Best Tracks of 2010 (#30-1) February 4, 2011Posted by Richard Bolisay in Fanboy, Music, Yearender.
PREVIOUSLY ON “THE LATE LONG-LEGGED LIST”:
AND THE LIST SINGS THE OPPOSITE OF HALLELUJAH. This was my top ten list in December, before I decided to “narrow it down” and make my life miserable (move the cursor to see song title, or watch the video when you cliquez):
And then it turned into this. It morphed into sixty. Now you know why I’m skinny. I tire myself a lot.
2010 has been an immensely difficult year, so allow me to spare you the trouble of a tearful introduction. Thank you for reading. Please leave some love on the comments page.
For now, you gotta march.
Promoting three singles in one go does seem excessive, but with 2NE1 at the helm and our ever-dearest Sandara breaking dishes, how could it possibly go wrong? I tell you, it couldn’t. YG spent a lot of money and it didn’t go down the drain. All three singles are filled with pouncing beats and hooks coming from everywhere, shaking and whirling in action. The auto-tune warps the girls’ voices, sometimes heavy, sometimes moderate, but their verve oozes with euphoria like a combination of Pacquiao punches, like a sweet kiss with a fist.
29. “Love the Way You Lie”
Eminem feat. Rihanna
“Love the Way You Lie” is Eminem’s revised edition of the S&M encyclopedia. Take a look at a few entries:
1. “I can’t tell you what it really is / I can only tell you what it feels like / And right now there’s a steel knife in my windpipe.”
2. “It’s like I’m huffing paint / And I love it the more that I suffer I suffocate / And right before I’m about to drown she resuscitates me / She fucking hates me and I love it.”
3. “It wasn’t you, baby, it was me / Maybe our relationship isn’t as crazy as it seems / Maybe that’s what happens when a tornado meets a volcano.”
4. “Now you’re in each other’s face / Spewing venom in your words when you spit ‘em / You push, pull each other’s hair / Scratch, claw, bit ‘em / Throw ‘em down, pin ‘em / So lost in the moments when you’re in ‘em.”
5. “Now you get to watch her leave out the window / Guess that’s why they call it window pain.”
^2. ibid. (“I’m Superman with the wind in his back / She’s Lois Lane.”)
^5. ibid. (“Life is no Nintendo game.”)
Dude, I know it’s painful. But please, wipe those bleeding metaphors off your mouth. Rihanna’s fizzling. For all we know, what she means is “Love the Way You Lie, But Damn It, Don’t Jerk Off In My Bed.”
It must have been tough to sing “I don’t need a parachute, baby if I got you” if you have recently been through a breakup, but Cheryl Cole, being an English bitch like Lily Allen, simply wags her flag and diamond rings. This is her definition of “glamour under pressure”: elegant, feisty, and willful. The use of military percussion is often attributed to female singers and their statements on empowerment—“army pop” is what my friend Thor calls it (hello, Destiny’s Child)—and Cheryl prepares for the battle with an impressive arsenal. It helps that “Parachute” is avidly arranged, but she shines on her own with her strong vocals, no longer referring to her ex despite using his name. Actually, it’s so good that a Tagalog version, translated by yours truly, is already in the works.
27. “Butter Knives”
[Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang]
Raekwon is known for his aggressiveness, yet in every album he puts out, the bulk of them since going solo, he is more lauded for relentlessly ripping any notion of one-track minded rap that simplifies street life and gangster culture. The teaser from his upcoming record has “high-powered ninjas” and “old school robbers” telling “gunplay is only an investment” between swings of swords. But it’s the killer bass and drums, not to mention the riveting kung-fu samples, that slay the listener meat by meat. “Butter Knives” is just as good as any Wu-Tang fan can hope for. And no one, not even RZA, can mess with the Chef. His blades are still sharp.
Charice feat. Iyaz
You gotta hand it to Charice. Yes, luck is on her side, heaps of it, but she has worked her way to the international limelight relying on her singing abilities. She’s no longer Little Big Star “Charice” but “Shareez,” the sensational diva, the daughter of the Internet, the commodity of glitz. That it took six high-profile composers to write “Pyramid” attests to how much she’s being cared for, or how difficult it is to create a vehicle to prove that she’s not a fluke, that she’s ready to rule like a pharaoh. . . in her pyramid. See, I like how the song alludes to where she comes from, albeit unintentional: “Earthquakes can’t shake us / Cyclones can’t break us / Hurricanes can’t take away our love.” She’s like saying, hey, we may be plagued by these disasters but look where I am, standing. . . like a pyramid.
Problem is, the figure of speech is not a figure of speech but a figure of autism. And what’s funny is that if we take the song to heart and subscribe to its sensibilities, then everything is really like a pyramid. I mean, every thing. The world is like a pyramid. The universe is like a pyramid. The dandruff on my head is like a pyramid. The plate in front of me is like a pyramid. The booger in my forefinger is like a pyramid. Want some proof? Let’s try this: “Taj Mahal! We built this on a solid rock! It feels just like it’s heaven’s touch! Together at the top, like a Taj Mahal.” Fits just well, right? “Pyramid” sounds swell as a breakout single, but Charice got to find better historical references to stay longer in the game. Hmm, how about The Hanging Gardens next time?
Imagine how boy bands evolved from The Osmonds and Jackson 5 in the 60s to Menudo in the 70s, New Kids on the Block and Take That in the 90s, Backstreet Boys and Westlife in the early 00s, and Jonas Brothers and Arashi at present. Any difference? I say not much, except that our fascination with them is still pretty much the same. Super Junior, possibly the group that best defines this generation’s multiplicity, are not only keeping up with trends but shaping them to their advantage, making the “boy band package” heftier and loftier, bigger, bolder, and auto-tuner.
“(Bonamana)” will always suffer from comparisons with “Sorry, Sorry,” but that’s because the similarities are pronounced. However, the way I see it, “(Bonamana)” is trying to double what “Sorry Sorry” has accomplished, with its heavier thumps, louder synths, and shorter phrases to emphasize the swift transition between lines and verses. The group also takes the risk of experimenting on structure—something I admire among Asian composers as opposed to their American counterparts—particularly with the scatter of hooks (“hahahaha”) and bits of the bridge. I just hope the producers leave the vocals alone and refrain from falling head over heels for cheap auto-tune.
24. “The Line”
[The Twilight Saga: Eclipse]
The last time we heard from Battles was in 2007, after the release of their debut album, Mirrored. It’s a beautiful record top-to-bottom, a collection of obliquely but exquisitely arranged noise, buzz, loops, hums, and moans. To no one’s surprise, Stephenie Meyer’s gang picks them up three years later, because as you know, Twilight movies really got to have the coolest music to make up for everything they lack. But the real surprise here is Tyondai Braxton singing. Like Dominic Cooper and James Blake, both artists who began doing electronic/dubstep music and held the microphone eventually, Braxton lurches at first before catching up with the chords. “The Line” opens with the march of escalating drumbeats—the usual indie rock stuff—but magic happens midway through, at 2:26 to be exact, when a splatter of pixie dust raises the track to frenzy, when the balloons start to burst, and when Battles return to form and light the fireworks.
[The Fame Monster]
Lady Gaga is more interesting to me when she mellows out. Not that I don’t like it when she’s posturing as “Arty Spice,’ but sometimes her shock-and-awe armaments could be tiring. “Paparazzi” would always define that side of hers that shimmers even without the bombastic refrains and gimmicks. “Alejandro” walks that line too. It’s romantic, passionate, crazy, and immature. This time she channels Ace of Base and ABBA, a timely illusion, especially in light of the downtrend of pop music due to the abuse of auto-tune and the dearth of talented songwriters. It’s possible that she composed it with expectations of comparisons in mind, and that she decided to take advantage of them willingly, admitting these artists’ influences. But “Alejandro” is proud of being derivative. On its sleeve are professions of love that have long been uttered before, descriptions that are too trite for comfort, beats that have already raked in millions for past studio producers. Joanna Newsom laments: “(Lady Gaga’s) approach to image is really interesting, but you listen to the music, and you just hear glow sticks.” True, but don’t we need glow sticks from time to time? To see, albeit dimly, in the dark? Oftentimes it’s the image that speaks better for the music, and Lady Gaga’s image speaks very convincingly for herself. Talking about Newsom, she’s up next.
22. “Good Intentions Paving Company”
[Have One on Me]
If your cats at home could sing and play some instruments, they would sound like Joanna Newsom. I mean, really. Include the kittens in the orchestra, ask them to harmonize, and voila: they could reproduce an exact recording of The Milk-Eyed Mender and Ys. A year may not be enough to digest all three discs of Have One On Me—Newsom’s third album whose breadth is exhausting as it is wonderful—but it certainly has its share of spines. “Good Intentions Paving Company” is one of them. It’s a handsome seven-minute suite whose title evokes a rare rupture of quirk. The song, on the other hand, bears resemblance to a road movie of some sort, think Paris, Texas or Thelma and Louise, of two people driving away, smelling of dust roads, cuddling, uncertain where to go but heedless of directions. Newsom goes as far as confessing to her driver (“And it’s my heart, not me, who cannot drive), apologizing to him (“And I did not mean to shout, just drive / Just get us out, dead or alive”), reminding him of her love (“And I fell for you, honey, as easy as falling asleep”) and humoring their relationship, which are my favorite lines on the track (“I regret how I said to you, honey, just open your heart / When I’ve got trouble even opening a honey jar”). She’s taking a trip to too many places at once, but no matter where she ends up, her words never lose their spell.
21. “On to the Next One”
Jay-Z feat. Swizz Beatz
[The Blueprint 3]
Of all the MCs actively producing records today, it’s Jay-Z whom I never get tired listening to. However many “blueprints” he releases, there’s always something fresh about his work. Even in this minor hit, which was clearly outshined by a number of hiphop singles this year (Kanye’s, Big Boi’s, B.O.B’s, The Roots’, fucking Bruno Mars’), unmistakable is his gift for turning otherwise bland verses into amusing ones. He’s playing, and he’s playing the game niftily, futzing around with a sample from Justice’s “D.A.N.C.E.” and blowing the track with casual pauses and licks of “freeze.” As one writer puts it, “he’s the master of the flow—he can flow fast, he can flow slow.” Well, indeed.
20. “MCs Can Kiss”
[Sex Dreams and Denim Jeans]
The really frustrating thing is when writers make the lamest comparisons. Saying Kesha is like Uffie is the dumbest thing I read last year. Does “Tthhee Ppaarrttyy” really sound like “Tik Tok”? Maybe, but there’s so much trash in “Tik Tok” that any attempt to sort it out will always be futile. Can that American stoner sing a dressed down and intimate love song like “First Love” without pooping at the party? I guess not, because Kesha raps like bad rappers do, whereas Uffie, French as she is, does it spanking fresh and wild. “MCs Can Kiss,” the first single from her debut, is listless and feral. Yet despite throwing some awkward turns of phrase, Uffie manages to cartwheel until the song reaches the end, when she blows her own horn, in which she actually blows her own horn and lets us hear how she succeeds in messing up with it on her first try, or not. To state the obvious, she’s bringing sexy back quite well.
19. “Raise Your Glass”
[Greatest Hits…So Far!!!]
After her performance at the Grammys last year, Pink had nothing left to prove. She represented what hopefully would be the path of pop music in the years to come, one that would never fail to deliver something new, and one that would remind us that pop is anything but a pint of ingenuity and a chaser of nerve. Watching her glitter in the air filled us with delight, and it’s a testament to Pink’s no-holds-barred spirit that even her contemporaries looked at her in awe. Her voice never wavered, and the moment her feet landed on stage, she stood straight up, without any sign of dizziness, ready to receive the much-deserved applause. We’re still high on that spectacular act when several months later, she returned with her first compilation. Its carrier single, “Raise Your Glass,” is every beer-flowing party’s wily soundtrack, an anthem stamped with Pink’s signature rowdiness and piercing wit, clad in silly one-liners and dumb-ass screams. The song is intended to celebrate her ten years in music, and it’s an occasion shared with us, us at the center, us whom she’s egging on to rumble, us whom she is thankful for. But on this side of geek partying, we are the ones who are grateful. Pink rules our universe. Pink triumphs over jerks. And Pink unleashes all of us, her underdogs.
18. “Fight for Me”
Wildbirds and Peacedrums
Swedish band Wildbirds and Peacedrums is comprised of husband and wife Andreas Werliin and Mariam Wallentin. Werliin takes charge of percussions while Wallentiin does the vocals. Sounds pretty neat and typical, except that they are actually one of the most revered groups from up north. Their live performances are praised for their surreal and captivating orchestrations. Their third album, Rivers, cements that reputation even further, as it features much intricate compositions of sheer emotional weight. This quality is prominent in “Fight for Me,” made even richer by the Schola Cantorum Reykjavik Chamber Choir, notable for their work in Bjork’s Medulla, as they lift Wallentin’s vocals to reverie. “Fight for Me” is a frightening and sinister tune, what with the intense drumming and ornate rhythms that wrap the words tight, but there’s also comfort in its eeriness, not to mention bliss in its bleakness.
17. “I Can Change”
[This is Happening]
I’ve always loved how James Murphy fiddles with length. He’s inclined to compose songs longer than usual, but it’s not just a matter of prolonging verses and repeating refrains. His greatest hits are musically succinct—the wild disco of “Daft Punk is Playing at my House,” the anxious buildup of “Great Release,” the cyber-techno of “Losing My Edge,” the tearful tune of “Someone Great,” the crazy piano of “All My Friends,” and the feverish glitter of “I Can Change”—all running for six to eight minutes, all mad and catchy, all uniquely structured. Rarely do they give you time to think and realize they’re finished because James has already taken care of every detail, from the crooked muddle of the middle verses down to the smooth ricochet of the final note. But above all the technical dexterity hides a brilliant songwriter—an agonized poet having a bad day, a geek with only a pen and a small notebook to doodle—inspired to trail the paths of his idols (New Order, Depeche Mode, Can, Manuel Göttsching) and make all the girls who let him down weep.
16. “Not in Love”
Crystal Castles feat. Robert Smith
[Crystal Castles II]
We all miss The Cure. We think that Bloodflowers and 4:13 Dream are good, but we still go back to Pornography and Disintegration. We feel that Robert Smith shines with his recent collaborations, but we simply want another record. So thank god for Crystal Castles. “Not in Love” is the closest we can get to these wishful thoughts. It sounds like a lost Cure single in the 80s, waxing of Robert Smith-goodness we’ve all been looking for in ages, the gothic murmur of words, the colorful background noise, the stellar synths that never show any sign of collapse. The frenzied wails of “I’m not in love” in the chorus are captivating, his voice closing in for the kill yet only going further back, burying the tune into our heads, digging deep down to elude discovery. It saves 2010 from the excesses of new music, and no one cares even if it’s a fucking cover.
15. “B.M.F. (Blowin’ Money Fast)”
Rick Ross feat. Styles P
Hands down, the most thunderous and earsplitting hook on this list, not to mention the damnest and wildest, belongs to Rick Ross. The frequent booms of “I think I’m Big Meech, Larry Hoover!” are like grenades being dropped single-handedly in Teflon Don’s centerpiece, Lex Luger balancing their weight with Rick’s screech. Whether or not you’re familiar with the references (Big Meech, Larry Hoover, Red Dead Redemption, Archie Bunker, the shitload of cars), you can’t help but notice the arrogance of the arrangement, the beats that pound your ear, the keyboards that jump out of tune, and the verses that wallop so hard they leave you sore and bruised. But that’s all right. Rick’s having a good time. Rick’s sharing his coke. And Rick’s firing his machine gun. Hallelujah.
14. “Limit to Your Love”
For the record, I’ve never liked any of James Blake’s EPs. I thought they were too arty and stingy, the common direction of an aspiring young artist who’s trying to break into the crowded music scene. But the moment he released “Limit to Your Love” last October, the tables were completely turned. It’s not as if he picked an obscure song to cover and make his own: he chose a track off Leslie Feist’s The Reminder. It would’ve been gay if it’s “1234,” but damn it, it’s “Limit to Your Love.”
Of course, he didn’t make it better than the original—that would be irreverent, and also, not true—but he found ways to arrange the song differently, retaining the instrumental hook without losing the pain Feist bares oh so achingly. Likewise, we hear his voice for the first time, his dulcet voice squarely at the center, held by the harrowing loop of the bass, piano, synths, and drums. James fills it with pauses that are not only long but also pregnant, like silent conversations, meaningful thoughts, longing, cloak and dagger kept in a rusty safe. Twice my heart broke.
(And dear, he’s just twenty-one. I wanna talk to his mom.)
13. “Window Seat”
[New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh)]
The video for “Window Seat” sparked controversy not because of its public nudity but because of its aversion to many hypocritical institutions that subvert any form of progressive thinking, institutions like the complainants themselves. It’s a fuck you to the “monoculture of the mind”—the antagonism to anything liberal—and the supposedly peaceful world that groupthink promises. But the song is not an altogether different matter. In fact, its words are even more powerful. Erykah packs three verses of refrain that breeze through like a wind, until the song reaches a sense of comfort in its contradiction. Her ambivalence only makes its sublimity empowering, and she just sits there and watches us groove on her gentle fury.
Like most of the tracks in Travel Advisory, “Gaan” feels like a plane crash, a long fall that leaves a mood of promptness without panic, of stillness amid a foreboding storm. Yani Yuzon asks questions in the chorus that need not be answered. His voice gives away a sense of resignation, of submission to life’s harshest coups, of surrender. The line “At anong gagawin pag nagawa na ang lahat, sa bawat sandali na lumilipas” wrings out the water, then the blow continues, “At anong dadalhin pag nawala na ang bigat, saan ka uuwi sa bawat oras,” and it’s only a matter of time when you see yourself ensconced in his words and the calmness of his delivery. “Gaan” is rife with contradictions, but it takes it easy and sashays gracefully, all the while holding a revolver and shooting flames of good poetry.
11. “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)”
Oh, Canada. Or is it Eh, Canada? For most hipsters, 70% of Canada is Arcade Fire, 20% is Wolf Parade and Of Montreal, and the remaining 10% is dealt out to the long lost memories of Avril Lavigne, Alanis Morissette, Shania Twain, and Celine Dion. You can replace the maple leaf and put the cover of Funeral on the Canadian flag and I don’t think a lot of people would complain. Unlike their first two records, The Suburbs is not over the top. No huge anthems, no hair-rising bellows, no reckless world views—but it still has that unique Arcade Fire power to obliterate gently.
It’s a good thing “Sprawl II” is placed near the end because it leaves an impression of finality, one that is both cathartic and phony. Régine may have revealed more of herself than what she intends to but that’s fine because we’re here to listen. Her turn at the mic isn’t surprising, but what makes “Sprawl II” stagger is that it blows you away little by little, girdling until you’re finally out of breath. In many ways she outwins Win Butler, and in many times the cracks of light in the album leave her blind. She reminds us how small the world is and how we ride the same bikes in our childhood, how we travel the same roads, how we go through the same heartaches, and how short our time is to do all the things we want. I don’t have time to ponder on its disco. I don’t see why some listeners are reminded of “Heart of Glass.” I don’t see the point of calling it the catchiest Arcade Fire song ever written. The moment Regine speaks to me and I speak back, there is nothing for me to understand. I bury my heart. I bury it in my heart.
10. “California Gurls”
Katy Perry feat. Snoop Dogg
Time only knows how long Katy Perry will survive the fickle landscape of pop. Like Britney, Katy has reached a status when she’s not only on top but she’s also staying on it for a long time. Hit after hit, concert after concert, and video after video, she has created an image that is bigger than herself, a monster that could easily eat her up anytime. The consecutive release of “California Gurls,” “Teenage Dream,” and “Firework” is like a series of bombs dropped one after another, a reminder of her iconic force as a pop star and of how controlling she could be if she only wills it.
My fondness for “California Gurls” stems from the fact that its verses teem with alliterations. And not just simple alliterations but wonderfully worded ones: “warm, wet and wild, there must be something in the water,” “Daisy Dukes, bikinis on top,” “sun-kissed skin so hot,” and especially, “fine, fresh, fierce, we got it on lock.” The back-to-back refrains are packed with rowdy rhymes oozing with lust that only Katy can deliver with a mix of itch and politesse, bikinis and corsets, sticky cum and holy water. It’s a hymn of shallow pride and silly fantasies, a celebration of vanity and childishness, but doesn’t everything boil down to that? But where’s the ode to California Boyz?
Here’s an impromptu: “Bulgy beast so blow and stroke it downward, oh, oh-oh, oh-oh.”
9. “Cold War”
[The ArchAndroid (Suites II and III)]
“The Curious Case of Janelle Monáe” could well be 2010’s most read story. As the lady of the hour, she appears in tuxedos, makes batty blinks, and walks all over the stage when she performs. She is admired for her eclecticism—the way pop music favors mishmash from time to time—and also for her high-octane live shows. She is a well rounded artist who is aware of her influences and knows how to make use of them in her music. At the periphery of The ArchAndroid are bits of intergalactic imagery, conceptual fiction, tales from obscure crypts, and mythos reminiscent of Sun Ra’s compositions. Sometimes she sings like Ella. Sometimes like Erykah. Sometimes like Lauryn. Sometimes Sharon Jones. Sometimes James Brown. Sometimes a lonely asteroid. Sometimes no one.
Swimming along the record’s flotsam and jetsam is a fragment of her life on earth strikingly called “Cold War” (is she alluding to the real one? is it the only thing she remembers?) in which she pours her heart out until it’s empty. At one moment, her voice breaks but it only turns her wrath into warmth, and boils her echoes in Kelindo’s gnashing guitars. When she says “I was made to believe there’s something wrong with me,” her tears freeze and wound her cheeks. She’s vulnerable yet she’s also fierce, fighting a battle that she’s ready to lose. And even if she wins it, it’s not something that she would consider a triumph. That her most remarkable hit is also her most emotional proves how much on earth she has taken away with her.
8. “Fuck You”
Cee Lo Green
[The Lady Killer]
No one doubted Cee Lo’s capability to pull a perfect single, but no one, not even myself, expected it to be bolder and more viral than his previous hit “Crazy.” The big fat guy is uncontrollably mad, shaking and sniveling, but you can’t help but sympathize with him, laugh at his insane pronouncements, and feel sorry for his hopeless attempt to move on. Even if you tie him up and lock him inside the room, he’d still sing it with the same rage and humor, with the same nasty and tasty demeanor.
Allow me to opine that “Fuck You” is strikingly similar to “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)” in terms of cultural impact, only this time it is coming from a male point of view. Both are great songs, both went viral upon their release, and both share this twisted sense of empowerment. Also, is it a coincidence that both singers are black? Quite an interesting discussion to raise, especially how the stereotypes are played out in each song and how the singers try to get over the man and the woman who broke their hearts, and more importantly, how each song managed to gain widespread popularity. Furthermore, it’s funny how a song called “Fuck You” is arranged like a gospel, its bridge providing a scrumptious bookend to Cee Lo’s misfortune. Imagine if it was actually recorded inside a church?
7. “Try Sleeping With a Broken Heart”
[The Element of Freedom]
Its monstrous synth line could easily knock over a cathedral, but the words simply shrug it off, Alicia Keys whispering them creepily: “Even if you were a million miles away, I could still feel you in my bed, near me, touch me, feel me.” It’s hard to tell whether it’s the bass or Alicia who’s heavily breathing and panting, huffing and puffing all the way to the end. Like a porn movie, the mood strips the poesy. And what immediately comes to mind is its hollow literalism, the presence of a ghost hovering around, slipping underneath the covers. She’s mumbling, closing her eyes as she sees her thoughts take shape, aiming for words and failing, getting up only to trip over again. Either he’s physically dead or he just left her, but she sings it like either both are true or neither is. Alicia is able to dissociate herself with the piano, but “Try Sleeping With A Broken Heart” is “Fallin’” that seethes inward, losing it and marveling at her own fall (“I’ll make it without you / Tonight”). The transition between verses is seamless, but the moment she coos “anybodycould’vetoldyourightfromthestartit’sabouttofallapart,” she pounds the nail in the coffin and relishes her defeat. It’s a track that invites countless remakes, and Robyn, with a bottle of whiskey, went for it first.
Up Dharma Down
What is it they usually say: “If you’re doing something good, people will find you”? After two successful albums and a string of jingles, GMA-7 finally tracked Up Dharma Down and commissioned them to compose music for one of its primetime series. I never saw an episode of “Illumina,” but its soundtrack continues to linger: on morning radio, on iPod playlists, on Blip.fm’s streaming, and especially on people’s minds, the track screaming to have companions for a third record.
The words of “Tadhana” are reminiscent of the tenderness of “Oo” and “Pag-agos” from Fragmented, but its arrangement echoes the sparseness of “The Cold is Warmth” and “All Year Round” from Bipolar. It’s this marriage of two remarkable elements in both albums—the luminous songwriting and the picturesque melodies—that lets the yearning flit from personal to collective, from Armi’s mouth to our ears, from our ears to our hearts, and from there, there’s no way out.
5. “Crash Years”
The New Pornographers
I don’t know where to start when it comes to the Pornos. I’ve been a fan of the band for so long, pleased with every record they put out since Mass Romantic, and eventually I’ve also been a follower of each member’s individual projects. 2009 saw the release of Carl Newman’s underrated sophomore album, Get Guilty, and Neko Case’s splendid Middle Cyclone. Last year Kathryn Calder released her solo work, and just a few months ago, Dan Bejar and the rest of Destroyer returned with a sweet record called Kaputt.
But what makes the Pornos stand out as a band is that they never feel and sound like a supergroup. They’re just a bunch of friends jamming together and enjoying each other’s company. I was hesitant to include this here because I think Together works better as a whole—it’s deftly made, it has nice transitions between singing, powerful solos, lively harmonies—but “Crash Years” is that ball of love that deserves a dunk. Neko Case sings like a tornado, purposely destructive and pensive, and she holds on to Carl Newman’s touching words bit by bit, pause after pause. Like any Pornos hit, the chorus is the black hole where everything gets sucked in. The wind blows hard and Neko stands still, unruffled, unperturbed. She and Carl can whistle all day, and I’d be glad to take a seat.
4. “Walang Natira”
Gloc-9 feat. Sheng Belmonte
Surprise, the new Gloc-9 is brimming with clichés. But baby, what’s wrong with clichés? What’s wrong with singing about every Filipino’s failed dream, every Filipino’s sad fate, and every Filipino’s deadend? Truth be told, the other side of clichés is that they are true and they continue to be true because we let them. And this is where Gloc-9 is good at—in fact, excels at—reading the pages of the tabloids, scouring the stark realities between them, lapping them up and leaving us with silt, odds and ends.
“Walang Natira” isn’t anything but spot-on. It’s a chronicle of every terrible OFW story, better than any OFW movie Star Cinema has ever produced, better than what the OWWA and DFA are capable of doing. Gloc-9 holds the verses all together, reeling and rhyming, but it’s Sheng Belmonte who provides the track’s massive hook, drowning his words in well wrapped rancor. Every time she declares, “Napakaraming guro-nars-inhinyero-karpintero-kasambahay-labandera-guro dito sa amin / Ngunit bakit tila walang natira,” it stings. It nips right through the sore wound, that incredible measure of tolerance we allow ourselves to have, those calloused hands and toes tending to equally calloused minds and souls. At his end, Gloc-9 is bent on shoving his paradox, “Gusto kong yumaman, yumaman, yumaman,” repeating it not for emphasis but for detail, telling that hope, in a third world country, never actually springs eternal.
3. “The End of the World is Bigger than Love”
In a way, detachment is important in writing, but the question is how long. Weeks, months, years, decades. . . will people still remember? Will people care?
Yet the most convincing writers for me are those who try hard to polish their craft, those who admit that failure is inevitable, and those who do not turn away from the ugly mess the world cooks up every day. “Some things you just go through,” Jens Lekman says. “You don’t write about it, you don’t turn it into art because it can’t be turned into art. (…) you can’t pour manure into an espresso machine and expect a cappuccino to come out.” He not only sounded depressed—he was actually depressed. Love, being the source of both pleasure and pain, was the offender. Jens was madly in love with a girl so he tried to compose a song—right after learning about the result of the US elections in 2008—and came up with “The End of the World is Bigger than Love.” Quite a long and straightforward title (nine words!) but it stands alongside the finest strokes of his quill—“When I Said I Wanted to be Your Dog,” “If You Ever Need a Stranger (To Sing at Your Wedding)” “You are the Light (By Which I Travel into This and That)” “You Deserve Someone Better Than a Bum Like Me,” “Another Sweet Summer’s Night on Hammer Hill,” “Friday Night at the Drive-in Bingo,” and the exquisite “And I Remember Every Kiss.”
Two of my favorite subjects: (1) the end of the world, and (2) a broken heart. (2) is rather easy to explain. I don’t think it even needs an explanation. (2) is similar to a dog’s tail. It’s unmistakably there (well, except for tailless dogs), wagging at times, often supine. Also, (2) is usually more broke than broken, in the sense that it is more aware of the things it lacks than the fact that it is shattered, in pieces, or kaput. (2) is illogical—and to some extent, physiological—but (1) never is. It’s not slippery, but it defies belongingness to any category. Furthermore, (1) is a grand subject, a meta-narrative, an occurrence both fictional and not, an event that cannot be proven and disproved unless it happens for real, hence its name.
What Jens does is connect the two and concludes that (1) is bigger than (2) while in fact he wrote the song because of (2) and (1) could be regarded as an excuse, a big fat lie to save face, only it isn’t, it wasn’t, and, fingers crossed, it will not be. “When love turns its back on you it’s nice to know there’s a world out there that doesn’t give a shit about your problems.” When I saw Jens last year, to be honest, he was a beautiful picture of a carefree man. He’s a cheerful performer, gamely horsing around, singing merrily, in spirits so high he even went back to the stage and sang along with Erlend and Eirik of Kings of Convenience. He didn’t seem like carrying (2) or thinking about (1). He was out there. He was making me understand this song. And I think I did. I really did. That’s why it’s here. That’s why I’m crying now. ‘Cause I’m every bit as out of line as the rainbow at night.
2. “Get Outta My Way”
Who else can deliver the best pop single of the year but Her Highness Kylie Minogue? She’s ripping the dancefloor again with a new record aptly called Aphrodite, and while it doesn’t provide her new directions—like its groundbreaking predecessors, Body Language and Impossible Princess—it proves her mighty grit and staying power, and how, in the company of the purported heirs of her throne (La Roux, Robyn, Lady Gaga) she remains far from them by a mile.
Kylie spins the disco ball in “Get Outta My Way” at full throttle, frolicking in a splash of sexy electro synths and ravenous repetitions of refrain, feverish to the point of fit. Similar to her previous hits, it ascends heavenward, rolls uncontrollably, and keeps her feet up, hungry for more swings. She says to her man, “This is what’ll happen if you ain’t giving your girl what she needs.” A sweet threat, ‘cause really, what kind of guy sits on the corner while Kylie struts her stuff? Someone not man enough! Someone who deserves to be walked out on! In an album full of highlights, this gem is easily the most exhilarating. Best to get your dancing shoes ready.
1. “Fool’s Day”
The nineties witnessed the rivalry between Blur and Oasis. Blur rocked. Oasis sucked. Damon winked, Liam sneered, and Oasis still sucked. Blur split. Oasis still sucked. Graham went solo. Oasis still sucked. Damon formed Gorillaz. Oasis still sucked. Blur announced reunion. Oasis still sucked. Liam and Noel split for real. Oasis still sucked. Blur released new material after seven years. Oasis still sucked. Kids, don’t bully your friends, OK?
Of course, “Fool’s Day” belongs to an era when Britpop no longer prevails, an era when the best musicians of today are those who were actually the best musicians ten or twenty years ago. How time flies, right? As Dodo and I would lovingly call them: old farts. Damon is quite a charming old fart. He sings about waking up on the first day of April and that’s just about it, except that like any classic Blur single, there’s something magical about his telling, something fascinating about the images it conjures that are so everyday yet they leave an unexpected embrace of warmth.
Damon cuts his phrases unconventionally. He shares routines he does unfailingly (“Porridge done / I take my kids to school), mundane thoughts (“Lord, it was a plane crash / But I’m sure that I was dreaming / TV on”), places he sometimes takes for granted (Woolworth’s, West Way, Ladbroke Grove), and right after that, where does he go? To the studio. To meet his buddies. To record a song. To pat Graham, Alex, and Dave on their shoulders. But especially Graham. Best fucking friend. Coxswain Coxon. He who provides “Fool’s Day” an enchanting farewell through a superb riff, that part at the end when every Blur fan’s water broke. “Fool’s Day’ might just be a day in the life of Damon, a bit ragged and patchy, but for us, us who are still here, it’s a dream waiting to happen that happened, a wish that made us hold on to every wish we gave up on. After all, like them, we just can’t let go.
Comments? Suggestions? Death threats? No Kanye? No 6cyclemind? Please leave them on the comments page. Who knows, if this post reaches more than 100 comments (#feverdreaming) the writer of the 100th comment will receive a free CD, of that person’s choice, courtesy of yours truly. Promise!
Up next: Best Albums of 2010. When? Safest, of course, is before the end of the world comes. Yes, before 2012.