Tuesday, December 22, 2009

25 Best Tracks of the Decade: #10-1

#10: “A Loner”, The Tyde

I caught the last song of their opening set for The Pernice Brothers in 2003 and was hooked right away. They had that early 00’s sound but mixed with a genuine surfing ethos and great tunes, ideal for hazy summer afternoons. What has always struck me about this song from Twice is the sheer perfection of the solos in the latter part of the song: each a model of melody and economy, building off one another to construct a greater whole. That this shining example of teamwork comes in a song titled “A Loner” makes it strangely more touching, like a group of outcasts who had finally found a home.


#9: “Sun”, The Toms

This is less a song and more of a rickety, heaving steam-powered smile machine. A million things seem to be happening at once, clanging and giving off sparks, threatening to collapse at any moment – but it gets you to pure joy, lickety-split. “Darkness comes, and darkness goes away,” The Toms assert, “I’m waiting for the sun to shine.”


#8: “Beyond, Beyond, Beyond”, Joel Plaskett

I’m not much of a movie-goer, but the ones that I do love are inevitably those less concerned with plot and more with character. Films like The Big Lebowski and Dazed & Confused are more like hanging out with a group of friends than any linear story. By the end of Joel Plaskett’s feature-length triple-album Three, you feel you’ve come to know him, his parents, his band, and you find yourself missing his friends who’ve passed on too. With Plaskett the music-making Maritimer protagonist who loves his cat as much as he loves Tom Petty, it’s perhaps not surprising that I fell hard for Three. To borrow a phrase seen on many a movie poster, it made laugh, it made me cheer, and especially on this song, it made me cry.


#7: “Fresh Feeling”, Eels

This is a song that I play for friends and they always fall for it. They don’t know that its central orchestral sample actually comes from the previous Eels album, on an absolute tear-jerker of a song called “Selective Memory”. That Eels main man “E” takes a heartstring-tugging moment and repurposes it for a light, bouncy hip-hop flavoured song is typical, as the entire Eels canon is an extended triumph of hope over tragedy. (Look up his life sometime. Short version: everyone dies.) But as my friends can attest, sometimes what you don’t know can’t hurt you.


#6: “Rebellion (Lies)”, Arcade Fire

I have had a major skepticism for the Canadian indie band hype machine ever since people tried to pass off The Waltons as “the new Crowded House” in 1991. So I tried to resist this one, but there was just no way to hold out for long. It jumped the barricades, overpowered the guards and ran its inspirational banner up the flagpole. In its wake, it seems everyone tried their hand at writing similar four-on-the-floor anthems, but like the old Shredded Wheat slogan, this one is The Original And The Best.


#5: “I Ain’t Hurtin’”, Frontier Index

One of my all-time musical highlights was visiting Corey Hernden’s unkempt house on Nassau St. and having him play this song for me for the first time. A gentle hymn of devotion and gratitude, his band Frontier Index accompany it with a gentle, lapping wave of their Neil Young-meets-Radiohead sound. Unfortunately, their only album was criminally ignored here in Toronto at the height of “music collective mania” in 2005, presumably because there were only four of them instead of 16 people and some sock puppets. Here it is again, as a reminder that musical fashions come and go, but great songs last forever.


#4: “Ashes of American Flags”, Wilco

All the fuss over the backstory and the sound of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot overshadowed that the songwriting had taken another leap. Jeff Tweedy’s early, direct songs had given way to something much more complex: jumbled telegraphed phrases, unexpected details, punctuated with moments of plain-spoken directness. A lonely guitar line provides an unsettling hook, instruments fade in and out of the picture, and after saluting “the ashes of American flags and all the fallen leaves filling up shopping bags”, it ends in a disjointed whirl of sound, briefly dropping out like a cellphone call. It was recorded well beforehand, but nothing captures the sadness, confusion and resignation of post-9/11 America like this.


#3: “Seven Nation Army”, The White Stripes

Last year, a friend of mine had a job singing in a cover band in Morocco. Intrigued, I asked her what was the biggest song from their set and she answered, without a moment’s hesitation, “Seven Nation Army”. And why not? Language is no barrier to its all-conquering martial riff, instantly one of rock’s all-time greatest from the very moment of its release. Flattening everything in its path, even non-rock radio stations played a dance remix of it on high rotation. And any questions about whether The White Stripes could repeat the success of White Blood Cells were not only dispelled; they were stomped on, set fire to, and put on a pike. Everyone knows about it, from the Queen of England to the hounds of hell.


#2: “Do You Realize??”, Flaming Lips

In the original, low-budget premiere version of the video, blinding light emanates from within Wayne Coyne’s guitar. Or is it his heart? With its junk-shop synth orchestration, “Do You Realize??” evokes long-lost Hollywood show-stoppers like “Over The Rainbow”. But while that song offers a promise of heavenly salvation, this is decidedly humanist: daytime and nighttime are illusions, we live on a mass of rock in a desolate universe, everyone you love will die. Yet these truths only serve to emphasize the uplifting message: what really matters is how you treat the people you care about while you’re here. Tell them how much you love them, Coyne’s fragile voice urges − the light comes from within us.


#1: “One More Time”, Daft Punk

The thing about dance music is that it’s inherently bittersweet. It’s so intent on celebrating the moment that the unspoken implication is that nothing can ever be so good again. The party will end, life is short and hard, so let’s enjoy this moment of joy right now while we still can.

As celebratory and anthemic as it is, “One More Time” understands and acknowledges this. In fact, it gives it equal time, suddenly detouring from the pulsing dancefloor beat into a descending chord pattern as old as music itself. They’re the descending chords of church music, of folk ballads, of “God Only Knows” by The Beach Boys, and their nostalgic mix of major and minor is both sad and reassuring. “Celebrate, don’t wait too late”, the voice says, and you wonder if it IS too late. Life keeps passing, day jobs creep in, friends and lovers have come and gone − and all you really want is one more time. One more time to be young. One more time with the people you love. One more time of feeling like this, right now. And the music obliges, bringing back the exhilaration − until an ominous church bell tolls.

Daft Punk called their tour album Alive. “One More Time”, in its own simple, universal way, is a celebration of being alive – the innocence, the experience, the joy and even the sadness. And I don’t know about you, but every time I hear it, it reminds me of all those things and I think, “yes, one more time, please.”


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