Best tunes of 2010: #1 Broken Bells “The high road”

<< #2

After almost a full year, we’ve finally come to the number one song on this best of 2010 list. So many great songs but this single off the self-titled, debut album by Broken Bells wins it all for me hands down.

I remember first hearing about the Brian Burton and James Mercer collaboration and thinking (whether rightly or wrongly) that this was all made possible by another collaboration six years prior by Jimmy Taborello and Ben Gibbard, called The Postal Service. Still, when I first gave “Broken Bells” a spin and first heard the opening seconds of the opening song, this one, I was hooked. The album then spent a lot of time with me after that, keeping me company with its hooks and multi-faceted magic.

Apparently, the seeds were sown for this collaboration when The Shins’ frontman, James Mercer met producer/musician/wizard, Brian Burton (aka Danger Mouse) at a music festival in 2004 and they got to talking and discovered each other’s mutual respect. They didn’t actually get around to working together for another four years and the first album came a couple of years after that. By this time, Burton had already been riding a wave of successes, such as his collaboration with Cee-Lo Green as Gnarls Barkley and the production of albums by Gorillaz, The Good, The Bad and The Queen, Beck, and The Black Keys. Indeed, he was becoming like a musical Midas. Mercer, for his part, had put his own band, The Shins, on hiatus, citing fatigue after three relatively successful albums and achieving a sort of cult status. Working together, the two members of Broken Bells brought their own styles with them to the workshop and seemingly reinvigorated each other, creating beautiful, otherworldly music in the process.

“The high road” is hipster funk for martians. It opens up with synths that feel like free jazz random notes played on an underwater harpsichord, filtered through a C64’s speakers. Then, that laidback beat kicks in and you can just imagine Burton and Mercer coolly walking down a back alley with graffiti on the walls, decked out in bandannas and jean jackets with the collars turned up. Mercer’s vocals here are unlike anything he had previously done with The Shins, which I suppose is the point, affecting a devil may care attitude, almost to the point of irony. The whole thing is so much fun, right down to the backing vocals that invite you in to be part of the gang. That’s right. Step right up and join the choir that is the human race.

Cheers folks and thanks as always for reading.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2010 list, click here.

Vinyl love: The Decemberists “The king is dead”

(Vinyl Love is a series of posts that quite simply lists, describes, and displays the pieces in my growing vinyl collection. You can bet that each record was given a spin during the drafting of each corresponding post.)

Artist: The Decemberists
Album Title: The king is dead
Year released: 2011
Details: Gatefold sleeve, 180 gram

The skinny: The Portland-based five-piece’s 5th record is a pretty straightforward album, as far as The Decemberists go. Focusing smartly this time on the American folk tradition, the band received support from Gillian Welch, Laura Veirs, and R.E.M.’s Peter Buck. It’s lovely stuff.

Standout track: “This is why we fight”

Best albums of 1997: #5 Blur “Blur”

Blur practically invented Britpop.

It was the media that invented the term, of course, but the impetus lay in albums like Blur’s sophomore album, 1993’s “Modern life is rubbish”. Written in part as a reaction the Grunge scene and the alternative explosion in North America, frontman and principal songwriter Damon Albarn wrote a poppier rock record influenced by British artists with songs satirizing British life. These British-centric themes and ideas carried forward into 1994’s “Parklife” and then, released during the height of Britpop mania in 1995, “The great escape” saw Blur almost parodying themselves in technicolour cartoons.

When it came time to record album number five, the four members of Blur had become disenchanted with the scene and really, with themselves. Albarn finally bought into the lo-fi influenced rock (think Pavement) that guitarist Graham Coxon was becoming more and more enamoured with. Coxon convinced Damon that it was time to write ‘music that scared people again’. The band convened to Reykjavik, Iceland and “Blur” was born.

Many of you who read these pages frequently will know by now that I have been a fan from the beginning so it may not surprise you to see this album in my top five for 1997. However, when I first heard the lead off single “Beetlebum” and then the rest of “Blur” later on, I didn’t recognize it as the band I loved and was initially unsure of the change. It was so jarring, so different from the zaniness of “The great escape”. Of course, it didn’t take super long for me to buy in, maybe a few go rounds in my CD player, and I didn’t look back. “Blur” is crunchy, noisy, and aggressive and it’s not surprising that it finally gave the band their first hit single in the US.

I imagine most of you already know “Song 2” (often misnamed “The Woo hoo song”) so I didn’t include it as part of my three picks for you below.

”M.O.R.”: David Bowie and Brian Eno get songwriting credits since Damon and company lifted the chord progression from two songs on “Lodger”, which themselves shared the same progression as an experiment of sorts. “M.O.R.” is a song that builds through each verse structure to the explosive chorus. The call and response vocals are fun, each taking turns under distortion effects. The drums are punchy and the guitars wailing. It’s most certainly constructed for pogoing and shouting along with and just having a blast.

”Beetlebum”: As mentioned above, this was my first exposure to the new album, being the first single released and also the opening number on the playlist. Writers have called it a tribute to The Beatles and you certainly can hear their influence buried deep within all the crunchy guitars and feedback but it could just be laziness on the writers’ parts, making assumptions based on the name. Damon Albarn has admitted that it was influenced by his own experiences with heroin and other drugs and that definitely sounds spot on. It is droning and flailing and free falling. It would have easily fit on the “Trainspotting” soundtrack had it been recorded a year or so sooner.

”On your own”: Yes! This is actually my favourite song on the album. It’s a singalong, for sure, but not in the traditional sense. It becomes one in the way the thumping drums and Coxon’s wailing guitars frame the vocals so wonderfully. And Albarn’s singing is so personal and lazy, like he doesn’t care who’s listening but knows we all are. The backing vocals join in midway through the verse and the chorus becomes a defiant shout. You just want to pump your fist in support. This is the new Blur. They don’t give a fig if you don’t like it but somehow know you will. Wicked.

Check back next Thursday for album #4. In the meantime, here are the previous albums in this list:

10. Cornershop “When I was born for the 7th time”
9. The Dandy Warhols “The Dandy Warhols come down”
8. Teenage Fanclub “Songs from Northern Britain”
7. The Mighty Mighty Bosstones “Let’s face it”
6. Ocean Colour Scene “Marchin’ already”

You can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.