In which the onset rush of MDMA is compared to religious epiphany, a suddenly deep-felt celestial meaning. Of course “the ecstasy is kicking in” could be a line totally bereft of chemical influence, but it doesn’t sound like that at all. It never really gets better than the first 30 seconds, with drum/heartbeats pounding, and strange synth tones mellowing into something rounder. But, that’s to be expected. No matter the trigger, DOM gets the basic truth that coming up is always sweeter than coming down. - Jeff Klingman
Best Coast’s cheerful pop tunes and catchy rhythms made Crazy for You one of 2010 best albums. So why does the title track get the nod over the rest? It’s the best example of Bethany Cosentino’s Californian surf rock and teenage lovelorn lyrics, that nonetheless make you want to tap your feet and go the beach, even if it’s winter. Bonus: Best Coast tweets are pretty entertaining too! http://twitter.com/bestycoastyy – Veronica Carvallo
One way of describing Sufjan’s trippy and melodramatic Age of Adz is to see it as an artifact of trippy and melodramatic cathartic emotion from an artist best defined for taking constraining conventions to the extreme. Sufjan’s personal life is the muse for an over the top confessional of a man on the brink of (self-) destruction. Not a stretch to think of Adz as Sufjan’s Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. At shows Sufjan nervously explained how he imagined standing on the edge of a bubbling volcano and thinking about jumping in. Like anyone who is past the age of twelve has done, he asks “Why does it have to be so hard?” However only the likes of Sufjan Stevens can take such rhetorical frustration and create a spectacle that enlists infamous Italian destroyers and glitchy sounds galore to make his point. - Merry Swankster
NYC’s own Golden Filter has assumed the mantle of the sharp, crystallized electronica ushered to the fore by the likes of Goldfrapp and Vitalic. While Penelope Trappes lacks significant vocal power, she wields her voice well to convey a sort of modern-day mysticism. Starting with a simple kickdrum, “Solid Gold” piles on layer after layer, until everything coalesces around the breakdown chorus. It’s kind of like being in a futuristic windchime store, you can count at least six different beeps and bleats under the surface.
Solid Gold does the perfect trick of elongating Penelope Trappes’ limited voice to create a real environment to the song; this is the soundtrack to a post-apocalyptical bonfire. – Keith O’Brien
This song sounds like those million-watt lamps they rent out to movie premiers and Ferrari dealership grand openings to trace loop-de-loops on the night’s clouds—bat-signals minus the bat. In the midst of this glow, herself blinding just from a sequin bounce, Elizabeth Harper tries to be modest, deflecting. “You think I’m living it, living it, living it, living it up…in the spotlight. You think I’m living it, living it, living it, living it up…it’s a lie. Lie.” And she sounds perfectly sincere and all, but you know, I’ve listened to this song an amazing number of times this year, and I still think she’s living it up. We know in our hearts that stars on the red carpet are just as plausibly sad as ecstatic but, shit, that sure isn’t how it looks. - Jeff Klingman
No, this is not a newly discovered track from Marvin Berry and the Starlighters legendary performance at the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance in 1955, but it very may well have been the encore if Marty McFly didn’t ruin the gig with his shtick heavy version of Johnny B. Goode.
Some songs are timeless, some songs act like a time machine. Whatever the case may be “Excuses” has the power to overtake even brashest of sounds and force them to fall in key. I am writing this in a youth hostel dorm room in Tel-Aviv over the train engine snoring of two Italian backpackers. Even while facing this offensive the only thing left rummaging in my head is the “dum da-dum da-dum” refrain from this song. That is the power of good harmony. - Yonah Korngold
[ed note - this version is even better]
Morning Benders w/ Echo Chamber Orchestra – “Excuses”
Much has been made of Titus Andronicus creating a concept album of the United States Civil War as a metaphor for personal growth, or the current national financial crisis, or whatever. Directly to that point, “A More Perfect Union” has been getting all sorts of love on lists not unlike this one, and for good reason – it’s expansive, layered, anthemic, and all of those things that “great” songs are supposed to be. But “Theme from ‘Cheers’” is the most Titus Andronicus song on the latest Titus album, even if it consists of a near Who-like three movements because “Cheers” is the most directly applicable personal account. To get there, it starts out with a saloon piano jaunt titled “The Hangover Mass”, where the narrator performs a nearly heartfelt apologia about his high school drinking. The song then quickly drops the hammer into fifth gear during the second part the track, precariously called “Grandpa’s Old Cough Medicine.” The final third, “Song for Tretiak’s Movie” falls into waltz time in order to close the bar on this life spent drinking. The listener gets so caught up in the familiar TA tropes that these articulated musical flourishes are easily missed, and while lost in the miasma, even the most ardent beer snob finds himself shouting “give me a Keystone light!”
- Randall Monty
Similar to the way in which Hendrix musically armed America with a trigger happy rhythm in the 1970 song “Machine Gun,” Vampire Weekend employs a bouncier but just as effective barrage of percussion with their musical version of the Brady Bill. There are split seconds where Ezra Koenig’s voice echoes off at the end of the measure like a Looney Tunes character suspended in mid-air after running off of a cliff. This is just one example that displays how the band has mastered the studio while proving to be more economical than two turntables and a microphone, for all you seem to need for a Vampire Weekend hit is driving percussion and Ezra Koenig’s falsetto. - Yonah Korngold
For downtrodden subject matter, the New Pornographers sure know how to pretty up a sad tale. Led by the always lovely Neko Case conspiring with marching violins – if violins could ever be described to be the marching type – to form an impenetrable sunny facade to some apparent rough times. The scandalous-in-the-1950s opening line “The skirts go up, Before the war”, serves as an omen to messiness that soon follows. One quickly gets the hint that unhinged sexual debauchery was a prelude to some bad times that are never elaborated on, though confirmed by a line lifted from a Smith’s song. The also anxiety inducing “Panic”, “Honey child you’re not safe here”.
All year I associated this song as the power pop take on the global economic condition, joining the National’s “Bloodbuzz Ohio” (in subject matter only) at the start of the ‘Great Recession mixtape’ I never put together. The deep dive into the lyrics didn’t change this as much as it amplified how dire crash years stories could be. However, it’s not all grim. Case’s vocals standing with diminishing accompaniment, the ending eventually fades with a robotic heartbeat beeping and a hushed, hopeful refrain, “The ruins are wild…Tonight will be an open mic.”
- Merry Swankster
You can never accuse The Knife of selling out, though it often seems like they live in fear that you might. “Heartbeats,” as humid and universal a millennial anthem as we ever got, beget the much, much colder Silent Shout, which brought them even bigger props if not as many shook asses. Enter 2010’s Tomorrow, In a Year which, to be fair, was a commissioned piece of work, bizarrely scoring an opera about the life and work of Charles Darwin. But the Dreijers still chose to studio-record and release it as an album, one which most of the world couldn’t be bothered to investigate past their initial WHAT THE FUCK.
As a record, a double-LP no less, it’s perversely front-loaded with avant-garde experiments, simulated found sounds, and operatic bursts lost in volcanic currents. But the second disc is kind of genius, if you’ll let it be. It doesn’t swoop back to simple synth-pop until the very end, and I suppose “simple” is a poor word choice even then. Danish actress Lærke Winther (I hope that rhymes with “dark winter”) sings over Olof Dreijer’s lightly warped loops, as an outsider to both the narrative and the album, remembering Darwin fondly while ruminating on the changes time brings. You miss Karin’s digitally chameleonic voice a bit, realize that her personality is singular even if the effects she uses fracture it to bits. But even missing that protean element, the beautiful contradiction of the Knife’s music remains. At the height of summer, you’ll still feel like offering a thick shall.
- Jeff Klingman