak-out while the four songs soared through her head and into her blood. Since that day I've always loved "Satellite" and routinely freak out to it's searing guitar and hammering drum machine, not to mention the burning vocals.
"Modern Girls & Old Fashioned Men" - The Strokes with Regina Spektor - Reptilia
Back before teenage girls and the Narnia crowd fell in love with Regina Spektor, I fell in love with her. I showed her off to all my friends, listened manically to Soviet Kitsch and prayed that she'd remain undiscovered (The jokes on the masses, incidentally because her first record in the spotlight was her worst). Anyway, before all that she got herself 15 minutes of fame by appearing on the last great song The Strokes ever wrote (ok, the last one that they wrote that sounded like them). She makes a lovely foil for sleepy Julian Casablancas, wailing away like Dusty Springfield and just generally rocking the house. The music is insanely complicated and almost impossible to hum, which sort of adds to its mystique. The late 60s come back for the few minutes that this song lasts.
"Surf City Eastern Bloc"/"Broken Window" - Arcade Fire
The Arcade Fire are the best band of the last ten years. Disagree with me and we'll have words. Consequently I'm often torn as to which of their songs is the greatest. With B-sides the question is doubly hard because they're each a pretty profound statement. So I pussied out and chose two. Both are apocalyptically heavy, super catchy, driving, politically charged and flat-out awesome. Who the hell else plans a pop song with the National Men's Choir of Prague? These songs basically inspired me to write a 350 page war film that thankfully no one's ever read (good lord it's bad!) but these sons remain evocative and beautifully dark.
"Cuttooth" - Radiohead - Knives Out Single
Radiohead are so good even the songs they cannibalize make the best work of most other bands look like shit. Take "Cuttooth" as an example; fans know it as the song where the chorus of "Myxamatosis" originated. The rest of you will know it only as a truly amazing and beautiful song with an unforgettable piano riff and some of the band's best Brit-pop grooving. If I could ever hear this played in person, you could carry me out in a coffin.
"Everything I Try To Do, Nothing Seems To Turn Out Right" - The Decemberists - Billy Liar
You know, the more Colin Meloy tries to shy away from sounding like The Smiths, the more he sounds to me like The Smiths. Take this, the standout on the Billy Liar EP. There's nothing particularly Smithsy about it, yet I can't help but picture him staring at a Morrissey poster while writing and singing it. It's the ultimate rainy day bedroom song and articulates romantic malaise quite nicely. Colin Meloy doesn't speak frankly about much these days but sometimes when he puts down the book of Japanese folklore and simply lets us know how he's doing, his best work can sometimes come out. I love me some Decemberists, but I think I may have listened to this song more than anything else they've done.
"Tylenol" - Ben Kweller
I seem to like Ben Kweller less and less these days (it's not his fault, I got me a pretty good personal excuse) but one thing I'll always like is this, a stray freebie he put on the internet one day. It starts all strung out and detuned and warbly, then kicks your ass in the last verse. I could see him writing this getting more adament and then running screaming around his apartment with his SG in his arms breaking shit. It's great for driving, getting mad, or thinking about people you're mad at. It angries up the blood in the best way possible. BK ought to write some more rock songs.
"Secret Knives" - Wolf Parade - EP #1
Wolf Parade are one of my favorite bands but they can be hit or miss, their EPs most of all. The early versions of tunes on Apologies to the Queen Mary just make me glad Isaac Brock talked them out of sounding like Giorgio Moroder's evil twin. Those dirty-ass rock songs are pretty excellent, though. "Disco Sheets" and "Lousy Photographs" are eloquent rockers but "Secret Knives" is their best non-album song ever. With the simplest of riffs at the core and Spencer Krug and Hadji Bakara slithering all over the place with their keyboards and Dan Boeckner and Arlen Thompson absolutely murdering the chorus, it's a timeless, disheveled, hotel-destroying rock song.
"Country Gentleman" - Ambulance Ltd. - New English
I'm not that old, but there is now a period of time I can feel nostalgia for. There are bands who have classic line-ups that people will talk about in record stores later that I got to see live and whom I now miss terribly. Ambulance Ltd. is one such band. Between everyone getting quitting and...well, everyone quitting again, Marcus Congleton, Matt Dublin, Ben Lysaght and Darren Becket made one of the best pop records of all time and record a half-dozen great songs that wound up on EPs and in one case, a goddamned jeans website launch. Though "Helmsman' and both "New English" and "Straight 'A's" the two other standouts from the New English EP are all great, their best non-album song is "Country Gentleman" a song that seems to have fallen out of Johnny Marr's songbook. Starting with a super heavy riff on the opening to "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now" Congleton croons sweetly, Lysaght's guitar creeps about in darkness and the whole misty affair is simply staggering. There were weeks when this song was all I would listen to. It's like an old pulp novel in a 3 minute pop song.
"The Specialist" - Interpol - Matador at 15
I'm seeing that disappointment and nostalgia kinda go hand in hand...sort of a theme today. Anyway before Interpol sort of lost their touch (though I still like them), they put out a few b-sides as pallet cleansers between Turn On The Bright Lights and Antics that wound being better than a few songs off their second and third albums. Notably "The Specialist" would have fit snugly on Bright Lights but I'm glad they put it aside because it's so epic and strange that it sort of needs to be its own entity. Some of Paul Banks best subway poetry gets put to use here "My love's a laboratory, I set all my pet's free, so baby you should sleep with me." Can't make heads or tails of that bit of logic but what a great, chilly song. Interpol's greatest strength is playing songs that make your breath condensate, even in the middle of the summer and this one may be the best song in their catalog for that particular purpose. Icy, moody and with all manner of tempo changes and strange moaning and razor-like guitar playing.
Wall of Ice - Radiohead
If you're a ravenous Radiohead fan, you knew about the Wall of Ice debacle. Somebody leaked conflicting news stories - that Radiohead would be putting out an EP before Christmas, and that the band would never record an album as long as they lived - at the same time. Naturally we all panicked and some people invented their own website to call us all assholes, which I thought was uncalled for. Ed O'Brien calmed us down a month or so later; they'll be doing records, in fact they're in the middle of one now. The two songs that they had released on the internet had nothing to do with that record, they were just gifts. I bet you guys feel bad about all that bogus website stuff now, don't you? All they were doing was giving your ungrateful asses a gift. And what a gift. "Harry Patch" is the most gorgeous thing I've ever heard and "These Are My Twisted Words" is like distilled Radiohead; their wierdness and coldness in a glass for you to drink like a shot. Total bliss, both of them, and free, too.
...and of course, Dark Was The Night
Yes, no tally of 2009 or it's encompassing decade would be quite complete with paying lip service to this most excellent compilation record. The names do in most cases speak for the record. The wonderfully murky tracks of the New Moon soundtrack are just an extension of the best work here. Sufjan Stevens, Feist, Grizzly Bear, The National (and their two guitarists, who catered the record), Iron & Wine, Stuart Murdoch, Sharon Jones, The Decemberists, Jose Gonzalez all turn in great songs, as do a handful of others. My Morning Jacket, Spoon and Cat Power kinda bring me down, but whatever. Anyway, it's pretty amazing and that all these guys could have phoned it in, but didn't (Spoon did) is a testament to their songwriting prowess. Sufjan Stevens gave one of the best songs he's ever written which showcases both sides of his songwriting. Simply stunning.
Best Stray Cover Songs
"Tower of Song"/"C'est Tujours La Meme Histoire" - Martha Wainwright
Martha Wainwright probably writes great songs, I just haven't heard any of them. What I have heard are her truly awesome cover songs. To turn Leonard Cohen's "Tower of Song" into a soaring, hopeful, angelic tour-de-force is no small feet and she does it with effortless grace. You can hear it on that Cohen tribute album from the film they produced a few years ago, but for my money the version she did on Letterman takes the fucking cake. What a goddamned performance. Now that was already a big deal, but then I found out she was going to be doing a live album of Edith Piaf songs. This girl's got brass, I'll give her that. She came back on TV and played "C'est Tujours La Meme Histoire," and totally killed it. Not only did she sing it just like Piaf, she also had the motions and expressions down; she was channelling Piaf. It was a blast to watch and a pleasure to hear it. Now if that goddamned live record would ever materialize I could maybe hear it again.
"Love Will Tear Us Apart" - The Frames - Live
Though it doesn't exist in record format, this must be heard. There are as many versions of Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart" as there are days in a year but this is the definitive cover. Between the wistful violin taking over for the rather thin synth line of the original and Glen Hansard's dead-on Ian Curtis (but with a bit of warm Irish heart in place of Curtis' cold Manchester one) their version of "Love" really gets at why the song is so great in a way I never quite felt while listening to the remaining studio versions of the original. The Frames fill out the sound and give a fitting epic rendition of a classic song.
"Wonderful/Song For Children" - Rufus Wainwright - War Child
And speaking of that family of canadian songsmiths, Rufus Wainwright gave what is arguably the best performance on the War Child album (I do love TV On The Radio doing 'Heroes', but Wainwright's is a touch more audacious). Starting at first with just a guitar, he goes wild on the chorus and breaks out the...muted trumpet. It sounds better than it sounds. Anyway, he knocks his Brian Wilson impersonation out of the park and sort of proves that he's the Beach Boy's Heir Apparent. After you've heard it, you'll swear the arrangement was fuller because you're left so satisfied, so you keep going back for more.
Violent Femmes as played by Guster
MTV2 had some great ideas for a few years there but they also notoriously let none of them flourish and were soon showing pornographic anime and a shit-ton of commercials almost exclusively. Reviving Headbanger's Ball? Awesome. Allotting 20 minutes to indie music a week and the rest to Aeon Flux? Insulting. One of their best ideas, which they killed in infancy, was the show Album Covers. The premise: one band records a classic album by another band that they admire. As far as marquee value goes a 2004 Guster and Dashboard Confessional were not great choices (if you're asking me, and if you've read this far, you are, Dashboard is a horrible idea any year and most likely sank the project like a stone). I love Guster and they were at the tail-end of that period where they made no mistakes, so hearing them play all of The Violent Femmes first album was a fucking blast. I went out the next day and bought an acoustic bass, I was so enamored of their performance. To see melodic Newman/Simon disciples like Guster bringing the ruckus on these old songs was a blast but MTV2's invisibility and irrelevance tell me that the whole record is never going to see the light of day, which is a crime.
"Walking the Cow" - TV On The Radio/"King Kong" - Tom Waits - The Late, Great Daniel Johnston
In 2004, Daniel Johnston was still relatively underground. Some folks got together and recorded a whole album's worth of his songs, alongside the originals, and I think together with the movie The Devil & Daniel Johnston the mumbly schizophrenic's days in the dark are now over. Anyway, Johnston, it turns out, is not my cup of tea, but two of these songs stood out among everyone else's. TV On The Radio's version of "Walking the Cow" looks at Johnston under a brand new microscope, like scientists examining a fossilized mosquito; it's still weird but we now understand it. Plus their dead-pan delivery and vocal cluster bring out new depths from the tune. Tom Wait's take on "King Kong" is really a show-stopper. Five minutes of howling and jagged guitar, it was the perfect companion piece to the master's recently released album Real Gone. "King Kong" was a rare glimpse into Waits' record collection. Needless to say, I paid rapt attention and was not disappointed by his earth-rumbling performance.
"Mother Nature's Son" - Honeychurch - Save Siren Records
I await the next Honeychurch record in the same way I imagine girls in the mid-60s awaited the next time The Beatles would come to town. With every passing year since 2004's Honeychurch Makes Me Feel Better I feel more anticipation about the next record from the Doylestown whiskeyfolk revival band (Larissa and Shilough had a baby, so I of course understand why we don't have a new record to listen to). I got tiding over in the form of the Early Times compilation and their cover of "Mother Nature's Son" by the Beatles, recorded for a compilation to raise money to save Siren Records from going under. Now, The Beatles are like Dylan to me. I appreciate them and like their songs but only when other people play them. They gave us blank slates and it's up to future generations of songwriters to make truly great art out of them. The song is already nice but Honeychurch make it awesome. Shilough Hopwood's vocals on this track feel tailor made for the words and melody. This song is flooring, gorgeous, just amazing. I love Shilough's voice on a good day, but here it's just...man, oh man. Anyway, if you can find it somewhere, run don't walk. And in the meantime, I wait for a new record.
We should do the best records/films of the decade/year in the coming weeks here at Film Punk, so stay tuned.