December 14, 2007

Favorite Songs of 2007: Upward Fall

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at December 14, 2007 4:09 PM

With blogging curtailed in the last few months due to thesis writing, and a general decline in music reviews on this site over the entire year, longtime readers may be wondering if I will put together a compilation CD of the year's music as I did the last two years. Wonder no longer! Those of you watching my Flickr stream already know that the mix CD for 2007 has been assembled. As usual, it's compiled from my favorite songs of the year (defined by U.S. release date, since I don't tend to seek out imports) and limited to one song per album.

However, this year my music collecting did suffer from my time spent on other pursuits: I didn't get a chance to listen to very many new-to-me bands, and as a result the list of artists on this collection will seem very familiar to those of you who've heard the previous mixes. A number of artists are returning from 2005's Year of the Phoenix: The New Pornographers, Iron & Wine, Spoon, Caribou, The Rosebuds, and Stars (the bonus track on the second version of Phoenix). The Arctic Monkeys are the only band to reappear from Year of the Wolf, but few bands release two albums less than a year apart so this is unsurprising. Anyway, this isn't so bad since I obviously like these bands, so why not keep featuring them? But at the same time, I feel like I probably missed out on a lot of good new stuff. (Be sure to recommend some in comments!)

I didn't have a good excuse to stick with the "Year of the..." naming scheme this year, so I went with the title Upward Fall, which is a phrase from one of the songs ("The Night Starts Here"). In the song it pretty clearly refers to death, and several of the songs invoke either death or falling as themes. I don't mean to be morbid—in fact I don't intend for the yearly CD to be thematically coherent at all (as opposed to most other mix CDs I make), but sometimes these things emerge subconsciously, because particular songs appeal to me because of the situation I'm in. Here the death imagery should be interpreted like the Death card in tarot, as representing a transition: in this case the end of my grad student career, and moving on into a new life, a new career, and (probably) a new city. The uncertainty about what exactly this will entail is reflected in the tension of the last few songs. The final song is perhaps a bit too apocalyptic, but this is what happens when I put together the CD in my last two weeks as a grad student.

If you'd like a copy of the CD, either see me in person (I will probably be carrying a few), leave a comment, or e-mail me—I'm happy to send them by mail to people who I won't see in the next couple months.

Click through for the tracklist and comments on individual songs. I had trouble ranking them this year, so the list is in track order rather than rank order.

  1. "Myth Takes" by !!! (from Myth Takes)
    I almost called the CD Just Like the Movies based on this song. "Myth Takes" is short and to the point, kicking off its eponymous album with style, and I decided it would make an equally good opener for the mix.
  2. "All the Old Showstoppers" by The New Pornographers (from Challengers)
    Challengers was disappointing at first, since it's not as good as Twin Cinema or Electric Version. But, those two records are really awesome, so there's a lot of room for a lesser album to be terrific in its own way. I ended up loving about half the songs on Challengers, but "Showstoppers" was the first one to grab me and is still my favorite.
  3. "I Feel It All" by Feist (from The Reminder)
    Most people seem to like "My Moon My Man" or "1 2 3 4" from The Reminder, but in my opinion nothing comes close to "I Feel It All". This track didn't stand out for me until I listened to the CD in an appropriate emotional state; after that it was about all I listened to for a week straight.
  4. "Once and Never Again" by The Long Blondes (from Someone to Drive You Home)
    This one should be no surprise to anyone who read my review back in June. If I didn't limit myself to one track per album, about half of Someone to Drive You Home would appear here, but this song is the best of the lot.
  5. "Heimdalsgate Like A Promethean Curse" by Of Montreal (from Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?)
    Some people will claim that Of Montreal sold out ever since they supplied the theme song for Outback Steakhouse. These people are idiots. The delightfully weird Hissing Fauna is not the kind of album sellout bands make. On the other hand, part of what makes it such a great album is the way the songs complement each other and contribute to the overall experience of listening all the way through, and it was hard to find one that could easily be taken out of this context for a mix CD. "Heimdalsgate" does ok, though, and since it's my favorite track it gets included.
  6. "House by the Sea" by Iron & Wine (from The Shepherd's Dog)
    I love the acoustic textures of this song (as I do with most Iron & Wine songs). "Boy with a Coin" was a close second.
  7. "Rhthm and Soul" by Spoon (from Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga)
    Not a typo, that's how they spell it. My favorite track from this album oscillated between about four different songs; in the end I picked this one, but it could easily have been "The Underdog". I have no idea what the lyrics are about.
  8. "Unless It's Kicks" by Okkervil River (from The Stage Names)
    A song about the sense of awe one experiences when listening to a really great song. And since it is itself a really great song, it creates the effect it refers to.
  9. "Green Gloves" by The National (from Boxer)
    I haven't been able to get into The National in general—something about the vocals and the lyrics tends to bug me, but their instrumentation is usually great, and this song is gorgeous.
  10. "Melody Day" by Caribou (from Andorra)
    Another non-surprise since I posted the video a while back. I still don't have much to say about it other than that it's awesome.
  11. "Only Shallow" by Japancakes (from Loveless) [My Bloody Valentine cover]
    I considered excluding covers from these mixes on the grounds that I should highlight original music, but I decided there's no compelling reason to exclude really good and interesting reworkings of songs. In this case the original is one of my favorite songs, and is technically difficult and easy to screw up. Nevertheless Japancakes recorded a fantastic version of it which preserves its otherworldly sense while giving it a totally different sound. This is part of their track-by-track cover of Loveless; the rest is pretty good, but they did the best job with this one.
  12. "The Night Starts Here" by Stars (from In Our Bedroom After the War)
    I have a soft spot for Stars since they reach me emotionally better than any other band. Their latest album was disappointing after the incredible Set Yourself on Fire, but I really do like this song. It doesn't sound great at first but give it a minute to build up.
  13. "Fluorescent Adolescent" by Arctic Monkeys (from Favourite Worst Nightmare)
    Quirkier and less manic than most Arctic Monkeys songs, which is good: too many of the songs on their latest sound the same, but this one stood out. I wasn't completely happy with its placement in the track ordering (it's a bit jarring after "The Night Starts Here") but I couldn't find a better spot for it.
  14. "Devil You Know" by Pinback (from Autumn of the Seraphs)
    I should perhaps acknowledge Pinback in my thesis for supplying excellent background music for writing. However, this song was so good that I always had to stop and just listen to it.
  15. "Ocean of Noise" by Arcade Fire (from Neon Bible)
    Obvious band #1. The only trouble was picking which awesome song from Neon Bible I wanted to include.
  16. "Spring and by Summer Fall" by Blonde Redhead (from 23)
    I tend to prefer the songs with Kazu Makino's vocals, but this is the best song on the excellent, shoegazey 23.
  17. "Evil Bee" by Menomena (from Friend and Foe)
    I tend to find Menomena songs either really cool or mildly irritating; this one's in the latter category (with the exception of the coda, but the rest of the song makes up for it).
  18. "If Silence Means That Much to You" by Emma Pollock (from Watch the Fireworks)
    I was really grateful for this album, since it's almost like having a new Delgados record. There's a certain amount of situational resonance here, so I hasten to point out that this was far and away my favorite song on Watch the Fireworks even before I paid attention to the lyrics.
  19. "Jigsaw Falling into Place" by Radiohead (from In Rainbows)
    Obvious band #2, and the missing album from my 11 Dec photo. This is because I bought it (yes, I paid) online and did not shell out $80 for the box set with the physical CD. I'm torn between thinking I should apologize for the low sound quality compared to the other tracks, or just accept it as the way the artist chose to release the music. I didn't find that the low bitrate detracted from my enjoyment of the song, but I don't really have a good ear for that sort of thing (unless I'm listening to the original Loveless).
  20. "When the Lights Went Dim" by The Rosebuds (from Night of the Furies)
    Kudos to The Rosebuds for going beyond the usual sappy couplecore fare and instead making a concept album about the destruction of a town by the Erinyes. The best two songs on the album are the ones showcasing Kelly Crisp's vocals: "I Better Run" and "When the Lights Went Dim", either of which rival any Arcade Fire song for apocalyptic dread. This wasn't precisely the feeling I wanted to end with, but it makes a good ending song anyway and conveys the right level of uncertainty, so I kept it. Tags: Music
Comments

I'd like a copy of the CD. I imagine you may need to snail mail it to me --- unless, of course, you're thinking about visiting Pasadena in December. :)

Posted by: Mason | December 15, 2007 4:30 AM

I actually am thinking about visiting LA/Pasadena at the end of the month--the weekend of the 29-30th (maybe staying through New Year's). Are you still around then?

Posted by: Arcane Gazebo | December 15, 2007 1:32 PM

Yes, I'll still be there. I'll be in Pasadena from the 17th until the 5th and then again very briefly the night of the 9th (before flying off on the 10th). Note that on 12/31 I have plans to go to my sister's New Year's party (and maybe come back late enough on 1/1 to avoid most of the parade shenanigans?), but I'll otherwise be mostly sticking around in Pasadena.

Posted by: Mason | December 15, 2007 3:36 PM

Cool! We'll be around LA/Pasadena those days, would love to see you. :) Also looking forward to the mix CD, I think your last two are in my top 3 most played CD's. :)

Posted by: Zifnab | December 16, 2007 2:26 PM

Frances and I would love a copy; do you have our Baltimore address?

Posted by: Jonathan Adams | December 17, 2007 7:09 AM

Congratulations on your approved thesis!

Posted by: Jonathan Adams | December 18, 2007 8:37 AM

Jonathan: Thanks! And, I do have your Baltimore address--I'll mail you a copy.

Posted by: Arcane Gazebo | December 18, 2007 1:19 PM
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