This is the music that I listened to most this year, not necessarily stuff that was released within the previous calendar year. Some of it is fairly old, in fact. Because my music listening has moved predominantly to mp3s rather than full-length CDs, I'm doing it by song and not album. It's so much easier to skip the second half of Of Montreal's album when it's a matter of one mouse click, rather than having to walk to the stereo, get the new CD, replace the old CD - man, I ain't got time for that! There's important stuff happening at this desk that I don't want to miss!
In no particular order and without further ado:
1. "We're Both So Sorry", Mirah:
The song starts out strangely, with an autoharp strum, and halfway through the first verse, there's still almost no accompaniment. But then the horns come in briefly, and by the time we get to the first "I'm sorry 'bout so much, baby, but I know you'll understand", you're hooked. Or at least I am. Then, the second verse features Mirah singing, while another track of Mirah (I think it's also her) whispers the lyrics simultaneously, and it's really spooky. And then the verse ends with this slow-building crazy drum part, which carries into the next verse, and Mirah's voice gets higher, and the horns come back in, and it's all very dramatic and great.
2. "The New", Interpol:
My favorite parts:
1) The introductory guitar part
2) The crazy, screaming guitar at the end
3) "Baby, my heart's been breaking"
3. "Shine a Light", Wolf Parade:
This was the song I listened to the most from the album I listened to the most. My favorite part comes after the second chorus, when everything is really driving hard - drums, keyboards, guitars - and the backup singer starts in, and he's not even singing actual words, just this excited, "Uh uh oh OH" and it's really exciting. If I still swam competitively, I think this would be an excellent song to play before races to get adrenaline flowing. Except, come to think of it, I never especially did that while I was a high school swimmer. We did play AC/DC's "Big Balls" a lot, and sometimes when we were doing deck changes, Paskey would put on "Free Fallin'", but instead of "I'm free fallin'", we'd sing "I'm free ballin'".
This song is not about balls at all, unless I'm missing some Quebecois euphemism.
4. "Rebellion (Lies)", Arcade Fire:
Wolf Parade, Unicorns, and Arcade Fire are all from Montreal, and all have a disproportionate number of songs about ghosts. Wolf Parda has "Same Ghost every Night", "Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts", The Unicorns have "Ghost Mountain", "Haunted House", "Sea Ghost", and "Tuff Ghost", and that's not even considering all their songs not wanting to die or being ready to die. Is Montreal haunted? Haunted by terrible band names?
I would a sucker for any song that opens with a line about how "sleeping is giving in", even if it rocked significantly softer than this one does.
5. "Gold Digger", Kanye West:
You have a dilemma, as a white listener of hip-hop, regarding songs that have the word "nigger" in them. I don't like to say the word, I don't even like to type the word, but I still like to sing along. So, here are some options.
a) Soften the "r". Really, really soften it. In fact, soften the double-g too. And, don't enunciate the "n" all that much, either. The end result will be something that sounds like, "nih-yuh", which is still too close to be comfortable, honestly.
b) Instead of singing the offensive word, stop, lower your voice, and whisper, "N-word". "I ain't saying she a gold digger/ But she ain't messin' with no broke (cup hands, whisper) N-words".
c) Stay politically correct. So what if it has five extra syllables? Sing "African-American".
d) Try wholesale substitution. "Brother" will work just fine in a lot of songs. Or how about, "I ain't sayin' she a gold miner/ But she ain't messin with unemployment liners"? Or, "I ain't sayin she a coquette/ She'll mess with you as long as you ain't broke yet"?
e) Avoid sexism AND racism. "As far as I'm concerned, she is a beautiful woman and deserves respect, regardless of your ethnicity and economic background. However, I still want pre-nup."
6. "Pull Up the People", M.I.A.:
I like the beats, but it's the way she pronounces words that really sells me here, particularly "I'm a sol-dyah, I'm a fight-tah". I guess she's from Sri Lanka? Arular is pretty solid all the way through, and if the rap scene in Colombo starts blowing up in the next few years, M.I.A. deserves all the credit.
7. "To Be With You", Mr. Big:
I have no excuse for this one, except that I didn't have a recording of it until this past year. I wanted to use it in a drug hallucination sequence in Pharm Boys, as part of a duet between Andy and his Australian doppelganger, and if we could secure permission from the band, I still feel it could work. Deep inside, I hope you feel it, too.
8. "Wraith Pinned to the Mist and Other Games", Of Montreal:
Let's pretend we don't exist. Let's pretend we're in Antarctica. That's the whole chorus. This was one of my favorite albums of the year, even acknowledging that I consider a significant portion of it to be unlistenable. The first four songs are extremely strong. In the past, I had pretty much hated Of Montreal, due to my dislike of the lead singer's vocal style, even though countless people had recommended them. (Also in this category for me: The Decemberists) I can't been able pinpoint why I find his voice and their music so different on this album, but perhaps it's due to the catchiness and accessiblity of the material. It's such a catchy song, such a delightful refrain, such a stellar bass line. And it leads very nicely into the also-catchy, also ridiculously-titled "Forecast Fascist Future". If penguins had house parties, I think they might really enjoy this one.
9. "Marking Time", Olivia Tremor Control:
I had a personal OTC revival upon seeing one of their farewell shows this year, at Great American Music Hall. I rediscovered both albums I had, and this song remained my favorite.
10. "Birthday Cake", Cibo Matto:
The chorus is "Shut up and eat! Too bad, no bon appetit!" I used to have a promotional CD from a radio station that contained Shonen Knife's cover of "Daydream Believer". Japanese punk rock girls singing Monkees songs - how can you go wrong? Cibo Matto does even better, with more interesting music, and a Japanese woman spitting rhymes about food. I'm not sure what this song is trying to say, beyond listing ingredients. Some of the ingredients seem like they would not lead to a very tasty cake. I mean, extra MSG? Really? But I don't know from Japanese baking, and I should probably just shut up and eat.