Top Five Songs of 2010
5) “Deep Blue” — Arcade Fire
- It may be a simpler song than many of the others on the The Suburbs, but Win Butler’s falsetto shines on this ballad, as does the acoustic guitar and violin play.
5) “Deep Blue” — Arcade Fire
One of the (many) great things about Christmas is getting the chance (and the social leniency) to listen to Christmas music. Like most Catholics and Christmasphiles and unlike most everyone else, I love Christmas music.
I understand the complaints about Christmas music. I even agree that, for the most part, it sucks. Like, nine out of 10 Christmas songs played on the radio and in malls and other stores are indefensibly terrible.* Nothing promotes lazier “creativity” in music than Christmas, with popular artists knowing that an album of a dozen shoddy covers of public-domain classics will sell tremendously, since everyone knows someone who likes Christmas music and thus thinks buying that person a Christmas CD is a great and thoughtful gift.
*To be fair, this isn’t much different from the usual ratio on the radio these days.
They don’t come much more finger-pointing-y than “Masters of War.” Just a little over a year after The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan was released, Bob Dylan would tell The New Yorker’s Nat Hentoff that his next album (Another Side of Bob Dylan) wouldn’t have any “finger-pointing songs”:
“Those records I’ve already made, I’ll stand behind them, but some of that was jumping into the scene to be heard and a lot of it was because I didn’t see that anybody else was doing that kind of thing. Now a lot of people are doing finger-pointing songs. You know—pointing to all the things that are wrong. Me, I don’t want to write for people anymore. You know, be a spokesman…. From now on, I want to write from inside me.”
And yet what makes “Masters of War” so effective as a protest song is that it is so intensely personal. If you look at protest songs of the last few years (and George W. Bush spawned practically a whole genre of them), they are full of vitriolic plays on words (“Texas führer,” “this Weapon of Mass Destruction that we call our President,” “you and Saddam should kick it like back in the day,” etc.) and clichés (“Fuck Bush,” “No blood for oil,” “Does he ever smell his own bullshit?”). Basically, they pick an easy target and toss schoolyard insults at it. In other words, they suck. Continue reading »
“Sometimes I wonder if the world is so small that we can never get away from the sprawl…” —Arcade Fire, “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)”
“I used to think I was not like them, but I’m beginning to have my doubts…” —Arcade Fire, “City With No Children”
When I was 17, I saw Arcade Fire in what remains the best live performance I have ever seen. It was February 2, 2005, and even though the band’s first album, Funeral, had only been out for a little over four months, it seemed like Arcade Fire had been around forever. By the time the concert rolled around, the band was big enough to bring David Byrne on stage to perform an encore for an audience that included, among others, David Bowie.
In fact, Funeral had had so much buzz prior to its release that it seemed destined to underwhelm. I, for one, was ready to play contrarian and bash it, if only because “Arcade Fire” is a really stupid name for a band. The only problem, though, was that the album was legitimately awesome. From the opening track, “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels),” I loved it, and I was happy, for once, to completely understand what all the fuss was about.
Of course, with such a hyped and successful debut, there come questions of whether or not those fortunes can be duplicated. And while I really like their second album, and I really enjoyed them the next time I saw them in concert, I had started to think that Funeral was the kind of lightning-in-a-bottle success story that only happens to a band once.
The release of The Suburbs, though, has changed that. Continue reading »
In some ways, it feels kind of pointless to add to the reviews of LCD Soundsystem’s new album. This Is Happening only officially came out two weeks ago, but we live in an age of Internet leaks, so two weeks after an album’s release date is practically an eternity—it’s more than enough time for the world to reach a consensus. The consensus for this album seems to be: It’s great. The Wikipedia entry for the album already says that it received “universal acclaim,” so I guess any further words are irrelevant.
It’s not like I disagree—This Is Happening is a great album that should satisfy the many LCD Soundsystem fans who anxiously awaited it. And if, as James Murphy has said, this is the last LCD Soundsystem album we ever get, then fans don’t have any right to complain: Few acts would have had a more successful career.
The worst thing I can really say about This Is Happening is that it peaks too early: The first track, “Dance Yrself Clean,” is the best one on the album. Continue reading »
Craig Finn, lead singer and front man for The Hold Steady, is not a fan of irony. He likes to sing songs with clear, straightforward* narratives about drinking and partying, usually in the Midwest. On the latest Hold Steady album, Heaven Is Whenever (released last week), though, Finn is playing the role of relaxed elder statesman. He’s still dealing with mundane predicaments and inscrutable women, but this record has a more laid-back feel than Stay Positive, Boys and Girls in America, or Separation Sunday. When news came out that the band’s keyboardist, Franz Nicolay, was leaving the band for this album, Finn made some noise by saying it would be “less anthemic” as a result.
*Well, not always straightforward. It’s sometimes hard to tell exactly what’s going on in his songs, but that’s never because he’s being obtuse, but because his songs and albums are so dense with characters and events that keeping track of them all can be slightly confusing.
In actuality, Heaven Is Whenever occupies a weird middle ground between evolution and fidelity: It doesn’t sound that much different from previous Hold Steady albums, but it does sound less anthemic than most. It’s not the kind of polarizing departure that might alienate some fans, but it doesn’t have the same immediate pull that The Hold Steady’s last two albums did. Continue reading »
Believe me, nobody is more disappointed in Miley Cyrus’ new music video, “Can’t Be Tamed,” than I am. Now, I don’t really mind that Miley is betraying her Disney roots, since she’s been trying to ditch those for a while now. And I don’t really care that Miley Cyrus is setting a bad example for her fans, though I understand why this video may upset some people on that ground. I don’t even care that the song is pretty bad—this is Miley Cyrus we’re talking about, not Radiohead.
No, I’m not disappointed on any moral or aesthetic grounds; I am disappointed by Miley’s total lack of originality. Continue reading »