Top 50 Songs of 2009 :: 50-41 [Have some courtesy and keep it in your sleeve]
50. The Sweet Serenades - "On My Way"
There is something vaguely aerobic about The Sweet Serenades' "On My Way." It pounds out of the gate and the back-beat panting manages to hold out just long enough to tumble into a quivering, crystalline chorus. It is fragile, shabby, and entirely propulsive. Turn yourself, and this, up.
49. War Tapes - "Dreaming of You"
An American Editors mixed with a Cure cover-band, up the drama a little and you're in the zip code of War Tapes' "Dreaming of You." That is, of course, until the 3-minute mark when the whole arrangement grinds to a halt, only to explode in one of those, "Is My Heart Going To Pop?" chord progressions. At that point, there is an edge to this band, an aggression that isn't common to a first sentence rife with comparisons to other bands. War Tapes are going for broke, and for that, no one can fault them. And for that, they gave us one of the biggest moments of the year.
48. New Roman Times - "Smoke In Your Disguise"
New Roman Times have a publicist who likes to compare them to Airborne Toxic Event. I like to compare them to Sweden's Moonbabies. The power is in the imagery, an imagination that places us as conspirators needing to get away together. The boy-girl vocals of the chorus, repeating, "But you are breaking my heart," aren't the killer. But the image of being the smoke in someone elses' disguise, the image of being the the getaway car for someone elses' robbery, is powerful. They wax philosophical, "I'll be there when you fall apart/I'll be the smoke in your disguise." Fair enough, as the guitars crash and the arrangement spills over the top of the glass.
47. My First Earthquake - "Cool In The Cool Way"
My First Earthquake, for the record, are cool in the cool way. But in that more terrifying conception of "coolness" where having a creative disdain for what is "cool," in effect makes you cool. Their single, "Cool In The Cool Way" is all about embracing your nerdiness in a world that forces American Apparel and Urban Outfitters down the the throats of unsuspecting and confused American youth. Are you afraid of slap bracelets because someone told you they could cut your wrist off? But then later you embraced them in an attempt to keep up and despite your fears, only to find that "cool" had moved on? Well, this is the opposite of that. You've got a robot name, Becca, and that's awesome.
46. Red Wire Black Wire - "Locked Out"
"Locked Out" is a tumbling piece of synth-rock by a band with a name that implies exactly the kind of explosiveness that reveals itself in the down, down, downbeat of the second verse. Of course, the narrative is about a suffocating moment when you lose the girl you're with to some older, strong, behind-closed doors guy. If you listen closely, it's depressing. But, there's an element of "we don't have to take this" in the midst of all the self-conscious anger and micro-management. But you'll find yourself singing along to "I know that I'm a bother/and it's hard to refuse an offer/and you've already got a father/and I always play the martyr/But I'm locked out." Now, it's time to blow the place to bits.
45. Alex Metric - "Head Straight"
There are times when, especially in the indie rock circle, you feel like you're going to lose it. Everything is so carefully done and even the dance music isn't always Dance Music. So, with relief, Alex Metric storms out with a straight club banger. "Head Straight" charges out of the gates with no other purpose than to explode in a chorus with tumbling drums, synth-stabs and not an ounce of self-reflection. Metric intones, "I keep up/I reach out/Crying, 'Get my head straight.'" He's all about getting yourself together, about not losing your mind. With a humming, buzzing, breakdown the doors cut, "Head Straight" does it.
44. Deleted Scenes - "Fake IDs"
"Fake IDs" takes on the challenge of identity in a world becoming rapidly more and more dishonest. Instead of bemoaning this loss of connection to Truth, Deleted Scenes head the other direction, insisting, "I don't mind you lying to me/if you think you're right, you must be." Later, they reflect that, "We all have fake IDs." They aren't talking about breaking the law but they are talking about the lies we tell each other and ourselves. Who we are is far more contextual than it is independently real. With ethereal, powerful vocals Deleted Scenes are like a more credible Fleet Foxes with a bubbling keyboard riff to drive your mind through a series of, frankly, tough conversations about the veracity of the universe.
43. Stricken City - "Small Things"
An angular, pissed-off, echoing post-punk record, Stricken City gave us Songs About People I Know. The centerpiece was the turn it up and turn it out, "Small Things." The track doesn't fully take off until after the bridge but, from 2.20 on, it turns into a stumbling, chanting, sweaty sing-a-long. Lead-singer, Rebekah Raa leads us down alleyways and we find something that, at volume and the right time of night, might just break you in half.
42. Deer Tick - "Easy"
Deer Tick are from my hometown of Providence, Rhode Island. When they perform, they raise the state's flag with them and it is emblazoned with only one word, "Hope." Of course, lead-singer, John McCauley, doesn't sound particularly hopeful; more like he's been up half the night drinking Beam and smoking Reds. And this is the charm: Hope amidst the backdrop of disappointment, hurt and anger. On "Easy," McCauley is himself, gravely and propulsive. The guitars clatter around him and the harmonies sound like they were written on the back of a cocktail napkin at Captain Seaweeds. That's a Providence-reference and I hope you know it.
41. The Thermals - "Now We Can See"
I spent most of the summer in Los Angeles, California driving around in a rented Kia with a sattilite radio hook-up. Between driving down to the ocean and out east to Silverlake, we spent a lot of time in the car and got awfully comfortable with the college radio feed that came through XM. The Thermals cut "Now We Can See" was in heavy rotation and, without exaggeration, Noah and I probably heard it 40-50 times in the month of July. I didn't love it - until I did. By the time I was hitting the airport back east, the song's hook-infested chorus, and its "oh-way-oh" group-vocal, were firmly planted in my mind. This is power-pop at its finest. And if you get through without wanting to growl, "Now we can see/the warnings and signs/read in between the lines/like writing on the wall," well, you might need to listen to it again. Say, 40 or 50 times.