Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Vox Acerbus Best Music of 2010

Melancholy is my mission statement.

I am often asked why I am so fixated on misery, and aside from the fact that I’ve had my share of it, the answer is simple. Sadness is real. It’s pure, it’s raw, and it’s universal. Songs of despair are preceded by sad, sometimes traumatic events, providing an underlying foundation of truth. They are written as a meager and usually futile attempt at redemption. They ask questions that won’t be answered, so an attempt at catharsis becomes nothing more than a dreary memory over time.

Love songs, conversely, are speculative. They rely on false ideals and empty promises. You can’t legitimately claim eternal love for someone. There is no such thing as “forever”, “always”, or “till the end of time”. You can’t move heaven and earth or dance among the stars, and you can’t deliver on a promise of “happily ever after”.

These notions, while quaint, are hollow gestures. The reality is that people and relationships and life spans are finite. It’s there today, but no amount of strategy or desire can change tomorrow from the total variable that it is. I prefer the brutal honesty of a forlorn song because I can believe it. I know it’s real, and since I can truly comprehend it, I become emotionally invested, and the hallmark of any good song is a personal attachment.

As always, the songs are culled purely from my personal iTunes library. I don’t consult any other “best of” lists or research the album charts. It’s my list, so it comes from my iPod. All of them have at least one lyric that stood out to make me include it here. A song can have a gorgeous melody or a stirring arrangement, but if the lyrics are pointless and inane, the song cannot stand on its own.

So now, without further delay and in no particular order, I present the Vox Acerbus Best Music of 2010.

1. “Northwestern Skies” by Tired Pony, from the album The Place We Ran From

“There’s no answers in the tempest . . . so just let it take you over”

Chaos theory is the measuring stick for the strength of the bond. Forget the serenity of sun, moon and stars – it’s the storm raging on the ground that determines future course.

2. "All To All" by Broken Social Scene, from the album Forgiveness Rock Records

"I've seen the gone too small, the lost of law, the almost made it . . ."

Ultimatums are the death knell of relationships, but are a savvy way of jumping ship when you know ahead of time that the other party won't acquiesce to the demand.

3. "Forgetting" by David Gray, from the album Foundling

"A wiping it clean, a minute Armageddon"

The hardest part of a dismal relationship is the lasting memory it leaves in its wake. Pain fades, but the recollection never fully dissipates.

4. "Heaven on Earth (The Things We Got to Do)" by Alphaville, from the album Catching Rays on Giant

"instead repeating history without a care how much we hurt"

It's going to crush your spirit, but you do it anyway. The only way to proceed is in denial of the potential consequences. Nice.

5. "Sycophant" by The Courteneers, from the album Falcon

"I'd rather entertain disdain from someone I love"

Perfection is unattainable, and the failure to accept that notion is the surest way of bringing it to fruition.

6. "Taxi Cab" by Vampire Weekend, from the album Contra

"Nostalgic for garbage, desperate for time"

One party's faults are inadmissible while the other's are argued ad infinitum. Sadly, this is often the default setting, and the dance continues long after the music has stopped because the familiarity and safety is better than any uncertain alternative.

7. "Coming Home to Me" by Patty Griffin, from the album Downtown Church

"When you're lost and you're found, and you're found and you're lost"

Confusion can be a healthy element if it's used to assess the relationship rather than question it. Facing "what if?" is necessary to avoid "what was".

8. "Basket Case" by Sara Bareilles, from the album Kaleidoscope Heart

"I don't say much, and it'll stay that way"

Introspection can be helpful. Or not.

9. "Like Rock and Roll and Radio" by Ray Lamontagne & The Pariah Dogs, from the album God Willin' and the Creek Don't Rise

"Do you remember how you were before the sorrow?"

Simply stated, the past cannot sustain the future. A gradual descent into complacency is always fatal, even if it takes decades.

10. "History of Modern (Part 2)" by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, from the album History of Modern

". . . surrender to the rage . . ."

Anger is an inherent part of the human dynamic, and when channeled productively, I think it saves more relationships than it claims. It's the necessary opposite to harmony and they must co-exist.

11. "Sorrow" by The National, from the album High Violet"I live in a city sorrow built"

Sorrow, as a state of mind, should be celebrated, just as it is in this song. Some people prefer it and do what they can, medically and otherwise, to sustain it.

12. "Unspoken" by Hurts, from the album Happiness

"I'd rather be lonely than be by your side"

Once you've reached the breaking point, silence should prevail.

13. "Love Come (Piano Version)" by Sarah McLachlan, from the album Law of Illusions

"a dream of some kind of peace"

As the album name and cited lyric suggest, the bliss of love is illusory. This acoustic version captures that feeling better than the album version.

14. "The Chorus Girl" by Steven Page, from the album Page One

"A love song to make you choke"

The temptation will always be too strong to resist, but giving in to it won't always work out. Therein lies the rub.

15. "The Book of Love" by Peter Gabriel, from the album Scratch My Back

". . . is long and boring, no one can lift the damn thing"

This strings only cover of The Magnetic Fields lends itself to the delicate and beautiful nature of the subject matter. There are untold billions of editions of this book.

16. "Dead Hearts" by Stars, from the album The Five Ghosts

"It's hard to know that you still care"

This is a stoic and stunningly beautiful song, a retrospective of lost love and its lingering effects.

17. "What You Call Love" by Guster, from the album Easy Wonderful

"The violence was a source of strength"

Any port in a storm, or something like that.

18. "Ready to Start" by The Arcade Fire, from the album The Suburbs

"But I would rather be alone than pretend I feel alright"

This is a coming of age tale about casting aside all doubts and making the decision to commit to adulthood. Ready - begin.

I'm out-