Before I started work last month, I was considering delving dangerously deep into my teenage years spent listening to Christian rock. For better or worse, I want to know what it did to me. That project is on hold now, but I feel like my great contribution to society will come in this field, though I’m not sure what form it will take.
I bring this up because Derek Webb’s career pretty nicely tracks my own musical development. In the mid-to-late-90s, he was one of the main creative forces behind Caedmon’s Call, a Texas alt-country band whose honest and revealing lyrics stood out in a genre known for bumper-sticker sloganeering and evangelical cliché. Ten years later, Caedmon’s Call is one of the few (honestly, maybe two … it could just be them and Common Children) Christian bands I can go back to and still find some kind of connection. However, as I drifted away from the Jesus music, I stopped keeping tabs on the band.
And, while I respected the Webb’s open-minded and truthful world view, I would never have guessed that he would leave the band because he wanted to write songs attacking the church’s stances on things like gay rights (also, because he wanted to swear in songs, but I don’t know if that’s really too noble). I did not suspect that, in 2009, he would be writing preternaturally catchy pop gems about hooking up at anti-war rallies.
This is, hands down, the best Justin Timberlake song recorded this year.
42) Discovery – Swing Tree
The problem with putting four songs by one band on this list is that, honestly, I’m completely out of things to say about both Discovery and jj. And we still have a long way to go.
43) Islands – Switched On
This is my favorite song on Vapours, the new Islands album. It is the first track on the album. My second favorite song on the album, as mentioned later, is “No You Don’t.” It is the second track on the album. My third favorite song? Yup, “Vapours,” the third track on the album. More bands should organize their records based on how much I like the songs.
44) The Kickdrums – Things Work Out
In what will become another theme on this list (see Miike Snow, Simian Mobile Disco), a production team decides to make its own music, and it’s great. Two white dudes who’ve made beats for 50 Cent (among others) make their rock debut, and while the driving hip hop drums are there, this song shows considerable rock chops all its own.
45) The Hold Steady – 40 Bucks
A bonus studio track from the group’s life-affirming 2009 live album A Positive Rage. By the band’s standards, it’s good, not great, but Craig’s storytelling is as sharp as ever, piano and horn-driven hook shows the band’s willingness to explore new directions. Live recordings of new THS songs have been making the rounds of late, and there’s no reason to doubt that their upcoming 2010 album will absolutely be the greatest recording in the history of Western Civilization. I … I can’t be rational about The Hold Steady.
46) Miike Snow – A Horse Is Not a Home
First of all … Sweden! Second, this is the side project of the guys who wrote Britney Spears’ “Toxic.” Third, is this song in response to someone who thinks that a horse IS a home? Do people think this in Sweden? Maybe they do. It is a strange and magical place.
47) AC Newman – The Palace at 4 AM
From the blog (3/1):
Saw AC Newman last night at the Independent. It was a good, but not great, show. Workmanlike. The same could be said for Get Guilty, his sophomore album. His solo stuff will never be a substitute for his work with The New Pornographers, but it's solid in its own right. "The Palace at 4 AM" is the standout track on the album, and its title is a reference to a short story by Donald Barthelme that I have never read. I like my rock stars to be more literate than I am.
48) Free Energy – Something in Common
To the best of my knowledge, Free Energy has released four songs in the band’s short history. Three are on this list, and the fourth, “Dark Trance,” might have made the cut if I could find an MP3 of it (you can check it out streaming on MySpace). Yeah, I’m pretty excited for their debut full-length to finally come out.
49) Clipse – Kinda Like a Big Deal (f/ Kanye West)
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what my at-bat music would be if the Twins finally decided that I was their best option at third base. I’ve always been partial to the swagger of Lil Flip’s “This Is the Way We Ball.” However, I think this song may be my new favorite. I would cue it up for the beginning of the third verse, right where Malice growls out, “LLLLLLLIGGGGHHHHTTTTSSSS.” Intense.
I would definitely NOT cue it up to the second verse, where Kanye West apparently brags about having sex with developmentally disabled high school girls.
50) Simian Mobile Disco – Cruel Intentions
Somewhere around 2000/2001, when rap metal was sweeping across America like the plague of locusts that it was, some in the hipster community started dreaming of a band that approached that same synthesis from the other direction. Instead of rapping over rock tracks, they wanted a group to lay indie rock vocals over Neptunes-style minimalist beats, which were all the rage at the time. The Great, Shining Hope for this movement was Simian Mobile Disco (who, at that point, was just called Simian), whose album We Are Your Friends, in hindsight, just sounds like a watered-down version of what Phoenix would do better just a few years later. After that, no one really heard much from Simian, until JUSTICE remixed one of those songs into a massive club jam. Simian, seeing where the winds were blowing, became Simian Mobile Disco, and started making their own techno-influenced dance jams, like this one, featuring the girl from The Gossip. “Call me up … We’ll hang out …”
51) Cam’Ron – I Hate My Job
I don’t mind Cam as a rapper. He says some funny stuff now and then. I like the verse in this song where he plays a woman working a menial job who kicks herself for not going to nursing school. That’s pretty imaginative. I don’t think Young Jeezy would have gone there.
I don’t love Cam for his lyrical skills. I love him for his ear for beats. The man just knows hotness, and this beat is no exception. And, as a rapper, isn’t that really your job?
52) Phoenix – Lasso
Earlier this year, Phoenix cancelled a show in San Francisco where they were scheduled to headline a dance music festival at the Grand Ballroom. The show was to run from 8 PM to 4 AM. And Phoenix was going on last. Now, there aren’t enough drugs in the world to make eight hours of dance music tolerable, so if I was going to this show, I was going to show up at 2 AM for Phoenix. Like, I was going to go to sleep early, and set my alarm for the middle of the night so I could get up and see this band.
A lot of people say, “Yeah, I would see those guys anytime, anywhere.” Well, as a band, if you want to test the devotion of your fans, I guess I would suggest headlining a dance music festival. Deep down, I’m glad they cancelled. I need my beauty sleep.
53) Matt and Kim – Daylight
From the blog (7/22):
Matt and Kim are everywhere right now. This song is in the background of some tequila commercial. “Same Old Fashion Nightmare” is in the background of commercials for that new sit-com starring Joel McHale. Now that the internet has destroyed record sales, this is how bands make money, and really I’m cool with it. I hope we’re all past the idea of “selling out” now, as long as it doesn’t affect the quality of the band’s output. I mean, we can all hate O.A.R. for saying, “I know we used to be a frat-stoner white-boy-reggae band with a cult following, but what if we scrapped all that and tried to sound like an even wussier version of The Fray? Maybe we could get on a Gray’s Anatomy soundtrack album!” That’s selling out, and it’s still terrible. But Matt and Kim are making the same great music they always have, and now some big corporations want to give them money for it. That’s just a win-win.
54) Free Energy – Free Energy
Last of the Free Energy songs on the list, and, since God Help the Girl’s “God Help the Girl” missed the cut, it’s the only song on the list where the artist name and song title are the same. So that’s quite an honor.
55) Islands – No You Don’t
Last year’s Arm’s Way was a festival of sprawling strings. This year’s Vapours is a minimalist celebration of synths. Next year’s Islands album? My guess is a rock opera performed entirely on water glasses filled to different levels and hit with a spoon. Fingers crossed.
56) Tegan and Sara – Hell
I guess it would be easy to hear “pixieish identical twin lesbian sisters from Canada” and think “novelty act,” but Tegan and Sara have been making razor-sharp pop music for three albums now, so its safe to say their longevity is based far more on their songwriting chops than any curiosity factor that might be present. “Hell,” the first single on 2009’s Sainthood, is more of the same, comforting familiar and tantalizingly new at the same time.
57) The Mountain Goats – Genesis 3:23
So, I LOVE John Darnielle, and far be it from me to tell him what he can and can’t write songs about, but … this song is exactly the same as Barenaked Ladies’ “The Old Apartment.” Seriously. They’re both about breaking into your old apartment and being nostalgic for a place you lived during a trying time in your life. Both include references to counting steps. Mountain Goats chorus: “I used to live here.” Barenaked Ladies chorus: “This is where we used to live.”
Is it possible the John Darnielle does not know this?
58) One for the Team – Best Supporting Actress
One for the Team is the fronted by a man named Ian Anderson. Ian Anderson also writes and edits the blog “Minneapolis Fucking Rocks.” Ian Anderson also wrote a book called Here Come the Regulars, about how to start and run your own indie record label.
So yes … Ian Anderson writes songs, records them with his band, releases them on his label, and then promotes them on his blog. Ian Anderson IS music. And, as for his reward? Well, one of his songs was featured on “Gossip Girl.” That’s as big as indie bands get these days. Ian Anderson wins.
59) Miike Snow – Animal
While I do love almost everything that the Swedish indie scene does, I’m not on board with their habit of giving bands names that sound like one person. “Miike Snow” is a band. “Herman Dune” was a band. This is confusing for those of us who only digest your music via snippets on sporadically-updated blogs.
60) K-Os – I Wish I Knew Natalie Portman
From the blog (4/26):
I think this song was created just for me. Canadian underground rapper samples the theme from The OC, quotes lines from "When Doves Cry." I mean, who else would enjoy something like that?