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November 30, 2005

Uncertain Times: Favorite songs of 2005

A week or two ago, I mentioned that I was participating in a mix CD project. Irene asked me what the track listing was. It wasn't quite finished then, but now it is. I just sent it off. The track listing is as follows:

1. The Jackson 5: "I want you Back." (remix by DJ Z-Trip)
2. DJ BC: "Einstein On The Beast."
3. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, "Over And Over Again"
4. Kanye West, "Heard 'em Say."
5. The Raveonettes, "Uncertain Times."
6. DJ Cappel, "Everyday Struggle / A Day In The Life Of A Fool."
7. M.I.A. "Bingo."
8. 張震嶽, "分手吧."
9. Antony and the Johnsons, "Hope There's Someone."
10. Panzah Zandahz, "No Surprises (None at All Really)."

I've posted the liner notes in the extended entry. Yes I'm a geek.

L I N E R   N O T E S:

Looking back, 2004 lacked the standout tracks and albums of 2005. There were no unabashed pop hits that insinuated themsleves into your brain like Natasha Beddingfield's "These Words," no hip hop song that so perfectly melded the break to a vocal soul sample as 718's "The Drummer," no neo-classical album that worked quite as beautifully as Max Richter's The Blue Notebooks. Not to say that there weren't contenders. Mariah Carey made a run at Snoop Dogg's "Drop it Like it's Hot" with "It's Like That," but the beat didn't have the legs even to make it through the entire track. J. Lo's lead single off of Rebirth gave me high hopes, but her vocals couldn't compete with the horn break. I wanted to jettison the song and listen to that break over and over again.

Instead, this year I discovered old sounds reinterpreted and reinvented. From remixes of the Jackson 5 and mashups that married Frank Sinatra to Biggie Smalls to rock songs that brought back the sounds of Phil Spector and (loosely) the Talking Heads. For me, 2005 was a year of looking back then deciding to go foward. These tracks learn from that same past and push on into the present.

The Jackson 5: "I want you Back," (remix by DJ Z-Trip), from Motown Remixed. I love this song. Z-Trip's remix strips the original to its basics, building the track piece by piece from studio outtakes, reminding me why I love it. The isolated guitar that opens the song plays in such an offhand way that Tito may as well have been practicing in the bathroom. Maybe I wish the drums hit a little harder, maybe I wish there was a little more intensity, but it'd be hard to bring this track to the heights reached on the original. It goes on a little long, but I just can't get enough of that guitar.

DJ BC: "Einstein On The Beast," from Glassbreaks. After the amazing success of Dangermouse's The Black Album, the mash-up remix album seemed to find its footing this year. DJ BC's album marries the Beastie Boys to Philip Glass. It didn't seem possible, but this combination of "Pass The Mic" with various elements from Glass's opera Einstein on the Beach had me spinning it more often than I had expected.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, "Over And Over Again (Lost And Found)," from Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. Just as I was telling Karen I was through listening to rock music, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah came along. The internet hype made me instantly want to dislike this band, and I didn't like the first two tracks on the album. But then the bouncing bass and repeated ding of this song came on. After it had ended, I found myself rewinding it to the beginning. And then I did it again. I was hooked, and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah became one of my favorite bands of the year.

Kanye West, "Heard 'em Say (Feat. Adam Levine of Maroon 5)," from Late Registration. It's the rolling beats and the repeated piano figure that reel me in. I listen to this song just for that. I don't even know what it's about.

The Raveonettes, "Uncertain Times," from Pretty in Black. There's something about this track that seems to fit the overall uneasiness I feel about 2005. Without becoming overly political or getting into my personal life, it really makes me wonder. There's a sense of cavernous space in the airy production reminiscent of Phil Spector that seems to fit the emptiness I feel about the year. The lyrics remind me of the Smiths and the Bollywood film Dil Se (the title track of which would have made that year's 10 best). And who can resist castenets!

DJ Cappel, "Everyday Struggle / A Day In The Life Of A Fool," from Blue Eyes meets Bed Stuy. Another remix/mashup album, this one introduces Frank Sinatra to Notorious B.I.G. (with notably better results than the marriage of Bob Marley to Biggie on The Final Chapter). The song works not only musically, but thematically, as Sinatra comments on Biggie's rhymes during the chorus.

M.I.A. "Bingo," from Arular. I first heard this song in 2004, when a friend of mine played me tracks from the album that would become Arular. I couldn't help smiling at the Steve Miller Band sample. When the steel drums and the beat hit me, my head bobbed of its own accord. When the rising sound emerged behind the chorus, I realized I had been waiting for just that moment. For various reasons, the album took forever to come out, and by the time it did I had already overplayed it. But listening to this track now, it still sounds fresh, and I remember the rainy day I spent flipping through my friend's records, unable to sit still as I listened to this track on his hi-fi.

張震嶽, "分手吧." In 2004 I loved; in 2005 I lost. This song encapsulates the moment when I resigned myself to the fact that it was over. I was in Morocco, sitting on a sand dune. I had written her name in the sand, and by the time I looked back down it had all but been erased by the wind. It didn't happen as melodramatically as the song suggests, but I listened to this over and over as I thought about her. This song came out on a compillation in 2004, but it seems right to include it as a holdover from last year, a lingering memory.

Antony and the Johnsons, "Hope There's Someone," from I Am A Bird Now. In a strange way, his music makes me think of a Nick Cave song scored by Avro Part. Again, the uncertainty echoes my own feelings as 2005 comes to a close.

Panzah Zandahz, "No Surprises (None at All Really)," from Me & This Army: Radiohead Remixed. This is a bit of a copout actually. A hip hop remix album of Radiohead's music, this track really just keeps on goin' on. But I love the original track, and in the absence of something better to close out the set, I decided to run it, using a long fade to keep it from ruining the mood of the true ending.

"I'm scared of the middle place between life and nowhere."

Happy holidays,
Posted by eku at November 30, 2005 5:28 PM

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