Sunday, 8 February 2015

My 100 Favourite Songs (40 - 31)

This week I have an eclectic mix of songs, indulging in both the old and new, finding pleasure in both emotionally charged tunes and missed dance floor opportunities. I can feel the list is reaching an awesome breaking point as with each new edition I find myself loving this project more and more. My excitement grows even though writing these has proven to be more time consuming than I initially anticipated, which is common for my writing so eventually I'll have to start anticipating correctly.
For now, enjoy this playlist.

40.) Coldplay – Warning Sign (2002)
There was a time where I was very fond of Coldplay and counted them as one of my favourite bands simply on the strength of their second release A Rush of Blood to the Head. When that album came out I was in my late high school years and suddenly found myself familiarized with heartbreak, unrequited love, and and a sense of longing for my grand ambitions. Thus, I was the perfect audience for Coldplay, who made melodic, self-reflective, and undeniably emotional, rock music. Nowadays, I'm not as big a fan, and find that my enjoyment of their music really depends on which album of theirs is playing. I also really like Viva La Vida and am fond of most of Parachutes. Eh, you know, even X&Y and Mylo Xyloto have their moments of greatness. As I listen to their discography again, I suspect I'm a bigger fan that I give credit for. I took on the task of listening to all of their songs in order to figure out which track of theirs was my favourite. But the moment “Warning Song” started playing and hit its chorus, I realized that it was the one and it became entirely indispensable.
“Warning Sign,” in a sense, captures the emotional essence of A Rush of Blood to the Head in a single song. This track stirs me up quite deeply. While the chorus could have come across as quite trite or overly sentimental, what cures it from that is the entirely genuine delivery of Chris Martin's vocals. It honestly almost moves me to tears which is strange for a song that isn't connected to a particular break up or relationship memory. It just captures that feeling of longing and loneliness so well.
I know that Coldplay has their haters, and I have at times expressed disappointment in some of their output, but I think it's because of songs like “Warning Sign” which show me that sometimes they really hit home and are capable of so much when they put their exposed souls into their music.

39.) Neon Indian – Polish Girl (2011)
I was resistant at first to getting into Neon Indian due to a bit of an over saturation in the lo-fi electronic genre, at least for me at the time I discovered them. A friend of mine shared a song with me from their first album Psychic Chasms, and I felt it was a bit lukewarm. It wasn't until I heard this song, “Polish Girl” from their vastly superior second album Era Extraña that I really grew to appreciate Neon Indian. I feel that's one of the best albums of 2011 and found that Psychic Chasms grew a fair bit on me as well, but the love all started with this song.
This is another fairly recent song on the list, but I feel that it's earned its place on here. And sometimes when you hear a song, sometimes you just know that you've stumbled upon something special. I definitely felt that way when I first heard this track. “Polish Girl” is a marvellous song and a modern electronic masterpiece.
When I hear this song, it always takes me back to a fundraiser night that my production crew put on to raise money for our yet-to-be-shot feature film. I put together the soundtrack for the evening and this was the most memorable song of the mix. Though it was not a particularly successful fundraiser, it was a ridiculously fun event and this song brings back the feelings of excitement and wonder that came with the evening.

38.) The Clash – Rock The Casbah (1982)
Combat Rock is not an amazing album. In fact, considering it's just three years after The Clash's masterpiece London Calling, it's kind of a surprising drop in quality. Not that it's bad, it's just really uneven and shrug worthy. That being said, there were a couple of good song in there and one song which is miles and miles ahead of the rest. “Rock The Casbah” is incredible literally from the first note onward. Just listen to that piano introduction. If you aren't sold on that opening 20 seconds there is no hope for you. Just move along.
This song never gets old. It capitalizes on the strengths of The Clash, which is their attitude. I mean, come on, Joe Strummer is not a good singer. BUT he's got a hell of an attitude and you feel it in the music. So, when you have legitimate punk energy mixed with a catchy dance beat, it makes for a truly unique and memorably song. I can't think of anything else quite like it and that's likely because it's the kind of song that only The Clash could make. No one can quite do what The Clash did. And I also like the lyrics in that they're inventive and unique. It's a fictional account of a rock music ban in a kingdom which insights the population into rebellion... thus they 'rock the casbah.” And why not write a song about that? We need more narrative style lyric writing like this. Screw sentimental emotions! Let's sing about a king calling jet fighters to open fire on the populous!
And just to clarify, I find that I enjoy the single version more than the album version. There are few significant differences, but to hear the two side by side shows what differences production can do for a song. Something about the thick bass and piano reverb works a little better for me, but I might also attribute that to the fact that this is the version I heard first. Sometimes we just tend to side with the familiar. Either way you hear the song though, “Rock The Casbah” is a fun, rebellious, little track that gets into your head and stays there.
Okay, but seriously, this might be my favourite piano part in a song ever. It is wonderful. Just listen to it. How can anyone write stuff this good?

37.) Newsboys – Hallelujah (1998)
Newsboys were a band I grew up listening to, but some time in my preteen years they more or less jumped off my radar. It wasn't until my mom got me their album Step Up To The Microphone that I started to become interested again, and it was a couple years old at that point. Initially I wasn't that impressed with the album, but as time went on I grew to appreciate it a lot more. But even when I was at my most sceptical, the song “Hallelujah” stood out and I was immediately into it.
While most of their music can be easily classified in the rock genre, this one has an edgier, darker tone to it and boasts some electronic influences making it the most unique and engaging track the album has to offer. What is interesting about this song is that, as it progresses, somehow that darker element is transformed into optimism.
There is a reason that Newsboys were one of the most popular Christian rock acts out there all through the 90's and beyond; they wrote songs with personality, integrity, and resonance. And while “Hallelujah” is not one of their more popular tunes, perhaps because it lacks that fun, comedic touch of some of their bigger hits, it is still a classic in its own right and at the very least left a very strong impression on me.
And... just to clarify, this is not the Newsboys song “Hallelujah” off of their Adoration album. That song is not particularly good and I think that they really could have thought of another name for it. There's just something weird about a band having two completely different songs with the same name.

36.) Animal Collective – My Girls (2009)
A friend of mine tried to get me into Animal Collective years ago and it didn't really work. I just found myself confused and disinterested. At the time their newest album was Feels and I was looking for people's opinions on the best albums of the year. I didn't quite agree. Then, years later, when it was announced for the Sasquatch music festival that Animal Collective would be playing there, my brother and I checked out their opening single for their new latest album Merriweather Post Pavilion. And that was “My Girls.” And from the moment I heard it, I thought it was magnificent. And I haven't gotten bored of it since.
But what “My Girls” achieved on top of that was somehow making me enjoy Animal Collective retroactively. As I listened to Feels again and a couple of their other albums, suddenly I understood the kind of music that they make. “My Girls” was the pitch I needed... either that or I was finally ready for them. Whatever the case, this song made me appreciate the band as a whole much more. Granted, I can't help but feel that they haven't written a song as good as this one before or since, but hey, not everyone can ever write a song this good at all.
It's just one of those kind of songs where can't fathom how anyone could not like it. It's insanely catchy, very accessible, but a completely unique entity of its own. The way it's constructed is very unique in that it has a very strange, and minimal, percussion part, and the rest in mostly just synthesized beeps and bass bumps. It's got no obvious dance beat, but you can't help but move your body to it. What a strange song... but absolutely brilliant.

35.) Juno Reactor - Conquistador I + II (2004)
This is my final cheat. Technically these are two tracks, but I feel the least guilty about putting these two together in that they're both called “Conquistador” and they are definitely meant to be together. In fact, my favourite part of this song is where they join together. Despite the fact that the two halves are so radically different in sound, speed, and tone, they are incomplete without one another. They work best together not because they share similar elements, but because they're so different and clearly contrast one another. The suspense of the first half justifies the melodrama of the second half. The pay off justifies the build up of the first half. Does that make sense?
“Conquistador I” is lead by a Spanish guitar mixed with Gamelan percussion, choir vocals and dark synthesizer. A strange collection of cultural musics brought together to somehow create something unique and beautiful. As the song progressed though, you get the sense that it's leading up to something more. Something bigger. It slowly builds in tension until it eventually enters “Conquistador II.”
This one thunders in with thick dance synthetic beats, thick tribal percussion, and an eerie processed vocal part. This track was made around the same time when Juno Reactor were making music for the two Martix sequels and you can hear some of that in the later half of the track as dramatic string arrangements make their way into the mix.
I love the music and how grand an ambitious it is. Despite it being primarily electronic, there is a real ethereal aspect to Juno Reactor's music. It's as if they are exploring what ancient world music would be if it were made with modern instruments. The whole album this is off of, Labyrinth, is really solid, but it starts off ideally with the two “Conquistador” songs, which I call epic, with no feeling of exaggeration.

34.) mewithoutYou - Torches Together (2004)
Through the years, mewithoutYou have chilled out quite a bit, but “Torches Together” is from that point in their career where they were angsty, abrasive and undeniably passionate. When a friend of mine sent me this song those many years ago, I did not like it at all. I thought these guys were melodramatic and really hard to listen to... and I haven't necessarily changed that point of view, except for some reason one day I discovered that I love it. I guess it's hard to listen to music with so much earnest passion without coming to appreciate it.
Truth is that overall, I enjoy the lighter mewithoutYou more than the brutally hardcore version, but they've had great songs through their whole career. This is easily one of the best moments of their collection. The lyrics are deep and passionate and the music is heavy and dramatic. Anyone who complains that Christian Rock is too fluffy and generic will find solace in the bare and telling grievances of the real world struggles that Aaron Weiss sings of. There is a strange beauty in the chugging guitar and tortured poetic spoken word vocal style. I admire their boldness and openness. That unrestrained style takes some getting used to, but rewards those who give it the time.

33.) Fatboy Slim – Praise You (1998)
This was a fun track growing up with. Out of Fatboy Slim's output, I find that this is one of his songs that has aged the best. I mean, “The Rockafeller Skank” is fun and all, but it's a little past its expiry date. “Praise You” is still has the exact same affect on me as it did when I was 12 years old, if not a little stronger now, amplified by nostalgia. It makes me want to dance. I can't dance, but it makes me want to. Something about that beat and the piano riff pull me in every time.
I can't help but feel that the video for this song over shadowed the song itself. It just seems that every time I mention this, people exclaim about how awesome the video is and while I like it, I actually enjoy listening to the song on its own a bit more. Helps that it has two extra minutes.
My understanding is that very few of the main sounds in this song are original, as its mostly cut and pasted from other songs, but he really turned these ideas into a surprisingly cohesive whole. These completely separate musical ideas work so well together it's really amazing. Check Wikipedia for where he gets his samples from and you can find them all on Youtube. It's like a fun music history lesson.
Doing some research on this track has actually made it even more enjoyable for me. It's fun and catchy, but if you really listen, the things he's able to do with those three samples, building on them and turning them into a song with a whole start, progression and finish, is really impressive. It makes me have a lot more respect for Fatboy Slim.
Hey... where has that guy been lately?

32.) The Flaming Lips – The W.A.N.D (The Will Always Negates Defeat) (2006)
Imagine if you will a homeless man with a stick and he's pointing and yelling at things that aren't there. It is as if he is fighting off invisible creatures. You would probably dismiss him as crazy and go on with your day. The Flaming Lips front man, Wayne Coyne on the other hand, stopped and wondered what if he really was fighting off invisible monsters and only he could see them? What if he was saving us all? Thus, the song “The W.A.N.D.” was born, one of the best tracks on their album At War With The Mystics, one of my favourite records of 2006. And you know, it's probably one of the best songs they've written.
This was the first new Flaming Lips song that I heard. What I mean by that is when I first started listening to them it was around 2004 or 2005 and I listened to their album Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots and then The Soft Bulletin, but they were finished albums that had already been out for a few years. But “The W.A.N.D.” was the launching single for their next album and so I remember the excitement that came with hearing this. It still feels very fresh to me. It's that feeling of discovery that music brings back sometimes. Discovery eventually becomes nostalgia. Oh man... I'm getting nostalgic for 2006! Yikes...
Apart from the sentimental value of this track, it also happens to be really cool. It has a fierce energy to it, energized by processed vocals and distorted guitar. It has volume, majesty and a tough playfulness to it. This is the kind of original, well produced, alternative rock sound that The Flaming Lips perfected during this time in their careers. And come on, just listen to that final “You've got that right!” and tell me it isn't awesome?

31.) Underworld – To Heal (2007)
I like some of Underworld's songs, but haven't been able to get into them as a whole. But “To Heal” seems to me to be a fairly unique entity in their discography, with no focus on dance beat, going for divine simplicity.
I first heard this little gem in the Danny Boyle movie Sunshine which was one of my favourite films of 2007. This was the unofficial theme of the film, which captured the contemplative, outer worldly nature of the picture. And while I couldn't find the soundtrack of the movie, I did work out what album this song was off of, Oblivion With Bells, and I picked the track up from iTunes. I'm really glad I did, but not much else of the album interested me much.
It's something to take note of that sometimes, all you need to know to make a good song is the right chords to put together to create a beautiful atmosphere. It is entrancing the way this song progresses without any strain or confusion.
And let me get this straight also; just because the song is really simple doesn't necessarily mean it was easy to make. They could have spent a long time finding that perfect combination of effects and notes. They may have put a lot of emotion and energy into it. It feels like it to me.

I knew this had to make it on my list for the simple reason that it is the most played song on my iPod. Apparently I can't listen to it just once. Every time I see it, I have to hear it.  

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