Friday, December 7, 2012
Billy BOTG's Best Songs of 2012
“Continuous Thunder” - Japandroids (YouTube)
Picking the best song from this album, easily the most consistently start-to-finish amazing of the year, was virtually impossible. The pupil-dilating and aggressive turns of phrase keep pelting you from this two-man army. While not overly clever, they’re clear, and they’re strong. And this song closes with such a perfect stretch: “if i had all of the answers / and you had the body you wanted / would we love with a legendary fire? / and if the cold, pissing rain flooded that fire / would you still take my hand tonight?” In other words, is being a supreme human being what makes for supreme human love, or is the best and strongest love as simple as holding onto another’s hand no matter how hard it rains, no matter how low the fire burns?
“Out on the Town” - fun. (YouTube)
Here’s what I like about fun.: they’re proof that some intelligent people still love pop music. While the inspiration for his bands’ sounds might often originate with Queen and ELO, I’ve found that his persona and writing reflect a bit of Robert Smith, the outsider freak of questionable sexual preference (but straight) who wondered why his music wasn’t taking over the world. The equally super-awesome song “Some Nights” says as much, as he wonders just now much real life, normal life, he’s sacrificed to be underappreciated in the world of music. The album closes with what could serve as a second metaphor for his frustrations, as he’s desperate to get into your house, to be a part of your life, but instead he’s stuck out there causing a ruckus all by his lonesome. For musicians, loneliness and isolation often linger regardless of silly things like failure and success.
“Battle Born” - The Killers (YouTube)
Ambition in rock is hard to come by these days. We don’t have enough artists willing to take on an entire country, willing to stick an accusatory finger in its face and then give it a big ol’ bear hug, but that’s what Brandon Flowers dares to do here. It’s a break-up love song to an entire country, the once-good-ol’ US of A. About the only thing he could’ve done to make this song more unabashedly epic would have been to have the chorus from the Rocky soundtrack singing “gonna fly now!” in the background. I’m a patriot at heart, but an honest one, and this song satisfies both of those needs beautifully.
“Here Comes My Man” - The Gaslight Anthem (YouTube)
Writing a song from the p.o.v. of the opposite sex is tricky business, and it rarely makes for great songs. Kate Bush pulled it off with “This Woman’s Work,” a work of true genius. While “Here Comes My Man” might not knock Kate off the gender-bending pedestal, it’s a captivating work nevertheless. The lyrics in the bridge are words for any workaholic to keep in their briefcase.
“Ho Hey” - The Lumineers (YouTube)
You mix a gutsy background refrain with a simple notion -- “I belong with you / you belong with me” and what you have is a song where the greatness is about the gestalt. My read is the song is about two souls committed to other people. “Think of what might’ve been” ... “We’re bleedin’ out.” Doesn’t matter, though. The song’s deliciously catchy regardless of the meaning.
“Hold On When You Get Love And Let Go When You Give It” - Stars (YouTube)
Stars can make a better pop song in their sleep than most radio-saturated acts will ever know. Nothing terribly difficult or layered about this song, since the title pretty much says it all. But they do manage to squeeze one more classy couplet in for good measure: “Take the weakest thing in you / and then beat the bastards with it.” I don’t really care what the purpose of those lines are; I only love that it’s clear he’s holding onto love and a little bit of anger.
“Star Machine” - Bob Mould (YouTube)
This first song on Mould’s Silver Age was a welcome burst of raucous preaching to the sold-out souls of music. As I wrote earlier, a caveman-simple feral kind of euphoria erupts in me when Bob explodes with righteous indignation, and he whips it out from the first note on this one. I'm not saying this is the best song on what is Mould's best album in a while; but it sets the stage for the Mould Experience circa 2012 perfectly.
“Sometimes He Does” - Lori McKenna (YouTube)
Are you in a relationship? Are you a man? Do you sometimes suck at being a decent husband/boyfriend/human being? Don't read a self-help book. Don't finish that bottle of scotch. Don't watch more Dr. Phil. Just play this song and, once each week, pick out one of the lines and do it. Do it for her. If you don't see a change in your own heart and attitude, not to mention a change in your significant other, your money back. But ACT NOW WHILE RELATIONSHIPS LAST!
“All Too Well” - Taylor Swift (YouTube)
Mock Ms. Swift at your own risk. The woman makes deeply personal songs filled with a level of specificity that you just don’t find in platinum-selling pop music. She paints three scenes, all with specifics and practically time-stamped and pinpointed on Google Maps. She weaves them together and comes back to them all later on in the song. I don’t care if it’s about her and Jake; what I know is nothing about this song feels fake, or forced, or anything but the genuine sound of a young woman whose heart got squished like a grape, and when she returns to the image of her scarf, no matter how many times I’ve heard it, my breath gets short. I keep souvenirs of loves gone south from my younger days, and this song reminds me why.
“Try” - P!nk (YouTube)
Pretty simple pop song, really, but P!nk manages a feat in “Try” that few have pulled off. She has written an emotional and rocking pop song about both stubborn fidelity and fiery, seemingly-inescapable infidelity. For those who have better things to do than follow Pink’s personal life, she married her husband, and then they split, and then they got back together. They have a baby. They seem to have some serious knock-down drag-out nuclear warfare kinds of fights. So the song’s sorta about not giving up on a relationship, a tribute to how they’ve fought and gnashed and gnawed to stay together. But then again, on another dimension, it’s also about cheating and trying to survive it. It’s about how even if you find yourself as “the bad guy (or gal)”, there’s still life and love out there worth hunting. Pulling off both interpretations in a single song is impressive.