We’re heading into the home stretch. Only the best of the best are left. Well, here’s the second best of the best:#20: “I AM NOT A ROBOT” by MARINA AND THE DIAMONDS.
A sweet reassurance from one non-robot to another: “You’re vulnerable, you’re vulnerable… You are not a robot.” And: “Guess what? I am not a robot.” Which, in the age of Autotune, is probably a necessary clarification.
#19: “WE USED TO WAIT” by ARCADE FIRE.
It was about this time last year that I finally did it – I got rid of my CD of Arcade Fire’s album Funeral, and put the proceeds towards purchasing a CD I might actually listen to. Like the reissue of Altered Images’ Happy Birthday. And then I got a facebook message from a friend. It was a link to a site where through the wonder of Googlemaps and internet pop-up windows, you could put the house where you grew up (or any other house you knew the street address for) into an interactive video experience set to this Arcade Fire song. Well, I’m no big fan of Arcade Fire – seriously, I’ve tried! – but I love me some googlemaps and I found “thewildernessdowntown” a most fascinating toy, and in the process of playing and re-playing and re-playing the “video” – Hey, what’s the address for the Culver’s on Main Street?” – I ended up falling in love with the actual song. Go figure.
#18: “I FEEL BETTER” by HOT CHIP.
Hot Chip is not a boy band, but they are played by one on TV, at least they are in this video. (The real Hot Chip appears in the audience, and they get zapped to oblivion at the 3:25 mark of this hilariously confounding video.) The YouTube comment section on this is pretty fun. My favorite comment comes courtesy of ImGodly4U: “Wtf? 4 gay guys singing. Then voldemort shows up and has a dance off, blasts them in the face with his shoop da whoop thing. and then Gnarles Barkly comes and blows shit up? This video is amazing…” Video aside, this is a strangely moving, deeply emotional song – strange in the sense that it’s got an irresistibly skippity dance beat, and it’s AutoTuned like crazy, but it’s all about the guts of a vital relationship at a vulnerable moment. I love the long notes and the halting melody. It’s the highlight of an album full of highlights.
#17: “ONLY PRETTIER” by MIRANDA LAMBERT.
“Let’s shake hands and reach across those party lines…” A perfect song for this past election season. I love the song’s raucous stomp, but Miranda’s delivery of lines like “I don’t have to be hateful, I can just say ‘bless your heart'” is what makes the song for me. It has the bite of a Palin/Pelosi girlfight.
#16: “FEMBOT” by ROBYN.
“Once you gone tech, you ain’t never goin’ back…” The Swedish pop goddess (err… “scientifically advanced hot mama”) lists her specifications, runs her diagnostics, and does a little demo/infomercial for the people. Check out those automatic booty applications! Also, this fembot has some crazy internal rhymes. But actually one of my favorite things about this song is how it feels at first like a novelty – and it is superfun, as evidenced by this live performance – but how it also relates to and heightens the themes of the rest of the Body Talk album(s). Here she sings that her “system’s in mint condition”. Later on, she promises to “love you like [she’s] indestructible”, suggesting a few emotional scratches and dents. I’ve already said it, but I’ll say it again: isn’t it wonderful that one of the most emotionally powerful and intimate and smart records of the year is a dance pop album?
#15: “THIS TOO SHALL PASS” by OK GO.
I’m not posting the video for this. Either of them. Because, frankly, you’ve already seen it (them both). A lot. In making clever, born-to-be-viral music videos, this nerdy little band from Chicago has found a way to compensate for their, frankly, not very special songs… But this song IS special. And I love seeing the band play it live, and their live arrangements of this song are often as cleverly sweet as their videos for it. My personal favorite was their glorious appearance on the Colbert Report earlier this year, with Stephen leading his audience in a (unexpectedly) deeply uplifting, flag-waving singalong. Sadly, I can’t find that video anywhere on line. Ah well. I can’t keep letting that bring me down, so here’s a delicate take from a radio appearance. The song loses none of it’s sweetness in this translation. If anything, it’s child-like sing-song optimism is heightened.
#14: “ALORS ON DANSE” by STROMAE.
Stromae is 25-year-old Rwandan-Belgian producer Paul van Haver. He derives his stage name from a slice and dice of the word “maestro”, and scored one of the biggest hits in all of the world (except the U.S.) this year with this exotic dance ode to the ennui of the young urban professional. Stromae does have one big fan in the U.S. (besides me): Kanye West, who released a remix of this song this fall featuring himself rapping all over it. His debut album Cheese has given us three more singles – all pretty wonderful, including the amazing “Te Quiero” – but this “Alors on Danse” has cast a pretty long shadow. For 2011, I’m crossing my fingers that Stromae is no one hit wonder.
#13: “NO OTHER ONE” by TAIO CRUZ.
I love this song’s decidedly mixed signal. The lyrics are a decisive statement of commitment: “I don’t need to ever exchange / I don’t need to ever replace / I’m not going any damn place” – but they’re set to the sound of an air-raid siren and frenzied laser-fighter synth arpeggios. The second verse marriage proposal sounds like an action sequence from a Michael Bay film! Yeah! Explosions!
This song was released late last year in Europe as the follow-up to Cruz’s “Break Your Heart” which had already been a huge hit there. “No Other One” flopped, but it makes a nice answer song to “Break Your Heart”. Lyrically, “Break Your Heart” was all about fooling around and making his girl jealous, but musically, it’s fun and steady. “No Other One” is settling down for good, but it sounds like a Eurodisco warzone.
Beyonce may have ceded time from her own acceptance speech to let Taylor Swift finish hers, but Kanye still gave himself the last word. 20 years from now, “Innocent” will still be song Taylor wrote about Kanye for the VMAs. But the song Kanye unveiled that same night buries the “Imma Let You Finish” moment – just by matching and then out-outraging the outrage that was directed at him, West made a beautiful monument to everything people hate about him. I also have to say, this song could easily have been a novelty (this is becoming a theme), but with that weird, brooding coda, it becomes almost symphonic. He’s not just sampling King Crimson on his latest record – he’s actually listening to King Crimson records and taking lessons on sonics and scale from them. (Also: Kudos to Kanye for hooking up artist Vanessa Beecroft (most famous for her “installations” of stationary, uniformed humans) to handle art direction for this video: Gorgeous.
#11: “SHARK IN THE WATER” by V.V. BROWN.
She’s got a bouffant just like Bruno Mars and a similar penchant for 21st Century updates of 50s and 60s pop music styles. This song takes a sunny strummy, playful verse and drives it straight into one fierce-ass chorus. With horns! This was THE song of my Summer of ‘010. My kids are still going to be waking up to nightmares of this song (and me singing along to it) in 2036.
V V Brown – Shark in the Water
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Only 10 left. Any guesses as to what they might be?