Sunday, December 19, 2010

100 Songs for 2010: 31-35


We're counting down our 100 favorite songs of the year.  Today, 31-35.  Check out previous posts here.


35) LCD Soundsystem - "Dance Yrself Clean"

I spent a large part of 2010 trying to understand trying to understand the science of sound recording, why music sounds the way it does. I still wholeheartedly recommend Perfecting Sound Forever by Greg Milner. Even after learning as much as I could, though I can’t say I really understand that much about gated drums or dynamic range compression or anything like that. In high school, my band hung a directional mic from a ceiling fan, then just played the same song over and over until we got a good take. That’s about as far as I got in terms of recording technology.

Still, I like knowing that there is a whole world of technical considerations that go into the creation of a song. I like reading interviews where very smart people say things like, “from what I’ve read about James Murphy [the man behind LCD Soundsystem]’s views on sound, I wouldn’t be surprised if the songs were mastered with vinyl in mind.” That might as well say “mastered with unicorns in mind” for all I understand it, but I like being able to approach music on multiple levels of depth. I can tell you this song sounds good. It makes me happy to know there are people out there who can tell you exactly why.


LCD Soundsystem - "All My Friends"
LCD Soundsystem - "Losing My Edge"

34) Woods - "Suffering Season"

“Who knows what tomorrow might bring?”

It’s the song I most often found myself involuntarily singing out loud walking down the hall at work. It’s a weird kind of catchy, but man does it take up residence in my head sometimes.

As Pitchfork put it: “I won’t say that this is the best song Woods have written, but it is the one I feel like I could ask anyone I know to check out, the song that says, ‘Here’s a band you might like.’”

That could be the mission statement for this whole 100 Songs project.


Woods - "Rain On"
Woods - "Get Back"

33) Band of Horses - "Compliments"

In which we dream of moving to a small town in South Carolina and devoting our lives to writing the perfect alt-country song.

In which we got to hang out with the Web Sheriff.

Democrats pretty constantly accuse Republicans of romanticizing a past that never existed, and of dragging us all backward toward that misplaced fantasy, and this is probably accurate, but, to some degree, we all do that kind of romanticizing from time to time.* Most of us aren’t foolish enough to devote our lives to it, but it’s a fun escape for the length of a movie, or an album, or even just a song.

Band of Horses are playing with that kind of emotion here. It’s all lazy small-town charm, drinking in the morning and log cabins and the reverb-drenched approach of a yellow dog. It sounds so perfectly relaxing, the opposite of work and city life and real-world responsibilities. Do I want that life for more than the 3:27 of this song? Probably not. But it’s a great escape while it lasts.

(Also, “I bet you get a lot of compliments down there” gets my vote for “Lyric of the Year that Sounds Obscene But Really Isn’t.”)

* I think this instinct was the driving force behind the initial popularity of Mad Men. The narrative for the first season was basically, “Wouldn’t it be so cool to be Don Draper or Roger Sterling and live in the 1960s and drink at work and smoke cigarettes and speak in short, forceful sentences and witty quips and be almost-unbelievably handsome and have a bunch of affairs and not have to worry about all our stupid modern-day problems?” The critics are over it now, but most of the original Mad Men backlash came in the form of people overcompensating for that first instinct, saying, “Oh, you think the 1960s were so awesome, when minorities and women had no rights and gay people were living horrible secret lives and secretaries had no choice but to have sex with their bosses and then get back-alley abortions and white men ruled the world?” And … of course that’s not it, no one wants that, and the more anyone thinks about it, the more I don’t think anyone really wishes it were still the 1960s. We just wanted to romanticize that image of the super-cool ad man for an hour a week. And, in my opinion, the best thing the show has done over the following seasons was to distance itself from that instinct, to the point where probably no one wants to be Don or Roger anymore, but we still want to watch them. Man that show is good.


Band of Horses - "No One's Gonna Love You"
Band of Horses - "St. Augustine"

32) Gold Motel - "Safe in L.A."

I hate laugh tracks. I think everyone hates laugh tracks. They’re distracting and usually unnecessary and above-all condescending, like we need cues to understand all this brilliant humor unfolding before us. Chuck Klosterman has written an essay about it, so I don’t think it’s necessary for me to add much more. Laugh tracks are stupid.

And yet, I tend to like fake audience noise on studio recordings. This song ends in staged applause, and I have no problem with it. In fact, I kinda like it. Same for Sufjan Stevens’ “Decatur” or MGMT’s “Congratulations.”

So why is this different than the laugh track? Isn’t it the band saying, “Yes, your suspicions are correct. This song is very good. You should be showing your appreciation for it”?


Gold Motel - "Slow Emergency"
Gold Motel - "Cold Shoulders"

31) Japandroids - "Younger Us"

In which the lead singer looks like a college-age Ted Mosby.

If Japandroids stand for anything, it is youth. Not idealized, fresh-faced, world-beating youth, but clock-is-ticking, slipping-through-your-fingers youth. On 2009’s “Young Hearts Spark Fire,” they sang, “We used to dream / Now we worry about dying." Here the sentiment is even further stripped bare, “Give me younger us.” The guitars scream to live in the now, to seize the present moment forever, while the lyrics caustically remind you that “now” is, by definition, always eternally gone.

For me, it’s the sound of walking alone through the Mission at night, half-drunk, in the rain, trying to convince yourself that life hasn’t passed you by.

There’s a line in High Fidelity* where John Cusack’s character says, “Only people of a certain disposition are frightened of being alone for the rest of their lives at the age of 26, and we were of that disposition.” If I add a sentence here poking fun at Japandroids (two guys who are almost the definition of youthful energy and intensity) worrying about the loss of their youth, I also have to add that I understand it’s almost as ridiculous for me to feel the same way. I still feel like that, though.

* My all-time favorite movie and one of my very favorite books, and I know it probably shocks many of you that I can relate to a guy who spends his whole life making music lists.


Japandroids - "Young Hearts Spark Fire"
Japandroids - "Wet Hair"

1 comment:

  1. "Younger Us" is a great song. Today's got a great list in general, but I really love that song.

    (I also assume there is plenty more LCD Soundsystem still to come on the list.)