Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Zrbo's 5 Favorite Songs Of The Year

Can you guess which one isn't from 2011?

Here we are again folks, the end of another year means it's time to start rolling out the 'best-of' lists. Let's take a walk down memory lane to see what songs I most enjoyed from the past year. These might not necessarily be the best songs of the year, just the ones I found myself listening to again and again. I guarantee at least one surprise.

Lady Gaga - "The Edge of Glory"

Ok, so I like Lady Gaga, can you really fault me? After all, I was somewhat obsessed with Madonna about a decade ago, and since Lady Gaga is basically the modern day equivalent (though don't tell that to Gaga apparently) you can see why I might like her. Though I didn't find her newest album to be as good as I had hoped, I've still managed to find myself liking at least a few of the new songs, The Edge of Glory being one. I first heard this song when Lady Gaga performed it on American Idol while wearing some sort of amazonian inspired headdress while perched on top of a giant wall making love to some dancer/model before committing mock suicide (sounds about right). The song starts innocently enough, but really gets good once she starts ratcheting up the intensity with "I'm on the edge with you.. with you... WITH YOU!!!". Throw in some deliciously 80s sax courtesy of the late Clarence Clemons right before he passed away, and you have a great little pop song. Surprisingly, this isn't really one of my favorite LG videos, I prefer to just listen to it, but here's the fairly tame video for your viewing pleasure.

Michael McCann - "Icarus"

It's well established here that I'm a big videogame fan, so here's the obligatory videogame bit. Taken from this year's Deus Ex: Human Revolution, sequel to one of the greatest games of all time, Icarus is just a fantastic bit of cyberpunk inspired music that still manages to send chills down my spine every time I hear it. The music just oozes style, perfectly fitting the technological dystopia of the near future found in the game. It might also help that I'm currently reading Snow Crash. Best part - I haven't even gotten around to playing the game yet.

Sergio Mendes - "Alibis"

I mean this completely un-ironically. Ever since fellow blogger Little Earl posted this song in his 80s mix tape series I've had this song inexplicably stuck in my noggin. Sure, it's definitely not from 2011, but it doesn't mean that a 25+ year old gem can't sneak it's way onto the list. It's just deliciously infectious without needing all that signal processing that's meant to get your attention, and Joe Pizzulo's voice is so, so smooth. To top it off, this video is such a great relic from a different time. I've constantly found myself singing this song out loud as I go about my daily business. Damn, I might have to go listen to it again right now.

VNV Nation - "Space & Time"

It's a year in which a new VNV Nation came out; ergo, a VNV track must appear in my list. The lead off track from VNV Nation's album Automatic, this song is so very quintessentially VNV while also managing to be something very different. There's the inclusion of electro-harpsichords, Ronan Harris' voice is more 'punchier' than ever (it sounds like he's eating those opening lines), and there's even the vaguest hint of something approaching dubstep during the break (without delving into it so much as to sound like he's riding the fad). All in all, a great track from a great album.

And the winner is...(drumroll)...

Within Temptation - "Faster"

When I first heard this song earlier this year I literally (not figuratively) stopped in disbelief at what I was hearing. This was Within Temptation, the same symphonic metal band I had heard back in the early 2000s when I was living in Germany - the band that had that hokey looking Pagan-metal aesthetic? I wasn't even aware they were still around. The only song of theirs I still listened to was their cover of Kate Bush's Running up that Hill (also with the hokey Pagan-metal aesthetic). Now here they were with a video that actually looked professionally made and sounded good - really good.

A little Internet research later I learned that not only is Within Temptation still around, but they've become the biggest musical export out of the Netherlands (what does that say about a country's music when their most popular band does metal - imagine them nestled up there on the chart next to Beyonce and Kanye).

Apparently in the intervening years since I left Europe they've been working hard, pushing out a slew of albums. Their latest album, The Unforgiving, is actually pretty damn good. They took their sound in a more mainstream direction, something that I think works greatly to their benefit. It's also a dreaded concept album with characters and a plot, complete with an entire comic book (sorry, graphic novel) series penned by some actual known guys in the biz. I've watched the entire accompanying short film that goes along with the album and it isn't terribly good. But this song, Faster, just rocks my socks off.

Sounding like it should be featured during the credits of some Jerry Bruckheimer film accompanied by explosions, Faster not only rocks, but the video looks good too. Lead singer Sharon den Adel is just an amazing bombshell to look at (can you believe she just finished two back-to-back pregnancies?), with gorgeous eyes the likes which haven't been seen since Susanna Hoffs from the Bangles. Where on earlier albums her voice could occasionally sound shrill (waif metal? - did I just invent a new genre?), here she sounds much more confident and sultry. You can't even detect a hint of a Dutch accent, almost like she's been taking vocal lessons from a country music artist.

An energizing rocker all around, this one is great to listen to while driving, though a little dangerous. It's my top pick for 2011.


Rebecca Black - Friday: It's like an anti-song critique of everything wrong with pop music nowadays, yet it's somehow stupidly infectious.

VNV Nation - Streamline: I initially thought this song was a bit of filler, but it's grown on me more than any other song on Automatic. Everything after the first chorus is sheer bliss.

Within Temptation - Sinead: Here's WT doing what's essentially a dance song, far removed from anything metal. I love the concept for this video - they're the band playing in the nightclub where a scene from the album's story is taking place.


Little Earl said...

"Alibis" really is something, isn't it? I mean, despite the cheesy surface, the lyrics are actually rather dark and harrowing when you think about it - a stark portrait of a marriage falling apart. Congratulations on figuring out that, as with Kool & The Gang, Sergio Mendes is not the guy singing (he's playing keyboards). Mendes became famous in the 60s for bossa nova lounge music (I think one of his songs is in Austin Powers), and "Alibis" was part of his brief 80s comeback. Most people are probably more familiar with "Never Gonna Let You Go," a staple of Time-Life Romantic Classics CDs, also featuring Joe Pizzulo on vocals (oh yeah).

Honestly there are, in my humble opinion, so many hidden gems from the 80s that don't get played on KOIT or the supermarket anymore. Think of me as a brave archeologist, digging through the salt mines of 80s pop music, heroically uncovering lost Top 40 jewels.

Liked the other songs too. If anyone's waiting for my "Best Songs of 2011" list, don't hold your breath.

Oh, and you just leave the Bangles to me.

Herr Zrbo said...

I stumbled across the link for Never Gonna Let You Go while listening to Alibis. Definite 80s flashback, I remember hearing that song a lot when I was young, but haven't heard it for a long, long time.

Herr Zrbo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Little Earl said...

It was pretty inescapable. I'm finding it amazing how I can go for 20 years without hearing a song, but when I hear it again, it's like I only just listened to it last week. In a funny way it actually makes me glad that I'm getting older. Cheesy 80s music, when placed inside the heart of a young man, never truly dies.

And now you've got me taking another look at the "Alibis" clip, and I think you're right: it really is a magical, unself-conscious mixture of elements:

1) Even though he's totally lip-synching, Joe Pizzulo's whole body language is really into it. To him, this is no imitation.

2) He's wearing a shirt and tie, but with some sort of sporty, zip-up jacket over it, not a sport coat.

3) He doesn't quite have a full mullet. It's like a half-mullet, if there is such a thing.

4) Sergio's not singing live either, and hell, I don't even know if he sang on the recording, but he's just as serious about lip-synching as Joe is.

5) The bass player is wearing sunglasses, even though they are obviously indoors. And he's got on a shitty beige shirt, halfway unbuttoned.

6) When the recording starts to fade out, nobody really knows what to do. It's like, "Oh shit, we're going to give ourselves away!"

I think YouTube user fsol13 put it best:

"the post-flashdance outfits, joe pizullo's voice and persona, the synthlines, the way the set looked incredibly dated even for 1984, sergio mendes' smile and how he scored big even after 20 years in the biz

everything about this is pure win."

Herr Zrbo said...

The set really is surprising, I'm no expert, but I would say it looks very late 70s, like a hand me down from some old variety show. This kind of show wouldn't be around much longer I don't think (especially with MTV).

I love all the girls, you've got about 8 (8!) girls in the back doing synchronized aerobic dancing, wearing those silly red sequin things. Then you've got the two female backup singers, I once saw Leonard Cohen perform First We Take Manhattan on TV and he had the same exact looking women as the backing vocals. They look like flight attendants.

I can't imagine anything other than that after this filming everyone just went backstage and did a ton of coke.

The one other observation I have is the general age of everyone on stage there. In all seriousness, there's just NO way they'd put people like the drummer and the saxaphone guy (even Sergio) up there on that stage unless they preceded their introduction by a "ladies and gentlemen, mr. elton john!" kind of thing. TV doesn't want you if you look a day over 35.

It's funny that you mention the bassist, because to me he's the only reasonable looking guy up there, I could a see a modern hipster wearing that getup.

And Merry Festivus!