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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Top 10 pop songs (plus two more) in 2007

12. Melody Day by Caribou
(from the album Andorra, first single)
Daniel Victor Snaith grew up where I was born. But I still know nothing about him except that he is a nutter, or perhaps used to be one back when he was known as Manitoba. There's some criticism that his recent recordings are too mainstream but who can even tell what he's on about. It's intrigue, a good thing. A compelling release -- that says it all really.

11. Silver Lining by Rilo Kiley
(from the album Under the Blacklight, second single)
The build-up is below the surface -- just like the iceberg theory used in good fiction -- and then come the final notes, which on this track sound like the best ones recorded all year. It's fresh retro, and that -- whenever it's not a total impossibility -- comes close to perfection. So tell me what's with the people who diss this?

10. 1 2 3 4 by Feist
(from the album The Reminder, second single)
The song is a standout. The video is exceptional. Combine them and then at 2:03 into it all, something amazing happens. It's not the synergy of sound and vision. It's something similar to adult-onset athleticism: a mind-numbing rush and a sharp cry . . . damn, I WANT TO BE IN THIS VIDEO!

9. 2080 by Yeasayer
(from the album All Hour Cymbals, first single)
Playing La Sala Rosa with MGMT on February 10. Touted for keen confluence of Middle-Eastern mysticism and enlightened thinking, but I'm loving the Roxy Music verve supplied by rolling bass and smooth vocals reminiscent of Bryan Ferry. This live performance dissects the exotic sheen. Plus it preps me the early concert event of 2008.

8. White Chalk by PJ Harvey
(title track from the album)
The stirring harmonic dirge pummels your ears ever so sweetly. But it's not just a lyrical mood piece, I tell you. It's often great art when you find it impossible to separate the music from the musician, and seeing PJ Harvey perform this song it's clear no one else can do what she does.

7. Silly Crimes by the Tough Alliance
(from the New Waves EP)
This year's greatest subversion. Balearico beats echoing the synth of Saint Etienne's "Kiss and Make Up" -- but in terms of meaning it's taking a rather different route. There's no forgiving in the Tough Alliance.

6. Love is a Losing Game by Amy Winehouse
(from the album Back to Black, fifth single)
There's so much to like about this track. The verses are tight and the songs scans well. There's not an unnecessary word or syllable uttered. It's an economical track to be sure. The vocal phrasing and tone is very effective. Every beat, every cadence is carefully meted out and miserly put into place. Lovingly too since it's an homage. But more than that, Amy's observing the world that's around her, so it's an equally astute portrait of life lessons learned. And the visuals are just as crafty-yet-effortless as the song is.

5. Peacebone by Animal Collective
(from the album Strawberry Jam, first single)
Inhabiting a nurturing space so stand back and watch what happens.

4. Competition by Dragonette
(from the album Galore, unreleased single)
This appeared ready to take America by storm on an earlier indie EP. Fast-forward to the majors: Mercury UK botched it and has now dropped the band, who have returned to Canada, where their first single "I Get Around" ended up being a bit of hit in 2007 anyway. Basement Jaxx fucks the Divinyls -- a sluttily, heavily borrowed pastiche that turns every trick in the book into moderately successful pop gestures. The racy conceits that come across as actually felt rather than posited postures are the true winners. Namely, what you see here and the gem of an album closer "You Please Me."

My favourite three songs might be coloured by my current obsession with "Pirate Jenny," the Threepenny Opera song written by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht and most notably sung by Lotte Lenya, but also done in a rocking, martial version by German actress-singer Hildegard Knef and most recently last year by American cabaret and stage singer Anne Kerry Ford. In the song, the chamber-maid protagonist seeks revenge -- her menial labour as a housekeeper is a meager living and the men at the hotel where she works humiliate her, making her plight inhumane and unjust. She describes that when a eight-sail, 40-cannon pirate ship docks in the town harbor, the townspeople she serves are sent to be massacred at her command and the the entire village is flattened. "That'll learn ya," she says.

Promises of "That'll learn ya!" haven't fallen out of fashion in popular music. Today, almost a century later, a plan for vengeance still can make a great pop song. Why not? It's partially what pop music is good for. So while many a Pirate Jenny has taken a chance to vent and plot over the years, in 2007 I am struck by three songs in which worlds -- so evocative, unique and hearteningly rendered -- are are illuminated by their injustices.

Before seeking out revenge, the victim suffers an injustice that maps out alienation or estrangement, subjugation, and then finally desperation. These events allow the victim to be clearly presented and even conscious of being the "other" (the other class, in Pirate Jenny's case, but also the other sex, the other sexual orientation, the other nation, and the other ethnic background in the tracks shown below), and that acknowledges the tradition in Brecht's original depictions of the Marxist struggle in civilization.

3. Paper Planes by M.I.A.
(from the album Kala, fourth single)

2. Going to a Town by Rufus Wainwright
(from the album Release the Stars, first single)

1. Na Na Na by The Knife
(from the album Silent Shout, fifth single)