Saturday, December 25, 2010

Best of 2010: 40 Unfuckwithable or Nearly Unfuckwithable Jams Pt. 1

Despite being a kind of crappy year for albums, twas a good year for songs. I actually had to NARROW this list down, because there were just too many albums I thought were either mediocre to pretty good (or in some cases, pretty great but didn't feel like putting them on the album's list) that had at least one AMAZING song. It's more diverse than the album's list, and I mean diverse to be comical because my music taste, clearly, isn't very diverse at all. I used to have a problem with that, felt guilty for not listening to hip-hop or black metal in my spare time and compensated by just respecting genres and the people who like those genres and just listening to what makes me the happiest.

40. Frog Eyes - “A Flower in a Glove” from Paul's Tomb: A Triumph

I don't think I will ever love Frog Eyes, but I'll always throughly enjoy their records. Carey Mercer keeps good company in his off time (see: Dan Bejar and Spencer Krug in the always pretty great Swan Lake) and I think that keeps him sharp. Though Paul's Tomb wasn't as concise or as great an album as Tears of the Valedictorian, it's opening track “A Flower in a Glove” is an excellent example of a great Frog Eyes track. It's long as shit but it's totally engaging.

39. Shipping News - “Bad Eve” from One Less Heartless to Fear

A standout track from the new Shipping News LP that I thought was a live album because there are cheers at the end of some of the tracks and because I never listened to Shipping News until this album. I don't know why, considering the pedigree this band has. “Bad Eve” was the song that made me look up why I thought this song sounded so familiar to me and I saw June of 44 and Slint and Rodan and I was like “Ohhhh, this sounds like mid-90s Louisville math rock.” There's less build up than I was expecting, but something about the phrase “barnyard Mussolinis” really made me pay attention, and thus landed Shipping News the #15 spot on my year end list. Well, that and the awesome guitar swells and such in the last minute of the song that make my sometimes drunken head nod over the keyboard.

38. Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti - “Round and Round” from Before Today

I remember Ariel Pink from my first days of KJHK, when one of his totally fucking weird albums was in spotlight rotation and I played it and was like “This is fucking weird.” Since then, he's gotten conventional, and from what I listened to of Before Today (which is to say, I listened to the album a few times through and honed in on a few tracks and then just listened to those for a long time and put them on mixes), he's well, not REALLY that conventional because this album is still pretty weird. I mean, he answers some random phone call mid-song before the whole thing cascades into that gorgeous hook and plays around with going back to some of the groovy verses before realizing that the hook is too good to let go of. The rest of the verses feel like he's impatient to get back to the ebullient bliss of that chorus, despite the fact that the verses are exactly the kind of well played verses need to be to support an epic, classic sounding chorus like the one on “Round and Round.”

37. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - “Say No To Love” from the “Say No To Love” 7”

I feel bad for having a falling out with the Pains of Being Pure at Heart. I loved their eponymous debut for a solid couple of weeks before I decided that it was too derivative of My Bloody Valentine's early Eps with TOO much of a reverence to vintage 80s and 90s indie-pop for me to take seriously. And I don't know why I thought this, because I was like “This sounds just like 'Sunny Sundae Smile'” when I first heard it and I was kind of in heaven. Christ, why is music so CONFUSING. No more panning for stupid reasons. This is a wonderfully catchy jam and yes, I will adore it and cast no judgment for similarities because, well, it's just really great. I'm sorry, POBPAH, I don't know why I thought for a whole year that you weren't totally fucking wonderful.

36. Karma Vision - “Cowboys and Indians” from Actor John Goodman EP
MP3>>>Karma Vision - "Cowboys and Indians"

(Not the actual song, and sounds nothing like the actual song, but is just a lovely video of three of them playing in what appears to be the tunnel under the Kansas Union)
This EP was so weird and great, that picking a favorite track was hard. It's not exactly up my alley, but I was so amazed that Bobby Sauder could actually sing after a couple years of watching him front Mammoth Life, I was quite wooed by Karma Vision. This EP is weird and wonderful, and probably the best that the Lawrence underground has to offer. The saxophone SHOULD sound out of place and Kenny G-esque, but it works so well and I don't even know WHY. I feel like these guys smoke a lot of weed and somehow manage to fight through that stoner haze and make great, borderline dopey music that's really fun and inventive and packed with all sorts of cool potential that has me patiently awaiting their debut LP.

35. The Magnetic Fields - “You Must Be Out Of Your Mind” from Realism

After Distortion, Realism seemed like a lost cause. So I never really listened to it, except for the first track, this one. Which is classic Stephin Merritt. It works its way onto the list because I had it stuck in my head all the time, and still do. The melody of that chorus is just plain unfuckwithable to the nth degree. For sure.

34. Spoon - “The Mystery Zone” from Transference

Ah, Transference, the album I never listened to all the way through. Well, maybe once. It just didn't stick. I'm sure it's really good, I just never felt in the mood. This song though, it somehow ended up on a mix and I ended up digging it pretty hard. Spoon just sound more and more like vintage Spoon nowadays that it sounds easy. Britt Daniel's is like “What is this? Wadded up Kleenex? Oh wait, it's a new Spoon jam, here” and there you go. That's not meant to be disparaging, it's meant to be a compliment. Someone who can write righteous jams like this one time after time after time after time should get some sort of plaque. On his teeth.

33. Xiu Xiu - “Gray Death” from Dear God I Hate Myself

(Was fucking TAKEN all caps by their live show. Something about this dynamic really, really works for me. Maybe I hate myself, I don't know, but I like this)
From the get-go, Dear God I Hate Myself hearkens back to Xiu Xiu's breakout 2004 LP Fabulous Muscles. It's a bit more weathered, darker, and feels more personal. “Gray Death” with it's refrain of “Beat beat me to death” is catchy and utterly horrifying. Jamie Stewart's quaver through the verses is haunting and scary and yet, this is a song you can move to. Dear God I Hate Myself often feels like dance music for people who consistently “forget” to get their anti-depressants refilled, and the chorus and the aforementioned chant-a-long refrain made this one of the highlights of Xiu Xiu's show at the Jackpot earlier this year, and an excellent introduction to Stewart's excellent new record.

32. The Smith Westerns - “Imagine Pt. 3”

I don't think this was on an album, or it's on their album that's coming out next year, but I don't really care and fuck if this song isn't good. And these guys are all under 20 or very close to being under 20! It's messy and lo-fi and shitty sounding but fuck, those backing ooos and ahhs and the pre-chorus and well, all of it win me over with some very wonderful and sloppy charm. It's a perfect example of how a great song can shine through even the murkiest of waters, and thus, one of the things I love most about lo-fi.

31. Beach House - “Zebra” from Teen Dream

I would have thought Teen Dream was a beautiful album if I ever made it through the damn thing without falling asleep. Partially because it's dreamy, ethereal pop music and partly because I thought it was really boring to listen to that one all the way through. I'm probably wrong on this one, and I'll probably regret that feeling later on. I always liked this track because it was track one and then after that interest just stopped dropping. I like the guitars, they're dreamy. I think the vocals are pretty good too, kind of husky. And that chorus sounds like “Anything You Want, You Got It” to a point where I almost can't listen to the song but then it subtly changes and there are some synthesizers and it's just a beautiful track. Gorgeously arranged and produced, I wish I had more patience for Teen Dream, and I'm patiently waiting for the mood to strike.

30. Best Coast - “When I'm With You” from Crazy For You

Best Coast put out their first full-length this year, and this was the year I stopped full-on adoring Best Coast. There's nothing even WRONG with their music, I just thought that every song on this album was boring except this one, and it's because this song was a single before it was an album-track. All of Bethany Cosentino's singles before this were amazing, and Crazy For You felt like this shallow and obnoxiously twee over-saturation of boringness. This song still kills though.

29. Surfer Blood - “Floating Vibes” from Astro Coast

I was all about Surfer Blood until they seemed like nothing more than a handful of influences thrown together in a room that ended up being a creative writing workshop. And they were the person in the corner who never talked and always had kind of OK stories and just stole ideas from everyone else. This track, though, this is what I think Surfer Blood sounds like when they're sounding like Surfer Blood and not the Shins or something.

28. MGMT - “It's Working” from Congratulations

Oh how I wrote this band off SO hard upon their debut, Oracular Spectacular. It was music for car commercials, plain and simple. Music for MTV to use in their reality shows. Music for beautiful hipsters to get laid to, who knows. Catchy, ok sure, but heartless. Well, after hearing Congratulations, I retract my previous beliefs of heartlessness in the music of MGMT because if Congratulations is anything, it's an album this band wanted to make. And it REALLY pissed their record label off, and considering that this is a major (naturally, who ELSE would be pissed off by a really good and weird and wonderful record like this?), KUDOS MGMT! This is psychedelic reverence at its finest, and I'd dare say that Congratulations is an album that people won't really appreciate until 10 years from now. Fuck, even I don't properly appreciate it but I know there's a weirdness there that's going extinct in major label records. This doesn't sell because it's too artful, and I didn't even KNOW MGMT were artful!

27. Yeasayer - “Madder Red” from Odd Blood

(I don't particularly enjoy Kristen Bell, but I thought this video was great)
Yeasayer's debut All Hour Cymbals had a really good song on it that made the list the year it came out and I can't even remember it. I remember some drums. Then they had a track on the Dark Was the Night comp last year that I really loved, and that track persuaded me to listen to Odd Blood which I really liked. This track though, fuck, it's a dark and beautiful and mysterious tune that sounds caught in some weird time warp. I don't know where it comes from. The melody is beautiful, tribal-esque, and I HATE it when bands try to sound tribal! The drums kick ass exactly when they're supposed to kick ass. The guitars thrash and swell in and out in just the right places. The vocals are soulful but with the kind of gutwrenching plainness that pushes that gives lines like “it's hard enough to keep pretending I'm worth your time” an added punch in the face because hey, it might as well be you.

26. The Extra Lens - “Dogs of Clinic 17” from Undercard
MP3>>>The Extra Lens - "Dogs of Clinic 17"

(Couldn't find this one anywhere, but since you already have a copy of this record, it's the very last track. This is a video of the excellent runner-up "How I Left the Ministry")
I could barely choose a favorite from this record. So, I sat and thought about the one I remembered the most, and it's this one, the closer. The one that's all build up to some amazing outro chorus thing that totally pays off. It's an almost simplistic build. Typical verse, synthsizer break, Verse with backing vocals, normal break, FUCKING OH MY GOD CHROUS THING. “There's a liiiiiight in the window/ There's a light in all of us trying to get free/ There's a liiiight in all of you who hear my song/ There's a viiiirus eating its way through me.” John Darnielle is the king of my heart, and it should be known that my internal monologues are often carried out in his voice like some kind of wonderful shoulder demon.

25. Wolf Parade - “Cave-O-Sapien” from Expo 86

This is the song that worked best for me on Expo 86, which was content to be all over the fucking place. I really dug that album, but “Cave-O-Sapien” felt like Spencer Krug at his weirdest and most wonderful, burying this amazing pop song in this grandiose end-of-the-world number. The ascending/descending riff SHOULD seem pff in hindsight but god, it sounds like something the Four Horsemen would blast as they ravaged the earth. The chorus is practically buried, and supports Danny Rowland's logic of choruses being overrated. If a song is good enough, a slight change every now and then will do, but this song has so much drive and sounds like everything is crashing down around it that a proper chorus would feel out of place. It would also dampen the “I've got you/Til you're gone” bit at the end when the synthesizers come in.

24. LCD Soundsystem - “All I Want” from This Is Happening

I'm the asshole waiting for James Murphy to make a record that is nothing but songs like this and “Someone Great” and “All My Friends” and “I Can Change” (which is actually a really danced-up track). These beautiful, introspective and heart wrenching tracks with great beats that don't feel to removed from his more brash dance numbers but fuck are they good. I particularly like this one because the main riff sounds just like the main riff from that one Brian Eno song I like (is it the first track on Taking Tiger Mountain? Anyway, this one is good. I really have no business writing about LCD Soundsystem.

23. Ted Leo & the Pharmacists - “Bottled in Cork” from The Brutalist Bricks

(Seriously, video of the year. No contenders.)
The video for this song convinced me to FINALLY listen to the Brutalist Bricks. It has an almost Hearts of Oak vibe, this song, but it also feels like he carried over his return to punk rock roots of Living With the Living and Shake the Sheets. The result is a fun ditty with some fucking backbone and a perfect sing-a-long chorus.

22. Diamond Rings - “All Yr Songs” from Special Affections

I didn't listen to this album. I heard this song late last year and wished I'd put it on my list because I love it's simple little overbearing drum machine bedroom pop song so very much. Maybe I didn't want to ruin it (like Best Coast ruined “When I'm With You For Me” a little bit, granted, it still made the list). I will listen to it next year, I'm sure. I just heard it was wildly different. But at least he tacked this one on at the end because it's goddamned perfect with that rare infinite-relistenability quality.

21. The Thermals - “You Changed My Life” from Personal Life

A lot of my fondness for the Thermals lies in their ability to pull of great pop songs that sound so simple but stick somewhere in the gut region for years and years. This song is mostly bass and drums, with a little guitar riff here and there, which feels new for the Thermals but I'll be goddamned if this band isn't crafting one of the best complete discographies of any modern indie rock bands. This track is the closing argument of the break-up themed Personal Life, and it does everything a great last track to a great break-up album should do: It assesses the aforementioned misery and what not in a new light and attempts to move on (Granted, the ones that end in total self-destruction (see: The Mountain Goats Tallahassee) are good too).

1 comment:

  1. I'd hardly call that Smith Westerns track "lo-fi", but at least you didn't call the Thermals "punk"...

    Thanks for the Rooftop Vigilantes track, by the way. Love that band, haven't bought the tape yet though.