My lord, THIS TOOK FOREVER! But I promised you guys I'd do it, so here it is. I have a few honorable mentions, but I'll just mention those in my actual Song of the Year/Album blog. Anyways, these are subjective, yeah, yeah, whatever. Anyway, here goes.
10. "King Night" - Salem, from the album King Night
Salem’s “King Night” is an absolute motherfucker of a song. Can you think of another track that created that much anticipation for a debut record? a debut record by a trio of speed users who love southern rap and recant tales of male prostitution in interviews nonetheless? The sample for the track has been stated repeatedly. It’s basically “O Holy Night”, albeit a pretty scary version of it that begins with a creepy “I LOVE YOU”. But after the first listen on a good pair of headphones, I doubt I would have cared what the fuck Salem actually sampled. Their record may have been a disappointment to some, and an outright failure to others, but give these guys some credit, even if it’s just for shamelessness: Salem wanted to make a House song as dark as the genre would legitimately allow. And you don’t need to listen that much past the first time the synths and the choir vocals drop (and what a terrifically frightening drop it is) to know that they succeeded—but you will, of course.
9. "O.N.E." - Yeasayer, from the album Odd Blood
Yeasayer have a ton of potential but rarely make good on any of it past their singles. So I guess you could hold Yeasayer as the Peter Gabriel-ish, world music-inspired version of The Killers in that regard. But my indifference toward the band aside, I will give credit where credit is due; “O.N.E.” is fantastic. Pitchfork recently said that “O.N.E.” is an example of what happens when a band gets everything “right,” and I couldn’t agree more. Having the vocal duties switched and cutting the world music stuff just a tad really showed what Yeasayer is capable of: GOOD POP SONGS. It’s the sort of dance song that could have came out of Paul Simon’s Graceland had he been a bit bi-curious at the time. Everything about “O.N.E.” is relentless flamboyant. And I just love how the band managed to work three-to-four hooks, great hooks, into a single song. Unfortunately, the album version of “O.N.E.” takes too long to get to the best one—an issue the radio edit simply doesn’t have. “And it feels like being tranquilized, I know the separation kills us so. But I won’t stop, falling like raindrops, because I like it when you lose control” is the best damn thing Yeasayer has ever put to record, so it’s a real shame that the album version feels the need to meander about for an extra minute and change (of meaningless build up) to get to it; part of the radio edit’s genius is its immediacy, but the band’s psychedelic instincts and pride seemed to get in the way of releasing what is essentially a pop song as a pop song (without added bullshit). Alright Yeasayer, you guys wrote a fundamentally great paper. Now it’s just time to get a bit better at revising.
8. "Something Else" - Diamond Rings, from the album Special Affections
He’s so glam that Bowie would go “shit…”; he’s so flamboyant that he must be straight; he’s so lo-fi that he uses budget guitar cables from RadioShack; and he’s so tall that the obvious motif for his music videos is basketball. Yep, that’s Diamond Rings in a nutshell. But John O’Regan isn’t exactly easy to define past the aesthetics. His voice couldn’t be any deeper, yet he constantly sings from a feminine R-E-S-P-E-C-T M-E perspective. He’s not Aretha Franklin in drag, but he’s not unwilling to pack his things and leave the briefcase at the door until you convince him why he shouldn’t just walk out for good. Special Affections was a good album. And the standout track, “Something Else”, is one of the reasons why. The jangle riff-turn-heavy strumming guitar fits the mood perfectly as O’Regan himself ironically asks for that second chance. If you listen to the track that follows, the awesome “All Yr Songs”, I think he got that chance.
7. "Excuses" - The Morning Benders, from the album Big Echo
If you’re a virgin – and I’m not trying to make some stupid joke here – you’ll probably experience “Excuses” as nothing but sunny 60s pop aesthetics (with blatant Phil Spector influence) and pristine vocal harmonies. And believe me, there’s nothing wrong with that. However, if you aren’t, the song takes on an entirely new meaning. “Excuses” is about that first time. Moreover, it’s about all the things that come with it: highlighting both the premature commitment (“we’ll still be best friends when all turns to dust”) and the physical feelings of grandiosity (“we’ll mine our sparks to shoot up”). The saccharine instrumentation is so clean that it serves as a metaphor for the initial act itself. And not once is the word “love” mentioned, even though it’s obviously there. Sometimes it’s best if things are left understated, or, yeah, we really don’t need to say anything.
6. "Blue Moon (Big Star Cover)" - Kendal Johansson, from the "Blue Moon" single.
As if the original isn’t obscure enough, Kendal Johansson’s cover of Big Star’s “Blue Moon” is a complete mystery. Where the hell did this song come from? No information really exists on Johansson; so this soaring, piano and vocal driven beauty doesn’t even have a face it can be attached to. Hell, the only picture of this ‘Kendal’ person that I’ve found looks suspiciously like a young Eric Berglund (ceo, The Tough Alliance), who, last time I checked, is a man. So unless Kendal Johansson is really Eric Berglund (which I don’t doubt much, considering all the weird shit he pulls), she’s purposefully an enigma; but you know what, I’m willing to tolerate a lot of this pretentious, self-imposed mystery on behalf of Berglund’s label, Sincerely Yours, as long as we get a single like “Blue Moon” once in a…well, you know.
5. "Down By the Water" - The Drums, from the album The Drums
The Drums chose to mirror The Shangri-Las in the video for “Down By the Water”. And that’s pretty interesting when you consider that they’re essentially spouting the type of sappy stuff that those girls wished they could have heard back in the 60s. But as any good ballad should, “Down By the Water” truly convinces you of stuff that may seem like idealistic bullshit on the surface. Play the song for that girl you know who doesn’t trust men and always nags about how awful they are. She’ll tell you to fuck off. Play it for your girl while laying in bed. She’ll smile.
4. "Mr. Peterson" - Perfume Genius, from the album Learning
I actually had the pleasure of meeting Mike Hadreas (Perfume Genius) at a small gig in Williamsburg, Brooklyn before his set. Okay, I’ll be honest: I ran up to the bar and harassed him like the rabid fan I was that night. A lot of my smiling appreciation seemed a bit odd to him at first (though he was a very nice man). It was as if he couldn’t understand how his album, Learning (which is quite macabre, to say the least), could make someone so, well, joyous. But to be fair, I had never met an artist before, let alone an artist who made an album I actually appreciated. And now that I look back on that night, it may have been slightly inappropriate for me to have stood there at the front of the stage happily singing along to “Mr. Peterson”, a song that serves as a horrifying memoir of a relationship in Hadreas’ past that obviously meant a lot to him. It may not have been his first and only love (after all, he performs these songs with his boyfriend, and the two seem devoted to one another), but he obviously retains a lot from the teacher who, almost in a fatherly way, introduced him to Joy Division and weed before committing suicide. After witnessing Hadreas perform “Mr. Peterson”, I can say wholeheartedly that the way he performs it is certainly not an act. In the album version of the song, Hadreas utters, “This is it,” twice before the piano begins. I didn’t quite understand that bit of quiet speech at first, but I got the chance to ask him about the song specifically when he had finished playing and came outside for a smoke. He said, “I just thought it was time to let it out.” He also said that the main similarity between him and Daniel Johnston was that they were both “fucking crazy.”
3. "Runaway" - Kanye West, from the album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
People focus on everything about Kanye it seems except for his music. And that’s a real fucking shame. The best song on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, “Runaway”, begins with lonely, distant piano strikes before kicking in to a vocal sample of “Look at ya’!” that swings from the left and right channels of the mix, creating an effect akin to surround sound. And rightfully so: this is Kanye at his most self-aware, so it’s only natural for him to make that message (look at yourself) literally revolve around your head. Kanye (with help from a great verse by Pusha T of the Clipse) lets us in on every possible flaw. So of course, the song is ridiculously long for a rap track at just over nine-minutes. It’s a toast to the douchebags, the assholes, and even that prick who won’t take off work. It’s also an epic that combines great sampling, a terrific guest verse, and serious emotion—which you rarely get on a rap record. As I said in my review of the album, Kanye is giving a ultimatum to us all. Stick with him, or fuck it, leave (runaway). And as Pusha T raps, “Split and go where? Back to wearing knockoffs? Ha ha, knock it off,” it’s obvious that as much of an ass as he may be, we’re just not ready to part with Kanye West just yet. Maybe when he finally makes a bad album. Maybe. Nah, that won’t happen.
2. "Not In Love (feat. Robert Smith)" - Crystal Castles, from the "Not In Love" single
It’s funny how a song titled “Not In Love” does little more than convince you of exactly the opposite. The song was originally recorded in the 80s by Platinum Blonde, a new-wave group from Canada who no one will ever remember past their lyrical contribution. “Not In Love” is a well-written pop song on its own, and I felt (and was mostly alone in this thought apparently) that it was a standout on Crystal Castles 2 even in its robotic form; then I heard it with Robert Smith taking over (and it is a complete takeover ) the vocals and I just couldn’t stand to let myself go back to the album version. Robert Smith, though in his fifties, still evokes the plain Jane empathy that made Goth and Post-Punk necessary tools of therapy for a lot of people—myself included. One of the best qualities of both genres (mainly referring to Joy Division and The Cure here) was that they were commonplace emotions set to music. And “Not In Love” is no different. When Robert Smith cries out, “’cause it’s cold outside, when ya’ coming home?” it’s instantly relatable.
Ethan Kath’s re-work of the song compliments Smith’s excellent vocal, leaving in just enough of the cold, distant robotic motif that the original carried, if not carried a bit too directly. But this time It all comes together perfectly, turning what was a pretty novel robotic synth track into one of those songs that’s meant to be, unlike the relationship that its narration depicts—even though Smith is clearly in denial. “Not In Love” is an instant classic.