Saturday, January 1, 2011

Best Music Singles of 2010--sort of

Over the past few weeks, many many many media outlets of all sorts have compiled their "Best Of" lists for 2010. I like to skim through/watch/listen to such things and compare their content to what's rolling around in this lil' brain o' mine. Sticking to only 2010 seems reasonable; the Buffalo News music editor, Jeff Miers, just published a best of the DECADE and I don't even want to know how long he took to sort through that hot mess, but congrats to Miers for his tenacity even as I disagree with most of his choices....Anyway, I'm sticking to this year only and pitching individual songs, just for the sake of time limits, an aging memory, and maybe a good selection, if you will.

Many lists I've read use the "Best 10 of 10" model probably due to our natural penchant for numbers that match and logistical tidiness like decades, Januarys and whatnot. Hhuummph. I tried for 10 songs released as singles during 2010 that positively altered my musical reality, and I think I've revealed to myself that I am not hip anymore. AT ALL. I was amazed at what "new" music I listened to and actually liked, and I totally struggled to find 10 such songs from 2010. I came up with seven, and my avoidance of Gaga/Kanye/things of that nature terribly narrowed the playing field. What a year! AND, a few of my choices were actually released in 2009 (made most popular in 2010, so that's my rationale/disclaimer). Sheesh! With that, below are my Best 7 of 10 (see? just doesn't have that smooth ring to it *sigh*) with explanations. Feel free to add the other three from your musical cache. And, Happy New Year!

7. "Half of My Heart"--John Mayer with Taylor Swift
We know of John Mayer as a public goofball, but I have always liked his songwriting and the minimalist simplicity in his guitar aesthetic. He's a hell of musician (a statement that will undoubtedly spark debate. So bring it!). This song has an easy-breezy sway to it and his vocals are convincing and calm. I had NO IDEA it was Taylor Swift on the vocal harmony at first which, again, makes my current musical awareness a disgrace. Mon Dieu! I can't keep up with everything. Anyway, this song seems to calm Mayer as it matures Swift. I like the guitar melodic motive throughout, and the not-yet-trite rhythmic gesture he uses almost as a subtle high point 2:50 in, the "half of my" that chops off that last pending beat. It's an unexpected moment that's not jolting and feels instead like he's taking a startled inhalation, a reawakening of pain but reflective rather than fearful. Good song. One other thing: we have never been John Mayer, but we can certainly fill our own shoes with this song at some point in our lives. Nicely done.

6. "Beautiful"--Apocalyptica
This band had me years ago when they did Metallica covers using an ensemble of cellos as Metallica substitutes. Who would have thought? Me likey the cello either solo or in large groups (the best ever--Arvo Pärt's "Fratres" for 12 cellos....TWELVE!!!!). This is an ethereal piece for Apoc. tucked smartly within a mediocre metal-rock album riddled (sadly) with guest singers and European-sounding guitar production. Gavin Rossdale, for example, sings on the album's first single in wide release.....underwhelming. But "Beautiful" is a graceful glint of hazy sunlight amid a rather gray and clumsy record. And, again....CELLOS!

5. "Secrets"--OneRepublic
Discovered this song one afternoon driving along the I-90 to work (teaching college students how to appreciate music, of all things!). The opening riff sounds like a processed studio cello solo *sigh* yet struck me as almost familiar. Once I could consult my iTunes library, I confirmed that the opening segment and chord progression (during the intro and subsequent verses) "borrows" SEVERELY from the "Prelude" of J.S. Bach's The 6 Unaccompanied Cello Suites, Suite No. 1 composed in 1720-ish (Bach's diaries of his own compositional ways remains "ish-ish" but the year 1720 is close enough-ish). I prefer the Yo-Yo Ma recordings of Bach's delicious morsels and always will. Anyway, the weird thing about this blatant smash of music history and modern music business is that according to OneRepublic's public forum and the Timbaland website content, the "Secrets" cello melody and chord progression are original, inspired to pop greatness by the band members themselves. But holy canoli, Batman....the speed, tempo, "flow," timbre, and musical character that pushes this song forward, in my humble opinion, comes from JSB: altered, co-opted, re-energized, not apologized for (is it too laaaaaaaaate?). Still, the singer's delivery is distinctive and lovely, and the use of such Baroque tools in the hands of ProTools is somehow disturbing yet satisfying. Call me crazy, and I'll agree. Perhaps someone affiliated with this song took a Music Appreciation course at one point and, as we all do, fell in love with Bach. That's my story and I'm stickin' to it.

4. "Love the Way You Lie"--Eminem
I know. I hear the groan you are making, I see the eyebrow raised. Really, I do. Eminem did enough face-planting on every available media junket this year that he can disappear for a few years again (and we hope this time it won't include rehap and/or suicidal tendencies). But, he cannot be ignored. This is the song from the new record that showcases his crazy-person outlook on the world while reviving the thing that got him farther down the road than his favorite highway exit: his rap and rhythm are ammunition and inspiration. He says what we don't want to hear (but do) and confesses to the world what we live in (but do not want to). Beatings? Burnings? Threats? Death? Nope, not in my lifetime.*fingers-crossed/pinkie-swear.* Aaaannnnd, I am in the car singing along merrily with Rihanna, cuz I love the way he lies. Actually, at this point, it's word-for-word along with Marshall. Seriously.

3. "Radioactive"--Kings of Leon
You may know my absolute love for the Followills. I mean, I'm ready to hug the band members, parents, aunts, cousins-twice-removed, you name them. It's been this way since I stumbled upon this gangly group of (then) teenagers when they cracked open the thunder-clouded skies at Bonnaroo in 2004. My use of "stumbled" is no lie: the July weather in Tennessee was hot and the mid-western Budweiser in RooVillage was cold. Anyway, the song restates "It takes a village" and includes a gentle confession that "This village is not what I'm used to experiencing so I hope the old one is still there." The chords are simple. The lyrics SEEM simple yet provide a dose of interpretive leverage that allows tradition to become revolution. KOL's ability to land so solidly in their own turf and acknowledge the rest of the world lies at the heart of this song, and them. Plus, it's so fucking fun to sing!!!...either the melody, the first harmony, and when my voice is lucey-goosey, the highest harmony (congrats on those Nathan!). OH, and the video. Overdubbing the kids singing. Seeing the band opportunistically play in meadows with picnics and bringing it Back Down South now. And, I have put in another "And"...witnessing 20-somethings address Civil Rights, issues of "belonging," winning while losing, and rockin' out to it all warms my heart. Yahoo! So, with many due respects and without further ado, here's the Buffalo Village taking a crack the lyrics beginning at 1:12, just to share the love: "It's in the water/it's in the snowstorms/of where we came from/our sons and daughters/with all their snowplows /it's gonna shape 'em/and when they freeze/and come together and start snugglin'/it's in the water/where you came from...where you came from."

2. "Little Lion Man"--Mumford & Sons
With a name that sounds like a men's clothing store, I overlooked this band initially. A review of their debut album in Rolling Stone also failed to entice me. Once again, my college students came to my rescue. Perhaps sensing my need for hipness, one of my oh-so-smart 20-year olds handed me a copy of Sigh No More and boldly suggested that I "watch out for 'Little Lion Man.'" NICE!!! Now I'm interested. I threw the CD into my car stereo at 9pm that night after teaching a long day and looking at a long ride home in heavy heavy rain. Annnnnnnd, this CD blew my mind. "Little Lion Man" sounds like a furious and feverish stomping bruhaha in the pouring rain where no matter how hard your feet hit the mud, redemption never comes. My heart was racing, I was singing along like a madwoman, and laughing gleefully. Good Lord! The video adds to the hysterically honest charm of the song (and the band). Actually, I almost swapped "The Cave" (whose video is better) for "Little Lion Man," except that I couldn't resist typing out "LLM"'s chorus in this post. In fact, a-hem, I may have to tell a person or two these words, especially as the new year brings the clean slate forward: "But it was not your fault but mine/And it was your heart on the line/I really fucked it up this time/didn't I, my dear?" Allllrighty then.

#1. "Chances"--Five For Fighting
This one surprised me for both being on this list and perched as #1. Hard to describe. Also, released in 2009, I honestly did not hear this song until the credits rolled at the end of The Blind Side and I reached for a new box of Kleenex (note: the song didn't do well on the charts, so perhaps that why I missed it? another note: as much as The Blind Side got slightly criticized for being too predictable, I cried like a baby almost all the way through it.....these things happen). So, here are the factors that contribute to "Chances" being played over and over and over when I'm home alone to enjoy such things: I've always like this band, or the dude John Ondrasik (whose real first name is Vladimir!!! Good stuff) and the story behind it/him. Being raised in LA, he went to college for math and science yet studied music along the way. Music and math make a sweet combo. In fact, the first chorus says "Chances are/we'll find a new equation." Hee hee. Clever math reference which totally works when dealing with human relationships; I'm intrigued by his voice, the way his falsetto breaks PERFECTLY on "Chaaaaan-ces are..."; The lyrics read like a poem, and like most of FFF's songs, tug at the heart as if an anchor was wrapped around it and sinking slowly. The piano part is easy and fun to play, the chord progression is simple, and the bass leads us smoothly and gently through this story of hopeful yearning. Without realizing it, I think I attached this song to my struggle this past year to work through my Dissertation problems, fears, and accomplishments as this part of my life comes to an end (hopefully) in April when I graduate. Thinking of being "PHinally Done" (ha! get it?!?! PhD? PHinally Done? That's Nerd Kingdom humor right there, baby!) is both exhilarating and terrifying. It brings up what this project has cost as well as the courage that I need to just fucking finish it and claim the unknown future. Lines like "Chances lost are hope's torn up pages," make my mouth go dry every once in a while, and I hold tightly to the final chorus: "Chances are the fascinations/Chances won't escape from me/Chances are only what we make them/And all I need."

Happy 2011. Can't wait to hear what's coming next..... :)

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