On the Wagon to Mexico


1. “You! Me! Dancing!” Los Campesinos: The first thing with live guitars that I’ve voted #1 since “Sour Girl” in 2000; I can’t tell you how proud I am to reconnect with the tradition of guitar-based rock and roll that the Stone Temple Pilots exem- plified so well. High on the list of things I love about “You! Me! Dancing!” is how it feels like two songs circling around each other, and in the one it’s the girl who harbors the deep dark secret about her own leadfootedness, while in the other the guy’s off in his own stratosphere blithely frugging here, there, and everywhere. (Or maybe he’s doing the Freddie--nothing specific is ever named, but the kinetic energy here has a pronounced Freddie/frug feel to it.) It’s a subversion of expectations as gratifying as the climactic graduation dance in To Sir with Love where Sidney Poitier lurches around like the Incredible Hulk while Judy Geeson makes like Ginger Rogers. I wish I could decipher the guy’s motormouth ramblings towards the end--online lyric pages don’t provide anything. I’ve been playing this so often the last while, I’m sure I’ll wear it out before long. For now, it’s “Roadrunner,” it’s “Every Picture Tells a Story,” it’s you, it’s me, and it’s dancing. 2. “What You Do,” Imperial Teen: A few years ago in this space, just as I was catch- ing up with Imperial Teen’s three albums, I wrote that they made a better Yo La Tengo han Yo La Tengo. It made a kind of intuitive sense at the time, now I have no idea what I meant. The two don’t sound anything alike--except here, where they’re one and the same. I hope they keep doing what they do for a long time. 3. “With Every Heartbeat,” Robyn w/Kleerup: Latest proof of Greil Marcus’s rule (by way of Satchel Paige and Bob Dylan) that it’s impossible to make a less than great record about not looking back. The strange thing about this austere don’t-look-back meditation is that, far from finding liberation from the past, the singer’s a total wreck as she picks up and starts to move forward: “Still, I’m dying with every step I take.” For the record, I never ever look back myself, not counting the six or seven hours a day I spend looking back. 4. “Crush Whatever,” Manhattan Love Suicides: Bikini Kill doing “The Emperor’s New Clothes”; a dead-end for anyone in search of the new, pure bliss for me. 5. “Upgrade U,” Lil Wayne: Snoop used to wear a Maple Leafs sweater during his “Gin and Juice” heyday, but, as far as I know, “Upgrade U”’s the first time Toronto’s resident sports institution--as mythical around here as the Yankees or Packers, the difference being we’ve been in a 40-year slump--has made it into actual hip-hop rhyme (setting up my favorite line of the year: “But I’m a champion/Where’s the fuckin’ Rocky theme?”). Every year, I revisit this same place: I continue to be fascinated with my fascination with this sludge. I’m tempted to say that with something like “Upgrade U,” hip-hop is officially into its Exile/Riot phase, all that Christgau stuff about anomie and layers of murk, except that that probably already happened 20 years ago on Schoolly-D’s first album. The layers get uglier and druggier all the time, though, and to that end, I can hear the appeal the schlocky horrorshow sample from Beyonce’s original might have had for Lil Wayne. It almost functions like Elvis’s “Let’s get real, real gone for a change,” except here the invitation reads “How low? This low.” 6. “Icky Thump,” White Stripes: “Led Zeppelin reunion” doesn’t compute: one guy re- mains very much dead, and while a few deaths don’t preclude a high school reunion from advertising itself as such, one in a four-piece rock group is one over the limit. I bet “Icky Thump” does a better job of honoring the original anyway--such an impres- sive wall of galumph that, at 46 years of age, I had to reteach myself how to air- guitar before I was fully able to commune with it. Turns out it’s not like riding a bike at all--you forget everything if you haven’t done it for a while, and my timing and mechanics were so completely off, I’m scheduled for rotator cuff surgery come May. 7. “House of Cards,” Radiohead: This is the group that did “Creep,” right? Wow-- where they been? I’m 83% kidding. We reviewed “Creep” in Radio On 14 years ago (reaction was all over the place; very high controversy-rating, as I recall), and then I somehow managed not to acquire a single Radiohead album, or even hear more than a handful of Radiohead songs, between here and there. So that’s my first order of business for 2008: investigate this Radiohead phenomenon. For the longest time, I was mishearing a key line here: “forget about your house of cards” as “forget about your house and car” (comical in view of the title--duh), and from there, taking notice also of the bit about collapsing infrastructure, I figured they were warning me not to become too attached to the material possessions that fill up my life, because at any given moment they could all disappear. Seeing as that’s something I think about on a regular basis to begin with, I guess you’d call that a willfully creative mis- interpretation. The words are just window dressing anyway, as they basically are on any great pop song; it’s the exquisite coloration of everything enveloping those words that draws me in, not whatever lesson may or may not be there. When Thom Yorke’s voice leaps up the register right after “forget about your house and car”-- I mean, “forget about your house of cards”--I’m 12 years old again and swooning over Badfinger’s “Day After Day,” and that’s more than enough for me. 8. “Bunky,” Welcome: Or maybe it’s “Welcome” by Bunky, how should I know? (Old Chuck Eddy joke.) I’m pretty sure this is the shortest thing I’ve ever voted for in 20 years of compiling these lists--not quite Angry Samoans/Minutemen short, but it does come in at under two minutes. Obscure and disjointed for the first sixty seconds, some dreamy oohing and aahing near the end, then over, then out. 9. “I Get Money,” 50 Cent: The yin and yang of 50 Cent and Kanye West is, what-- Stones/Beatles? It was Kayne who wouldn’t make nice after Katrina, though, and be- sides, the idea that the Beatles ever represented wholesomeness, even in 1964, is silly. Manny Farber’s termite art vs. white elephant art? 50 doesn’t make a very good termite--sells too many CDs, wears too much gold. In any event, there’s some- thing insidiously sensuous going on in “I Get Money” that I don’t get from any of the half-dozen songs I’ve dutifully auditioned from Graduation. Kanye might look more dapper, but it’s 50 who has what I believe hardcore gangstas call the “Buddy Love Flow,” and he’s got it, like, all the time. Another Rocky reference, too, an odd hip-hop trend that requires further review. 10. “Beautiful Life,” Gui Boratto: As bright and sparkly as the wash of colours on Gui Boratto’s album cover. I like LCD Soundsystem’s “Someone Great,” too, but for a song to assume the mantle of truly great dancefloor trance, it’s important that it be by someone you’ve never heard of, on a label that sounds totally illegimate. ----- I don’t know if the vagaries of technology are still a story at this point, but I love this description of something I found in a local weekly’s “Holiday Gift Guide”: “Send your iPod on a time warp with the iTube Valve Dock Carbon Edition. This vacuum- tube-based amplifier gives your digital music an analog tuneup, resulting in a warmer and more textured sound than any fancy-pants techie gadget pumps out.” Cost? $899. I’m generally Don Cheadle in Boogie Nights when it comes to this kind of gobbledy- gook, but I think I can provide translation on this one: “For a thousand dollars, we’ve found a way to make your Arcade Fire mp3s sound more like all those Wishbone Ash and Leo Sayer albums sitting down at the local Goodwill.” I would love to meet someone who purchases one of these iTube Valve Dock Carbon Editions, just so I can stand there and look at them funny.

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