Tracks of the Decade: “One Big Holiday” by My Morning Jacket

“One Big Holiday”
by My Morning Jacket
from IT STILL MOVES (2003)

What a decade it was for My Morning Jacket. At the outset, Jim James was a college dropout with a vision, a guitar, and an eccentric fascination with reverb. At the close, he was the iconic, internationally-recognized frontman for one of the biggest rock bands of the post-rock age. “One Big Holiday”, the band’s fantastical auto-biography in song, has remained its official anthem throughout. It was the track they played on Conan, their first performance on (American) national television. It’s the track that you can expect them to play whenever you see them live. Simply put, it’s a ragged, un-polished, knuckle-headed piece of Americana hard rock, one of the best in recent memory. There’s no semblance of restraint to be found, no indication of anything but sheer intention to be the greatest rock and roll band since Led Zeppelin. Additionally, there’s the indelible mark of James’ musical persona, from the opening declaration (“…good and lee-em-buh!!!”) to the final line (“all the leather kids were loud!!!”). Has there been a better rock and roll track about escaping your hometown and making it big since “Born to Run?” None come to the mind of this music obsessive. Back in 2001 & 2002, everyone talked about this or that band saving rock and roll. So much for that. It never needed “saving”, but it always needs someone to find its heart. My Morning Jacket, above all others, has managed to do just that.

Tracks of the Decade: “First Breath After Coma” by Explosions in the Sky

“First Breath After Coma”
by Explosions in the Sky
from THE EARTH IS NOT A COLD DEAD PLACE (2003)

Instrumental post-rock was nothing new when Explosions in the Sky hit the scene in the last years of the 20th Century. Bands like Tortoise and Tarentel were only two acts in a sea of literary-minded illiterate indies, and Midland, Texas was not the hub of the scene by any means. Yet somehow, through what could perhaps be termed a series of fortunate events, Explosions found themselves the forerunners of the post-rock movement with the release of their third full-length in 2003, especially after they helmed the soundtrack to the masterful film adaption of H.G. Bissiner’s Friday Night Lights. “First Breath After Coma” finds the band at their most anthemic and narrative, building layer upon layer from a steady, chiming guitar into a furious wall of sound. The listener only need close his eyes in order to visualize a slow awakening to consciousness, culminating in a full-on adrenaline surge right around 3:30. And while we may commonly associate the bands’ music with football at this point, the stark and wide-swinging melodicism of the track’s first four minutes evokes artillery shells falling on heroic soldiers rather than pigskins falling into the arms of over-padded high school kids. Musically, the tri-guitar attack leaves nothing to be desired, but it’s Chris Hrasky’s steady beat that martials the song’s elegaic emotion and masterfully choreographs the rhythmic fireworks. All in all, “First Breath After Coma” was a clear indication of the band taking their game to the next level, and to this day it still ranks as their crowning achievement. As the enormous wall of distorted guitar feedback slowly advances over the last minute of the track, you’ll find yourself marvelling at the 9 minute instrumental POP song you’ve just heard. Did they really just pull that off?

Tracks of the Decade (so far)

1563_Pieter_Bruegel_the_elder_The_Tower_of_Babel-wl400There’s still more to come, but here’s a list of the Sweet Georgia Breezes’ Tracks of the Decade so far (in no particular order). What do you think of the list? What are your top 5 or 10 tracks of the decade?

Counting Crows – Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby
Wilco – I am trying to break your heart
The New Pornographers  – Myriad Harbour
M. Ward – Poison Cup
Kathleen Edwards – In State
Vampire Weekend – M79
Johnny Cash – The Man Comes Around
Built to Spill – The Weather
Neko Case – Star Witness
Belle and Sebastian – Funny Little Frog
Interpol – NYC
Wilco – Impossible Germany
Coldplay – Lost!
Ryan Adams – To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High)
Fugazi – Cashout
Flaming Lips – Fight Test
Nathan – The Wind
Radiohead – Everything In Its Right Place
Rachel’s – Water from the Same Source
Fleet Foxes – White Winter Hymnal
Bruce Springsteen – My City of Ruins
The Low Anthem – Charlie Darwin

Tracks of the Decade: “Charlie Darwin” by The Low Anthem

The Low Anthem LOFI4“Charlie Darwin”
by The Low Anthem
from OH MY GOD, CHARLIE DARWIN (2008)

Fittingly, the 2000’s were good for the protest song. You had questionable wars, infuriating leadership, racial discord, and political extremism of all kinds. Artists from Jay Farrar to Bruce Springsteen to Radiohead all found ways to musically voice their opinions on this or that issue, but it was Rhode Island’s The Low Anthem that consolidated all of the angst and restlessness into the decade’s definitive hymn of dissent. Setting up history’s most controversial naturalist as a prophet in the wilderness, the lyric and music blend seamlessly, the song’s gentle sway eliciting the swell of the sea. For The Low Anthem, we are adrift in a broken vessel with no sight or hope of land. Why? We’ve failed to heed the words of the prophet, and so “the lords of war just profit from decay.” It’s the resplendent bridge, though, that scores the chills. When the band sings “Oh my god,” the three-part falsetto harmonies ring with a stark tranquility. It’s a hard truth, that something so classically beautiful can be so full of despair, but the band proceeds to proclaim the jeremiad. Still, with music like this closing the decade, I believe there’s ample reason for hope. “Toward the bright horizon set the way.”

Tracks of the Decade: “My City of Ruins” by Bruce Springsteen

cp-springsteen2“My City of Ruins”
by Bruce Springsteen
from THE RISING

Many great songs, through whatever transcendent quality they possess, remain in the collective consciousness for years and are thus finally afforded the status of “classic” through sheer timelessness. “My City of Ruins”, on the other hand, is an undeniable classic forever stuck in one moment, time-bound to the dark days immediately following 9/11. Although the Boss wrote the track as a tribute to Asbury Park, NJ, it was adapted into a post-trauma canticle of resilience for the people of New York City. To be sure, it IS a great song, but for an evening in 2001 it became America’s song, as Springsteen delivered it during the AMERICA: A TRIBUTE TO HEROES telethon. Featuring a revivalistic progression for the ages, the song stands as a return to the grand symbolic gesture that Springsteen so ably employed during his early artistic achievements. (In a way, it also marks the artistic revival of his career after a bleak 15 year run.) “My City of Ruins” registers with all the spiritual power and the glory of “The Star Spangled Banner”, but crosses from the realm of mere patriotism into anthemic humanism. If there ever was such a thing as a rock and roll hymn, “My City of Ruins” resurrected the form, mustering all the vigor, hope, and consolence of “Hey Jude.” When The Boss calls you to “Rise up!”, you feel like you might reach the cathedral rafters. Seeming to possess the ability to bind up wounds and heal the broken-hearted, “My City of Ruins” is a rare achievement in rock and roll, the sonic marker for an historical sea change. One of The Boss’ greatest achievements.

Tracks of the Decade: “White Winter Hymnal” by Fleet Foxes

fleetfoxes“White Winter Hymnal”
by Fleet Foxes
from FLEET FOXES (2008)

 

Fleet Foxes made a huge impact towards the end of the decade, largely because of the purity of their artistic vision. With all the policy wonks talking “green” initiative and necessity, the global community seemed to have adopted a sort of benevolent pragmatism toward the mountains, rivers, and valleys around us. For Fleet Foxes though, the natural order is a sacred thing, a temple not made by human hands. In “White Winter Hymnal”, one envisions the band filling mother nature with her own organic sounds. The forest seems to come alive as Robin Pecknold ends the lyric’s first run through, wildflowers suddenly bursting into bloom at the mere mention of summertime. It would seem then that Fleet Foxes sing a message transcendental, far beyond the inter-generational utilitarianism of our day. In the eyes of Pecknold and company, nature’s value is limitless because humanity gains its humanity in communion with the great outdoors. In this way, “White Winter Hymnal” is Fleet Foxes two-minute manifesto, a bold declaration made in word-snapshot enveloped by the band’s joyfully escapist sound. As a song, it is gloriously indispensable. As a sound, “White Winter Hymnal” is what it means to be alive.

Tracks of the Decade: “Water from the Same Source” by Rachel’s

“Water from the Same Source”
by Rachel’s
from SYSTEMS/LAYERS
Regardless of Rachel’s indie roots, they’ve always shined brightest when they let loose with their brand of unassuming melodicism. Tracks like “Rhine & Courtesan”, “Lloyd’s Register”, and the fullness of MUSIC FOR EGON SCHIELE demonstrate the age old truth that music is most of all about connection and communication of the otherwise inexpressible. That being said, “Water from the Same Source” stands as one of the decade’s great tracks because it is GORGEOUS. Do we need any other reason? The original Rachel’s novelty, indie-rock as high art, has passed away, and the band excels here by crafting a track that is both song and symphony. Epic in arc and graceful in execution, “Water from the Same Source” strikes the tone of a leisurely walk through the Louevre or the Metropolitan Museum of Art. That is to say, it’s a bit of bliss ignorant of the cynicism and irony of modern pop. These days, I’ll take all of that I can get.

rachelsphoto0S“Water from the Same Source”
by Rachel’s
from SYSTEMS/LAYERS

Regardless of Rachel’s indie roots, they’ve always shined brightest when they let loose with their brand of unassuming melodicism. Tracks like “Rhine & Courtesan”, “Lloyd’s Register”, and the fullness of MUSIC FOR EGON SCHIELE demonstrate the age old truth that music is most of all about connection and communication of the otherwise inexpressible. That being said, “Water from the Same Source” stands as one of the decade’s great tracks because it is GORGEOUS. Do we need any other reason? The original Rachel’s novelty, indie-rock as high art, has passed away, and the band excels here by crafting a track that is both song and symphony. Epic in arc and graceful in execution, “Water from the Same Source” strikes the tone of a leisurely walk through the Louvre or the Metropolitan Museum of Art. That is to say, it’s a bit of bliss ignorant of the cynicism and irony of modern pop. These days, I’ll take all of that I can get.

Tracks of the Decade: “Everything In Its Right Place” by Radiohead

radiohead -eiirp“Everything In Its Right Place”
by Radiohead
from KID A (2000)

No surprises? On January 1, 2000, that’s the way the world felt. Planes didn’t fall out of the sky, nuclear meltdowns didn’t riddle the globe, and the infrastructure didn’t collapse, not even a hair. Nope, no surprises there, but I’d argue that there wasn’t any greater surprise than the opening track to Radiohead’s millenial masterpiece KID A, released later that year. The warm tones of the electric piano seemed more likely to lull us to sleep than crown rock and roll’s next magnum opus, but with Yorke’s distorted vocals fading in the fact that this was Radiohead kept us hanging on. What in tarnation did Yorke mean that he “woke up sucking a lemon?” Speculations abounded, but we all kept thumping along with that bass beat, looking for a pair of headphones so we behold the full glory of the track, howling electronic ghosts and all. Right about when Yorke rambled about “two colors” in his head and “what was it you tried to say” the song attained an apocalyptic urgency, unmatched since. The old had passed, the new had come. With “Everything In Its Right Place”, Radiohead boldly proclaimed: “the new millenium has begun, and lo, it is the same as it ever was.”

Tracks of the Decade: “The Wind” by Nathan

“The Wind”
by Nathan
from KEY PRINCIPLES
Nathan was one of those bands I stumbled upon this decade that make it all worthwhile. They don’t really seem to have made any kind of impact outside of their native Canada, but that makes it a little bit sweeter to cheerlead for them on the American front. Considering the overall quality of their 2007 release KEY PRINCIPLES, it’s difficult to name any one song a standout, but “The Wind” manages to whip the basest musical elements into a kind of numinous cyclone that I haven’t heard since that one band recorded “Street Spirit.” Keri Latimer and Shelley Marshall weave sublime harmonies around Latimer’s spell-binding lyrics while the instruments frame the song in wide-open reverie, theremin blowing through the banjo like wind through wheat. While “The Wind” features powerfully vivid standalone lyrics, Latimer’s greatest achievement is her masterful phrasing. Lines like “I know that I’ll regret it/But I think I’m gonna let it in” transcend space and time here. Overall, “The Wind” first strikes the senses like a storm rolling in on the desolate plains of Montana, and then leaves you haunted like a creaking floorboard in a quiet house. Was anyone really there? “The Wind” is great because it sings from beyond, the dreadful sorrows of the unknown vying for our attention.

nathan“The Wind”
by Nathan
from KEY PRINCIPLES (2007)

Nathan was one of those bands I stumbled upon this decade that make it all worthwhile. They don’t really seem to have made any kind of impact outside of their native Canada, but that makes it a little bit sweeter to cheerlead for them on the American front. Considering the overall quality of their 2007 release KEY PRINCIPLES, it’s difficult to name any one song a standout, but “The Wind” manages to whip the basest musical elements into a kind of numinous cyclone that I haven’t heard since that one band recorded “Street Spirit.” Keri Latimer and Shelley Marshall weave sublime harmonies around Latimer’s spell-binding lyrics while the instruments frame the song in wide-open reverie, theremin blowing through the banjo like wind through wheat. While “The Wind” features powerfully vivid standalone lyrics, Latimer’s greatest achievement is her masterful phrasing. Lines like “I know that I’ll regret it/But I think I’m gonna let it in” transcend space and time here. Overall, “The Wind” first strikes the senses like a storm rolling in on the desolate plains of Montana, and then leaves you haunted like a creaking floorboard in a quiet house. It’ll leave you wondering, “Was anyone really there?”

Tracks of the Decade: “Fight Test” by Flaming Lips

“Fight Test”
by Flaming Lips
from YOSHIMI BATTLES THE PINK ROBOTS (2002)
How ironic that such a funny little song could bear so much weight. We’re all a little lost out here, aren’t we? Coyne and co. seem to get this, searching for the alpha and omega but finding it all shrouded in mystery. While they may have lifted the melody from Cat Stevens, you can’t really blame them because the sugary tune only makes the hard truths go down a little easier. The lyrics are concerned with when to fight – when to “stand up and be a man.” There’s a transformation taking place here in the heart of the lyricist, and I can’t help but think that he’s been inspired to recover his inner-protagonist after witnessing the horror of that one Tuesday morning a year before. “There are things you can’t avoid/You have to face them when you’re not prepared to face them.” Sounds more like the sage advice of Atticus Finch than the guy who sang “She Don’t Use Jelly.” Ultimately all about the continuous exam that is life, “Fight Test” is a lyrical manfifesto for our age, a tune so backwards and brilliant that it could only come from Flaming Lips.

flips_fight“Fight Test”
by Flaming Lips
from YOSHIMI BATTLES THE PINK ROBOTS (2002)

How ironic that such a funny little song could bear so much weight. We’re all a little lost out here, aren’t we? Coyne and co. seem to get this, searching for the alpha and omega but finding it all shrouded in mystery. While they may have lifted the melody from Cat Stevens, you can’t really blame them because the sugary tune only makes the hard truths go down a little easier. The lyrics are concerned with when to fight – when to “stand up and be a man.” There’s a transformation taking place here in the heart of the lyricist, and I can’t help but think that he’s been inspired to recover his inner-protagonist after witnessing the horror of that one Tuesday morning a year before. “There are things you can’t avoid/You have to face them when you’re not prepared to face them.” Sounds more like the sage advice of Atticus Finch than the guy who sang “She Don’t Use Jelly.” Ultimately all about the continuous exam that is life, “Fight Test” is a lyrical manfifesto for our age, a tune so backwards and brilliant that it could only come from Flaming Lips.