David Bowie released the title track off of his forthcoming album, a 10-minute behemoth complete with a disturbingly surreal music video, about two weeks ago now. And despite almost obsessive listening over the past two weeks, I’m not sure I know any more what “Blackstar” is than I did when I first heard it. All I know is that I can’t stop listening.
It’s hard to put my finger on it, but something’s just not quite right with EL VY’s debut, Return to the Moon. A side project of Brent Knopf of Menomena and Matt Berninger of the National, EL VY carries quite a heavy set of expectations. While I’m not familiar with the work of Knopf, The National has long been one of my favorite bands, in large part thanks to Berninger’s dry, imagist lyrics and dolorous vocal delivery. And while it’s perhaps unfair to compare the two bands, it is nonetheless telling that the moments where this collaboration works best are when EL VY sounds the most like The National.
I’ll start by saying that I like Deerhunter. And while Monomania may have felt a bit overlong and undercooked, I’m reasonably convinced that their 2010 album Halcyon Digest is one of the best albums of the 2000s. I say this to give some context to lavish praise I’m about to heap onto their new album, Fading Frontier.
To start: Fading Frontier is better than Halcyon Digest, which is saying quite a lot. Fading Frontier a carefully crafted 36-minute masterpiece, filled with inventive songwriting, melodies that surprise you at every turn, and the best, most striking set of lyrics Bradford Cox has ever written.
While I was on a road trip with my girlfriend this summer, I bravely ceded control of my iPod. Flipping through my playlists to find one she liked, she asked me if I wanted to listen to my Top 25 Most Played playlist–a playlist automatically assembled by iTunes and which I had no idea existed. What followed was a surprising series of mini-revelations as to what my favorite songs actually were.
I think that sometimes one gets so caught up in popular and critical opinion that it’s easy to fall in love with the idea of a song more than the song itself, or that you may love one song on an album so much you forget the songs around it that you listen to just as much. So color me surprised when, looking at my music library sorted by plays, The Decemberists didn’t crack the top ten. Nor did The National, or Arcade Fire, or many other bands that I love more than Rufus Wainwright, whose “Poses” is the 6th most played track on my iPod. And my two “favorite” Modest Mouse songs, “3rd Planet” and “Night on the Sun”? They weren’t there either. Looking at “Gravity Rides Everything” sitting atop the list, I realized that “Wow, that actually might be my favorite song.” It’s a strange bit of cognitive dissonance that results from this, triggering the realization that beliefs don’t always match actions. I may claim that “PDA” is my favorite Interpol song, but the facts disagree–and such was my experience with other bands.
With perhaps one exception, I didn’t anticipate any of these songs to be here–and yet they are. They’re the favorite songs that hide in plain sight; the unsung heroes; the crushes that you never notice until someone points it out. The end result is that the next time I’m asked what my favorite songs are, I may have to see if perception matches reality.
Next time you need a playlist to listen to, peruse your Top 25; maybe you’ll be just as surprised as I was.
In the meantime, here’s what I was surprised about: my top 10 most played songs.