Monday, July 26, 2010

Cover Case File #3: "Handle With Care"

Jenny Lewis with The Watson Twins (f. Ben Gibbard, Conor Oberst and M. Ward)
"Handle With Care"
Rabbit Fur Coat

The need to know: Rilo Kiley frontwoman Jenny Lewis can be a mixed bag, both solo or in her indie rock day job. But in 2006 she stirred up a whole bunch of fanfare with her collaboration with The Watson Twins, Rabbit Fur Coat. An album of blue-eyed soul with a tinge of countrified flair, it found lovers amongst Rilo Kiley fans and beyond, and jump started The Watson Twins as an act to keep on the radar.

Why it's worthy: "Handle With Care" is just a great song, for starters. Originally recorded by the Travelling Wilburys, themselves something of an odd superroup,  covering it with a who's who of 2006 indie rock just made it all the more noteworthy. Lewis, of course, tackles most of the lead vocals on this version (the parts generally sung by George Harrison), with Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard taking over for Roy Orbison (naturally) and M. Ward and Conor Oberst going for the Tom Petty/Bob Dylan/Jeff Lynne bits. It's a little bit sweeter (especially when Lewis croons, "Baby, you're adorable"), and maybe a little less cynical, but, as cover songs go, this version ain't too shabby.

Quotable lyric:  "Been stuck in airports, terrorized/ Sent to meetings, hypnotized/ Overexposed, commercialized/ Hand me with care"

Where you've heard it:  This isn't the only time Lewis and Gibbard have collaborated: She also contributed backing vocals for The Postal Service's album Give Up.

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Friday, July 23, 2010

Case File #39: "Infinity Guitar"

Sleigh Bells
"Infinity Guitars"

The need to know: Sleigh Bells make dance music with a metal soul.  The combined effort of ex-Poison the Well guitarist Derek Miller and one-time girl grouper Alexis Krauss is made to be played loud and often, mimicking blown-out speakers even within its noise-pop sound. Their debut, Treats, is one of the years best reviewed albums (Don't believe me? Believe Metacritic.) and posits Sleigh Bells as one of few bands going that can claim true uniqueness. In short, they own.

Why it's worthy:  "Infinity Guitars" will punch you in the mouth, and, damnit, you'll love it. Strong from the get-go, like most of the album, it's a relentless throttling of guitars and awesomeness that still maintains a pop sensibility through all that noise. Fun and feisty, it only goes to show how much everybody else is slackin'.

Quotable lyric:  "Deaf chords/ Dead ends"

Where you've heard it: The track "Meds and Feds" off of M.I.A.'s latest disc Maya features elements of Slegh Bells title track "Treats". "Meds and Feds" was co-written by M.I.A. with Derek Miller, and Sleigh Bells were the first band signed to her boutique label, N.E.E.T.

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Case File #38: "Trick For Treat"

Neon Neon
"Trick For Treat"
Stainless Style

The need to know: An album based on the life and times of John Delorean (you know, the guy behind that crazy lookin' car from Back to the Future) shouldn't work. It shouldn't really even come up for consideration. But this album's mixture of 80s worship wrapped up in modern day criticisms make it an album that's not just fun, but surprisingly relevant. And that can only be due to the fellows in charge: Super Furry Animals frontman Gruff Rhys and DJ/electronic artist Boom Bip. A one-off collaboration, it nevertheless earned the band a nomination for the 2008 Mercury Music Prize, an annual award honoring the best album from the UK.

Why it's worthy: On an album that meanders through retro dream pop, nostalgic new wave and hard hip hop, "Trick For Treat" is the track that pulls it all together. Not as biographical as "Luxury Pool", a loose take on Delorean's life story, "Trick For Treat" is nevertheless laden with white powdery references and lifestyle excesses courtesy of guest spots by singer Har Mar Superstar and rap group Spank Rock.

Quotable lyric: "Got me dreaming like a Michigan boy/ In Hollywood/ Got me doing all I can"

Where you've heard it: The video for Neon Neon's "I Told Her on Alderaan" ends with the chorus from "Trick for Treat", complete with a cameo from Har Mar Superstar.

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Monday, July 19, 2010

Case File #38: "Wasted Daylight"

"Wasted Daylight"  
The Five Ghosts

The need to know: Relying on boy-girl vocals, courtesy of Torquil Campbell and Amy Milan, and an impeccable pop sensibility, Stars have made a name for themselves since their sophomore release, Set Yourself on Fire made waves back in 2004. Six years and two albums later, the band has added a danceable flourish to their delicious pop sound. Consider their Soft Revolution complete. 

Why it's worthy: "Wasted Daylight" is an escapist's dream. Amy Milan's ode to spending the day in bed, the tune is equal parts dreamy pop and danceable energy. More likely to get you going than to lull you back to bed, it's a consolation prize for the days you can't afford to snuggle up, turn off your phone and ignore the world around you.

Quotable lyric:  "Telephone rings/ But we'll just let it sing/ Hide out 'till tomorrow/ I crawl into your shadow"

Where you've [seen] it:  In addition to his music career, Campbell has also tried his hand at acting, appearing in episodes of Sex And The City and Law & Order back in 2000, the same year that Stars was formed.

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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Case File #37: "Coax Me"

"Coax Me"  
A Sides Win: Singles 1992-2005

The need to know:  A Canadian institution that never quite found much success in the states, Sloan made some of the best power pop to come out of that country in the 90s. Although critically adored, their first attempt at United States domination found the band feuding with Geffen records and the label refusing to promote their second album, Twice Removed, in 1994. The band found much love and acclaim in their native Canada, however, releasing no less than five albums between 1996 and 2001. Still going strong, Sloan's most recent album, the again well-received Parallel Play, was released in 2008.

Why it's worthy: Orginally appearing on Twice Removed, "Coax Me" is largely thought to be based on the death of Kurt Cobain and his relationship with Courtney Love, as well as the band's struggles with Geffen at that time. A low-key, catchy tune, the Chris Murphy-penned song is largely dominated by the clever wordplay that made the group's earlier songs, like "Underwhelmed", so loveable. But it also comes across as an underhanded Fuck You. Murphy may be singing "Coax Me" but it sounds a lot like "Bring it."

Quotable lyric:  "It's not the band I hate/ It's their fans"

Where you've heard it:  Sloan contributed five songs to the soundtrack for Sophia Coppola's 1999 film, The Virgin Suicides.

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Monday, May 31, 2010

Case File #36: "California"

Beneath Medicine Tree

The need to know:  Formed in Lakeland, Florida in 2001, Copeland found some success as an indie rock band throughout the early aughts, touring frequently and releasing their first two full-length records via small time indie label The Militia Group. In 2006, as record labels scrambled to find the next Fall Out Boy, Copeland announced that they had been signed to the majors with a slot on Columbia's roster, but that relationship proved to be short lived. After losing bassist and founding member James Likeness in 2007, the band released a b-sides compilation and their final album, You Are My Sunshine, in 2008 via Tooth & Nail, before calling it quits in 2010.

Why it's worthy: "California" is the story of boy meets girl, boy falls for girl, girl moves as far away as one can possibly go and not leave the continental United States. Sure, the story is about as emo as you can get, but this song is hardly typcial of the genre. Far from being Fall Out Boy or Get Up Kids clones, Copeland's debut, which was primarily inspired by singer Aaron Marsh's girlfriend's battle with cancer, was filled to the brim with beautiful power pop that nudged sweetness about as far as it could go without turning saccharine. "California" is no exception. Perhaps the band's best and most loved song, what makes it truly obsess-worthy isn't the lyrical honesty, or Marsh's lithesome vocals: It's the guitar solo that closes out the song. For the final two minutes, the band explodes into a burst of incendiary guitar passion that failed to be matched on any of the group's subsequent albums (or songs).

Quotable lyric: "I miss the way you sing low/ So I can't hear your voice over the radio in my car"

Where you've heard it:  Copeland found a bit of notoriety, albeit brief, when they hijacked Fall Out Boy's viral marketing scheme for their album Folie à Deux in 2008, leading to many angry FOB fans...and not much else.

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Case File #35: "Rootless Tree"

Damien Rice
"Rootless Tree"

The need to know: In the 90s, Damien Rice fronted the Irish rock band Juniper, but after becoming disillusioned with the music industry and disgruntled with the direction of the band, he quit and headed to Tuscany to farm, amongst other European travels. But eventually the music bug returned and Rice soon emerged as one of Ireland's premier singer/songwriters. His solo debut, O, beat out albums by Bright Eyes, Cat Power, Interpol, SIgur Ros and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs to take home the 2003 Shortlist Music Prize. The less-acclaimed 9 followed in 2006. 

Why it's worthy: "Rootless Tree" may begin as a typical Damien Rice ballad, but by the time the chorus kicks in, it's anything but. The shock value of hearing the typically reserved  Rice let loose into a chorus of angry Fuck Yous is only part of the appeal, however. One hell of a breakup song, "Rootless Tree" conveys the need to get the hell out of a trapping relationship while still asking for permission to leave. Because, sometimes, even when it's over, it's not really over.

Quotable lyric: "And if you hate me/ Then hate me so good that you can let me out"

Where you've heard it: Rice's songs have been used in numerous films and TV shows, most notably his song "The Blower's Daughter" was used in the 2004 film Closer

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Case File #34: "Anthems for a Seventeen Year-Old Girl"

Broken Social Scene
"Anthems for a Seventeen Year-Old Girl"
You Forgot It In People

The need to know: For giving us Broken Social Scene, Canada gets a free pass for all other musical follies. Anchored by Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning, who both released albums under the "Broken Social Scene Presents..." banner, the BSS roster kinda reads like a who's who of Canadian indie rock, having included members of Stars, Metric, Feist, Do Make Say Think, k-os, The Weakerthans, Apostle of Hustle, and Jason Collett at one time or another. And, folks, those are just the ones I can remember off of the top of my head. A collective, rather than the dime-a-dozen "supergroup," the band pools its sound from the talents of its varied members, for a series of albums that don't quite sound like anything else out there these days. Their third official Broken Social Scene LP, Forgiveness Rock Record, is due out May 4th.

Why it's worthy: Perhaps I like this song so much because I've been a 17-year-old girl, and, although, far from the typical anthem stereotypes, "Anthems for a Seventeen Year-Old Girl" is still a kind of rallying cry...just more the kind that draws from building banjo/guitar lines and a snapshot of heartbroken teenage angst (or is that grown-up nostalgia?). A song that thrives on repetition, "Anthems" uses Emily Haines' distorted vocals (a grown-up voice manipulated to mimic that of a child) to perfection, repeating lines over-and-over until the building momentum crushes you with all the haunted beauty you could fit in a broken, teenage heart.

Quotable lyric: "Used to be one of the rotten ones/ And I liked you for that"

Where you've heard it: Broken Social Scene has lent songs and written scores for several films and television shows, and most recently their cover of Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart" appeared in the 2009 film The Time Traveler's Wife

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Monday, April 19, 2010

Case File #33: "I'm Not Calling You A Liar"

Florence + the Machine
"I'm Not Calling You A Liar"

The need to know: Florence is South London bred Florence Welch, and her machine is a rotating cast of characters who accompany her powerful, blues/rock pipes. Her debut album emerged in 2009, taking the British music scene by storm and scoring a nod for "Best British Album" at the 2010 Brit awards. The band is currently at work on a much-anticipated follow-up to be released next year. 

Why it's worthy: Scaled down from the danceable flair of equally obsess-worthy tunes like "Howl" and "Dog Days Are Over", "I'm Not Calling You A Liar" builds from Welch's bluesy voice and spirals into a less-exuberant but equally epic crescendo. Here, Welch's vocals get the spotlight, gently smooth over and shaping every word until you can swear they're almost tangible. If you hear this song and don't feel something, you must be made of stone.

Quotable lyric: "I'm not calling you a liar/ Just don't lie to me"

Where you've heard it: Another Florence + the Machine tune, "Kiss With A Fist", was featured in the 2009 Megan Fox disaster Jennifer's Body

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Case File #32: "Wake Up"

Arcade Fire
"Wake Up"

The need to know: Arcade Fire are a big band, boasting seven core members and a live army that swells into double digits. The large outfit, however, is anchored by the husband/wife duo of Win Butler and Regine Chassagne and together they create baroque pop of epic proportions. Their debut, 2004's Funeral landed the band some of the highest critical acclaim of the last decade and left fans frothing at the mouth for more. The Bruce Springsteen-indebted Neon Bible followed in 2007, and their third album is rumored to be released later this year (eek!). 

Why it's worthy: I'm not gonna lie. "Wake Up" is nearly my favorite song of all time and, quite frankly, I've surprised myself by making it 30+ entries in without tackling it. Pulsing guitar riffs anchor  soaring orchestral moments and a punchy breakdown make this song over-the-top in the best way possible. A chorus of "ohs" and a swelling string section only emphasize Butler's cries of nostalgia. It's gorgeous. It's epic. It's a song no Holden Caulfield of the world can resist.

Quotable lyric: "With my lightning bolts a'glowin/ I can see where I am going"

Where you've heard it: Both the original and a specially recorded acoustic version of "Wake Up" were used in various trailers and TV spots for Spike Jonze's film adaptation of Where The Wild Things Are. Additionally, the band allowed the song to be used in bumpers for the NFL during this past Super Bowl, with all proceeds going to help earthquake-ravaged Haiti.

EDIT: The band also performed "Wake Up" with David freaking Bowie at the 2006 VH1 Fashion Rocks benefit. (Thanks Jeremy!)

Get obsessed:

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Case File #31: "The Mall and Misery"

Broken Bells
"The Mall and Misery"
Broken Bells

The need to know: Broken Bells combines the superpowers of The Shins' James "You gotta hear this song. It'll change your life." Mercer and multi-instrumentalist/producer Brian Burton, who you may know better as Danger Mouse--half of Gnarles Barkley, producer of Gorillaz's sophomore effort Demon Days and mastermind behind The Grey Album, his controversial mash-up of Jay-Z's Black Album and The Beatles' White Album.  The duo met and discussed a collabo in 2004 at the Roskilde festival, but they wouldn't really put the gears in motion until four years later--AND it was miraculously largely kept secret until their debut single "The High Road" emerged in 2009. If you're thinking a match up between folks with that kind of musical background would have to be awesome, then you're definitely on the ball.

Why it's worthy: A standout track on an album with many standout tracks, "The Mall and Misery" closes out Broken Bells' eponymous debut with a danceable amalgamation of layered vocals, Shins-ian verses and a modern-life-is-rubbish ideology. In short, it's the best both halves can offer the whole and done to perfection.

Quotable lyric: "I know what I know/ Would not fill a thimble/ So let your mind go"

Where you've heard it: If you're my neighbors? Through the walls a lot last Friday night.

Get obsessed:

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Case file #30: "The Light & The Glass"

Coheed and Cambria
"The Light & The Glass"
In Keeping Secrets of Silent 

Earth: 3

The need to know: Coheed and Cambria have often been slammed as being the RUSH of the emo generation, but they get even nerdier than that. Which is, of course, why they're great. Running on the premise that each of their albums, including the just-released Year of the Black Rainbow, tells a part of frontman Claudio Sanchez's sprawling sci-fi epic. Not into bizarre outer space-based explorations into the meanings of love and religion? Never fear, their catalog is filled with hooks aplenty and the lyrical oeuvres are enough to keep even fanboys guessing at the story's plot.

Why it's worthy: "The Light & The Glass" caps off Coheed's second (and might I argue best) album. Following the largely punk-based The Second Stage Turbine Blade, IKSSE:3 hints at their turn into proggy territory so prevalent in the band's later albums. Though certain tracks on both early releases have their moments of impact, this song marks the group's first foray into epicness. Sanchez's voice isn't exactly made for balladeering but the building nature of this near-ten minute onslaught--from gentle poeticness to balls-out guitar assault--only makes the denouement that much more spine-chilling. Pray for us all? Don't mind if I do, creepy children, don't mind if I do.

Quotable lyric: "Would It really matter/ If you were to count the days left with your hands?"

Where you've heard it: "The Light & The Glass" appears on Coheed's 2005 DVD Live at the Starland Ballroom as well as 2009's Neverender, a four-disc live DVD featuring the band playing each of their albums live in succession. 

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Monday, April 12, 2010

Case File #29: "For Once In Your Life"

The Jealous Sound
"For Once In Your Life"
Kill Them With Kindness

The need to know: In 2003, The JEalous Sound released their debut LP, Kill Them With Kindness, a romp of indie rock with touches of emo mischief that landed on SPIN's top 40 albums of the year list. But, after signing to indie label The Militia Group in 2005, reports that the band was busy recording a follow up devolved into rumors that singer/guitarist Blair Shehan had left the band in ruins. A few years of silence and speculation followed, with an EP of the remnants of the band's studio sessions, entitled Got Friends, seemingly capping things off in 2008. In 2009, however, the band reemerged to open for emo legends Sunny Day Real Estate, and is currently back at work on a true follow up to their debut.

Why it's worthy: Being a night owl has its perks. "For Once In Your Life" celebrates (and questions) what goes on in those hours with anthemic choruses and painted-picture verses. The song plays out like a night spent picking apart the world and making revelations that never quite live long past sunrise.

Quotable lyric: "The sun's coming up/ As we're coming down"

Where you've heard it: This song was on every mix I made in 2003. If you knew me then, you've heard this song.

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Friday, April 9, 2010

Case File #28: "Half Asleep"

School of Seven Bells
"Half Asleep"

The need to know: Formed by Ben Curtis (formerly of Secret Machines) and twin-sisters Claudia and Alejandra Deheza, School of Seven Bells create near-perfect electronic dream pop that waves from danceable, worldly explorations to hazy moments of ethereal beauty. Following their debut, 2007 UK single "My Cabal," and their 2008 full-length Alpinisms, the band shared stages with Blonde Redhead, Bat for Lashes, and fellow electronic shoegazers, M83.

Why it's worthy: Sonically a perfect song for a visual montage of the indie film version of youthful love and life, the dreamy beauty of "Half Asleep" is almost enough to make you abandon your computer and desk in favor of springtime sunshine and the swaying trees taunting you through the window. Lyrically, it's an admission of and struggle against complacency and falling victim to the mundanity of our everyday lives. Beautiful, hopeful and tragic, Alejandra Deheza's voice fills each word with longing but never over embellishes the sentiment, which allows the accompanying music to speak volumes.

Quotable lyric: "Sometimes I go whole days listening, bored, half sleep/ I won't say anything that's worth a thing to me"

Where you've heard it: "Half Asleep" was included on the downloadable Urban Outfitters mixtape LSTN#2 back in 2008. An alternate version also appeared on the 2009 Alpinisms re-release as one of nine bonus tracks.

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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Case File #27: "White Wolf"

Retribution Gospel Choir
"White Wolf"

The need to know: Begun in 2005 as a collaboration between melowness pursuers Alan Sparhawk of Low and Mark Kozelek of Red House Painters fame, Retribution Gospel Choir allowed the "slowcore" icons to be as rampantly raucous in a live setting as they wanted to go, unleashing a beast that would've been unwelcome amongst the tunes typical of their more well-known affiliations. By the time RCG released their eponymous debut in 2008, however, Kozelek had receded to producer status, and disappeared entirely from the band before its acclaimed 2010 follow up, 2

Why it's worthy: One of the most straightforward tunes offered up on 2, "White Wolf" retains some of the moodiness of Sparhawk's work with Low while letting loose crisp guitars and a satisfying chorus. Symbolism aside, it conjures a ferocious battle with a white wolf and, really, what's not to love about that?

Quotable lyric: "You think you can take that white wolf/ Then you're gonna need more blood"

Where you've heard it: While reading my interview with Sparhawk over at Stereo Subversion. (Yeah, yeah, shameless self-promotion. I know.)

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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Case File #26: "Kill Me Carolyne"

The Whigs
"Kill Me Carolyne"
In The Dark

The need to know: Since 2002, The Whigs have been building a buzz, including a nod from Rolling Stone in 2006, which asked if the band could be the next great one  to emerge from R.E.M.'s hometown. If you know anything about the Athens, Georgia music scene--and the number of bands in it--then you know that's a huge compliment, and no small task. But The Whigs are certainly up to the challenge, after accompanying Kings of Leon on several tours around the U.S. (including a sold-out Madison Square Garden gig) the trio just recently released their third record, In The Dark, a polished helping of garage rock ruckus.

Why it's worthy: "Kill Me Carolyne" is the quintessential rock single, and anthemic choruses ripe for sing-alongs and verses laden with ambiguous self-deprecation and accusatory relationship drama make this tune more than worthy of an obsession. It may not be the best tune on In The Dark, or within The Whigs' catalog, but it's pretty damn infectious without falling into the traps of drivel that fell most rock bands these days. If this song doesn't get you pumped up for a night out, or to get out of bed, there may not be much hope for you.

Quotable lyric: "I know you love me/ But you'd feel better/ If you just suck it up and/ Kill, kill me Carolyne"

Where you've heard it: The band recently performed "Kill Me Carolyne" on The Late Show with David Letterman

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Friday, April 2, 2010

Case File #25: "Oasis"

Amanda Palmer
Who Killed Amanda Palmer?

The need to know: If you aren't following @amandapalmer on Twitter, you should be. The Dresden Doll-turned-solo artist (and, most recently, half of Evelyn Evelyn) has often reconciled the realities of what it takes to succeed in the music biz with maintaining artistic integrity by reaching out to her ever-expanding worldwide fan base. Often garnering attention for her atypical methods, her music is just as worthy of the attention as her flamboyant personality. An odd triumph, she sent the blogosphere abuzz when she admitted last year that she made more money via Twitter than she had from her 2008, Ben Folds co-produced solo album, Who Killed Amanda Palmer?

Why it's worthy: Quite possibly the happiest song ever written about rape and abortion, "Oasis" was inspired by a similar experience Palmer went through at age 17. But despite the backdrop, this song is really a love letter to music and its ability to make things seem a-ok, even when life's at its worst. Anyone who's ever had their day turned around by a song, or worshiped a band in their teens, can hear themselves reflected in this two-minute, piano driven sing-along.

Quotable lyric: "And so now were not talking/ Except we have tickets/ To see Blur in October/ And I think were still going"

Where you've heard it: The awesomely tongue-in-cheek video for "Oasis" was banned for its subject matter by every music video outlet in the UK, but you can still watch it on YouTube

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Thursday, April 1, 2010

Case File #24: "Leyendecker"


The need to know: One of the more bizarre "It" bands of the last decade, Battles mix the elements of prog and math rock with electro-experimentalism for a uniquely compelling post-rock exercise. Sounds awful, right? There's no way a band can be described as both prog rock and math rock and not be the worst thing ever. Well, wrong. For all of their outside-the-box leanings, the band maintains one hell of a pop sensibility which earned the band praise from both Pitchfork and Time magazine. These may not be the kind of hooks most ears are used to, but, boy, are they in there.

Why it's worthy: A song this strange shouldn't get stuck in your head for days, but this one will. Distorted, Mickey Mouse-on-helium, lyric-less vocals swirl amongst thumping beats and downward scales, and somewhere in the chaos it can't help but trap you. Clocking in at a little over two and a half minutes, "Lyendecker" is everything great about short, catchy pop songs without being anything close to average.

Where you've heard it: Battles' single "Atlas" plays in the construction level of the Playstation 3 game Little Bit Planet

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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Case File #23: "Mostly Waving"

Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton
"Mostly Waving"
Knives Don't Have Your Back

The need to know: One of the most fun parts about being a Broken Social Scene fan is following its members, and Emily Haines gives us much to track down. Though the bulk of her time is spent fronting synth-rockers Metric, in 2006 she released Knives Don't Have Your Back, under Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton. A collection of songs penned while on duty with Metric and BSS, it's not all that surprising to find her trading in her synth for the good ole ivories, and toting songs with heavier emotional weight and less danceability. 

Why it's worthy: An oddly ominous and sexy song, "Mostly Waving" shows us a different Emily Haines than the one we're used to seeing. But what makes this song so great is Haines' impeccable vocal delivery, which, lets face it, is nearly always on target anyway. With her other outlets she's never afraid to be sweet ("Swimmers") or shout when necessary ("Monster Hospital"), but here she's more sultry and vulnerable, and allows her voice an extra layer of mellifluousness that melts over every second of "Mostly Waving". You can't help but get stuck in it.

Quotable lyric: "Get the line down/ Don't elaborate like that/ You frighten off the frat boys/ Use your baby talk."

Where you've heard it: A remix of "Mostly Waving" appeared on the companion EP, What Is Free To A Good Home?, a collection of B-sides from the Knives sessions. 

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Case File #22: "New Noise"

"New Noise"
The Shape Of Punk To Come

The need to know: Swedish hardcore punks Refused called it quits in 1998, but not before unleashing the career-defining The Shape Of Punk To Come. This swan song solidified Refused's place in the hardcore cannon, and showed those of us on the fringe of the genre that it can be more than just angry screams over angry guitars. Whispers of a Refused reunion surfaced in March of this year, but it was not to be. Le sigh. 

Why it's worthy: In 1998, a friend of mine sent me this song and said only this: "It will rock your socks off." The boy wasn't lyin'. A concise capsule of Refused's views of the punk scene--a stand still relevant today--"New Noise" calls out punk noisemakers content to confine punk's dissentive nature to the same-old simplistic pop leanings. What makes "New Noise" (and, admittedly, the entire album) so great is the band's fearlessness to not just be furious, but also know when to step off the throttle and incorporate elements as wide ranging as jazz and ambient sounds without worrying about coloring within the lines. The fact that they can do all of that and STILL give us hooks is why we remember this song, and the band, over a decade after they disbanded.

Quotable lyric: "And how can we expect anyone to listen/ If we are using the same old voice?"

Where you've heard it: "New Noise" was featured in the soundtracks for the 2004 film Friday Night Lights and the 2006 ridiculousness-fest Crank.

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Monday, March 29, 2010

Case File #21: "Thieves"

She & Him
Volume Two

The need to know: She is the doe-eyed, raven haired actress Zooey Deschanel. Him is countrified folkie M. Ward. Initially paired up for the 2007 flick The Go-Getter, where Him dominated the soundtrack and She starred, their one-off duet has evolved into a bona fide music group. Sure, Deschanel's an actress, and we know how it usually goes when actresses dabble in music, but She & Him defy that particular musical law. Their much-adored first album, Volume One, a collection of Deschanel-penned originals and choice nostalgia covers, emerged in 2008, and the just-released Volume Two continues to define the duos 60s-inspired pop sound. 

Why it's worthy: Who doesn't want to hear Deschanel pine away about wayward loves? Much like the twee characters she most often portrays, she knows what role she's best at and plays it to an oh-so-sweet perfection. "Thieves," another lovelorn tale, sets the tone as the lead track for Volume Two. Here, Deschanel laments with a brave face over yet another romantic ending, but by the end her
assertion that she'll still be crying seems like a triumphant victory over the matters of the heart.

Quotable lyric: "It's not all that bad/ I'll see you sometime/ Sometimes lonely isn't sad"

Where you've heard it: Deschanel tends to mix singing and acting together pretty often. In addition to The Go-Getter, her vocals have graced the soundtracks to (500) Days of Summer, Yes Man, and Elf.

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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Case File #20: "Hide and Seek"

Imogen  Heap
"Hide and Seek"
Speak For Yourself

The need to know: When the trailer for Zach Braff's 2004 film Garden State hit theaters, audiences became almost more excited for the soundtrack than for the film itself. This was in part due to Frou Frou's grab-life-by-the-horns anthem "Let Go". Sure, in the film Natalie Portman told us that The Shins would change your life, but the reaction to "Let Go" was frenetic.  By then, however, Frou Frou had parted ways (the song was lifted from their 2002 release Details) and singer/songwriter/producer Imogen Heap had resumed her solo career. But the exposure helped to boost anticipation for her 2005 album Speak For Yourself, a great little gem of a pop record, and the equally good Ellipse, which followed in 2009. 

Why it's worthy: Imogen Heap's voice is unmistakable and unconventional, and nowhere does she use it better than on "Hide and Seek". A modern exercise in a cappella, layered digital harmonies create a haunting, beautiful soundscape that is inescapable. Every time I hear this song, it gives me chills. Every. Time.

Quotable lyric: "Spin me around again and rub my eyes/ This can't be happening"

Where you've heard it: Besides being featured on one of the soundtracks to The OC, the climax to "Hide and Seek" was prominently sampled in Jason DeRulo's No. 1 smash "Whatcha Say". Trust me. Imogen's original is way better. 

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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Case File #19: "Game of Pricks"

Guided By Voices
"Game of Pricks"
The Best of Guided By Voices: Human Amusements at Hourly Rates

The need to know: One of indie rocks longest standing holdouts, Guided By Voices are practically an institution. No, they are one. Led by Robert Pollard, the band released over 17 albums, not counting live releases, EPs and compilations (which at least double that number), during a 20 year career that earned the band a sold fan base without ever requiring them to sign a major label contract. Known for Pollard's quirky, stream-of-consciousness lyrics and often lo-fi recordings, especially in their early days, GBV walked the line of accessibility without ever crossing over it. And oh how we love them for it. 

Why it's worthy: A short, punchy pop song in a catalog of short, punchy pop songs, "Game of Pricks" still somehow feels like something special. Originally recorded for 1995's Alien Lanes, this version is clearly crisper (the original exemplifies lo-fi) but the slick production fits the song like a glove. It's a testament to the song, and Pollard's songcraft, that it works so well both ways.

Quotable lyric: "I'll never ask for the truth, but you owe that to me"

Where you've heard it: An extreme Guided By Voices fan, Jim Adkins and his band, Jimmy Eat World, covered "Game of Pricks" for the BBC while promoting 2001's Bleed American. The recording ended up on the Japanese-only Good To Go EP.

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Monday, January 4, 2010

Case File #18: "Where the Lines Overlap"

"Where the Lines Overlap"
Brand New Eyes

The need to know: Mainstream emo rock heroes Paramore made a splash in 2007 for their super catchy tunes and Hayley Williams' fiery voice. But added focus on the red headed dynamo spawned rumors of band tension and the possibility of a breakup which never materialized. In 2009, the band reemerged with Brand New Eyes their third and most mature album yet.

Why it's worthy: File this one under semi-guilty pleasure. Seriously, though, it's hard to not perk up after a listen to this song. "Where the Lines Overlap" (like much of Brand New Eyes) is Hayley Williams' love letter to her life. Yeah. Gag me. But can you blame her? If I was fronting an uber successful rock band just shy of my 21st birthday I'd be singing "No one is as lucky as us" too.

Quotable lyric: "I'm not used to it but I can learn/ Nothing to it/ I've never been happier"

Where you've heard it: Hayley Williams is an unlockable character in Guitar Hero World Tour, which is just cool. 

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