WELL-WORN: But Passion Pit’s “Sleepyhead” remains white hot.
Bands come and go, but songs stick around. Long after their final load-out, a band's legacy survives in little fragments entrusted to the memory — guitar hooks, drum fills, synthy thingies, clever lines. Check out the Submarines, whose "You, Me and the Bourgeoisie" has seized 30 seconds of American brainspace thanks to an iPhone 3G ad; or Amanda Palmer, whose sensational solo debut sported the disturbingly peppy abortion chronicle, "Oasis" — which I won't be forgetting anytime soon.
This was a good year for music in Boston, and I can tell by the surprising frequency of local songs (or bits of them) I routinely catch looping in my head. If you've got a more scientific way of picking the 10 best songs to come out of Boston this year, I'd like to see it. But in the meantime, here's my ranking — arranged alphabetically to prevent messy scene implosions.
Big Bear | "20"
Boston's most adventurous (and carefully damaged) metal offshoot ensemble have always been chronically ahead of the curve — and "20" serves as Exhibits A-Z. There's that one vocal bit where Jordyn Bonds sounds like she's filling with air while Joel Roston's wily guitar scurries into hiding like a frantic mouse. There are the swelling and bursting rhythmic theatrics, bluffs and chasms aplenty, keyboards calling out like panicky telegraphs, and the most exuberant chorus about semiological numbness that's ever been written.
Disappearer | "Villainous Moon"
For anyone who was giddy over '08's unofficial AmRep resurgence, ushered in by bands like Pissed Jeans and Young Widows, Disappearer represent a thoughtfully reimagined return to more Kudgel-y times in Boston. "Villainous Moon" ignites into a sprawling wildfire of distortion, clobbering drums, and scratchy, oh-so-satisfying, Yow-ish hollerin'. This ditty is one of four you grab for free off of their website.
Ketman | "Pinch 'em Tight Holler"/"Rad Chains of Murti-Bing"
Even though El Toro, Ketman's first proper full-length, dropped at the very start of '08, it has weathered the odds of my iPod and remained firmly in the Recently Played column. Why? Because of shit like this: I didn't even realize these two songs were two songs — I thought they were more like conjoined twins. "Pinch 'Em Tight" 's hammy fits and starts conjure up a rasslin' match between the D-Plan and the Minutemen, while the locomotive tension of "Rad Chains" recalls the bruising post-punk of Kerosene 454 or Fugazi. No other local record this year had such a ride in store; listen to this in your car and your airbags might deploy.
The Low Anthem | "To Ohio"
On their self-released Oh My God, Charlie Darwin (recorded on Block Island last winter), the Low Anthem alternate between grizzly, Waitsian stompers and sonorous, tranquil meditations, like the album's title track and like this one, "To Ohio." Lowing clarinets, humming harmonicas, and Ben Knox Miller's gentle, almost fatherly whisper go straight to your gut, and the futility of finding new love after you've lost the love you had will have your bottom lip aquiver before the second verse.
Marissa Nadler | "Diamond Heart"
Not to get too personal here, but my BF was listening to way too much Joanna Newsom this past spring, and it led to all sorts of unreasonable reactions on my part — one being an unofficial embargo forbidding anything vaguely "enchanted" or faerie-derived from entering my earports. Now I realize how silly that was, since I spent most of '08 not listening to the gorgeous Songs III: Bird on the Water (Kemado). Don't meet the same lame fate: start with lead-off track "Diamond Heart" and enter Nadler's dreamy, glimmering — and thankfully harp-free — world.
Pants Yell! | "Two French Sisters"
There aren't too many indie-pop outfits that can cause serious breakouts of goosebumpage within the first few seconds of starting a song; but then again, there aren't as many indie-pop bands as erudite, endearing, and as easy to lose yourself in as Pants Yell! "Two French Sisters" closes their brilliant 2008 disc Alison Statton (Soft Abuse), and its soaring Mellotron, tear-streaked guitar lines, and wistful monologue make the idolatry it takes as its topic seem less the result of post-graduate ennui and more like a moral imperative.
Passion Pit | "Sleepyhead"
"Oh, wicked original, Phoenix," you say. Well nanny-nanny-poo-poo, we reply. For one thing, Passion Pit's well-worn "Sleepyhead" remains white hot — and you can lay the emphasis on either term there. The nervously drawn jam landed them on Frenchkiss (which issued their sole Chunk of Change EP this year), got them all sorts of love and hate above and beyond the blogosphere (hell, Andrew Kuo even smarmily diagrammed its merits for TheNew York Times), and still enjoys unspeakable powers over our collective booties. Maybe you just need to lighten up, dude.