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The Best Songs of 2006

24 Jun

(originally posted on Myspace.com)

25. “STARLIGHT” – Muse


The fearsome three-headed siamese beast that is Muse.

All right – I’ve actually had Muse’s Black Holes And Revelations album since just after it came out, and it’s been in my “Listen To This When You Get A Chance” pile for quite some time now, and while I loved “Knights Of Cydonia”, this is the song that’s probably going to get me to actually sit down and digest the whole album. It’s… lighter than a lot of the Muse songs I’ve heard. Not lighter as in “it rocks less hard”, but lighter as in “it’s less big and melodramatic and dense.” And when your whole schtick is being big and melodramatic and dense, a simple pop song can be a tough thing to pull off well. Put it to you this way: it’s like Tears For Fears meets Snow Patrol with a wonderful swirly hard rock chorus that comes out of absolutely nowhere.

24. “I’LL BET THAT YOU LOOK GOOD ON THE DANCE FLOOR” – Arctic Monkeys


Three out of four Arctic Monkeys haven’t bathed since the start of the tour.

The Arctic Monkeys are good. They’re very, very good. I don’t know if they’re the next Beatles, but they’re really good, and more people should realize that they’re really good. The problem is… well, it’s the same problem the UK music mags always cause, I guess.

See, every now and then, they’ll pick some new album they really like and decide that it’s “THE BEST ALBUM OF ALL TIME EVER!” and declare whatever poor ol’ up and coming sods that recorded it “THE SAVIOURS OF ROCK’N’ROLL.” This phenomenon led to Elastica getting collectively hooked on smack, The Stone Roses not releasing their second album for about seven years, and the collective hallucination that led us to believe that Noel Gallagher was actually John Lennon. So, no matter how fun this song is to dance to at your local Indie night, no matter how perfectly the lyrics describe exactly what’s going on as you dance along to it, and no matter that it was written by a bunch of 18 and 19 year olds from the burbs; this tune still ain’t gonna rank any higher than #24 on my list. Maybe it’s silly, but I don’t want that sort of blood on my hands. Sorry, Monkeys. I’m only thinking of you.

23. “INFRA RED” – Placebo


Brian Molko from Placebo is a magical elf who lives in my shoe.

My love for Placebo is completely irrational, and I understand this, but damned if I don’t love those guys. I can’t even explain why I like them so much. Perhaps they harken back to an imagined glam rock past when men were girls and love was free. Perhaps their incomprehensible yet moody lyrics paint a picture in my head of a world gone gloriously wrong. Maybe I like their odd, subversive mixture of aggresive masculinity and blatant femininity. Maybe they fucking rock and you got a PHD and that stands for playa’ hater degree. Yes. Yes, I think it’s the last one.

22. “ADVENTURE” – Be Your Own Pet


A candid shot from the Wichita Community College fall production of “Sixteen Candles”

I kind of think lo-fi is lame. I just want to get that out of the way. I think lo-fi, as a “genre”, is the inevitable result of music snobbery and hipsterism. Hipster one says “I like Obscure Band A.” Hipster two says “They used to be okay, but lately I’ve been totally into Even More Obscure Band B.” Hipster three says “Even More Obscure Band B used to be okay, but Ridiculously Obscure Band C are teh fierceness” etc. etc., until even the most atonal, obscure band of pretentious bullshit artists have at least 300 friends on MySpace. All of whom have glasses and/or white boy afros.

However, Be Your Own Pet actually may be teh fierceness. They’re lo-fi in the way that old punk albums are lo-fi; the dissonance and amateur nature of the music works in counterpoint to the sheer sense of hyperactive teenaged fun behind the songs. And the kids in the band are all like homeschooled 16 year olds or something, which gives it that extra tang of “outsider art” so beloved by the jaded. “Adventure” is particularly awesome, because there’s just something about a chorus where the words are, literally, “Okay so yeah it’s cool Cos we’re like, adventurers We are adventuring, we are adventurers” that makes you feel, like, happy to be alive.

21. “MUNICH” – The Editors


It’s always chilly in Post-Punk Indie Rock Land.

(Insert cliche here about how you couldn’t throw a rock without hitting a thousand post-punk Interpol-esque bands in 2006) + (Quip about symmetrical hair) + (Qualification why you like this song more than a lot of the rest of them) + (Mention how much the lead singer reminds you of Ian Curtis) + (Bit about the ambiguity of the optimistic, simple chorus contrasted with the paranoid, emotionally hurt chorus) + (Something about how awesome that riff is.)

20. “BARCELONA” – Scamper


Live! Tonight! At… Faces on Rt. 2 in Cambridge, apparently…

Scamper rules. They rule as people. They rule as performers. They rule because they are unabashed Cars fans and J. Geils fans and they write that kind of ridiculously fun “That Thing You Do!” kind of music which they perform wearing suits and ties. They rule because they’re a bunch of young dudes who got Kay Hanley (Letters To Cleo, Josie and the Pussycats) to sing backup on the best summer song I ever heard in mid-November. “Barcelona” makes you wish your friends weren’t afraid of the sun, so you could all have a big beach party and play frisbee and sing along with “cuz I’m the one who needs my bay-beeee…”

19. “DESTROY EVERYTHING YOU TOUCH” – Ladytron


Helen and Mira have turned the boys in the band into dogs. Because that is what boys are. Dogs.

Like the Faces coment above, this may only make sense to those of you in the Boston area. However, it should be said that this song makes Man Ray lie awake at night wishing it were still open. This gothy-synthpop sound has been hanging around for a while, mostly thanks to bands like Wumpscut and The Birthday Massacre, but it seems to be creeping into the mainstream. I love the simple, sing-songy chorus here (verrrry Birthday Massacre) and the throbbing, etherial sound of the whole thing. You can practically smell the stale cloves.

18. “WOMAN” – Wolfmother


Wolfmother likes to stalk Stephen King sometimes.

Wolfmother is a lot like AC/DC, if AC/DC were a band I liked at all. See, AC/DC has always kind of pissed me off because of the guy’s voice and, really, sex and drugs and rock and roll may be very good indeed, but come on. It’s like hanging out with that one friend who spent a year in Europe and now all he talks about is how he spent a year in Europe. It’s like, good for you, buddy, can we do something else now? Sheesh. Anyway, Wolfmother is a lot more ambitious musically than AC/DC, and tighter, and here they manage to make the bog-standard rock cliche of “Woman as temptress devil who need to know the feeling of love” sound fresh and sexy. Even with that man’s ridiculous hair.

17. “THESE THINGS” – She Wants Revenge


The closing of the factories was particularly hard on She Wants Revenge.

It’s quite possible that the world has been anxiously awaiting a band that can be described as “Soul Coughing meets Joy Division on Acid”, but it isn’t likely. It’s probably why I really like She Wants Revenge, though. I also admire their ability to write the creepiest, crawliest, most voyeuristic tune ever – it’s about, and let’s be frank here, a girl who locks herself in the bathroom to pleasure herself with a popsicle while she sadistically taunts her lover. It’s a train wreck you can’t turn away from, *and* it’s strangely moving.

16. “STUCK BETWEEN STATIONS” – The Hold Steady”


The Hold Steady, chillin’ with an invisible Rip Taylor.

It’s appropriate that the band drops an “On The Road” reference in the first line of this tune, because like good ol’ Ti Jean Kerouac, Craig Finn has a great big free-form, free-flowin’, beat poet writing style. His band has a big ol’ open road American bar band sound, too. They’ve been described by Blender, who named them Band of the Year, as sounding completely familiar but completely original, and that’s a pretty big compliment. Oh, and I love the line “she was a real good kisser and wasn’t all that strict of a Christian.”

15. “LONDON BRIDGE” – Fergie


Fergie’s hanging christmas lights…. *naughty* christmas lights.

The imagery of the narrator’s “London Bridge” wanting to “go down” here is intriguing. Is she, as the subtext seems to suggest, proclaiming her desire to perform an act of fellatio on her potential suitor? Or is she instead being stand-offish and defensive, as the lyrics themselves would suggest? All in all, a sublime representation of the ambiguity of the 21st century female mind and man’s inability to comprehend the nuances of courtship in a physically free-wheeling but emotionally guarded age that simultaneously denies and glorifies the basic need for human contact.

14. “THE ONLY DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MARTYRDOM AND SUICIDE IS PRESS COVERAGE” – Panic! At The Disco


The Las Vegas School Of Taxidermy, Class of ’06

What’s that whooshing sound, you say? Why, that would be my cred shoooping out the window and falling to the pavement. Yeah, yeah, blah blah Panic! at the Disco blah blah stole their look blah Dresden Dolls blah blah sound like Fall Out Boy blah blah didn’t even play a live show until last year yakkity yak too pretty blah blah 14 year old girls were mean to you when you did your living statue/knife juggling/fire eating routine last summer. I’ve taken all of that into account.

However, Panic! is trying to do something original here that’s really resonating with a lot of people – a fusion of pop-punk and dance pop and dance punk and cabaret and it’s really all pretty interesting if you forget about all that other stuff. See, the song that was going to go here was the new Fall Out Boy jam, until I realized something: Fall Out Boy is now trying to be Panic! At The Disco. Go listen to that “This Ain’t A Scene…” song. Yeah, Pete from Fall Out Boy discovered Panic!, but now the “old dudes” are returning the favor. That’s gotta stand for something.

Swear to shake it up, bitches. Swear to shake it up.

13. “CHEATED HEARTS” – Yeah Yeah Yeahs


We’re the kids in America. Whoa-oh.

Karen O’s got a Ramona Quimby Age 8 hair-do, but that odd childlike vulnerability is what makes her such a compelling stage presence. Beverly Cleary actually used to describe her books as “funny-sad”, and that totally sums up this tune and a lot of what the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s do: “Cheated Hearts” is a heart breakingly sad song, but it feels so happy and invigorating that you can’t help but do a silly dance.

12. “WORLD WIDE SUICIDE” – Pearl Jam
…and then, Tony Hawk busted a 540 Benihana right over their heads! It was teh awesom!!1!

The band that saved your/my life in the early ’90s dropped one of the best records this year, and the lead single proved in every way why they’ve still got it. Proving that the personal is political *and* universal, Eddie tells us about finding the name of one of his friends among the casualties in Iraq, and from that image springs of the best anti-war songs of the last five years.

11.

“YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE” – The Strokes
The Strokes relax after a long, hard day of being sexy.

Reactions to The Strokes latest record have been mixed at best, although people who don’t like it seem to not like it because – and I’m not making this up – it sounds to them like The Strokes were trying to sound too good. Really. Like we’re supposed to only admire the band for looking cool in suits and not because they’ve got a tight, simple pop rock sound and they do what they do better than anyone else. People sure are silly sometimes…

10.

LOVE LIKE WINTER” – AFI
A Fire Inside? More like Ah’d Fire Your Gardener, boys. Heh heh.

Yep, we all started taking Emo a bit more seriously this year, didn’t we, kids? We’ll get to My Chemical Romance in a second, but first we need to mention AFI’s near-brilliant mood piece Decemberunderground. Track seven, “Love Like Winter” is a sweet, sing-songy headrush of tragic love and sexual ambiguity, where Davey Havoc’s “I sound like a twelve year old with a headcold voice” works for the band instead of against him. The “I met my love before I was born” line in the chorus wouldn’t sound anywhere near as beautiful with anyone else singing it.

9.

“WASTED STATE OF MIND” – …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead
…Because That Trail Of Dead Will Have Suspicious Casio Keyboard-Shaped Dents In Their Skulls.

This is how …And You Screw It I’m Lazy describes themselves on their Myspace site:

We aren’t exactly a band, per-se, although we have put out a couple records. Mainly we are a self-help cult similar to Scientology, except instead of coming from another planet our leaders come from within the earth’s crust and cover their reptile bodies with simulacrums of a human exterior.”

David Icke, your hideous future is true! I’ve never quite heard a song like this before, which seems to be soothing and driving and lurching and sweet and angry all at once, with a neat little piano line and backing vox courtesy of Amanda from the Dresden Dolls. When you set up a MySpace band site, you have to pick (up to) three styles of music that your band falls into. Trail Of Dead describes themselves as “Christian Rap/Classical/Black Metal”, and I wouldn’t describe them as any of those things. I think they’re being snarky. And yet, I couldn’t fit their sound into a category either, apart from maybe “quirky and awesome.”

8.

“BETTER” – Regina Spektor
Miss Spektor has a very special dedication for Mr. and Mrs. America and all the ships at sea.

Really, all of Regina’s stuff is amazing. She’s like Tori Amos would be, if Tori’s lyrics made a whit of sense, and if she hadn’t become somewhat boring as of late, and she was, you know, Russian. Regina’s got the most adorable Nice Russian Jewish Girl From New York Via Moscow voice and I haven’t met a single person who doesn’t have at least a small crush on her. I’m going with “Better” because I’m always impressed when your quirkier musicians manage to write a dreaded “Pop song” that’s still quirky enough to be loved by her old fans while mainstream enough to attract new listeners. I also (and if you’ve read this far, you probably know this about me already) love sad songs that are pretending to be happy ones. The chorus here goes “if I kiss you where it’s sore, would you feel better/would you feel anything at all?” The “you” in this song is someone so far gone that it’s a struggle to keep caring about them, and yet it feels like a sing-along.

7.

“RIVOLTA SILENZIOSA” – HUMANWINE
Holly finally solves Matt’s little “speaking in tongues whenever we play kanasta” problem.

Amazing political anarchist gypsy flavored cabaret punk made by two people who are really good friends with some people I’m really good friends with. Actually, picking one song on their 3-song EP was pretty tricky, and I went with this one because it’s the most fun to dance to at their shows. But, just pretend that “Big Brother”‘s here too.

HUMANWINE absolutely rules and deserves to be huger than Panic! At The Disco. There. I said it. Can I hang out at Cloud Club again now?

6.

“ADJUSTMENTS” – The Campaign For Real-Time
The Campaign For Real-Time learn why you should never put tin foil in the microwave.

The Campaign For Real-Time are one of my favorite new bands, ever, if not the best new band I’ve seen in this crazy city this year. They’re sort of electro-funk industrial-pop blue-eyed soul. But, you know, from the future. So, basically, you kind of need to go listen to them, although, really, you need to GO listen to them. Like, get out your head and go watch them in a club somewhere. You will emerge a changed human. “Adjustments” is merely my favorite C4RT song at the moment, and seems to sum up their sound and why I love them nicely, so that song gets to be song #7. ‘Kay?

5.

“AND WE ALL RETURN TO OUR ROOTS” – The Forecast

Who gets a tattoo of Master Shake from ATHF? WHO????

Again, more “Emo I Took Seriously” this year. Sure, it’s got an emotional white boy singing wordy sad lyrics and such, but he’s singing not about himself and his damn pain, but instead about the trials and tribulations of working class life. And then the chorus kicks in… and, oh, what a chorus. See, they have this chick bassist, and she’s got this voice that wouldn’t sound out of place singing “Stand By Your Man” or “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina”, and she belts out the ultimate, altogether-now singalong chorus, and you need to stop reading this crap and go and listen to it right now. Why? Because ALLLL IIIII WAAAAANT…. ALLLLLL IIIIII WAAAAANT…. IS A LITTLE PLACE OF MY OWN WHERE I CAN REST MYYYY HEAAAAD.::sigh::

4.

 

“ONE MAN WRECKING MACHINE” – Guster
Ryan is dead, man. Misssss him… missss him….

There are songs that get stuck in your head. And then there are songs that seem to get inside your head. And, every once in a while, there comes a song that echoes exactly what’s going on inside your head. I’m not going to go into details here, but let’s just say that Guster, one of my favorite bands of all time, managed to write a song that summed up everything I and my friends have been feeling and thinking for the past couple of years. It’s almost as though they were a fly on the wall one drunken night in Fitchburg (a goldfly on the wall, no less.. omg i went there.)

Guster’s always had a distinctive sound that hasn’t changed much, but go ahead and listen to anything off of Parachute, and then listen to this song. Let’s just say that “i used to sit and watch the pouring rain” is one thing and “gonna build a time machine/gonna see the homecoming queen/ask her to the christmas dance/maybe now i’ll get in her pants/whatever” is entirely another.

3.

“DELILAH” – The Dresden Dolls

So, like, what, are they supposed to be mimes or something?

Well, we could talk about how most Dresden Dolls songs take place, in part at least, in a strange fractured fairy tale land of broken toys and vasectomies, and “Delilah” very specifically happens in the real world (a Denny’s on Route 1, for heaven’s sake.) We could discuss the vagueness of the lead character – is Amanda singing about a friend of hers, or is Amanda singing about “a friend of hers”? We could talk about how it starts out as barely a whisper and escalates into a glorious torch song-cum-road anthem. We could even mention how the chorus starts out “you’re an unrescuable schizo/or else you’re on the rag” and how nobody could ever make that work unless you were, well, Amanda Palmer. And then there’s the backing vocals, sung at various points during the song by three seperate women, all representing different parts of Delilah’s personality. But how about this: the song is over six minutes long, and at the end, you still want more. 2.

 

“CRAZY” – Gnarls Barkley
Ah. The Mirth-Mobile.

This was everyone’s favorite song this year. It was literally everywhere. You heard it on every radio station from pop to hip-hop to rock. Gnarls is going to clean up at the Grammys. And yet, I’ve met almost no one who’s sick of it. You’re supposed to get sick of songs. That’s how radio works. We need to feed you one product until you’re so super-saturated you cry out for anything else. So many sub-genres, so many fragmented scenes and no one’s on the same page and we’re all stars now on the internet and we can surround ourselves with a digital world of our own making and we never have to be exposed to anything we don’t like ever. We can swim in our own specific interests. So how did this song become everyone’s favorite song this year? Because it’s bloody amazing, that’s how.

…and it was at this point that Andy realized he’d actually listed twenty-six songs, because it was just that sort of year and he’s disorganized. Therefore…

1 1/2.

“WELCOME TO THE BLACK PARADE” – My Chemical Romance
Gerard can’t sleep, or clowns will eat him.

Everyone’s favorite glam-emo New Jerseyans prove that the album isn’t dead by dropping a rock opera about – well – death. Specifically, the death and subsequent redemption of “The Patient”, who’s got cancer, and does he go to heaven, or hell, or what? Neither – he joins the black parade, which takes him on a sort of Dante’s Inferno-style trip through his life and death. So I guess it’s more like Dante’s Purgatory. High time someone wrote that. The whole record, by the way, is fantastic, but I’m going with this one for the same reason I’m guessing they picked it as the single. It’s a good introduction to the story and the ideas behind the album, and reminds you of “Bohemian Rhapsody” in a good way. I’m not sure how these guys managed to pull off recording the best album of the decade so far, but they did. Go buy it now before it’s a Broadway show.

1.

“WHEN YOU WERE YOUNG” – The Killers
Brandon Flowers wants his last words to be “I’m on drugs.” No, wait – “I dig music.”…. I’M ON DRUUUGS!

I gotta get this out of the way first. The thing nobody seems to notice about the lyrics to “When You Were Young” is that Brandon never says the hurricane is burning down the highway. It’s the “we” in the song that are “burning down the highway skyline on the back of a hurricane.” Yet everybody focuses on that one line, and “well, it doesn’t make sense, because hurricane’s are too wet to burn, and look at me I wear hipster glasses and I work for Pitchfork and I’m soooo cooooool.” If you really want to be lame about that line, you could say that a hurricane, which is all wet and windy and hurricane-like, would extinguish whatever was burning, except that he’s not using “burn” in the literal (combustion) sense of the word. He’s saying “we’re burning rubber”, as in gettin’ the hell out of Dodge. Which would, admittedly, be difficult during a hurricane, because the roads would probably be flooded, but come on, the kid grew up in the desert so cut him some slack.

I feel better now.

The thing everybody seems to notice about the song itself is how much it sounds like Springsteen, or Joshua Tree-era U2. They’re right, but there’s more to it than that. “They say the devil’s water it ain’t so sweet” sounds like something the Rolling Stones would have written. It’s bombastic like The Who or Meatloaf and leans arms-wide into the wind like “Tonight Tonight” by the Pumpkins. And yet, the Totally ’80s sound that made The Killers a household name is still there, if you look for it; the song yearns like The Smiths and drives like “Hungry Like The Wolf” and the guitar sound of that soon-to-be legendary riff is lifted from Porl Thompson from The Cure. Lots of people play like U2 and Springsteen, and lots of people (nowadays) play like The Cure. So far, no one else has thought that, maybe, that these two distinct sounds could possibly sound good together.

It goes back further than the 1980s, though. It plays with the dichotomy of Jesus and the Devil and temptation and salvation and you catholic girls start much too late and please to meet you, hope you guess my name and well I guess this is growing up and out here in the fields i fight for my meals and we got to hold on for what we got, we’re halfway there, living on a prayer and i got you babe and i wo-wo-wo-wo-wonder why-why-why-why-why she went away my little runaway and tramps like us, baby we were born to run and we’re burning down a highway skyline on the back of a hurricane.

Yeah, it’s all been done before. And it’s not the greatest song of all time or the pinnacle of rock-and-roll achievement, but it does feel like there’s a direct line that runs from Robert Johnson selling his soul at that crossroads in the Mississippi Delta to this song. I ain’t saying this is the pinnacle of rock history and everything has been leading up to this one track by this one still pretty young band, but…. actually, on second thought, maybe that is what I’m saying. A little. Because that romance of rebellion and escape and bad boys in leather jackets and good girls who love Jesus and the internal struggle between your better angels and your darker demons, and how none of it matters when you’re on the open road, that’s rock and roll. And that’s “When You Were Young.” Anyone got a problem with that? 

 

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Posted by on June 24, 2007 in music, nostalgia, radio

 

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