20. Buke and Gass- Revel in Contempt
Listen to it HERE
It wasn’t until about the second or third listen through of Riposte that “Revel in Contempt” really jumped out at me. The first thirty seconds of this five minute track starts with some clapping, a nice Gass riff using both the base and guitar strings, and Arone Dyer with a low rising note, but things don’t really take off until Dyer hits you with a sort of staccato of goofy lyrics that, though they’re probably not inspired by the Frogger video game, I will just pretend that they are because that would be kind of awesome, “Two frogs come up to the road/ One says to the other toad/ Hesitation is your friend/ Not just to get to the end.” Now, we can ignore the obvious fact that frogs and toads are different species of animals, and…oh…can’t…have to put up a frogger screen grab…
Buke and Gass motor through this song like a stunt driver in a blindfold. While the basic gass jam at the beginning stays relatively stable, or at least stable enough to give the song an overlying backbone, the song veers in so many directions over the course of the song it takes dozens of listens to get to the point where you expect what’s coming next. And you know what? That’s part of what makes this song so great. Everything catchy, everything is fun, instrumentally it is unique (oh goddamn it, sorry sorry, I’ll stop focusing on the ‘homemade instruments’ aspect), but there is almost an element of surprise to the music, a sense of, “what are they gonna do next?” It’s exhilarating, and it’s fun, and it’s hard not to get caught up in it.
19. The National- Conversation 16
Listen to it HERE
The best songs on High Violet sound like they belong on Boxer or Alligator. But then again, the best songs on Boxer and Alligator sound like they belong on High Violet. Goddamn it, stop being so fucking dependable, The National. Here in “Conversation 16”, we see what I can only assume is The National’s entry in this year’s “nonchalantly miserable” contest, which of course takes place in Cleveland. Because, you know, The National are from Ohio. They totally should win with this track, but it’ll be tough, since one could assume that they’ve not been forgiven for taking their talents to the East Coast.
What should I do? Should I be the basis of cheap, easy topical jokes on a music website? What should I do?
The lyrics to “Conversation 16” read like a greatest hits compilation of therapist notes. “I tell you miserable things after you are asleep,” “You never believe the shitty thoughts I think,” “Had my head in the oven so you know where I’d be,” “I was afraid I’d eat your brains, because I’m evil.” Holy shit, you guys.
Goddamnit, The National. Here everyone, let’s take our mind off things with some baby pandas.
I get the impression that if you spent time with the band in a public setting, like a dinner party, they’d basically turn into Debbie Downer from SNL. “This roast is delicious,” your friend will say. “That’s probably because they gave the cow hormones to enhance the taste, which also can lead to an onset of clinical depression in high doses,” The National will respond. A wah-wahhhh noise will sound from nowhere, while the band all shrugs at the same time. “Hey, nice beer selection, some really good microbrews here,” another friend will say. “It was more expensive than it used to be, because there was a hop shortage in the Pacific Northwest last year. You know, global warming,” The National will reply. A wah-wahhhh-wahhhhhh noise will sound, as the band shrugs. Goddamn it The National!
“In 2008 26 dolphins committed mass suicide.” Goddamn it The National!
Really good song though.
18. Frightened Rabbit- Nothing Like You
Watch the video HERE
This track, placed neatly in the middle of The Winter of Mixed Drinks, comes closest to matching the tone and mood of Midnight Organ. It’s quick, catchy, and up-tempo, but with the trademark “dejectedly having sex with someone” lyrics we’ve come to know and love. With a chorus of, “She was not the cure for cancer, and all my questions still ask for answers, there is nothing like someone new, and this girl she was nothing like you,” lead singer Scott Hutchison does his best to scare away any potential groupies. This is the man who has sung, “Let’s pretend that I’m attractive, then you won’t mind, we can twist for a while,” or “if we both got the same diseases, it’s irrelevant girl.” Now he’s singing about an ex while talking about having sex with someone new. It’s honest, it’s a little fucked up, but you gotta love Frightened Rabbit for not caring.
Much like Kevin Federline, or lazy writers who make Kevin Federline jokes in 2011, he just doesn’t give a shit.
Basically like “The Modern Leper” on speed, this song plows through angst with a suspicious amount of upbeat energy. One of the stronger efforts on this album, and morally ambivalent enough to be really rewarding the more you dig into it. Just like Kevin Federline jokes.
Because these jokes would have absolutely CRUSHED in 2007, and also, tee-hee, fat. Fat fat fatty.
17. Titus Andronicus- No Future Part Three: Escape From No Future
Listen to it HERE
In my fictional sprawling concept album, Roses, Thorns, a botanical allegory about the life and career of disgraced baseball great Pete Rose, I’d probably have filler tracks about baseball commissioners to serve as interludes with titles like “Giamatti’s Brush: Part 6: Wildfire” and “Fay Vincent’s Tulips: Part 7: Part 3.” What I’m saying is, when you see a ridiculous title like “No Future Part Three: Escape From No Future” on a concept album, and see that the title is the third part of a song where parts 1 and 2 occur on different albums, you’d be forgiven if you rolled your eyes at the band trying too hard.
Cover art for Roses, Thorns. The liner notes will just be cocaine and a phone catalogue of bookies.
It’s hard to distinguish the second tier songs of a great concept album. You’re dealing with a whole mess of clashing lyrical and musical motifs, and, to be honest, a decent amount of transitional filler. New Jersey outfit Titus Andronicus complicates that by making a Civil-War-as-a-Metaphor concept album bursting to the brim with high energy, lengthy tracks. So, when you have an album like The Monikor and you get to this overlong-concept-album-cliché title, the first minute of muted, lethargic instrumentals would rightfully have you worried. But when you reach the 1:15 mark, and the song dives head first into face-melting guitar play and battle-formation-ready drum palpitations while Patrick Stickles trips over himself to spit out lyrics, it’s easy to see this band in a “even-more-whisky-soaked-The-Hold-Steady” sort of way. As the final minute and a half consists of the band chanting, “You Will Always Be a Loser,” the song turns a defeating defamation of the listener into an anthemic battle cry with the final shout at the waning moments of the track with a simple, “And that’s okay!” What we end up with is a rousing affirmation of mediocrity, which is uplifting in a way that “Selig’s Buds: Part 3: Part 8: Part 3: This Rose Shall Not Pass” won’t even come close to reaching in its theoretical existence.
16. The Arcade Fire- Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)
Listen to it HERE
1970’s synth beat? Five and a half minute length? Looping instrumentals? Wait, is this…did The Arcade Fire team up with LCD Soundsystem? No? Okay, just making sure.
“That’s not the last you’ll see of me, Elitish!”
You can’t call The Suburbs a concept album, but it’s hard not to see from the lyrical connections between the tracks that they’re all written from the same mindset. Starting off with a dissatisfaction of societal life, it almost appears as a cousin of the track “The Suburbs,” only instead of resigning their fate to the Suburban life, the protagonist, who very well could be the feminine foil to the male voice of the album’s opening track, escapes to find that dissatisfaction might just be a state of mind.
The song, which is really the final track of the album, begins with a sentiment that immediately reminds me of “Death of a Salesman” by Low (though the complete opposite musically). “They heard me singing and they told me to stop/ Quit these pretentious things and just punch the clock.” The chorus again shows the yearning for an urban identity, “‘Cause on the surface the city lights shine/ They’re calling at me, come and find your kind.” While “The Suburbs” focuses on a sort of repressed optimism, a hope for the sake of hope when no hope can exist, “Sprawl II” shows a different kind of melancholy, when hopes are realized and proven to be futile.
The shift from Suburb to City occurs in the song, only for it to be shown to be a foolish dream, one that the protagonist cannot face. “We shield our eyes from the police lights/ We run away but we don’t know why,” shows the shock of this change, which only degenerates as the next chorus screams, “And like a mirror, the city lights shine/ They’re screaming at us, ‘We don’t need your kind.'” At this point, rejected by the very desired city life that the song yearns leads to rejection, as the song starts again with the opening stanza, with a rejection of the protagonist’s creativity, and a somber resignation.
The “sprawl” proves to be the city, and the shift into urban living is seen in the title line, “Living in the sprawl/ Dead shopping malls rise like mountains beyond mountains,” but no matter what the location, the sprawl proves to be wherever you are, as the lyrics opine, “Sometimes I think that the world is so small that we can never get away from the sprawl.” Of course, all of this is masked by upbeat, danceable music and cheerful vocals so that everything is hidden underneath. As it stands, the album begins with a desire to leave The Suburbs that is never realized, while it ends with a desire to leave The Suburbs that just goes to show that, no matter where you go, the distinction between where you are is insignificant in the end.
…Oh shit, you guys, wait. I’m so sorry, I don’t know what happened there. There were…just, no jokes in there. Like at all. It was just amateur college level (ha! hopefully…) English Paper textual analysis. Wow, I’m really sorry about that. Uh…Nickelback sucks. No, did that one too recently. Hey, how about how bad The Black Eyed Peas were in the Super Bowl? No, that just draws attention to the fact that it’s already a month into 2011 and we’re not done with our 2010 list yet. Uh, okay I’ll just google image search “funny picture” and post the first thing that comes up, okay?
I don’t get it…*squints*…oh, it’s dogs humping. Meh. That was disappointing.
15. Peter Adams- Bending Sky
Listen to it HERE
While “Cumulus Spires” is a great song written for a ballet that sounds like it’s written for a ballet, but is good on it’s own, “Bending Sky” is a song that’s great on it’s own, but sounds like it would be good for a ballet. Less driven by strings than Adams’ general use of strings (though they do appear effectively) this song is half overture introduction and half pop song. This is not a song that I can make “HEAVY METAL VIOLIN WOOO!” jokes for, it’s really got a more of a hauntingly beautiful vibe to it, a lullaby with strings and light drums to take it from, “oh that’s nice,” to gorgeously memorable. And really, it’s a succinct song that warrants a succinct description. It’s pretty, it’s emotionally resonate, and it’s worth several listens.
14. Titus Andronicus- Four Score and Seven
Listen to it HERE
Here we have another Titus Andronicus track, the title of which hits the listener on the head as if to say, “Okay, if you couldn’t guess from the opening track of “A More Perfect Union”, let’s just get the mystery out of the way and tell you this album is about the Civil War. Four Score and Seven years ago, get it?” Yes, Titus Andronicus, we get it.
This song, an 8 minute battle of rock and roll in its own right, starts unassuming enough. Soft (well, soft for Titus Andronicus) vocals peppered with sparse guitar, slowly building up with first gentle strings and then a soulful harmonica solo (Harmonica solo, bitches!) until they realize, “Wait we’re Titus Andronicus,” and jump from the line, “When they see the kind of person that you really are, then you won’t be laughing so hard,” repeating the second half of the couplet as a bar chant before sending in the horn section, which saunter through the next minute of the track before dying down to be replaced by heavy garage rock guitar riffs.
It’s a song that highlights the enigma that Titus Andronicus is for me; the screamed, oddly-yet-appropriately-atonal vocals evoke a sense of every shitty scream-o band that sucks. Except somehow Titus Andronicus separates themselves from that, taking the strained vocals away from the Connor Oberst territory they strayed into with their first album, The Airing of Grievances, and injecting a sort of burned out soulfulness that compliments the breakneck pace of the second half of this eight minute long epic, croaking lyrics like, “’Cause these humans treat humans like humans treat hogs, They get used up, coughed up, and fried in a pan, but I wasn’t born to die like a dog, I was born to die just like a man,” with an intense earnestness mixed with frustration, anger, and just general catharsis. The album serves as a metaphor, using the Civil War as a backdrop to highlight the desperation of their New Jersey living, and when they close out the track with the repetitive, “It’s still us against them,” before finishing with a despondent, “And they’re winning,” this metaphor shows the social anxiety of an uncertain economy, the frustration of shattered dreams and of course, having to deal with music writers making cheap Jersey Shore jokes at the end of their song descriptions, using photos that will hopefully be unrecognizable in five years.
If the album is a Civil War metaphor, than Snooki is…battlefield dysentery?
13. Sleigh Bells- Rill Rill
Sleigh Bells makes the kind of songs that sort of makes you feel like you just opened the Ark of the Covenant- it’ll melt your face, fools.
Rill Rill is not really a face-melting track. It’s still larger than life and pushes your speakers to the red, but really the drive of the song is a loop sample from the acoustic guitar bit of Funkadelic’s “Can You Get to That”. It’s the closest to a “put your lighters in the air” song that Sleigh Bells does, which just means that when you hear it live you are not necessarily compelled to start aggressively crowd surfing. It’s perfectly suited for the standard “I’m a hipster, I don’t care” dance stylings of an Indie rock concert. Plant your feet, nod every two seconds or so in tune with the beat, smoke a clove cigarette, drink a PBR, rinse, repeat.
To be fair, I don’t drink PBR to be ironic, I drink it because it’s cheap everywhere except China
As a track, it’s relaxing, and the closest thing to a “pretty” song that you will hear from the noise pop duo. As a part of a whole album, it’s a breather from the high-kicking intensity of the rest of the album. Either way, it’s damn enjoyable, and it reminds us that Sleigh Bells doesn’t have to melt our faces to work.
I actually think I’ve used this image while writing about Sleigh Bells last year…
12. Mumford and Sons – Little Lion Man
Watch the video HERE
Yeah I’m calling pitchfork out on bullshit. Pitchfork basically took a massive shit on this album, and this song in particular. And you know, as a discerning listener, what’s wrong with mea culpa? No, seriously, you can’t dismiss a track with a simple, “as if admitting wrongdoing is a noble gesture” I’m willing to bet that there are songs you listen to that pull that shit all the time. That’s right, pitchforkmedia, I’m calling you out.
This song is very simple in what it does, but it’s effective. And “Little Lion Man” is already a pretty big hit in Britain, and I it’s gained enough traction here to warrant two Grammy nominations. That should scare me already- Indie music outlook takes a massive Snooki (that means shit) just all over the song, and then the Grammy’s decide to give it validation only afforded Maroon 5 and Coldplay. So either I’m getting old, or this is an anomaly. I’m thinking it’s the latter.
“Two snooki jokes in the same article, after going through the whole list without one? Fuck you, Jeff, I’m not even going to find another damn picture for your lazy ass.” ~Elitish’s resident google image searcher
So, is anyone else excited for like, two years from now when there’s no longer any need to make jersey shore jokes?
So here’s what you get. Standard sort of lyrics that resonate if you’re in the right mental state (that’s not a high or drunk reference, I mean legitimate mental state). British dudes singing folky-ish. Piano. Stuttery acoustic guitar. Oooo, harmonies along piano chords for the chorus, followed with drums and a hella banjo tirade. And really, that’s where I’m won over, very pretty harmonies as the band sings, “It was not your fault but mine, and it was your heart on the line, I really fucked it up this time, didn’t I my dear?” And I cannot stress this enough, the banjo tirade. You can’t go wrong with a banjo tirade.
Like this, only fucking BETTER
And of course, you have the closing segment of raising, soaring harmonic “ahhhhs” that hearkens Frightened Rabbit, as the instrumentals cut out and the song closes a capella. It all works together really well. Plus, the chorus, while simple, resonates. Mea Culpa doesn’t have to pretend to be noble to be something that’s worthwhile to see out in the open. Damn pitchfork, step off, yo.
Or you’ll get bit, pitchfork. YA BIT.
11. Kanye West- Runaway
Watch the video (well, a censored version of it, since the actual video is 35 minutes long, so this one doesn’t swear, sigh) HERE
Though if you want to see the 35 minute short film version, which is basically chunks of the album, including a few songs that just missed making my year end list, you can see it HERE
Also THIS website is pretty cool, since if you’re still reading this part of it, you either won’t notice a shameless plug for a new website, or you won’t click it, so either way I’m golden.
Kanye West is sort of a like an interstellar body of bullshit. Like, just a fucking planet of bullshit. I know that’s an interesting way to describe a song this high up on my list. But bear with me. Kanye’s egocentricity is well documented on teh interwebz, on entertainment magazines, hell, you could go to your grandma and say something about Kanye West and she’d probably respond, “He’s a jackass.” Even Obama straight up said that, and no one really cared, because he kind of is.
But why a planet of bullshit? Because, when you’re full of that much shit, you know it. You can’t ignore that fact, all you can do is, well, try to change, but that’s hard, and let’s be honest, Kanye is famous because of his bullshit. But all the rest of that bullshit that’s out there in entertainment just sort of revolves around him. He’s got a bullshit gravitational pull. Kanye’s mother dies in a botched plastic surgery procedure, Kanye releases 808s & Heartbreak, which people pretty much will only remember as “that…album? I guess there was…like, vocodor and shit, right?” Then, Kanye hurts the feelings of a pretty, young, rich white girl, and is forced to go into hiding until he releases the album lazy-critics call “The Sergeant Peppers of Hip-Hop.”
And honestly, that’s sort of fucked up. But it’s the perfect metaphor for Kanye’s career. The Taylor Swift…thing? He’s pulled that shit before. Kanye West crashes award show stages so much, I half expect him to be cast opposite a black Vince Vaughn in some sort of bad blacksploitation version of Wedding Crashers. He’s a dick. But I guess it took this media schilling, where “Kanye is a douchebag,” which we all knew, turned into, “Kanye hurt that poor girl’s feelings, she seemed so sad about it!” and that made him a monster.
This guy stole a kid’s ice cream cone
But just as we know Kanye’s an asshole, Kanye knows he’s an asshole. We’re just the ones who won’t admit we’re full of shit. So the last thing you’d expect would to be a nine minute bittersweet anti-hero ballad like Runaway. Opening with just simple, single high sharp piano notes, slowly plodding alone in those simple instrumentals that inexplicably carry more emotional weight than any beat, sample, or power chord can.
As the beat comes in, letting the song tow along like a semi-truck, slow moving but powerful, the lyrics combine as a recognition of failings, and a refusal to change. “Never much of a romantic, I could never take the intimacy, and I know it did damage, plus the look in your eyes is killing me,” shows the emotional conflict inherent in the entire song. While certain lyrics are jarring in the scope of this almost abrasively gentle song (“I sent this bitch a picture of my dick” seems particularly out of place) the focal point of the song remains, the “Save yourself before I hurt you again” resonance of the line, “Run away from me baby, run away as fast as you can,” drives home the point of the song, and really, in a sense, the whole album.
As Pusha T sings, “Let’s have a toast for the douchebags, let’s have a toast for the assholes, let’s have a toast for the scumbags,” much like the rest of the album, it’s hard not to contextualize it as an acknowledgment of Kanye’s faults. But would we rather have a saint who won’t admit their faults, or a sinner who knows their sins? Well, I can at least tell you who would be more interesting to listen to.
Okay we’re almost done with the top songs of 2010. Stay tuned for the next installment.