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2.21.2011

THROW ME THE STATUE: OSCARS 2011

It's close to a religious thrall, the way I used to be, and the way many of us still are, beholden to the Oscars. To this day, a nomination still tends to bear the weight of benediction, doing wonders for, say, Debra Granik's Winter's Bone in that it's lured people who wouldn't normally bother with bleak, doomy backwoods indies about poor people who hunt squirrels and cook meth with no movie stars in them to at least think of giving it a whirl the way they would the trendy new Pixar. That wears off after awards night, of course. Unless it wins, which it won't, and not because it isn't any good.

My own private ardor had sunk to what I rather charitably coined as "nonchalant curiosity" by the time I covered the awards in a piece back in 2009. It's since deteriorated to indifference. I wish I could say I willfully evaded last year's ceremonies like I had some cause to flag-wave, but I just plumb forgot about it. I came around to watching and liking and in some cases loving The Hurt Locker and Inglourious Basterds and Up and A Serious Man, sure, but that's more from my love for their resident auteurs. And to this day, I still haven't seen Avatar. Or Up In The Air. Or The Blind Side. Or Precious Based On The Novel "Push" by Sapphire - - - and how about that title, eh? I don't sense any gap in my cinema IQ from not having seen them. And I don't feel any serious hurry to do so. I suspect I will, at some point - - -well maybe not The Blind Side. But that's if my procrastination doesn't wilt my resolve. Or if other films don't distract me.

Despite remaining immune to the wholesale clairvoyance and frothing in the mouth and wetting of panties this time of year tends to fan to a flame, I did get around to seeing nearly all of the 2011 nominees and not for research. It helps that people I actually like - - -Aronofsky, Fincher, the Coens - - -figured in the running with work I would've come to regardless if they were up for trophies or not, probably more so if they weren't. Except for The Social Network and, to a lesser degree, the derivative and overrated but rather wily and fun Inception, which are missing because I've spoken about them at length here and here, respectively, and have run out of anything worthwhile to add about either of them, the other nominees that are not here are merely ones I could not seek out in time, but if I muster the stamina, will do so and will probably, probably, dash off a second piece.

Black Swan
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Written by Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz and John McLaughlin




Aronofsky does take a lascivious glee in the spectacular disintegration of a beautiful woman here, but it's not so much Repulsion in a tutu as it is a Dario Argento giallo in the way a conspiratorial malice slithers in its deep-focus shadows and the way the soap is blown up past operatic thresholds to the brink of hysteria and often spilling over into the ridiculous, as if going haywire on a meth of its own making. Natalie Portman is splendidly over-the-top as a one-woman vortex of paranoid niggle and whiny damage, her coming undone aided and abetted by her flippant rival ballerina (Mila Kunis) and her fucked-up self-immolating idol (Winona Ryder) and her demented stage mother (Barbara Hershey) and her demonically horny director (Vincent Cassell). She's also besieged by hallucinations, that, if anything, point to the phantasmagoric cocktease in Aronofsky. When the otherness intrudes, and it intrudes often but only once as exquisitely as I'd like, they don't so much pierce as merely sheath things in a gauze of displacement that lack the seeping disquiet of consequence, like overripe dream sequences, which is how the whole thing tends to sort of feel the further in you get, toeing the line of perversity that Polanski, or indeed Argento, would have gleefully, dangerously criss-crossed several times over, and making Aronofsky that sort of a cocktease,too - - -except perhaps for the sequence where Natalie pleasures herself which does end up getting rudely interrupted but also ends up creepier and funnier than if he'd merely let her finish. Which is not to say that the punches he pulls betray his aesthetic, he's always been a bit of a cocktease, Darren, and his cinema of obsession was always hornier for the milieus all that obsessive turmoil heightens and infects, and if it finds a kindred garishness in Ken Russell, Black Swan is still very much of a piece with everything else he's done. All that corrosive, corroded opulence? You could say it's positively Aronofskyesque. * * *


The King's Speech
Directed by Tom Hooper
Written by David Seidler







The reluctant king-in-waiting with a profound stammer may not be a cliche in and of itself, but the misfit speech therapist who not only helps him overcome his handicap but discover himself in the process is, and their tag-teaming turns our conflicted royalty into just another noble soul with a social impediment and the bonding that transpires between them into a lockstep of guru-grasshopper cliche and rehash. Little here goes against the grain and everything is wrung through a historical confection in which everyone is smoothened into such impossibly likable shapes that even Hitler comes off as just some cranky old nut. But it's so dogged in its enthusiasm to please it's practically altruistic, making it a task to dismiss, or at least dismiss with too much snark. The moderately snide Karate Kid comparisons someone somewhere made are as far as I'll go myself, even if they're a bit inaccurate given how Karate Kid is the slightly better film, if only out of how we never saw Miyagi's reveal coming the way we could sort of see Lionel Logue's, not that he has much of a reveal up his sleeve anyway. What does somewhat relieve its lack of capacity to surprise and will to misbehave is Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter and Guy Pearce and the way the vibrant gusto of their faith in the material enlivens if not emboldens it. Amiable and harmless,then, and by that measure, poised to win the main trophy of the night by a landslide. * *

True Grit
Directed and Written by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Based on the Novel by Charles Portis




Not that Henry Hathaway had anything as subversive in mind as a genre inversion but in zeroing in as he did on John Wayne setting his icon on fire as the cantankerous Rooster Cogburn, his True Grit unwittingly tapped into a minor vein of meta, tweaking its quaint hokiness into the mildly compulsive sensation of watching John Wayne play John Wayne not playing John Wayne, something like that. If True Grit were John Wayne's last film, it would have been as if he was sending off his myth, and in many ways that's what it was, the first increment of a drawn-out last bow. Bereft as it is of Coen mannerisms, nothing quite as cannily self-reflexive prevails in their remake, which installs Jeff Bridges into Rooster Cogburn's britches and draws as much from the psychological charge of Anthony Mann as it does the otherworldly minimalism of Monte Hellman. But the way they stick close to the contours of the Charles Portis novel is deceptively reverential, given how its universe centers around the Halie Stainfield character, possessed of a tenacity beyond her teenage years borne neither from a sense of duty nor a squandered bravado nor even from paternal love and righteous indignation and the desire to see a murdered parent avenged but rather from an almost matriarchal and ostensibly female determinism, making it an inversion off the bat. The cowboy picture, after all, is the perpetual chick flick antithesis, it's a man's man's man's man's world, and the male presences here, be it Bridges' imploded crank or Matt Damon's robust professional, are quite galvanic. But for all its sinew and crag and gravity and macho bluster and ominous bursts of carnage, and for all the imposing and rigorous maleness of its title, True Grit is mostly languor and grace, shot through as it is with the spiritual fervor and melancholic temperament of its lone female. She does catch up with her father's killer, we know that. And frontier justice, in the doling out, is all anticlimax and muffled catharsis, because from a young girl's POV, there is no code to live up to here, no machismo to reinforce, just a woman's work done. But at a steeper price, it turns out, than anyone bargained for. Where the first True Grit was a cock-eyed ballad to heroism and redemption, this one is, ultimately, an autumnal hymn to regret, one whose poisons sharpen when we get to the eerie, sombre epilogue. No country for old men, all that. Over that heartbreaking final image, stoic and resolute and embodying the title as to almost be its eponym, she intones the even more heartbreaking final line: "Time just gets away from us." That it does. More than it ever did and moreso for some than for others.* * * *

2.08.2011

TISOY VS. THE PUNKS: ON MTV, PHILIPPINE CINEMA AND YOU CAN DANCE IF YOU WANT TO









Google “music video” and you can trace its origins as a practice as far back as the late 1800s. Oh, it was performance footage for the most part, but isolated pockets were going out on limbs, laying in the ramparts. Jean Luc Godard had an indirect hand in matters, about as much as the direct hand Richard Lester had with his Help!. That entire syntax he came up with in A Bout De Souffle, the shakycam and the jump cutting and the whiplash rhythms, it was all prescient without knowing it, virtually the cloth from which music videos would be cut. You go to it and you go to films like Bob Rafelson’s Head and Nicholas Roeg’s Performance and to little oddments like Dylan’s iconic Subterranean Homesick Blues and the Who’s Happy Jack and the Beatles’ Strawberry Fields Forever and to the lab experiments Todd Rundgren and Devo were conducting. You go to these not just for the DNA signatures, though. You go to these for having the bright idea that you can make little movies from songs without having to pick through Hollywood musicals for surplus or training a camera on some guy and having him sing to it.

They were all taking from other, myriad strains of cinema instead, or even other, myriad strains of culture in general, and in many ways, were pushing the form even before they had a name for it, and really, even before they were even aware there was a form to push. Pushing it closer to short film, to experimental narrative, to conceptual piece, closer to the music video as we know it today, notwithstanding all the excesses it accrued. Boiled down, all those primordial music videos name-checked back there, among others, were borne out of the need of independent filmmakers (D.A. Pennebaker, Peter Goldman) to do something and bored rock stars to feed blood back into their pulses, tiny little spurts of experimentation to while away the time waiting for the zeitgeist that would detonate all of what they were doing to calcify, blissfully unaware of the footprints they were making.

The task at hand here is to find, if any, similar overlaps between Philippine pop cinema and Philippine music videos, the bearing of one on the evolution of the other. But I’m not sure if I can say some parallel evolution took place. Ever since the local music industry appropriated the form, there has been a steady increase in production values and with the outbreak of the digital revolution, a proliferation of music video careerists, the music video becoming a refuge for Filipino film school graduates with nothing to film and, down the line, for anyone with a digital camera. Oh, there was already an active independent experimental cinema in the country lining the fringes back in the late ’70s and early ’80s, when MTV first broke, our own Pennebakers and Goldmans if you will, in Raymond Red (Manila Skies) and Joey Agbayani (Lola) and later in Aureus Solito (The Blossoming of Maximo Olivero), but by the time they became the emergent bands’ go-to men, the music video had more or less become the global music marketing parlance it is, meaning the template was set, the laws laid down, leaving no room for a learning curve.

Not that any was needed, the short film being the métier of nearly every independent filmmaker recruited to make a music video—and something like Aureus’ longform video for the Eraserheads’ Ang Huling El Bimbo (aka The Last El Bimbo) almost instinctively went against the grain anyway. For the most part, there were catalogues of tropes to nick, styles to mimic, concepts to retro-fit, rules to break and unbreak. A learning curve would only amount to a lot of fuss you didn’t need, moreso when the form practically came with an instruction manual. All you had to do was crack it open and dig in. Other than the most rudimentary transfer of energies, there really was little significant overlap between cinema and music video. Go to Maryo J.De Los Reyes’ iconic but crummy Bagets (1984), though, and the argument turns a slightly different shade. Its gaudy colors, its editing rhythms and its incessant fondness for montage was a template in and of itself for the local youth comedies of the ’80s, that misbegotten horde, whose most beloved trope was the tendency to suddenly break into elaborate song and dance at the oddest moments and not in the culturally endemic manner of Bollywood, would count among its vile ranks such epics of trash as Hotshots and Campus Beatand the almighty The Punks among many, many, far more misbegotten others. Bagets and the rest of its sort seemed suspiciously and terribly influenced by MTV.

Not to dismiss leakages and osmosis, not to mention how slavish appropriation of whatever’s working for the West has always been domestic mainstream studio-made cinema’s particular brand of kung fu, but there’s a sudden breaking into elaborate song and dance too, in Ishmael Bernal’s (Himala) postmodern-before-there-even-was-such-a-thing-as-postmodern Tisoy!(1977). But it comes in at an even odder time, just after the title credits, so it’s not as if you’re ready and it’s not as if he throws a rope before plunging us into it but there you go—street sweepers in full-on Busby Berkeley mode! It’s nowhere near as well-oiled as the Busby Berkeley invocation would suggest, sure, there’s another proto-MTV sequence involving a traffic jam that’s more wittingly and precisely realized, but it’s a ballsy move even for someone who has built a career on ballsy moves. It throws you on enough of a loop so you start expecting that nothing here will settle into a groove you can see coming. And it doesn’t.

Nobody talks much about Tisoy!. Not when they talk about Bernal, not when they talk about the heights of ’70s comedy, not when they talk about ahead-of-its-time. Which is a bit of a shame. Rather, and rightly so, everybody talks about Mike De Leon’s Kakaba-Kaba Ka Ba? (1980), which starred Christopher De Leon and Jay Ilagan too, and came three years later and has the same subversive energy and has one or two dance numbers as well but feels a lot less anarchic and a lot less funny and a lot less fun put up against this.My aunt remembers Tisoy from college, back in the late ’60s, in all its iterations: the Nonoy Marcelo comic strip, the play that came out of it, the eventual TV show, the Lauro Pacheco movie with Jimmy Morato and Pilar Pilapil, all that. Tisoy was their youth cult, their generational totem, their Scott Pilgrim. Their Bagets, if you will. But even she hadn’t heard of this. And even if she did, it’s possible she wouldn’t recognize it. Nonoy Marcelo wrote the script for this one, sure, and roped in his comedy titan cousin Bert Marcelo, who has been the constant through all the versions. But the Bernal Tisoy!was not so much a remake as a turning on its head. It’s a relic of its time—it’s near-topical in jokes, mostly pivoting on local cinema at that time, only working after some digging into, for one—but I saw it just a few weeks ago, some 33 years too late, and it’s temperament is weirdly fresh, weirdly now.

I bring it up and Kakaba-Kaba Ka Ba?, too, because they both predate MTV but both too are uncannily possessed of a grasp for its rhythms and energies and language, as if they were as prescient without knowing it as Godard was. And who knows if maybe they are. That something as arch and irreverent and out-there as Tisoy! would have bearing on something as safe as milk and dull as bathwater as Bagets and the rest of its sort may be a little too much to suggest but the membranes that connect them make sense. It’s something far older than MTV here. And might have its roots in something embedded in our cultural psyche and in the psyche too of Philippine popular cinema of the ’50s and ’60s and even the ’70s, in the vaudeville aesthetic it sucked at the teat of, in the belief of entertainment as being everything to everyone, in that urge to put on a show… right now.There is something oddly, sweetly, wondrously intrusive every time someone dances in a movie that isn’t a musical and it’s done right or even if it isn’t but feels like it was or even if it plain isn’t. A breaking of the fourth wall almost, a spinning off into another planet, even the ones that enmesh themselves in the action through a sieve of logic, like the Madison bit from Godard’s Band of Outsiders or when John Leguizamo and Mira Sorvino dance to Marvin Gaye in Spike Lee’s Summer of Sam; but more so when it doesn’t, like the exhilarating coda to the Takeshi Kitano Zatoichi and that lovely bit near the end of Quark Henares’ Keka that feels kindred with the dancing in Tisoy! and Kakaba-Kaba Ka Ba?. They’re all digs, sure. But you can parse a hum of affection coursing through it. Not obviously and, really, I’m mostly just guessing. And possibly projecting my own peculiar affection on it, itself most likely colored by an idiot love for crap and a tinge of nostalgia for it. Oh, it’s silly and naïve but it’s this naïve silliness, this utter disregard for everything, that counts for its untrammeled enthusiasm, for the purity of its unwitting anarchy, and for my screwy fondness for it.




Originally published at Cinelogue.

*Image taken from Video 48.

2.06.2011

A BRIEF HISTORY OF FORGETTING: MY 2010 IN MUSIC

" . . .(with) downloads . . . you can listen infinitely without knowing often what you're listening to." (Brian Eno, from an interview in Pitchfork)

At it again.

More music is being made and put out there now than there's been at any other point in history and unlike any other point in history,too, you can have them all, if you have the stamina and the appetite and the will and the life to burn. That,and a broadband server. I have a little bit of each and I listened to a ridiculous amount of music in 2010 mostly because it was out there and I could. But Brian Eno was right. I've forgotten what half of it sounds like. This, then, technically, is the half I remember, give or take. Or at least what made it through the filters in one piece and stuck.

There are two lists here. The first is for albums and comes with no annotation as I'm lazy like that. I apologize for the lack of domestic product. This year, I plan to get out more often and remedy that. I didn't have the heart to separate the two Sufjan Stevens records, as they weren't meant to be anyway. And I'm counting all three of Robyn's Body Talk EPs as more of a whole than the comp album she released from bits and pieces of them. Barring the obvious pick , for me and for yearend lists (Kanye West,Cee-lo Green), the rest of my listening turned out to be wildly catholic, even more than 1999, taking in, as it does, the gleeful return of stalwart old favorites Superchunk and Gil Scott Heron and a thoroughly forlorn Tracey Thorn, my new fetish for three strains of pop (dream, K and J), as well as the robust jazz-funk of The Budos Band, the DIY psych of Coma Cinema , the orchestral manoeuvres of Owen Pallett, the jubilant pop of 2NE1 and the weirdly comforting goth balladry of Zola Jesus.

The second list is for songs, not really singles, as I'm terribly misinformed about these things, having lost the old vigor to swim the media bath for coordinates. I used to hoard copies of SPIN and Q and Mojo to use as maps for the hunting and gathering of pop that consumed half my life and money. These days, with zero danger and less at stake, I forage blind. And I don't really care. Turns out, though, that most of these were singles, which is odd and neat.

One of the rules I set for myself is that nobody from one list can cross over into the other. It's a rule I was tempted to break several times - - -with Robyn and 2NE1 and Kanye and Cee-Lo from the albums list and LCD and Teenage Fanclub and The-Dream from the songs list. The other rule is that no one gets two slots on either list.

I wrote a decade-ender list of albums and songs that both peaked at 40 and ran the risk of leaving out a lot, which happened. I wanted to keep this at the same number but I got as far as 20 for the albums and up to 46 for the songs and ran the same risk, with Allo Darlin' and Nicki Minaj as casualties. I ranked both lists, too, as ranking is my new toy. And like most toys, it's both a bit of fun and possibly immaterial. Love was my only gauge and love's impervious to hierarchy. I also didn't go as far as including albums and songs released before 2010 that I heard for the first time and played a lot last year as that was not the point- - -sorry,then, City And Colour and Skeleton and the Girl-Faced Boys and Clazziquai Project and Empire of the Sun and Jesus Walk With Me.

Besides,if I had, we'd be here all night. And this is late enough as it is.



1. Zola Jesus, STRIDULUM II
2. Cee-Lo Green, THE LADYKILLER
3. Rangers, SUBURBAN TOURS
4. Kanye West, MY BEAUTIFUL DARK TWISTED FANTASY
5. Robyn, BODY TALK I-III
6. Superchunk, MAJESTY SHREDDING
7. 2NE1, TO ANYONE
8. Crystal Castles, CRYSTAL CASTLES 2010
9. Chew Lips, UNICORN
10. Evenings, NORTH DORM
11. LoneLady, NERVE UP
12. Sufjan Stevens, ALL DELIGHTED PEOPLE / THE AGE OF ADZ
13. High Places, HIGH PLACES VS. MANKIND
14. Budos Band, THE BUDOS BAND III
15. Owen Pallett, HEARTLAND
16. Rose Elinor Dougall, WITHOUT WHY
17. Coma Cinema, STONED ALONE
18. Young Heretics, WE ARE THE LOST LOVED ONES
19. Gil Scott Heron, I'M NEW HERE
20. Tracey Thorn, LOVE AND ITS OPPOSITE








47. David Sylvian, Playground Martyrs
It was always Sylvian's vocals, from Brilliant Trees on, that made me his bitch, more than his sober artpop, really, but it didn't take long for me to get around to loving that,too. He's the closest thing I have to a Sinatra, to a devotion hinged almost entirely on mechanism. This is a torch song disrobed until there's close to nothing left, attaining a spectral quality, in both the consistency of the songform it co-opts, and in the threads of melody flitting through it that his voice divines then exposes.

46. Christina Aguilera with Ladytron, Little Dreamer
Bionic worked despite not being as all that as I'd hoped, but on paper, the pairing up of Christina with Ladytron for two bonus tracks smacked of a car crash slightly less grotesque than the car crash the pairing up of Christina with Cher turned out to be but a car crash still, and yet the parts match both times without a seam out of place, more so on this sci-fic lullaby whose prosaic sappiness, sung as if to a child but could well be to a lover estranged by either geography or maybe death, gains a warm, eerie glow.

45. The Pipettes, Stop the Music
The new Pipettes did somewhat jump the shark, their kitsch-disco tropes getting the better of them, but for this fabulous scorcher, which gets by on little more than that slinky Latin beat and the spring it restores to their step.

44. R.Kelly, Number One Hit
It sounds like it could be one but it will never be, of course, which is both its pathos and its power.

43. Techy Romantics, Photos Fade
" . . .stepping off the platform of you and I/ I'm leaving it all behind . . . " When that stacatto guitar riff comes in on the second verse it makes the romantic suicide invoked by that first line seem like the sweetest of freedoms even as Camyl herself isn't quite so sure but goes along with it anyway.

42. Efterklang, Harmonics
They traded off , on Magic Chairs, that sense of playfulness and sprawl they're expert at for a coherence and immediacy they don't have the sea legs for yet, but a delightful teeter-totter is struck here, nibbling away, as it does, on its own self-imposed boundaries.

41. Kylie Minogue, Get Outta My Way
The disco inside you is your friend. Take its hand. Give in.

40.The Silver Seas, What's The Drawback?
" . . .she's stopping traffic and moving through time/she's like a 45 record in the back of my mind . . . " If there's an argument more persuasive than this for the strip-mining of ELO as a sonic influence with as much mileage as Gang of Four, I haven't heard it yet. Except, perhaps, if you count the new Manic Street Preachers, which I do.




















39.Free Energy, Hope Child
That torch they carry for Thin Lizzy would be corny if it didn't actually give their songs balls and those balls crunch. Crunchy balls,yeah.

38. Foxes In Fiction and Galleries, Borders
Bedroom recordings became something of a substitute habit for me last year, taken in as much by process and principle as I was by product. Warren Hildebrand was a constant go-to man for most of it and this collaboration stuck with me the most, a song about distances that induces the yearning that comes from it more than anything did, except for the actual distance itself.

37. Lucky Soul, White Russian Doll
That cartilage of Motown by way of Johnny Marr that bolsters its indiepop stomp is what makes being subsumed by a lover, as if you were a matryoshka doll, feel almost triumphant.

36. The School, I Want You Back
As fired-up as that other song with the same name is in feeding its romantic anxieties through a primary-colored ebullience - - -with a dash of mariachi horns for gravy. Insanely catchy, terribly uncomplicated, nothing you haven't heard a hundred times before but wouldn't mind hearing again, which is sort of the point of pop music but very seldom is these days.

35. Katy Perry, Teenage Dream
" . . . I've finally found you, my missing puzzle piece, I'm complete . . ." Oh Katy, I bet you say that to all the boys.





















34. Twin Sister, Phenomenons
New wave revivalism that feeds off aura more than nostalgia and artifice. There was a lot of those last year and there was a lot of those I liked - - -Wild Nothing, Radio Dept., Twin Shadow - - -but this tasty pastry and the equally tasty EP it came from one-ups nearly all of them.

33. Gobble Gobble, Lawn Knives
" . . . crackle crackle flake/ let no one know . . . " Wild, inspired nothingness that exudes, in equal measure, a nutso bob and weave and a frantic joy the sort of which was nowhere else to be found last year. My radar is thusly trained.

32.Standard Fare, Love Doesn't Just Stop
No it doesn't.

31. Warpaint, Undertow
Possessed of a similarly hazy smolder as Hope Sandoval and Miki Berenyi, these lovelies earn my enthusiasm to disappear into it with this lovelorn ballad that feels like its title, perking up near the end as if breaking surface, but mostly ebbs and flows in a sensuous whirlpool of faintly sinister bliss.

30. Women, Eyesore
Of a piece with the album in that it still sounds uncomfortable in its own skin which is part of what makes it tick, but this time all that coarsened, fitful grayness is in service of a brighter shaft of melody that is, if not optimistic, then hopeful. Also, that guitar riff at the start drips all kinds of juice.

29. The-Dream, Florida University
Not that we'll ever be given the satisfaction of consensus, but in the real world, girls can be assholes, too, and here's The-Dream spewing on one of those, his ex. " . . .I was the realest thing you've ever known/ I can't wait to say I told you so . . . "Scorned boy venom that's more cocky than furious, but near the end, after the chorus that explains the title (" . . . this is short for Florida University . . .F U . . .F U . . .FU. . . FU . . . "), it throws in a mocking fake Bieber sample that makes the song not only cut like glass but draw a little blood, too.


28. Uffie, F1rst Love
I was going to write something here about how all pop music boils down to a matter of context and use as example the way this attaches a kitschy 80s sample - - -F.R.David, no less - - -onto a not-much ditty and makes a tiny gem out of the graft . . . but if I'm going to be very honest, I'm stone in love with this for no particular reason. Uffie is the captain of my heart, at least for the 4 minutes 57 seconds it's playing.

27. The National, Sorrow
Lays it on a little thick, sure. " . . .sorrow found me when I was young/ sorrow waited, sorrow won. . ." Like a clenched fist, this is all pent-up seethe building up to a detonation that never comes because that would mean some form of release and I'm not sure that's what Matt wants. " . . .'cause I don't want to get over you . . . " I feel you,man.

26. Los Campesinos!, Straight In At 101
Not getting enough sex - - -a universal lament, almost - - - makes Gareth antsy and skittish and he throws a fit and takes the song with him which is good for us if not necessarily for him.

25. Teenage Fanclub, Sometimes I Don't Need To Believe In Anything
The last sentence of what I wrote about #36 applies here. Somebody should tell Norman Blake and Gerard Love that doing the same thing twice has long been outlawed by the tastemakers of pop because they keep doing exactly that and do it wondrously both times. I like how the bit that goes ". . .taking a ride on a subway train/ to feel more alive when you get back out again . . . " makes me feel like the lyric says and that's even before we get to the guitar din in the chorus that I might've seen coming but when it does is the wind beneath my wings.

24. Utada Hikaru, Goodbye Happiness
A happy pill of potentially perpetual efficacy. And yes, the irony of that isn't lost on me.

23. Sleigh Bells, Treats:
I do have all of 2011 to burrow into the album as I got around to it a little late and didn't pay it much mind at first, save for this monolith of guitar bombast that's every bit as 80s as Jean Claude Van Damme, every bit as buff and full of itself,too. A blow-up doll for my infatuation with powerchords. Even better than the real thing.

22. Memoryhouse, Lately (Deuxieme)
The feeling I get of being submerged and the line about breathing through machines and also the one about asking to be shut off makes it seem this is about the benign forcing into corners and making peace that happens in the nearness of death, and maybe it is, but I've learned not to take things as they seem, as this could be about other,less fatal forms of dying. It's so beautiful regardless, it makes succumbing to one or the other almost something to look forward to.

21. Jenny And Johnny, Big Wave
The recession confuses Jenny Lewis and you can tell from the anxious albeit effervescent tremble that the confusion frightens her a little, too.

20. SAWA, Swimming Dancing
Wakarimasen*but when teengirl fantasy Kawauchi Sawa throws herself into this vortex of trance and swims(dances) against the current, the sensation was/is a euphoric few could touch.

*"I don't understand"

19. Arcade Fire, Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)
Merely catchy where they used to be opulent and weird along with the catchy, I never quite got The Suburbs,or it never got to me the way Funeral did and still does, or I didn't give it enough time and probably should. But the unsentimental nostalgia of this magnificent chamber disco oddment, in which Regina Chassagne sings herself to rapture, took hold. Time will reveal that it really is their masterpiece. Or you could take my word for it now.


18. Girls Generation, Run Devil Run
The partial ruin of Oh! was that it was tasteful here and there when it should've been tasty from end to end, but what ultimately rescues it are the skyscraper beats the girls strap on here and all the alpha-female sass they pump it up with as they stride across the land like a nine-headed pop monster crushing nearly everybody under their heels. Also, a massive attack of cute.

17. Vigo, Where Are You My River?
Not so much a kundiman deconstruction as that implies a taking apart and a putting back into place to get to the bottom of things and this is a band that's too familiar with the form and its tales of love gone missing to need to do that. More a kundiman reconstruction, then, a summoning of the necessary auras and demons to make you feel as at home with all that treachery and bleeding.

16. No Age, Glitter
Pummels you still, if you're worried about a softening of blows, but it is the swooniest they've gotten and you can make out what Dean Spunt is singing but not so much that you don't have to still lean in, as leaning in against the chaos of its surfaces to pick up signals is what makes their punk special.





















15. LCD Soundsystem, All I Want
This Is Happening was not a record wanting for peaks but it's to the exhausted glitter of this krautpop love song with its payload of feedback at the end that I come back to again and again and again. " . . .all I want is your pity/ all I want are your bitter tears . . . " Not so much a Berlin-era Bowie rip as it is a gene-splicing.

14. Krakow Loves Adana, Cold and Closed
" . . . floating speech/ except the words we need/ and with some time there might return the fire/ but love was always a fragile kind of truth/ life was always a fragile time for you. . . " More than its intolerable wounded loveliness, this is up here out of the number of times I played it and play it still. Like with hangovers, sometimes the medicine for melancholy is more melancholy.

13. Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti , Round and Round
Taking soap and water to the scuzz that Ariel Pink used to lather his records with is an aesthetic cop-out only to those who saw lo-fi as a moral stance rather than a trope you can discard as soon as the shtick wears itself out, which it will if the bells and whistles of your pop are the songs anyway. Multi-sensation studio-centric popcraft up there with Todd Rundgren if his prog gene had been even more squirrely, and every bit as epic as that suggests.

12. Deerhunter, Helicopter
Even before reading the Dennis Cooper short short story it was based on, there already was a niggling sense that, for all its weepy beauty, Bradford Cox is singing about the sort of loss you don't come back from. And when he gets to the line " . . . now they're through with me . . ." the blood temperature tends to drop.

11. Paul Weller, Aim High
In a way, a returning to the whole modern retro duality that gave his rather fertile and unjustly reviled Style Council period vitamins, reinvigorating Weller even more than he already is. This is a glimpse of what could have been if he'd seen it through to its endgame. Biases aside, and going by the keening soulful swirl here, it would've been grand.

10. Janelle Monae, Cold War
" . . . I was made to believe there's something wrong with me . . . " Janelle's a tornado, death-defying and beholden to a thousand fancies, most of which she indulges in the record she was roundly exalted for, making this exhortation to self-belief a will to power on a winning streak. With digable Kelindo guitar solo as extra jackpot.

9. Best Coast, Our Deal
Bethany wants to break the deal and be more than friends but she can't so a stray cuddle after sex is the most she can hope for. That sleeve of guitar fuzz Girlfriend wore its subservient heart on had a charge running through it, sure, but it merely nips at the heels of this gigantic ballad and the way it wrings from Ms. Cosentino's disappointment the sort of sweet, sweeping melodramatic ache that would make even Dusty Springfield weep

8. Drake with Alicia Keys, Fireworks
" . . .you never see it coming you just get to see it go . . . "That's Drake in the corner, that's Drake in the spotlight, losing his religion. Not much of a rapper, not much of a singer either,and his 2Pac metaphor's a little weak but somehow that makes the melancholies of affluence and celebrity that beset him more poignant than it probably should be.

7. Crystal Castles with Robert Smith, Not In Love
The futuristically-named Ethan Kath and Alice Glass do crop up on that other list, sure, but this shouldn't really count as breaking a rule, or at least can be cut some slack on a technicality, being, after all, a re-imagining so thorough it comes into its own. And roping in Robert Smith really was last year's pentium chip of stunt-casting.

6. Alicia Keys, Unthinkable (I'm Ready)
“ . . .you give me a feeling that I never felt before/
 and I deserve it, I know I deserve it
/ it's becoming something that's impossible to ignore/ it’s what we make it . . .” Alicia looking down a drop we've all been on the edge of before, so you understand why she's feeling a little vertigo and a little open to harm and a little peril in her bones and also why the song throbs with such suspense. Plush, caution.

5. Peryodiko, Agawan Base
The way it pulls its anthemic punch at the last minute in that soaring chorus that makes you feel as if everything's forgiven, is like a catch in the throat that reminds you it isn't.













4. Beach Fossils, Face It
That utopian lope, not quite summery, not quite the feeling of sand between your toes, but like a gust of wind in your face telling you that you'll get there at some point. And just when you thought the pretty guitars couldn't get any prettier, they do and do they.

3. Rihanna with Drake, What's My Name?
More than Beyonce's “. . .to the left . . . “ , it was the way Rihanna turned her eye-rolling smirk of a ". . .puh,leeze . . . " into an assassination on the majestic Take A Bow that was the cocky height of pop kiss-offs. She's no stranger to empowerment, and she’s grown into it so that she doesn’t even need to flex as hard. " . . oh na na /what's my name? . . . " Oh, she wants the boy bad but he's only having her on her own terms. Don't misconstrue ". . . you're so amazing you took the time to figure me out/
thats why you take me, way past the point of turning me on/ you 'bout to break me, I swear you got me losing my mind . . . " as a giving in. It isn't a surrender, it's a taunt.

2. Minus the Bear, Excuses
" . . . running out of excuses/ when we know what the truth is/ I’m into you/ when you hear this song/ you’ll say you knew all along/ you’re into me too . . . " I still can't make up my mind if this was/is my mantra of denial or my fight song. But half a year after I first heard it, I'm still taken with the way it simmers sexily so.

1. Local Natives, Wide Eyes
". . .they told me how they fear it/now they're putting it on their tongues . . ." The Body of Christ theories hold , if only for this line, but it's not dropping acid they're really singing about but the confounding spectacle of the Buddha Boy , at least on the bit that goes ". . .no food and water for the better part of ten months/ quietly he sat between the folds of a free trunk . . ." As much about the disarming tenacity of the faithful as it is about the bewilderment it arouses in those of us who can't muster up the courage. That's wondrous in and of itself but the supple, kinetic sonics catch up fine.