Thursday, May 5, 2011

Hanging with my taste buds

What's that you asked? You want to know my top ten favorite songs?

Sure. Others here at Classic Brian would flip out at the concept of narrowing their gigantic iTunes libraries down to ten distinct favorites, but I realized the other day, I know my favorites. And I thought that was pretty cool. I actually put them in order too, so, without further ado, my top ten fave songs. Then I'll talk about why. It's like a list! I don't do those so much. Here you go.

The following views are my own, and if you disagree, great. It means we're different people.

10. Impossible Soul — Sufjan Stevens
Frankly, most of me is just happy that someone did this. At first when you look at iTunes and realize that one of the tracks is a ridiculous 25 minutes, 35 seconds long, you're initial thought is "I will never ever have time for that." But, knowing the reputation Sufjan Stevens has, I wasn't really worried as I ventured into the colossal track.

It starts out so simply, and quickly gains layer after layer, evolving into a boisterous struggle for melodic prominence amid a rhythmic clusterfuck that hardly ever provides solid ground for the song to roll along on. Meanwhile, Sufjan divulges a tragic tale about a love that simply cannot be. He is really good at using instruments more rhythmically than melodically, and having a thousand rhythms going on at once. From the live video I've seen, it seems the rhythms play out even better in person. In the style of Age of Adz, all kinds of electronica come together to make the song abide by Sufjan's unique sound, and over the course of 25 minutes, the effect is awesome. There are several "movements" within the song, where the vocal rhythms, rhythms and instrumentations change. All of them flow together pretty seamlessly, with the exception of the final movement, but that is a purposeful move.

I am quite fond of classical music, and to see an indie artist ask you to shut the hell up and listen to him for 25-plus minutes is really awesome to see. And to boot, it's pulled off awesomely. My favorite part of the song occurs at 12:12, because I heard that on a pair of Beats headphones and actually lost my breath. Yeah, whatever.

9. Don't Think Twice, It's Alright — Bob Dylan
I'm generally not a huge Bob Dylan fan, but he does a hell of a job capturing the essence of bittersweet in this song. Lyrically, it's basically "Impossible Soul" cut down to three and a half minutes. Something like that. He puts his heart into his guitar here and his soul into his harmonica. Whenever this song catches me in the right mood, it sounds absolutely fucking brilliant. If not, I can still enjoy it. In order to make this list it has to be enjoyable even when I'm not in just the perfect mood.

8. 1901 — Phoenix
When I first heard this song, I diagnosed it as "alright." The chorus of it kind of threw me off, and hit me the wrong way, but eventually those feelings subsided. Then I listened to it more and it grew on me a ton. The beginning is really something badass, and the chorus is actually really fun to sing along to.

Especially when you're seeing them live in the second row at freaking Lollapalooza. Yeah, that boosted the value of this song significantly, and rightfully so. Whenever it comes on now, I can't help but think of those three days and how great they were. I know it's an associative reason for liking it, but it still makes me enjoy the song more. Enough said.

Even with Lolla, however, this song still wasn't top ten material. That status was crystalized Feb. 6, 2011. Some of you may remember that day as (Sometimes) Friday Conor's birthday, but others may remember it as the Super Bowl. I have, as you damn well know, been a Packers fan since I was RILL young. Finally watching a team in my sentient days actually get to and win the Super Bowl was one of the greatest things I had ever watched. Then, after the game was over, Fox threw this thirty second cherry on top of my holy-fuck-this-is-an-awesome-sundae. Some of you may watch that and think it is corny, lame, or even be mad that they cut the entire verse out. (They had thirty seconds!) But after watching those guys shown fight on 20 separate occasions to make me a happy camper (and succeeding in all of them — even the defeats [and yes, this is because they won the Super Bowl]), I was just processing the idea of having won the title, and this really made it sink in. We were all that. Every time I hear 1901, I think back to winning the Super Bowl. That's as much help in winning my heart that any song (or any thing, really) could have. So, yup. Hell yeah, Phoenix. The song that brings back all that memories and stuff.

7. Get 'Em High — Kanye West (ft. Talib Kweli and Common)
Uhhhh whaaaat? Yeah, I know, this seems weird, but I just love this song. It's the only rap song on my top ten by the way, making it, I guess, my favorite rap of all time. Yeah, this is tough to defend.

Well let's start with the beat. Totally underwhelming. So willingly repetitive. The song tells you pretty much up front that it's not about production or "strings for the dramatic" or whatever, but just that you're going to hear some effing rap. Kanye, Talib and Common proceed to rip that simplistic beat apart for just under five minutes. They don't really have much to say. Kanye says "I'm the shit," then he says "this girl wants me," then Talib says "Kanye, I'll help you get that bitch, and I'm trying to smoke," then Common says "other rappers suck." And that's the whole song. But the vocal rhythms cover just about every single thing you could look to get out of the beat, which I just counted, covers four notes. That's the extent of the melody.

The chorus is catchy, and somehow gets dropped at all the right times to add another element of awesomeness. Also these are three of the rappers I respect the most, and they do the summit justice by all  slicing and dicing and dissecting and shredding the beat with awesome flow unlike any other song I've heard. Yeah.

6. New Born — Muse
I had a phase my sophomore and junior years where Muse, was like, the only band that mattered. Those were very high anxiety times, mostly because I was listening to pretty much just Muse. I loved their sound. I loved their intensity. I loved how loud they were for having just three members. I liked that they were super nerdy. I liked that they put on probably the best show ever in the world.

This song starts with some kinda haunting piano, then adds in some bass and alto piano (is that a thing? it's higher, on the note scale thing) to add to the distress, then Matt Bellamy comes on to tell us the situation. The song goes along with this groove for about a minute, before stopping.

Then it's picked up by just the ruggedest guitar riff in all the land. I can tell those notes, when put together, have an awesome beard. And then the drums come in, ruthlessly loud, perfectly syncing with the melody and providing copious crashing cymbals, and the song gains its legs. Then a swift chording guitar part comes up, accompanied by a driving bass riff that adds to the sense of urgency of the song. Anyway, yeah. A song happens. The intensity is not to be fucked with, and this song has one of the awesome climaxes of all time. On my deathbed, play this song, and I will have the temporary ability to beat up at least a fourth grader.

5. Casimir Pulaski Day — Sufjan Stevens
As different as this song is from the Muse song I just ranted about, it is equally different from the other Sufjan song I posted at No. 10. Whenever I need to mellow outt, or if I'm really super depressed, this song will put me at peace in five and a half minutes. Lyrically, it's one of the better-constructed songs I've ever heard, painting a series of scenes documenting a relationship that no longer exists because the other party in said relationship is now dead.

When some bullshit happens to good people, it puts me in a crappy mood. I wonder why things happen. I wonder why it couldn't have happened to some shmuck I didn't know. I thank God that I've never had a close friend or immediate family member die. I've never had serious obstacles in my life I needed miraculous assistance to help overcome. I've had it, relatively, easy. So earlier in the year when I was just in a moody mood where it seemed like everything was just the other shoe waiting to drop and eventually all the shoes I knew would be on the floor and nothing would be left to care about, I listened to this song a ton. It really paints a sad, sad picture, then picks you up off the floor by offering a perfect-fitting melody that just reminds you of everything you have. Somehow. It blows my mind, really.

But my favorite part about the song is the ending. After this uplifting and emotionally packed part in the song the song lands on one note and sticks there for a while. For a long while actually, then you realize that what you're listening to at the end of this song about death sounds an awful lot like a flatline. And just when you become really sad, Sufjan drops this heavenly chord that just lets you know that dying isn't the end, and that shit's gonna get better. Tell me I'm reading way too damn much into the song, but you can't take away the satisfaction I get from listening to it.

4. Keep Yourself Warm — Frightened Rabbit
An organ plays four notes in succession. The song begins, a guitar chimes in, still mostly rhythmic in construction, then a fucking bagpipe drops on top of the instrumental. Oh wait, excuse me, that's just Scott Hutchinson's incredibly Scottish voice. It's hard to discern at first what exactly the song is about, then he sings "No you won't find love in a, won't find love in a hole/ It takes more than fucking someone to keep yourself warm." You're initial thought is that this would be funny, but the band totally pulls it off. And the whole song comes off beautifully.

At the start of this song, Hutchinson sounds pathetic. He sounds like he's trying to talk himself off a ledge as he's trying to talk a girl into the bedroom. Then as the song builds and builds, so does Hutchinson's self-respect. It seems like by the end of the song he is content with himself, to a degree, whereas before it seemed like he wanted to fucking bottom out.  I think this song plays out perfectly, and in a city filled with sorostitute hunting frat guys, it feels good to know that it "takes more than fucking someone you don't know to keep yourself warm."

I'm not a huge fan of Frightened Rabbit (for example, the lead singer who I referred to by name three times, I had to look up his name), but this was the first song of theirs that I heard and it immediately grabbed my attention in the best of the ways. Yay Scottish people.

3. Wake Up — Arcade Fire
At first, I was like, "hey, I kinda like this song." Then I listened to it a bunch more, and at some point it just hit me how epic it was. Yeah, it's about "the kids" and "growing up" (seemingly all Arcade Fire ever wants to damn talk about), but hey, that was a huge deal in my life for a while. Also, one of the iconic songs of the summer of 2010, despite being like, six years old. This song needs little explanation, as it is obviously really fricking great. I love every second. The rock-ass guitar, combined with the sentimentality of the violins, and the simplistic atmospheric sound to it. It seems grand, and oh yeah, I saw this live in the front row at Lollapalooza. I liked that very much, if you've forgotten.

The ending is awesome, also. Dance parties are the best.

2. When the Levee Breaks — Led Zeppelin
This song is a raid. The drums immediately kick the door down. The harmonica and guitar come in, killing everyone in the room. Then Robert Plant's voice (did NOT have to look that one up) carves LZ's into everyone's foreheads to let whoever finds 'em know who did it.

The song was originally a blues piece by Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie (just a guitarist, she was a female blues guitarist in the 1920s; pretty cool, eh?) recorded in 1929. Led Zeppelin gave the song a badass makeover and recorded it in 1970.

I was one of those kids, you know the ones. In middle school I discovered classic rock and was set in my ways for years. Led Zeppelin was my favorite band, and I still don't have a reason to knock them from atop that list. Every song they made kicked someone's ass, and they had four musical legends at the helm of each of their instruments. My favorite song of all time used to be Stairway to Heaven, but then I realized how much goddamn sense that song failed to make, and this song was actually one I really got into around the beginning of eighth grade. You know, August? 2005? Hurricane Katrina. I thought they were prophetic gods.

( — This fuck won't let me post his vid. Chunt.)

Obviously not, but the song still kicks ass and is the only one to which I can lay down a seven-minute freestyle rap and feel totally badass whenever I want. It's a damn great one.  But it's not quite my favorite song of all time.


1. Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels) — Arcade Fire

Sometimes a song just hits you in a way that no other possibly could. This song is such a case. I cherish every note of it, and its great to drive to. Alone. And to sing along with at the top of your lungs, seeing how many different harmonies you can hit (and miss) in one go-round. To me the song is a love song. Not in the traditional, "I love you let's touch parts" sense, but as a "I'm so fucking glad I know who you are, please always know me too" sense.

Additionally, with the context of the album being with a run of deaths in the families of the band members, certain lines have extra bite, such as "and then, we tried to name our babies/ but we forgot all the names that, the names we used to know" and especially the subsequent "but sometimes, we remember our bedrooms, and our parents' bedrooms, and the bedrooms of our friends/ then we think of our parents, but whatever happened to them?" Win Butler champions that last line. And I don't care if it's not the artists' intent. It means something heavy to me. Because my parents are divorced, if you had forgotten. Part of growing up, is watching your parents' lives unfold, and whatever that entails, they get older. It's not the funnest thing to watch. However, it helps you appreciate the time you have with them. Because you start realizing that they're not going to be around forever, and neither are you.

Somehow all that deep heavy shit comes rushing through the speakers whenever this song comes on. Neighborhood #1 is just nice to listen to. The emotional baggage it brings isn't even really negative. It makes me happy in a way no other musical piece does. Also I find it funny, because this track is the first track on the first album from Arcade Fire. Thanks for showing up, the rest of the Arcade Fire's discography. And yeah, I saw this song live at Lollapalooza, but "nice songs" aren't really great concert songs, and this is more of an internal thing for me anyway. That's why it's my favorite song of all time. Cool.

--Eliot Sill


  1. I read once that in Scotland, "getting a hole" is common slang for...yeah

  2. That Packers/Phoenix moment was like the greatest thing ever.

  3. I went through this whole post thinking it was Brendan's until the end. When you said you weren't a huge Bob Dylan fan I was super confused.

  4. Impossible Soul yes yes yes yes yes

  5. Remember the time we had that discussion about Casimir Pulaski Day only to find out it was Casimir Pualski Day? Those were dark times my friend. I love the way you analyze music.

  6. @4 of you — yeah.
    @nick — what about the paragraph about how great it was seeing the Packers win the super bowl? also the frequent fucking and shitting? but i guess i did link to two of BCAVS posts. UR WELCOME BCAV.


  7. Muc appreciated, Eliot. Just so you know, "Impossible Soul" was a thirty-minute, ceaselessly-swelling dance party when I saw Sufjan in Indianapolis last November, right at the beginning of the Age of Adz Tour. That show really brought the album to life for me, but in itself, it's so fraught with heartbreak and failure and confusion, which is subtly captured in the sounds that envelop the lyrics, that it's tought to dislike.

    Also, you may or may not know that "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" is my favorite song, only I find the early demo-recording much lovelier than the studio version. I would reccomend giving it a listen.

    Nice blog post.