Tuesday, January 6, 2009

A Few Thoughts on Some Songs That I Loved Last Year

As I mentioned in my previous post, I decided to pick twenty songs that really stood out to me this year, and make a one disc compilation out of them. I feel like I missed so much in 2008, but so many of the things that I heard I fell in love with. A few of the songs are associated with live shows, and a few are here for the sake of cohesiveness. I'll comment a bit on the songs that made this list, and try to figure out why these were the ones that made it over so many other great choices. I'm not great about constructing zip drives. If you would like to have a CD copy of this mix, please get in touch with me, and I would be more than happy to mail one to you! I will also post links for you to listen to as many of the songs that I can track down somewhere online. So on that note, here are some thoughts about some of the pop music that was released last year...

1. The Magnetic Fields - "Please Stop Dancing" - Distortion (Nonesuch):

Buy the CD here.

Buy the record here.

Listen to the song here.

Much was made at the beginning of 2008 about Stephin Merritt proclaiming Psychocandy to be the last record to showcase, "startling new production." According to an article in New York Press, Merritt had this to say about the creation of Distortion “I wanted to do something new, and being a postmodernist, I don’t believe in that,” Merritt says. “So, new for me means the latest new thing, rather than something that hasn’t been done before.” I listened to this record non-stop for something like a solid month, and while there were songs on it that were far more clever, this was the one that immediately stood out to me. Perhaps because of it's (relative) simplicity. I say relative simplicity because each listen reveals a layer to this lovely pop song that I had not yet noticed. Everything about this song (and the record as a whole) is unassumingly smart. This is one of the many things that reveal it's mastermind (Stephin Merritt) to be something of a genius. I also very much liked the idea of opening my comp with shards of feedback...

2. A Sunny Day in Glasgow - "Sometimes I Think About You" - Searching for the Now Vol. 3 (Slumberland):

Buy the single, and listen to the song here.

Slumberland introduced a brilliant split 7" series last year with a different band to each side of one record. This song was on one of those 7"s and there was no possible way that it wouldn't make my list of favorites. Scribble Mural Comic Journal, the full length that A Sunny Day in Glasgow released last year was my favorite record of 2007, and "Sometimes I Think About You" is a Pastels cover. I quite like what they did with it. Bass, percussion, and ASDIG's always fantastically executed female vocals take center stage. For example, wordless voices appear in certain places here where guitars did in the original. In a move that I feel strongly adds to the song's intrigue, the lead vocal has been slightly buried underneath all of this. Similar to the Magnetic Fields song, this is one with many layers, and one that gives you something new upon each successive listen.

3. The Bridal Shop - "Violation" - In Violtaion 7" (Cloudberry):

Buy the single, and listen to the song here.

Hands down my favorite song of 2008. One of these days I will catch up on other releases from The Bridal Shop, and this will likely begin when their new EP In Fragments is released this year on Plastilina Records. For now though, I kind of like the fact that all I know of this band are the two perfect songs on this 7". I wrote about the song earlier this year for Squaregirls. A few people seemed to like what I said then, so I will repeat it here. "... It really is everything that a good indiepop dance track should be from the echo-y, atmospheric sound that kicks into a blast of drum machine and synths at the beginning, to the distant Morrisey-esque vocals, to the dramatic center where everything becomes almost still, to the part where it all kicks back in at full blast to level off neatly albeit abruptly at the end. Kind of like the soundtrack to a film that doesn't exist about dance clubs that don't exist where you perpetually expect to see someone grab their secret crush and kiss them in a highly dramatic fashion as a vivid technicolor light show explodes behind them. Yes, the track is that good."

4. The Airfields - "Icing Sugar" - Up All Night (Humblebee)

Buy the CD here.

Listen to the song here.

I purchased this record several months ago during a period where work was going well, and I had some extra cash. It didn't grab me immediately perhaps because my expectations for it were too high. Nonetheless, this was probably the full album that I listened to more than any other. There was a time when I would take a long walk every night simply to listen to this record, and that has much to do with this song. Once I picked out the lyric "Your headphones and songs how they pushed you along the sidewalk at night, I suppose they give you all you'll ever need to know," as I was walking alone at night listening to this song on my headphones the entire album clicked into place for me. This track was haunting, beautiful, and produced with a sense of distance. As if it were intentionally keeping the listener just out of reach, so that the listener will keep coming back for more.

5. Twig - "Wentworth" - Ciao Ciao Bomb 7" (Cloudberry)

Buy the single, and listen to the song here.

Yet another band that has more material that I need to purchase. In fact they actually released a full length for Plastilina in 2008 that I am fully intending to order this week. Also as in the case of the Bridal Shop though I like having only two fantastic songs on either side of a 7" be my only knowledge of a band. I bought the Bridal Shop single first, and mentioned that to a friend. "Yeah," he said, "But what about that Twig single?" I immediately purchased the Twig single. My love for this song really set in after hearing the A-side "Ciao Ciao Bomb" played at Part Time Punks. It sounded so good, and blended in so well with Felt, or whatever had been played before it that it took me a moment to place what it was. When I figured it out I was dancing, jumping up and down, and singing along with a small group of friends. I decided to give the single a few more listens after that night. The B-side "Wentworth" quickly became one of my favorite songs altogether. It's dark, vibrant, pretty, and vaguely threatening all at once. In a different conversation, at a different Part Time Punks, I discussed this song with the same friend. "What's that line, something about your tear stained face?" he asked, and we both tried to remember. The line is "I touched your tear washed face." Possibly the most exquisite imagery that I found myself presented with all year.

6. The Lodger - "The Good Old Days" - Life is Sweet (Slumberland):

Buy the album, and listen to the song here.

From dark, yet vibrant to just plain vibrant. This was certainly one of my most listened to songs over the year, and every time that I heard it, my spirits were instantly lifted. Everything about this song from the production, to the musicianship, to the lyrics was the height of brightness and crispness. All of the songs on this record were great, but this was a truly standout single. I honestly can't believe that this didn't become a moderate hit. Perhaps their next release will yield that for them? It's really only a matter of time.

7. Bearsuit - "More Soul Than Wigan Casino" - OH:IO (Happy Happy Birthday to Me):

Buy the CD here

This was another album full of great songs, but again this single was the clear standout for me. I put this song on a mix CD for a non-indiepop inclined co-worker, and eventually he was singing it randomly at work. This led me to wonder why this song wasn't something of a hit as well, it's certainly a bit more challenging than the Lodger track, but it is perhaps even more catchy and infectious. The giddy pace of the chorus, the exuberant sounds of the trumpet work, the shout along ending, the relentless (in a good way) pounding of the drums, all of these things contributed to making this one of the most exciting songs that I've heard in some time. Oh, and the cheeky title is pretty great as well.

8. Raphael Saadiq - "Seven" - The Way I See It (FYE Version) (Columbia)

Buy the version of the CD that includes this track here.

Listen to the song here.

Volunteering for KCRW keeps me more in touch with the outside world than I would be under other circumstances. I remember walking in to the station one day, and hearing something from this record. I asked Anne Litt (who was on the air at the time) who it was. She told me that it was Raphael Saadiq, and that I should really think about including one of his songs on the demo that I was working on. I found this song via a fortuitous trip to the Soul Sides blog. The above link where I directed you to listen is Oliver Wang's post about the song, and of course everything that he says about it is spot on. I would have never picked up on those influences as I know very little about what distinguishes early seventies era Motown. I do know that this song definitely does have the feeling of a classic soul track. It's little touches like the muted horns that really get me, and that pure simple "Ooooooh" that closes the song out is flat out stunning. This track easily wins my vote for favorite vocal delivery of the year.

9. The Lucksmiths - "California in Popular Song" - First Frost (Matinee):

Buy the CD here.

Listen to the song here.

I'm a big fan of artists who do interesting things with phrasing, and Marty Donald has crafted some of the most creative phrasing here that I've heard in a long time. The lyrics are lovely as well, bittersweet, and simple. This is a very straightforward story song. The narrator is saying goodbye to a great love, and offering the classic advice that a change of location won't make all of your problems disappear. But who ever believes that? The line that absolutely floored me in this song was this one: "Though you promised not to cry when you said goodbye your - eyes are bright with wine, and oh, so are mine." Everything about the music that backs the words exists simply to propel the song forward. The melody is just catchy enough, and the gentle presence of strings give it the touch of wistfulness that is needed. One of the most cleverly arranged songs that I heard all year to be certain.

10. The School - "I Don't Believe in Love" - Let it Slip EP (Elefant)

Buy the CD here.

This song adheres to a pop tradition that I adore, but that I don't find too often. It's action takes place within the course of a single dance. The fact that this is a duet makes it even better. I honestly don't know what else to say about this song other than to state the fact that it is dreamy, Wall of Sound encased, pop perfection. And that I would highly recommend that you hear it immediately.

... That's all that I have time to post right now. Check back within the next day or two if you care to see which songs round out the remainder of my list.


Matt said...

could not agree more about "in violation". I'd say it was probably my favorite track of last year as well! everything they do is magical :)

by the way, my first time stopping by here. lovely blog!


Marion said...

Thanks Matt! Glad you found your way over here.

I actually listened to that Bridal Shop single for the first time based on the post that you wrote about it, and of course I purchased it immediately!