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Top 100 Songs of 2008: #s 65-61

After a virus scare, the Top 100 is back up and running...more regular updates will follow. For more music writing to bide your time with, check out my two recent postings for Pajiba on my favorite opening tracks and closing tracks of all time (translation: the last 10-12 years because I don't dig on the classics for whatever reason).

65 "Geometry &c."
Chris Walla
Field Manual
[Barsuk]

"We all fit together like wordless versing."

Having listened to old demos of Death Cab For Cutie, I would have never thought that Chris Walla, the band's expert guitarist and producer, could have actually pulled off the whole singing thing. To call his range limited and his confidence nonexistent was an understatement in those early crackling recordings, but here his cautious croon is joyously powerful and syrupy sweet. Possibly even more so than the now weathered stylings of aged cherub Ben Gibbard, seeing as how his song is above his respective band's. Of course a lot of that has also to do with that which Walla has always done well: the guitar is starkly crisp when strummed and majestically starry when plucked and its placement alongside wormhole synths and perfectly reverbed percussion. The phrase "pop perfection" gets thrown around a lot on this list, I know, but I'd be an idiot not to mention it again here, because I remember singing along with this track before 99% of the others on the countdown. And it feels so much easier when you know the man used to not be able to hold a note to save his life - it gives us non-singers hope for a better, clearer, more vocal day.

64 "Elvis"
These New Puritans
Beat Pyramind
[Domino]

"I'm going to tell you my secrets, I'm going -- / I try to blurt it out but I can't find the words."

Rock songs. How problematic. Less and less of them make an impact on me as I grow older, but I know I still like to rock out. It's not that they need a correctly administered dose of pop to hook into my mind grapese and it's not that they need to make me just, you know, feel something. I think it's that they need to temper anger and scowl with contemplation and mystery. Thrashing a guitar used to mean something deeply visceral was happening to the musician, and therefore the listener as well, but over the years it's been less about the unknown and more about the machismo. Or maybe I've just realized the negative connotations of loud and brash shouters more and more with maturity nibbling at my heels. Regardless, this song has all the desired elements of a rock song that'll stick to the roof of the mouth and gnaw away with ferocity and pain, but none of the bravado: paranoid and devastatingly confused, the rolling bass chugs with prodigious might while verse and chorus becomes one thrice over and feels equal parts dangerous and caustically cathartic.

63 "Threads"
This Will Destroy You
This Will Destroy You
[Magic Bullet]

Moment @ 2:27

Post-rock songs. How awesomblematic. Hit the right notes and have nice production values and they'll almost always get me verklempt. And yet, do this and they'll also almost always drown in the sea of music I play on nowlikephotographs, never to be discerned between the others or set aside in a special favorites pile come end-of-the-year time. But the best ones always seem to stick their necks out like noble giraffes of climactic orchestrations of guitars and crash cymbals, screaming with fervent victory, "I am not another Explosions in the Sky ripoff! I am a fresh seedling of your musical emotions, welling deep within your heart, ready to rocket into oblivion!" Thus we are given the remarkable and understated comeliness of this song, which blossoms underneath modest shades of gray, brimming to fruition softly and delicately with e-bows fluttering and guitars exchanging wobbling notes with ample crests of instrumental release. It's often inexplicable how one post-rock song can do this and simply be enjoyed and another can do it and feel like the fountain of youth, but when this song hits its peak, hopefully you'll let words go and just understand it too. After all, when a song suffocates you, of course you can't speak.

62 "Last November"
Lackthereof
Your Anchor
[Barsuk]

"I'm arriving in style / more importantly, alive."

First Walla outdoing Death Cab on his own and now Danny Seim showing potential to do the same for Menomena sometime in the future, if not with this song. Everything that makes me love Seim's playful quasi-experimental pop act is here: bumbling yet exact bass, messy yet heartfelt synths and beats, and one big gutteral mumble of a single-word chorus. Never has so much meaning been packed into the word "going" through repetition, multi-track layering, and unyielding jackhammering through such a brief two-and-a-half minutes. How such a ramshackle ethic of pop construction can transform into something so enveloping and monstrous with a lone dirty guitar chord repeated ad nauseum, and even moreso just by moving the whole thing up a halfstep on the fretboard in the final chorus, is completely infathomable. All this and it still ultimately feels like a one-off shot in the bucket after a long day at work, wishing you could just go to sleep and make all of this stress go away. Here's hoping that since 1/3 of such a great band can make something so universally simple that the next Menomena record will completely effing destroy.
61 "Practical Animals"
We Versus The Shark
Dirty Versions
[Hello Sir]

"If you're going to be there, it ain't going down."

Just wait till the one minute mark passes. The way the song amps up and lets go at the same time here is a dealbreaker. You do that with such tense fragility, regardless of whether or not the song ends up breaking your heard and building it up for a unprecedented eight minutes thereafter, and you're automatically jumping into the Top 100 pool. I remember hearing WVTS for the first time a few years ago and thinking, "someday this band will write a great song." I'm so glad I was right. Their brand of off-the-cuff emoting and noisemaking is special not just because it scratches all the right melodic and structural itches that so many guitar bands are afraid to do for the sake of convention and/or male posturing, but also because they're not afraid to go off the deep end. When just a little under four minutes pass, the song skitters off in a completely unpredictable fashion to no man's land, full of questioning, hovering, and careful dissonance. A band with more plans or less desire to follow instincts would have ended the perfectly fine bustle before the gearshift into instrumental territory, but WVTS are clearly neither. They go with the animalistic reaction to that which they cultivate in the mind and heart when they write and perform their tunes: and clearly they're doing both at all times. I bet seeing this kind of in-the-moment beauty would be almost too much for me to handle if I were to ever witness it in a live setting.

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