Friday, November 20, 2009

The Vox Acerbus Best Music of 2009

I’ve waited all year for this (as evidenced by the 357 days in between posts), and so have you! And today, your patience is handsomely rewarded, for today is the day I release the Vox Acerbus list of the Best Songs of 2009.

This list was a year in the making – so you know it’s good.

Because this is the 6th installment, I will spare the details of the arduous selection process, but here is the abridged version of the rules.

-- All songs are in my collection and were acquired throughout the year in the “normal course of business”. It’s not a year end Google search as many lists tend to be – it’s a year-end search of my iPod.

-- Each song has to have a lyric that catches my attention and holds some measure of intellectual sustenance, although last year I broke that rule and included an instrumental track. What’s the point of editorial discretion if I don’t use it? Just as Orson Welles declared that Paul Masson would serve no wine before its time, I will honor no song with moronic lyrics.

--Music from any genre can be included. This year’s compilation is much more diverse than the last few collections, which were dominated (for lack of a better word) by the singer-songwriter faction. There are some happy pop tracks in here, but don’t get too excited – there’s plenty of pain and suffering to go around. This year also features the first ever remix to be included.

--The first 4 versions were compiled in chronological order by date of release. Last year’s was randomly selected by iTunes. This year, much to the chagrin of Dick at Championship Vinyl, the list is iTunes-style alphabetical by artist. (If you have to ask, then you’ve never seen one of the best movies ever.) Maybe next year, I’ll go for “autobiographical” . . .

--The “one compact disc’ rule has been eliminated – because it was stupid.

Ready? Begin.

1. “Foot of the Mountain” by a-ha, from the album Foot of the Mountain

“Silence always wins, it’s the perfect alibi”

Contrary to the belief that we can’t escape our fate, much of what goes wrong in our lives is by our own doing. Learn from the past and leave it there.

2. “I Quit” by Bear Lake, from the album Places on the Side

“I didn’t even make a sound, letting it out and screaming”

Despite a subtle key change near the end, the song’s conflict remains unresolved – just the way I like it.

3. “5000 Days” by Chantal Kreviazuk, from the album Plain Jane

“My hope, this isn’t temporary”

Most love songs are about the hope and promise surrounding the prospects or beginnings of a relationship. This one is about a relationship almost 14 years old and is so powerful that she hopes it continues beyond this mortal coil. Simple lyrics, a simple arrangement, and beyond complicated.

4. “Belle of the Boulevard (Acoustic)” by Dashboard Confessional, from the album Alter the Ending

“Just this once, just for now”

Seeking solace in a manner and place it will never be found. This acoustic version lends a better background for the story.

5. “Nemesis” by David Gray, from the album Draw the Line

“I am a creeping and intangible sense of loss”

Nemesis was the Greek goddess of retribution and vengeance. If you can’t be with the one you love, then torment their memories in a song with a French horn solo. What could be more beautiful than that?

6. “Wrong (Trentemoller Remix Edit)” by Depeche Mode, from the album Sounds of the Universe

“There’s something wrong with me, chemically, something wrong with me, inherently”

Every emotionally cataclysmic event has a path that leads up to it. It’s only when the path ends that we look back and see what led us there – an unpleasant realization of the consequences of our actions. Basically, it’s entirely your fault.

7. “Papillon” by Editors, from the album In This Light and on This Evening

“You’re born, get old, and die here”

“Papillon” is the French word for butterfly, and while the song alludes to making an escape (as a butterfly from a cocoon), the reality is that most people accept their lot in life and few people ever do anything to change their circumstances.

8. “Right Next to You” by Elizabeth & The Catapult, from the album Taller Children

“Tears me up to think of all we’re losing”

There is really nothing remarkable about this song, but the instrumentation is unique and the chords are very atypical both in time and tone. It’s a fresh take on an ancient song topic.

9. “Not Sure” by Fiction Family, from the album Fiction Family

“Such a beautiful view with a long way to fall”

Fiction Family is a collaboration between Sean Watkins of the now defunct Nickel Creek and Jon Foreman of Switchfoot. While the record as a whole was an interesting marriage of rock, pop, and folk styles, this song would have been right at home on a Nickel Creek or Watkins solo album, both of whom have been included on past volumes of Vox Acerbus compilations.

10. “Airstream Driver” by Gomez, from the album A New Tide

“Oversleep the rapture”

I don’t even care that all Gomez did was lift this song from 90’s rockers Red Red Meat, eliminate 2/3 of the lyrics and rearrange the rest, and then step up the tempo while retrofitting it into their own musical style. This song has a delectable groove.

11. “Alone” by Holly Williams, from the album Here With Me

“These walls that surround me, they’re strong and they’re tall”

This song debates the merits of barriers, both physical and emotional. Which is greater – the risk or the reward? This arrangement differs from most singer-songwriter songs in that it’s driven by piano instead of a guitar, and the string section is accompanied by pedal steel. Nice.

12. “First Train Home” by Imogen Heap, from the album Ellipse

“Temporal dead zone, where clocks are barely breathing”

This is an anti-love song about that defining moment in a relationship where you realize that enough is enough and you just want out. In this case, the “first train home” means “the first train away from you”. Unfortunately, that train is always way too late.

13. “Heartbreak Warfare” by John Mayer, from the album Battle Studies

“Red wine and Ambien, you’re talking shit again”

Love and war are one and the same. Enough said.

14. “If I Didn’t Know Any Better” by Mindy Smith, from the album Stupid Love

“And I know this is just a beautiful illusion”

This song first appeared on the Lonely Runs Both Ways album by Alison Krauss back in 2004, but it was written by Smith. This version evokes more pain and sadness, which always wins out here at Vox Acerbus.

15. “Back to Manhattan” by Norah Jones, from the album The Fall

“I know nothing about leaving, but I know what I should do it today”

Should you stay or should you go? I’m not sure I’d want the Brooklyn Bridge as my life metaphor.

16. “Tidal Wave” by Owl City, from the album Ocean Eyes

“Depression, please cut to the chase and cut a long story short”

Ocean Eyes is a very happy and upbeat album. This song is the last one on the track list, and after 40 or so minutes of fun and sunshine, this lyric jumped out like it was shouted through a bullhorn. Imagine getting punched in the face at a birthday party – it’s like that.

17. “King of Rome” by Pet Shop Boys, from the album Yes

“Last night I lost all day”

Pet Shop Boys are renowned for the incorporation of history into their songs of love and loss. Napoleon’s son was dubbed King of Rome as a courtesy title upon his birth, and his sad and short (21 years) life was the textbook example of loneliness and despair amidst a life of privilege and wealth.

18. “From the Sky” by Peter Bradley Adams, from the album Traces

“In the silence you start to lose your hope . . . you dream of letting go”

This song is about coming to peaceful terms with the end of your life, and the promise of what one believes may be on the other side. Adams writes stunningly beautiful music, and this is one of his best.

19. “Today I Feel Sure” by Pilot Speed, from the album Wooden Bones

“. . . they are alone, would trade the kingdom for the throne”

This song masterfully stays a step or two below becoming an all out anthem by maintaining a sense of uncertainty and trepidation.

20. “In These Arms” by The Swell Season, from the album Strict Joy

“Use the truth as a weapon”

Life is circular. It’s not so much evolution as it is revolution. This song builds slowly and ends rather abruptly at its apex.

21. “When One Became Two” by The Verve Pipe, from the album A Family Album

“ . . . what was to be was much bigger than three”

After an eight year hiatus, the Verve Pipe returned with this record of family-oriented, children’s sing-a-long type pop songs. This song, in addition to a very catchy melody, features the bassoon. How can you NOT include a Verve Pipe song that features the bassoon?

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