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!)

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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.

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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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