1. Garbage – Vow
One of the original chick rockers, Shirley Manson, who perhaps paved the way for a girl power band like Metric’s Emily Haines, sounds as sinister as ever on Vow, growling about how she’s going to “break your soul apart” amidst a wall of fuzzy guitars and busy production. Garbage has recently returned to the music scene with a comeback record but it’s unlikely they can recreate the way it felt to listen to a song like this in the era which influenced its empowered anger.
2. Lou Reed – How Do You Think It Feels
When “Berlin” was released, its East versus West Germany love story concept was considered a pill that was hard to swallow: it was not only pretentious, but deeply depressing. For these reasons, the record was met mostly with reviled criticism, though it’s been said that the record was a huge influence on Ian Curtis of Joy Division. How Do You Think It Feels is about drug addiction that is presented in a sprawling yet pointed story which tells it like it is, with vocals that tell it like it is, that ends up spiraling out of control into a messy but sick (and I mean SICK) guitar solo. Being completely messed up can sound so good.
3. Neil Young – Union Man
Union Man is a political but playful gem in Neil Young’s extensive back catalogue. When he proclaims atop some mean country folk, “’Live Music is Better’ bumper stickers should be issued!” You too, will holler, ‘AY!’ in agreement.
4. The Lumineers – Flowers in Your Hair
There’s something timeless about the quality of the Lumineers’ self-titled record. It’s highly-listenable due to its catchy melodies, simplistic arrangements and retro lyrics that sing about wisdom, American Bandstands, flappers and wars. The record’s opener is Flowers in Your Hair, a short, simple, sweet ode to youthful memories. It sets the tone for an outstanding, rustic, charming record that already tops my Best Records of 2012 list so far.
5. Sonic Youth – Dirty Boots
Sonic Youth is a band I never ‘got’ until recently digging into their catalogue out of curiosity. Dirty Boots is an essential song that captures a particular time and place. It starts off as a driving grunt and ends with an outright angry bellow. Like the aforementioned Garbage, Sonic Youth’s unique blend of blurry guitars and cooing vocals build riotous tension that exist in the song’s 1990 world.
6. Beck – Loser
Continuing with the fine 90s grunge-era theme that’s seemed to permeate throughout this week, enter Beck with Loser, the song that made Beck…well, Beck. Meaning, the kind of artist who bursts onto the mainstream charts by proclaiming, “I’m a loser, Baby, so why don’t you kill me?” The song, from its blues-influenced acoustic riff, to its don’t-give-a-fuck, nonsensical lyrics, seems to say something about young people in the early 1990s: it was an era of wayward pre-hipsters who didn’t care about anything. Loser helped pioneer an underground indie movement known as ‘anti-folk’. Its subversive power is still felt today.
7. Laura Nyro – Stoney End
Only having recently discovered Laura Nyro through her induction into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame, I was astounded at how this little-known songwriter had penned monstrous songs like Eli’s Coming and this one, Stoney End, which was made famous by Barbara Streisand. The original however, is a bouncy Carole King-esque smash – simplistic and jolly, but which harbours beneath its catchy, folksy exterior, a deep sadness and yearning. I’ve often said that a sad sad song will move forward the action of your life, whether it be forward or back. A happy sad song will stop you dead in your tracks by forcing you to glean meaning from beneath.