I’ve been doing top songs lists for the past few years on Spotify (including a few retroactive ones), but this is the first time I’m actually doing a writeup for one. I’ve also created a corresponding Spotify list which can be found here or by using the widget at the bottom of the article. Of course, there are a few stragglers not on Spotify, so those I’ve linked directly from their entries.
50. Cashmere Cat – With Me. Twitchy and turning on a dime, Cashmere Cat delivers enough melodies to fill an EP in a single track.
49. New Madrid – Manners. This driving indie song, delivers some sweet guitar soloing in the second half.
48. King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Cellophane. The first four continuously-mixed songs off of I’m in Your Mind Fuzz all share a melodic theme and riff off of that. Take the inclusion of this track as an endorsement of all four as a whole.
47. Hooray for Earth – Say Enough. “Say Enough” is the only track off of 2014’s Racy that sounds like it could have just as easily appeared on Hooray for Earth’s previous album, True Loves. The big, catchy melody shows Hooray for Earth at their anthemic best. I credit the album’s production for this, as both times I’ve seen Hooray for Earth live (once opening for Bear in Heaven at the Grog Shop and again headlining at a small show at Mahall’s), they have come off as more of a noise rock group with new wave overtones.
46. Perfume Genius – Queen. I really like Perfume Genius’ Too Bright as a whole, but the more rock side of the “art-rock” tracks appeal to me more.
45. Deerhoof – Paradise Girls. I suppose “Exit Only” is the single from La Isla Bonita, but “Paradise Girls” showcases the loopy, playful melodies and rhythms I like most out of Deerhoof. They’ve been pretty prolific over their 20 years – I still need to catch up on most of their back catalog – but I hope they can put together another 20.
44. Shamir – If It Wasn’t True. Shamir put out a few new tracks this year, including the house/rap track “On the Regular”, but I’m going with the groovy house jam “If It Wasn’t True” at 44.
43. Ariel Pink – Put Your Number in My Phone. Ariel Pink puts out two different kinds of songs. Sunny, AM gold ditties and weird, record collector rock. This shimmering track falls squarely in the former as a modern-day beach soft rock jam.
42. Shy Boys – Is This Who You Are? Simple lo-fi rock done well.
41. Little Big League – Year of the Sunhouse. A short but confident tune, Little Big League brings some rebelliousness to a laidback indie groove.
40. Francisco the Man – Progress. The verses are musically simple, but the chorus has that dreamy shoegaze reverb draped over the guitar and vocals that I adore.
39. Bleachers – I Wanna Get Better. I have no interest in the inconveniently styled band “fun.”, but this side-project song is super catchy. The falsetto bridge is annoying, but mercifully short. Extremely chantable – I give it 4 out of 5 chants.
38. Thom Yorke – Brain in a Bottle. Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes comes eight years after Thom Yorke’s last solo album. While The Eraser deployed plucks and warbling synths, Tomorrow’s unleashes warbling bass lines and warm, shuffling beats. The Eraser provided a greater and more immediate reward, but 2014’s effort has a lot to like.
37. Cheatahs – Fall. I first became aware of Cheatahs from their 2013 single “Cut the Grass”, which marginally whet my appetite for this year’s debut LP. From the gauzy guitar distortion to the snare drum, “Fall” cribs most of its sound from My Bloody Valentine, but does it so very well when layered with lush arpeggios.
36. Katie Herzig – Forgiveness. When I saw Katie Herzig live, she told the story of how her mother’s death after a battle with cancer had affected her and her music before playing “Forgiveness”. The outpouring of emotion she put into her work on Walk Through Walls is never clearer than in the anguished cries of “Forgiveness.”
35. Hundred Waters – Murmurs. I admit I hadn’t heard this song until I found it browsing Pitchfork’s Top 100 from this year. Waves of vocals and swishes of harmony drape themselves over a simple set of piano chords, taking the song in unexpected directions.
34. Caribou – Can’t Do Without You. It took me a few listens to begin to enjoy Caribou’s lead single off Our Love. The lyrics are a repetitive, soulful mantra spread over four minutes of rising and falling synthesizers and drums.
33. Pional – It’s All Over (John Talabot’s Stormbreak Refix). Pional’s original mix is a tiny, minimalist song on its own, but Talabot’s remix enhances this feeling by placing the original in a large metal room and dissecting it.
32. Faded Paper Figures – Horizons Fall. Faded Paper Figures have been one of my favorites since I came across “The Persuaded” six years ago on Pandora. Their early work was clearly for all The Postal Service fans who wanted a second album. However, since then they’ve expanded their musical palette away from quiet clicks and coos to large synths and more guitars. In this way, “Horizons Fall” is a throwback to simpler times with its simple, playful steel drum sounds and bright sonic colors.
31. Future Islands – Seasons (Waiting for You). Future Islands’ frontman Samuel T. Herring sells what would otherwise be a fairly bland song. Check out this performance on Letterman. Herring’s unfalteringly sincere performance and idiosyncratic dance evoke that of an old-school crooner, but injected with new life.
30. Hooray for Earth – Hey. The opening track of Hooray for Earth’s second LP declares Noel Heroux’s art rock roots. It’s big on drama and tension, setting the stage for an album that’s ultimately a big of a mixed bag.
29. Twin Shadow – To the Top. I’m not as a big a fan as some of Twin Shadow, though I’ve always enjoyed his singles. It consistently takes me a few listens to appreciate George Lewis Jr.’s work, but the big 80s drums and oversized guitar chords are what eventually won me over here.
28. Interpol – Same Town, New Story. Thank goodness – finally an almost worthy successor to Turn on the Bright Lights! The generic indie rock of Antics and Our Love to Admire did little for me outside of a couple singles and their self-titled album was sludgy and forgettable. El Pintor finally brings back Joy Division-esque use of space and memorable melodies that made their debut so good.
27. Zammuto – Need Some Sun. After a more-than-successful Indiegogo campaign, Zammuto recorded Anchor. Anchor embraces a more collaborative band-focused environment than the mostly solo debut, which is admirable, but ultimately doesn’t produce anything quite as striking as “Too Late To Topologize.” Some other favorites from this album are “IO”, “Great Equator”, and bonus track “Codebreaker.”
26. Perfume Genius – Grid. “Grid” opens with a pulsing industrial growl and slowly ascends into an art rock spiral that threatens to spin out of control as Mike Hadreas’ vocals alternately quiver and wail.
25. QT – Hey QT. Do we actually know who QT is? I know that the music is created by A. G. Cook and Sophie, who may as well be a figment of our collective imaginations, too, but is QT real in any sense? I suppose that’s part of the point of this post-ironic hyperpop project, which is made complete by hawking a fictional energy drink.
24. Swans – A Little God in My Hands. Swans is hard to like. I don’t mean this in a bad way; their albums just require repeated and ideally, uninterrupted, listens in the way that Godspeed You! Black Emperor or other post-rock bands do as well. That isn’t to say one can’t enjoy taking in the bad-ass doom rock of Swans and appreciating that a group formed in the early 80s is producing relevant and strikingly originally music thirty years later.
23. Beverly – Madora. I love a catchy alt-rock riff, which “Madora” delivers in spades. The verses give us a wonderful Surfer Blood’s “Floating Vibes”-like riff and the chorus a lush shoegaze pairing of airy vocals and distorted guitar.
22. Aphex Twin – minipops 67 [120.2]. Thirteen long years since Aphex Twin’s last album. One of my favorite artists came back not with anything strikingly new, but at least with material just as relevant as ever. With Richard D. James, you can clearly the hear the work put into each note and every snare drum rush, while it somehow not being overproduced. It’s pretty incredible that something like SAW II or Richard D. James Album could come out today on Warp Records and still seem fifteen years ahead of its time.
21. Flying Lotus – Never Catch Me. Like much of You’re Dead!, “Never Catch Me” is a wonderfully off-kilter affair, featuring staggering kick drums and hi-hats that lag a fraction of a beat behind. However, unlike much of the rest of the album, “Never Catch Me” is able to stand on its own. The majority of tracks on You’re Dead! are shorter than two minutes, which makes for a fast-paced album, but doesn’t lend itself well to year-end top song lists. If Squarepusher circa 2000 listened to more hip hop and was transported 15 years into the future, this is what you’d get.
20. Ben Khan – Savage. Sassy guitar licks and synth riffs echo through “Savage.” Ben Khan’s R&B vocal stylings are imbued with funkadelic life in this poppy ditty.
19. Mode Moderne – Strangle the Shadows. “Strangle the Shadows” exists in the dark forests between Joy Division and shoegaze. Lead singer Philip Intile haunts the song with a Morrissey-like yawp.
18. FKA twigs – Two Weeks. The chugging and rumbling rhythms of “Two Weeks” dance around in stereo creating an unsteady platform for FKA twigs’ breathy but strong vocals. Her odd rhythms create a lot of unresolved tension; a case in point of this is my girlfriend who grew agitated at the panning clatter of “Pendulum.”
17. Caribou – Silver. “Silver” pulses with the warmth of a summer’s night, almost engulfing Dan Snaith’s icy, delicate vocals. Like the sun rising, the song concludes with a key change and a bright new sound.
16. Hannah Diamond – Every Night. OK, so, I admit this PC Music thing is a little weird. The deliriously cheesy “Every Night” delivers everything you could ask for in an over-the-top, but still relatively simple dance tune.
15. Jenny Lewis – Just One of the Guys. I’m not a lyrics guy. My mind tends to treat vocals and lyrics as a pastiche of ideas and sounds, but “Just One of the Guys” is straightforward enough even for my instrument-centric ear to latch onto. Plus, more 2014 props for Jenny Lewis for appearing in a TV episode of Comedy Bang! Bang!.
14. Blonde Elvis – Slow Fall on Egypt. This may be at #14 overall, but this baroque indie song has the #1 flute solo of the year, and isn’t that more important?
13. Communions – So Long Sun. “So Long Sun” is a perfect song for a sunny yet freezing January day as we say goodbye to a soon-to-be cloud-covered sun for three months. Gorgeous dream pop.
12. Damien Jurado – Silver Timothy. “Silver Timothy” feels as warm as “So Long Sun” is cold. It feels like setting out on a psychedelic desert journey.
11. Tokyo Police Club – Argentina (Parts I, II, III). Tokyo Police Club’s 2014 album Forcefield went even poppier than their previous work. But while “Toy Guns” went too far, Argentina gets it right. Sure, choosing a three-part song is kind of cheating, so if I had to choose a single part it would be the third. Its grungy alt-rock chords of the chorus play nicely against the poppy verses.
10. Liars – Mask Maker. Liars went all Justice-y on their most recent album and “Mask Maker” is the best melding of Angus Andrew’s droning vocals and electroclash. The opening distorted vocalizations are so bizarre yet goofy, one can’t help but be drawn into this world of synthetic terrors.
9. Run the Jewels – Blockbuster Night, Pt. 1. To call me a backpacker would be to give me too much credit with respect to hip hop knowledge, but there are some bad-ass songs I can’t help but play the heck out of. I like bad-ass production in my rap and the thump and groan of the bass in “Blockbuster Night, Pt. 1” more than satisfies this requirement.
8. Sophie – Lemonade. Sophie shows us the strange intersection of bass music, wonky club music, and what would happen if you tried to put bubblegum through a percolator in “Lemonade.” It’s hyperkinetic and bubbling to the point of boiling over. “Lemonade” is the sound of pop eating itself, vomiting a rainbow, and then eating that (in a good way).
7. Run the Jewels – Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck). You’d think that the sampled and re-cut vocal hook (“Run them jewels fast– run them– run them jewels fast”) would get tiresome after so many listens but nope. It’s good to have some Zack De La Rocha back in our lives. I know it’s cool to dislike Rage Against the Machine, but they produced some awesome stuff for the angry high schooler in all of us (again, I mean this in the best possible way!).
6. Panda Bear – Mr Noah. “Mr Noah” is already much more memorable than most anything off of the last Animal Collective album. Panda Bear has a way with using voice as an instrument and this song shows that off over an otherwise static layer of oscillating fuzz.
5. St. Vincent – Digital Witness. Throw in a David Byrne verse and “Digital Witness” feels like it could have come straight off of Love This Giant. The staccato brass is unceasingly catchy and St. Vincent’s “guitar as noise-maker” technique is perfect. I also appreciate the sentiment of this track being rolled into her pre-concert anti-camera pronouncement.
4. Tacocat – Bridge to Hawaii. With this great piece of surf rock, the delightfully named Tacocat dreams of a bridge from their native dreary Seattle to sunny Hawaii. Also of note is their good-humored period piece “Crimson Wave.”
3. The War on Drugs – Red Eyes. The relentless driving beat creates a sense of urgency throughout “Red Eyes,” while the reverb-drenched vocals pull the song into a dreamlike blur.
2. tUnE-yArDs – Water Fountain. tUnE-yArDs and St. Vincent are my two must-see acts from this past year. They’re very different; Merrill Garbus (and her backup singers!) spreads bright colors and humanity everywhere whereas Annie Clark possesses an art-rock austerity.
1. Ariel Pink – Black Ballerina. “Black Ballerina” is possibly Ariel Pink’s funkiest song yet. The bass line is undeniably fun and even the preposterous mid-song skit works. The chorus is catchy and the incidental vocal clips and sweeps of guitar plucking fit together so well. Because of this, it’s my song of the year.
Thanks for reading!
Arbitrary song of the day: Wish Mountain – Royal Wedding
Right from the opening credits sequence, Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera states in no uncertain terms its goals in showing the unique qualities of film. As it’s a silent film, the selected soundtrack plays a key role in determining the texture of the film. The version I watched was paired with the Alloy Orchestra soundtrack, which provides a brilliantly kinetic and vibrant modernist accompaniment. My only gripe with it is that the addition of sound effects (such as car horns and the crying of a baby) feels like it co-opts the director’s role in establishing the ground rules for the film.
While the film very much acts as a primer to then groundbreaking film effects such as tracking shots and point-of-view framing, Man with a Movie Camera still works quite well as an avant-garde art film. The rhythmic cutting, particularly towards the end of the film, feels extremely modern even when coupled with the particularly Soviet shots of unidentifiable machinery in action.
Sight and Sound recently ranked Man with a Movie Camera at #8 on it’s top films. While I think that Man with a Movie Camera should absolutely be one of the first films a Film 101 student sees, putting it in the top ten of all time seems akin to ranking the Apple I as the best personal computer or Texaco Star Theater as a top television show. Man with a Movie Camera is absolutely a hypnotic and timeless film, but its impact in establishing the modern filmmaking vocabulary is its greater contribution.
Arbitrary song of the day: Destroyer – The Laziest River
The return of Beavis and Butt-Head got me thinking how plausible a Mystery Science Theater 3000 resurrection would be. Obviously MST3k is a much smaller (though arguably more passionate) cult classic but they both riff on the bizarre bits of popular culture. MST3k was pretty cheap to produce; most of the budget would likely go towards licensing the films themselves. Film licensing would likely be much greater than the Comedy Central and Sci-Fi Channel years for a couple reasons. First, whatever network would probably want to get more recent and heard-of movies. I can’t see a respectable network greenlighting two hours for riffing on a random black and white Roger Corman movie. Second, the network would want a longer term license than the old episodes got. The old expired licenses have made releasing DVDs a pain and syndication possibilities nonexistent.
This would never happen of course. It’s fun to imagine though, especially in a time when we have seen Beavis and Butt-Head resurrected and acclaimed (but low-rated) Louie produced for dirt-cheap. Anyways, we can still enjoy RiffTrax and other MST3k spiritual reincarnates.
In any case, I enjoy lists, so here’s a list of my 20 favorite MST3k episodes. As you can tell, I’m a Mike guy.
Almost all MST3k episodes are available on Youtube, so head over there if you want to sample some of the Satellite of Love’s wares. Keep circulating the tapes!
Arbitrary song of the day: Caribou – Yeti
Nobody actually cares about or respects the Emmys (or Oscars or Grammys). I could now write some caveats about how they are inconsistent, how they sometimes get it right and mostly get it wrong, but instead I’ll just say that The Wire was nominated for a total of two Emmys and we’ll leave it at that. I didn’t watch enough of the drama entrants in question and I’m not going to pretend that I did either (unlike the Emmy voters – zing!) in order to render judgments on that side of the ballot. We’ll just stick to the Comedy categories.
So, here are my nominations for the 2010-2011 Emmys. For this exercise, I’m playing by the same rules as the Emmys, eg. whatever category an actor chooses to nominate themselves in is what they get considered as. So, since Rob Lowe thinks he’s a Parks & Recreation lead, he doesn’t get a shot at the supporting category. Additionally, I’m not putting a quota on any of the categories, but I’ll be around approximately the number nominated by ATAS. All my nominees are listed in alphabetical order with my winner in bold.
There were a lot of worthy candidates for this list, including the uproarious Childrens Hospital which just misses the cut, though it possesses the highest laughs/minute ratio of any show on television. While Community and Louie delivered some of the most memorable moments of the year, Parks & Recreation took it into peak Simpsons territory, getting close to Arrested Development country. I’d put this season of P&R against the best seasons of The Office any day. Cougar Town of course wins most improved.
Alec Baldwin is reigning king of this category, but it’s more than possible that Steve Carell will actually win his first Emmy. Bill Hader has without a doubt been the MVP of SNL. Even with dubious at best writing, Hader has kept SNL watchable even when Kristen Wiig’s irritating characters threaten to take over. Glenn Howerton of It’s Always Sunny gets the nomination as he was just fantastic as Dennis at his most sleazy in “The Gang Buys a Boat”.
Weeds improved after a forgettable year in Mexico and while most of the comedic focus lies elsewhere, Parker provided a good mix of being likable and contemptible. Amy Poehler’s loopy turn in “Flu Season” was a high point in comedy this season though.
If the Emmy voters paid any attention, this award would be a walk in the park for Ron Swanson. While I thought Modern Family fell off a lot this year in the writing department, actor and Reggie Cleveland All-Star Ty Burrell continued to be able to carry most of the Phil-heavy episodes. Weeds is probably a bit over-represented in these awards, as it hasn’t been a great show for a couple years, but Justin Kirk as Andy Botwin basically kept this show in the “Comedy” category by himself. Glover and Pudi have some of the best chemistry on television and I’m glad Offerman made it easy so I don’t have to choose between them. It’s kind of criminal that I didn’t manage to squeeze Chris Pratt in here somehow.
Alison Brie got upgraded to more of a comedic role this year in Community and broke out as Annie. Aubrey Plaza continued to be great as April while adding more heart to the role. Busy Phillips gets the win though for consistently bringing the funny as well as adding empathy where you wouldn’t expect it.
Congratulations, Rob Lowe, you get an award! As a guest actor! But seriously, he was fantastic as actor/lunatic Eddie Nero bringing an insane energy to his scenes in Californication.
It’s difficult to turn down Mullally, but you cannot hope to contain Betty White.
It’s been another week South Park season, but “Crack Baby” was a good mixture of Parker and Stone’s signature heavy-handed allegory and hilarity. “The Late Philip J. Fry” is the first episode of Futurama‘s post-FOX years that I would put in the pantheon of great Futurama episodes.
Louis C.K. did a great job throughout the first season of Louie, taking us in unexpected directions while keeping the show coherent. “Bully” best exemplifies this, with Louis C.K. taking us on a journey through a strange date night that ends up with him at the family house of a young ne’er-do-well. Joe Russo did a great job on the atmosphere and Western motifs of “A Fistful of Paintballs” that shows off Community‘s signature style. But Brit comedian Ayoade takes home this one for one of the most notorious television episodes of this past season. Such a strange episode, but he expertly pulled it off behind the camera.
I originally came up with a list that included some top episodes like Community‘s “Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design”, but there’s no way anyone should win this except Louie.
That Brenda Strong gets nominated for her ear-stabbingly bad voice-overs on Desperate Housewives* while H. Jon Benjamin is nowhere to be found is crazy to me. Can we just change the name of this category to the “H. Jon Benjamin Award for Excellence in Voice Acting”?
*I haven’t watched since the end of season one, but I’ll assume she’s still doing her lines like she’s reading a children’s book aloud. Also, she is Sally Sasser and no one likes Sally Sasser.
So maybe the Hawaii 5-0‘s isn’t exactly original, but they still did a heck of a job reworking the original. As Alan Sepinwall joked, Mr. Sunshine certainly wins the five-syllables-and-under category. But, yeah, there’s no way Terriers shouldn’t have been nominated in this category.
Arbitrary song of the day: Benoit & Sergio – Principles
So, here’s the deal with the first season of Babylon 5: it isn’t very good. Here’s the deal with seasons 2-4 (and chunks of 5): it IS very good. There are a few problems with season 1:
Let’s go through the episodes one by one. The essentials will be in bold. I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers.
0. “The Gathering” (Pilot) – Obviously.
1. “Midnight on the Firing Line” – Essentially a second pilot.
2. Soul Hunter – Some important (but later repeated) bits about Minbari history/culture
3. Born to the Purple – Introduction of Londo’s love Adira; nice bit at the end with Ivanova
4. Infection – Almost entirely self-contained and one of the show’s cornier and weaker episodes
5. The Parliament of Dreams – Little of note, except an Emmy win for best makeup if you happen to be really into that
6. “Mind War” – Introduction of Bester, Psi-Corp plot points; not the most essential, but there’s enough here that I’d be hesitant to skip it
7. The War Prayer – Fairly typical episode from the sci-fi vein of the Arranged Marriage trope
8. “And the Sky Full of Stars” – Important Earth-Minbari war stuff
9. Deathwalker – Skippable, but I’d watch the sections of the episode with Abbut and Kosh (rule of thumb: anything with Kosh is worth watching)
10. Believers – I’m pretty sure every iteration of Star Trek has done an episode like this. It needs someone like Picard to make it interesting and Sinclair is no Picard.
11. Survivors – Meh.
12. By Any Means Necessary – Some nice stuff here with Londo and G’Kar, so I’d watch this one, but isn’t essential
13. “Signs and Portents” – Signs AND portents? Yes, that would qualify. The introduction of Mr. Morden.
14. TKO – I like Ivanova’s (non-essential) half of the episode, but the other half might not be worth it
15. Grail – Not much arc stuff, even according to JMS (creator/writer J. Michael Straczynski)
16. Eyes – Non-essential, but Ivanova-heavy A-plot and fun Garibaldi/Lennier B-plot makes it a fun episode
17. “Legacies” – Not a super episode, but some necessary stuff with the Earth-Minbari war
18. “A Voice in the Wilderness: Part 1” – Introduction of the Great Machine and a decent two parter
19. “A Voice in the Wilderness: Part 2” – Well, you watched Part 1, you should probably watch Part 2
20. “Babylon Squared” – Lots of arc stuff going on and probably the best Season 1 episode
21. The Quality of Mercy – Introduces the alien healing machine, but nothing that won’t be recapped later in the series
22. “Chrysalis” – Season finale and probably the most essential first season episode
That’s approximately 10 hours, which sounds like the right amount to me. Good luck with season 1, which can be found streaming for free on The WB’s website (B5‘s first few seasons ran on a Warner Brothers owned network) or along with the rest of the series on Netflix.
Arbitrary song of the day: Battles – Ice Cream
Billy Corgan has always included a lot of female names in the songs of The Smashing Pumpkins. I was curious as to just how many he used throughout The Smashing Pumpkins discography. As you can see, this trend peaked in the mid/late ’90s with Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and Adore.
Dahlia (“My Dahlia” – Light into Dark)
Tristessa (“Tristessa” – Gish)
Starla (“Starla” – I Am One Single)
June (“Bye June” – Lull EP)
Glynis (“Glynis” – No Alternative)
Justine (“1979” – MCIS)
Ruby (“Thru the Eyes of Ruby” – MCIS)
Judy (“Stumbleine” – MCIS)
Sally (“Stumbeleine”- MCIS)
Ruby (“Stumbleine” – MCIS)
Mary (“XYU”- MCIS)
Lily (“Lily (My One and Only)” – MCIS)
Sheila (“To Sheila” – Adore)
Ava* (“Ava Adore” – Adore)
Daphne* (“Daphne Descends” – Adore)
Dusty (“The Tale of Dusty and Pistol Pete” – Adore)
Annie (“Annie-Dog” – Adore)
Martha* (“For Martha” – Adore)
Rosemary (“Summer” – Perfect Single)
*Name in track title only.
Did I miss any?
Arbitrary song of the day: El Guincho – Bombay