OK, here's a dirty secret. I'm not really sure our loyal and faithful readers give much of a shit about our opinion of music. And I get that. Most of y'all know us and read us because you are friends or enjoy hopping on for those flashes of clever insight or revelation that sometimes-decent writers mired in obscurity can manage. Or maybe you read it 'cuz you like us, you really like us.
But our music? That's for all these people who don't know us, I guess.
But we're a "music blog." And as such, having year-end salutes to music just feels right. It feels necessary. Music is our muse. It's like this big megaphone emerging from our hearts and penetrating the ears of all those prisoners at Shawshank. Without it, neither of us could write anything.
So please take a listen. [NOTE: Alas, you missed the boat on this one. Copyright folks have already flagged me, so the links are gone.] Pick a few songs. If you like 'em, jump to the bottom and download a collection of many of these songs. You might even consider buying an album, or buying a song, and showing a little bit of Christmas love to some hardworking musicians.
1. Sharp Knife - Third Eye Blind
If one is inclined to believe Third Eye Blind had some damn fine pop/rock songs at one time, then one should give this gem of a track a whirl. When Stephan Jenkins pulls off his talky-singy thing well -- and he does it superbly in this song -- it gives the songs an immediacy and passion that help forgive what are admittedly eyebrow-raising lyrics ("My mp3 is out of juice"). But somehow it makes some quirky lyrics work quite well ("How did we get not so loose"). Took me a while to figure out he was saying "a shiv," which isn't exactly a sharp knife, but it certainly gets the job done. Personally, this song hit the right nerve at the right time. Sometimes you wish you could grab a tourniquet and lop off the crappy parts of your soul in the desperate hopes of rescuing the rest.
2. I Don't Wanna - The Von Bondies
Songs about being fucked up -- but angry and unsatisfied with it -- certainly seem to resonate with me. "Sharp Knife" mines similar territory. This song gives little warning before cranking to 11 and screaming its way deep into your eardrum. I don't even know what to call the signature sound in this song -- hell, I'm not even sure if it's someone's voice or some funky instrument -- but it's mighty catchy. My love of this song probably belies the fact that a catchy riff and one potent line overrides any interest I might have in lyrical brilliance.
3. Quiet Little Voices - We Were Promised Jet Packs
If I were to base the size of a country on how many of its bands I like, Scotland would be roughly the size of Brazil. This ditty is never gonna win a songwriting award, but sometimes simplicity and repetition just fit. And this song just fits. I'd run to you. I'll come for you. I'd die for you. Quiet little voices. Quiet little monsters.
4. Turn It Off - Paramore
Hayley Williams would be one of those surgeons who could eat rare steak while talking about operating on a man with gangrene. I don't know how, but this chick must have had her heart broken a couple dozen times before she even learned to drive, because she's not even old enough to buy beer, but she's got an anchor of Love Bitterness tied to her. Haley, if your scorn is what drives your music, I selfishly hope you never stay in love for too long.
5. Pass the Buck - Stereophonics
Although this album was released in the UK in 2007, I wasn't able to get my hands on it 'til this year, and this song quickly became one of my all-time favorite 'Phonics songs. These guys are famous for feeling jilted by specific people and taking it out in song, but this song feels less about them and more about a moment all of us can identify with.
6. Be All That You Can't Be - Broadway Calls
Bob claimed yesterday that bands aren't writing songs about the war. But this somewhat-popular proto-punk band mines that territory with this song about our military's habit of selling a dream of fool's gold to the lower classes. This album is one of the most unabashedly political collection of songs by a young band I've heard in a long, long time.
BEST BLATANT POP
Links to songs not included in the hopes it protects me from angry lawyers.
1. Taking Chances (Glee Version) - Rachel (Lea Michelle)
"Don't Stop Believin'" was the Song That Launched a Thousand Gleeks, but some of my favorite Glee songs are those I never noticed or had never heard. And this Celine Dion cover is all the better for my having never heard the Celine version. In a show dependent upon the viewer's willing suspension of disbelief, perhaps the toughest moment for me was when I was forced to believe Kurt could sing "Defying Gravity" from Wicked as well as Rachel if only he could hit that high F. Don't you believe it. Lea Michelle has soul in her voice. Like, a shit-ton of it. She's every awesome part of American Idol wrapped into a fictional high school character. Except my preferred version's Simon Cowell is a cheerleading coach named Sue. Which means Glee is better.
2. Bad Romance - Lady GaGa
Lissen, I'm not proud of this, but I gotta give this woman her props. This song is intense and catchy and bitter and self-involved (gotta love people who put their names in their songs!).
3. I Do Not Hook Up - Kelly Clarkson
As the father of girls, I'm unavoidably drawn to any songs that might catch my daughters' ears that also might hint even slightly of being Anti-Slut. This song and Taylor Swift's "Fifteen" get frequently accidentally played when we're all in the car together. A part of me wonders if the "Keep your head in my hand" line is a sexual one -- maybe she's actually saying she only allows the hooking up to occur if she's on the receiving end -- but I let it slide.
4. Sometime Around Midnight (Acoustic Version) - The Airborne Toxic Event
You wouldn't think someone could steal from The Arcade Fire and make it into something commercially appealing, but that's what this song feels like to me. It's like a slightly dumbed-down, slightly more superficial version of The Arcade Fire's stuff. Clearly I don't find this to be such a bad thing, or it wouldn't be on this list. I knew I was gonna like this song from the opening guitar riff, maybe because it reminds me of one of Bob's most-hated pop songs ever: "Blinded By the Light" by Manfred Mann.
5. Relator - Pete Yorn + Scarlett Johansson
Gotta agree with Bob on this one. It's a great song. The album has ups and downs, but I've always had a soft spot for Pete Yorn and a hard spot for Scarlett Johansson. (Sorry. Couldn't help myself.)
6. Pantry - Lyle Lovett
Although this was first released on an album in 2009's Natural Forces, it's actually something Lovett has played in many a concert prior. It's like many of his best songs: clever and light-hearted, but with a weighty center that keeps you listening to it long after most simple pop songs have been forgotten.
BEST OF THE OTHER STUFF
1. Matthew 25:21 - The Mountain Goats
If music critics are to be believed, John Darnielle might be the best fiction-based songwriter in the country. His songs are all apparently based not on his own life and experiences, but rather characters he invents. Hell if I know. What I do know is that Live of the World to Come's songs are all named after Bible verses, and each explores a (usually modern-day) life or event related to the verse. Quite incredible, and this is my favorite one on the album.
2. Northshore - Tegan + Sara
The worst break-ups shouldn't result in ballads. They should result in something like this song, a whirlwind of panic and conflicting emotion and a paranoia that you might just be enjoying the misery and pain because you can't seem to stop wallowing in it. Then, after you've lived this song a few dozen times, maybe you're drained enough and sane enough to sit down and write a ballad.
3. Even if it Breaks Your Heart - Will Hoge
OK Beck, I know you don't like the guy, but this song is the guy's story. He'll never be rich. He'll never make his name in Billboard magazine. But he's out there on the road, even after a scooter wreck almost killed him, because he's in love. It's a love that's almost an unreasonable and frightening obsession, but it's a love I can't help but admire.
4. My Time Outside the Womb - Titus Andronicus
Dude, these guys make some of the early Replacements stuff seem immaculately produced. Their album is a shoddy bloody mess, but out of chaos comes some truly brilliant moments, and this particular song is almost an actual SONG. You can get this whole album on eMusic for the equivalent of $4-5, so if you like this gem, you really should check it out.
5. Out of the Blue - Julian Casablancas
There's a lot of similarity between Julian Casablancas' album Phrazes for the Young and the latest Brendan Benson, but while I find the latter to be a more consistently strong collection, this song from Casablancas is superbly catchy. That's all I'm gonna say now.
BEST FREEBIE SONG OF THE YEAR
Dorchester Hotel - The Sounds
This gets honorable mention as my favorite free BOTG song. While we got a lot of good stuff, this is one of a small handful of freebies that earned its way into frequent and regular play on my iPod.
MERRY CHRISTMAS! Click here for some of my favorites (removed due to warning of Copyright Violation), but watch out, 'cuz at 132MB, this file is much to big to fit down some chimneys.