Kultur Klatch / Favorite Best Songs of 2010, Part 3 of 4

“Song” / Artist / Album

Prosperina” / Kate McGarrigle
“This is a very sad song. There are a few reasons it’s here. First, because Kate McGarrigle is alive again, every time I listen. `Proserpina’ was recorded in London less than two months ago; she is joined by family, surrounded by friends. Her son, Rufus Wainwright, called the Royal Albert Hall show `the greatest performance of her life’. There she is, right there, singing as she’s always sung, or perhaps even better, a voice of wildflower and thorn. She sings with her sister, Anna, and her children, and her niece; her new grandson, scarce weeks old, squirms in a hospital not far away. Even from there, I am certain, he can hear the harmonies. I also share this song because it was a new one, written by Kate at the end of her life, toward the end of a long illness. Yet this is not a song of the expiring, of the slowing heart: it’s a work of strong beauty, of brave melody and deft singing, with (dare I say it) a magnificent hook. `Proserpina’ is not about falling away, but about coming home. And she sings it triumphantly. She is already very, very sick and yet still she is Kate, wry and caring, unflinching. Earlier in the concert, she describes the story of Proserpina, of Persephone – a grim legend. Someone in the crowd calls out, (warmly but) sarcastically: `Merry Christmas!’ For Kate there is no flutter of hesitation or embarrassment: there is only laughter. She and the whole great room laugh. As the McGarrigle sisters have always known, these things (sorrow, joy) go together. Now, with streets swept of snow, with too much sadness in this city’s new young year, I listen to both the sad songs and to the happier ones. We all strain to hear the harmonies.”  (Said the Gramophone)

It’s Choade My Dear” / Connan & The Mockasins / Please Turn Me Into The Snat
“The haunted house that local oddball Connan Mockasin used to record some of his debut album creaks through the album with off-beat lyrics and minor-key melodies. … Woodblocks fade for the second track, which will be his second single, the lethargic, warped and haunting It’s Choade My Dear, and the album slips further into a dreamlike cartoon in Faking Jazz Together.”  (Jaqueline Smith, NZ Herald News)

Apply” / Glasser / Ring
“Glasser is the solo project of Californian chanteuse Cameron Mesirow, who recorded much of her debut EP and the following 7” on Garageband. She refined and rearranged most of these songs for her debut record Ring, released earlier this month, and first track `Apply’ is a perfect introduction: it’s as sweet, sensuous, and slick as the rest of them. In a world (blogosphere?) where you can –- thank God -– find ghostly, haunting electronica delivered by powerful-voiced, talented women whose vocal ranges might not encroach on Mariah but are impressive nonetheless around almost every corner (see: Tamaryn, Zola Jesus / Nika and Rory, Bat for Lashes, etc), Mesirow’s music is bound to find a niche, and it might very well be your eardrums.”  (Genevieve Oliver, Pretty Much Amazing)

We Want War” / Hidden / These New Puritans
“With `We Want War’, the first single from their forthcoming second album, Hidden, These New Puritans appear intent on severing all remaining ties to their presumed/erstwhile genre. The seven-minute epic trades guitars for a complex arrangement, choral chants, and sound effects of swords being unsheathed. It would be easy to write off `War’ as an exercise in proggy self-indulgence and leave it at that, but the larger canvas suits them surprisingly well, giving them ample room to explore the power of their fuller, more sophisticated instrumentation. As it creeps toward its conclusion, `War’ conveys a palpable sense of dread, as if some nefarious force were guiding the outcome. The song might be read as a commentary on the neo-con strategic imperative that drew the U.S. into its present two-front quagmire, but neither the `we’ nor the adversary is ever named–no doubt intentional omissions. To their credit, These New Puritans have little use for obvious signifiers.”  (Jonathan Garrett, Pitchfork)

Crash Years” / The New Pornographers / Together
“When the New Pornographers roared through `Crash Years’ at Lollapalooza this summer, the guy next to me asked, `Wow, what was that song?’ As America suffers through its worst recession in decades, `Crash Years’ was born fully formed into the pop ether. A catchy start-stop guitar hook is quickly overtaken by Neko Case’s siren song: `Light a candle’s end / You are a light turned low.’ `Crash Years’ is a shimmering gem in the darkness, a perfect expression of hope in desperate times.”  (John Grassi, PopMatters)

Icarus” / White Hinterland / Kairos
“Casey Dienel’s solo debut and her first record as the leader of the band White Hinterland placed an emphasis on her jazzy, occasionally Vince Guaraldi-esque piano playing, but this track from the forthcoming album Kairos entirely omits the instrument in favor of a deep bass groove and understated drones. She’s not entirely out of her comfort zone. One of the highlights of White Hinterland’s Phylactery Factory was the bass-heavy number `Lindberghs & Metal Birds’, and the group’s stopgap French-language EP Luniculaire was carried by its low-end, particularly on their inspired cover of Serge Gainsbourg’s `Requiem Pour Un Con’. Even still, this is by leaps and bounds the most stark and atmospheric composition Dienel has released to date, owing more to Beach House’s moody languor and Bat For Lashes’ dark romanticism than the fragile, perky sounds of her earlier material. The new tone suits her well, especially in how the open space and deeper tones keep her high voice from having to compete with the treble of her piano. There are some gorgeous moments in `Icarus’– the wordless vocal refrain is just begging to be sampled– but the piece doesn’t always gel completely, and seems especially wobbly as it reaches a competent yet shrug-inducing conclusion. This is a good song, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that it hasn’t yet reached its fullest potential. Maybe a better remix or a superior live recording lurks around the corner.”  (Matthew Perpetua, Pitchfork)

Marathon” / Tennis / Cape Dory
“It’s not clear whether husband-and-wife duo Tennis had such effortlessly breezy songs in mind before they bought a sailboat and spent eight months on it off of the East Coast, but either way they’ve taken to heart the maxim to `write what you know’ on `Marathon’. Word is the band got its name when Alaina Moore was teasing her husband Patrick Riley for partaking in the `elitist rich man’s sport,’ so it’s either terrifically ironic or perfectly fitting that they should instead base early songs on the New England aquatic pastime. Fortunately this pop tune is so ingratiating that a debate over its intended irony seems moot. On `Marathon’, a bobbing organ buoys Moore’s cooing vocals as she rhymes over clacking percussion about Coconut Grove, shifting winds, and even keels, while bright jangly guitars back a wordless chorus of self-harmonizing `oohs. Her own vocals eventually swell into wistful girl-groupy harmonies, the overall effect coming off like Dum Dum Girls playing a low-key set at a beach party.”  (Tyler Grisham, Pitchfork)

Scott Pilgrim (Plumtree) — 16-bit cover” / Camilo Diaz Pino
“I enjoyed the movie, but this is better. And it’s better than Plumtree’s original. It takes the chugging angst and just lets it go. It forgets every detail, forgets the clutched hopes and back-story. It is what it is, fragile and bittersweet, nostalgia without irony. It accomplishes the same thing, maybe, that Bert Jansch used to do; only today an acoustic guitar has different valences. And this cover sounds different, now, than it would have in 1995. And I’m a different person, now, than I was when I was young.”  (Said the Gramophone)

Sailor Song” / Parkington Sisters / Till Voices Wake Us
Dearheart” / Parkington Sisters / Till Voices Wake Us
America” / Parkington Sisters / Eagle and the Wolf
The Calling” / Parkington Sisters
“The Parkington Sisters’ music escapes modern comparisons…they just don’t fit into any convenient musical genre found on radio today. Is that a blessing or a curse?  When asked to describe their music, even the sisters themselves had trouble putting a fine point on it. But one enthusiastic spectator replied `Their music?…Like Mozart and Bob Dylan fell in love, got married and had 5 daughters!'”  (New North Music Hall)
..
“Aged 17-29, the five Parkington Sisters manage to channel Joni Mitchell, Shostakovich, and Thelonious Monk in such an understated manner as to make the uninitiated heart leap. … [They] are the musical manifestation of Louisa May Alcott.”  (David Mead, American Songwriter)

“I saw lots of great music at this year’s annual Folk Alliance conference, but one discovery in particular stood out: the Parkington Sisters, a Cape Cod-based quintet of siblings, ages ranging from 18 to late 20s, whose acoustic music was rooted in violin and guitar but also included, at times, bits of cello, banjo, accordion, and piano. All five sisters sing, with baby sis Lydia a vocal revelation boasting an older-than-her-years voice that carries traces of confessional folk, blues, and jazz. The band’s folky but not stuffy sound and tone of sisterly enthusiasm reminded me a little bit of ’70s touchstones Kate & Anna McGarrigle.”  (Chris Herrington, Memphis Flyer)

Meet Me In The Basement” / Broken Social Scene
From the band itself: “This video was made as a response to the G20 Summit in Toronto June, 2010. The rest speaks for itself. It was sent to us by a lover of our music who wants to remain anonymous. We are very proud to share this mash-up with you.”

King Night” / Salem / King Night
“So what’s happened to Salem in the three years it’s taken them to complete their debut album? Well, judging by its title track, the gloopy black serum they’ve been necking – containing all earthly degradation and suffering – has transformed them into gigantic doomsday juggernauts, here to flatten all existence. Time well spent, then.”  (Jaimie Hodgson, NME)

Celestica” / Crystal Castles / Crystal Castles
“Or take single ‘Celestica’, whose naked, unashamed gym-trance rush (Radio 1 playlisted, ye gods) borrows a trick from Delerium’s ‘Silence’, Alice singing (yes, really) softly, `Do you pray with your eyes closed… When it’s cold outside, hold me tight, hold me’”.  (Emily Mackay, NME)

Baptism” / Crystal Castles / Crystal Castles
“‘Baptism’ remembers the essential link between hands-in-the-air rave and hands-together church music, Messiah Chorus-layered synths raising praise to the heavens while evil Alice dances a squealing sacrilege across the altar.”  (Emily Mackay, NME)

“Fourth track ‘Baptism’ is the best thing they’ve ever written, surpassing Crystal Castles I standout ‘Air Wars’ by a considerable margin. On ‘Baptism’, they do everything right. Sheets of urgent synthesisers give way to a dainty, circular keyboard melody pasted over a pulsating beat, before Alice Glass’s pained vocals are met by the synthesised opening phrase cut into staccato triplets. ‘Baptism’ concocts an air of foreboding unlike anything they’ve summoned before. In an era where single tracks are often preferable to consuming whole albums, that song alone will warrant your close attention.”  (Andrew McMillen, thevine.com.au)

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