Looking at my list can sometimes be a frustrating experience because I always feel like there is someone I missed. And while it's actually impossible for me to represent all of the bands that I enjoy in this list, I did find that there are a number of bands that I really enjoy that have not been included that actually surprised me that they didn't make the cut. And again, it's not that I don't like their music, it's that somehow I was unable to make room for my favourite songs of theirs.
So, I am going to take the opportunity right now to share some artists that I am legitimately surprised didn't make the list and the song I probably would have chosen.
Canada's Arcade Fire are a band that have had a lot of solid and memorable tracks that have lasted through the years, but puzzlingly enough didn't make the cut. Though, if I were to pick my favourite, I would probably say “My Body is a Cage” or perhaps “Rebellion (Lies)” or even the reworking of “No Cars Go.” Perhaps it was my inability to pick a favourite track of their that excluded them from my list which is either an injustice or a compliment... or maybe both.
I am quite fond of a lot of Sufjan Steven's work and often thought to include his track “Chicago” in this list, but for one reason or another I couldn't fit it in. It had reached a point where it seemed like no other tracks were expendable.
Stars are another talented Canadian act that have had a lot of great songs over the years, But it is definitely their New Wave pop track “The Ghost of Genova Heights” that I would rank as my favourite of theirs. I still feel like it has a place on this list... I just don't know where. Apparently here.
I'll leave it at that for now. There are more artists missing that I'll share in future issues. For now, let's get back to my list...
80.) DJ Iah – Mangrove (2005)
This is an obscure one for you. Acid Jazz artist DJ Iah made a great impression on me with his debut album Saga Boiz Engine Room, and while I didn't think that his second album was as strong, it had some moments that really impressed me. “Mangrove” was the highlight for sure. It's a brisk two and a half minutes, but it covers a pretty healthy amount of ground. The intro is a near-psychedelic synth trip that leads into a percussion heavy guitar jam and then it takes a turn about half way through which is what really won me over. In comes a jazz inspired muted trumpet solo which is just blissful for me. I've expressed before how the sound of a muted trumpet, to me, is one of the most amazing sounds in the world. It just hits the right notes to send me into a music induced coma for about a minute and a half.
The downside to having something that's this obscure in my list is that I can't for the life of me find a copy of the song to embed into the article. DJ Iah's album The Hi Lo Fi can be found on iTunes though so listen to the sample through there if you're curious enough.
79.) Gorillaz – Don't Get Lost in Heaven / Demon Days (2005)
Okay, I'm cheating again as this is technically two songs, but I'll make the same argument as before with my Mercury Rev entry: these songs belong together. They are based on the same musical ideas, they lead directly into one another, and they just don't feel complete when they're alone. “Don't Get Lost in Heaven” could be considered the introduction to “Demon Days,” but I guess the Gorillaz felt that they were different enough to separate. And I suppose they are quite a bit different in that there is a much more tranquil atmosphere atmosphere to the latter song, but that to me just adds a lot of different dimensions to the whole piece.
What I like so much about these songs is how dramatically different they are from anything else Gorillaz have done. Granted, they are a band that has a pretty diverse career musically. But even then, who could have seen them making a couple of orchestral, gospel inspired tracks with reggae undertones? What a great way to cap off the album. There is so much soul and passion captured by the choir and when lead by 2D (or Damon Albarn in real life) it somehow all makes sense. It's like a strange sandwich that's full of the oddest ingredients but somehow tastes delicious.
See? Someone on Youtube even thought they they belonged together!
78.) The B-52's – Follow Your Bliss (1989)
I like The B-52's, but I don't love them. I find that their goofy overtones sometimes detract from what is otherwise pretty decent songwriting. They make it work only most of the time. But “Follow Your Bliss”, the final track on 1989's Cosmic Thing, was a very different kind of song for them. It is them alright. It has their quirky and playful spirit and lightheartedness, but it feels tempered and controlled. It's actually a really charming and smart instrumental track and I really get actively into it every time. I seriously have to fight the urge to air piano to the intro and air guitar the rest of it. Sometimes I don't fight that urge, but you know, sometimes I'm in public and there is a socially acceptable level of how much you can be into a song.
77.) Pogo – Sing 2 Self (2008?)
Pogo made a name for himself remixing movies into music on Youtube, first catching the public's attention with “Alice,” his mashup of Disney's Alice in Wonderland. There are whole bunch of Pogo tracks that I think are amazing and could have fit on this list, but I couldn't really decide which was my all time favourite. So, what I wound up doing was consulting my iPod. The song with the most amount of plays was the winner. And “Sing 2 Self” wasn't the most obvious choice for me, but it's true that every time I hear this song, it makes me happy. Unlike most of his songs, I don't really know what he samples, but that doesn't affect my enjoyment of the track, which shows there is more to Pogo's music than nostalgic novelty. I feel there is a genuine musicality to his songs which really resonates with me.
Off of his EP Table Scraps, this song takes me back to around 2009 when I worked as a projectionist and listened to music while travelling around the projection booth, watching over the films as they played. I was just getting into Pogo at the time and this was in the initial collection of songs that I heard from him and I just couldn't stop listening. To this day, many of those tracks are among the top played songs on my iPod. The projection job isn't there anymore because of the big push to digital projectors which was happening around that year, but this track instantly transports me back and makes me miss those years.
It's weird thinking that I get nostalgic for 2009, but so much has changed since then and I think at that point in my life, I was actually quite content.
76.) Her Space Holiday – Gravity Fails Us (1997)
I had a lot of trouble picking a favourite Her Space Holiday song because I've often found that I have more interest in his albums as a whole. One of my favourites is his 2001 release Manic Expressive, but picking a favourite song off of there almost defeats the point because of how well the album works as a cohesive whole. But then I remembered the beautiful “Gravity Fails Us” off of his debut album Audio Astronomy. This is one of the really stand out tracks and really shows his gift for emotional and contemplative song writing. In his early days he relied a lot on guitar effects and synthesized soundscapes to provide the backdrop to the song, while his hushed and echoed vocals add that extra bit of soul to the song. Another thing that fascinates me about this song is the misleadingly edgy intro which sounds like it leads in from another song, but it doesn't really. It's a great start though and perhaps makes the song more poignant when it enters it's calmer, gentler, more dream-like movement.
I discovered this song in my late teens and was enraptured by it. I remember at one point feeling almost overwhelmed by the song, like I was enjoying it too much! And I remember my mom saying something like “It's just a song.” But it wasn't just a song. It was a great song. And being affected by it like that wasn't typical. Sometimes great music does strange things to you and “Gravity Fails Us” is exceptional.
75.) Paul White – Grimy Light (2009)
I often hesitate to add songs that are this recent because I want to represent my whole life's worth of musical experience in this collection, but sometimes you just know you found something really good. Besides, I shouldn't discount the here and now as it's just as much a part of my life as 20 years ago was. I don 't feel guilty about adding Paul White's “Grimy Light” on here because it really is a track I can play over and over again and still be engrossed in it. White is a great electronic music producer who has been busy releasing material for the last few years through One Handed Music, an independent record label that seems overjoyed that Paul White keeps giving them things to distribute and often sell out of. I picked up “Grimy Light” through a Japan relief compilation album and it blew me away. Not only that, but it gets major bonus points for sampling the King Crimson song “The Night Watch” and completely reinventing it. The song is his and there are only brief moments when we hear King Crimson's musical influence.
Paul White is a visionary, a forward thinking musician with influences deeply rooted in the past, which is the way to go. Pay tribute, but don't repeat. Sometimes he get's a little too out there and psychedelic, but when he hits, he hits it home. “Grimy Light” is one of his finest compositions.
74.) Jean-Michel Jarre – Équinoxe Part 1 (1978)
French electronic pioneer Jean-Michel Jarre was best known for his 1976 albums Oxygène, which admittedly is pretty good, but I actually prefer Équinoxe, his follow-up which was also a success, but not to the same degree. But I didn't know any difference as a kid. I just remember browsing my Dad's records and having the cover art capture my imagination. I could sit there and look at it for ages (probably minutes) and just analyze the shapes and images, finding myself captivated, if not somewhat confused. It wasn't until I was in my early 20's when I expressed interest in records again and my Dad let me take a couple records out of his collection. There were a small handfull that I was interested in, but I recognized this cover instantly. And it's strange so much later in life, finding myself remembering what it was like to discover again. To be teleported, if just briefly, into my younger self and delve into music for the first time again.
Équinoxe is constructed to be a single piece of music, separated into 8 movements, divided only by sides of the record. But none of the tracks capture my imagination or that nostalgic feeling quite like Part 1. It's a brief two minutes and it feels like an introduction more than a whole piece of music, as I explained, but it has a marvelous build up, with layers of chords of intricate echoed beeps and boops being stacked on top of one another. It sounds glorious to me and feels like it's making promises of great things to come.
73.) Peter Gabriel – Darkness (2002)
Peter Gabriel is one of the finest songwriters of his generation and I think that this is pretty much an indisputable fact. Why so low on the list then? Well, the simple answer is that he is one of the artists who gets two songs so you'll see the other one later. And what's great is how much musical ground he's covered in his career, so the two songs I've picked are on very different ends of the Peter Gabriel spectrum of accessibility. This is more on the progressive end of the spectrum.
“Darkness” is the opening track from Peter Gabriel's masterpiece Up, which is a pretty incredible album that gets better and better every time I hear it. And it's a great way to start the record. It is intense and emotionally dynamic, ranging from a gritty aggression into a exploratory wonder. He sings of fears and overcoming them through images and story, not relying on loose sentiments. And the music is constructed to match the mood of the lyrics. When he sings about his insecurities the music is harsh and abrasive, but when he sings about his strengths the music becomes more melodic and uplifting. It's arguably a bit melodramatic, but a healthy amount of theatricality can still be effective and moving. I can't get enough of it. If I could write just one song half as good as “Darkness” I would feel like an accomplished musician.
As for the video, I don't know why they chose a picture of fruit for it, but there it is. It was either that or naked people sulking. Oh well.
72.) Broken Social Scene – Stars and Sons (2003)
This was actually the last song to make it on the list, primarily because I thought I had a Broken Social Scene song on here and somehow I didn't. Originally I thought it was going to be the song “Hotel” but I guess I was unsure about it because I sat on it. And while I do love that song, I somehow felt unsatisfied calling it my favourite, so I went back to the album that made me love the band in the first place, You Forgot it in People and then the answer became clear. “Stars and Sons” was the selling point of Broken Social Scene for me. I remember the chilly autumn evening in 2005 when I first heard it. A good friend of mine lent me his copy of the CD urging me to give it a shot. So I did while walking to pick up my younger brother from a friend's house. And the first song had me interested. The second song had my attention. The third song, “Stars and Sons” sealed the deal. And it has remained a favourite of mine ever since.
It starts off relatively simple. The song is carried by a bass line that is surprisingly infectious and sung with frantic breathy vocals. And slowly but surely the songs descends into complete chaos somewhere around the three and half minute mark. There is something amazing and beautiful about the sense of adventure that this song carries. They just take something really simple and turn it into something really big and ambitious and it somehow works.
71.)Remy Shand – The Mind's Eye (2002)
Canadian Rhythm and Blues artist Remy Shand released his one and only album in 2002 and it really became a special addition to my collection and for the longest time the final track, “The Mind's Eye,” was my favourite song from the album. It's got that instant jazzy hook and smooth groove that could have easily sounded forced or contrived, but Shand is the real deal and captures the essence of what makes this sort of jazz work. And a lot of that is that he builds upon the skeleton of the song with first, a vocal section, then he moves into a long guitar lead section, followed by a long keyboard solo section. It takes jazz back to it's improvised roots, from the old days of Miles Davis and his peers. The focus is on the skills of the music an whose turn it is to play, and in this case, it's Remy Shand. He played all of the instruments on the album. But it doesn't sound like an ego trip to show off his skills, but simply puts together the right melodies that service the song. And it is beautiful.
I loved this song so much I actually wrote a paper on it for a music class I took in college. It was our assignment to break down a song and explain what it is that it going on and how that makes a song work. It was actually pretty difficult and I didn't do amazingly well on the assignment, but I remember listened to “The Mind's Eye” over and over again and finding myself amazed that I never really got sick of it from overexposure. That's when I knew that it was a real gem.