I'm gonna let you lovely people in on a secret, sometimes I'm totally out of my goddamned mind. The stuff I come up with to do just like for fun, who else in the world would find this nonsense interesting? Look at this big batch a crazy I'm about to unleash for example. One night I'm sitting in my room (I do alot of that) and I'm all, here's an exercise, write about songs in as long as it takes to write about them. And at first I'm like "Yeah, ok!" Italics is shorthand for sarcasm. But then the first song starts and I'm like "Oh, shit...." and then I'm doing it and I don't stop until I've done it for twenty one songs. What's wrong with me? Anyway, this is my way of paying tribute to twenty one of my favorite songs this year. Why? I don't know. I'll be twenty-one in June? I think my hand just hurt from typing. So the blurbs are only as long as I could manage them in the two to three minutes each song takes up, so some are longer, some are shorter. Also here are some other great songs I didn't write about cause I hadn't heard them yet or because they're too long. I only edited them so that they make a little sense, the rest was all in the moment. A little like Iggy Pop's writing at the mic, except not cool.
Do Make Say Think - "Do"
Gentleman Reg - "How We Exit"
Sufjan Stevens - "The Blood"
British Sea Power - "The South Sound"
Regina Spektor - "Eet"
Rain Machine - "Hold You Holy"
Grizzly Bear - "Two Weeks" I call foul on this one cause I heard it first last year on the late show and it was great then but I don't like the version that wound up on Veckatimist as much.
The Decemberists - The whole first act of Hazards Of Love.
"Laundry Room" - The Avett Brothers, though I think that someone else is bound to do a better version of it cause again I don't really like the version that wound up on record.
Everything on that motherfucking New Moon soundtrack, much to my chagrin but mostly
"Slow Life" by Grizzly Bear and Victoria Legrand, "Hearing Damage" by Thom Yorke and "Rosyln" by St. Vincent and Bon Iver.
"Big Red Machine" by Justin Vernon & Bryce Dessner - Dark Was The Night
A song that can put you on a rainy street corner with no options even on the sunniest day of the year. Beautifully simple and evocative, the out-of-tune, perpetual ostenatto that carries the song is like broken glass that tortured heroes Justin Vernon and Bryce Dessner have to walk across to tell their stories of loss. "You're running and injured, just like you ought to be"sums up the feelings of a lover jilted and an outcast on the run and it's up to us to decide whether the rain-soaked hero is at the receiving end or if he's finally taken a stand against those who would see him miserable and lost.
"Die" - Iron & Wine - Dark Was The Night
Nary a minute long and it says all it needs to. "We're not afraid to die". Sam Beam has written a multitude of gorgeous songs but none that cut to the core of every human being quite so eloquently and really understands what we contemplate whenever we look for answers. His guitar carries us and his words are timeless.
"River" - Akron/Family - Set 'Em Wild, Set 'Em Free
Starting playfully in the middle of a percussive sound like Brian Eno used to make his subjects begin with. There are even comparisons between people and natural forces as in a Talking Heads tune. A sweet whistling choir, a playfully skittering guitar somewhere between David Byrne and Jim James, and a sweet nothing that bursts into the always-welcome chorus riff and that charmingly existential chorus following so much talk of fire and ambling candling, "you and I and a flame make three." This is a band triumphant through their darkest times, painting a picture of togetherness even as the only company they have is a candle. An ecstatic picture of intimacy painted with images of fire; the bodies are simply implicit.
"Soul Unwind" - Apostle of Hustle - Eats Darkness
A jogging build-up comprised of ominous bass tones, paranoid saxophone blasts, and a guitar lick driving in circles before the entrance of the kind of dueling choral line that Andrew Whiteman reached perfection with on songs like "Cheap Like Sebastian" from 2007's National Anthem of Nowhere. He shouts and riffs the delightfully cryptic "You got the soul unwind, soul unwind" imbuing each new enunciation with depth. When his guitar takes over, cutting like a mat knife across the rhythm, all the elements are in place, all that remains is for the volume and Whiteman's lyrical intensity to increase until the climax. Intriguingly, the only thing that goes off the rails is Whiteman's wailing vocals which he fights by singing through a distorted microphone so he can leave the ground without leaving the song. The music builds and just as it seems in danger of breaking its groove, a distorted loop rolls in like the wheels of a train and it's all over. The song has left town.
"Percussion Gun" - White Rabbits - It's Frightening
Those drums. Tribal, angry, repititive, gimmicky...whatever you want to call them, they are undeniably captivating. I know they're captiviating because the lyrics to this song are so cliched that they would appear to be some kind of post-modern comment about cliched lyrics, "I know which way to go". As I wasn't there when the song was written, all I have are the facts; broken piano, softly crooned bridge, jagged guitar, molasses-thick bass and of course those drums. Every instrument seems to have been detuned and treated to remind the listener of an old church filled with sound. Every instrument echoes and shines and their off-kilter sounds become all the more vital as the wordless chorus that finishes the song strikes like a match after the final verse.
"Breathe Our Iodine" - Jay Farrar & Ben Gibbard - One Fast Move Or I'm Gone
All I needed was that bluesy lick, the glass harmonica and Jay Farrar's total cool delivery of the ballistically minimal line "grain of sand" and I was hooked. Who cares that the rest of their Keruoac inspired record doesn't match up to this song? The organ, spitting intermittently when it sees fit, the whole affair too confident and sweltering to do much more than deliver the slick and simple repitive line for Farrar to do a vocal performance that sums up the appeal of the beat poets: too cool to care, too good to dissapoint.
"To Save Me" - M. Ward with Jason Lytle - Hold Time
Jason Lytle's dancehall/basement keys and M. Ward's newly Elvis-ified voice make a pretty good team. Ward and Lytle here create a song that acts like a gust of wind through a dance floor. Lytle's wordless vocal support and keys put the song in rockabilly mode for the spacerock set and then Ward's antiquated production and new-found brevity and wink-laden heart-throb persona make this more than a pastiche performance; this is very nearly the real deal. The dizzying licks between the chorus and verse and the reverby quality of the whole thing turn it into a rolicking homage to falling in love with a rascal, "He can strike a match and your world goes up in flames"
"Reasons to Quit" - Phosphorescent - To Willie
Matthew Houck's voice is a national treasure and I'll fight anyone who disagrees with me. He turns a fairly ordinary Willie Nelson tune into the envy of every Brooklynite, achieving the stature and gravity of a barroom crooner whose been doing this for twice as many years as Houck's been alive. There is sadness and loss in his voice as his words shift from pragmatic to poetically tragic. "Reasons to quit don't outnumber all the reasons why". The guitars, electric and not, are merely window-dressing atop Houck and his occassional harmonies. He could carry the tune on his own (which he does anyway) and no one can sell somber quite so charmingly.
"This Tornado Loves You" - Neko Case - Middle Cyclone
The guitars, themselves like wind sweeping over fields and prairies. "Their souls dangling inside out from their mouths but it's never enough," and as much as Case claims this is about a real tornado trying to declare his love for a woman it is just as easy to picture a Tennessee Williams hero doing much the same as this tornado: "smashed every transformer with every trailer." The sticky sweet sadness of the words of longing are rendered simply breath-taking by Case's one-of-a-kind voice, at once innocent and confident, full of life and at the end of her rope. She is a damsel in distress singing the raucous exploits of a man pushed to violence, death even, for love. Finally the whole thing swirls about as if the climax to some film has been found and the lovers are embraced inside the gale force winds of the natural disaster, kissing in the eye of the storm.
"West Ryder Silver Bullet" - Kasabian - West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum
Kasabian never fused the smoky mod happenings of the 60s with their very modern sneering arrogance and proficiency better than on "West Ryder Silver Bullet". Like a duet between Mick Jagger and Dusty Springfield that never happened (how could it?) Tom Meghan and Rosario Dawson sweep each other up in between honeyed strings and irascible hooks. Their love could be projected on silk sheets in a harem as smoke wafts throughout landing on the idle fingers of bored women and boorish men. That both are meant to be inmates at a looney bin makes their dreams of love and longing all the more delightfully deranged. "Oh, how I want you far too much". As they take turns calling each other 'baby' (followed perhaps not coincidentally by the sound of wailing like that of an infant and of a childish piano theme) their love blends delusion and real longing. Do they want each other? Do they want out of their straight-jackets? The shark-like hungry smiles on each's lips are palpable as they devour each lyric and the song turns modern in its percussion for the close into mist once more.
"The Outsiders" - Doves - Kingdom of Rust
Synth sounds like alarm bells, windy kick drum, and then a guitar lick like the fleeting footsteps of a pulp hero and lastly a thick bassline penetrating the cool gossamer of the rhythm like gunfire. There's talk of 'two of us', on the run, Outsiders as the title suggests, leaping with the drums, avoiding the fire from Jez Williams' bass and Jimi Goodwin's increasingly biting guitar which turns rapid fire by the second verse. When William's bass falls down like a ceiling crashing in, the steps of the two are numbered. When Goodwin's guitar joins in, it is soon over.
"Radio Kaliningrad" - Handsome Furs - Face Control
Scratching keyboard sounds, feedback, a guitar tired from just having played through a whole record, in its death throes? No, just getting started in time for its swan song. The drum machine clicks us in and the guitar rises like a phoenix delivering heartfelt reverb-and-delay-ridden notes. "My home on the other side!" Dan Boeckner's voice, that Elvis-after-whiskey-and-coffee purr, comes in and the song stands at attention. The chorus is a rocket from the Kremlin, but that wordless bridge, Boeckner's guitar doing octave-treated loops in midair. His fingers as deft as his voice. "Radio Kaliningrad, static on a broken wire". He lets his guitar take a breathe as he does before the red velvet lick starts up again. The guitar in the chorus is like the sound of metal pounding against metal, powerful and industrial, yet there is an urgency to it that matches Boeckner's voice. This is a love song, after all, if one filled with mechanized eastern bloc imagery. That much is clear as the song ends in a hale of feedback and kraut-rock keyboard flair. Perhaps Boeckner and bandmate/wife Alexei Perry have retired for the night.
"Lisztomania" - Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Two muted notes, then a few more, then some punchy drums, then a warm blanket of bass notes and then a high voice dripping whisper-soft lyrics even as their pulled upwards into a sort of whine. The dripping continues as the keyboards articulate the simple sound of longing and then the chorus is given a leg to stand on in the guitars, the bass all given the volume and the fierceness of the bass. An acoustic guitar, as if to say "second verse, different from the verse". the acoustic guitar is a higher sound, the song now soaring freely. In freefall as we're told our narrator has "Lisztomania" then the wings are pulled in and a swooping over water, the roofs of houses, the deepest canyons, both metropolitan and those in the desert. The song builds, the screaming of guitars and voices isn't really a scream at all and when they leave, the freefall resumes and it is a thing of beauty. Sublimely waiting on the wings of keyboard notes, then the drums, then a drop, "not easily offended..." and the rest of the lyrics are lost in the fall, the sound of motion obscuring them.
"In The NA" - Hidden Cameras - Origin:Orphan
Those lovely antiquated keyboard sounds met by the scraping of a novelty violin and of a chorus of "Hey"s by a group of unseen men. Then those drums. Maybe it's that I know the drummer to be a lovely person but I never tire of those deft, shuffling percussive sounds, hitting all over the kit, almost anti-drumming, never showing off. Lex Vaughn is just unbelievable. "Wouldn't need a single NA, take each NA as my own." The nonsensical word that stands in for everything, just as "In The NA" is the PERFECT pop song, giving us non-stop hooks and a verse just as irresistible and cute and memorable as the chorus. "Take control in the Na-a-a-ah" Joel Gibb's voice exploring the depths and peaks of his register in a manner approaching flirtation and pantomime. Why not? This is pop and Joel Gibb is our tourguide through the annals of its many ups and downs. Hence the mixture between quite modern sampling technique and guitars, dated keys, Lex's timeless drumming, part vaudeville, part Buddy Rich, part post-punk. Those reverbed soaked guitars under Gibb's soothing voice as he deilvers that most lovely ode to popular music "staring at the ground, with my head in the clouds"
"Laughing With A Mouth of Blood" - St. Vincent - Actor
If there's something more welcoming than the sound of Annie Clark's guitar strumming accompanied by violins rising in their key, I've yet to hear it. The bass and the drums stomp around like angry kids wanting to join Clark in the upper reaches of her heavenly register "oh I can't see the future but I know it's got big plans for me" Indeed it does, because here's her guitar and the violins again, raising her from the verse to that chorus, sweet-as-honey yet somehow full of drive and force. There is a rhythm and determination to her guitar lines and her swooning voice which lays itself seductively over the violins. The woodwinds the sound of longing, as in a musical. They want the chorus as bad as the listener. "it gets much easier..." and then a preview, the violins rising, the guitar a whisper before it all comes over, like the sun rising on a dreary valley. Everyone basks in the warmth of the chorus and just when it feels ready to spiral out of control, it's done.
"Sick Muse" - Metric - Fantasies
James Shaw's guitar, razor sharp as ever, cutting across the melody of a processed acoustic guitar, moments later Emily Haines' impudent-yet-beautiful sneer of a voice does the same, as does Jules Scott-Keyes' drums and Josh Winstead's drums. Then they come together. "Everybody, everybody just wanna play the lead," A nice metaphor for each instrument coming in short bursts, each wanting to play top dog in the rhythm, each acuitous and tough-sounding, but none can match Haines. She starts hard, loses her toughness for the lead-in and then becomes angelic during the chorus. Suddenly the band is in unison with her paralyzing plea "everybody just wanna fall in love!" Then follows a sort of pop descent into a bridge that Metric don't often fall for, but its one of the better moments on Fantasies for my money, and then they meet everyone's demand for a final enunciation of the sweetest of Haines and Shaw's choruses to date. The keyboards dance, the guitars, bass and drums ease up while still driving because the real heart is in Haines' cry for help and for love and then they all mesh together for the final fall.
"Hysteric" - Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz
The delayed notes that start the song and then return for the chorus are just brilliant, no? What do you expect from A YYY's song? Nick Zinner's guitar, right? Well its in the backseat, the bass is in charge for now. Bass in a YYY's song? Oh wait, I see. Zinner's guitar and Karen O's voice are both quiet at first, then they take off. Zinner's notes bounce into infinity, one at a time as O's voice flows forth in a cherubic call to a lover (who hasn't thought what she voices in some form). "You suddenly complete me. You suddenly complete me." The verse is a flirtation, wondering if the feelings in O's words is for real, if she should submit to them, wondering how she got here but ulimtately its not how she got here it's that she's here now and 'suddenly' she's in love. Brian Chase's dancing rhythm and that wall of sound engineered by Zinner mocks the whooshing sensation of falling in love, or at least recognizing that swelling in your stomach as love for the first time. What follows? Who knows but O's narrator is "Hysterical"perhaps waiting for what comes next. If Stuart Bogie's saxophone is to to believed, something quite lovely is just around the bend
"Summertime Clothes" - Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion
For once that blinding keyboard sound is in the midrange and the rhythm is undeniable. A dance song, sure, but not anything directly radio-ready. It's too pulsing, too nervous, too unbalanced and zany. "Sweet summer night and I'm stripped to my sheets," The nervousness made all the more clear by the lyrics. Avey Tare is too hot for his own skin and can think of nothing to cure his heatstroke than "to walk around with you". Harmless enough...hardly the stuff of love songs. The kids and neighbors speak over his wordless verse filler. This is a city street and Tare is a few stories above it until, with help from Panda Bear's harmony vocal, he leaps down the stairs and finds his girl in the throng of playful kids and people living it up on the streets below. It's hot, why not play in the spray of a fire hydrant, the motion of which the repetitive bridge mocks and I suspect the sound of dripping water is meant to give us such a sensation as well. "It's easy to sing when it wets my brain"and at once all is clear and bottle rockets go off. He is not only cured of his discomfort, he might be in love, or at the very least he is loving the hell out of walking around with 'just you, just you, just you, just you' and to join him seems like the most exciting thing in the world.
"Chinese" - Lily Allen - It's Not Me, It's You
At last a love song to match our times. Our laziness, our tivo-friendly households, our takeout crazed, cigarette-smoking selves in the modern age, sick to death of waiting in traffic. "I don't want anything more than to see your face when I walk in the door." It makes a beautiful kind of sense that Lily Allen, a modern, coquettish popstar who's spent her fair share of time in the limelight should desire privacy and the simple comforts of modern life as this age has also produced the paparazzi, press tours and gossip. So why shouldn't she want to simply enjoy "a nice cup of tea....I'll be exhausted so I'll probably sleep. Then we'll get a Chinese and watch TV." It's not that the song is simply irrefutably catchy (even with the screeching and bubbling keys and the pounding percussion) it's that Allen wears the crown of a pragmatic popstar. It isn't enough to claim to not want cars and jewels but to simply yearn for a specific kind of evening in is all the proof I could ask for. She is human and the song is quite lovely.
"The Major Lift" - Years - Years
Ohad Benchetrit's fingers, busy as ever, like in his Do Make Say Think capacity, but this time curious and playful and they're not alone. The bug-leg imitating electronic blips, live drums and guitars are charing but the tuba bursts in and all of a sudden a new ballgame. Tuba does not make a pop song or an electronic song, which makes Ohad Benchetrit a quirky and wholly welcome pioneer. The song plods along, guitar and keys eking out their existence while the horns come in like the authorities and put them in their place. It is an arrangement one can get used to. Then in the back, barely audible are the screaming guitars and the violins, the revolutionaries to the autarch horns and soon the instruments from the melody will rise in volume and meet the horns, fighting for a voice and volume, fighting to be heard, in the end they come together and after a moment of reflection join each other like brothers for that last wordless chorus and then like a gunshot, they are gone.
"What We Know" - Sonic Youth - The Eternal
That is a motherfucking bass line! That is rock music! The equally mean and knife-like guitar lines of Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore meet overtop of Kim Gordon's bass and Steve Shelleys' drums - like a field of epic battle. The guitars lay it thick on the melody, they creep around the upper end of the fretboard, they cut across the chorus like razor blades, they cut everywhere they can. "heaven's not about your reputation" go the words and then the bridge where only the guitars are heard, each trying to cut the other down to the size, but both only get louder and more aggresive. They cut each other to ribbons like greasers with switchblades and no referee. The drums, alone. They take to their corners and size each other, the bass the sound of their fury mounting. Then their back to the fight, the fray with idle jabs and nicks here and there. They both dive in and then the ferociousness continues until the last line of the chorus and the guitars become percussive. Again, again, again, again, again, trying to finish each other and finally, they both give in.
Now if anyone could tell me what the hell's 'a matter with me, I'd appreciate it. In the meantime, find these songs, buy these records and have fun listening to them until you die.