It’s no secret that I’m an albums guy. One look at my extensive year-end “Top Albums” list, and it’s clear that I’m a purist at heart, almost always listening to an album from start to finish. However, there is the rare occasion where I’ll queue up a specific song to fit the mood or raise my spirits. The list below contains 25 of those songs that I found myself searching out (why 25? Because I couldn’t cut it down to 20). You will not find many songs from albums on my “Top Albums” list simply because if it’s a great album, I’m probably not going to skip tracks. Instead, you will mostly hear songs that were stand-outs on albums that didn’t quite make the grade. If you are expecting a list that is of the same caliber as my “Top Albums” run-down, you are about to be greatly disappointed. But if you’re up for checking out some of those songs that got multiple replays on my iPod in 2014, the following list should provide you with an entertaining mix.
Tag Archives: beck
Last Saturday night I found myself caught up in one of those time-wasting YouTube loops that usually spiral into another wasted evening. It all started with me searching out the 90s MTV show “Squirt TV,” a late night talk show that was filmed in the bedroom of teenager Jake Fogelnest. What originally started as a cable access show was turned into an interview show that brought the likes of GZA, Liz Phair, and Sean Lennon into Fogelnest’s bedroom. I thoroughly enjoyed this shortly run program. Maybe it was because I was around the same age or maybe it was because I liked the idea of having my music heroes visit my bedroom. Whatever the case, that strange little show has stuck with me after all these years (as a side-note, Fogelnest is a great follow on Twitter: @JakeFogelnest).
The Corin Tucker Band
I always thought Carrie Brownstein was the more punk rock of the ladies in Sleater Kinney. I always thought she had the fire, the anger, and the edge that counteracted Corrin Tucker’s more feminine approach. I was wrong. So wrong.
I’m a sucker for trumpets, especially when they sound this damn dreamy.
73. “Theme From ‘Cheers””
Looking back on my year, one memory that stands out the most is when me and BDWPS contributer PtheStudP visited Cheers in downtown Boston. After a two-hour marathon at a beer festival, our tour guide Steph led us to Cheers where her friend Justin was bartending. What I thought was going to a quick tourist visit turned into hours of drunken splendor. Soon the variety of beers and shots somehow turned into a night of boisterous chanting of “U-S-A!”, “Lord-By-ron!”, and “Tom Arn-old!” This song brings me back to that night, not necessarily because of the reference to Cheers in the title, but the chorus that could have easily been one of our chants that night: “So let’s get fucked up, and let’s pretend we’re all okay, and if you’ve got something you can’t live with, save it for another day. Save it for another day.”
72. “Bloodbuzz Ohio”
After carrying The National’s Matt Berninger to Ohio, I’d like that same swarm of bees to visit Jim Tressel’s house.
71. “Tame On the Prowl”
In most cases, my adoration of The Medications stems from trying to untangle the vine of intertwined guitar licks in each song. “Tame On the Prowl” continues this tradition, but also features a melody that will quickly wrap around your Hippocampus.
70. “Whores; The Movie”
Not only is “Whores; The Movie” a stellar song, but it would also make a great movie (preferably in 3-D).
69. “Leave You Forever”
I could never leave this song forever.
68. “Apartment Wrestling”
Maximum Balloon (featuring David Byrne)
If you’ve ever wondered what TV On the Radio would sound like if they joined forces with The Talking Heads, it’s as amazing as you expected.
67. “Grief Point”
This is not really a song, rather an audio-short-film, or an audio-psycho analysis, or maybe just the ramblings of a confused artist. Whatever the case, this eight minute insight into the mind of Dan Bejar and his view of music at this point in his career is fascinating. Earlier this year, Bejar discussed ending his recording career altogether (fortunately he didn’t with a new album coming out soon), and this B-side to his “Archer on the Beach” EP captures him in the midst of this confusion of what role his music plays in both his life and his listeners. Plus, I just like the imagery of “picnic baskets filled with blood”. Call me a hopeless romantic!
66. “Fresh Hex”
Tobacco (featuring Beck)
“Maniac Meat” is such a fun fucking album and on “Fresh Hex” Beck joins the party, giving the album his own fresh take on their energetic sound.
65. “Pop Culture (revisited)”
The Ponys originally formed in Chicago back in 2001, and one of their earliest songs was “Pop Culture”. For whatever reason, this song never made it onto a major record, only being heard during live performance. I can still remember them playing this song when I first saw them live four years ago. But in 2010, with the release of their song EP “Deathbed Plus 4”, “Pop Culture (revisited)” was finally released from captivity, and it sounds as lively as ever.
64. “Swim Until You Can’t See Land”
Water has always represented rebirth, and on “Swim Until You Can’t See Land” singer Scott Hutchison swims not only for a renewal, but also to feel alive again.
63. “You Must Be Out of Your Mind”
The Magnetic Fields
This past year I’ve had to learn how to forgive others, and also tried to gain forgiveness for those I’ve hurt. In both cases this isn’t the easiest of tasks. As the person who was wronged, there is some agitation with the idea that by simply saying “I’m sorry” that everything goes back to the way they were. They don’t and they never will. But as the person asking for forgiveness, you can’t “simply press rewind” and things will be they way they once were no matter how bad you would like them to. Stephin Merritt’s snarky lyrics take on the persona of the one burned, and his stance can be either an anthem for moving on or a eulogy for a relationship (depending one what side of the forgiveness fault-line you stand).
Fresh & Onlys
The Fresh & Onlys are time travelers, but instead of going to the past, they’ve come to us from the 60s, bringing with them a sound that has been long forgotten. Amazingly, a song like “Waterfall” grows out of the oldies, yet sounds like nothing else on the radio. This is the type of song that would lead Marty McFly to say, “I guess you guys aren’t ready for that yet, but your grandparents loved it.”
61. “Below the Hurricane”
At first this seems like a beautiful little folk song, but halfway through the band kicks it up a notch with Doobie Brother’s persona that is sweetened with a couple drops of harmonica.
60. “I Learned the Hard Way”
Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings
The only thing I don’t like about this song is the fact that she never defines exactly what this guy did to turn her into such a bitter old maid.
59. “Mr. Peterson”
This eerie song tells the story of a teacher, Mr. Peterson, leaving a note on a student’s paper telling them to meet him at a certain time and place. For some reason, the narrator meets up with the teacher, smokes weed with him, and possibly has sex with him (although this event is only inferred). When the teacher goes on to kill himself, the narrator doesn’t necessarily hold a grudge toward him. Instead, the speaker hopes that Mr. Peterson can find a place where he’s wanted, even if that place be hell.
So yeah, this songs kinda depressing.
The New Pornographers
After their lackluster 2007 release “Challengers”, I’d kinda written The New Pornographers off. It just seemed like their sound had run its course and had no where else to go. But on their latest release, “Together”, the band has found new ways to eek a little more life out of their collective, especially on a song like “Moves” that amps up their classic sound with a driving orchestral addition.
57. “Suffering Season”
I made the mistake this summer of defining Woods as the next Neil Young. The falsetto vocals do conjure up images of Sir Neil, but a song like “Suffering Season” shows the band is influenced by many other voices of the past (possibly the Mamas and the Papas?).
In just two minutes, Ty Segall will have you singing along. That has to be some type of record.
55. “Favourite Food”
Tokyo Police Club
Getting old stinks, a point this song pounds into the ground. Not only have I had to face the facts that I’m no longer young, but my parent’s aging has become apparent, a notion that scares me. When the lyrics say “cause it’s sweet getting old” followed by “Let the hospital be your home”, I can’t help but feel that Tokyo Police Club are being morbidly ironic. I would like to believe that there is some hope hidden within the metaphors of this riveting song, but I can’t seem to find them.
54. “Written in Reverse”
With all that screaming and punching of piano keys, something must have really pissed Britt Daniels off. But unlike the Incredible Hulk, you’ll like Britt when he’s angry.
I really should start listening to some R Kelly. A couple of years ago I couldn’t quit listening to Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s cover of R. Kelly’s “The Word’s Greatest”. This year Sam Amidon, who is known for his modern interpretations of classic folk songs, switched his routine by taking R. Kelly’s “Relief” and giving it a more classic ambience. On second thought, I’ll just stick to people covering R. Kelly.
Even though it’s the third track on “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”, “POWER” is the introduction to the Shakespearan tale found on this album. In it, Kanye portrays a man dealing with the struggles of being in power. At times he seems arrogant and aloof, but near the end of the song the listener begins hearing a man realizing that the one thing he doesn’t have power over is himself. By the time the outro arrives, the speaker is standing on a ledge envisioning himself jumping, saying, “This would be a beautiful death”.
Oh, and did I mention it samples King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man”?
51. “He Would Have Laughed”
A lot of great musicians died in 2010 (Captain Beefheart, Ronnie James Dio, Mark Linkous), but the most devastating loss in my view was the death of Jay Reatard simply because Jay had so much left to create, so must potential. Being friends with Jay, Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox wrote “He Would Have Laughed” in dedication to the lost genius. I’m not sure if the song is necessarily about Jay with its abstract lyrics, although there is something there within the lyrics “Where do all my friends go?” and “What did you want to be?”. I think the connection to Jay’s life is found within the music its self, with the slow progression that eventually goes into a euphoric swell, but then, just like Jay’s life, the song just suddenly stops. Fuck.
Ten years ago Beck could do no wrong, moving effortlessly from one genre to the next, whether it be his sexual-funk fest “Midnight Vultures” or his somber, sad symphony on “Sea Change”. The latter part of the decade he had a few bumps in the road with “Guero” and “The Information” (SongSucks has always asserted that if you take half the songs off both albums and combined them, you’d have another Beck masterpiece). I think the only real problem with these two albums was a lack of focus. After exploring every nook and cranny of pop music, Beck seemed to be jumping around from sound to sound without any real guidance.
In need of a reset button, Beck turned to Danger Mouse for counsel, letting the Dark Lord of Production pull the heart out of Beck’s music, leaving the same monotonous, jerky stylings that have plagued anything that the Dark Lord touches. Although the album somehow got nominated for a Grammy (since when have Grammys mattered?), the album didn’t get as favorable of a reception from critics. PopMatters wrote:
“Whereas his preceding body of work surprised, soothed and flowed with resounding consistency, his latest unassertively lingers in redundancy…Part of the problem is that Danger Mouse’s strategy—his signature go-go rhythm (oom pah pa oom pa) over a simple but prominent bass line—is beaten to a pulp in its overuse here, and in pop generally.”
You mean to say Danger Mouse is a one trick pony? How dare they! The Guardian was not very friendly either:
“So richly scented is producer Danger Mouse’s take on late 1960s/early 70s psychedelic rock – a genre done to death, if not beyond – that you begin to wonder if Beck is flagging up the end of music itself…perhaps this is a good time to say goodbye.”
Good bye to Beck? How can we let go of this quirky genius so easily? There is still hope, isn’t there? Or did Danger Mouse ruin him for good? Well, I think Beck took the hint. After a couple of years in hiding, Beck realized he couldn’t return re-hashing what he’d done before. He had to re-invent himself. And that’s exactly what he did.
Like the smoke monster in “Lost”, Beck had to find himself a dead John Locke, a vehicle to move his music forward, another voice to convey his art, a new point of view: he had to become a woman. French songstress Charlotte Gainsbourg to be exact. She seemed the perfect choice; afterall, Beck basically plagiarized his “Sea Change” sound from Charlotte’s dad, Serge Gainsbourg (believe me, I love “Sea Change”, but try listening to it right after Serge’s ode to pedophilia “Histoire de Melody Nelson” and you can’t deny the influence).
The premise of “IRM” is Charlotte singing Beck’s songs and it works incredibly well. Beck is free from the constraints of what his fans may expect of him and is allowed to experiment in new, refreshing ways. Unlike “Modern Guilt’s” stale drum tracks, Beck returns to the world of live percussion, embellishing his music with massive, building drum fills that rumble with attitude. The acoustic guitars natural reverberations return to the forefront, giving the album that raw, natural echo that got completely sucked out by that vacuum of chaos, Danger Mouse. On songs like “Me and Jane Doe”, this organic approach works beautifully alongside Beck’s sparing use of production, using only a dash of his ghostly voice oohing-and-ahhing in the back-drop.
This is probably my favorite song on the album. It’s just so happy and the lyrics are solid:
Beck doesn’t completely re-invent himself here. The Serge Gainsbourg orchestration returns to Beck’s repertoire, giving songs like “Vanaties” and “Voyage” a dramatic effect. Instead of creating an album that jumps from one genre to the next, Beck realizes he can combine all that he’s learned over the years, melding “Sea Changes” with “Mutations”, “Odelay”, and “Mellow Gold” in one fell swoop. The most Serge-ian track though would have to be the darkly haunting “Le Chat Du Cafe Des Artistes”, a song entirely sung in French. When translated, the lyrics are disturbing and, in a strange way, romantic:
Put me in a trashcan
Let me rot for a month
And from there throw me to the cat
May he decline my spleen and my liver
But choose the right time so that he eats my heart
Okay, my idea of romance may be a little misguided. Regardless, check out this incredible song:
This album’s success is a result of Gainsbourg’s voice, providing a focus that Beck had lost and giving him a chance to have fun again. Only on the Mutations-esque sounding “Heaven Can Wait” does Beck step out of the shadows, providing back-up vocals to the upbeat melody. It is the most fitting choice for Beck’s reincarnation with lyrics that re-assure us that there is life after Danger Mouse:
Heaven can wait
and hell’s too far ago
what you need and what you know
I thought James Mercer could do no wrong. I thought he was a musical Jedi, untouchable, infallible. With his serene tenor voice and wry, imagery laced lyrics, he seemed to be unstoppable. Yes, the last Shin’s album “Wincing the Night Away” was their weakest to date, yet it still holds up and is filled with classic Mercer gems. Then he met the Senator Palpatine of the music industry, the villainous Danger Mouse, sucking the soul out of artists, one song at a time. And somehow, the indestructible Mercer gave in to the darkness, allowing the Mouse into his realm, tweaking and blurring anything that resembled Mercer’s music, slowly transforming them into a mangled mess of melodies.
If you haven’t figured out yet, the union of Mercer and Mouse via their musical project Broken Bells has left me angered and frustrated (“Bob Dylan Hates Danger Mouse Week” was created as a reaction to seeing another of my favorite artists allow this pest into their world). First Beck. Then Damon Albarn. Now Mercer? Enough is enough! This is like allowing a street artist to add some touch-ups to a Van Gogh! As a result, these artists are now all left as shells of their former selves, an army of musical zombies, marching to Danger Mouse’s choppy, repetitive drum loops.
The first track on Broken Bell’s debut album (let’s hope it’s their last) gives hope that maybe the Mouse didn’t hold Mercer’s sound up for ransom. Yes, it features the tinny drums and Mouse’s self-serving embellishments in the form of an annoying synth line, but Mercer’s voice is up front and center, belting out a catchy melody. On first listen, I began to wonder if Mercer’s incredible vocals were too powerful to succumb to the Mouse. Track two continues the vibe that all may still be well for James Then 30 seconds into the song Danger Mouse shoots his load right in your earhole, letting you know who’s boss. The sixties vibe that has become the producer’s staple bursts onto the scene, and that plodding bassline returns. I HATE Danger Mouse’s basslines. HATE. They are always mechanical, choppy, and simply sterile. This is the bassline that made Gnarl’s Barkley’s “Crazy” so unique at the time. Instead of being the soulful bass common in R&B, Danger Mouse switched the flip, making the backbone of the song sound nerdy. But you know what? It worked once. Stop going to the well of irritating basslines! This is also the same bassline that destroyed Beck’s “Modern Guilt”. And on Broken Bells, it once again resurfaces, and resurfaces…and resurfaces. Damn it!
From track two on you are taken on a disastrous journey that would make any Griswold cower in fear. With most of his other debacles, Danger Mouse at least finds a focus with his production. Not this time. Every song jumps from one style to the next, awkwardly moving from 80s dance to 60 psychedelia without any transition. It almost feels like the Mouse is trying to upstage Mercer, to battle him, to take him completely out of the mix. Often, Mercer is buried in reverb and filtered through distortion.
This is the biggest sin Danger Mouse has committed to date. Mercer’s best asset is his voice, yet you choose to mask it with so many effects that all that makes Mercer unique is completely erased. This is like having David Lee on your Fantasy Basketball team and opting to start Eddy Curry instead. You just don’t do it. You just don’t.