The best 30 songs of 2007
Photo by Jan Glas
30) “Alphabet City Blues” - Spider Bags
Grim pallor of sodium-vapor lamps. The metronome of her heels clacking in time to your heartbeat. December’s chill ivying through your marrow. Romance is about proximity tonight, availability, the tenderness of now. Her eyes, you think, were the dull metal color of landmines. She knew forty-nine of fifty state capitals and had a laugh that made you shudder. Clack-clack-clack, you follow her like a pilgrim. Weave around the crowds spilling out on Ludlow, reeking of pilsner and music, so loud that they’re almost screaming, prouder of themselves than you know you’ll ever be.
* MP3: "Alphabet City Blues" - Spider Bags from A Celebration of Hunger [Buy it]
29) "Breaker" - Low
Just raise the switch and step back. For that small gesture, they took care of his family, covered a sizable chunk of the mortgage, overlooked his own rocky past. Just lift the metal bar from one end to the other and avert his head. Disregard the pops and whistles, the chair's mad thrum, the low, feral moans issuing from behind the glass panels. If he had to look anywhere, he'd study the priest's starchy collar, the gold stitch on his Bible. Then one day, when a killer's skin caught fire, the guard couldn't help peeking. He thought from now on, maybe he'd start washing his hands more often.
28) "They Come Home" - Clean Guns
Tenement on the fringes of fringes. Through barred windows, eyes glint in the night like serrated edges. Girls only known by nicknames now, pronouns, addictions. The weird origami of sleeping on the floor or the bathtub. Arms bruise-purple and scab-dotted. Faces like puttied skeletons. Every now and then, they'll forget, instinctively board the bus heading toward their former lives, think they recognize their fathers in strangers' profiles. They'll let the phone ring and hang up right when his gruff voice answers, "Hello?"
* MP3: "They Come Home" - Clean Guns from Clean Guns = World Domination [Download it]
27) “Florence” - Timothy Dick
Debris settling in the wake of disaster. Skeletal trees battered by rain begin to fix their hairdos. Brace-faced gutters drink up the soupy sewage of leaves and silt. Playground swings creak under the weight of phantoms, door hinges ache from the arthritis of iron oxide. Our home, our life, is flooded up to our ankles, our memories submerged and irreparable. But, with the first blue-gold blade of dawn, we still sink down and sing in one ecstatic voice, “The Lord is King.”
* MP3: "Florence" - Timothy Dick from On a Grassblade [Buy it]
26) "Manchasm" - Future of the Left
Larry Craig vigorously stroking the Washington Monument. Trent Lott in blackface singing the blues. Rudy Giuliani smeared with elephant dung, put on display. Alberto Gonzales mistaken for an illegal, detained indefinitely. George Bush eating pretzels on an infinite loop.
* MP3: "Manchasm" - Future of the Left from Curses [Buy it]
25) "Air Aid" - Menomena
The zagging of distant wings, a tremor of smoke. The plane hatches crack open; every head lifts to stare at the sky. Boxes of rations parachute down, rice, breads, medical kits, foodstuffs for the winter. The plane hatches crack open; every head lifts. A ghostly bluish powder like grainy rain sifts down and turns the crops black. The plane hatches crack open; every head lifts. Bombs the size of trashcans, orange spires that stretch up to the sky, a ceaseless spray of kerosene and nails. The plane hatches crack open; the last few heads lift. Pools and pools of water to put out the flames.
24) "Fledermaus Can't Get It" - Von Südenfed
Wild, unsteady fingers. Cocaine-rotted septa. Glittery mascara, Jolly-Rancher-red lipstick. Lights pulse like a language. Aftershocks detonate up and down their nervous systems. On stage, there's a swandive, limbs flailing frantically, couples thrashing around. On the periphery, four security guards do their impression of Mount Rushmore. The rhythm thumps harder, the mood turning, a fistfight rippling outward. Guards grab at whoever is near, throwing them down, ducking punches. It's hard to tell the difference between the brawl and the dance now. The red wash of house lights, the red puddle of split skulls.
* MP3: "Fledermaus Can't Get It" - Von Südenfed from Tromatic Reflexxions [Buy it]
23) "What It Is" - Pharaohe Monch
Underground and on the run. The moldy chemical green of sewer lamps. Dash from tunnel to tunnel, pause, brace for the frantic splash of footsteps behind you. Atmosphere dense with mildew and shit, the skittish shapes of rats and millipedes. Listening devices in every pipe. Trackers in your clothes? Keep going, make them work to catch you. Remind yourself of what happens to the ones they've rounded up, recount the whispers of their methods. Elbows snapped backward, fingernails peeled clean off, daily simulated drownings. Break into a fresh run and pray none of the shadows move tonight.
22) "The Dress" - Blonde Redhead
Gauze around a broken arm, beautiful and forever damaged. I drive home one-handed, leaning my sling against the window. The world seems different tonight, distant, fog-dipped. The scenery seems sketched through a Vaseline-smeared lens. The radio sounds waterlogged, the notes bubbling out of a plastic aquarium. I call Angela from the driveway to tell her I made it, I'm okay now, then wonder if I am. She doesn't recognize my voice. Then she says I sound like an artifact, like a dinosaur bone, whatever that means. Leaning back in my seat, I focus on my throbbing tricep, the tranquilizers' gentle spikes, her end of the conversation slowly swimming away.
21) "Fools" - Martin Walker
The detritus of this life. The litter of it, the unwashed-laundry stench of it, its deadweight clinging to your back like a burr. You swore again you'd be up by four, that you'd scrape the gunk off the fridge, that you'd rake the lawn, that you'd change your shirt. You swore last night would be the very, very, very last time. Dusk is creeping in already; your temples feel polluted with poison and trivia. A drained bottle falls out of the sheet, smashes into a burst of shards. You crawl toward the shower like a slug. You swear, really meaning it this time, that you'll sweep it up tomorrow.
* MP3: "Fools" - Martin Walker from Nylon [Buy it]
20) "DC Instead" - Mas y Mas
The bland sprawl of NoVa. Grids upon grids of meticulous urban planning. Mailboxes shaped like general stores, lawns spiked with signs for candidates, nearly identical shopping plazas every half-mile. Traffic like an clogged artery, a clenched fist. Sitting in the morning rush becomes an existential experience, the zen of how-the-hell-did-I-get-stuck-in-this-life? You think about moving, gathering enough momentum to never have to use the brakes again. But it's pointless, the cars just sit there, dead as rocks. You bite your tongue until it leaves a mark and lock your shaking hands on the wheel. You promise to buy a guitar and write enough bitter, sarcastic songs in your garage to make all this vitriol worthwhile.
19) "Coffee" - Aesop Rock featuring John Darnielle
Hell is a convenience store. Desiccated hot dogs revolve on a conveyer belt of infinity. The fluorescents are heaven-bright, yet everyone still looks their very ugliest. The beer is marked up, the sandwiches are Saran Wrap-mummified, the Slurpees all pour out watery and melted. Each chipper electronic door chime makes you cringe in horror. You wander the aisles for hours, desperately seeking something that'll fill that gaping hole in your psyche. Every time you try to leave, you remember twelve other things you urgently need. Then you remember that you can't leave ever. And that coffee here only comes in two temperatures: scalding hot and so cold it's solid.
18) "Dumb Animals" - Handsome Furs
I asked her to drive me far out to the edges of the forest. Tie me to a thick branch, I said, leave me to dangle for a day or a week I don't care. The blindfold was furry and tight around my temples. She touched my left thigh right before she started up the car. "Later," she said blankly. I wanted to feel cold and starved for a while. I wanted to get close enough to death to give it a pet name. I wanted to twist and writhe in real fear, never knowing if she was watching or not. Maybe she really wouldn't ever come back to cut me down, maybe the wolves' fever-yellow eyes would be the last ones to fall upon me. I kind of hoped to feel their incisors snap down; I kind of needed to pay penance for my sins.
* MP3: "Dumb Animals" - Handsome Furs from Plague Park [Buy it]
17) "Haze" - Essie Jain
She e-mailed her Congressmen daily, hourly, demanding more information. The responses were always automatic, polite, gracious, useless--form letters thanking her for the inquiry and assuring her they were hard at work to address it. Whatever it was. But the information never arrived, no matter how hard she begged or what channels she went through. There just had to be more to it than the letter she'd received. The two paragraphs etched in Times New Roman that muttered, "We are sorry to inform you..." The offensive rubber-stamped signature of a general at the bottom. No, that wasn't enough to explain why he'd never return, bearded and full of tales. No, that wouldn't prevent her from raising her voice to a wail, protesting on their marble steps, mourning his absence for decades.
* MP3: "Haze" - Essie Jain from We Built This Ourselves [Buy it]
16) "Blank Slate" - The National
He looked nice, a baby-fat face with dimples like apostrophes. He wore polished dress shoes and parted his sandy hair particularly. He punched his card at nine exactly and punched out at five on the dot. There were suggestions he belonged to a nationally organized religion, one of those good and non-threatening ones even. And he tipped his hat to female neighbors if he happened to be wearing a hat. If he didn't happen to be, he'd nod, smile, say something pleasant or even bordering on charming. That's why the woman in 4C seemed especially surprised when they dragged him off, when they dug up the six dismembered corpses from a wall covered with tabloid cutouts and illegible scribbles.
15) "I'll Kill Her" - Soko
A sylph with a pixie-cut and a suitcase full of scarves. Lips painted the hot pink of supermarket valentines. I brought her a cider one night and she shadowed me all the way home. She stood outside my window and pretended to be Jean Seberg from À bout de souffle. She recited poems by Rimbaud I think she was just making up on the spot. We went out a few times, had galettes and sat vigil at Morrison's grave. She drew pictures of our future children on napkins, every son green and sprouting plant-like, every daughter blue and jar-shaped. When I stopped calling, she told my boss I had given her syphilis. Now that I think about it, I'm not even sure she was really French.
* MP3: "I'll Kill Her" - Soko from Soko, Not Sokute EP [Visit her]
14) "Back On My Grizzy" - Lil Wayne
Chest-thumping braggadocio. Ego so monumental it gets its own entourage. Swagger like a bulldozer, knocking over every comer who dares to step. Ten feet tall when that beat starts bumping, a highrise, a planet. Make yourself sound so tough and massive they'll all believe you're invincible. Try not to remember how hollow it feels when you step out of the booth, hear your words pumping back at you from the subwoofer of some spoiled wigger's Jeep.
* MP3: "Back On My Grizzy" - Lil Wayne from Da Drought 3 [Buy other Lil Wayne]
13) “Trophy” - Bat for Lashes
Walpurgisnacht, bonfire smoke pluming up through the thickets. A huntress perches at the flame in raccoon pelt and headdress of red feathers. Every word a sigh, every song a spell. The handclaps of her coven, the trills of grungy moonlight, the shrieks of wintry gusts. Recitations haunted by the presence of dead heroines, decibels for Joan of Arc and sinister Circe. She watches the men line up and hurl themselves into the fire, their bones aglow and their skulls all bearing smiles.
12) "Window Shopping" - Desmond Reed
The local toughs congregating by the fountain. Beige-uniformed Rent-A-Cops looming under the alcove entrances. Teenage girls slathered in blush and eyeshadow, snapping gum to attract attention. Adult-contemporary songs from 1996 sail through the PA, and I think, whatever happened to Amy Grant? A woman resembling my mom heads into Hot Topic. Oh shoot, maybe that is my mom? It's a summer Sunday, and these glittering storefronts and humming escalators are our church. Our Walden or at least our Waldenbooks. I get a medium-sized TCBY yogurt from the food court and wave to Jill and Carolyn from Physics class. At the art store, I buy a print that looks like the sky outside. At Bed, Bath and Beyond, I pick up an air freshener that smells just like fresh air.
* MP3: "Window Shopping" - Desmond Reed [Visit him]
11) "Da Art of Storytellin' Part 4" - Outkast
Homesick astronauts ready to come home. They've charted the freaky topographies of unreachable planets and studied the orbits of otherworldly solar systems. They've sunbathed in the glow of remote stars and crushed up polar caps to chill their beverages. Now they're drifting back toward Earth, tentative but relieved, strangely moved by the swipes of green on that beautiful blue shooter marble in the sky. The closer they get, they more they wonder if they'll remember the basics of walking under gravity. But then they land and they remember; they're not just walking, they're dancing paso dobles, they're running marathons and doing backflips. They're riding in ticker-tape parades downtown, where grateful crowds hurl bits of sticky paper and hold up signs reading, "Damn, we missed you."
10) "Boute" - Au
A shanty from a shipwreck. A telegram from the ether. A subterranean love note digging its way to the surface. The bite of first love, a wasp trapped in your heart muscle. The afterbirth of sex, echoing in your brain like a melody. The hymn, the ditty, the jazz of lips, follicles, cuticles, their fingerprints tattooed on your pores.
* MP3: "Boute" - Au from Au [Buy it]
9) "Down River" - M.I.A.
We weren't sure which side we were on anymore. All the factions kept changing uniforms, dressing like each other, waving each other's flags. We stole their language and they stole ours, until neither made much sense. They swore we'd wronged them, pointed out historical precedents, and justified their horrible acts with ours. We swore back, shouting even more strident anthems, and committing even worse acts. People from our camps started defecting or maybe they just went undercover. We infiltrated their military by becoming them but discovered it wasn't so bad over there. Finally, the battle ended when everybody had shot himself in the head or fled for neutral soil.
8) “Paris Is Burning” - St. Vincent
Black-and-white reel of the ground war, soldiers heroic but indistinguishable in their mealy olives and turtleshell helmets. Trumpets blast in major keys, typewriters clack out triumphant narratives, radios transmits statistics in breathless tones. Bedroom wives hug letters to their breasts, frontline photographs, redolent undershirts, slivers of hope, tales of distant geography, steps to waltzes taken long ago. With the lights out, they sail across the floor, feeling the tender weight of their men against them. They're envisioning broad cinematic shoulders and feet as graceful as the wind.
7) "Up On Your Leopard, Upon The End of Your Feral Days" - Sunset Rubdown
Wild princess, fearless in her dominion. Her tresses swung proudly behind her vestments, her loch-blue eyes shone in the morrow-hour sun. I lifted my head as high as I was able to admire her ascent on the hillside. It was my only respite, my one refuge during the daylong toil on the king's fief. It was worth braving the lord's fierce slap, worth even the punishing task of reseeding the fallow fields. When word of her betrothal spread among the village, when her father cloistered her in the manor until the ceremony, I lost the will to lift my head. I could only dream of scaling walls or growing wings.
6) "One Inch Badge Pin" (Christopher Robin Remix) - Muscles
Greasy with sweat. Drowning in sweat. Four a.m. in a warehouse a mile west of nowhere, the first splinters of daybreak bashing through the black. Sobbing out sweat. Sweat sloshing in your sneakers. Your body’s still ricocheting off of all the others, accepting the holy communion of movement. The strobe’s still blinking out its spastic SOSes; the floor's still humming under you like a wind-up toy. Fatal in sweat. Baptized in sweat. You’ll swear emphatically that there’s no greater religion than a resurrected beat and the trinity of three pink pills.
* MP3: "One Inch Badge Pin" (Christopher Robin Remix) - Muscles [Buy other Muscles]
5) "Creator" - Santogold
A drum that could bring the comatose out of their vegetative states. A rhythm that could bring down law firms and stock exchanges, inciting men to helicopter their dress shirts over their heads and women to undo three more buttons on their blouses, grinding nastily and needfully in stairwells and elevator banks, under the confetti of ticker quotes and legal briefs and undergarments and resignation letters. An energy funky enough to inspire whiplash and double-dutch chants from the future. A joy that could resuscitate the joyless.
* MP3: "Creator" - Santogold [Visit her]
4) "New York, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down" - LCD Soundsystem
Walk around her at night, headphones implanted in ears. Pick random streets and follow wherever they lead, listening to Godspeed You Black Emperor! or Stars of the Lid at full blast. Feel the epicness and grandeur of the skyscrapers spiking around you. Feel the thrust and pulse of Chinatown streets, the prickly odors of fish markets and spilled trash. Edge along the borders, tracing the Hudson or the East, mimic the flow of the murky rivers as much as you can. Rumble with the convulsing subways, lose yourself in crowds, drown yourself in neon. Eat up the exotica of Cambodian noodles or Venezuelan arepas. Gulp the onslaught of sweet noise, make a noise of your own. Try to ignore that you're just going through the motions now, like a husband contemplating divorce.
3) "Rotten Hell" - Menomena
The gavel-slam of an autocrat. The trickle-down terror of the citizenry. Bodies disappearing in the night like heirlooms, rumors and theories murmurmed between households. More and more of them vanishing, doors blown down to dust, lineages rubbed out in a keystroke. Bodies plummeting out of airplanes into oceans, into black pits and unmarked chasms. Brothers of missing brothers donning ski masks and beating up the middlemen. Fathers of missing daughters dissolving to tears at their desks. Mothers of missing sons suddenly singing dirges in fugues.
* MP3: "Rotten Hell" - Menomena from Friend and Foe [Buy it]
2) "Smithereens (Stop Cryin')" - El-P
Bombed walls in both senses. Jags of rubble glowing with neon tags. Half-legible bubble letters naming gangsters and ghetto calligraphers. Scarred bricks and evaporating plaster and hollow grenades with their pins pulled. The soundtrack of sirens and emergency test signals. Kids in Starter jackets posing among the fallout, sucking on bodega loosies, trading their first rough verses. The ragged argot of dropouts, the rapid-fire patois of truants and runaways and refugees. Nostalgia that's as hard-nosed and aggressive as the life itself. Rhymes that could bust out of boomboxes and snag you by the jugular.
* MP3: "Smithereens (Stop Cryin')" - El-P from I'll Sleep When You're Dead [Buy it]
1) "Fake Empire" - The National
A rug of moonlight upholstering Avenue B. A twelve-ounce Sprite bottle that stinks of discount Beam. All those dizzy, dancey steps against unsympathetic walkup staircases. The tap-tap-smack that echoes louder with every floor. Her hand braiding into yours or just the thought of her hand and its hypothetical warmth. Maybe she turns back and says something painfully beautiful. Maybe she took a cab home and it’s just a stray breeze through an open window that’s slithering under your shirt. The click of a fitting key, the sudden trauma of your shadow in the doorway unknotting your tie.
* MP3: "Fake Empire" - The National from Boxer [Buy it]