Wednesday, February 23, 2011

My Best of Their Best

I did not post any "Best of" lists at the end of last year. Though there were a number of bands that I liked and kept up with, too much of my music spending went back into the past, buying up old things I used to have on album or that came into my head and suddenly sounded better to my ears than they did back then. Maybe I'm getting nostalgic.

What I did do, however, as the year was winding down, was to download two separate lists of "Top 100 Songs" from two blogs that I admire, one, in fact, that was the one that gave me the idea for this blog in the first place. There were some overlaps between the lists. There were songs that I already owned by people like The National, Sufjan Stevens, and Arcade Fire. But when all of that was filtered out, there were still 173 new songs for me to meet and to get acquainted with.

I have lived with these songs, off and on, for the better part of two months, trying to familiarize myself with their charms. All of them carry heavy baggage, since someone, sometimes two someones, have chosen them as their absolute favorite songs of the year. I don't know if that's baggage that they are able to carry; I don't know if we'll be listening to them in a year. And so a listen cannot provoke a response like, "Yeah, that was pretty good." Instead, a listen must culminate in the question, "What was it about this song that made it so revered?"

Below, I have posted some of my favorites among the two batches, not in order, maybe not my absolute favorites, but some that have stuck with me for one reason or another. I have no idea which batch a song comes from, nor do I think you care. What I offer is my best of their best, or perhaps better put, my abitrary favs among their arbitrary favs. We are marching through the Land of Subjectivity, after all.

Before we get to those songs, though, I'd like to offer a listening guide of sorts. If you are my age or even 25 years younger, there are some parameters that you will have to accept if you are going to "get" many of the current bands. I fought the three points I'm going to make, fought them hard, because they are counter to my preconceived notions about popular music. But then, as often happens when we take the time to listen, I accepted them and began to enjoy the songs a lot more.


1. Reverb is big, big, big. I did not realize when I wrote my post on reverb back in October that it would prove to be so prescient, that there was some kind of Reverb Festival going on all around me. It's like the bands of 2010 all got reverb machines for Christmas the year before and really spent the year wearing them out. The "signature" sound of so many bands is awash in the stuff. Where would Beach House, Tamaryn, or White Hinterland be without it? Personally, I find that too much of it gets in the way, but a good song can certainly overcome it. Maybe we should blame it on the success of Fleet Foxes.

2. Where is the rock? If you are looking for good riffing, bass thumping, power drum-driven rock these days, you have to look pretty darn hard. Your best chance is probably to look at the latest releases by bands or artists who have been around since the 60's or 70's. Neil Young on his record with nothing but an electric guitar is rocking harder than almost anything I heard. So much of today's non-hiphop music is tied up in a kind of mid-tempo angst, sometimes even kind of a retro-50's sound in terms of melody and lighter, poppier instrumentation. But a brain and an ear used to rocking can put a kind of beat to almost anything and get into it. Done.

3. Where is the bridge? In the heyday of songwriting, a song usually had a verse, chorus, and bridge (you know, that part in the middle that breaks away to a different melody and furthers the "plot" of the song in some way). Nowadays, you can be lucky to get different melody and chords for the verse and the chorus. Not necessarily a bad thing, if you are into repetition. Hey, if you've got something good and catchy going, why not repeat it?

1. Foster The People--"Pumped Up Kicks" (mp3)

2. Valley Maker--"The First" (mp3)

3. Deerhunter--"Helicopter" (mp3)

4. Gyptian--"Hold Yuh" (mp3)

5. Young Galaxy--"Peripheral Visionaries" (mp3)

6. Faded Paper Figures--"Invent It All Again" (mp3)

7. Hey, Marseilles--"Rio" (mp3)

8. Tapes 'n Tapes--"Freak Out" (mp3)

9. Yeasayer--"O.N.E." (mp3)

10. Kurt Vile--"I Know I Got Religion" (mp3)

11. Tindersticks--"Peanuts" (mp3)

I hope you enjoy the mix of songs. I think there are some interesting things going on.


Billy said...

Strong collection of songs. Can't wait to get home and pull those badboys down for some fun listening.

In the meantime, regarding your observations:

(1) I agree on the reverb thing. That pendulum has swung heavy. I hope it's ready to swing back a little bit.

(2) Rock is now the realm of bands like My Chemical Romance or Weezer. Kings of Leon can rock. While none of these might rock the way your ears prefer, those are the only bands in my "recent acquisitions" that do anything resembling old notions of rock.

(3) I've often wondered if the '80s fetish of penis-comparison guitar solos that filled up the radios and videos killed the bridge. Songs still have bridges, but they don't seem to shift as drastically or dramatically away from the rest of the song nearly as often or as well as they used to.

TommyD said...

Dig that Foster the People song...