You thought we forgot didn’t you. I’ll admit I was distracted planning the downfall of my local Yelp nemesis, but more on that later. I’d say there were both some good songs in this pile and some good lines from UC as usual. There is a HUGE UC miss on a wonderful track, and I wonder if it is the one that Seitz loved?
On to the pain!
60. Kurt Vile “Freeway”
PP says: I admit I had to use the word bedroom above to describe some low wave chunk up the page, but we gotta ban that for the rest of the show here. I wonder what would have happened if Jonathan Richman didn’t go out and look for a band but just recorded in his basement. Maybe not this, maybe something similar. This song is deceptively good, maybe even sneakily great. One where you have the feeling that its simplicity belies something a little bit more going on. Very good.
UC adds: This song would be pretty comfortable in any of the last four decades with its handclappy percussion and simple guitar strumming. I dare say, it also sounds like classic rock. Which I love when it is Pink Floyd, and I hate when it is middle-of-the-road Americana. This is worse than the former and better than the latter. Pretty good, but not memorable. PP adds: I think UC will regret this- this song is phenomenal
59. tUnE-yArDs “Sunlight”
PP says: Immediately interesting enough where your attention is demanded because you want to know where it goes. Almost nothing about Eric Harvey’s review is accurate, but the song builds to almost an almost killer level. Three in a row- a possible record this year.
UC adds: It starts off sounding like a weird experimental post-rock exercise, but emerges into an actual song that is actually interesting. Not sure if this is either intense or intimate, but it’s inspiring, so that’s positive. Almost top-100 worthy.
58. Fever Ray “If I Had a Heart”
PP says: Pitchfork’s elevation of The Knife to album of the year a few years ago was kind of ridiculous, but their specialty of icy minimalist electronic dread can be appreciated when they hit the right cylinders. Fever Ray is Karin Dreijer Andersson of The Knife’s solo moniker and she has the dread in spades here. It really is exactly what she excels at and I tip my cap. Really good. Also, things that are impossible are impossible, even adjectively.
UC adds: Very good at doing what it does, which unfortunately is kind of boring me. I never much cared for The Knife, so I’m not surprised not to care much for Fever Ray. The vocals are OK, though – they kind of humanize the underlying murkiness, even if in a totally creepy way.
57. Sleigh Bells “Crown on the Ground”
PP says: Redlined and clipped as to sound like complete garbage, on purpose natch, still has an affected bubblegum charm, under the off putting distortion. The novelty does not add to the quality, though this year quality would certainly add to the novelty. Maybe a standard deviation above meh.
UC adds: I have always wished that extreme noise terror had more teen-pop in it and that bubblegum fluff blew out more speakers, yet Sleigh Bells are still a horrific nightmare come true. [aside – Amy, yo, lay off the x, k?]. To abuse another of Ms. Phillips’s awesome metaphors, listening to this track makes my ears feel like they have been pierced by a razor blade found inside a candy apple. I recognize that embedded deep within the cacophony lies an almost tolerable tune, but I don’t even want to free it from its banishment. Ass.
56. John Talabot “Sunshine”
PP says: Phil Sherb should keep David Drake on retainer for making him look good. Fork needs an editor who edits with a baseball bat. I’m not talking Wii sports. Anyhow, in “Sunshine” handclaps never sounded so dead. And then they stop. Exquisitely harmless.
UC adds: David Drake clearly spends too much time watching his Twitter feed to notice when a boring deep house track has gone on for 8 minutes. He probably has forgotten that he even listened to the music, which somehow for him is probably a good thing. This doesn’t sound unlike the music I was forced to listen to in the outlet mall.
55. Bat For Lashes “Glass”
PP says:I apologize to Bat for Lashes because I know that sometimes when you like a genre you don’t necessarily care if someone working in the genre kind of rips off or is pretty derivative of someone else because those artists are giving you more of what you want. The Kate Bush genre is not one where I really am craving more and thus diamonds, rainbows, eternity, battles, hobbits and realm of dolphins (implied) just doesn’t work for me. I really do love Kate Bush, this just isn’t my genre so I’m not sure any argument can convince me that what I’m hearing I need to hear again, or like or write approving sentences about. Shorter me (me made longer): meh.
UC adds: Ryan Dombal was so enamored by his Wikipedia research into the Song of Solomon, that he neglected to comment on the music, which features such lyrics. It is actually pretty cool – a little trip hoppy and Bjorky. I can’t comment on the Kate Bush connection, as I really don’t know her realm. But I do like this track.
54. Joker & Ginz “Purple City”
PP says: I want Joker and Ginz in my remix Rolodex, so I can thumb through to their card and deliriously finger it (oh filthbot), fantasizing about all ways I’d call them up and fire them.
UC adds: So so awful and unlistenable. It is like a remix of static. Maybe it will make musical notes, but it is utterly senseless. Hate.
53. The xx “Islands”
PP says: Part of me wonders if the xx thing is that they sound phenomenal, I mean outside of any question about the album or songs- the sound is just caringly and sweetly there, especially with some of the other trends in evidence this year. I’m not really on board yet, but I’ll reserve judgement.
UC adds: David Raposa does seem to be in love with the production and overall competence of the music. Personally, I find it a little sterile; it doesn’t have intensity. Fine, but nothing more.
52. St. Vincent “Actor Out of Work”
PP says: An artist that should have us in her remix Rolodex, Annie Clark’s second album under her St. Vincent moniker was decently strong featuring this track leading up to the album release, and although it’s very good, “Marrow” is the one we’d rework in a heartbeat, and I hope its recognized later in the list. I’m glad to see her here. And now that I’ve looked ahead, I see the Fork staff has been working for extra holiday cash at the ball-dropping factory. Too bad the holiday cash is for cocktails at some Williamsburg bar [Ed adds: enough with the hipster Brooklyn cracks, so tired] while little sis gets “for promotional use only” castoffs [Ed adds: OK, marginal but acceptable follow through].
UC adds: This song had to be on the list, regardless of how many boners Annie Clark has caused P-fork staff. It is simply a musical steamroller of awesomeness. This would be in my top 10 of the year, along with nine other songs, almost certainly not in the P-fork top 10.
51. Antony and the Johnsons “Aeon”
I listened to this song prior to the arrival of Goobie, aka Smalltime Beef, and since Lala let’s me listen once and the internet a l’hopital (I make up French to torment Mandos) has various and sundry sites blocked I shall not relisten and likely start to uncontrollably weep. As we discussed last year, drop Antony on a dance track and somehow it’s straight to the top, but a raw emotional tearjerker gets a begrudging plop plop fizz fizz at 51. Antony is pretty much unassailable whether I spend time with it or not. Fine.
UC adds: Damn Grayson Currin for writing something apt and not cobaggy. I have to chalk this up to the ability of A&theJ’s to melt even the polar ice caps. I don’t think this song stands out among the repertoire, but it is solid and sweet. I love the piano intro — I wish there were more piano and less distorted guitar.
50. Matias Aguayo “Rollerskate”
PP says: Bobby McFerrin house? Really? Actually, I think this is pretty cool. Certainly fulfills a sadly demanding ethos for novelty, but backs it up with a certain quality. I wish the rest of the list were about finding interesting stuff like this instead of just short bus worthy “different.”
UC adds: Listenable, catchy, head-bobbingy, and not cobaggy. I’m curious what editorial oversight allowed inclusion of this track. If anything, I want this track to get even more convoluted and layering. Also, super cool with headphones.
49. Yo La Tengo “Here to Fall”
PP says: After the out of character meh step of Summer Sun, Yo La Tengo recorded what I remember as the very good I am Not Afraid… but somehow it never really entered my consciousness. This is more my own fault because YLT is so relatively consistent that when I pull them off the shelf, it is Painful of their twin masterpieces I Can Hear The Heart Beating… and And Then Nothing…. I think Popular Songs is very much in this vein, so what I would criticize here is that I’m pretty sure this is a lazy pick. A dabbler’s pick, like the inevitable lead track from the Camera Obscura album, or the lead track from the Clientele album (what’s that, almost true?). I’d say get this album and find the better tracks for yourself.
UC adds: I expect to listen to this album in full sometime between 2012-2015, so I’m not sure where on the quality scale this track falls. However, this song is so exuberant and classic goodly, I may have to bump up a full listen of Popular Songs to 2011. This track surprises and rewards. It is like finding a purple M&M. Or getting a peanut triplet. Or even better, maybe something more with chocolate and pretzels. A stark reminder that Ira Kaplan is better than we are.
48. Destroyer “Bay of Pigs”
PP says: Dan Bejar from Destroyer is an acquired taste, like Morrissey, or fill in your own polarizing recognizable possible genius. New Pornographers is many people’s entree into Bejar, and his way with words is astounding if you can handle his presentation. Mark Richardson gets this one right- how can it possible work- 13 minutes of synth flows and a sing song beat poem filling with the backwash of an intermittent club track. WHAT? I like it a lot, and kind of affecting, but still an obvious novelty, so if you are getting increasingly list-pissed, your mind won’t be changed here.
UC adds: I am a bit of a sucker for self-indulgent 13-minute tracks. Like the end of the Polyphonic Spree CD or the YLT Night Falls on Hoboken (which is more like 17 minutes). Even supra-twee Of Montreal Coquelicot piano diddling. This track proved to be no exception. I think that I secretly love Destroyer, even though I refuse to explore their repertoire. It is like super twee disco prog. I just love it to death. This is now five excellent tracks in a row. I will be getting an MRI to make sure that I am actually alive/conscious.
47. Yeah Yeah Yeahs “Heads Will Roll”
PP says: I’m gonna ding this track because it seemed like it should have been a lot better than it is. Everything about this says it should be a killer and instead it is just one of those things that everyone says they like but they’re only going along with what they think they should say (My mind just recalled Luscious Jackson). Uninvolved and overproduced. Mehs will Roll? Meh Meh Mehs? I’m sure there’s a superior Metric track or something.
UC adds: I am shocked, SHOCKED, that there aren’t two remixes of this song in the top 20. Because something this boring and glammy screams for the treatment. I understand that it is highly fashionable to nibble on Karen O’s toes these days, but surely there must be a better song than this one. Sigh. There goes the streak of saneness.
46. Memory Tapes “Bicycle”
PP says: A page is pulled and is doubled down! Sorry UC, he who blurbs first, takes the spoils. Meh-mory Tapes.
UC adds: Hey, Eric Harvey, do you want to know what else sounds ‘urbane and primordial’? Train. Memory Tapes are a poorly masked middle of the road faux indie-wannabes. They are obviously pandering to you, Eric. Grow some balls. Please.
45. The Flaming Lips [ft. Karen O] “Watching the Planets”
PP says: I’ve guess I’ve always found Wayne Coyne and the Lips’ artistic aesthetic a little off-putting. Maybe I never loved “She Don’t Use Jelly.” A run of the mill tinkly fuzz stomper, I can’t say anything about its effectiveness, I am merely left cold, though it certainly is decent.
UC adds: Marc Masters has written an effective and accurate review of this OK track. Problem is that he has these other modifiers in there that suggest it is better than a one-trick pony. Perhaps some useful editing will be illuminating: “It’s telling that the Flaming Lips made you wait until the end of side four to hear Embyronic’s [redacted] track– at no point prior did they sound concerned with pleasing anyone besides themselves. And it’s not like “Watching the Planets” is that much more commercial than this double LP’s other noisy mantras– it’s just one repetitive hook and a crunchy bass-drum loop that gives Wayne Coyne time to bark “oh”‘s and “aye”‘s while Karen O squeaks supporting yelps. The lyrics are just as simple– mind-emptying chants about staring at stars, killing the ego, and “finding that there ain’t no answer to find.” In that way, “Watching the Planets” catches [redacted] the Lips’ back-to-basics left-turn. They sound hypnotized by their own [redacted] sounds, gazing at the music like a baby fixated on its own moving fingers.” Or in a better written version, “Repetitive, simple, mind-emptying. Pass.”
44. Jay-Z [ft. Alicia Keys] “Empire State of Mind”
PP says: In order to justify mediocrity we see the implementation of “so bad it’s good”, as if that gets them out of an equally predictable and predictably pot-shot-absorbing pick of the marginally superior “Run This Town”, which would have at least provided fodder for essays on Rihanna and ‘Ye, and of course feasting, riesling, g-string and UNHH two bee stings. Maybe if Jigga had included a few verses about Goldman Sachs bending over the economy then we could talk.
UC adds: What I’m hearing here is Alicia channeling as much Coldplay as she possibly could and then seasoning with Jay-Z. It is so massively populist, I can’t blame the bell curve for eating it up. Honestly, as far as radio fare goes, this is fresh and appealing. But there is nothing that needs to compel the P-fork staff to recognize this track so highly. Should I be expecting Susan Boyle in the ’30s?
43. Camera Obscura “French Navy”
PP says: Excellent as is almost any CO track, but possibly a little mannered. I liked “Swans”, “Away With Murder” and “Honey In The Sun” better. Maybe “James” too. Probably the only CO track many of those that voted for it have even heard off the album. So an obscure novelty has an equal chance of landing a position as uniformly excellent twee indie pop heavyweights. Got it.
UC adds: I think this is the right track for this list. There are probably only two singles from the album anyway, and this one is immediately likable and catchy. Actually, what I object to in this review is not the song itself, which love to death, but Stuart Berman’s sketchy revisionist history of CO. For one, this track is exactly the kind of bookish bespectacled indie pop that CO have always made. If anything the outlier is more Lloyd I’m Ready to be Heartbroken than anything on French Navy. Perhaps Stuart doesn’t realize that CO were already superstars before French Navy.
42. The Big Pink “Velvet”
PP says: Alan Moulder (engineer/producer- Curve, Jesus and Mary Chain Honey’s Dead is an obvious flavor on this track, a kind of wannabe anthemically huge electro rock romance crusher. It is OK, but nothing can support the ripped from the headlines ass Marc Hogan slathers over proceedings with “Does it make sense, or are we all eventually doomed to end up with facial lacerations and a five-iron through our Escalades?” This statement absurdly suggests that we have sadly romantic longings over the possibly heart break of a sex addict megalomaniacal psychologically challenged media creation robot-like cypher getting creamed by a wife coming to terms with a half decade of lies. Yes, I too worry that love might really be like that. Put this at 97 and I say “pretends to be huge enough that size might matter.”
UC adds: Listening to Velvet is supposed to “conjure a feedback-roiled electro-shoegaze maelstrom that sounds as huge as first love feels.” That didn’t quite work out for me. Unless first love is supposed to feel predictable, derivative, and desperate to fit in. Well, maybe the problem is that i’m not cynical enough about love, and too cynical about a Marc Hogan selection. I suspect that others might relate better to the lyrics, and this is a game for the young people, so maybe this track is just fine. For my ears, though, more anathemic than anthemic.
41. Major Lazer [ft. Nina Sky and Ricky Blaze]
PP says: Once again the Balkinization of the several sanctioning bodies for Official Summer Jams, render Major Lazer merely an illegitimate, unofficial summer jam. At least Andrew Gaerig bothers to type out the “gender politics aside” line, even though this particular track isn’t anything compared to various other shit. An anonymous autotune jam trancy synth fart. This is one of about 65 tracks that I’d put in line behind Taylor Swift to challenge their official or unofficial summer jam credentials.
UC adds: What I find personally amusing is the fact that this is the extract track I used to explain the insidious horror of both auto-tune and misogyny in dance music when it happened on the radio. This is so contrived, formulaic, and bereft of art that i really put it in the exact same category of Mariah Carey’s music. That sad irony of this rant is that I am destined to end up having to dance to this song once upon a time, and will be forced to smile and pretend I’m enjoying myself in the process. No matter what the score, I lose. Sigh.