Friday, December 10, 2010

100 Songs for 2010: 76-80


We're counting down our 100 favorite songs of the year.  Today, 86-90.  Check out previous posts here.


80) Morning Benders - "Promises"

Berkeley! But then, later, moved to Brooklyn … which I’m less excited about. Honestly, how confident do you have to be about your band to move to Brooklyn? As I understand it, every single person in Brooklyn has a band that, at one time or another, has been written up on Pitchfork. As someone who was once in one of the three best unsigned bands in La Crescent, Minnesota (population: 4,900), let me tell you … you really don’t need all that extra competition.


Morning Benders - "Excuses"
Morning Benders - "Dammit Anna"


79) Old 97s - "Champaign, Illinois"

[Playing at the Fillmore January 22!  You should come!]

Here’s a story that showcases the undeniable coolness of everyone involved. One night, years ago, out on the road, the guys in Old 97s began improvising a song built around the structure of Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row.” They came to like the song, played it live a few times, but knew they could never release it because it cribbed too much from Dylan. They didn’t want to ruin it by needlessly tinkering with it.

So they called Dylan, played him the song, and asked for his blessing. He listened to the song, read the lyrics, and wholeheartedly signed off on it. So now Dylan gets half a songwriting credit on the new Old 97s album.

And I get a mystical song devoted to one of the mystical places in my life. I was so close to attending the University of Illinois for law school that I actually get Illini alumni junk mail. They once accidentally sent me a five-figure financial aid check. It’s one of the most obvious “What Could Have Been” alternate realities in my life.

The choices I made instead led me to Ilana, and so of course they were the right ones, but if you remove relationships from the equation … it’s hard to say if I would have been better off in the great Midwest. I love San Francisco more than anything, but the prospect of being debt-free … that seems an almost impossibly liberating thought for all those long days in an office, wondering if this is really it. Where would I go? What would I do?

I did not go to Champaign, Illinois, but I did not go to heaven, either. Apparently there was a third option not mentioned in the song.


Old 97s - "Book of Poems"
Old 97s - "Rollerskate Skinny"


78) Tinashe - "Zambezi"

The Zambezi (also spelled Zambesi) is the fourth-longest river in Africa, and the largest flowing into the Indian Ocean from Africa. The area of its basin is 1,390,000 square kilometres (540,000 sq mi), slightly less than half that of the Nile. The 3,540-kilometre-long river (2,200 mi) has its source in Zambia and flows through Angola, along the borders of Namibia, Botswana, Zambia again, and Zimbabwe, to Mozambique, where it empties into the Indian Ocean.

The Zambezi’s most spectacular feature is the beautiful Victoria Falls. Other notable falls include the Chavuma Falls at the border between Zambia and Angola, and Ngonye Falls, near Sioma in Western Zambia.

If you’re looking to write a near-perfect, Paul Simon’s Graceland-style song about the longer African rivers, the top three are:

- The Nile-Kagera
- The Congo-Chambeshi
- The Niger

The Ubangi-Uele is fifth, but, c’mon … you’re better than that.


Paul Simon - "You Can Call Me Al"
Tinashe - "Saved


77) The Apples in Stereo - "Hey Elevator"

In which indie pop is neither.

The band themselves called their new album “retro-futuristic,” and I can get behind that. It’s the sound of something that would get airtime on the only oldies station on the radio after the robots take over. Shiny and metallic, yet strangely soft to the touch.


The Apples in Stereo - "Dance Floor"
The Apples in Stereo - "Energy"


76) Das Racist - "Fashion Party" (f/ Chairlift)

[Note: There's no video for "Fashion Party," so here's the video for "Who's That? Brooown!" ... which is one of my favorite videos of the year in its own right.]

“I can’t tell if you wanna hit me or if you wanna dance …”

Between sets at the Teenage Fanclub show, Gene and I were talking about Die Antwoord, a South African novelty rap act that was inexplicably a big deal on the blogs for most of 2010. Neither one of us had anything positive to say about Die Antwoord. More than that, though, as Gene put it, “I’m not even sure why I’m supposed to like them.” And that’s the problem with conceptual art, really – it’s mostly an inside joke. The cool kids know why it’s good. And, if you don’t get it … well, what does that say about you? As culture becomes more and more self-aware, self-referential, and knowingly ironic, it seems like more and more bands now require a joint degree in Sociology and Cultural Studies for the listener to understand exactly why a given song is supposed to be relevant.

Das Racist is another act that falls into the “novelty rap” genre, and it’s easy to see why. Their breakthrough single, “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell” is basically a repetition of exactly those words for three minutes. One of their 2010 mixtapes samples Enigma’s “Return to Innocence.” There is a lot of free-association word matching. A lot of the time, it sounds like a joke. And yet, the taste-makers in the blogosphere kept insisting that this was an important group, maybe a zeitgeist-defining group, a group who had more to say about America in the year 2010 than almost anyone. It’s understandable for the causal listener to be confused.

I think I’m open to art that looks like a joke, as long as someone can explain its value to me, even if I never would have figured it out on my own. I’ve always been a big Andy Warhol fan because I’ve read pretty extensively about his life and philosophy and I think I understand why painting a soup can was supposed to mean something. I will readily admit that I never would have figured this out on my own.

So I’ll admit that my Das Racist fandom requires extrinsic sources. David Shapiro’s writing about the band over at Pitchfork Reviews Reviews is absolutely required reading. The band’s own interviews are also helpful, as well as their op-ed piece about the TV show Outsourced. In fact, every quote I heard from these guys made me like them more. If you understand exactly how smart they are, if you’re willing to assume a method to their madness, even if you can’t always see it … then their songs start sounding a whole lot better.

And it doesn’t hurt that their beats and production have gotten exponentially cleaner, even between their two 2010 mixtapes. “Fashion Party” might be that rare Das Racist song that doesn’t even require the proper context.

In conclusion … I love the idea of Chairlift making beats. Are they the least hip-hop band in the world? I say yes. And yet, their sound fits here. Awesome.


Das Racist - "Hahahaha jk?
Das Racist - "Puerto Rican Cousins"

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