2006 In Music: The Top 3

Wherein I finish the list of my Top 15 which began on Monday.

3. The Decemberists, The Crane Wife

I remember having a conversation over Christmas with my father, where we talked about folk music. “It seems like folk music is on the rise again,” he said. “It’s a good sign. It means the country is getting political.” “Well,” I answered, “the new folk music isn’t necessarily protest music.” “It doesn’t have to be. It’s the way it’s made, and what those sounds mean.”

But something went horribly awry
Now killing is their only source of joy

The sepia tones of Meloy’s voice make him sound like the dust of two hundred years, but this is an album about the present. This was the record that best expressed my feelings about the Iraq War. Some of the songs are shrouded with grief, and many of them invoke a time after the bombings are over, as the moment when peace might begin to re-assert itself. It’s deep to ventriloquize a victim on songs like “Eli The Barrow Boy,” but it’s deeper to take responsibility for a great wrong, which is what the metaphor of the Crane Wife (whom the narrator loves but works to death) represents. Here are murderers, and exploiters, and the mothers and sons and daughters and lovers who oppose them.

You that never done nothin’
But build to destroy
You play with my world
Like it’s your little toy […]
And I hope that you die
And your death’ll come soon

2. Girl Talk, Night Ripper

I bit into my Tootsie Pop. I bit into my popsicle. I ate dessert first and skipped dinner. I threw away the front page and read the comics. I read the shortest books I could find by great authors; the only book I’ve read by Naguib Mahfouz is no longer than a paragraph at a time, per section, and not even a hundred pages. I listened to iTunes samples instead of the real thing. I watched the part of A Beautiful Mind where he’s a genius and turned it off the minute he went crazy. I made my coffee a cup at a time, but then I made five cups, until the garbage was full of dumplings: scorched white paper and grounds. I feel asleep atop two suitcases, still not unpacked and heaped with wrinkled clothes, listening to some new edition of Now That’s What I Call Music!

I threw away melody, I threw away “the album,” I threw away the careful distinction between decades and the critique of content, and I crawled finally into the dumpster with Paula Abdul and Weezer and Three 6 Mafia and The Smashing Pumpkins and Britney and Kansas. There I was, wearing a hat made of cold spaghetti. I read the front page — finally. My elbow smelled like coffee. This album was with me. We thrived like dandelions.

Album Of The Year: The Strokes, First Impressions of Earth

The sensation that comes over me when I listen to this album is one of glorious relief. I don’t need for Casablancas to say one thing more than he does, unlike most music critics, who thought he was generalizing beyond his years. I don’t need to revisit the scenes of glamorous ennui which he used to construct Is This It? The album already sounds perfect: the Strokes are learning how to play their instruments, which is certainly kind of them, and the result is a sweaty, piercing, writhing, howling sound with an amphetamine itch. Who cares if nobody likes them anymore? Who could like the sorts of things they say? Me, I guess.

Is your free time to free minds
Or for falling apart?

“It doesn’t matter what you choose,” he sings. Call him a cynic, sure. But I don’t think that’s what he is. Scientists tell us that the creatures most likely to survive a nuclear attack are cockroaches (remember that little tidbit, from the 80s?). Well, it’s not true. The creatures most likely to survive are coyotes, and the things they eat, like rabbits, will survive, and coyote traps will survive, as will the occasional human being who saw a coyote yesterday in the edge of their headlights. The barbed wire fences that frustrate the coyotes are likely to survive, and so are domesticated cats that fight with them when the family’s asleep, and come back with a long cut across the cheek, and a raw shoulder. The family itself will survive. The uncanny, half-wild sound they make will survive. The way they startle like ordinary dogs will survive. A whole world of chases and expanses will survive because of them.

Wherever those grotesque, hungry, impish, inspired half-dogs are, something’s happening, something ugly and funny and shiveringly alive. That’s what lasts.

The Strokes will live to be even better than they are.