Monthly Archives: December 2008
The only reason – the *only* reason this song is so far down on the list – is this: it’s the first song I’ve ever heard when I’ve actually thought to myself “Oh my God, I am too old to like this song.” There is no conceivable way for me to enjoy this tune without seeming like a skeevy perv with a Peter Pan complex, as it is sung by pretty teenaged boys and it is unequivocably about trying to get laid, in an adorable manner. Plus, it’s obviously a rip-off. It’s electro-indie like the hip kids are listening to, but the band met on the set of a Disney channel show, and NONE OF THEM WERE EVEN ALIVE IN THE 80s. It is therefore completely stupid and unhip and I should probably stuff my ears with cotton and complain about these damn kids these days with their Pac Man video games, and even THAT line, the “Pac Man video games” line, is an outdated reference because it comes from a movie that was released 10 years ago this March, and the point is, I am old. I am very very old. And this song makes me feel really old.
So: shame on you, Metro Station, for making me feel old with your song. Your catchy, hooky, awesome, infectious, song that I obviously hate so very much.
Vampire Weekend might be this year’s Dave Matthews. By which I mean: they run the risk of being that band/artist who’s really, really talented, but you can’t like them because, dude, every vanilla John and Jane you meet listens to them, like, all the time while they’re drinking Bud Light and being boring. Am I an elitist? You betcha.
Having said that, they managed to record a perfect summer road trip album that made us want to drive around with the windows down, despite gas being like $4.50/gallon. The whole album’s great, but I’m going with this tune because Bay State represent.
13. “Shame of the Otaku” – MC Frontalot
I’m so glad we live in a world where such things as Nerdcore are possible. Nerdy white kids rapping about nerdy white things, with as much snap and flow as those “gangsta” fellows. MC Frontalot came to my attention a couple years back with his tune “It Is Pitch Dark”, a hip-hop ode to – I xyzzy you not – Infocom’s text adventures. The video even features a cameo appearence from Steve Meretsky, the man who brought us Planetfall and Zork. Now, Fronty’s rappin’ about his lonely, geeky childhood, and how he wants to get the ladies in his room to make ’em watch Evil Dead 2, with a chorus that sounds for all the world like the theme from some Anime movie. Perfect.
Neon Neon is a collaboration between the guy from Super Furry Animals and hip-hop producer Boom Bip, if you can imagine. The album Stainless Steel is a concept album/pop opera about – I’m not making this up – John Delorean. You know, the time travelling car guy. Yes, him. “Dream Cars” sounds like ’60s soul mixed with ’00s electro, and therefore sounds perfectly mid-80s. I’m so addicted to this song right now, I want to snort it.
11. “If I Were A Boy” – Beyonce
Beyonce (or Sasha Fierce, as she’s sort of calling herself these days) always suprises me, because I’m not a huge fan of modern day R&B, and yet…. she just rules. I caught her on SNL the other night singing this song, and was blown away. It’s a pretty standard, classic pop song motif – playing with traditionally masculine imagery in an attempt to inspire empathy in her male lover – but Beyonce, who can be equal parts strong and vulnerable, really sells it.
10. “Paper Planes” – M.I.A.
M.I.A.’s particular god-given talent is that her twangy-tangy voice *is* the hook. She could rap “In Flanders’ Fields” and I’d wanna boogie. Here, she has the added bonus of rapping over a sample from a Clash song and, apparently, the sound effects department from an Edward G. Robinson film. She got more records than the KGB.
Stay Positive is a pretty great record, much like, well, everything The Hold Steady’s ever done. The chorus – “when there weren’t any parties, sometimes she’d party with townies” tells you almost everything you need to know about the story they’re telling us here, except that, yep, it ain’t gonna end well, and it involves a water tower, and a college girl, and blood on his jacket. You get snippets of the story as the song goes on, and it unfolds into a good ol’ American murder/accident waltz ballad. God, these guys are good.
Imagine hearing a clearer recording of Led Zeppelin for the very first time. That’s what Kings of Leon’s like. Apparently, the band almost didn’t include “Sex on Fire” on their album – they thought it was dumb. And it is, but it’s also kind of glorious. “Use Somebody” is just an awesome lighters-in-the-air tune. Kings of Leon, who released (imho) the most consistent album of the year (Only By The Light), somehow manage to make classic rock sound fresh and exciting.
Reading that song title and that band name, you’ve probably come to three conclusions: one, the band has black kids in it. Two, the song is, ironically, quite dancable. Three, it’s about how white people think all black people can dance. You’re right about the first two, but the song’s actually about a teenaged lesbian who’s in love with her best friend and therefore is reluctant to do anything about the titular boyfriend’s inability to score with the protagonist’s intended. It’s very sweet and kind of melancholy.
Note to self: I wonder how many more hits this entry’s going to get, just because it features the words “teenaged lesbian.” I’d say I’m attracting a whole new audience to the blog, but Chris Clark already reads it I’M JUST JOSHIN’ YA, CHRIS! Love ya baby!
Every year, even 2008, needs a big dumb hipster dance anthem. The Ting-Tings sound, to me, like The Waitresses probably sound like to people who actually enjoy The Waitresses. It’s probably the second best indie breakup tune of the year.
The Ting-Tings are fun. I sort of wish I’d caught them at a loft party or something, during the brief three-month period when I was hip enough to be invited to loft parties.
5. “Foundations” – Kate Nash
Of course I love Kate Nash – she recorded her debut album in her bedroom, she has a cute London accent, she writes sassy, snarky, confessional songs, and she’s adorable. “Foundations”, in short, is what my “band” The Pluto Tapes would be writing if I was British, female, and not unforgivably lazy.
Pitchfork famously panned this album, saying it was calculated and unoriginal and stale and all sorts of things that make no sense. Personally, I think the reviewer on Pitchfork is just mad that a band fronted by a former music reviewer… who actually got off his ass and made music, mind you…. is doing so well. Sour f***ing grapes, if you ask me. “Sometime Around Midnight” jumped out at me the first time I heard it and demanded I love it – it builds and builds to a sonic and emotional crescendo as the band spins a melancholy melody and tale of running into an old girlfriend at a bar. As the Pitchfork reviewer said, sarcastically, “we’ve all been there, maaaan.” Yes, asshole, we have. Leave the damn house sometime.
See, everyone else has this on their Top 20 lists, right? Except, it actually came out last year, on the Kids EP (I had “Kids” by MGMT as, like, the 11th best song last year or something.) So I was reluctant to put it here… except that… well, look. Every year has a “riff” by which it can be identified. 1991 is “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” 1995 is “Connection” by Elastica. 1976 is “Anarchy in the UK”, and 2004 is probably “Yeah!” by Usher. The “riff” for 2008 was obviously the hook for “Time To Pretend”, MGMT’s endearingly nerdy take on how awesome it’s going to be once we’re all rock stars. Me, I give them credit for writing solid songs within a retro-electro-glam format, and for their spectacular headbands.
It’s about video games. Except, it’s about the Virginia Tech massacre. Except it’s really about how the army’s using video games to desensitize soldiers for combat. Except it’s really about how the army’s sending non-violent games like Guitar Hero to the troops to keep them busy. Except it’s really about the plastic guitar as a false phallus symbol, and about how, if you can synthesize combat, and you can synthesize music, what else can be synthesized? Except it’s really about the growing disconnect between people, and between experience and reality. Except it’s really about how that disconnect dehumanizes us and our fellow man and makes inhumanity a lot easier.
Also, East Bay Ray from the Dead Kennedys plays on it, which kicks ass.
Amanda Palmer (and Ben Folds, who produced it) released the best album of the year. She’s one of the best songwriters alive today. She manages to cram more layers into a four-minute song than just about anybody, and “Guitar Hero” leaves the listener with a sense of urgency and dread and “holy f**k”itude that’s like… well, remember the first time you heard “Jeremy” by Pearl Jam? Not the 9,000,000th time, but the very first? More specifically, remember when you saw that video? Remember that sense of “what… the… hell just happened?” That’s what it’s like. 2008 was the comedown after eight years of what the hell just happened.
1. “Handlebars” – Flobots
You feel the exact same way after listening to “Handlebars” by Flobots. Where “Guitar Hero” is a full on assault from start to finish, however, “Handlebars” starts out all sweet and innocent.
The protagonist is a little kid, and he’s bragging, and he can do all this neat stuff. He can ride his bike with no handlebars, he and his friend made a comic book, he can teach you how to scratch a record, he can take apart the remote control, and he can almost put it back together. Almost. That’s your first clue.
He can do anything that he wants, cuz look, he’s proud to be an American, and he can keep rhythm with no metronome. These rappers, always bragging about something or other. Now, though, he’s bragging about making new anti-biotics and designing engines and waterproof computers. That’s strange, but what’s most important is, more than anything else… he sees the strings that control the system. He can control his environment. He can, as I believe someone once said, create his own reality.
Now he’s saying can split the atom of a molecule. Oh dear. This isn’t ending well.
His reach is global. His power is pure. Oh my God, he has the power of life and death over every single man, woman and child on the planet Earth. He can heal everyone, or let them die.
He can make anyone go to prison, just because he don’t like ’em.
If you don’t get it, you’re really not paying attention. “Handlebars” is about us. The litle kid, riding his bike with no handlebars, is America. We’re the land of opportunity. We’re the most powerful nation the world has ever known. But, as the great American mythologist Stan Lee once wrote, with great power comes great responsibility. We’ve developed great technologies and we’ve pursued freedom and we’re the greatest country on Earth. But we can still do a lot of damage if we’re not careful, and we have. We can take apart the Iraqi government, and we can almost put it back together.
By taking the vast subject of American foreign policy and reducing it, without schmaltz or sentiment, to a hyperactive kid on a bike saying “Look, Ma, no hands!”, Flobots has written a classic song. When people look back at 2008, they might remember songs like “Time To Pretend” or “You Can Have Whatever You Like” or, God help us, “I Kissed A Girl. However, the song that summed up what it felt like to wake up the long drunken night of the past decade, and look around and realize, finally, what it all meant – that’s “Handlebars” – the best song of the year, and maybe the song of the decade.
Here’s my #1 favorite song of all time. I’m dead serious. Merry Christmas.
When you think about Christmas specials, you think of A Charlie Brown Christmas. End of story. Oh sure, you might think about the Grinch or about Rudolph or even Frosty, and maybe you’re Jewish and you’re thinking about how the Rugrats gang finally threw the chosen people a frickin’ bone a few years back with their Hanukkah special. A Charlie Brown Christmas, however, is the template. It’s why every stupid sitcom has a very special holiday episode where someone learns the True Meaning of Christmas.
The True Meaning of Christmas. That’s a phrase that means nothing, isn’t it? It’s been dragged out by retailers and hucksters so often that it can now only be said wrapped snugly in quotation marks. I think this is where it comes from, though. The aforementioned Rudolph, and especially The Year Without A Santa Claus, are heavilly plot-based affairs. Usually, Christmas itself is in jeapordy, and its up to a plucky soul to save it. Why is Christmas so important? Um, because, you know, the kids will be disappointed if there are no toys. Oh noes.
The interesting thing about the Peanuts gang, though, is this: even though they’re presented as children, and even though they have some of the concerns children have, they’re not really children. They’re flawed and selfish, but they’re flawed and selfish in the same way grownups are. I knew bratty little kids growing up, but I never really met Lucy until, say, college. You’ll notice you don’t see Charlie Brown pining after particular Christmas gifts here. The other kids do, but it’s mostly incidental, and it’s in a very grown-up way. Lucy wants real estate, and Sally wants her present in small bills.
As we begin, Charlie Brown’s practically singing The Mighty Mighty Bosstones’ “Sure Don’t Feel Like Christmas Time” as he walks around through his home town. That’s one of the all-time great bummer Christmas songs, and I recommend you give it a listen if you’re ever feeling blue around the holidays. You know what else is a bummer song? “Christmas Time Is Here” by Vince Guaraldi – which all the kids are singing. It’s a lovely slow jazz tune, but somehow the children’s choir gives it a certain dirge-like quality.
Charlie Brown and Linus head out to ice skate with the other kids, and Charlie opens up to his bro about how crappy Chrismas makes him feel. Linus tells him to stop being so damn emo. Charlie hits a tree while ice skating, and all the snow falls off the tree and buries him alive. Then, the title appears. That’s how it starts. Probably the most beloved and resonant American Christmas story apart from “The Gift Of The Magi,” and it begins with seasonal depression and a potentially fatal avalanche. MERRY [bleep]ING CHRISTMAS, EVERYBODY!!!!!!!
This was made back in 1984, I think, and wound up being played for years. It’s the strangely touching tale of a little boy who can’t ice skate and feels left out by all the mean older kids and then Ronald McDonald shows up and everyone’s like “Hello, Clown! It’s so normal you’re here, in the woods, with a bunch of kids!” and Ronald shows the little boy how to skate, and the modern viewer is reminded of the really horrible joke with the blood in the clown suit. Or maybe that’s just me. Merry Christmas, everybody!
McDonald’s and Christmas are two things that have very little in common, at first glance. However, if you think about it, it makes sense. Both are things you loved and looked forward to as a child, and both are things that usually disappoint you and give you indigestion as an adult. Both things make you fat, and both are things where, when you’re young, you’re really there for the free toys.
Also, sometimes, when you’re young, you find yourself dragged along for Christmas shopping trips with Mom and Pop, and at the end of the day, you wind up there. Mom and Dad, by this point, have probably spent as much money as they’re willing to spend, and yet are too worn out by the holiday shopping experience to cook anything at home. So, sometimes, you end up at McDonalds. It’s a nice reward for behaving yourself when you’re seven, especially if they’re serving eggnog shakes.
Ohhhhh how I miss you, eggnog shakes…
Next up: it’s not a bad tree, it just needs a little encouragement.