Wednesday, December 31, 2008

15. The Magnetic Fields - Drive on Driver

69 Love Songs by the Magnetic Fields never ceases to amaze me. Every time I revisit it (about every month or so these days) I am astounded by the shear quality of the album, even at a full 69 songs there really aren't any duds or missteps. Unfortunately I can't say that about the 2008 release Distortion. There are missteps a plenty on the 13 track LP which overall sounds a bit messy and unfocused. There are several exceptions though, including the heartbreaking single "Drive on Driver" which would slot perfectly into 69 Love Songs while disrupting the successful attempt at juvenile humor inherent in having 69 tracks.*

The lyrics tread pretty common territory as the creative force behind The Magnetic Fields Stephen Merritt recaps the end of days of a relationship in which he seems to have invested a whole lot more than the girl. He waits for her to come and of course she doesn't. Nothing new here, but as is often the case with Merritt, the music is the real attraction as the lavish and distorted arrangement is so multilayered and rich that it takes several listens to just absorb everything that's going on. Merritt double, triple, and quadruple tracks his vocals to contribute to the mournful undertone of the song. As the song winds down following Merritt's final "drive on.." the guitar solo that leads to a quick splash of orchestral string work becomes perhaps the most enjoyable and impressive 45 seconds of music of the year.

*Or maybe I just spend entirely too much time around middle schoolers... seriously if I notice that reading begins or ends on page 69 I assign an extra page just to avoid saying 69 in class.

Now playing: The Magnetic Fields - Drive On, Driver
via FoxyTunes

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

16. Rhymefest ft. Michael Jackson - Man in the Mirror

I don't care what Michael Jackson does with the rest of his life. If he buys 30 minutes of primetime advertising place and uses it to sacrifice three children, four dogs, two cats, and Macaulay Culkin I will still conveniently ignore his atrocities and continue to say he's one of the five most talented people in the world. Seriously. I'm willing to overlook everything post-Scream (the song with Janet and the multi million dollar video). The only problem with that is that musically his output, minimal though it may be, has been consistently terrible for the past 15 years and it's almost as though the MJ died in a terrible Neverland Ranch llama attack in 1995.

When I put on this track by Chicago rapper and Kanye West pal Rhymefest though, it's like the King of Pop has returned from exile. I can say in all honesty that the material on the mixtape Mark Ronson Presents: Rhymefest Man in the Mirror on which this song appears is the best Jackson family output since 1992's Dangerous. Granted, all of this output is sampled work from Jackson's career, dating back to his work with the Jackson Five but Ronson and Rhymefest breathe new life into the tracks that you've heard a thousand times before, even using interviews with Jackson to form the basis for several skits, the hip hop version of the shitty prize in the bottom of the cereal box. Additional guests on the mixtape are of the highest quality as well as Ronson disciples Wale and Daniel Merriweather appear along with samples of Ghostface Killah and Talib Kweli

In the song Man in the Mirror, Rhymefest takes the same look in the mirror that Jackson takes in the song's source material; questioning his self esteem a la White Power Bill in Arrested Development ("Maybe the problem is I don't love me") and reflecting upon the problems plaguing the rap world. Maybe, as currently appears quite likely, Michael Jackson will never come anywhere close to doing justice to his immense talents again. As I suggested before, I'm cool with this and it should in no way tarnish his musical reputation but my fear is that his current weirdness will somehow eclipse his considerable achievements. Rhymefest's "Man in the Mirror" assuages that fear though as it will hopefully serve as an effective reminder of all that was once good and what could be good again* about the self appointed King of Pop.

*For those of you playing the top30orso drinking game, it's time to take a giant swig for, "Reference to Field of Dreams." Hopefully you remembered to take a drink in earlier posts for "Reference to failings with opposite sex"

Sunday, December 28, 2008

17. Alejandro Escovedo - Always a Friend

As a music listener, and one who considers himself fairly refined, I am always especially embarrassed when I realize that I've completely missed out on a musical legend. That actually happens to me quite a bit so maybe I should just forget any notions I have about the possibility of having an advanced musical pallet.

Right before composing the final version of this list, I listened to the great APM podcast Sound Opinions with Chicago record critics Greg Kot and Jim DiRogatis and their interview with Alejandro Escovedo and heard this fantastic straight forward rocker. For those of you in the dark about Escovedo as I was, he was in on the ground floor of the American punk movement with the Nuns and expanded his horizons throughout the 80s and 90s. He collaborated with Whiskeytown on the near perfect Strangers Almanac album and has carved out a distinguished solo career for himself by strattling alt-country and garage rock, acquiring a list of fans along the way that includes Springsteen, Tom Petty, the Hold Steady, and countless others.

I think sometimes the instinct for the more established elder statesmen of rock and roll is to make albums totally lacking in ambition and creativity in the hopes of scoring giant pay days and not doing anything too risky that could possibly alienate a loyal and often mindless fan base (I'm looking at you The Who, Paul McCartney, Rolling Stones, and Axl Rose). Escovedo not only avoids that trap but manages to make an album full of melodic garage rock that eclipses the more high profile 2008 work of the Raconteurs and the Hold Steady with Always a Friend as the highlight.

In this song, Escovedo writes what has to be the greatest tribute ever written to the fantastic and possibly mythic "friends with benefits" arrangement. While the lyrics aren't destined for literature books or masters theses, ("We came here as two, we laid down as one
I don't care if I'm not your only one") they do the trick while allowing sonically unique guitar work and "Oooo, Oooo" and "Oh, Oh, Oh" harmonies to lead the way. In the process, Escovedo makes a song that should make 20 something bands give him shot outs in their liner notes and 50 something acts question their commitment and hopefully step up their game.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

18. Q-Tip - Gettin Up

Obviously like many wanna be music nerds the world over, one of my favorite movies of all time is High Fidelity. A movie that follows it's novel source material by Nick Hornby quite strictly and benefits heavily from that. The reason I bring this up is that in the movie Rob the main character's girlfriend Laura organizes a party advertised as offering "Dance music for old people." Let me just say that I've never heard a party, fictional or otherwise, sound more appealing. When I hear that line I don't think, bad beach music (ie one of the five million incarnations of the Drifters) or rich suburban assholes swinging their hands and shuffling their Cole Haan and Croc ensconced feet to some godforsaken Billy Joel song while trying not to vomit up their Appletinis and Michelob Ultras. Before hearing this song, by the most famous of the practitioners of the early 90s Native Tongue movement, I don't think I was even able to define that sound to which Laura was referring when she took it upon herself to bring Rob out of DJ retirement. Let there be no mistake though, this is most definitely dance music for old people in its must pure, mature, and kickass form.

So how is this song one for the old? First of all, it has that great rap bluster that we get from the younger players in the rap game ("the #1 M.C. Man") but it's dialed back to the point of showing up as only subtle swagger. Second of all, it brings the promiscuous sexiness of R. Kelly while simultaneously laying out plans for the future ("make a clan like the Kennedys"). Finally, the beat (and this goes for everything this highly underrated talent does) makes you want to move but not so much so that you will look like an idiot shaking the ass that you don't have in all your white arrhythmic splendor.

19. Parts and Labor - Nowhere's Nigh

On one of my favorite albums of the year, this duo turned quartet from Jagjaguwar Records goes all sci-fi on our asses. Of course I say this in the most flattering way possible... I'm not talking Star Trek style Sci-fi here. This album almost reminds me of a musical companion to Alfonso Cuaron's near future masterpiece Children of Men in that it fixates upon and magnifies our present problems and projects them as the potential status quo in a time that is far too close for comfort. It's like they've peered ahead to a possible ending in a Choose Your Own Adventure book. Parts and Labor describe their version of the future as though they are already living it in their heads.

On the track Nowhere's Nigh, P&L join the the ranks of Roger Miller, Springsteen, and Kraftwerk by crafting an epic and memorable song about the highway. The one key difference here though is that while the aforementioned trio of highwaymen almost show begrudging reverence for the road Parts and Labor are decrying what the road has done to us. The post-hardcore act seems to be giving us a lyrical call to slow it down get the hell out of the suburbs and actually reconnect with the world and most importantly eachother. The lyrics take a biting tone, decrying the consequences of our self imposed departure from the world from our well documented oil addiction, "Guzzled desert teats a black milk precedent,” “gas stations flutter constellating in the night,” to our inability to see beyond our immediate need and desire for comfort through the crippling isolation of suburbia, "unsustainable lives with asphalt testaments, isolated withdrawn and galvanized." Ironically enough, this song SOUNDS like the highway in the sense that you can hear the road in the rhythm (not in a metaphorical sense either, it literally sounds like you're driving over reflectors) and the rev of the engine in the melody and vocal harmonies. This track succeeds in taking you on a 4:36 road trip that feels like a cross country tour at mach 1, quite an achievement

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

20. Bon Iver - Skinny Love

The story behind this song is almost too hip to endure. Man goes through awful break-up, man moves into Wisconsin cabin in the winter to get away from it all and record a heart wrenching solo acoustic LP about said awful break-up. And it would all be too much to endure if it wasn't so well done and like Hank Sr.'s "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" so solicitous of sympathy for the guy going through the break up. I have read comparisons to fellow bearded acoustic singer-songwriter Iron and Wine but I don't really see how that works. For one, Bon Iver's (aka Justin Vernon) stuff is much more complex musically (some of the arrangements are almost like hearing an orchestra through one channel of stereo) and his almost painful falsetto wail owes more to Eliot Smith than anyone else.

In "Skinny Love," Vernon is just letting us sit in on a heartbreaking F.U. to his former significant other. It's lyrics' meaning are not always readily apparent but the pained beauty in the final chorus tells you all you need to know
I told you to be patient
I told you to be fine
I told you to be balanced
I told you to be kind
Now all your love is wasted?
Then who the hell was I?

You can feel what he's feeling (or maybe it's just me and my state of mind). He's so pissed off at this girl for doing whatever she did but at the same time he's just sad... sad about everything going wrong and furious that there's nothing he can do about it. That distinct feeling of powerlessness permeates the entire album, from the harsh winter backdrop by which it was recorded to the multiple other standout tracks it's one of the more powerful emotionally driven works of art of the year.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

21. Taylor Swift - Should've Said No

I cannot, for the life of me, understand how this song hasn't made more top (insert number here) lists for this year. Rihanna's pieces of R&B trash "Disturbia" and "Please Don't Stop the Music" are getting some love along with anything to which Barnacle Beyonce attaches herself. So what's the deal with the complete lack of love for Taylor Swift? Is it the fact that she falls into the oft-reviled Nu-Country (I just invented that term... if it catches on you can say you knew me when) movement of Brad Paisley and his ilk? I will say that it is rare to hear any artists making modern country getting positive ink. It could possibly be her relatively young age but even the Jonas Brothers are getting some respect in critical circles (ie Rolling Stone which is almost dead to me) so that can't be it. Regardless of the reason, it seems that Taylor Swift has not been allowed to even become a guilty pleasure during the year in music 2008. What a damn shame.

In this song, she writes (that's right, she wrote or co-wrote every song on her album... at 16) a pissed off reflection on that most common of country turf, the cheating/no good significant other. The difference between this and more traditional country territory though is that she actually sounds pissed off... and more significantly, ready to move on. I can hear a lot of the same anger in this track that I hear in one of the best songs of the decade (really) Kelly Clarkson's "Since U've Been Gone." The pinnacle of this song comes as Swift kicks into the hell hath no fury like a woman scorned second verse where you can almost feel her disappointment as she laments, "Even now just looking at you feels wrong, you say that you'd take it all back, given one chance it was a moment of weakness and you said yes you should've said no." I have no idea whether Taylor Swift is headed to Reba McEntire territory or if she's due for an even more giant mainstream/crossover career but if this album and more importantly this track is any indication we've got a lot to look forward to.

Monday, December 15, 2008

22. My Morning Jacket - Touch Me I'm Going to Scream pt. 1

It was a long time coming that someone stepped up and made another album about and inspired by sex. Lots of it, in all forms. On album seemingly reflective of roughly 1,000 of their musical influences its the one tie that binds this effort by the boys from Louisville. When I say sex in this case, I don't mean some mildly suggestive song lyrics about some girl that dumped the bassist, I mean an album teeming with full on make out music. I understand the Prince comparisons that this album has been labeled with but aside from the tongue-in-cheek "Highly Suspicious" I'm not hearing Prince as much as I am the "baby let's get down to business" sound of the Isley Brothers. This type of soul sexuality is oozing from Touch Me I'm Going to Scream (I'm going to see how many overtly sexual references I can toss out here).

Simply put, the song is about being so into someone that it is literally driving you crazy not to be able to make physical contact with them. That sort of raw emotional reaction is almost refreshing in a musical world that seems to favor obfuscation over anything straight forward. This makes it much easier to enjoy and frankly put a lot less work... everyone has had this feeling and everyone knows what it's like to be driven to the point of lunacy by a member of the opposite sex and that's all you need to enjoy this and every other track off this album. So next time you're sitting down for a nice roll in the hay consider popping in some Evil Urges and feeling the love.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

23. Yeasayer - Wait for the Summer

Perhaps more than any other song on this list, this vaguely tribal track creates a very distinct mood. I can't really explain and maybe someone slipped a hallucinogen into my drink last night but for some reason this song makes me feel like I'm not anywhere close to home. Like Neptune maybe. Or perhaps part of some trans-Saharan Berber Caravan Maybe it's the richly layered vocals that almost become a chant or it could very well be the sitar drone coupled with the hand claps and non-traditional percussion but this almost SOUNDS like indie rock's answer to the Muezzin's call to prayer. This song is no inaccessible moan fest however as the whole track is like (let's see how far I can stretch these non-Western analogies here) a piece of baklava where between every layer of metaphorical phylo dough is substantial syrupy pop sweetness. Just like I can imagine this song sacreligiously blaring from the top of a minaret I can just as easily imagine its melody being rapped over by the Rza. So please, can I have more? A LOT more.

Friday, December 12, 2008

24. Lil' Wayne - Dr. Carter

Where to start with one Weezy F. Baby? First of all, I do not think he's a genius okay? Not even close (although he might be completely batshit insane), and I'm not gonna hop on board the hipster d-bag conestoga that was ready to canonize Ghostface Killah the last two years before it magically became cool for them to like Lil' Wayne either. I will say that the guy's a great rapper; he's creative, unique, and seems perfectly willing to challenger the verse + hook formula that has come to dominate a lot of hip hop these days (Hey Ludacris! Hey T.I.!!! Do you hear that!!!).

This song is a perfect example of that willingness to work outside of the hip hop box. Dr. Carter is Weezy's State of the Rap Union Address which I think is why it stands out on a great but far from perfect album. The Young Man Young Carter spits typically stream of consciousness flow that unlike some of his more lauded mixtape fare manages to stay out of the realm of the absurd. The second verse is quintessential Wayne with his game/ADHD face on (as opposed to his "I can't feel my face from all the Robitussin" face) as he flows seamlessly from giving respect to Swizz Beats, Young Jeezy, and Kanye to explaining his choice to give up writing his lyrics and convert to freestyle (apparently a combination of arthritis and haters... interestingly enough, this is also the cause for MY decision to only freestyle).

The beat is the real star of the show here though. Spare and muted, it is definitely not one for the clubs. All the listener gets is a lightly rolling snare and symbol. This matches Wayne's flow perfectly and almost makes you feel like you're in the middle of some fucked up open mic poetry night in the middle of a New Orleans housing project. You almost feel like this is Wayne saying to the true hip hop fan, "sorry for Lollipop, but I've got your back on this real shit." That same true hip hop fan can only hope that Weezy has banked enough off of this outing to finally get their back for a whole album.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

25. Santogold - L.E.S. Artistes

Like country, R&B has fallen on some tough times. When R. Kelly and his Trapped in a Closet odyssey is carrying the torch with future (current?) lounge singer John Legend for your entire genre you might be in serious trouble. Sure Alicia Keys is capable of one or two decent songs per album (No One? Great stuff) and Beyonce occasionally shows signs of life but more often than not, modern R&B sucks for the same reason lots of modern country sucks, it is largely derivative of everything else in the genre and it's just boring... really boring.

While we're holding out hope for the possible return of D'Angelo and Lauryn Hill, we officially have a place holder in the form of Santogold. Song #25 L.E.S. Artistes puts a modern, far from conventional spin on the "I'm starting to get over you" formula perfected by Gloria Gaynor back in the day, only this song isn't quite certain enough to say, I WILL Survive, this is more of an I Might Survive and it's that lack of bravado that allows this track to enter that seemingly rarefied R&B air where acts like Dusty Springfield and hell even Madonna dwell. I think there's something far more vulnerable and less self-assured about the way Santogold writes and delivers her lyrics than much of the current R&B canon. Even the guitar riff that starts the track seems tentative, like it isn't quite sure it's sold on the fact that it's time to start. This minimal beginning blooms into a full aural assault as hand claps and HUGE synth hooks compliment the cool world play of the lyrics, "You don't know me I am an introvert an excavator, I'm duckin' out for now a face in dodgy elevators." while understated beats bring the whole thing home. My favorite part though comes at the end and does a great job of projecting that sense of uncertainty that blankets the, on first blush, empowering lyrics.

" Change, change, change
I want to get up out of my skin
tell you what
if I can shake it
I'm 'a make this
something worth dreaming of"

That final verse finds our hero still living in a world of ifs, not whens, and damned if it doesn't make you root for her.

Monday, December 8, 2008

26. Killer Mike - Bad Day/Worst Day

American music doesn't do pissed off like it used to. This generation doesn't have its Positively Fourth Street or its Fortunate Son... it certainly doesn't have its Hit 'em Up. Have we become fundamentally more positive since the 90s? Certainly not. The last truly effective "I'm Pissed Off at Everyone" song of our time was 2000's The Way I Am by Eminem who has since gone into seclusion after releasing the tripe that was Encore. So why can't we channel rage anymore? Sure we have acts that dabble in it... but they seem to be, like bands like Against Me and the Nightwatchman, dealing with a more measured and reserved form of outrage. Every once in awhile I want some good ol' fashion illogical unrestrained rage.

One reason why we might not see as much of this these days is that for some reason record labels have decided that it is unmarketable. Or at least that seems to be the reason why Sony sat on this follow up to Killer Mike's debut gold LP Monster. For those of you that haven't given Mike his due, I encourage you to get to it. He is the rapper version of Ice Cube (who apparently died after Natural Born Killaz was released) reincarnated and born in the south. He's intelligent, verbose, and really really pissed off. This standout track from the originally slated to release in 2005 but leaked for free in 2008 album Ghetto Extraordinary reads like a really clever laundry list of things that are/were currently bothering Killer Mike. Within one minute he has given the proverbial and literal fuck you to Bill O'Reilly, C. Dolores Tucker, Reverend What's his Name (no idea who this is), Kobe Bryant, B.E.T., Q-Tip, and former mentor Andre 3000. He goes on to skewer the white community, the African American community, and just about everyone else in this caustic and biting diatribe. Killer Mike generated a track that is intelligent and most importantly HONEST on a level that neither supposed "message" "rappers"Mos Def nor Talib Kweli (and yes both of those words belong in quotation marks given their most recent output) have achieved in years. The standout line from this song which actually predates the Don Imus/Rutgers Basketball Team controversy and is almost prophetic is, "I'd rather let Eminem call me 50 n****z than to break bread with a rich n***a readin' scripture." This line - an affront to hip hop's occasional flirtation with religion and indignant condemnation of the n-word - is the essence of the track and really the whole album... Killer Mike is not afraid to defy the conventions of what is perceived to be intelligent hip hop, instead he's just going to spit truth.

Download this album... legally... and for free

Sunday, December 7, 2008

27. Truckasaurus - Fak!!!

Looking back to a time when music videos actually existed, I can remember a few that actually convinced me to like a song that upon hearing on the radio I might have actually hated. Specifically, every Fatboy Slim song (by the way, I listened to one of his albums the other day and he has NOT aged well... The Rockefeller Skank? Yikes). The problem when this happens is that it's really hard to tell whether the song is any good or not. I think Ok Go proved this point to the world with their omnipresent clip for crappy song Here it Goes Again.

I will officially admit that I have fallen in love with the video for song #27, Fak!!! by Truckasaurus, and maybe that's why this spare, oddball joint made the list in the first place. This techno-ish act constructed their entire album "Tea Parties, Guns, and Valor" using the same synth effects that contributed to the Commodore 64 game system. As horrible as it sounds and as campy as it is, I think that it somehow works musically.... really really well. It's almost impossible to keep your head from bobbing along to the jittery Contra-soundtrack style beeps and blips that drive this album. The video is linked for your viewing pleasure.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

28. Drive by Truckers - 3 Dimes Down

If I had set out to make a list of the year's best single lines in a song there would be no question about the winner; "While chicken wing puke eats the candy apple red off his corvette" is undeniable poetry. Like the bar rockers the Hold Steady (their tourmates), the Drive-by Truckers have one trick: making classic rock for the here and now, and also like the Hold Steady, they do it really really well and with enough originality to keep you guessing. Adding to their charm, the DBT have the kind of sense of humor that convinces you that unlike 90% of the music world they do not take themselves too seriously.

That sense of humor is on full display on 3 Dimes Down as, according to a write-up by band member Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley references the Tom T. Hall opus Night in a Country Jail and Cooley, Hood, bassist Shonna Tucker, and drummer Brad Morgan create more classic rock gold that just happens to have been released in 2008.

The only thing that baffles me about this band and this song though is how they aren't more popular. They should be getting play on every mainstream rock radio station in America. All of those folks that obediently trot out to pick up the "new" Nickelback album (is there ever really new Nickelback?) should save themselves the heartache and pick up Decoration Day or Southern Rock Opera. I feel like this band should be exhibit A at any Payola trial as radio has tragically missed out on the pop gold that the Drive by Truckers produce more consistently than perhaps any other band out there.

Friday, December 5, 2008

29. Sons and Daughters - Gilt Complex, Vivian Girls - Where Do You Run to?

Okay, I'm cheating... sorry, but I am connecting these songs due to some personal musical growth that I've achieved over the past year so bear with me.

I'll admit it... for years and I guess now to some extent, I was a vocal misogynist. I held female vocalists to an insanely high standard and did some serious player hating. I rejected Karen O and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, I spurned Chrissy Hynde, I turned a deaf ear to Patti Smith, unless the female singer in question was a soul singer, country singer, or Jenny Lewis I had no interest. Maybe it was the rah rah, "I am woman hear me roar" feminism of mid to late 90s girl rock that turned me off. Hell it could have even been the infamous "Dirty Dozen/Catorce Horrible" project of 2001-2005 that some (all three) of my readers are so familiar with. Whatever it was I just couldn't dig on girls trying to rock. I even, and this is part of the 12-step program I think, skipped past most Kim Gordon tracks on Sonic Youth albums.

Something changed this year though and I'm not sure what it was exactly. Maybe I finally recovered from the Dirty Dozen, maybe it was the Dusty Springfield album that I listened to on repeat for weeks, I just don't know. All I know is that these two tracks represent two of my favorite albums of the year and they both feature girls, in the immortal words of Wu-Tang, bringing the motherfuckin' RUCKUS.

In the first track, Scottish New Wave act Sons and Daughters reel you in with an ominous first 25 seconds that gets the head bobbing with a driving Meg White style rhythm and a guitar riff that almost seems to be heralding the arrival of some kind of supervillain. This creates the perfect background for that great pogo jump inspiring effect that European concerts have mastered (or so I'm told) while maintaining a nice Blondie-esque simmer of aggression without boiling over into straight forward punk. Lyrically, the song decries modern avarice (even using this vastly underrated 12th grade vocabulary word not once but twice!) and portends the downfall of those obsessed with such material pursuits. By far the highlight of this track though is the howling of lead vocalist Adele Bethel as the song draws to a close... it's almost an oracle.

In the second track, the Brooklyn (SHOCKING!) trio the Vivian Girls do their best Ronettes on Ambien impression and kick ass in the process. Remember what Jack White did for Loretta Lynn on Van Lear Rose? Now imagine The Supremes getting the same guest producer treatment from the Jesus and Mary Chain and you can kind of grasp what the Vivian Girls have going on in Where Do You Run to? The girls', (get a load of these names... I think I want to marry them and I haven't even seen them) Cassie Ramone, Kickball Katy, and Ali Koehler, breathy harmonies are irresistible and the Ringo-esque rhythms of drummer Frankie Rose (now behind the kit for the Crystal Stilts) bring the whole package together.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

30. MGMT - Time to Pretend

I think it has become way beyond overdone to diss the shallowness of the modern celebrity lifestyle. While shows like The Soup, the Daily Show, and Colbert Report do a great job of skewering the Celebreality obsession that seems to have permeated our nation's once great music video stations I feel like sometimes they might miss the point. I like to think that this celebrity obsession is just one giant inside joke. Everything from E!, to People Magazine, to I Love New York, to The Simple Life is doing us a favor by saying, "can you believe how incredibly fucked up and shallow these people are? Let's watch them to see how horrible they can be in this next scene."

Okay so what the fuck am I talking about? To make this even more confusing I'm gonna direct your (all three of you) attention to this painting by Diego Velazquez called Las Meninas. Noted smoking hot former William and Mary art history professor Jenny Ramirez suggested that maybe what was going on here is that the artist who had been commissioned to paint the Spanish royal family had included himself in the painting to imply that he knew what you knew... that the inbred Spanish royal family was a bunch of dullards. Just look at the look on his face... it's the one you give your friends over a girls shoulder when you're dancing that says, "I have no idea how in the fuck this happened but I'm just gonna roll with it for the time being."

Now it's time to half heartedly tie all this into the #30 on our list. Time to pretend is pointing all this out. Behind rich instrumentals (I hear handclaps... and wait is that a string section... and hey a TRUMPET! It's like someone is testing out each instrument on an old Casio) and a ridiculously catchy and impossible to get out of your head synth melody that drives the chorus, the folks in MGMT deliver the proverbial bitchslap to the Brett Michaels/Motley Crue image of the rockstar lifestyle and like Velazquez and umm.. I Love New York, they do so in a way that only those of us who are in on the joke will understand. And hey, that's hot.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

31. Rural Alberta Advantage - Edmonton

What if I'm only satisfied when I'm at home? That's the question in this track by another great Canadian export, joining the ranks of Broken Social Scene, the Arcade Fire, and Besnard Lakes. It's classic though not exactly conventional territory that is covered by the plaintive Jeff Mangum (Neutral Milk Hotel) sound-alike Nils Edenloff to great effect. Guy loves girl, girl wants guy to move away with her - and here's where the twist comes in - guy doesn't want to leave his hometown. He has to leave his friends and the only place he knows; and what if she hangs him out to dry and suddenly he's in some other province (oh those crazy Canadians) alone? Clearly these guys have a love affair with Alberta that goes way beyond that love/hate thing that Springsteen has with Jersey and in a way its endearing to hear that respect permeate throughout their album (not surprisingly entitled Hometowns). As the song reaches its apex, heralded by some awesome work from the rhythm section, the listener isn't really left with any answers but that just becomes motivation to listen to the song again.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

32. Deerhunter - Agoraphobia

Full disclosure... after repeated listens I'm not quite sure what this song is about. Some sort of unrequited obsession with a member of the opposite sex? I've got nothin'. That isn't necessarily a bad thing however because the vocals frankly just sound cool and become just another instrument as they blend perfectly with the music. Combining dreamy guitars with a fuzzy synth outro takes this song from Yo La Tengo inspired indie pop to Sonic Youth style noise as the song draws to a close.

Frankly, it was really tough to choose a song from this album to represent on this list that is currently read by roughly 3 people. From beginning to end the Atlanta-based Deerhunter flows seamlessly from style to style without sacrificing the pop melodies that unite the entire album. There are easily 7 or 8 absolutely essential tracks on the album and Agoraphobia stands out for me right now but just like asking me if I prefer So Yesterday, Pieces of Me, or Since You've Been Gone among the canon of the mysterious THE MATRIX songwriting team ask me in a week and I'll have picked another personal favorite.

33. The Hold Steady - One for the Cutters

The thing that I love most about this track aside from the harpsichord (seriously when have you ever thought to yourself, "this song is great except for that pesky harpsichord") is that it follows in that fantastic tradition of The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia and even older cuts like the folk ballads Barbara Allen and Little Sadie and Johnny Cash's Long Black Veil. The big difference in this crime ballad is that in this case, it's hard to feel much sympathy for the justice obstructing ant/protagonist. This girl is like a lot of girls you know... on the surface she feels MUCH better than you and maybe she is, just below the surface though lurks just another girl who "when there weren't any parties, sometimes she'd party with townies." Add to that the fact that unlike Vickie Lawrence's Annie, Craig Finn's subject gets nothing close to redemption at the end and you have the recipe for a great song.

Monday, December 1, 2008

34. Her Space Holiday - The Truth Hurts so this Should be Painless

Honestly, there really isn't much to this song. The stripped down musical arrangement serves only to enhance the real stars of the show, the lyrics and vocals of Marc Bianchi. The one man band incorporates lyrics from folk standard and one of my favorite songs of all time Which Side Are You On as he essentially delivers what amounts to a State of the Union address from the perspective of the kind hipster that has his own musical side project. As the song progresses it becomes what amounts to an indie rock campfire song... channeling Plastic Ono Band era John Lennon and White Stripes style minimalism. If nothing else, this track comes across as very fun in the process by daring you not to tap your foot and at least sing along. The album on which this track is featured "XOXO, Panda and the New Kid Revival," is filled with the same sort of sensible California-style pop which has managed to age remarkably well for me since the disc's release in October. So will this track change your life forever? Probably not... let's save that work for the Top 10. I can promise you though that you will have fun listening to it and with the addition of alcohol could very well have fun SINGING it in some group setting as your friends and acquaintances look at you like you are batshit insane.

Also, this song starts with a glockenspiel solo which I really enjoyed.