Saturday, December 19, 2009

Best Songs of 2009 50-25

50. Glasvegas – It’s My Own Cheating Heart that Makes Me Cry

I only recently discovered that I’m a sucker for heartbroken Scottish guys singing about heartbreak. It’s a formula that works for me and it works particularly well in this track where slowed down Phil Specter tambourine driven verses are complemented by a soaring chorus of full on power pop riffs. There’s not a ton here to separate Glasvegas from their fellow Scots in Frightened Rabbit and We Were Promised Jetpacks but that doesn’t make this song any less great.

49. Handsome Furs – All We Want Baby is Everything

Ever slow on the uptake, I feel like I connected with the synth pop revival about a year too late. I am making up for lost time however and this track is one of those responsible for igniting my interest. If someone had told me that this was a new Depeche Mode song aimed at reviving their pop sensibilities I would have probably believed them and been very pleased that Depeche Mode had stopped sucking. Instead I get the knowledge that the Handsome Furs are really fucking good.

48. Fall Out Boy – America’s Suitehearts

I don’t care what you or anyone else says, NO ONE writes consistently better, simple, punk songs than Pete Wentz and it isn’t even close. Contrast this surprisingly underappreciated album to Green Day’s newest masturbatory arena rock opus and its excellence becomes even more apparent. I’m not calling this a guilty pleasure or making apologies for it, I’m on record as REALLY liking Fall Out Boy particularly this clever, possibly derisive, and surprisingly deep “tribute” to America’s tabloid fodder

47. Phenomenal Handclap Band – 15 to 20

Even though this song shamelessly rips off Blondie and even though the rest of the album doesn’t even TOUCH these pop heights, Phenomenal Handclap band’s 2009 output is worthy of mad credit. The funky, disco channeling count off is refreshing in its retro reverence.

46. Washed Out – Feel it All Around

The world needs more smooth yacht inspired indie rock for when two hipsters are bumping horned rimmed glasses and trading hits off of hand rolled and obnoxious American Spirits. This is it. Dreamy and awash with distorted synth, Feel it All Around feels like the preface to what will be an awesomely innovative career.

45. Raekwon ft. Ghostface Killah and Method Man – New Wu

“Tell a friend it’s that symbol again, that W, Coming through, bust a shot on your block” Welcome back guys. Thanks to Raekwon’s AWESOME Only Built 4 Cuban Linx pt. 2 we can all pretend like the uneven at best and awful at worst Wu-Tang comeback album last year never happened and that this track is the official welcome back moment for some of the greatest talents in all of hip hop.

44.The Crocodiles – I Wanna Kill

Just enough lo-fi fuzz to keep your interest but not so much that the irresistible pop melodies don’t sparkle through the distortion drenched haze. Like if The Strokes decided to make their comeback album as a Jesus and Mary Chain tribute band. That being said, the chorus does consist entirely of the lines, “I want to kill tonight” so you know that wherever it is these guys are coming from is well beyond left field.

43. Girls – Lust for Life

So how can a band still shock it’s listeners in modern in digitally desensitized modern America? Make three videos for your first single that progress from NSFW to “Holy shit that’s a dong isn’t it?” to Gay Porn. Add to that the fact that there is absolutely nothing about the song.; a spare, single guitar lick and hand claps combine with charmingly nasal vocals to create a classic (but not boring) indie rock experience.

42. Amadou and Miriam ft. K’Naan – Africa

It was really difficult to pick one song off of this great album to highlight. This wins it due to the fresh voice that by joining Mali’s favorite singing blind couple, Somalian rapper K’Naan brings to the table in what he calls, “the original east coast, west coast collaboration” a balance between world music and pop music that feels easier and truer than the other high points of the album

41. We Were Promised Jetpacks – Ships With Holes Will Sink

Like Franz Ferdinand if they stripped off their euro-trash pretense and just dropped a straightforward rock album. Clearly these guys borrow from a lot of other UK acts like the Frames but their rock edge separates them from their brethren to a certain extent and gives this track in particular some real emotional heft.

40. Patterson Hood – Screwtopia

This year, I get to complain about how criminally underrated Patterson Hood is INSTEAD of how criminally underrated his band the Drive-by Truckers are. When Hood does social commentary he doesn’t play the douchey liberal role, nor does he play the, “I’m just like all you normal folks except for my multimillion selling, Iraq War exploiting, country music album” role. He’s just a normal dude (truly a dude in every sense of the word… hell he even looks like The Dude from The Big Lebowski) calling it as he sees it. It’s refreshing and fantastic and dammit more people should be paying attention.

39. Port O’Brien – Sour Milk/Saltwater

This Alaska/California folk rock act released the album from which Sour Milk/Saltwater comes into an extremely crowded and increasingly homogenous genre and managed to pull of a unique and personal sound that rollicks more than the status quo. You can almost feel the “I lived in fucking Alaska” coming through here.

38. The xx – Vcr

If I made a Best Albums of the year list, The xx’s xx would be damn near the top of the list. In their case though, the unified greatness of the full length is based more on the overall arc of the album rather than on a collection of singular standout tracks. This song comes the closest though as the guy/girl vocal trade off aesthetic functions like a droney Kenny Rogers and Sheena Easton on “We’ve got Tonight.”

37. Cymbals Eat Guitars – Some Trees

I’ve maybe mentioned before how much I wish I had had a chance to experience the birth of indie rock first hand in its infancy rather than my current mode of going back and collecting the individual pieces like some sort of musical archaeologist. When I listen to Guided by Voices and Pavement I’m left to essentially say, “Fuck, I didn’t realize that all the bands I love were at least in part ripping these guys off.” Thankfully, I was informed enough that when I heard this fantastic 2 and ½ minute explosion from Cymbals Eat Guitars I knew exactly who they had ripped off and didn’t care in the slightest.

36. White Rabbits – Percussion Gun

Polished and fun, there is nothing at all cerebral about this song and that might be what makes it so good. Much has already been made about the connections to Britt Daniel and Spoon both in terms of their production relationship and in the fact that these guys sound A LOT like Spoon. No matter, there is enough room in that stripped down Austin sound for the both of ‘em.

35. Art Brut – Demons Out!

Speaking of not cerebral… is it possible that Art Brut are the most lovable act in music right now? You know all those insecurities you have? Art Brut’s Eddie Argos has those too and he’s going to sing about them… in detail. In this song though he chooses his OTHER favorite subject (and my favorite subject) and that is the fact that he knows that his pop cultural tastes are MUCH superior to everyone else’s. This might be the band that I would like to hang out with more than any other.

34. Japandroids – Rockers East Vancouver

Fuzzed out punk rock that that hangs on to its sense of melody just tenuously enough to keep you engaged. Similar to one of my favorite 2008 debut acts Titus Andronicus in their raw power only a little bit cleaner and a little less pretentious.

33. Wavves – No Hope Kids

This album takes WORK, like a lot. It was only upon maybe the 10th or 11th listen that I wasn’t driven bat shit crazy by the lo-fi production and reverb vocals that inform the entire album. It’s the harmony of this song though that unlocked the album and finally allowed it to make sense. Just pay attention and the complexity and poppiness shine through like a beacon rewarding your patience.

32. The Drive by Truckers – Uncle Frank

Originally released on their album Pizza Deliverance, this re-recorded and cleaner track made the B-Side (!) compilation The Fine Print. One of two great songs about dams (really) on the album, this one rises slightly ahead of Jason Isbell’s TVA on the strength of Mike Coley’s class warrior lyrics about doctors and lawyers teaching their kids to water-ski. And while we’re at it, let me just state AGAIN for the record that the amount of great output that these guys generate is absolutely unreal… they’re the best rock band in America.

31. Bowerbirds – Northern Lights

It’s so easy to write great songs about the south and how if you haven’t lived here it’s impossible to understand the subtle things that make it charming and great (note: not referring to racism and republican politics, really just referring to southern girls). This song approaches from the opposite angle as the vocals attest that, “I don’t expect a southern girl to know the northern lights.” This song sounds like a sober Ryan Adams before he became self- important.

30.Yonlu – I Know What it’s Like

For those of you who don’t know his story, it’s worth a read ( just look at the bio on the right side, bottom of the page)…. Okay so now that you’re weeping, listen to the song. I find that - similar to the music of Elliott Smith - Yonlu’s music is almost too heartbreaking and personal to enjoy sometimes. The one difference though is that while you really have to dig to find Smith’s silver lining, Yonlu’s is always evident and I’m not sure if that makes this light, samba inflected standout easier to handle or harder.

29. The Love Language – Manteo

Not gonna lie, I kind of geek out every time a song references a city that I’ve visited and feel some personal connection to. When Old Crow Medicine Show says Roanoke and Johnson City I forget that I’ve heard Wagon Wheel roughly 8 million times. In this song North Carolina’s, The Love Language provide a bit of a kiss off to the primary vacation spot of my youth with lyrics perfectly suited to their richly orchestrated freak-folk inspired pop.

28. Lucero – Goodbye Again

It’s not always good to give established indie rock acts a big major label budget. Often times this leads them to fuck up what works. Not the case for Lucero here as adding a horn section seems like it let them make the album that they were progressing to for years. No album sounded more like the home city of its band than this one. It is straight up Memphis and that’s great.

27. David Sitek – With a Girl Like You

One of the triumvirate of geniuses in TV on the Radio, David Sitek seems to have his hands all over universally great output. From the track “TV in the Radio” off of Wale’s newest (barely missed this list) to this Staxx R&B meets Joy Division love song, I am finding myself consistently falling for every single thing he does.

26. Metic – Gimme Sympathy

With a chorus that a music geek can easily fall in love with, vocalist Emily Haines asks, “Who’d you rather be? The Beatles or the Rolling Stones?” The synth driven, straight forward rock is a real marriage of standard music influences coming together in a modern and fresh way.

25. The Big Pink – Dominos

Of any song on the list this year, this one most deserves to be played the loudest. Totally stylistically innovative in a way that rejects hipster orthodoxy and focuses upon creating a sound that fills a void in the world of decent music. At times throughout the song (and album) you can hear Trent Reznor inspired industrial, 80s synthesizer, and most often soaring Brit Rock choruses that are evocative of Oasis or Blur.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The 25 Greatest Moments in The Wire

Presented from the Best to the 25th Best... Your commentary is appreciated.

Warning: If you haven't seen this series in its entirety DO NOT READ THIS it contains nothing but spoilers. Seriously, even if you think you'll never watch it... don't read it because YOU NEED to watch it.

Best Scenes from The Wire

1) Avon and Stringer on the balcony
In a scene that is more powerful for what isn’t said than what is, the full dynamic of the relationship between Stringer and Avon comes to light. Stringer’s ambition collides with Avon’s loyalty to the game and it is clear to everyone, including the two friends, exactly how this is going to play out.

2) D’Angelo talks about the Great Gatsby + his initial decision to testify against Barksdale
These two scenes, despite stretching across two different episodes and two different seasons are essentially part of the same extended narrative. This is the redemption of D’Angelo, where he confirms for us what we’ve kind of known all along: the fact that he isn’t cut out for the family business and that the pressure to be something he’s not is killing him. If only he knew.

3) We used to have ourselves a community speech from Bunk to Omar.
Everyone’s favorite character meets his match in this scene. What throughout the series is seen as Omar’s perfectly consistent moral code is shown to be inherently flawed by an irate Bunk. Omar and his vigilante justice is as amoral as the corrosive violence of the series’ kingpins and the fumbling bureaucracy of the public institutions that enable them. This is a rare instance where Omar is rightfully humbled.

4) Bodie and McNulty’s conversation in the park, “I feel old”
In a series that is filled with tragically flawed villains and anti-heroes, no character aside from Bubbles attains the type of redemption that Bodie does. As he discusses his feelings toward the game with McNulty for the first time the viewer starts to see that the brash 16 year old from Season 1 is not a kid anymore… just as you realize it, so does Bodie and he utters what might be the most heartbreaking line of the whole series, “I feel old.”

5) The “Fuck” scene
Occurring early in Season 1, Bunk and McNulty dissect an entire murder scene using only derivations of the word Fuck. This doesn’t advance the plot much but it is the first point that the viewer realizes that the show’s creator David Simon has set the hook… from this point on you just get reeled further in.

6) Death of Stringer Bell
Is it okay to call this the most shocking death in television history? Of all the larger than life characters in this series none of them came close to the power of Stringer Bell. Perhaps what is most shocking is that the fierce Stringer doesn’t die the death of a soldier, he dies groveling… attempting to bribe his assassins before reluctantly accepting his fate.

7) Faculty meeting/Police meeting
Any public employee can watch this scene that cuts back and forth from a Teacher Work Week faculty meeting where an outside consultant inculcates the apathetic teachers with bullshit strategies that won’t work and a police department meeting where a Homeland Security specialist does the same can sympathize. The bureaucracy is made to protect the ass’ of superiors… to juke the stats… and we are left to deal with it.

8) D’Angelo talks chess
Would D’Angelo have been able to define the literary term allegory? Maybe not, but who cares. In a perfect preview of the basic theme of the series, D’Angelo gives it to his employees straight… in politics, drugs, unions, etc. the odds are and will always be stacked against the pawns.

9) Wallace gets his siblings ready for school
The care with which Wallace, already a drop out at 16, prepares his younger siblings for school is heart wrenching. Packing juice boxes, checking on homework… seeing this, a suburban white viewer gets new insight into the economic underpinnings of not only the American drug trade but poverty in general by seeing it in as real a depiction as TV can provide.

10) Snoop buying nail gun
Stephen King called Snoop the most terrifying character in the history of television. This is her big moment. The moment where you realize that she is a next level bad ass. What, after all, is she going to do with that nail gun? This scene also provides perhaps the best depiction in the series of the urban Baltimore world overlapping with isolated American suburbbery.

11) Dinner at Ruth’s Chris
Speaking of the urban world meeting isolated suburbbery dynamic… In this scene Bunny Colvin takes the winning group from a class project to a fancy steakhouse for dinner. Like Bigger Thomas’ character in Native Son it becomes clear very early in the scene that the children feel uncomfortable… cornered by the world into which they’ve been dropped. The formerly brash shittalkers suddenly become embarrassed and awkward teenagers when asked to dwell in a world with which they’re painfully unfamiliar.

12) Marlo murders Prop Joe
Who can’t Marlo get to? It is clear by this point in the series that the old guard gangsters from Seasons 1, 2, and 3 are being replaced by the indiscriminately brutal rule of Marlo Stanfield. But Prop Joe? Surely with his guile and elder statesmen status he will avoid a violent end. No dice. This scene is a stark reminder that truly, “the game done changed.”

13) Omar testifies against Bird and RAVAGES Maury Levy in the process
Is there anything as satisfying as seeing someone called to task for their hypocrisy? After watching this scene where Marlo humiliates super attorney Maury Levy, my answer would be no.

14) Bubbles’ AA speech
What does it say about this show that the only character for whom you root with no qualifications is a con man and heroin addict? In his final address to his AA group, Bubbles says everything that you’ve wanted him to say since the series began, and in a show that counts the possibility of redemption as a main theme, we are treated to what is perhaps the only fully redemptive moment from the character that we root for the most.

15) Bunk burning clothing
So oddly brilliant that it must be true. Bunk’s mumbling about the fibers on his clothes tipping off his wife to his numerous affairs is high comedy and McNulty’s “rescue” of him is classic buddy comedy material.

16) Bubbles is consoled by Waylon after overdose of friend.
After Bubbles suicide attempt in the police interrogation room, we see one of our favorite characters whose life has seemingly been comprised of one low point after another reach his nadir. Seeing Bubs silently break down into the arms of Steve Earle’s superbly acted Waylon through the glass of the mental hospital over the death of Sherod shakes you to your very core.

17) Policeman’s Wake for McNulty
I like to call this scene The Apotheosis of McNulty. As The Pogues’ “Body of an American” starts to play anyone familiar with the series starts to wonder just who died. You learn though that it’s more a matter of “what died” than “ who died” as McNulty’s career with the BPD is given a ceremonious farewell.

18) Chris and Snoop chasing Michael… with paintball guns.
By this point, it’s been well established that Chris and Snoop are this series’ angels of death. When you see them you best believe that someone is going to get got. That’s what makes this scene so disorienting and terrifying… you are left to think that Michael is ready to meet his doom. But… a paintball gun? really? Really.

19) 40 Degree Days
The man can construct a metaphor. The sarcasm and thinly concealed rage with which Stringer attacks his lieutenants for subpar performance is perfectly constructed. I find myself using the 40 Degree day analogy on a regular basis and it maintains its heft.

20) Omar buys Honey Nut Cheerios
One of the most fascinating and literary scenes of the entire series. As the episode opens, Omar, motivated by an almost childlike desire for his favorite cereal is forced to leave his apartment without his gun. At this point, the viewer has become quite attached to Omar and you are CERTAIN that he’s a goner as he enters the convenience store unarmed and unprepared. Ultimately, the whole ordeal ends unceremoniously with the only hiccup being the fact that Omar has to buy normal Cheerios this scene however takes on a new meaning in its eerie foreshadowing of Omar’s eventual demise.

21) Carver freaks out behind steering wheel
Really, any of dozens of scenes dealing with the school kids (8th graders which makes the whole story especially meaningful to me) could make the cut here. The scene however where Carver is forced to leave Randy at the group home is one of the few, but always powerful, moments where one of the main characters’ frustration with the dysfunctional system spills over. The silence of the scene created by the closed car door lends an otherworldly quality to the whole scene.

22) Bodie and friends see Carver and Herc at movies
Perhaps one of the funniest moments of the entire series and another one of those, “street world meets the world of the police and both worlds recognize how much they have in common” moments. Bodie’s line, “And you must be the lovely Mrs. Herc,” always slays me.

23) McNulty tears Breonna Barksdale a new one in the interrogation room
From the moment her son dies suspiciously in prison, you get the feeling that Breonna knows that there’s more to his death than meets the eye. Conveniently ignoring the circumstances and blindly trusting Stringer and Avon have allowed her to block this out… that is until McNulty shines the light of guilt directly on Breonna. McNulty’s obvious attachment and sympathy for D’Angelo makes this scene almost retributive in nature and seeing the consistently despicable Breonna realize the much of the blood in D’Angelo’s death is on her hands provides a strange sense of closure to the entire situation.

24) Khima Gregs’ Goodnight Moon
Simple, powerful, encapsulative of the entire series. Gregs’ own rendition of Goodnight Moon to the child that would have been her son is informed by the entire aesthetic of the show and serves as one of the most memorable final scenes of an episode in the series

25) Prezybylewski’s first day of school
This is informed more by personal experience than anything else but I think by in large, that’s what makes the Wire so appealing. No matter how bland and suburban you THINK your job is, The Wire explores that world as well, tackling the tedium of public bureaucracy better and more fiercely than any other artistic product… well… ever. As Prezbylewski struggles to reign in a room full of way-too-savy 8th graders, the teacher in me can’t help but cringe.