Random Video: Thin Blue Flame

There’s something about this song that is very much of its time and place. Released in 2006, The Animal Years by Josh Ritter is steeped in political disgust and spiritual malaise. Nowhere are those feelings more pronounced than on the penultimate track, the anti-war strummer, “Thin Blue Flame.”

Yet, like the best political songs of Dylan and his ilk, there is also a timelessness in the anger and frustration expressed. We tend to stick by the president when he’s ‘our guy’ and eviscerate him when he’s on the other side, no matter what he does. But sometimes righteous anger isn’t about political parties, but about an entire system that fails the people. That kind of frustration is universal (and unavoidable).

Which is why songs like this will always exist.

The Animal Years

Random Video: Wish You Were Here

This is my favorite love song, even though it’s from Ryan’s most uneven album. This is the sort of song that, if a girl likes this song, I’ll immediately fall head over heels. It’s kind of childish, very nihilistic and totally unhealthy, and in that way, it is pretty much everything that I have experienced love to be.

“You know you’re so fucked up / You know I couldn’t help but have it for you” says it all.

So, here’s to fucked up, nearly unconscious, fall-to-the-ground drunk love, and the girl who I wish was here.

Random (4th of July) Video: American Woman

At one point in my life, I owned The Best of the Guess Who on cassette, CD and vinyl (you know, back when I owned things).  They are one of those bands that aren”t necessarily cool (unless you believe Lester Bang), but they produced some great rock songs, including this one (forget Lenny Kravitz’s nuance-free suck version of it).

I took guitar lessons when I was kid – no surprises there – and came away knowing almost nothing about how to play guitar, but I did know how to play this song, including the quiet intro of the extended version.  I probably couldn’t play it anymore, but the song still rocks, in a completely non-ironic way.

To all the American Women, this one goes out to you.  Happy 4th.

Random Video: Writing To Reach You

Man, this song is morose.  The whole album is, really (it includes that classic of mopey rock, “Why Does It Always Rain on Me?”).  But I still love it, and how could I not?  A song called, “Writing To Reach You” by an ubër-sincere Brit-Pop band at the turn of the century?  It’s like it was crafted in a laboratory specifically for me.

Travis was never given sufficient credit for their sly wit, in my opinion, as their lyrics always had a throwaway line or two that were worth a second glance.  I love this line in particular:
The radio is playing all the usual
What’s a Wonderwall anyway?

A nice little dig at the powerhouse of Brit-Pop in the 90s, Oasis, while perhaps acknowledging that there was no hope of ever achieving that level of exposure.

It’s a song about being sad and lonely and hoping that words might help spark a connection.  So, yeah, if I dated or had a crush on you anytime between 1999 and, say, 2005, this song probably ended up on a mixed CD I made for you.

Happy New Year, and all that shit. 

Song of the Year

It’s that time of year again.  Year End Lists time.  Rolling Stone does it, Pitchfork does it, the New York Times, Washington Post and NPR all do it.  Time Magazine does it in spades.

We’ve come to the arbitrary end of 2011, and so now it’s time to unfurl the lists of the best (and maybe even worst) of any random thing.  Don’t mistake my snark for disinterest.  I actually love reading these lists and will be gobbling them up for the next few weeks.

But whereas I enjoy reading and being enlightened by the lists of major publications because I know their reviewers will have seen or listened to ten times as many movies and albums as me, I don’t have too much interest in the lists of bloggers.

Which is why I don’t do them.  I think I bought 10 albums all year, so I can’t very well make a Top 10 list that means anything, and I know I haven’t even seen 10 movies in theaters this year.  (I have rented a great deal and enjoyed very many of the small releases this year).

When my friends and fellow bloggers make these lists, I’m always skeptical that they’ve experienced enough variety throughout the year to give their listing any meaning.  But then I remember they’re all mostly white, middle class kids with disposable income, so who knows, maybe they really have bought 100 albums in the past 365 days.

But I haven’t.  I’ve experienced a lot of music this year, mostly one track at a time through free mp3s (I scour the blogs this time of year to snag every song I can find), and have frankly been mostly disappointed.  So much of the music has felt emotionless and remote, I just can’t say there are any new bands or artists that have really captured my attention.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed some new acts this year, but just not enough to seek out their albums. 

For whatever reason, there has been a dearth of visceral music this year.  For me.  Maybe for you this has been a great year for songs of resonance and you can illuminate in the comments what I’m missing.

My musical feast largely consisted of work by longtime favorites, with albums from Radiohead, Ryan Adams, Beirut, the Decemberists and Death Cab for Cutie.  All of these albums I have enjoyed thoroughly, though none are my favorite by that particular artist.  I’ve enjoyed the new Coldplay and Florence + the Machine albums, but they didn’t blow me away.

Bon Iver’s self-titled album has probably been the most disappointing album for me, as it feels like a victim of the emotion-vacuum that a lot of indie music has been going through this year.  It’s a solid enough album, but nothing connects the way almost every song on “For Emma, Forever Ago” did.  Plus, that final song, “Beth/Rest” is one of those ‘love it or hate it’ songs that I find myself hating.  (“Holocene,” on the other hand, does stand out quite beautifully.)

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah released an unremarkable album (I really wanted to love it), whereas Nicole Atkins surprised me with a sleeper album that I just keep returning to and enjoying more and more.

All and all it was a pretty damn good year for music from bands I already love, and if I had to pick a favorite album of the year, it would probably just end up a 4 or 5-way tie.  For the record, I really dig “The King of Limbs” and find it to reward concentrated re-listens, the same way Kid A and Amnesiac did.  But I understand if people don’t get into it, it’s a 180 degree turn from “In Rainbows” in that it doesn’t seem at all interested in pleasing a wide fanbase (the recently released singles “The Daily Mail/Staircase” are definitely still worth the $2.25).

For new music, though, I feel pretty blah.  There definitely isn’t a new favorite band for me.  That’s not to say that I won’t eventually come across something from this year that will really spark with me, but at year’s end, 2011 was a year dominated by old favorites, not new finds.

So, no top 10 albums or songs this year.  What I want to leave you with, instead, is the one song that I feel owned 2011.  It wasn’t by one of my favorite acts and it wasn’t by a brand new artist.  You know this song, you’ve heard it a million times.  And there’s a reason for that.  It was the perfect pop song.*

Where the indie landscape felt like an emotionless wasteland, Adele released the most emotionally wrought and true song I’ve heard in a long time.  If “Someone Like You” doesn’t resonate with you, then you have never been in love or had your heart broken.  And aren’t those the two reasons we turn to music?

This song, and the album, will top a great deal of top 10 lists this year, and deservedly so.  In fact, any list that doesn’t have this song in it is pretty much disqualified.  I don’t care how many times you heard it, I don’t care if that annoying girl at your gym loves it, I don’t care if it was used in too many tv shows.  A great song transcends all your dumb reasons for dismissing it, and this is the One Great Song of 2011.

So, maybe this won’t be a year I return to a lot when I’m going through my library, but I guarantee that I, and all of us, will be listening to this song for years to come.  And that’s one badge of honor 2011 can claim.

So there you have it:

2011 Song of the Year – “Someone Like You” by Adele

*I don’t hear the radio or watch a lot of ABC medical dramas, so I don’t hear most of the big songs each year, but I will say another song I’m totally loving right now is Rihanna’s “We Found Love.”  It’s not a guilty pleasure**, just pure pleasure.

**Foster the People’s “Pumped Up Kicks,” on the other hand, is pure guilty pleasure.

Random Video: If It Be Your Will

Antony Hegarty’s (of Antony and the Johnsons) cover of Leonard Cohen’s “If It Be Your Will” may be the most stunning performance from the entire concert that makes up “I’m Your Man,” the wonderful documentary about the legendary singer/songwriter.  Keep in mind, the other performers include artists like U2, Rufus Wainwright and Nick Cave (and Leonard, himself) , so it is no minor feat to be the stand out performer.

I think he earns the distinction by a country mile, though, with his spine-tingling vibrato and the tangible pathos that he interjects into the song.  There are other unexpectedly great performances throughout the film (Teddy Thompson and the Handsome Family are personal favorites) that makes watching the whole film and owning the soundtrack an absolute must for Cohen fans.  And why wouldn’t you be a Cohen fan?

But again, it’s Antony’s show stealing rendition of “If It Be Your Will” that stops me in my tracks.  I’ve never had the chance to see him perform live, with or without his band, so for now, this has to do.  And that ain’t too bad.