Friday, 6 February 2015

My 100 Favourite Songs (70 – 61)

Often people ask me what kind of music I like to listen to. I'm known for walking around with headphones on either my ears or around my neck if I'm in a conversation. I enjoy music while I commute and when I write or do household chores. It lightens my day and makes the mundane much more tolerable. As to what kind of music I like, I never really knew how to answer this. Often I would answer with “good music,” but then people laugh and wait for the real answer because that's not good enough apparently. I don't like a lot of pop music, but I quite like good pop music. I like a lot of jazz and progressive rock, but sometimes they can get redundant or pretentious. Some genres I find myself more forgiving with, but ultimately I don't think I have a favourite style of music.
Rather, what appeals to me more is the spirit of the music. I find myself loving music with a certain spirit of adventure. Could anyone have made this song or was it sculpted very specifically by an artist or collection of musicians? Does it feel personal, like this was a song that needed to be made rather than just manufactured to sell records? I find that these are the songs that I connect with the most. Having it feel original and genuine is what really sells a song to me. I have my pop guilty pleasures, but for the most part those come and go.
This portion of the list is stylistically quite varied, but I feel that they are songs that to some degree are personal and adventurous. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do. 

70.) East West - She Cries (2001)
Christian metal band East West came out with their album The Light In Guinevere’s Garden in 2001 and it was a curious release. For the most part it was a lot of hard rock and heavy metal and I liked some of the songs to varying degrees, but in the mix was “She Cries.” It was unlike anything else on the album, much softer in instrumentation and tone. It is their emotional rock song and it's a shame that they didn't do more songs like this, if not just to mix things up a bit more on their album. As it is, this track sticks out like a sore thumb, but a really nice sore thumb. I think it's a wonderful and well written rock song and has the right amount of energy and passion put behind it.
Personally, it transports me to grade 10. That was the year where I had a click of really close friends and also the year I had my first girlfriend. It was a time of a lot of emotional and spiritual growth and a lot of self discovery. I feel it all when I hear “She Cries.” There are a lot of good and bad emotions that return when I hear it, but they are distant enough that it encourages self reflection more than remorse. There is something fitting about the tone of the song and the feelings it evokes. I think why it works well for me is because there is a sense of encouragement in the song. It comes from a dark place, but seeks light. That's a powerful sentiment to capture.
I also only just found out this album version is a polished revision of the same song from a 1998 self titled album on a different label. They are essentially the same structurally, but the production quality is quite different and I admit I still like this one better.

69.) Peace Orchestra – Who Am I? (1999)
I first heard this song around 2003 when it was the year of The Matrix. It was the main menu screen and end credit music to The Animatrix, the artsy animated short film collection that was released around the same time as The Matrix: Reloaded and to some was better liked than the actual feature film sequels. I really enjoyed most of the films, but like any collection, some were better than others. That's besides the point anyway. The part of that DVD that actually made the most lasting impression was the song “Who Am I?” by Peace Orchestra, the solo project from producer Peter Kruder. I liked it so much I picked up the self titled album, still his only one to date save for a remix album, and it is incredible. The whole thing from start to finish is a trip-hop masterpiece and even deciding which song would make it onto this list was a challenge. Because of the construction of the album, it works best a cohesive experience rather than one where you can take out tracks to recommend, so ultimately I went with “Who Am I?” because it is a song that I know works well on its own.
It is simple in construct, relying on very simple musical ideas and carefully placed notes and chords which wind up creating a very dark and suspenseful atmosphere. In fact, I don't know a song that creates a mood as well as this one. It is a perfect soundtrack tune for a film that is dark, but not horrific. I even used it in my little thriller film that I made in school. If you're looking for the perfect companion for your cool late night stroll, this is a great tune.

68.) Delerium – Innocente (2000)
When I first heard “Innocente”, it was on the radio and it was actually not the album version of the song. It was the Lost Witness Remix, or a radio cut of it. I still like parts of that remix, but I think that the remixes lose sight of the biggest strength that this song has to offer which is the pure, visceral emotion that is conveyed through Leigh Nash's singing. It gets diluted with techno drum and bass sections added. Part of what made Delerium so remarkable in the late 1990's and early 2000's was their willingness to make electronic music into something more ethereal at a time where the genre was not very creative and often dismissed as shallow dance music. They mixed acoustic and folk elements into electronic soundscapes and the results were often quite pleasing and brought legitimacy to the genre.
2000's Poem is one of their finest albums and there are several songs that I like almost as much as “Innocente”, but this is their track that hits me the most on an emotional level. It captures the deep and painful aspect to love; the inevitable heartbreak. And I'm not saying that every relationship fails, but at some point, your heart will hurt for the person you love. This captures the very essence of that remorse and longing. It's very sad, but a beautiful sadness.

67.) Portishead – Sour Times (1994)
There are few trip-hop albums that left an impression quite like Dummy by Portishead, many citing it as one of the albums to popularize the genre and some claiming it as one of the best albums of the 1990's. I might even agree. “Sour Times” is one of the albums finest moments. Despite being simple in construct on the surface, there are actually some really fascinating ideas and instrumentation in this song. But what really sells it for be is Beth Gibbons' vocal performance. To say that she is a singing tour de force would not be an exaggeration. She emotes so fluently through her singing and it just hits you in the sweet spots in this song, particularly during the eerie, yet beautiful hook of the song “Nobody loves me, it's true; not like you do.” Such a line could be cheesy from many artists, but with Gobbons, it is a sorrowful and powerful. Of course, one must give dues to the other members of the band, as their relatively minimalist contribution amplifies the emotions. Not until the chorus is there a haunting synthesizer that comes in that echoes the mood of the song.
Though I have no specific time period or memory attached to this track, I do know that it was one of the songs that got me interested in the genre of trip-hop and has remained a favourite for many years since I discovered it, though I can't recall exactly when that was.

66.) A Perfect Circle – What's Going On (2004)
Who would have thought that a musical overhaul of Marvin Gaye's R&B classic would work out this well? Turned into a dark and contemplative post-rock epic was not a direction I could see that song headed in, but A Perfect Circle successfully made it their own. Now, just to clarify, this doesn't mean that I don't like the original “What's Going On” because I really do, this one just really engages me. The spirit of the anti-war message is very much in tact, but in a way this version feels deeper and more powerful, or at the very least more timely. The grit of this version serves the content very well, but it still has a certain light optimism to it that supports the message of spreading love over war.
Also, I just like the musicality of it. The way it builds and soars is brilliant and the reverb gives it a dreamy quality. The music of this piece is completely unique and bears almost no resemblance to the original song, yet it is still recognizable.
A Perfect Circle's eMOTIVe was a pretty ambitious album, taking older protest songs and restructuring them into modern rock tunes, and for the most part they did a really great job. It worked really well. But their cover of “What's Going On?” really hit it out of the park. This was the song that sold me on this album.

65.) Outkast – B.O.B. (Bombs Over Bagdad) (2000)
Easily one of the best rap songs ever written by one of the best hip-hop acts to revolutionize the genre. While “Ms. Jackson” was Stankonia's big hit, “B.O.B.” was the tragically overlooked first single that rocked and grooved and showcased all of the aspects of Outkast that set them apart from other rappers. There is actually an emphasis on the music, serving more than a dull back drop to the lyrics. It's politically charged, high in energy, and even kind of playful. 13 years later and I still think it's one of the most ambitious and well executed rap songs out there.
You know it's a special sort of song for the genre when half way through there is a wicked guitar solo that takes centre stage and then for the final act, it takes a complete turn and becomes an 80's inspired electronic track. Some might think of them as foolhardy for trying to cram that much content into a 5 minute rap song, but they made it work. I guess you could argue that they didn't because the single didn't take off, but I think that this song is well remembered and respected which is more of an achievement in my eyes.
Since then Outkast have had a bit of a hit and miss career, but the early 2000's served them quite well and they took some good and bad risks in their career as a result. And despite not really having a big hit in a good decade, they still pop up here and there in music and movies.

64.) Keep Shelly In Athens – Cremona Memories (2010)
I gotta say, every time this song comes on I get really excited. It just instantly hooks me in and takes me for a ride through various musical ideas built around a musical skeleton. It's brilliant and beautiful. And yes, as I mentioned last time, I always hesitate when a song is fairly new to add it to this list, but I've really actively enjoyed this song for the 3 or so years that its been out and I think that's a sufficient enough time that it can make this list.
Keep Shelly In Athens are an electronic duo from, surprise surprise, Athens, Greece. “Cremona Memories” is off of their first EP In Love With Dusk which was met with critical acclaim and won them a very loyal fan base which seems to be growing day by day. I'm proud to say I was a fan very early on, finding that their music really stirs something up in me. After hearing this release, I bought every following one without question. In Love With Dusk remains their best and most diverse in my opinion, with one incredible song after another, which should emphasize even more how good “Cremona Memories” is. I could just listen to it over and over again and I clearly have been because it is one of the most played songs on my iPod, currently holding fourth place.

63.) Moby – Machete (1999)
This was a difficult one to pick, but I think I made the right choice. Moby's Play is of great significance to me and I often cite it as my favourite album ever because it came to me at a fairly impressionable age and helped redefine my taste in music and my expectations of what an album could be. Perhaps an album is not always just a collection of songs that an artist put together around the same time, but perhaps it could be a cohesive and organic experience following a similar theme and musical ideas that are deliberately constructed in a certain order. Just perhaps. And since I heard Play with eager ears that fateful afternoon, one of the consistent highlights for me was the dark techno driven “Machete,” a swelling dramatic masterpiece of modern music. Foreboding and poetic, this song is quite unique from most of the music on Play. It's an album of a curious flavour, sampling vocal snippets from old field recordings, reworked into modern electronic music. “Machete” is not one of those songs; it stands alone as one of Moby's finest original compositions. It's a dark and eerie sort of tune, that has a dance beat, but seems impossible to dance to.
I have fond memories of listening to this song on my disc-man in high school and putting the very beginning of the song at a lower volume, only to crank it up when the harder synth part enters 15 second in. The whole dramatic arc of this song is so intense and compelling, there is something to love and draw you in again and again with each moment. And that's one of the things that is interesting about this song; it's concise. It is a very typical length at three and a half minutes, but its journey makes it feel longer and more satisfying than just any song.

62.) Bloc Party – Banquet (2005)
I think this one took me by surprise in that I didn't really think about how much I enjoy this song. Part of the reason is that Bloc Party's debut album, Silent Alarm is overall just terrific, so it isn't obvious that this is the best song of the collection. But as I was looking through my music collection, I really felt that something off that album needed to be represented or at least short listed. So, I added “Banquet” and as I played around with different songs, putting them in and out of the list, it really hit me how much I enjoy this song. I would sometimes think about booting it out for another track, but every time I heard it, it felt indispensable so I would keep it in. So, here it is. “Banquet” made the list and I feel it's well earned.
“Banquet” is a song that achieves so much in such a seemingly simple manner, but I assume the actual song writing was actually anything but simple. It's a definite rock tune, but it has a dance vibe, making you want to move your body to it. It follows the basic rock formula, but overall feels really distinct, an entity of its own. There is a lot to enjoy in the obvious hook and also in the subtle details within. I've been a fan of this track for years and I still get the same excited and energized reaction to it every time I hear it.

61.) Len – Steal My Sunshine (1999)
Heck yes “Steal My Sunshine”! Len's pop masterpiece is one of my favourite one hit wonders. Admittedly it's a bit cheesy, but you know what, that's fine. Whatever. It's a pop song. It at least does the right things very right. It's got a great bumping beat, a brilliant piano hook, and a chorus that's quotable and memorable. There must be something to it if I still like it after all this time. I had a sort of second discovery of it in recent months, but my fond memories of it have lasted through the years.
It takes me back to grade 7. I don't know what it is about that year that I remember so fondly, but I definitely see it as a cornerstone in my life. In truth, I was grossly unpopular in school and bullied to varying degrees, yet I tried so desperately to be accepted by my peers. As the year went on it even started to work. I was starting to be plagued with acne and I was tiny, easily half a foot shorter than most of my peers. I think that time in my life came with a lot of emotional development as I prepared to take the big leap from elementary school to high school.

Perhaps what makes this song so special to me is that when it came out I was starting to discover my love for music. I would frequently listen to the radio and started to make mix tapes for myself. Perhaps it was my retreat from the stresses of my life, finding solace in fun pop music. And “Steal My Sunshine” was a prime example of a pop song that was just sunny and fun. It was far better than the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears, but so much more accessible than the rock music of the time which I was hesitant to embrace. And also, it remains distinct. This is a song that only Len could have made. It sounds like them an no one else.  

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