Wednesday, December 17, 2008

1/5/09 - Some thoughts on music this year

Back in action after a month hiatus:

I love reading lists of top cultural moments/albums/music/singles/videos etc. of the year, and I'm not going to apologize for it. In some ways, it seems to be a somewhat moronic and arbitrary exercise, but in other ways, it makes perfect sense as a way to contextualize a discrete set of time. There's a certain rhythm that I've grown to love about the recurring lists.

Sadly, and this is a realization that pains me greatly, despite being a self-avowed devoted fan of music I simply don't have the stamina to keep up a comprehensive survey of new music released in a year. I think that very few people are able to do so. My personal way of taking in music over the course of a year usually winds its way through old music that I am catching up on, bands from previous years that I'm late to the party on, and the scattering of new bands that friends have recommended to me.

So in no way at all am I qualified to give any sort of best albums of 2008; search that topic on the internet and you'll be drowning in that particular list - chances are you'll be able to aggregate a pretty decent compilation of 10 albums or so that fit your particular aesthetic. What I can and will offer is a list of 20 songs that I've listened to more than any others this year, and a few tangential words about them. So, my own personal top 20 songs of the year, whether released this year or not:

(not ranked in order)

1. "Salute Your Solution" by The Raconteurs, from Consolers of the Lonely. Fuzz guitar, stairstep riff that reclaims the adjective "angular" for music that's actually catchy, and my favorite part, the 2nd verse, when Brendan Benson actually cuts loose and sings like Jack White instead of like the 18000th watered down Beatle imitator he usually patterns his vocals after. Also, a great half-time breakdown; what with all the indie rock, dance-rock, rap-rock, and Lil Wayne, it can get hard for a good old fashioned rock song to cut through the clutter; this one does.

2. "All Summer Long" by Kid Rock, from whatever Kid Rock's new album is. This song is indefensible: all my friends hate it, and with good reason. It basically steals two better songs to put together one that is much, much worse; so all I can say as to its merits is that by mashing up "Sweet Home Alabama" and "Werewolves of London" Kid Rock manages to rescue both from classic rock radio purgatory, where both of those songs have become mere aural wallpaper. Also, singing about singing "Sweet Home Alabama" and then busting out the guitar riff to same is the kind of ballsy move that has me still undecided if Kid Rock is a genius or a moron (leaning genius!)

3. "Pistol Grip Pump" by Rage Against the Machine, from Renegades. When de la Rocha is forced to rap about something other than politics, as in, covering someone else's song, Rage pretty much instantly transforms into the most badass gangsta rap rock band of all time. Too bad there aren't any others even in the arena. Every year needs a song to accompany moments of being righteously pissed - this is a great candidate.

4. "Chick Habit" by April March, from the Death Proof soundtrack. Basically accomplishes in 2:30 or so what Death Proof, the movie, took about 2 hours and change to do: unspool a tale of female vengeance that encompasses the yin/yang or modern femininity - the potential for seductive sweetness/vulnerability and the ability to unleash all manners of holy terror.

5. "Sequestered In Memphis" by the Hold Steady, from Stay Positive. One thing that Craig Finn understands about lyrics and storytelling is that the little details make all the difference, and the the more clear and particular one person's experience is delineated, paradoxically, the more universal it becomes. So the details of a one-night stand gone terrible awry in this song are highly specific - "we didn't go back to her place/we went to some place where she cat-sits", which crystallizes the univeral regret that all of us feel in the aftermath of bad choices made. Favorite lyric sequence of the year, personally: "In bar light/she looked all right/in daylight/she looked desparate/that's all right I was desperate too".

6. "Dondante" by My Morning Jacket, from Z. A perfect example of discovering a song way past the fact. I saw MMJ live and was blown away, and "Dondante" was the high-water mark of the show. And is, in fact, the high-water mark of Z. Rock music is light on accessible epics that really move between the delicate to thundering ends of the spectrum, but this song is a textbook example of it. Also reinforces the argument that to have a truly great band, you really need a great singer.

7. "Let The Beat Build" by Lil Wayne. I slept on Lil Wayne until my my significant other got obsessed, and so I'm a latecomer to this one. But man, when you get classic Kanye production married to someone that can actually Dwayne Carter says it best himself - this is how you let a beat build - laying back half the time, and half the time you just kill it; also, love the wave pool shout out.

8. "Volcano Girls" by Veruca Salt, from Eight Arms to Hold You. Veruca Salt got a ton of shit for being brass-ring grabbing sellouts in the '90s, but I think time has been kind to their singles. All it takes is to hear some lame faux-rebellious song like "I Kissed a Girl" to remind me that VS got a raw deal, seeing as how they're capable of the aggression/melody marriage that eludes so many other, more respected bands.

9. "Silver Springs" by Fleetwood Mac, from The Chain. Absolutely ridiculous that this song was left off of Rumours. It's an absolute classic. Having Buckingham and Nicks singing those last lines practically at each other is the extra gear that the Mac can slip into at any time.

10. "Baby and The Band" by Imperial Teen, from The Hair, The TV, The Baby and the Band. Still one of the most underrated bands I've ever heard. A fizzy pop song about getting middle-aged and not quite understanding how you got there.