The best 10 singles of the mid-year
I have no clue how late June has snuck up already, but here I am nonetheless, in the sludge of summer heat and existential crises. Like asking what the fuck have I accomplished over the six last months exactly and other assorted fun questions. Maybe I should be asking the collective gods of music that same thing, because as of yet, this half-year hasn't been all that momentous. Blips of genius, sparks of excitement, sure, but mostly, I've been listening to the same six or seven albums on repeat. Compared to a blockbuster '06, this sequel hasn't stacked up very well so far, but then again, '06 didn't really hit its stride until its latter half either. So let's hope for a strong finish and for now, single out some of the great singles that have stood above the rest:
10) "One Inch Badge Pin" – Muscles
Nothing can depress Muscles. This is a man who, when shoved by a bully in his song "Ice Cream," retaliates by exclaiming, "I just want to dance!" This is a man who, if his house were burning down, might well shrug it off and toast s'mores over the embers. On his single "One Inch Badge Pin," he even manages to laugh about the dour ironies of "the independent music community," taking the piss out of the import-only melodramas and limited-press angst. "Drive a one inch badge pin through my heart!" he dares a love interest, trying on Conor Oberst's seriousness like a costume. But in the end, Muscles can't keep a straight face or a dark thought. Over euphoric electronics, he realizes his true nature: "We didn't need to panic/ We spent all our summer drinking lemonade in hammocks."
* MP3: "One Inch Badge Pin" - Muscles from One Inch Badge Pin EP [Buy it]
9) "My Moon My Man" – Feist
Every fucking time this song comes on, I think I'm about to hear the DuckTales theme song. Mind you, I don't even have an MP3 of the DuckTales theme song (note to self...) and I still can't convince my mind otherwise. But then Leslie Feist's honey-drip voice will pour over the track, and I'll forget all about Uncle Scrooge and Mrs. Beakley and Launchpad McQuack. She'll sing about moons and men–just two of the things that can't help orbiting around her–and it'll sound even better than taking a swim in a money bin.
* MP3: "My Moon My Man" - Feist from The Reminder [Buy it]
8) "Mistaken For Strangers" – The National
* MP3: "Mistaken For Strangers" - The National from Boxer [Buy it]
7) "No Pussy Blues" - Grinderman
Masturbating monkeys aside, there's no better image to encapsulate "No Pussy Blues" than Nick Cave with his current hair. The receding front and the encroaching back, looking weeks-unwashed and puberty-oily. Then there's the beard and moustache, somehow sinister, appearing almost fake on Cave's familiar face or at least like he's got something to hide. He looks beat-down by desire, like a neighborhood pervert or a knife enthusiast. He's ruled by his libido, gun magazines and brown liquors. He doesn't change his underwear and he sleeps in his clothes. He smells like cigarettes and by now, his cigarettes smell like him. He's willing to do absolutely anything to get laid tonight, please it has to be tonight, and yeah, he's all too eager to sing about it too.
* MP3: "No Pussy Blues" - Grinderman from Grinderman [Buy it]
6) "Diamond Dancer" – Bill Callahan
Even after Bill Callahan's dropped his cloud-cover alias, he's kept the mystery. Celebrating whatever a diamond dancer is, he paints his character with strokes of wonder and admiration. He provides glimpses of her at the threshold of a revelation, bathed in blue, a body in constant motion. And yet, it's hard to say exactly what's going on here. Is this woman a nightclub haunter or a ballerina, an aspiring Broadway star or a stripper? And what does her eventual realization, "It's time I gave the world my light" entail exactly? Callahan's never been one to connect the dots, but the ambiguity is especially attractive this time, the possibilities of her life as multifaceted as the surfaces on a twenty-four-carat cut.
* MP3: "Diamond Dancer" - Bill Callahan from Woke On A Whaleheart [Buy it]
5) "To Go Home" – M. Ward
Part of me wants to disqualify it from contention, just because Post-War feels so long ago and M. Ward's reign is so indelibly linked with 2006. But even after this Daniel Johnston cover charted on my best songs of the year list, its impact hasn't really faded. From the affecting finality of the delivery to the longing trapped in time, "To Go Home" is just too good to reach its expiration date just yet.
* MP3: "To Go Home" - M. Ward from Post-War [Buy it]
4) "D.A.N.C.E." - Justice
Cool French pop manages to infiltratrate our shores every year, with this most recent siege largely spearheaded by DJ duo Justice. Bouncy and cute, fresh and familiar, their lead single "D.A.N.C.E." reminds me of Jackson Five jams and summer hits pumping out of boomboxes next to open hydrants and Krylon-bombed brick. It's a tribute as much as a throwback, but ultimately and most importantly of all, it's just pure pop gold.
* MP3: "D.A.N.C.E." - Justice from † [Preorder it]
3) "Wet and Rusting" - Menomena
* MP3: "Wet and Rusting" - Menomena from Friend and Foe [Buy it]
2) "Set Fire To The Face On Fire" – The Blood Brothers
Heaven-sent for hellraisers, this song is a nasty little pipebomb, a set of brass knuckles against a gushing nose. It's hardcore crushed down to its rotten core, all blistering guitar, anarchic noise and kamikaze swagger. It became my favorite track from last year's somewhat uneven Young Machetes as soon as it barreled out of the gate, but it's stayed that way long after the dust has settled.
* MP3: "Set Fire To The Face On Fire" - The Blood Brothers from Young Machetes [Buy it]
1) "North American Scum" – LCD Soundsystem
Disaffection has never sounded this good. Bubbly, kinetic and joyous, "North American Scum" is the best snapshot of American ambivalence since, I don't know, the 2000 election? Right off the bat, there's a funky-punk dance beat that can't be denied, simultaneously undercutting the message ("if we act all shy, it'll all be okay") and supporting it ("Let's rock, North America!"). It's the sound of someone who can't pick a side, who can't commit to either irony and apology. It's the acknowledgment that America's both more complicated and more simplistic than Europe, that we're deeply flawed but also kind of wonderful in our own ahistorical and fumbling ways. "North American Scum" is both an indictment and a celebration, a loving jab at both sides of the Atlantic and finally just an invite to fuck the divide and just dance up some universal language.
* MP3: "North American Scum" - LCD Soundsystem from Sound of Silver [Buy it]
* Previously: The best 30 singles of 2006
* Previously: Mid-terms: the seven best singles of 2006 so far