by Clint Frost(WASU DJ/Contributor)
-Sprawl II-Arcade Fire-The Suburbs-
The best song from Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs is sung not by Win Butler, but by the underappreciated Regine Chassagne. It is an amazing analysis of the prevalent contradiction that is embodied by the sudden discouragement of doing what matters to one when they reach adulthood, after, during the entirety of one’s youth, they are encouraged to be themselves and not care what others think, and to do those things that are important to them. Suddenly, nonconformity is debilitating financially, so conformity and work that means nothing to one rehabilitates their finances, but sacrifices their soul, and produces all sorts of anxieties that wouldn’t be there if they were proud of their work, were happy with it, not only happy with the monetary compensation they receive.
The opening verse show that Chassagne is sympathetic to this sentiment: “They heard me singing and they told me to stop/Quit these pretentious things, and just punch in the clock.” She ends the chorus on a sad note, sighing “we can never get away from the Sprawl.” The” Sprawl” seems to be the omniscience that conformity and sameness are steadily moving towards occupying, not just in the shopping malls that Chassagne describes, but in such sacred, seemingly nonmarketable things as, for example, the outdoors. The band pounds out an anthemic but uncharacteristically electro-pop backing for Chassagne, featuring an ominously catchy synthesizer riff that is ironic in its electronic “perfection” is exactly what Arcade Fire is railing against on not just this piece of pop brilliance, but the entirety of The Suburbs.
-To Old Friends and New-Titus Andronicus-The Monitor-One of the many high points on the Glen Rock, New Jersey rockers 2010 album, “To Old Friends and New” is one of the rare multi-faceted long songs from concept albums in which the every part meshes perfectly with the other. It is also one of the most impassioned rock performances I’ve ever heard on record, in every aspect of the recording. The male/female duet sang at the beginning of the song over a perfectly dramatic chord progression, played on a piano, far more than adequately sets the stage for the theatrical climax that is the middle of the song, a musical explosion in almost every way possible. The guitars crank up and distort to a preposterous level, yet retain the ability to sound beautiful due to both complex and yearning 7th chords they are blasting. The lead singer’s vocal chords sound as they are going to be torn apart as he screams what are some of the most gorgeously melodramatic lyrics in recent memory: “Reasons for living are seldom and few/When you see one you better stick to it like glue.”
I’ve Seen it Go Away-Merle Haggard-I Am What I Am
-The Merle Haggard of these days is less interested in making great musical statements (like eschewing the notion that country music had to merely rehash the past in order to stay “traditional” in the ‘80’s) than he is calmly making his observations about the current state of the world while being backed by a band adhering firmly to straightforward traditional Bakersfield country/western swing. There is nothing innovative or new about the arrangement of “I’ve Seen it Go Away,” and even his trademark croon is slowly fading. But Merle is still recording and making his opinions felt, not in an effort necessarily to impress the listener with his art or song craft, but because he as something to say, and in a way that brings back similarities to the purity of folk songs, he doesn’t want the music to distract the listener from what he is saying. And what he is saying is that he has experienced firsthand the mixed feelings and results caused by industrialization and consumerism; those feelings being excitement and wonder at the bright lights of the city and the opportunity for adventure it carries with, and sadness upon realization that such a lifestyle was not able to be sustained. On the surface, “I’ve Seen it Go Away” may seem like a nostalgic yearn for the past, especially considering the somewhat lackadaisical shuffle that the music is, but it is more a search for the answers, a search for why we couldn’t sustain that way of life, and in questioning, he offers up one of the reasons: “I’ve seen our greatest heroes, break their people’s hearts.” No one in country music history is as good as Merle Haggard, period.
Crown on the Ground-Sleigh Bells-Treats
-Yeah, they were overhyped, but it’d be all but impossible to adequately give a reason for denying this songs’ genius. The combination of heavy guitar, cheerleader-esque girl vocals, and crunk beats, all at their highest possible level of obnoxiousness and cacophony, somehow results in a tune that is wholly original and melodious, featuring one of the catchiest verse hooks in recent memory.
Worm Tamer-Grinderman-Grinderman 2
-Nick Cave’s garage blue -esque group Grinderman’s “Worm Tamer” is not pretty music. The guitar riff is perverted and tortured Bo Diddley beat, the lyrics consist of distasteful serpent/male appendage double entendre (“you know they call my girl the serpent wrangler…”), and, heck, Nick Cave himself is ugly. But just because it’s not pretty, doesn’t mean it’s not good.
The Weekenders-The Hold Steady-Heaven is Whenever
-The best song on the Minneapolis rocker’s 2010 album Heaven is Whenver, “The Weekenders” finds lead vocalist/songwriter Craig Finn actually singing as opposed to melodically rambling. The results are mixed on the rest of the album, but this song is sheer, hooky pop/rock brilliance. It also shows that Finn’s trademark knack for clever wordplay is still soundly in-tact, containing lyrics like “the theme of this party’s the Industrial Age; you came in dressed like a train wreck.”
-2010’s Halcyon Digest marked the first time I listened to Deerhunter, and it was a rewarding listen, tosay the least. “Helicopter” is the standout track, mixing ugliness and beauty to a point where they are all but indistinguishable. The lyrics follows a story by Dennis Cooper about a teen being smothered by sex slavery and the mafia, and her plight is sympathetic, obviously, but also realistic, which actually enhances the sympathy. For example, singer Bradford Cox sings the line “No one cares for me,” which, this line: “They don’t pay like they used to pay; I used to make it day-to-day.” This disillusioned acceptance of being paid for sex being somewhat acceptable as long as the pay is good makes the story that much more depressing. The music too, has a degree of ugliness to it, despite beginning with some of the most melodious, sugary-sweet opening sounds ever put to record. As the story/song progresses though, these delectable sounds are overpowered by discord in the form of ambient noise. This urges the song to hint at a theme that is larger than the sad tale of the Russian teen, but the story certainly is an example of the theme; the most decadent and on-the-surface beautiful things are often aggravated by an undercurrent of ugliness, and this ugliness gains momentum and often has more power to transcend than the beauty does.
-The Wild Hunt-Tallest Man on Earth-The Wild Hunt-The Bob Dylan comparisons aren’t undeserved by any means, but they don’t in any way do him justice. What he may lack in lyrical prowess (specifically in directness, in some songs), The Tallest Man on Earth makes up for with a much more pop-oriented approach to guitar-playing than Dylan ever had, and his voice; though raw, it is more charming and earnest than Dylan’s ever was.
Written In Reverse-Spoon-Transference
-Austin, Texas Indie pop/rock band Spoon have been making great pop music for about 2 decades now, and with this year’s Transference they continue that trend. “Written in Reverse” is one of the best songs of their career, featuring some of lead singer Britt Daniel’s best vocal-chord shredding howls on record.
You Got Another-Drive-By Truckers-The Big To-Do
-One could easily make the argument that the high point of DBT’s 2010 release was Patterson Hood’s extremely relevant “This Fucking Job,” or Mike Cooley’s “Birthday Boy.” I, however, feel that the high point comes in the form of new bassist Shonna Tucker’s piano ballad, “You Got Another.”
The song sows classic country weeper ground, though never have I ever heard a line sang with such seemingly honest heartbreak as when Tucker sings “Baby, this ain’t funny, we got a lot of love.”
Black and Blue-The White Buffalo-Prepare for Black and Blue
-A startlingly raw and heartfelt song that depicts just how much a man is crippled by his lover walking out on him, in every aspect of his life. Accompanied by a sparse perfection that is a simple arpeggiated, acoustic chord progression and occasional piano twinkles, The White Buffalo shows that there is always fertile new soil to be unearthed in a hurtin’ song, as long as it is emotionally honest, direct, and genuine. With the segue from the straightforward description of drinking to more easily bask in “her” memory, to “I’m fucking it up…for you…” and suddenly howling “It’s all for you…” for a haunting 20 seconds, The White Buffalo reveals he is nothing if not genuine.
-Dark Trance-Free Energy-Stuck On Nothing
-Free Energy is a super catchy power pop group, music that you don’t hate having in your head all day. So catchy in fact that you don’t even mind such questionable lyrics as “well come on, just be my sis…one last kiss (yeah, extremely questionable, I know…and creepily suggestive).” The build up at the end is incredibly sweet, with such great twee popish sounding lyrics as “Do you love her? Do you want her? Have you ever had enough?” sung in the most appealingly innocent voice ever that fits the music and lyrics perfectly, and the song finally climaxes into a sugary explosion of guitars that is absolutely delectable.
-There is a big difference between “old” Old 97’s, “middle” Old 97’s, and “new” Old 97’s. The old, or early Old 97’s were a twangy, catchy group so caught up in redneck-country irony that it was hard to tell where they really stood, musically, and hard to take them too seriously. The middle of their career found them in a confused state, with leadsinger Rhett Miller suddenly losing the veil of his mock-redneck accent and becoming an emotionally straightforward singer, with the rest of the band suddenly churning out what didn’t differentiate much from mainstream emo-pop. They seem to have finally come into their own with their 2010 release The Grand Theatre, Vol. 1. The song “Every Night is Friday Night (Without You) is a great example of their new sound; it rocks every bit as hard and raw as the Replacements, without the self-deprecation, and at the same time, embraces the self-pitying (self-absorbed?) honesty of Hank Williams and Gram Parsons with Miller’s vocals and lyrics, instead of mocking it. This results in a song that is refreshing, revitalizing, and impulsive, proving that the best rock and roll isn’t always or even usually, holier-than-thou “indie” rock; it still is more often that impulsive, amateur, relatable, and just outright rockin’, are more amiable attributes.
Bruce Springsteen-Because the Night-The Promise
-The dramatic pop/rock song Springsteen wrote for Patti Smith back in ’78 finally gets an official recording/release by The Boss himself(It was supposedly recorded during the Darkness on the Edge of Town sessions, but it sounds more like the vocal inflections Bruce has been using on recent recordings, than how his voice sounded on Darkness). His “Because the Night” makes the listener all but forget the original Patti Smith Group recording, which often is not the case when the original songwriter releases their version of their song that another artist made popular. But Bruce and the E Street Band prove that this is their song. Although it wouldn’t necessarily fit in on any one Springsteen album that I can think of, it is classic Springsteen through and through, complete with one of Clarence Clemmons’ tried and true straight-melody sax solos.
-Chelsea Hotel-Leonard Cohen-Songs from the Road
-Leonard Cohen’s recordings have always seemed as if he knows something the average human doesn’t; his somber baritone combined with exquisite lyricism rightly gives him an air of being an extremely wise man. As his voice has aged, Cohen (now 76) just seems all the more wise, which makes this live version of “Chelsea Hotel” possibly the definitive version of the song.
Conversation 16-The National-High Violet
-The National stick with their trademark brand of intellectual, sad-sack rock music, without yet sounding tired or repetitive, with 2010’s High Violet being, arguably, their strongest record yet. “Conversation 16” is yet another classic National tune, with lyrics that are mumbled by a narrator that is socially anxious/inept to the point of madness (a common motif in National songs, featured in “Abel,” from 2005’s Alligator, and “Slow Show,” from 2007’s Boxer, to name a couple). The band is tight as ever, but they slightly abandon immediate accessibility in favor of a denser, more rewarding listen, one that demands repeated listens to understand the full breadth of the brilliance of the music. On “Conversation 16,” lead singer Matt Berninger’s lyrics continue to focus on, and expose, what’s underneath a sometimes false mask of domestic tranquility: “We try to hold it together, ‘til our friends are all gone.” That time, when their “friends are all gone,” is the chorus of the song, when Berninger croons “I was afraid…I’d eat your brains…cause I’m evil.” He is one of the few who could sing such lines and the choice verb describing the vocals is still “croon.”
Fuck You-Cee Lo Green-Lady Killer-
-One of the funkiest kiss off songs ever recorded, Cee Lo’s smash “Fuck You” is also simply one of the catchiest songs in recent memory. Everything about the recording is over-the-top, from the call-response backup vocals (“ain’t that some shit?”) to the overwrought emotion of the bridge towards the end, where Green stoops to the level of a toddler throwing a tantrum (the only difference being that this toddler is singing about losing his woman and is graced with a surprisingly soulful singing voice).
Down By the Water-The Decemberists-The King is Dead (pre-release)
-After receiving much flak from critics pertaining to their last album, the rock opera The Hazards of Love, the Decemberists appear to have taken a more straightforward approach with their new material. The influence of REM is more obvious than usual on this single, even featuring REM guitarist Peter Buck contributing some of his classic Rickenbacker jangle. This all adds up to equal the most accessible track in the Decemberists’ discography thus far, and one of their strongest.
Tighten Up-The Black Keys-Brothers
-The only Danger Mouse produced song on 2010’s Brothers (He produced the group’s 2008 release Attack and Release), the tune benefits from his studio wizardry more so than any song the last album did. Cliché blues references still abound, yet the Keys manage to tap into something more poppy with this song than they have frequently done in the past, with the exception of Rubber Factory’s “10 AM Automatic.” Though that song may have rocked slightly harder, it didn’t propel them to the ubiquitous level this song has, garnering them enough mainstream attention to confuse them for the Black Eyed Peas.
All of the Lights (featuring Rihanna) -Kanye West-My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
-Probably the song with the most Top 40 potential on Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, it forms the obvious question in the listener’s mind from the get-go: what’s with Rihanna being featured in all these songs with references to domestic abuse in 2010? But that question is soon pushed to the wayside, when the listener realizes this song easily beats the others. Kanye covers a wide variety of subject matter in his lyrics here, but what arguably stands out the most are the ones concerning his reputation as a, for lack of a better word, douche.
Heaven Can Wait-Charlotte Gainsbourg feat. Beck-IRM
Experience the Jewel-Wintersleep-New Inheritors
The Difference Between Us-The Dead Weather-Sea of Cowards
Five Small Words-Elvis Costello-National Ransom
American Slang-Gaslight Anthem-American Slang
Scott Mescudi vs. the World-Kid Cudi-Man on the Moon Part II
Drunk Girls-LCD Soundsystem-This is Happening
Congratulations, Flash Delerium-MGMT-Congratulations
You Are Not Alone-Mavis Staples
Love and War, Hitchhiker-Neil Young-Le Noise
Runaway, Gorgeous-Kanye West-My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
We Don’t Want Your Body-Stars-The Five Ghosts
King of the Beach-Wavves-King of the Beach
Hahahaha Jk-Das Racist-Sit Down, Man
Kill Your Idols-Ten Million Lights-Ten Million Lights
Thank Me Someday-Buddy Guy-Living Proof
King of Spain-Tallest Man on Earth-The Wild Hunt
Bloodbuzz Ohio-The National-High Violet
Month of May, We Used to Wait-Arcade Fire-The Suburbs
You Must Have Been Out of Your Mind-The Magnetic Fields-Realism
The Battle of Hampton Roads-Titus Andronicus-The Monitor
Love the Way You Lie-Eminem-Recovery
I’m Not a Star-Rick Ross-Teflon Don
When I’m With You-Best Coast-Crazy For You
Sweet Part of the City, We Can Get Together-The Hold Steady-Heaven Is Whenever
Remember Last Time-Avi Buffalo-Avi Buffalo
We Want War-These New Puritans
The Gaudy Side of Town-Gayngs-
Year’s Not Long-Male Bonding-
Digging For Something-Superchunk-Majesty Shredding