Top 50 of 2009 :: 5-2 [Give me a lake I can dive into]
5. Wild Light - "California On My Mind"
In the way The Who used to talk about, music and place and circumstance can intersect in a powerful way. When charging out of San Francisco last March, listening to Wild Light's debut record that Columbia had so nicely sent over, I was caught at the intersection of place-specific lyrics, my disposable income, wanderlust, some record industry contacts and one great song, "California On My Mind." With its seminal lyric and instruction, "Give me a lake that I can dive into" and its vulgar interjection, "Fuck California," Wild Light issued a site-specific instruction. We lost a friend to California this year and I spent a lot of time there. In another year, these would be confounding variables but, in 2009, it was the right confluence of place and time.
4. Phoenix - "1901"
The opening minute and 19-seconds of "1901," are good but not obviously epic. But at 1:19 something changes. The arrangement, running like an escaped inmate, shifts into another gear. The synths notch up a key and the guitars churn, while the lyrics insist, "Falling, falling, falling." Phoenix had officially taken synthesized rock as far as it could go. It is borderline nonsense but it recalled something I read in 2003 about Franz Ferdinand's "Take Me Out." What made the song so seminal was not that it was empirically good; it was that it could have been just good and it they pushed it to be great. You probably remember where you were the first time you heard the second movement of "Take Me Out." You will remember the second movement, the last step of the chorus, of Phoenix and "1901."
3. Metric - "Gimme Sympathy"
Emily Haines went to South America to write Metric's latest record, Fantasies. We knew this because the band and their publicity staff released a video of Haines, perched soulfully at a keyboard, playing supposed lead-single, "Help, I'm Alive." Of course, sitting at track six on the record was a different song, "Gimme Sympathy." Haines encourages us in the song's first lyrics to, "Get hot, get too close to the flame/wild, open space." It is a meditation on youth, risk and chance. "We're so close to something better left unknown," Haines reflects, before asking if we'd rather be The Beatles or The Rolling Stones. We are encouraged to choose the former, as she asks us to play, "Here Comes The Sun." It might take a trip to Argentina to pull that off.
2. The Big Pink - "Dominos"
It was a text from a friend who saw The Big Pink at Bowery Ballroom. It was a colleague singing the lyrics to me from a mixtape I'd made her. It was a tweet from a photographer friend who saw the band at Lit. They all reflected the dumbstruck inarticulateness that comes when you've seen something so massive, so comprehensive, that you can't quite describe it to others. You hang clauses and you don't finish sentences and you use words like, "Whoa," with no ironic implications. For me it was in July when "Dominos" kicked its way out of my headphones. Since, the industrial-pop hasn't left my side, finding its way into my life at odd junctures and with consistent ferocity. Of course, if words don't totally do "Dominos" justice, you won't have heard it here first.