20. Peter, Bjorn, and John | “Lay It Down” | Living Thing
Peter, Bjorn, and John are not at all my type of band (do I have a type anymore?) They are noisy, irreverent, and kind of punky. A friend sent me “Lay It Down” to annoy me, he was certain I’d hate it. So it was a surprise to him when I told him that I actually liked it very much even if I could not understand why. All I know is that more than once I would catch myself singing it out loud. It’s not the greatest song on earth but it is fun.
19. Ingrid Michaelson | “Maybe” | Everybody
Okay, here’s the thing: Ingrid Michaelson is awesome. I know she often gets a bad rap because her music is “too cute” but, you know what? That is why I love it so much. I dig the love songs, the breakup songs, the whimsy songs, all of them. And trust me, there is a lot more to them than what people give them credit for. So, this is a girl with her ukulele singing about love and past mistakes, with some beautifully written metaphors on the side. What’s not to love about how simple a tune seems and how complex it really is when you think about it? “Maybe” annoys a lot of people because it is “too sweet” but is it really?
18. Metric | “Gimme Sympathy” | Fantasies
When a video of Metric playing “Gimme Sympathy” was posted on YouTube a couple of years ago, I went a little bit crazy. I ripped the audio and that version must have played non-stop on my iPod for weeks. Before Fantasies came out earlier this year and the band announced that “Gimme Sympathy” was going to be the first single, I was very excited but when I listened to the album for the first time, I was disappointed. Not because this is a bad album (it is actually pretty great) but because the version of “Gimme Sympathy” that is on the album is very different from the one I’d fangirl-ed about for months. My disappointment lasted about a couple of hours and after that, I learnt to appreciate this new version of the song and then I realised that I sort of loved it. “Gimme Sympathy” is not “Help, I’m Alive” (my favourite song off Fantasies) but it certainly is an ideal single and the acoustic version makes me want to be Emily Haines when I grow up.
17. Say Hi | “November Was White, December Was Grey” | Oohs & Aahs
I have no idea why Say Hi To Your Mom shortened their name to just Say Hi, I always say I’ll look it up and then I forget but I have to say that Say Hi is even better now (I doubt it has anything to do with the new name, though) and Oohs & Aahs is their best work yet. Everything about this album works, there are not weak points anywhere. I also have to say that Eric Elbogen’s voice is my favourite voice in rock right now, it is so raw and emotional and it goes so well with the lyrics. When he sulkily sings about feeling better when the winter’s gone in “November Was White, December Was Grey”, he totally sells it.
16. The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart | “Young Adult Friction” | The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart
My dad loves this band, he says it reminds him of the old days. I agree, there’s something very nostalgic in the music of this band. “Young Adult Friction” was a revelation, I had been listening to a lot of St. Vincent and Animal Collective at the time this one came up and I was into it immediately, it’s just so bittersweet and vintage. People compare them with The Smiths and although I do not want to go there, I understand the comparison. This a great new band.
15. Modest Mouse | “Satellite Skin” | No One’s First, And You’re Next
I have always been in love with “Satellite Skin”, in fact, the only reason why this song is not number 1 is because it is an old song, I just took advantage of the fact that Modest Mouse decided to release it this year. I can sing this at the top of my lungs any hour of the day because this is the definition of a damn great song. When Isaac Brock sings “you can say what you want, you’re forgiven” I go back to a not very happy place in my life and conversations that went wrong. Still, “Satellite Skin” doesn’t make me sad, it makes me reflect on a lot things. It brings out a lot different feelings and I feel very connected to it somehow. So, “happy, fucking congratulations”, Modest Mouse for finally releasing this one.
14. Fanfarlo | “Harold T. Wilkins Or How To Wait For A Very Long Time” | Reservoir
I discovered Fanfarlo thanks to the wonderful Black Cab Sessions last year. I believe (and I might be wrong) that they released a few EPs before releasing Reservoir this year. In order to get more fans, the band decided to sell Reservoir on their website for just $1. I don’t know if it helped them get more fans but I do know that it helped me get a great album (and no, you cannot download the album for $1 anymore, it was a limited offer). “Harold T. Wilkins” stands out immediately when you listen to the album, it really is the best song on the record. For some reason, the verse “well, your dreams will become part of the future, and coincide with the past” always gets me. Who hasn’t been stuck on something for a very long time and then realised it just doesn’t work? This is one of those albums you just have to get, really, it is that good.
13. White Rabbits | “Percussion Gun” | It’s Frightening
There’s a story behind this one. I was waiting for a cab and this guy was parking his car near by and this song was playing. I waited until the guy parked his car and went to him and asked him who played this song, the guy laughed and told me that the only reason he thought it wasn’t weird that a stranger would ask him that was because it is something he could picture himself doing as well. Anyway, not only did he tell me the name of the song and the band but he gave me a copy of the album! See? You don’t meet nice people like that in this city everyday. In fact, you just don’t meet people this nice here. “Percussion Gun” is a riot of a song, you listen to it and you just have to feel something, it’s impossible not to. I’m glad that my weirdness got me a great album!
12. The XX | “Crystalised” | XX
You don’t judge a book by its cover. That was my first thought when I saw a picture of this band on a list of music recommendations. I thought this was one those emo “punk” bands, My Chemical Romance style (and boy, do I hate their music) but thankfully, I was very wrong. I decided to sample the album and the first song that came up was “Crystalised”. There is nothing like the feeling of listening to a great song for the first time, it just captures you right away and you are somehow mesmerised by it. “Crystalised” is that type of song, from the first guitar riffs it just hypnotises you. I was surprised, you don’t expect a debut album by twenty-somethings to be this great and yet, XX is one of the best albums released this year. Here’s hoping that they can keep it up.
11. The Dirty Projectors | “Stillness Is The Move” | Bitte Orca
Yes, “Stillness Is The Move” is not in the Top 5, it’s true, you’re not seeing things, shut up. I got into this song very late, as in December late. I am not ashamed to admit that it took me a long time to get The Dirty Projectors. The first time I listened to Bitte Orca, I did it out of courtesy, a friend had asked me to listen to it and give her my opinion. I am not going to lie, I didn’t like it and I remember skipping “Stillness Is The Move” after the first minute. Actually, I didn’t even listen to the whole album and I told my friend that I just couldn’t get into it. A few weeks ago, while searching for videos on YouTube, I stumbled upon a little song called “Two Doves“. I remember the first thing I thought was “you are an idiot” because I had the opportunity to listen to the whole album and I passed on it thus missing the chance to listen to the beauty that is this song. I decided to download Bitte Orca and give it another try, this time committed to listen to the whole thing. The album opens with “Stillness Is The Move” and why I didn’t like it the first time is a complete mystery, maybe I wasn’t paying attention, maybe I wasn’t in a good mood, or maybe I just didn’t like it. I still think there are much better songs on Bitte Orca than this one but it was the single and for some odd reason, each time I listen to it, I like it more and more. And yes, Bitte Orca deserves all the accolades.
10. Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros | “Home” | Up From Below
I cannot describe how much I loved this the first time I listened to it. This is like theatre brought to music, each character and each instrument represent a layer. When Jade Castrinos sings “Man oh man, you’re my best friend, I scream it to the nothingness, there ain’t nothing that I need” it makes you smile and then you feel kind of sad. I mean, this is the perfect love song, how love blinds you but at the same time it is what keeps you alive. And it is true, even when we have nothing, we feel at home when we’re with the person we love the most. I haven’t sampled the whole album yet, probably I’ll do it before the Christmas break ends, but “Home” is definitely a must have song.
9. Fever Ray | “When I Grow Up” | Fever Ray
Oh, this song and its lyrics and my undying love for it all. This part kills me:
I’m very good with plants
When my friends are away
They let me keep the soil moist
On the seventh day I rest
For a minute or two
Then back on my feet and cry for you.
Could she be talking about nature itself and how man is part of it but takes it for granted? About the need to be one with nature again? Is she talking about death? I really don’t know. But this song is very powerful and that cannot be denied. There is something in this song that transcends music. I cannot just say this is a beautiful song because it goes way beyond that.
8. Grizzly Bear | “Two Weeks” | Veckatimest
You know what’s so brilliant about this song? The broken monologue. There are no complete thoughts here and yet, there are. It might appear to be a pretty simple song, I mean, it is not as hermetic (and I say it with love) as “When I Grow Up” except, it is not a simple song at all. Each unfinished sentence has a meaning, maybe the inability to say the right words to that one person, maybe you just can’t seem to communicate with them and make them trust you even when you are trying hard. And still, there is time and reassurance. It’s love in a few words, that’s what it is. Also, does it make sense that every time I listen to this I must listen to “The World At Large” right afterwards? I’m weird, I know.
7. The Decemberists | “The Rake’s Song” | The Hazards Of Love
The Hazards Of Love, in typical Decemberists fashion, can be considered more a scripted musical than a regular album and it is BRILLIANT. This song presents the villain of the story. Meet The Rake, a bachelor who gets married very young and is more than happy with the novelty of it. The Rake wants a life with no complications and lots of sex, so when his wife gets pregnant, he isn’t too thrilled about it, in fact, he likens it to a curse. His wife has three children and a fourth one “died on delivery mercifully taking her mother along”. The Rake, of course, is very happy with this, he just wants to be free. So what’s a rake to do when he wants to get rid of ties? After the death of his wife and his fourth child, The Rake kills his other three children and gains, at last, his much desired freedom, except his dead kids will come back to haunt him in –and this is a spoiler– “The Hazards Of Love 3” . Yes, you do need spoiler tags, that’s a how BRILLIANT this whole album is. I had to pick the single but the rest of the album is as magnificent. If you haven’t heard of The Decemberists and want to sample this album, try not to shuffle the songs, it’s meant to be played in order so that you can appreciate the story.
6. Passion Pit | “The Reeling” / “Sleepyhead” | Manners
Yes, I am cheating, I know. I also knew that if I wanted to cheat here, it would be with these two songs. The official single was “The Reeling” and I kind of like it just fine, it got a lot of Billboard exposure and blah, blah, blah, except the real smash hit of this album is “Sleepyhead” (which is why I chose it) If we’re honest, “Sleepyhead” is not a 2009 song, it was part of the band’s first EP Chunk Of Change but the song was so so good that they decided to include it in their debut full-length album, Manners. To me, this is the best song off Manners. Yes, it is a lot of fun but it is also very beautiful, this is my favourite part:
Like stars burning holes right through the dark
Flicking fire like saltwater into my eyes
You were one inch from the edge of this bed
I drag you back a sleepyhead, sleepyhead
Even though this is a love song, I think it has more to do with desire. God, how I love this. I know people compare them with MGMT and, frankly, I think the comparison is a bit unfair. I do like MGMT but I think Passion Pit are a different beast, I like their lyrics more.
5. Bat For Lashes | “Daniel” | Two Suns
I usually download a bunch of stuff to sample, it’s something I do all the time. Once I have it on my sample folder –not properly organised by artist and album because I like to be surprised and unbiased when I listen to something for the first time– I transfer it all to my iPod. You should know that I listen to my iPod on shuffle mode, again because I like being surprised. The first time I listened to “Daniel” I was at the supermarket, I was walking to the cashier and this MONSTER came up. Evidently, I was like, “Oh my god, what is THIS?!?” I checked my iPod, noticed that it was Bat For Lashes, paid to the cashier, went home, and listened to the whole Two Suns album. On repeat. For the rest of the day. I mean, how could I not when it has lyrics like these:
And when the fires came
The smell of cinders and rain
Perfumed almost everything
We laughed and laughed and laughed
I heard that “Daniel” is about first loves. Apparently, Natasha Khan’s first crush was the Daniel Larusso character on the Karate Kid series. Now, I don’t know if all this is true because I haven’t actually heard (or read) Natasha Khan say it but I like the idea behind the song. Again, love as home and that fire that keeps us going. It is a very intelligent love song and the same applies for all the album. Oh, and I almost forgot! There is a killer version of this on YouTube here.
4. St. Vincent | “Actor Out Of Work” | Actor
Is there anything Annie Clark is not good at? I don’t know, maybe she’s really bad at… something. Because everything she does is automatically great and full of meaning. Take”Marry Me” for instance, that was a song that if someone like, I don’t know, Jessica Simpson had written (does she write songs?), it would sound stupid and superficial, right? But when it’s Annie Clark who writes it and performs it, the song is in its own planet of beauty and real. Now there’s “Actor Out Of Work”, the first single of her second full-length album, Actor (it has a pretty cool video, by the way). I cannot help but think of this song as something about the different roles we play and the masks we wear, about the things we pretend to be. As she says, “you’re a liar and that’s the truth”, we are all actors. I like this part: “I think I love you, I think I’m mad” because it’s very contradictory but so true. Even with all these masks we wear, we can still love and see the good in people. It seems mad but it isn’t, it’s just human. I wonder which film inspired this song. I guess if I could ask Annie Clark one question, it’d be that one. Oh, and it’d be awesome to learn that she’s a terrible cook or a terrible driver, anything I can be better at would do. Really.
3. Bon Iver | “Blood Bank” | Blood Bank – EP
I am not going to lie, I have no idea what most of Bon Iver songs are about. I mean, I have my own interpretation of them and I’m pretty sure I’m wrong most of the time but his songs just move me. So much. They take me to this weird place that is charged with all the things I have inside and that I keep inside? I don’t even know if I am making sense and I don’t care, because all I know is that what I feel when I listen to Justin Vernon’s voice is unreal. And maybe I’m exaggerating when I say that I don’t know what “Blood Bank” is about because I hear him when he sings “I’m in love with your honour and I’m in love with your cheeks” and I hear him when he sings about the present and about what’s real but I cannot explain it, I cannot put it into words and I don’t want to put it into words and ruin it. I just plain love the man who writes these songs, I don’t know who he is, but Justin Vernon the songwriter, I love. This is a man who can write about the most human things in the simplest and yet the most beautiful words and isn’t that what art is about?
2. Animal Collective | “My Girls” | Merriweather Post Pavillion
There isn’t much that I feel I need
A solid soul and the blood I bleed
But with a little girl, and by my spouse,
I only want a proper house
Isn’t that what we all ask for? About a year ago, I had a conversation with my grandmother, she has a very radical political stance (and I won’t bore you with details about the political situation in my country) and she’s one of those people who think that money is the devil, etc. I told her, “But grandma, don’t you see? I don’t want to be rich, I just want a decent house and a decent job that will allow me to provide for my kids. I’m not a bad person, I’m not an angel either but I have good values, thanks in good part, to you. Why is it wrong to want this? And please answer without hiding behind an ideology” My grandma didn’t answer the question.
You see, it is not about politics, it is not about blue or red, it is not Marx vs. Smith. It is about truth and the truth is that we are human and we love our family and we want to protect them and raise our children well. And when Animal Collective sing “I don’t mean to seem like I care about material things like a social status, I just want four walls and adobe slabs for my girls”, I often remember about that conversation I had with my grandma. Yes, it is a simple song but don’t we all want that life?
A universal truth. That’s what “My Girls” is.
1. Phoenix | “Lisztomania” | Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
And to think there are people who say that there is no hope for pop music *le sigh*. I’m obsessed with the chorus of “Lisztomania” where Thomas Mars says:
Think less but see it grow
Like a ride, like a riot, oh!
Not easily offended
Know how to let it go
From a mess to the masses
I mean, if mainstream culture had a tag line, I’m pretty sure “think less but see it grow” would be it. Who needs feelings and ideas, yo? Let’s write a riot and people will buy it anyway, “from a mess to the masses”! MOST. AWESOME. ALLITERATION. EVER. And excuse me for getting all fangirl-y for a while but this song is pure and unabashed genius. How today’s society seems to glorify the ephemeral, the stupid, the “I gotta be someone else”. And then you look back and it’s all gone and you are left with nothing, because nothing is what you had in the first place. That all this awesomeness and “these days it comes it comes it comes it comes it comes and go” is behind a finely produced pop song, that makes it even more perfect. I’m not going to say Phoenix is redefining pop music, they’re simply playing it well and today that happens to be very rare.
I think I NEED to mention the other single “1901“ because, really, it is just as perfect but also because I think it deals with a similar sense of loss:
Counting all different ideas drifting away
Past and present, they don’t matter, now the future’s sorted out
Watch her moving in elliptical patterns
Think it’s not what you say, what you say is way too complicated
For a minute thought I couldn’t tell how to fall out
Call me crazy but when Mars sings about “her moving in elliptical patterns” I think of both time passing and things remaining stagnant. Ideas, real ideas that are complex by definition, are pushed aside or forgotten. It could be forgotten values or things we stood for in the past. Still, the sense of loss is there. I like to think that these songs are connected, I don’t know if they are but that’s how I view them. I like how catchy and pop they are but they are not empty, there’s a depth to them that you can’t ignore, at least I can’t. And that duality is what makes me like them more than any of the songs on the list; well, it was a close call between these two and “My Girls” and “Blood Bank” but I’m happy with my final choice.