Tuesday, January 11, 2022

This Fluid Thrill Music Awards - Best Song of 2021

I did albums yesterday. Anyone who got in the top 10 for that list can't make this one.

Before I get to my fave songs released in the year of false hope, here are two songs from 2020 that would have made the list if not for chronology:

  • 'Glenfern' by Kathleen Edwards 
  • 'Big Wheel' by Samia 
And here's a sprinkling of progressively older songs I didn't discover or properly fall for until 2021:
  • 'Edge of Town' by Middle Kids (2018)
  • 'As the Earth Caves In' by Matt Maltese (2018) - even better slowed down for use in memes
  • 'Ballad of Big Nothing' by Julia Baker (2016 - from an album of Elliot Smith cover songs, Say Yes!)
  • 'Be Forewarned' by Pentagram (1994) - thanks to Monster Magnet
  • 'A Penny More' by Skydiggers (1992)
  • 'I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight' by Richard and Linda Thompson (1974)
Best songs of 2021: Highly commended

Cluster 1: Great artists with great new songs... waiting for that next great album
  • Time Escaping by Big Thief
  • Old Peel by Aldous Harding
Is Big Thief morphing into tUnE-yArDs? Will Aldous actually release an album in 2022 or just tour (will she even get to tour?)?

All this and more will be revealed in the year of hope's faults.

Cluster 2: Songs that I can see all the arguments for NOT listing, and yet...
  • 'See the World' by Brett Dennen
  • 'That Funny Feeling' by Bo Burnham
Dennen sounds like Tom Petty, which is a good thing but doesn't make him original or current or whatever. Also, a retiring ESPN journalist quoted the line 'Now I'm planting trees I'll never climb' as she bid adieu. I should hate this song. But I'm not hip enough, I guess. I love it. 

I tried watching Burnham's Netflix special but quickly got bored, so I'd never heard his version of 'That Funny Feeling' until Phoebe Bridgers covered it. Burnham's supposed to be funny, while Bridgers is walking a knife-edge between po-faced and wry... but Burnham's version is the only one that hits. It's like James Taylor doing 'We Didn't Start the Fire', with lyrics rewritten by Patricia Lockwood. It's the Don't Look Up of popular music. And it's singable as all hell.

Top three

Every time I come back to this list I change my favourite, so for the first time ever I'm not naming one song of the year and copping out with a top three. Maybe it's because none of them rely on nonsense syllables - more's the pity.

  • 'Andy Sells Coke' by Declan O'Rourke
There's something incredibly earnest about this song, from the jangly Cat Stevensy guitar intro, to way the first line echoes the title and the general big brother looking down on younger fuckup tone ("What kind of life has he got? Maybe none soon if he doesn't stop being something he's not"). 

But then fissures start to open in the 2nd verse. Who is the singer in all this? Might he be Andy singing in the third person? "He'll be dead in five years if he doesn't change something" hits different in that context.

But then Andy disappears from the third verse and it's all about the "I"

How did I end up at the party?
I'm the fool who passed out in the chair
Just came up to the smoke for the weekend
Got a wife and a baby down there

And I wake up to these three fucking ghosts
Fumbling round for a five in my coat
More fool I to be thinking that I could still drink
Like I did twenty years ago
Flirting with my ego
The only thing I need is a one way express out of here

I'm too old in the tooth to be around this shit

(some outro strumming and end song)

Typed out like that, it looks as if the "I" of the song is back where he started, holier than thouing despite a minor slip. But the more you listen to the song, the murkier it gets. Both versions of aging are fucked: the guy who never got it together and the guy who did but the veneer is so thin it cracks within hours of hitting the big smoke.

  • 'Heroes' by Natalie Hemby
Natalie Hembry is a Nashville singer songwriter who has written for lots of big names, including a song on A Star is Born. She was also part of the Highwomen in 2019 with Brandi Carlile & others. So when she sings:

I don't wanna meet my heroes
I just wanna be a face in the crowd
If I ever meet my heroes
They might let me down

There's a lot going on. I think the first is a sense of irony. SHe's not going for Carlile and probably not Lady Gaga or Sheryl Crow. It's probably about dudes (the versus refer to male superheroes like Superman and Spiderman). Which starts to sound very #MeToo, as in lots of the big stars are creeps or worse. Maybe it's a 2021 version of Liz Phair's 'Soap Star Joe'? And there's something BIG about the song sharing a title with one of Bowie's biggest singles.

But she doesn't want to cancel her heroes, just not meet them and thus avoid being let down and facing the conundrum. Is this the Schrodinger's Cat of pop culture consumption? If I don't get proof he's a creep, I can still enjoy his music / films / comedy?

There's too much irony at play here, all of it couched in the catchiest, slicked production you'll find (for starters: if you want to remain a face in the crowd, stop sounding so amazing! I catch my six year old son singing the chorus sometimes!), for any one reading to win out over another. 

  • 'I Wanna Make Promises (That I Can't Keep)' by Whitehorse
I love song titles with parentheses. 

I love couplets like: "Let's argue in Ikea, make a scene, go home and fuck / On unassembled furniture fresh off a moving truck"

(This song comes from an album called, Modern Love*). 

*What is it with these possibly inadvertent Bowie references?

I love how dark and 2021 this love song is. We're done pretending the rules apply. The parenthesis drop away. We'll say it to each other's face, "knowing that we slowly die / with each and every breath". 

But let's still promise to love each other forever, especially if it sounds like this.


And with that, I give you... A PLAYLIST:

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