Best tunes of 2010: #2 Arcade Fire “Sprawl II (Mountains beyond mountains)”

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And here we are finally at the penultimate track on this best tunes of 2010 list and we have a second song from what many consider to be Arcade Fire’s masterpiece: “The suburbs” (the title track appeared at #12). For myself, I don’t know if I can decide between this one and their debut album, “Funeral”, it’s really too close to call. I liked both albums from the start, though they are quite distinctly different.

“The suburbs” is a bleak, post-apocalyptic rendering of suburbia, but it is done with love. In many cases, the songs are brighter and shinier than those on the darker “Funeral”. Indeed, “Sprawl II (Mountains beyond mountains)” is a perfect example of how Arcade Fire twists it’s subject matter into something more uplifting and almost joyous.

“They heard me singing and they told me to stop,
Quit these pretentious things and just punch the clock,
These days, my life, I feel it has no purpose.”

The sixth and final single released off the album features Win Butler’s partner in crime and in life, Régine Chassagne, on vocals and she is star of the music video as well. She leaves her suburban home with a pair of headphones on and she starts the music immediately. Then, we see suburban folk doing typically suburban things, like hanging out in lawn chairs and watering the lawn, except they’re all wearing masks, some of them faceless, and all the while, Régine just sings and dances away any fear and loathing she might have. It all culminates in a fearless night time dance party on a football field, where she leads the way with cheerleading streamers.

I’ve often felt that she was channeling Björk a bit here and not just in the video, where the humdrum world becomes a sort of Hollywood musical, albeit a twisted one, once the music starts. But in the song itself and how she sings the song, right down to the vocal mannerisms.

And it is on “Sprawl II” more than on any other song on “The suburbs” that we get a hint at the direction Arcade Fire would take on future albums. Music that Régine could dance to was how Win Butler explained the sound on “Reflektor”. Well, she’s dancing all over “Sprawl II“ and it’s super contagious.

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

Best tunes of 2010: #3 The National “Runaway”

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The National is a five-piece indie rock band that formed in Cincinnati, Ohio in 2001. They have since released seven full length studio albums and along the way have gained a serious following and managed substantial cred. They have already been seen in the pages of this young blog a handful of times, featuring in both of the Best Albums lists I have thus far compiled and appearing in this very list at the number 22 spot with “Conversation 16”.

There’s no saving anything
Now we’re swallowing the shine of the sun
There’s no saving anything
How we swallow the sun
But I won’t be no runaway

I’ve mentioned elsewhere that the seemingly stream of consciousness lyrics are a massive draw to The National’s sound. They are literate and poetic and sometimes are images that balloon to a dream or a concrete moral epiphany and at other times, are as obtuse as trigonometry. It’s fun to try to unravel meanings in the randomness of Matt Berninger’s compositions, an inside joke in gravity’s rainbow.

“Runaway” is a dirge. Bass drums thumping and laying down life as we know it. Acoustic finger picking, lilting through the dry ice fog and suddenly there’s a hint of horns, a taps for a new generation, sad but uplifting. Berninger’s deep rumble like a calming massage to your temples, breathing life into all corners of your tired consciousness. And by the end of it, you want to run away with the band, willing to go with them, wherever they will take you. It’s all so sweet.

And I think that just about sums it up.

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

Best tunes of 2001: #18 Depeche Mode “Dream on”

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I’d been a pretty ardent follower of Depeche Mode since Violator in 1990, gobbling up the other two albums they unleashed in the 90s, both “Songs of faith of devotion” and “Ultra” being solid albums, the former more than the latter in this blogger’s books. By the time 2001 rolled around and almost four years had past since their last album, the shine of Depeche Mode had worn off a bit for me and they were no longer front of mind. So it took me a while before I got around to listening to their tenth studio offering, “Exciter”.

If you can pardon my obviousness, I actually didn’t find the album all that exciting. In fact, this was the first of their albums that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy all the way through, a trend that has unfortunately continued through to their most recent work. That’s not to say I dislike the band now, nay, each album has given us some very good tracks. I just don’t find Mode as consistently good as they were through the 80s and 90s.

“Dream on” is one of the highlights of “Exciter” for me. You can hear the influence of producer Mark Bell (LFO, Björk) with the EDM beats throughout the record but here, it’s augmented by a bluesy acoustic guitar riff that just doesn’t quit. Dave Gahan’s vocal work is almost soulful and old-timey, clear and front of the palette of the austere production with Martin Gore adding his usual flourishes at opportune moments. Gore’s song subject is an addict hitting rock bottom and you feel that he is a addressing a woman he could love if she would give him the chance. But it’s Gahan that is singing the words and he does so from a place of experience.

“Feel the fever coming
You’re shaking and twitching
You can scratch all over
But that won’t stop you itching”

This is Depeche Mode. And it’s awesome.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2001 list, click here.