Top 50 of 2008 :: 5-2 [Is your heart still beating?]

5) Airborne Toxic Event - "Sometime Around Midnight"

Airborne Toxic Event wrote one of the most secretly destructive albums of the year. The songs were catchy; the melodies bouncy. There was no sense that the entire album was actually about break-ups, mortgaging your future, and being absolutely destroyed by a woman. It helped that their lead-singer and lyricist Mikel Jollet used to be a novelist. One can assume, a really morose novelist. Which brings us to "Sometime Around Midnight," a song about going out, trying to get over the girl you love, and having her go home with someone else - right in your face, seemingly to prove a point. I mean, he puts it more eloquently than that but you get the gist. From there it's about walking out of a bar so drunk that you don't realize, "everyone's staring at you." The closer is the pathos and breakdown. Jollet screams, "you just have to see her/you just have to see her/you know that she'll break you in two." It's fragile. It's demanding and it's prophetic. The best part: the guitars and arena-style arrangement that explode around Jollet as he finds the place where he can handle his miniature disaster. It's tragic as hell. It might break you in two.

4) Mates of State - "The Re-Arranger"

It starts plodding and meditative before moving into something more urgent, and eventually finding a pedantic but resonating final call. What makes "The Re-Arranger" so perfect is not that it is one good song; it's that it is two, and maybe three separate good songs - all dealing with the same issue. Ostensibly, the song is about trying to recover a relationship. Essentially, "if you really wanna shake it off/you gotta re-arrange us." This can happen. Things can go wrong and they can be fixed; but how that happens is always a larger and more complicated problem. Mates of State have never presented nuanced solutions but they have always managed to put a pretty face on an ugly situation. So, they pull out a bridge which, we can assume, is about the value and productive quality of vicious, shouting arguments. "Love loud/don't lose loud" is a different way of saying you'd rather fight than not talk at all. "Love loud/ don't lose loud" is a little like stuffing a rainbow up the asshole of a disaster. But sometimes you need to do that. Sometimes you need to believe that you can do the re-arranger. Sometimes you need to re-arrange us.

3) We Are Scientists - "After Hours"

We Are Scientists took a great leap forward this year and no one noticed. Their album, Brain Thrust Mastery was a combination of dangerous power-pop and Duran Duran synth-slick ambitiousness. It wasn't With Love and Squalor. But it didn't try to be. And "After Hours" was the third best song of the year. It was huge. More than that, it was ready and willing to be huge. The lyrics were about going out drinking in New York, trying to stay out as late as possible, and challenging the nerve of bartenders to close their bars. It doesn't necessarily have a lot to say but that's less of an issue. It charges forward with no regard for personal safety as the band ends up demanding, "say/that you'll stay." It bleeds togetherness. It bleeds those early hours and late nights and times that are always running out. It bleeds the here and it bleeds the now. "This door is always open." And no one has the guts to shut us out.

2) The Killers - "Human"

In a year that embraced electro, disco and synthesizers like never before, we needed someone to bring us back down. Someone to bring it back down, bring it back down tonight. And ironically, it was one of the most digestible (read: "vapid" if you're a hater) synth-rock bands of the last 10 years who had a mind to do it. Brandon Flowers and The Killers, chipping off a Hunter S. Thompson lyric questioning our humanity, managed to pose a grammatically incorrect, if dreadfully important question: are we human or are we dancer? You gotta let me know. And the case was, we are dancer. We've gathered up our innately human qualities and taken them down to the electro-house pawn shop and all we got in trade was "D.A.N.C.E." Flowers is almost demanding to know why we've let ourselves become a breed of kids who plugged so deeply into the main-frame, so intimately into the scene, and so mindlessly into the disco that we can't define our humanity. Are we human or are we dancer? I probably can't do this better justice than what I wrote the day the song leaked. So, go back and read that. It's just new tab and Google in your browser and search for "Human" and "32ft" and then click search and select from your search options the link that best describes the your desired location. Plug in. Shut off. And God help us all if that MGMT record is the best thing the kids can get down to. Give my regards to soul and romance. They did the best they could.

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