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Top Ten

The Year In Songs

Jay Reatard

By Michael Byrne, Lee Gardner and Bret McCabe | Posted 12/10/2008

Consider this less a "best songs" list than a clearinghouse for songs we really, really wanted to write about but didn't get a chance to anywhere else this year. If the smattering that follows means something as a whole it's probably, at least, as further evidence that this was a mega year for rock music of all stripes. What can we say? In the latter months of an already crumbling year, perhaps loud music was just on the brain.

The Do, "Queen Dot Kong"
The debut album from this Paris-based duo of French multi-instrumentalist Dan Levy and sprightly Finnish vocalist Olivia Merilahti (who looks like the love child of Audrey Tautou and Ponytail's Molly Sims) delivers a wonderfully mindless blast of jump-rope jams, and is almost as giggly dance-in-your-underwear fun as Bow Wow Wow. (Almost, that is.) And this totally goofy, faux-rap party starter rides a bouncing swell of horns and beats that playfully tosses around Merilahti's chirping flow, which equal parts Lady Sovereign mouthy and Magali NoŽl breathless. (Bret McCabe)

Harvey Milk, "Decades"
It starts with the "When the Levee Breaks" beat--never a bad place to start--and just gets heavier from there, pausing only for little stop-time breaks in the chorus that underline how much air is getting sucked outta the room. And then the sorta second chorus/bridge/whatever thing turns kinda pretty, which is good 'cause Creston Spiers' pirate/donkey vocals remain one of the more hard-to-acquire tastes in rock. Southern rock should sound more like this more often. (Lee Gardner)

Jay Reatard, "Night Of Broken Glass"
Exactly what it feels like to be drunk, reckless, bitter, and totally in love with being drunk, reckless, and bitter. This is Jay Reatard at his most propulsive and riled. And it's further proof that garages really exist to beat the bloody hell out of pop music in. (Yes, this technically was out in 2007 in real limited form, but got rereleased by Matador en mass this year.) (Michael Byrne)

Killers, "Spaceman"
ďYou know that I was hoping/ That I could leave this star-crossed world behind/ But when they cut me open/ I guess that changed my mind.Ē And why the hell shouldnít Brandon Flowers write an existentialist song about getting kidnapped by spacemen with a pop hook so massive it feels like breaking orbit? (Imagine the sort of pop hook that pre-icky U2 could deliver thrice daily.) And why did the Killers have to stop giving a damn--get goofy--for us to start giving a damn about the Killers? (MB)

Nomo, "Brainwave"
Imagine canny Nordic prog-electro-jazz band Jaga Jazzist jamming with the electricfied Congolese metal-bangers of Konono No. 1. OK, you're done. (LG)

Yelle, "Ce Jeu"
MySpace helped catapult this French indie-pop chameleon into the online music ether when she dissed a male MC for, well, lacking in a certain male region, but this hand-claps, whistles, and Human League-y synths joint is the pop gem. Over the track's effervescent electronic bubbling Yelle sings-speaks "Fou et telemement evident/ Que je n'trouve plus de sens /A ce jeu excitant" in her wily upper register, sounding a bit like France Gall. The song's title--"this game"--naturally refers a fickle attraction that bounces from impudent love to hate and back again. Oh la la. (BM)

Trina featuring Missy Elliott, "I Got a Bottle"
In another universe Trina climbs the Billboard Hot 100 charts and Katy Perry is just another fabulously feckless reveler on Cobrasnake, but until then people who know better will just have to settle for eating up whatever new batch of hotness the Miami queenpip cranks out. Viz. this ass-shaking jolt, on which Trina and Missy Elliott walk into the club wearing superstar clothes, take their picks of the mens, and drink them all under the table. Still the baddest. (BM)

Eat Skull, "Shredders On Fry"
Kids today are so lucky they have worn raw, terminally lo-fi--like, recorded inside a hot water heater lo-fi--nonsense like this to piss off their parents. Too bad for them itís vinyl only. (MB)

Veronicas, "Untouched (Designer Drugs Remix)"
The video for this Australian twin-sisters powered outfit's "Hook Me Up" admittedly makes that track the more instantly fetching than the album version of "Untouched," a strings-spiced dash of synth pop. But the remix from New York's Designer Drugs duo drops a dance-floor pulse behind the song and turns up its melodrama, making the guitar crunch bridges, sudden stops at the end of a verse, and crashing changes feel as absurdly maudlin as an entire season of Dynasty. (BM)

Be Your Own Pet, "Becky"
Be Your Own Pet's "Becky"--kept off the American version of its latest and, sadly, last album, Get Awkward--crams the greatest juvenile delinquency movie ever made into 3 minutes and 2 seconds. Becky used to be a best friend forever, then she started talking shit. Knives get bared, and now the ex-BFF's stuck in cell block two--at least it was fun. We don't like Becky anymore, but BYOP is gonna be sorely missed. (BM)

Kelly Rowland, "Work (Freemasons remix)"
"Dilemma" put a soft spot in the heart for Kelly Rowland, which "Like This" only deepened. So when the Bristol house duo Freemasons remixed her "Work," these ears were already primed. Freemasons dropped a Middle Eastern rhythmic texture behind Rowland's supple voice, quickened the tempo a tad, pushed the low end even further into murky bass, and turned a perfectly ordinary pop R&B track into a funky house anthem. (BM)

Future Islands, "Heart Grows Old"
A great, local, unappreciated trio, Future Islands probably has dozens of smart, little electronic pop songs like this up its sleeve. Vocalist Sam Herring, who, as has been pointed out many times, kind of has a Jack Black thing going on, is relatively in check here making borderline melodrama sound like earnest melancholy. The track also as a synth line that sounds something like a glimmering, barely reverbed harp, which is cool and different from the new wavey power synths that mark many Future Islands songs. A favorite from a favorite band. (MB)

Kid Sister featuring Kanye West, "Pro Nails
Originally issued at the tail end of 2007, this single didn't pick up steam until reissued late last spring, Don't matter, 'cause it's slow-rolling pulse--an interpolation of Project Pat's trunk-rattling "Good Googly Moogly"--provides the bulletproof backing beat for the song's simple statement of an incontrovertible fact: a top notch manicure and pedicure makes you feel fucking unstoppable. (BM)

Four Tet, "Ringer"
Kieran Hebden has been restlessly flitting in and out of musical categories with his Four Tet solo act for years now, but the Ringer EP holds still just long enough for you to pin the word "dance" on it. Not that you couldn't dance to his other stuff if you were determined, or that you can dance to this, but the title track keeps that floor-filling 4/4 pretty steady while he works his usual layered twinkly melodic magic over the top. Not groundbreaking, just really, really good. (LG)

Grouper, "Disengaged"
Take a sleepy, melancholic bedroom songwriter-y tune and imagine it falling, slowly, into solution with some inky body of water. The song, a solid object, loses itself molecule by molecule, losing its sharp features and in time is bobbing gently in a liquid that resembles itself in murky abstract. Yes, itís called reverb, and used like this, its net effect is to make an otherwise lovely song the sort of song that soaks through your skin like mercury with a Xanax payload. (MB)

Matt Baldwin, "Jealous Woman"
Steel-string guitarist Baldwin usually gets lumped in with the "American primitive" movement, although his Paths of Ignition album makes one suspect he's both more sophisticated (Cluster cover) and less (Judas Priest cover) than that. And besides, mostly "American primitive" = "Fahey-y," and this bittersweet stroll is a glowing beauty in that particular tradition. Blind Joe Death lives. (LG)

Fuck Buttons, "Sweet Love For Planet Earth"
Itís difficult to pick a song out of an album whose major strength is in its surprising, well, albumness. But this track, Street Horrrsingís second longest at 9:41, captures the sense of organic progression and development of the whole nicely, growing in measured gradations from cool ambience to demonically possessed vocal outburst over reverberating guitar that makes you think if electricity could have weight . . . segueing into the drum circle that starts the next track. One thing about this song, and most of the record, is that, however much it seems to want to be an abrasive noise track, itís tempered by slow, wide ripples of reverb and twinkling melodies, like watching a bowling ball fly through a chandelier in slow motion. (MB)

The Twilight Singers, "Live With Me"
Mark Lanegan is no Terry Callier, the vocalist on the Massive Attack original, but he is a fine Mark Lanegan, all gravel and grumble and weariness. The weariness works especially well for this abject, desperate love song, and its core domestic message helps nullify the slight abject, desperate creepy that tends to accompany Lanegan's co-singer Greg Dulli everywhere. So win-win. (LG)

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