Saturday, December 18, 2010

100 Songs for 2010: 36-40


We're counting down our 100 favorite songs of the year.  Today, 36-40.  Check out previous posts here.


40) Delays - "Unsung"

You just don’t find un-ironic falsetto very often in the indie rock world. Cherish it when you do. For me, the Delays are one of a very small number of bands that don’t really signify anything. As far as I’m concerned, this song is completely unconnected to anything else in the world. They exist in a vacuum, and as a result listening to them is a very clean, unencumbered experience.*

* Note: If it turns out these guys are all ironic-post-something or a performance- art commentary on the inherent contradictions of something else, or a conceptual … thing … please just don’t tell me.


Delays - "Hey Girl"
Delays - "Nearer than Heaven"

39) Decemberists - "Down by the Water"

Gillian Welch is my generation’s Emmylou Harris, which is to say that, if she’s singing backing vocals on your song, it is by definition a good song.


Decemberists - "July, July!"
Decemberists - "16 Military Wives"

38) Pains of Being Pure at Heart - "Heart in Your Heartbreak"

If I had one piece of advice for all the adorable little indie twee bands out there, it would be this: SELL OUT!

I know people were up in arms about the fact that Pains of Being Pure at Heart are now working with a producer whose credits include U2 and Smashing Pumpkins, but honestly … where else were they going to go? Their lo-fi debut album was brilliant, of course, but by the end of it they were already recycling elements. No one wanted them to make the same album over and over again for their entire career.

So they took a chance, filled out their sound, and the results are undeniable. Selling out as the artistically-responsible thing to do … we are through the looking glass here, people.


Pains of Being Pure at Heart - "Come Saturday"
Pains of Being Pure at Heart - "Young Adult Friction"

37) Gaslight Anthem - "The Queen of Lower Chelsea"

Here’s an attempt to explain just how captivating Gaslight Anthem is as a live band. This summer, a bunch of us trekked down to San Jose to see them play a free show as part of the annual “Music in the Park” series. As with any trip to San Jose for any reason, I mostly talked people into coming along with a promise of delicious Mexican food from La Victoria Taqueria, home of the World Famous Orange Sauce. If I had to pick a last meal, this might be it. It’s that good. So we made plans to grab burritos after the show.

I worked at "Music in the Park" for the two years I lived in San Jose, and I was pretty sure nobody played encores. So we all danced and sang along through an enjoyable Gaslight Anthem set, then, when the band left the stage, we started making our way toward La Vic’s. People were excited. I can admit that at least a few people in our group were there for the Orange Sauce first, and the concert second.

Then, unexpectedly, the band came out for an encore. And then they played a second song. And then a third. And the encore stretched on and on.

I’d like to tell you that we stayed until the very end, that we put our burrito dreams aside for as long as was necessary to fully enjoy the show. If we’re being honest, though … we didn’t quite make it all the way through the encore. But we made it most of the way through the encore. And, if you don’t think that’s an incredibly high compliment, then you’ve never been to La Victoria. If I was in Gaslight Anthem, I’d put this up in bold letters on the band’s official website.

Gaslight Anthem: A bunch of people put off getting La Victoria burritos (with Orange Sauce) for like twenty minutes longer than expected because our live show is so good.


Gaslight Anthem - "Film Noir"
Gaslight Anthem - "Old White Lincoln"

36) The National - "Bloodbuzz Ohio"

In which we capture the intensity.

High Violet was almost universally loved this year, but for some reason it didn't stick with me. It’s not quite a simple as saying, “It’s too sad,” because I still listen to sad music, and I don’t think I’m somehow too constantly happy to relate to a band like The National. That’s not it at all. It’s more than I really don’t relate to their specific brand of depression. The songs all seem to come from a very claustrophobic place, hemmed in by the city, trapped by almost everything ... and I just don’t think that’s one of my issues. Sorry. “Bloodbuzz Ohio” is a great, though, full of wonderful little moments when all that weight lifts.


The National - "Mistaken for Strangers"
The National - "Lit Up"


  1. RE: Selling out.

    I think our generation has really mutated the definition of selling out. I don't think it's selling out if a band is working with an established producer; even though punk fans for decades have always cried murder when some indie band signed with a major label.

    I consider selling out to be changing your message or beliefs simply in the quest of a dollar. (I would consider "selling out" more something like the Black Eyed Peas. To see that transformation, one only has to read's posts on before Elephunk, where he complained about not having a Grammy and then changed his group's sound from things like "BEP Empire" and "Joints and Jams" to "My Humps" and "Shut Up.")

    If you're able to bring the same sonic message with your music, but work with a more established producer, that isn't changing your core beliefs in the pursuit of being sustainable as a musician.

    My brother-in-law used to drum for Mason Jennings and was present when Jennings once turned down Steve Lillywhite (in person) and a multi-album deal because he wanted to keep his music under his own control. Now, that might be admirable, but would that really have been selling out? I can't say it would be.

    A band deserves to transform as the years go on and they age. Did bands like the Goo Goo Dolls sell out because they found a formula or making money or did their core music beliefs change as well? (I'd vote the former in that instance.)

    Many people used to say Nelly was a sell out, but he never changed his core message or sound. He made accessible, largely radio-friendly hip-hop for mass consumption. He didn't come out of the box working with DJ Premier and holding a backpack.

    If he had, I think one could call him a sell out, but otherwise, his music just grew to a larger audience.

    Will working with a more established producer change Pains of Being Pure's music?

    Fans of Pains of Being Pure at Heart shouldn't act like US Soccer fans that bristle anytime someone casually watches the World Cup, that they are losing ownership in something they really enjoy.

    They should be proud that a band they enjoy will receive larger recognition.

  2. That's pretty much it, yes. I agree with all of that.

    The whole thing is complicated by the fact that Pains of Being Pure at Heart exist in a genre largely obsessed with authenticity, and they have made similar statements themselves, lately bragging about how they turned down all kinds of money because they don't want their songs in TV commercials.

    That seems almost nonsensical to me. Bands need to make money, and they certainly aren't selling albums anymore. If you change your sound to make it more marketable to TV (like Black Eyed Peas, as you say, definitely the best example, but also like O.A.R. or - sigh - Switchfoot), that's a problem. But if someone wants to use a song that you recorded before you even had a record deal ... how does that compromise your artistic integrity?

    In terms of the band working with Flood on their new album, it will be an even bigger problem because that WILL change their sound, at least somewhat. But quite a few other indie bands (Rogue Wave, Morning Benders, Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin among recent ones) have made a similar move - to a bigger, fuller sound - but have worked with indie-approved producers in doing so.

    I don't know ... people on the internet just want something to be upset about. I fully expect the new album to be great.

  3. Yeah, orange sauce is good. GLA is good. And I think you and I actually got to here all of the encores because we lost Jerry.

  4. And is it selling out if you sell a song to a product you really do like?

    Like if Guinness reps called a band up and said, "Damn - you guys rock the shit.(Yeah, they curse. They sell a drug after all.) We want you to be the face of our product, which you already enjoy. Can we use your song in our commercial? If so, where should we send this dump truck of money?"

    How can anyone blame a band for that?

  5. First my thoughts re getting lost and Orange sauce. If you are ever hanging out with Brett and get separated do not ask him for directions. He will direct you in the exact opposite direction. He actually got lost driving me and cunha around TAHOE his home town.

    Second, I kind of agree with you on selling out in some sense, but there is a difference between musical growth and being co-opted by a record label. The best example of musical growth that has been mistaken for selling out I can think of is AFI.

    They never really wanted to leave Nitro records, but Dexter Holland (accused of selling out when in reality he just started writing bad music) told them that his label couldn't accomplish everything they wanted to do with their sound. Though "The Art of Drowning" and "Black Sails in the Sunset" might be my favorite AFI albumns (probobly because they remind me of when I first heard the band back in highschool) you can tell that they are well past their hardcore origins, but not quite where they want to get.

    As one of the few bands of the last decade that inspired an actual record label bidding war (will happen if you have six figure sales on consecutive albumns on a small label like Nitro) they had their choice of producers. If you were a musically growing band that started in the punk scene who would you have produce you? I think really there are only two answers Butch Vig (all the early grunge bands and formed the band Grabage as a vanity project) and Jerry Finn (Green Day, Rancid, most popular west coast punk bands of the last two decades). Being in a position to ask for the world can you blame them for saying ummmmm give us both. Finn did wonders with their guitar tone and removed the harsh treble intessiveness that plagued the Nitro albumnes while Vig helped on the arangements and electronic aspects. While it is true that they got a lot of money from (Warner- I think)they put together some really top notch albumns.

    My other theory on selling out is that I think people's taste in music changes. I can listen to all the Punk and Metal that I liked back in middle and highschool, but any new punk and metal music sounds like absolute garbage to me. I think I have outgrwn the genre's, but have ingrained my nuero-pathways to give me a positive response to music I used to like. Thus if the Deftones make an albumn that sounds like "White Pony" I will probobly enjoy it, but if they stray at all I will probobly think it sucks because I don't enjoy heavy music that much anymore. So I can imagine that there are people out they that listen to any number of bands that have made the leap to a label and a high powered producer and changed their music just enough that it wont produce that same response.

    I call this the Bad Religion corrolary. BR has made the same albumn roughly 20 times and they have had the same size audiance their entire career (save for the years surrounding the release of Dookie which made all punk popular for a while). If you liked "Generator" back in the day you will like all the subsequent albumns until you just plain get bored with them.

    So there is a big rambling mess of theories with little suport. Also known as any sort of art criticism.

  6. Well, rambling, sure, but that's what we do on this blog.

    And I think the problem you identify with AFI is going to be the problem with Pains of Being Pure at Heart, too ... their sound is going to get cleaner and fuller and a whole lot more produced and commercial-sounding, but it doesn't necessarily follow that they're doing that just because they want to be on TRL (which I understand no longer exists). That more polished sound really could be their artistic vision, and there's nothing wrong with that.

    It's almost like the best thing they could do would be NOT sell any records. In the last decade or so, the Mountain Goats and Guided By Voices really filled out their sounds, but they still have tons of cred because they didn't really sell any records as a result of it. So the die-hards can keep them, and the rest of us can listen to their records without it sounding like we're listening to an AM-only transistor radio.