Saturday, December 22, 2012

On Warmer Music's Favorite Songs of 2012 [20-11]

Here's more good music. I mean like, awesome-ass songs. Hope you enjoy. (I also realize that I've been using a lot of baseball metaphors in some of these descriptions. I'm clearly in withdrawal, just go with it.)

See Songs 30-21

20. "Theraflu" (or, if you must, "Cold") - Kanye West  Buy Cruel Summer
Dammit Kanye, I just can't quit you. Despite the gilded mediocrity that was Watch The Throne, despite all the posse-aided flab on Cruel Summer, despite deciding that you actually ARE gonna "rock a mink coat in summertime," despite the ridiculousness of your fashion quest, dammit I still gotta listen! Renamed "Cold" after the makers of Theraflu objected to its objectively more awesome title, this song sees Kanye borrowing a DJ Khaleed beat then taking a few minutes to treat the fuck out of his legions of haters before getting back to whatever cartoonish adventures he happened to be up to. It may lack the excoriating self-examination of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and it's practically a direct rejection of the wounded self-doubt of 808's & Heartbreak or his more conscious tracks on his first three records, but "Theraflu" is basically Kanye deigning to hop off the bench, step up to the plate and rake a double to the gap on the first pitch, just to show that he still can.
19. "Golden" - Kelly Hogan  Buy I Like To Keep Myself In Pain
On an album full of songs by the likes of Vic Chestnut, Robyn Hitchcock and Jon Langford, I love the fact that the best of the bunch was written by Kelly Hogan herself. Initially inspired by her friend and collaborator Neko Case (btw, do check out their Twitter exchanges if you ever get the chance, they're adorable and hilarious), she's said the song is a more general, "you go y'all" affirmation and, as a (relatively) poor aspiring writer, that sentiment was easy to take to hear this year. Some six months after its release, the song already sounds wonderfully dusty and road-worn with Scott Ligon's honky-tonkin' guitar playing off Booker T.'s heavenly organ while Kelly sings words of sweet succor in your ear. Like the rest of her music, "Golden" is wise, fun and soulful and it never fails to bring a smile to my face.
18. "Blood Red Youth" - California Wives  Buy Art History
I've had my eye on California Wives for a while. Although they're a Chicago band, their name is aptly chosen, as their songs evoke sunshine, youth and the glimmering promise of coastal living. I've mentioned that their debut, Art History was a bit same-y at times, but its highlights were airy slices of pop joy. "Blood Red Youth" shows their formula and it's sleek, engaging best. Starting with just a bass, drums and whispered vocals, the song builds adding tinkling guitars here a synth wash there building to a sudden outburst of guitar or soaring chorus. It's a winning formula, wonderfully executed that should earn the song a spot on teenage mixtapes and Kia commercials for years to come - and I actually mean that in a good way.
17. "Would That Not Be Nice" - Divine Fits  Buy A Thing Called Divine Fits
In lieu of actually getting a new goddamn Spoon album (I realize that it's technically only been two years since Transference, but January 2010 was so long ago), I knew that I'd have to content myself with whatever gems Britt Daniel decided to include on A Thing Called The Divine Fits. Although his team-up with Dan Boeckner was a mixed bag, it did include what could have easily passed for a Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga bonus track in the slinky "Would That Not Be Nice." Starting with a "Don't You Evah"-esque bassline, the song utilizes practically every trick in the Spoon bag. There's the taught, restrained blasts of guitar, the fitted shirt funkiness, dub effects on the vocals and Daniel's opaque, meticulously delivered lines about things like "a candelabra from California" (plus how great is the way he says "Minneapolis"?). 
16. "Won't Fuck Us Over (feat. BBU & Annie Hart)" - The Hood Internet  Buy Feat
I've already written about this one for Spectrum Culture, but it's worth reiterating just how much this song hit the sweet spot. BBU were easily my most-played artist of the year and both their collabs with the beatmeisters in the Hood Internet were indelible earworms. "Won't Fuck Us Over" rides Annie Hart's sweet take on the hook from "Mr. November" as the boys in BBU mused about Obama. The question of whether to view him as a sellout or hands-tied reformer was one that I wrested with all year. Thanks to this song, I could also dance to it.
15. "Help Me" - Screaming Females  Buy Ugly
Marissa Paternoster has had a rough year, battling health issues that are no doubt exacerbated by her still very low-budget touring schedule, so it seems fitting that my favorite song of hers is "Help Me." The album it's draw from, Ugly was a tour-de-force of bash-it-out punk, spearheaded by Paternosters's seemingly inexhaustible bag of six-stringed awesomeness. The song is a twisting, turning guitar odyssey  as Marissa puts her instrument through the paces wringing all manner of sound from it without batting an eyelash. It's a magnificent display, moving from satisfying crunch to shimmering finger-picking to piercing wail with all of it slathered in the oh-so-slightly-cleaned up basement feedback courtesy of Steve Albini. If this doesn't inspire kids all over the country to ask their parents for electric guitars for their birthday, I don't know what possibly could.

14. "M.A.A.D City (feat. MC Eiht)" - Kendrick Lamar  Buy good kid, M.A.A.D city
A menacing two-part epic, "M.A.A.D City" is at the heart of Kendrick's Lamar's devastating autobiographic journey through the heart of Compton. "Seems like the whole city go against me," Lamar frets, as his attempts to rise of above the gang violence that surrounds him puts him on the radars of ever banger in the area. MC Eiht cameos as chilling interrogator asking, "fuck who you know, where you from, my nigga?" with the threat of violence always evident. In the second half we hear Lamar dreaming of a better life that the violent, drugged-out, alcoholic existence he sees all around him and learn about his first, unfortunate brush with "My Angel Angel Dust," from which the song and album derives it's name. Starting with the brutal swagger of a modern club jam before morphing into an early '90s Tupac or Dre pastiche, Lamar weaves inspired guest spots from Eiht and Schoolboy Q in alongside his own desperate raps, creating a track that feels like half-memoir, half-reportage but still bounces like there's no tomorrow. 
13. "Running On The Ocean Floor" - Yoni Gordon  Buy The Hard Way
It took a few months of close deadlines and limited free time to give me the distance to appreciate just how much I enjoyed Yoni Gordon, but listening to him while writing my year-end lists has been a chance to remember all over again how dearly I love this album. "Running On The Ocean" floor is windows-down power pop, pure and simple. I've already waxed poetic about it and I don't have too much to add here other than just how affirming this song is for me. The pounding drums, start-stop dynamics and razor sharp guitars are all designed for maximum endorphin release but what really puts it over the top is the lyrics. I'm a sucker for songs in the "Keep On Pushing" mold and this is certainly one of those. It's impossible to sing along (which you will start doing) to a song like this without smiling and no year-end list is complete without a few of those. Thanks, Yoni.
12. "The Descent" - Bob Mould  Buy Silver Age
How can a song so dark sound so triumphant? I guess it's Bob Mould's specialty, so it's pointless to ask why, especially given that he's not sounded this good since Sugar's early-'90s heyday. "The Descent" certainly sounds like a slice of guitar heavy alt-rock straight outta 1994 with distorted power chords crashing down all around Mould as he pours his heart out. Singing to an old friend (lover?), he seems to be making amends for some unspecified crime that's finally caught up to him after all these years. It's an odd sentiment because in his real life it would appear that Mould is finally taking a victory lap as one of the giants that created alternative music in America, with Husker Du in the '80s and Sugar in the '90s. But just like any good restless indie rocker, Mould isn't resting on his laurels following book deals and reissues, instead he's writing songs that stand proudly against anything put out by the legions of current musicians he's gone on to inspire. If this is the sound of Bob Mould's "descent," it only shows how rareified the air was in his previous location.
11. "Super Rich Kids (feat. Earl Sweatshirt)" - Frank Ocean  Buy Channel Orange
Channel Orange was so packed with great songs that it was almost a coin flip between this, "Thinkin' Bout You" and "Bad Religion." What set "Super Rich Kids" apart for me though was its single-like catchiness that had me singing the chorus to myself all summer, often against my will. It's a lonely song, full of people desperately unhappy and not quite sure why or what to do about it. As with all of Ocean's sketches, he invests so much empathy in his characters that by the end of the song, you start to feel for these poor neglected rich kids, sitting on their roofs. They're so bored and unfulfilled by their lives yet too scared to risk anything, to jump off the roof, to find something more. While Ocean sings about the kids' lives from the inside, Earl Sweatshirt's verse helps elucidate what they look like to everyone else: young, angry stupid and misdirected. These are the entitled suburbanites we read about doing foolish and illegal things that makes everyone else shake their head and wonder "why would they do that? They've been given so much." Yes, they have, Ocean might respond - and that's part of the problem.

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