December 31, 2011

A (mostly) uninformed listening of the top 50 singles of 2011: 31–40

We're back. As I continue my annual pop-music catch-up session—remember, I've heard almost none of these songs till just now—I further realize how fucking old I am. Let's go:

40. “Vomit” – Girls

I’m not sure why, in this day and age, anyone would name their musical act something essentially ungoogleable like “Girls,” especially when the band is just two smelly-looking guys from San Francisco. Another hazy, creepy-sounding moaner. Here’s my biggest problem with “vocalists” who only mutter and whisper: It always sounds to me like they don’t particularly care whether or not anyone hears them. You know, like, whatever, who cares. Which forces me to ask the question, why are you bothering to record an album? If you don’t want to share your voice with the world, why not just perform in your parents’ garage and save yourself a whole lot of aggravation? Bullshit, I say.

The thing is, this song has plenty of muscle in its instrumentation. Powerful guitar scratches over keyboard harmonies, some heavenly Pink Floyd–style backing vocals. It meanders and wallows, way too much, but there are some creative, arresting sounds here. Still, another pattern is emerging in these songs: “Vomit” lasts 6:12, and doesn’t have enough going on to justify the length. It’s kind of stunning how far rock & roll has come from its upbeat-three-minute-blast formative years.

39. “California” – EMA

“Fuck California, you made me boring.” Bring on the attention-whore pretension. Yet again, a tin-can vocal performance over go-nowhere instrumental noodling. As far as I can tell, the whole purpose of this song is to see what happens if we take a Yeah Yeah Yeahs song, strip out the melody and dye Karen O’s hair blond. Nothing worthwhile, it turns out.

38. “Blue Eyes” – Middle Brother

Because the world never has enough alt-country supergroups, here’s the dynamic collaboration of fellows from Deer Tick, Dawes and Delta Spirit, who must have met while browsing their own CDs at a Tower Records. About what you’d expect: pleasantly spirited, well performed, blazing no new trails. The vocal twang strikes me as a tad contrived, but there’s nothing to hate here.

37. “Nasty” – Nas

In 1996, I was threatened with grievous bodily harm when I caught a would-be juvenile delinquent as he tried to steal a Nas CD from the Boston record store I worked in. So it’s nice to see this guy’s still around, even if it’s pretty pathetic how completely obsessed he is with representing Queensbridge. Okay, this is a rap song. But I’ve always been aware that Nas’s mike skills are considered top tier, and this song shows why, with a near constant, masterfully commanding flow. Plus, that sample is just killer.

36. “Satisfied” – Tom Waits

I’ve never gone in big for Waits, despite the entreaties of too many friends and acquaintances to count. That demented-carnival-barker voice is interesting, but a little of it goes an awfully long way, from my POV. Apparently, this dirtily insistent pounder is a response to the Rolling Stones’ signature tune, with Keith Richards on guitar. It’s a respectable, admirable effort, but I can’t imagine any scenario in which I’d particularly want to listen to this again.

35. “We All Go Back to Where We Belong” – R.E.M.

In any accounting of my all-time favorite artists, R.E.M. has to rank somewhere near the top, though I almost completely lost track of them a good ten years ago; one too many stone-boring “mature” albums killed any remaining passion. So I’m not the best judge of any of their more recent efforts, let alone this farewell elegy for the breaking-up band. There’s not a lot here, but what there is is lovely, with a simple and soothing melody, and Stipe’s voice is always a treat.

34. “Girl” – Das Racist

I essentially discovered this act when blogging about last year’s top 50 singles, accepting that they were more than an online-hype-fueled half-joke wonder. But I wouldn’t call myself a fan. Here they turn their wit and skill toward a modern R&B romance tune and it’s fine. But I sense that these fellows are hankering to dig the jokes out from under the radio-friendly sheen, that they’re a lot more comfortable recording viral musical comedy bits than aiming for lighthearted respectability. Oh, what do I know…

33. “Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win” – Beastie Boys feat. Santigold

Beastie Boys surprised everyone when they first broke out 25 years ago (“Three Jerks Make a Masterpiece,” The Village Voice declared), and they never stopped swerving left when the world expected them to only bear left. This song injects some reggae soul into their party attitude, with an extremely uninteresting, anyone-could-do-this vocal from Santigold (who used to be Santogold; important distinction). I’m sure they had loads of fun putting this together in the studio, but this song never advances beyond a dull pulse.

32. “Bizness” – Tune-Yards

Hoo-boy…Microsoft Word doesn’t even let want me to type tUnE-YaRdS, the way this wackadoo prefers it. I don’t know…a female Peter Gabriel on crystal meth? It’s very intriguing, refreshingly honest, high-energy stuff. But I think I’d need to do more drugs to love something like this.

31. “Ric Flair” – Killer Mike

How did I not know about this, a song about one of pro wrestling’s all-time greats? Complete with copious samples of braggadocio from the Nature Boy himself. It’s musically a street-smart ‘70s-style R&B flashback, and Mike has a powerful, authoritative voice, making for a great contrast with the priceless Slick Ric snippets. A fascinating artifact, this one.

Thirty more to go. I feel as if—could be wrong, but I feel it—I was more up on the current sounds this year than last, so I suspect as we get closer to the top, I'll start recognizing a few more of these. Only one way to find out…


Bill Scurry said...

For my money, I preferred this GI Joe-reminiscent video for the Beasties' latest single.

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