[Arts & Crafts]
As much attention as Broken Social Scene get for the ecstatic group bliss-outs and supercharged guitar jams, the best moments in their discography are often the quietest. After all, is there really a better BSS song than “Anthems for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl”? So it follows that on Forgiveness Rock Record, perhaps their poppiest album yet, the best song is one of the most hushed. Over restrained, barely-there guitars, Kevin Drew coos sweet nothings in a surprisingly durable falsetto. It sounds like he’s sending a transmission from a private place. In its humble way, it’s as exciting as this band’s most epic anthems.
- Matthew Lingo
If you were going to knock “The Battle of Hampton Roads,” the easiest target would be its fourteen-minute length, which could be cut in half and be just as affecting. In its favor is the entire vocal half of the song, which contains a wealth of angry-as-hell lyrical gold that will appeal to any level of angst-ridden individuals. Musically, think 12 bar blues: “Johnny 99” “Antichrist Television Blues”–nothing groundbreaking, but nothing not to enjoy. Best line: “Is there a human alive who has looked themselves in the face with winking, or say what they mean without drinking, or believe in something without thinking [...] if someone doesn’t approve. Is there a soul on this earth that isn’t too frightened to move?” But the biggest punch comes with the revelation: “I’m sorry Dad, no, I am not making this up.” As if your son being an artist wasn’t bad enough, he also is fucked up beyond imagination. But who isn’t?
- Philip Cosores
Vampire Weekend have proven themselves when it comes to writing pop gems, and they haven’t lost their touch with “Giving Up The Gun.” While the muted guitar adds a quickness to the song, the steady rhythm section keeps the song at a relaxed pace. Short pauses in the song are strategically placed to help emphasize the vocals. Ezra Koenig sings, “Your sword’s grown old and rusty/ Burnt beneath the rising sun/It’s locked up like a trophy/ Forgetting all the things it’s done,” and carries on in nostalgia, remembering how things used to be.
- Nicholas Preciado
When we all first heard “We Used to Wait,” there was almost a general consensus that it was one of the most majestic, powerful songs on The Suburbs. They had to go and ruin this by making it, unquestionably, the most emotionally-loaded song, thanks to the song’s presence in that interactive Google Chrome video which allows you to take a glimpse of your old childhood home. Salty teardrops stained keyboards everywhere. Thanks a lot, guys.
In all seriousness, this is the kind of song that you could set fireworks off to during the soaring choruses or the aggressive finale, and it would make total sense—the song is that damn dynamic. But it’s also the imagery in the lyrics that tugs at your heartstrings, especially for us, a generation that still remembers things like writing letters, but it just feels like a distant memory or a dream.
- Arika Dean
Hendrik Weber, the mastermind behind Pantha du Prince, has pieced together a beautiful electronic number. It has ambient qualities, but would not be out of place on the dance floor. Bells and hums come in and out over two different beats, one organic and one electronic. Chimes and blips join the ensemble as the song progresses. Even when the beat momentarily stops near the middle of the track, there is still groove hanging in the air. “Lay in a Shimmer” has plenty of space, but Weber has turned what might otherwise be emptiness into atmosphere.
- Nicholas Preciado
[Fat Possum / Bella Union]
The Walkmen create celebratory, exciting surf rock. On “Angela Surf City” the band combine fast-paced guitars with propulsive drum fills typical of the genre, and yet predictable is not a word that can be associated with their performance. The track has a sense of joyous optimism about it, even when the vocal register elevates in volume and the tightly-executed music picks up the pace. It’s taken the Walkmen a while to gain the popularity that they deserve, and yet their sound has never been more fresh or youthful. Lisbon may be a thoroughly enjoyable album, but “Angela Surf City” rightly deserves its place as the winning track, kicking the album off with an irresistible charm all of its own.
- Alex Phillimore
[Virgin / Parlophone]
Between apocalyptic fables and commentaries on doomsday consumerism, you wouldn’t think there would be space on Plastic Beach for something like “On Melancholy Hill.” If this isn’t the first Gorillaz song that could be succinctly described as pretty, it’s one of a small handful. Fluorescent keyboard notes delicately burst over heaving synths while Damon Albarn forgoes the usual conveyor belt of guest stars and keeps the best track on the album for himself. For a record overflowing with different voices and styles, the guy behind all of them knows when to take centre stage. It’s his strongest vocal performance on the record and proof that even in the post-Blur era he can still craft a great pop hook.
- Brendan Frank
When Ryan Adams announced his retirement from music in January 2009 nobody really expected it to last, and it didn’t. In May 2010 he released his “sci-fi metal concept album” Orion and he soon announced plans to release two previously unreleased albums, Blackhole and Cardinals III/IV. III/IV was recorded during the same sessions that gave birth to 2007’s Easy Tiger and III/IV finally saw the light of day in the final month of 2010. The record is in many ways a better and more accomplished version of Adams’ 2003 album Rock N Roll, and “Death And Rats” is among the more classical Ryan Adams & The Cardinals-sounding tracks on an album mostly filled with power poppy rock ‘n’ roll. The track’s catchy chorus, guitar lines and harmony vocals wouldn’t have seemed too out of place on Cold Roses or Easy Tiger.
- Johan Alm
“This Orient” forms the second half, or part, of what is arguably the centrepiece of Total Life Forever. If “Spanish Sahara” was representative of Foals’ new found ambient leanings, “This Orient” highlights the band’s ability to still write a melodic and evocative pop song, in their own unique style (see: “Cassius”). It’s odd to think that for a fairly up-tempo song only the drums drive the piece along. The guitars are occupied with Sigur Rós-esque noise, the synths are playing a lovely little eastern-sounding melody that is still quintessentially Foals, while there’s an intricate passage on guitar throughout the verse which is fast becoming Foals’ signature sound. Along with Yannis on vocals, who manages to wrench every note out with as much emotion as possible, you’ve got a killer track from one of 2010’s most exciting bands.
- Daniel Griffiths
[Warner Bros. / 4AD]
The creativity of Sam Beam knows no bounds. Not content with being a one-man band and acoustic singer-songwriter, “Walking Far From Home” has Iron & Wine conquering pop territory. There are “oooh”s and “aaaah”s coming out from everywhere, electronic beeps and whirrs appearing as the song progresses, with drums also joining in on the action the song grows from its fragile beginnings to a big emotional climax. As always with Iron & Wine, the vocals are beautiful. Simply beautiful. And the best thing about the track? It isn’t from an album already released, it’s the first single from Kiss Each Other Clean due in 2011. So, we get to look forward to this being released again, alongside a whole album full of songs.
- Daniel Griffiths
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We talk with Josh Berwanger about a few of his favorite records.
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