by Jay Gabler, Culture Bully
The Avett Brothers, “Tear Down the House,” 1:24
Banjo acts are a dime a dozen these days. Plenty of them can write decent songs and pick those strings real quick-like, but the Avett Brothers’ secret weapon is their absolute sincerity—even when they’re being goofy, there’s an edge of honest desperation. This is the first track on the Gleam II EP, the brothers’ last hurrah on Ramseur Records en route to presumed adult-contemporary glory with Rick Rubin and whatever major label he hasn’t pissed off yet. When an Avett sings about crying tears, he doesn’t mean he’s cryin’ tears, he means he’s CRYING GOD DAMN TEARS!
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R.E.M., “Supernatural Superserious,” 0:49
Like their contemporaries and supposed nemeses U2, R.E.M. have stuck around long enough to hear their original sound become contemporary again. This track brings it all together: the headlong rush of Murmur, the guitar crunch of Monster, the empathetic (and decipherable) lyrics of Automatic for the People, and, starting 49 seconds into the song, Mike Mills’s heartfelt harmonies.
Rihanna, “Disturbia,” 0:02
When you can turn on KDWB and hear a hit song that starts with the chant “bom bom be-dom bom bom be-dom bom,” you know that top 40 radio isn’t dead yet. Neither is Phil Spector, though fortunately we’re well past the point when any artist thinks it would be a good idea to bring him back into the studio for a stab at that classic pop sound. (Of course, if any artist would be safe working with the infamously gun-happy Spector, it would be a woman who hangs out with T.I.)
Kate Nash, “Baby Love,” 2:56
She may have surfed into the spotlight on a wave of MySpace buzz, but my bet is that Kate Nash has a long and fruitful career ahead of her—and happily, indications are that she’s going to get louder before she gets quieter. She didn’t have an official release in 2008, but this take on the Supremes classic was released—where else?—on her MySpace profile. Over a spare guitar-and-keys arrangement, Nash trades Diana Ross’s pleading coo for a bracing, pained declaration. “All you do is treat me bad, you break my heart and make me feel so sad!”
David Byrne and Brian Eno, “Everything That Happens,” 2:45
Re-convening with Brian Eno—producer of arguably the three greatest Talking Heads albums—didn’t inspire David Byrne to new heights, but then, he didn’t need to be. He’s never lost his knack for non sequitur lyrics that mean nothing, yet somehow mean everything. This track starts gently, with Byrne revisiting familiar lyrical territory—“I ride on a perfect freeway, many people on that road”—before rising to a majestic chorus that just about sums up my year, and must have special resonance for a man whose influence can be heard in every corner of contemporary music. “Everything that happens will happen today and nothing has changed but nothing’s the same and every tomorrow could be yesterday and everything that happens will happen today.”
Published on 12/30/08. Kate Nash photo by Chris Zakorchemny (Creative Commons).