I started writing here at True/Slant with a little piece that questioned the nature and purpose of year-end-lists. Who’s an authority on anything? Isn’t it all arbitrary? True, but, as I mentioned, it’s a bit fun to do. So, though we’re not even into December, I present a list of five memorable singles from the year. Are they the most memorable? To me, at this moment, yes. To anyone else, it’s all individual taste.
The reason I’m posting this all now instead of in, say, late December or January is that the perfect single is, to my understanding, something that captures a moment over months and months and months. And in the middle of November, if anything were to grab my attention for months at a time, then it would be on next year’s “superlative X” list. (And there are a couple there.) Frankly, I find the single, and not the album, to be the dying art form in music. The single is, in essence, the strongest measurement of popularity within the business model of the music world. Considering the fracturing state of the “music world” in general – forget the business side of things – its hard to make a strong case for a model that perpetuates creating three-minute and thirty-seconds of pop bliss to connect disparate people when it’s so difficult to find a single song that has united us in the past couple of years. (“I Kissed A Girl” is hardly what “Hey Ya!” was earlier this decade.)
But, I digress. These are the songs, “radio ready” or not, that really clung to my year. They may not have united me with some kid out in the middle of nowhere, U.S.A. (or Ukraine or wherever else), but they sure united my days, friends and memories. It’s not an exact science, but these are five of them out of oh so many songs I’ve enjoyed this year:
5. Future Of The Left – “The Hope That House Built” (off Travels With Myself And Another)
This might be the most arbitrary song on what I may call an arbitrary list. After all, how can you choose just one song from such a fantastic album? In 2009, Future Of The Left brought some fantastic punk rawk back into my life – the kind of punk that didn’t make me feel to old for listening to it, the kind of punk as guttural as any other, the kind of punk that happily stuck to its roots. That’s not to say I hadn’t been listening to punk all year or in years (I have): it’s more to say I haven’t listened to a band as intensely grounded in the kind of punk rock simplicity like FOTL. It’s the basics: guitar, bass, drums, and a little keys without much frill and excellent songwriting. And “The Hope That House Built” is a key example off a great album.
4. Animal Collective – “My Girls” (off Merriweather Post Pavillion)
Ummm… dur? It’s hard to come up with something that hasn’t been said, but far be it for me to add to the adulation the band’s received this year, I thought the only thing I was going to like off Merriweather was the fact that it was named after one of the music venues from back home. Well, maybe my skepticism wasn’t that bad, but I was reluctant to go frothing at the mouth the minute the album was released. But, I listened, and I liked it. SPOILER ALERT: It’s not my favorite album of the year, but it is fairly memorable. And, of course, “My Girls” is a standout. A solid song that might be the closest the act will come to making a “club banger,” fairly catchy, pleasant and a relaxing melody to boot. Can’t go wrong there, right?
3. Grizzly Bear – “Two Weeks” (off Veckatimest)
I feared this song. I don’t know why. I saw it pop up on Gorilla Vs. Bear after their Letterman appearance way before the album came out, and for some reason, I refused to watch, listen or acknowledge its existence. It’s one of those things I think many music fans go through: you loved the work the band has put out, and you’re afraid the pressures of creating more music could result in a clunker of a song/album/career. But, Grizzly Bear didn’t seem worried, and I took the plunge when the album came out. And I played this song relentlessly throughout the summer. It seemed to evoke brighter days than the weather in Boston was allowing me, and kept me going through the downpours to those rare sunny days. And that makes a great summer.
2. The Mae Shi – “R U Professional? (4 Xtian)”
The Mae Shi made this song in a day, and it became one of the many videos and songs that made the “Christian Bale freakout” meme in the spring. “R U Professional?” is clearly my favorite. The song highlights The Mae Shi’s pop sensibilities, which are often hidden among loads of (great) noisy punk freakouts. It’s hilarious, it dispenses with the Christian Bale references in a witty manner, and it hits the spot just right. Hey, once that chorus hits, it’s hard to not imagine this thing spinning in a club somewhere.
1. Das Racist – “Combination Pizza Hut & Taco Bell (Wallpaper Remix)”
This song has everything a great pop song should have. A great hook. A head-bopping beat. Lyrics that stick to your skull, that boil in your brain. Lyrics that are simple, yet sophisticated, cool, yet classic. And it all just comes together and hits you. The song resembles all the fantastic things that made Electric Six’s “Danger! High Voltage” so extraordinary (Taco Bell references, a little bit of saxophone, brief instrumental interludes alongside the regimented beat), least of which is getting stuck in your head and being able to enjoy it. Sure, it’s a bit dumb, it’s a bit ironic. But the humorous state of self-awareness is such a fantastic reflection of a lot of the way the culture appears to be at the moment, that the duo’s delivery seems even more sincere. As Das Racist make plainly aware, you don’t have to be Harold and Kumar to have an adventure to your favorite late night destination: you just need to have fun.
Honorary Mentions (In no particular order): Micachu & The Shapes – “Golden Phone,” P.O.S. – “Purexed,” Dan Deacon – “Get Older,” Matt & Kim – “Daylight,” Dirty Projectors – “Stillness Is The Move,” Brand New – “At The Bottom,” We Were Promised Jetpacks – “Quiet Little Voices,” Pomegranates – “Everybody Come Outside” Wale – “Nothing To Worry About (feat Peter, Bjorn & John),” DDMMYYYY – “Bronzage,” Health – “Die Slow,” The xx – “Basic Space,” Think About Life – “Havin’ My Baby,” Dananananaykroyd – “Pink Sabbath,” Themselves & Why – “Canada,” Owen – “A Trenchant Critique,” Pterodactyl – “First Daze,” Mika Miko – “I Got A Lot (New New New),” Deastro – “Toxic Crusader,” Cymbals Eat Guitars – “And The Hazy Sea,” etc etc. This list could go on forever…