Friday, November 20, 2009

The song that's shaking me

Can I take a minute to talk about 'Letter From An Occupant' by the New Pornographers, and how it's one of the best pop songs ever made? The loud crunching guitar lines and hammering drums that open the song in rapid fire, then cut back when Neko Case's godly voice enters? The British Invasion riffs that drive the song forward? The nonsensical yet relentlessly invigorating lyrics ("I cried 5 rivers on the way here/ Which one will skate away on?")? The divine chorus with Neko's stunning lead vocal, followed by wordless vocals and the thundering question "Where have all sensations gone!?" Who is the star of the show? Neko's singing? A. C. Newman's remarkable song craft? The way the whole band pulls together to turn simple power pop into an bull-dozing, exhausting, and ultimately uplifting anthem with seemingly every bell and whistle in the book? The answer: every individual piece of this song, from start to finish, is perfection. It could not have been pulled off any better. Kudos.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Bound by these choices

Listened to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot for the first time in a very long time today, and while every song on the album is good (literally), my surprise favorite is probably the last track, 'Reservations.' Many of Jeff Tweedy's songs give off an air cocky self-assurance that gets under my skin sometimes, but when he deigns to show us his vulnerabilities, it can be pretty disarming. Now, I'm not one for rock ballads, in fact I dislike almost all of them, but when I hear a good one, I fall for it hard. And 'Reservations' is very good. "How can I convince you that it's me I don't like?" is the opening line, and somehow Tweedy spends the rest of the song selling us a bunch of uber-emo lyrics without making us cringe. My favorite line is the chorus: "Oh I've got reservations/ About so many things/ But not about you." Airing personal insecurities can be a songwriter's deathtrap, but when it's pulled off right, it can earn a quick route to the listener's heart. Capping off such an ambitious album with a moment of real sincerity certainly does it for me.

Speaking of great rock ballads, my song of the week is 'Lord I'm Discouraged' by the Hold Steady. Probably my favorite Hold Steady song, in spite of the Manfred Mann-esque guitar theatrics midway through. I go back and forth on Craig Finn's lyrics, but this song is certainly his finest moment as a song-writer, at least of what I've heard. It would be a waste of time for me to attempt to do them justice by discussing them here, so just go out and listen to the song. I will say, however, that the closing line always gives me chills, so I've got to quote it here, just for good measure: "I know it's unlikely she'll ever be mine/ So mostly I just pray she don't die."