Saturday, January 2, 2010

This...future, part 2 (35-21)

Noticing in compiling this that many of my favorite musicians are older than me. Perhaps I'm out of touch with the music of the younger generation, and yet I'm finding that my heroes are making work that fully engages the going-on-forty me (and the present moment) as much as they thrilled the younger me back in the day. One wonders if we'll be saying as much about The Arcade Fire, LCD Soundsystem, or the fucking Strokes in 2020. Anyway, onward.

35. Peter Hammill, "Friday Afternoon"

That voice, ever brittle in Hammill’s increasing dotage but still so dramatically present. Hammill confronted mortality across the decade, and here gives powerful voice to the pain of the gap left by an acquaintance’s sudden death. In concert, however, the Thin Man remains very much alive.

34. David Byrne/Rufus Wainwright, “Au Fond du Temple Saint

The renowned duet from Bizet’s THE PEARL FISHERS, sung at last by people who don’t sound like hefty tenors but nonetheless bring artistry, skill, and heart to the piece. Dad says “You just want to kiss them both for singing it.” I can’t put it better.

33. Gary Numan, “Walking With Shadows

Among the new wave icon’s less-mentioned talents is a bizarre knack for track twos – his albums usually begin well, leading from a great opener into another track that deepens the mood, opens the album up, etc. On THE PLEASURE PRINCIPLE, for example, the soaring instrumental “Airlane” segues nicely into the urban, industrial “Metal”; the title track of BERSERKER gives way to the magnificent funk of “This is New Love.” So does PURE’s opening salvo (a title track carrying a serial killer’s thought on his victim pre-, during-, and post-murder) lead into “Walking With Shadows”, a trip into a coma patient’s mind and an encounter with the spirits lurking within. Widescreen, symphonic darkness, and supernaturally seductive.

32. Andrew W.K., “Party Hard

I crack a smile just thinking about this thing. Not since the Fleshtones has mindless party rock sounded so carefully, artfully cultivated and maximally crafted to bring the most joy to the most people.

31. Fantomas, "The Golem"

The whole DIRECTOR’S CUT album was one of the decade’s more remarkable experiments, but the unstoppable horror juggernaut of this track sticks out by sheer force. Basically a death metal track with intelligible lyrics, delivered with gusto.

30. Depeche Mode, "Ghost"

They’ve become a cleaner band in, um, various ways. This track captures the bright metallic sheen their music has accumulated, but recaptures the suspense, breadth, and powerful textures of their greatest work. It’s as if Alan Wilder missed the band, and sneaked in after hours to tweak a non-album track. This track single-handedly re-interested me in the band, and I’m curious to see what they build next.

29. Mogwai, "Black Spider"

A fine first track and piece of film music. The sequences and chords recur throughout the album and film ZIDANE: A TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY PORTRAIT, but (appropriately, considering the film) it feels like it’s setting up for a drama beyond its immediate scope. This may have been the track that kicked off my infatuation with the vibraphone this decade.

28. The Flaming Lips, “Are You A Hypnotist?

YOSHIMI was a weird touchstone – everyone, it seems, had it, but no two listeners had the same relationship with it. This is a dark horse candidate for the favorite track, but I doubt I’m alone in loving it. A gorgeous film blanc dalliance with a femme fatale, nowhere to hide on a plane without shadows. Blinding brilliance conceals just as well, we find.

27. David Lynch, “The Ghost of Love

“Straaaaaaange…” That familiar Jimmy-Stewart-on-crack voice makes its musical debut here. Ordinarily when a background figure steps to the forefront it’s for direct, emotional address (see Clint Eastwood, “Gran Torino” from the film of the same name), but Lynch’s familiar voice makes this song his most alien and evocative sonic offering yet. Proof positive of the man’s musical gifts; everybody seems to forget that he wrote “The Pink Room,” not Badalamenti.

26. Wire, “One Of Us

The departure of Bruce Gilbert (long the greatest source of Wire’s sonic contrariness) gave some of us pause, but the lean trio of Grey, Lewis, and Newman carried on without missing a beat. A gentler single, but matching a pleasant pop hook with fuzzy grit and ethereal electricity. A great opening shot from the new, dare-I-say improved Wire.

25. U2 – “Vertigo

I’m not invested in arguing against their status as the World’s Greatest Rock Band, particularly when their supporting evidence is this grand. An enthusiastic rocker to kick off HOW TO DISMANTLE AN ATOMIC BOMB, “Vertigo” also made for one of the decade’s more powerful cultural moments, as the band pointedly played it “LIVE. LIVE. LIVE” on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE the week after Ashlee Simpson had her lip-synch meltdown. With all of Simpson’s bonehead fans rising to her defense and stating that they actually like it when their idols don’t sing, U2 made a compelling and finishing argument that never should have been necessary.

24. Yoko Kanno, with Origa – “Inner Universe

One of the better anime themes, an ideal opening for each episode of GHOST IN THE SHELL: STAND ALONE COMPLEX. The textures of the Russian and English lyrics add a weird yearning to the quiet emotion of the show’s characters. The organic voice stands for the soul of the machine, finding a beating human heart in the electronica surrounding it.

23. Robert Fripp with Daryl Hall, “Mary”

The five missing Daryl Hall vocal tracks from Fripp’s 1979 EXPOSURE popped up on the disc’s 2006 re-release. All of them show Hall as engaged as Fripp was with the punk, new wave, and other musics emanating from New York in this crucial period. But of these newly-surfaced tracks I keep returning to this one, a tiny gem in the Fripp catalogue with Hall in fantastic, soulful voice (and, per the liner notes, improvising the vocal line as he goes).

22. Robert Palmer, “I Need Your Love So Bad

A gorgeous and heartfelt performance of the Little Willie John track brings Palmer’s powerful and assured blues album DRIVE to a mournful end. Absurdly, Palmer’s life ended soon after at age 54.

21. Radiohead, “House of Cards

Tender but tense. Musically sweet, and at one point this year a badly-needed source of sonic comfort. Lyrically dark, and a mirror of some feelings I’m sadly not sad to possess.

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