Friday, December 11, 2009

Top 40 Songs of the Decade -- Part 4 -- The Top Ten

Boy, this Lala has some neat features. I discovered that I can upload my own music, so now the playlist at the top will have Every Single Song on it! Yay technology and yay Larry not having to watch any more tsunami video! Now if I can manage to have the formatting look the same we'll be all set.

PREVIOUSLY: Part 1. Part 2. Part 3.

10) Pelz Komet -- The Kingsbury Manx (2003)

This is a perfect example of a song that would never have been heard until this decade. There have always been local bands doing their own thing, but getting the word out was next to impossible. I don't think they are a great band (the other few songs I've tried sound pretty lackluster), but this song just flat out knocks it out of the park -- and the style change at the end is about as well done as it gets.

9) Rebellion (Lies) -- The Arcade Fire (2004)

The Austin City Limits Festival in 2005 followed a month after Katrina, and in the days leading up to the event Hurricane Rita was bearing down on Austin; so the atmosphere as Deb, Marcy, Gina Munar and I headed out there was somewhat uncertain. As it happens Rita took a sharp turn to the northeast, leaving a huge still mass of very hot air over Zilker Park (which is huge and has exactly two shade trees). It was around 105 degrees each of the three days of the festival, and as you might imagine the beer tent saw quite a bit of use, as well as two dollar bottles of water that instead of drinking were used to pour over our heads in futile attempts to stay cool.

So it was in this midafternoon heat on day 2 that The Arcade Fire came on stage for their set, dressed from head to toe in long sleeve black formal outfits and proceeded to tear it up. At the climax of the set during an extended solo part of Rebellion*, one of the percussionists, dripping sweat and looking exhausted, held a cymbal in the air that he hit in a deliberate, slow rhythm......and then collapsed. After a moment he raised his arm with the cymbal and kept hitting it while laying on stage. It was my live show moment of the decade.

*Truth be told, the song could have been Haiti. But it sounds better this way, and Rebellion is the better song regardless.

8) Kissing Families -- Silversun Pickups (2005)

How is it that Lazy Eye (a great song) and Well Thought Out Twinkles (a good song) are available on Rock Band but Kissing Families (a superlative song) is not? It's an OUTRAGE! I want to scream that last verse so much. By the way, I thought the first line of that last verse was "Sure as shit I made a mistake". Apparently it actually is "Well someone said I made a mistake". I like my version better but isn't that always the case when you have a lyric wrong?

7) Take, Take, Take -- The White Stripes (2005)

I didn't get it at first. Like every hipster worth their salt I picked up White Blood Cells in 2001 based off of Fell In Love With A Girl, liked a song or two but after getting through the disc once filed it away only to be used to put either that or Hotel Yorba on a mixtape (yes, I was still doing mixtapes at the beginning of this decade). About a year and a half later Doc and I are driving from Pittsburgh to Gettysburg and he brings up the White Stripes. I brush them off and he spends the next 40 minutes telling me why I need to give them another shot when I get home. I didn't, but a year or two after that remembered the conversation and decided to give it another listen. And then I did get it. And then I got Elephant. And then Get Behind Me Satan came out and I got that as well, and you get where I'm going here. As it turns out, I think this decade belongs to two bands, and this is one of them.

I'm also going to say that although the consensus appears to be around White Blood Cells and Elephant, in my mind Get Behind Me Satan is their best and most challenging disc. Honorable mentions for the list: Seven Nation Army and Hotel Yorba.

Based on this song, I would never approach Jack White if I ran into him in public. Not that I would ever acknowledge a celebrity anyway, but as you hear this song about a fanboy never quite getting enough from his chance encounter with Rita Hayworth it seems an experience he is familiar with. Plus it's hilarious.

My saddest concert moment of the decade? Deb and I having tickets to the White Stripes aftershow at Stubbs during ACL in 2007 that was cancelled at the last minute due to Meg's nervous breakdown or whatever the hell it was. It would have been all that I needed.

6) My Mathematical Mind -- Spoon (2005)

Although I understand we have detractors right here in our very own Music Club (I'm lookin' at you, Barrett), this is the other band of the decade. I have to admit that I don't get not loving these guys, but to paraphrase my old boss, that's why they put different color jellybeans in the jar. What I love best about Spoon is how damn challenging they are, and how varied their approach yet every album is consistent as can be, from Girls Don't Tell to Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, and I cannot overstate how much I am looking forward to the new release in January. As I'm putting this installment together it becomes apparent that it's harder for me to talk about the stuff I love the best because, well, I just do.

Honorable mentions: The Fitted Shirt, I Turn My Camera On, Don't You Evah

5) Rondo Acapricio -- Tosca (2005)

Where to start, where to start. This is my favorite song of the decade, but favorite doesn't always equal best, and I'm well aware that for the most part this will be a "should have listened to Deb" pick. She is not a fan.

First, the Lala list shows this album as Essential Lounge so they got it off a compilation, but the original disc this comes off is called J.A.C. and is well worth checking out if you like or are curious about electronic and/or downtempo. Genres confuse me.

The song opens with a typical synthesizer burst, but as the sample introduces us to Lynsington from Singapore the feel becomes very short wave radio. Lynsington is introducing us to her readings over an insistent bassline and a listener who interjects words and calls throughout (I assume it's in German but who knows). And what readings! A poem in Mandarin, one in French and finally the kicker -- "one of my original compositions, composed entirely without musical instruments -- and without a soundcard!". As you may have guessed, it is Rondo Acapricio, in G, Opus 129. I love absurdity.

Reading the above, it sounds really weird. And I suppose it is, but man, it gets played at least twice every time it comes up on the ol' iPod, and I can' t say that about much else. Besides, it's all about controversy these days.

4) 2080 -- Yeasayer (2007)

If it were possible for a song to twirl, this would be that song.

3) Pocketful of Money -- Jens Lekman (2005)

I wrote an email to the radioio "DJ" that played this to thank her for turning me onto it. That is the kind of dork I am. Honorable mention: Black Cab.

2) Last Night -- The Strokes (2001)

So. Sometime in late 2000 my Divorce Year began (who am I kidding, it began on Friday, December 6th 2000 at around 7:15PM). It was a complete surprise, and it was evident very quickly that someone else was in the picture so there was no hope for reconciliation. Although I had no idea yet of how bad 2001 would suck for national reasons I had a pretty clear idea it was going to suck for me right off the bat.

An anecdote to illustrate both the value of family and the year in general: I moved out of my house and into an apartment the day after Valentines Day. Over the next month I was diagnosed with sleep apnea and given a CPAP machine, and a couple of weeks after that my car broke down. My brother Wren picked me up at the mechanic and drove me to my apartment, which he hadn't seen yet. I gave him the quick tour and when he poked his head into the bedroom he asked what the hell that thing on the nightstand was. I explained it and showed him the mask, and he just stood there quietly for about a full minute before saying, "Wow. So, you've lost your family, lost your house, your car is broken and now you're never going to get laid again. This is pretty much rock bottom for you, isn't it?".

There were three albums that got me through my Divorce Year and that sometime I'll write about in more detail: Hitchhike to Rhome by Old 97's; the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack, and Heartbreaker by Ryan Adams. I was The Man Of Constant Sorrow.

So how does this relate to the Strokes? In the midst of the Divorce Year there were nearly a dozen times where I would play this as loud as I could and pogo around my apartment with happy abandon. That is how good this song is.

1) I Am Trying To Break Your Heart -- Wilco (2002)

It annoys me that Yankee Hotel Foxtrot in some minds is looked at and valued more by the drama with the release and the record company than by the songs. For me YHF is at least a full order of magnitude above anything Wilco has done before or since and as such is fully deserving of acclaim for the quality of songs like Jesus, Etc. and Ashes of American Flags and Heavy Metal Drummer.

And then there is this, this choreographed cacophony that, coming off the Divorce Year and 9/11 and meeting the love of my life sounded exactly like the chaos of my decade to that point.

I was 99% sure from the very beginning that this was going to be number one, with only Last Night as an option. Hope you enjoyed the list.

EDIT: Regarding the formatting -- sigh. I'll fix it at some point, just not right now.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Top Songs of the Decade – Part the Third – 20-11

NOTE: You can find part 1 here, and part 2 here.

Me again. Now that I’ve actually started doing the actual writing I just want to get it over and done with so I can retreat back to my usual routine of introversion and low self-esteem (one has to project confidence when tackling a project like this, after all). At the same time, now that we’re in the top half I’ll probably have more to say. Sigh.

20) The Hop – Radio Citizen featuring Bajka (2006)

Not on Lala. Link

You know this from our collaboration meeting. All I have to add is that in retrospect it is wonderfully pretentious to say, “Yes, she’s a spoken word artist from Germany”. I’m also thankful I never went out with a poet. God, that seems draining.

19) The xx – VCR (2009)

Musically, 2009 disappointed me more often than not. I was excited about new releases by Silversun Pickups and Metric, but both ended up being just alright. I don’t understand what post-rock even means, but to be fair barely understand the term post-modern either. I don’t like that Animal Collective is associated with stoners, because as a long-time stoner who gave them lots of chances it is my considered opinion that Animal Collective sucks. Dirty Projectors make me feel schizophrenic – I will like a song one time and want to kill it the next. Grizzly Bear is fine but sort of boring. I do think the new Arctic Monkeys gets better the more I hear it, and the new Phoenix was good. Up until October I thought the best disc of the year by far was the Dark Was The Night compilation, and there were about three or four songs considered for this list off of that.

To a larger point, I think my overall disappointment with the year has something to do with how I listened to music this decade. Internet radio, Pandora and the iPod made a 180 degree change in my habits. All my life I’ve been album driven. If I like a song or two, I’d go and either buy a disc and hope to like the rest of it, or then as CD’s became more common head somewhere like Silver Platters and listen before buying – but it was a complete unit, something you would listen to in its entirety.

All of a sudden, I could listen to stuff I’d never heard before on radioio, note it down and go to iTunes and download it (for the record, the first time this happened was after hearing No Children by the Mountain Goats). I became singles driven. A quarter of the songs on this list are by artists that I’ve never heard anything else by and really don’t care if I do…….because there are always more great songs out there to be found. That’s a paradigm switch for me, friends, and I really enjoy it.

But bandwidth costs money, and in a poor economy IT departments are not as open to letting my little 32K stream run all day because there are about 200 other folks doing the same thing. So in 2009 I had to revert back to buying albums. And after living in this holy grail new world of great individual songs, the filler in your average disc stands out as more disappointing than before. It's like Flowers for Algernon. Except incredibly overstated.

Then came The xx. I really love this whole disc. It’s like if you put Low, Cat Power and Portishead into a particle accelerator and smashed them together. And how can you not love a lyric like: “Watch things on VCR/With me and talk about Big Love/I think we’re superstars/You say you think we are the best thing/But you/You just know/You just do”. So while I hope to soon find another convenient outlet to get back to my song driven life, I’ll be buying their next release sight unseen.

18) The General Specific – Band of Horses (2007)

The toughest choice to make with the one artist rule (I should come up with a clever acronym for that term – OAR?) was between this song and Our Swords, and either one would rank right around this same spot. From the first time I heard this it seemed like an old favorite. That’s always cool.

17) St. Francis Dam Disaster – Frank Black and the Catholics (2001)

Surprisingly not on Lala. Link

Despite listening to this for eight years now I learned two things about it just recently – first, that it is based on a true story and secondly, that it happened in the US and not somewhere in Central America like I had supposed for, well, no real reason.

This is also the place to admit publicly that the Pixies never did much for me, but I do like Frank Black’s solo work. I’ll see myself out.

16) Chips Ahoy! – The Hold Steady (2006)

Before I met all of you I had exactly one friend that I talked music with, my old roommate Doc who now lives outside of Philly. With two young kids involved in all sorts of activities he doesn’t get the chance to listen to new stuff as much as he once did, but he gets total props for dragging me into alt-country against my will, turning me on to the likes of Marah (we call them Those Velvety Throated Teen Idol Sensations Marah, from a line from their first disc Let's Cut The Crap And Hook Up Later On Tonight, an all-time top 10 album title), Old 97’s and Whiskeytown, while getting back various and sundry detritus from me (though he’s never appreciated Beck, the bastard). On my one and only trip to New York City, Doc took the train down from Reading and stayed with me, club agendas in hand. We were lucky enough to have a true ‘experience’ while seeing a band you’ve never heard of, The Hangdogs, at the Rodeo Bar and Grill on the East Side (Where there is NEVER a cover!). I wish I would have let him talk me into seeing Alejandro Escovedo at a small club but I was tired from working all day. Such are the vagaries of life.

Doc has two main musical obsessions: Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan. When I say obsessive, I mean just that – do not get into a discussion with him about either of these two artists without knowing what you are talking about. I was quite proud to see Deb more than hold her own regarding Bruce when the three of us met up in Austin a couple years ago, and have no doubt that Marcy will be able to do the same with Dylan should the chance arise.

Doc did not turn me on to The Hold Steady, but I am not at all surprised to know that despite wandering his current musical wilderness they are not merely on his radar, but he has also made it clear that the next time I am back east that we are going to see them live. I look forward to this.

As for my view, I’m not entirely sure how many songs one can write about the kids trying to get and stay high – but so far they’ve been pretty damn good. Honorable mention to Cattle and the Creeping Things, but the horse racing enthusiast in me cannot resist:

She put nine hundred dollars/On the fifth horse/In the sixth race/I think its name was Chips Ahoy/Came in six lengths ahead/We spent the whole next week getting high”

15) Just A Dream – Great Northern (2007)

I did use this in one of our meetings, right? I think it was for the City theme. There are about four or five songs that I have in my pocket that I think can fit a bunch of different themes and this was one of them. Of course after this project I’m pretty much screwed in regard to club picks for the next couple years. Plus Eric used 23 Minutes in Brussels last time out.

14) The Staunton Lick – Lemon Jelly (2000)

Not on Lala. Link

Lemon Jelly was my happiest find of the decade, though I like the first two releases much better than the third (which is still pretty good). Wonderful sampling (here a basic guitar lesson) paired with really catchy and often beautiful melodies. There is not a song on the first two discs that I’ve grown tired of. Honorable mentions: Nice Weather For Ducks, Space Walk.

13) Struggle – Ringside (2005)

If you would have told me that Balthazar Getty would be half of a duo in my top 40 I would have told you that you were crazy. This is another that was in from the start.

12) Carmella – Beth Orton (2002)

Along the same lines as the Gomez pick, this is my favorite song off of the first disc that Deb bought me. Since it is on both our iPods, it is also number 4 in play counts for our entire music library with 84 plays. (since you asked, Struggle is number 5 with 81).

11) Mardy Bum – Arctic Monkeys (2005)

What a great debut that was. Honorable mention: A Certain Romance. The twenty-two year old in me remembers like it was yesterday the sort of frustration felt while learning the differences between men and women and relationships that is so nicely summed up in the following:

And yeah I’m sorry I was late/But I missed the train and the traffic was a state/And I can’t be arsed to carry on in this debate/That reoccurs when you say I don’t care/But of course I do/I clearly do”

Wow, nearly 1,650 words. I’m workin’ it here, people. Sorry if I rambled.

Next: THE TOP 10!!

EDIT: I've got no idea why I've got different fonts for each installment. It seems like I'm doing everything the same way but obviously I am not.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Top 40 of the Decade – Part 2 – 30 – 21

One cool little thing I discovered while getting the Lala widget set up was that I can just add to the list that is already there – so the playlist at the top will now have 40 through 21! (except #38 which is linked in that post).

30) Bang! Bang! – The Knux (2008)
Last post I mentioned genres you shouldn’t expect to find here: top 40, new country, jazz. My hip hop awareness is not what it should be (matter of fact, I'm not even sure if I'm supposed to call it hip hop or rap) and as such this is the only one to make the list, though I did consider songs by K-OS, RJD2, Outkast (does that even count?), The Herbalizer and Mr. Lif. If I can find a place to find more songs that are this good then hip hop will be better represented next time around.

29) Skinny Love – Bon Iver (2008)
The rest of his stuff leaves me pretty cold, but this is flat out beautiful and haunting and the song I loved most in 2008.

28) Flake – Jack Johnson (2001)
This destroys any hipster credibility I might ever hope to have but so be it, I like Jack Johnson. Quite a bit. Besides, I’m a sucker for tunes that change up in the middle. This is one of the few songs that were on the list from the start.

27) All My Friends – LCD Soundsystem (2007)
For artists that had more than one song go far in the process of putting this together I promised myself I’d mention those other songs and then promptly forgot this rule with the Elbow entry (amusingly, that other song is called Forget Myself). So, Losing My Edge was a close second to this one and gets an honorable mention.

26) Rex Kramer – Gomez (2002)
In Our Gun will forever have the distinction of being the first disc that Deb and I got into as a couple, and as such there were a bunch of songs from it that I considered for the list; Ping One Down & Army Dub being the ones that got the furthest. But there is no mistaking that weird squeal at the beginning and nothing else that hits the highs this song does. Great live show as well. Pitchfork hates them, providing the added benefit of making me feel uncool. This is not a bad thing at all.

25) Everyone Gets A Star – Albert Hammond, Jr. (2007)
So this is as good a place as any to ask – can you be in a band and have a solo song both in the list, adroitly moving around the one song per artist restriction? Apparently (though technically you don’t know this yet) yes, yes you can.

24) Take Me Out – Franz Ferdinand (2004)
This is what you might call an obvious pick. I looked up the lyrics to see if there was anything quotable. I don't recommend this.

23) Float On – Modest Mouse (2004)
Did you ever accuse a band of selling out? I did back in the day, and boy did you hear it a bunch after Good News for People who Love Bad News came out. But seeing it from my late forties standpoint it’s really an amazing achievement that a band that is so…….niche-y can put out a song and album like this and have middle aged folks gravitate to it – while not really straying all that far from their roots. Maybe the long-time purists are correct that The Moon And Antarctica is the better release, but for my money it’s Good News all the way. So my twenty-something self was an idiot for calling out any band who managed to find some mainstream success while staying true to a vision. Though c’mon, Rod Stewart totally sold out.

22) I Bow Down And Pray To Every Woman I Meet – Chuck Prophet (2002)

Ain’t no motherfucker gonna criticize me.

In a just world Chuck Prophet would be huge.

21) Casimir Pulaski Day – Sufjan Stevens (2005)
At the time this was my favorite song of the year. In putting together this project though, 2005 ended up being clearly the top year for songs (9 on the final list), so it has obviously dropped some since there are still six 2005 songs to go. Keeping in mind what I said earlier about a few songs maybe being a year or two off (I wiki’d all of these but some are easier to pinpoint than others), the songs by year list comes out as:
9 songs: 2005
6 songs: 2007
5 songs: 2006
4 songs: 2001, 2002, 2008
3 songs: 2004
2 songs: 2000, 2003
1 song: 2009
Anyway, back to Sufjan. I listen to both Illinoise and Michigan less as time goes by. While he can be incredibly moving as here describing a friend dying of cancer and questioning his own faith as a result (He took my shoulders and He shook my face/and He takes and He takes and He takes), there is also a side that is annoyingly too clever by half and incredibly pretentious. Bailing on the 50 state project after just two might be pissing me off as well……though two-thirds of Illinoise forces me to cut him slack.

Next: Halfway done. What the hell am I going to say about 20-11???

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Top 40 songs of the Decade – Part 1 – 40 through 31

As envisioned, I would discuss the criteria used in selecting songs, toss in some witty and erudite digressions, have a reasoned and incisive paragraph or two about each individual song and why it belongs in the Top 40 and generally put any other list to shame.

That was charmingly optimistic and is not going to happen.

We can talk about the main point to resolve in the process: One song per artist or multiple songs? I ended up sticking with one per artist, despite the very reasonable argument that the best songs should be the best songs regardless of who did them, right? That’s where one needs to acknowledge ones biases – I could put five Spoon songs, a couple Arctic Monkeys, two Band of Horses, a few by Lemon Jelly and an untold number of Decemberists songs but don’t think that is representative enough of the decade as a whole, which has been one of the best I can remember.

The other bias is – where am I at musically this decade? It started with unexpected divorce and its aftermath, shifted to national trauma and disaster, rebounded again with a new life with entirely new friends and an upward trajectory for the future that frankly is not something I ever expected to happen. There’s a lot of room there for genres.

This list in the 90’s would be heavily skewed toward alt-country and grunge. This list in the 80’s would be New Wave and college rock. This list in the 70’s would have been FM radio-centric with multiple Pink Floyd selections. I think this list is pretty wide-ranging in respect to what those would have been, though you shouldn’t expect top 40, new country or jazz. It’s slightly heavy on electronic because that has been my obsession for the past few years – though I listen to a LOT more of it than made this list simply because the genre doesn’t readily lend itself to a great “song”. The songs I had to be most ruthless about pruning were mid-tempo indie bands – there were a ton of them in my initial mix, so that’s a bias as well.

I tried to be representative of each year and for the most part am really happy about how that turned out…..the one year that got somewhat shafted is 2009 (only one song), mainly because I don’t know the new stuff enough to have it outrank the songs I’m more familiar with. This time next year it is very possible I’ll regret not having Dirty Projectors or Grizzly Bear but for now this is where the oughts were at.

One more housekeeping note – I’ve been able to find all but five songs on Lala and will be putting lists on the right side of the blog here as we post. The songs not on Lala I’ll post links for as we go along.

Funny thing about a list like this. The last five songs were by far the hardest to settle upon and changed at least seven times. To reflect that process and because it is my list I’m putting in an honorable mention for the song that it hurt me the most to leave out of the main list.

Christmas Song – Joy Zipper (2003) – A big, lush, romantic sound coupled with lyrics that sound like how you would profess your love before you knew how to put something like that into words. “I love you more than a thousand Christmases/I want you more than any gift I could think of”

Now, for songs 40-31:

40) Ballad of Human Kindness – The Dears (2006)

I believe that is a French Horn solo but am not familiar enough with my brass to be certain. Not usually a fan of earnestness in my lyrics but it works for me here.

39) Plasticities – Andrew Bird (2007)

He seems like he’d be a fun guy to hang out with, as long as he didn’t show off with the whistling too much. One of my favorite live shows of the decade was seeing him at the Zoo of all places. Anyone who rhymes ‘music halls’ with ‘neural walls’ is OK in my book.

38) Buy A Dog – Luce (2005?) (there are some years I’m not certain about though it is this decade)

Indie band out of San Francisco. The first song on the list that Lala didn’t have – the video can be seen here:

This one is for Norm, who although technically free is easily our best purchase of the decade. Even more than Rock Band.

37) Oxford Comma – Vampire Weekend (2008)

Catchy as all hell and the day I can’t love a lyric about advanced literature will be a sad day indeed.

36) Buttons – The Weeks (2008)

An alt band out of Jackson, Mississippi of all places. Wiki says they’ve been compared to Kings of Leon, though I don’t get that from this song. What I do get is a cool hook and a line “She said/smoke your cigarette/I hope you choke” that sticks in my head for days.

35) This Boy is Exhausted – The Wrens (2003)

A decidedly non-prolific band (three albums in 15ish years) and a song that profiles the ups and downs of being part of an aging group you love but know is never going to quite get over the top. He just sounds exhausted…….I think this would be an awesome song to drum on RB.

34) Station Approach – Elbow (2005)

I really miss not being able to stream music at work. I found so much stuff through, but never seem to listen the same way at home. Elbow was one of my favorite finds from there. This would be an example of the mid-tempo songs that dominated my initial song pool.

33) Sometimes In The Fall – Phoenix (2006)

Thomas Mars’ voice reminds me of someone but I cannot place it for the life of me. Did you know that Phoenix was a backing band for Air’s song Kelly Watch The Stars? Me either. (what would we do without Wiki?) Wheels within wheels, man.

32) Bhindi Bhagee – Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros (2001)

So anyways, I told him I was in a band/he said ‘yeah, oh yeah? What’s your music like?/I said it’s um, um…..well, it’s kinda like……and it’s got a bit of…….

This should also rank quite high in any list regarding songs and food.

31) Frontier Psychiatrist – The Avalanches (2000)

It is the opinion of the entire staff that Dexter is criminally insane.

But you knew that.

Next time: 30 – 21. Shocking, I know.

EDIT: I have no idea about the weird text thing, I just copied my word document into Blogger and this is what came out. Also, maybe Marcy can help with having the widget at the side instead of the top -- every time I tried it on the side it got cutoff.