by Weston Cutter
(I’m pretty anti-top 10 anything, and end-of-the-year stuff makes me nervous in weird ways, so I apologize for whatever hedging comes through in the following.)
My top discs of the year are, largely, what you’d expect from a nerdy white dude who wears glasses. That said, there were five tracks this year that seemed to over and over come back to me, tracks that I’d spend weeks playing first thing in the morning (real literally, that: I hit play each morning (and dozens of times through the rest of the day—anyone who wants more luscious writing about that need to “decode” or break down a song should just go buy Hornby’s Songbook and read his entry on Nelly Furtado) for two or three weeks on each of the following tracks, and, in one case, for well over a month). Maybe this is best done chronologically:
1. “Bring it on Home to Me” covered by Britt Daniel.
There should be a whole separate year-end catalog of all the shit we find in a calendar year that’s not of that year—the year, say, you discover Dylan or Neko Case or Holly Golightly or Rachmaninoff. The first half of this year was real heavily dominated by Sam Cooke, and I got into him because I got into a girl who liked him, and because I’m an idiot and somehow the SS Cooke had sailed while I was getting down on the SS Redding. So: that happened.
And then, on one of the blogs, this cover was posted. I honestly don’t know anymore if I got the Cooke or Daniel version first, but I’m pretty sure it was the Cooke version. It almost doesn’t matter.
I won’t say this version’s better than Sam Cooke’s original studio recording, and it sure as shit’s not even close to the live version on Cooke’s just insanely great One Night Stand. It’s a great version because it’s B. Daniel, and because there might be no better white dude right now in terms of measured, perfect growling (of which this song has several fine moments). It’s a great, almost-blue-eyed-soul track, but it’s just great, great rock and roll: all hunger and urgency and snarl and softness, hand-clappy and jangled guitar-y and god knows if the comp this was originally part of is even worth a damn, but this track’s worth plenty of damns.
2. “I’m Sorry” by Feist.
So, I know: Feist is all AAA radio and lame adult music and, Jesus, she sold out and went all Apple and now your parents talk about that woman in that One Two Three Four song and blah blah blah: I don’t give a shit. Do you remember how great this album was when it came out? Do you remember how it felt when Feist was still just “Mushaboom” and you and your friends’ obsession?
I got her disc to review, and so (of course: thanks a lot, record companies) I could play it neither on my computer nor my stereo proper (because it was copy protected, and I have a disc player from 1997), and so the only disc player in the house on which it worked was my dinky CD alarm clock (which is pink and white, no joke)(it was the cheapest one at Target). I live, basically, in a cave: it’s all heavy-duty brick and no carpeting, so sound bounces great and sounds, I guess, dusty—that’s really the only way to describe it (music in one room and you in the other is, to me, one of the all-time great sensations).
But so anyway, playing The Reminder was a separate-room thing for me, all year, and there was (and still is) something magnificent about hitting play on the disc player in the bedroom and then sitting in the other room, coffee in hand, listening to this quietly pretty and perfect and searingly honest song. Maybe it’s just me. In terms of music experiences I’d like to go back and take in again fresh and anew, this is my top pick for the year.
3. “Die Die Die” by Avett Brothers
What’s funny is that this track’s got the same title, of course, as a Dr. Dog song (and Dr. Dog’s latest is well-worth your listening dollars, and should be part of any decent year-end top-ten list). What’s funnier is that the Avett Brothers are ridiculously talented and wild and funny but, for my money, are only now starting to get really just sickeningly good melodically, and this song’s the best example there is of that trend. Get Emotionalism, seriously. Even if you hate it, the money’s worth giving to these guys.
4. “New York I Love You” by LCD Soundsystem
The less said the better on this one. I can’t get over it, still. I just want to point out that the song seems to be quoting real specifically from Lou Reed’s “Coney Island Baby” (the track, not the album), and it’s worth listening to both tracks back to back. Also, for any of us who may or may not have, for good or bad reasons, spent time going broke in NYC: Thank you, James Murphy, for nailing the feel perfectly.
5. “Coffee” by Aesop Rock feat. John Darnielle.
This track’s a fucking monster. According to Wikipedia, Rachmaninoff once said about Vladimir Horowitz’s playing of the 3rd piano concert “He swallowed it whole!” I haven’t heard Horowitz’s version of that piece, but that sense of swallowing something whole applies absolutely to Aesop’s “Coffee.” This, by the way, was the track I couldn’t stop playing for more than a month.
I’m not ready to believe or admit that Aesop’s somehow forged a new path in rap or anything, though I do think None Shall Pass is one of the year’s best, rap or otherwise. That said, I do think Aesop’s working territory that’s been relatively untouched: the Roots get into this sort of musicality in concert (and on their best tracks and discs (Phrenology, obv)), and Roni Size sometimes lets rappers go to these lengths as well (most notably on “Railing,” the first track on the two disc New Forms, an album that if you don’t already have you’re likely in more trouble than you think), but this sort of frantic, frenetic, musically percussive work is just not at all common enough.
It really is: I’m listening to the track right now, and it’s just such a monster. Darnielle’s almost just an added bonus, but of course his part’s dynamite as well (and weirdly contrapuntal in terms of whatever hell narrative’s happening in the song (if there is one at all, which seems real debatable)). And the hidden track? And that holy shit video? Get this track. Get the disc. Listen to more Aesop for a happier life.