The fourth day of the list brings on tracks twenty through eleven. We’re closing in on the home stretch now.
20. Wild Light – “California On My Mind”
It’s downright endearing how this band embraces profanity on this record. Puritans, beware: you’re going to hear curse words, and they’re not apologizing for it. Wild Light has created one of the most upbeat angry songs I’ve ever heard. This song personifies the devil-may-care attitude, with simple guitar riffs and drum beats, and an occasional harmonica or tambourine to liven things up a bit. The protagonist is beyond caring about anything anymore, and it’s ambiguous whether he’s angry or just over it. The magic is in the lyrics – “Give me a lake that I can dive into/Bury my head in the shit at the bottom.” Classic.
19. Chiddy Bang – “All Things Go”
Perhaps better known for their MGMT remix “The Opposite of Adults,” this Philadelphia outfit follows the trend of good hip hop artists utilizing independent bands for sampling. In this case, they used Sufjan Stevens’ “Chicago” to sublime effect. The flow is inspired and creative, resulting in one of my favorite lines of the year – “And we be Peter Parker/In love with the Mary Jane.” Lyrics reference an ambition and determination to not fade softly into the night – a great sentiment for the current generation. Overall, it sounds like the future of hip hop, and my arms are wide open to welcome them.
18. Metric – “Help I’m Alive”
There’s a paranoia inherent in the track that really instills in it a frantic, contagious energy. Emily Haines is a talented vocalist, and while I struggle to call this pop or dance, it’s an upbeat song that’s well suited to her range. The tempos shift easily in this song, and guitars, keys, and drums pair in rotating shifts almost. A huge chorus and great hooks prop up Haines’ voice as it sways between throaty and crystal clear. The line “My heart is beating like a hammer” really nails the mood, and it’s repetition works well.
17. Passion Pit – “Sleepyhead”
Technically, this was released on their EP last year, but since it was rereleased on the full length album Manners in May and I can do whatever I want, it counts. The cacophony of samples, claps, harmonies, and swirling keyboards are off-putting at first, and it took me several listens to finally appreciate the rhythm that’s embedded in the piece. It keeps you guessing the entire time, constantly changing instruments and samples, and when you see them live, it’s even more frenzied. If you don’t like it at first, trust me – give it a few more spins. It’s worth the wait.
16. The Avett Brothers – “I And Love And You”
A love song for Brooklyn? Yes, please! These North Carolina brothers hide a timeless love story in a tale about moving to the best of the boroughs. The story isn’t that simple, though – the protagonist is coming to Brooklyn because he’s fleeing a failed relationship. The piano, strings, and harmonies all accompany each other so well, but the real zinger is the line “Three words that became hard to say – I and love and you.” If that’s not an emotional punch to the gut, I don’t know what is.
15. Pete Yorn and Scarlett Johansson – “Relator”
Recorded in 2006 (read as: before She & Him), this pairing works like gin and tonic. Yorn’s a veteran singer/songwriter with a knack for song construction, and Johnasson, surprisingly, doesn’t suck. The smooth track, inspired by Brigitte Bardot and Serge Gainsbourg discussing the end of a relationship, banters back and forth between the vocalists stupendously well. There’s a bounce present here that’s catchy and belies the true intention of the song – they’re breaking up.
14. Miike Snow – “Animal”
When you want to make stellar pop, head straight to the men known to the producing world as Bloodshy & Avant, the team that brought us that epic track known as “Toxic.” Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg, their legal names, join singer/songwriter Andrew Wyatt to make up Miike Snow, one of the truly fresh acts of 2009. Keyboards, synthesizers, drums, and an excellently altered voice create an earworm like none other. If you make music this well, why not create an entirely instrumental minute-long bridge?
13. The Big Pink – “Dominos”
There’s a boisterous tone to this song, a swaggering cockiness of the guitars and drums lambasting you as “These girls fall like dominos” echoes out over the arrangement. The hooks here are massive, and the build-up is superbly executed throughout the song. The raucous energy of the song is perfect to blast in your car or at the local pub. K’naan may have been chosen as an actual sports anthem, but this song has stadium staple written all over it. If only the world had better taste in music.
12. Harlem Shakes – “Strictly Game”
The static that starts the song starts to fade into a set of harmonies a simple drum beat, then a guitar starts to layer over everything; once Lexy Benaim’s vocals begin, the song really starts to coalesce. I throw the word anthem around too liberally, but with lyrics like “This will be a better year…/Make a little money, take a lotta shit/Feel real bad, then get over it,” I think Harlem Shakes has something here. There’s a catharsis involved that really elevates the song above your average radio single. The “Na na na’s” over echoing synthesizers at the end only add to the joy ride.
11. Lily Allen – “The Fear”
She’s come a long way from her debut album, and the ethereal electronic pop of this lead single proves it. The dreamy keyboards and echoing notes encircle her protagonists’ vitriol. Much of the appeal is, in fact, her biting sarcasm – a genial ruthlessness that points out the hypocrisies of the world. Partly a satire based on the pressure-filled world of celebrity/Hollywood and partly a satire on the celebrities themselves (especially the fake celebrities discussed recently on Gawker), “The Fear” is arguably her best song yet. Allen coos over the choruses, noting that the disingenuousness she feels surrounded by may be worst in her.
Only one more piece to go – the top ten. Feel free to agree or disagree in the comments. After all, this is America.
If you’re missing any or all of these songs from your library, how about checking out this page?