2. Kendrick Lamar - "m.A.A.d city." This might be the most shockingly evocative rap song I've ever heard. Right away, Lamar warns his listeners "Brace yourself, I'll take you on a trip down memory lane" and then describes the horrors of living in one of America's most violent cities: "Seen a light-skinned nigga with his brains blown out / At the same burger stand where Crips hang out. / Now this is not a tape recorded saying that [his friend] did it, / But ever since that day, I was looking at him different." Lamar continues with his brutal anecdotes until the violence seems too much to compute for the listener; the first verse is an emotional assault, heightened by the swelling, chaotic synths and jabbing drums, which evoke the "madness" he's describing. For Lamar, Compton is like "Pakistan on every porch": there's "a wall of bullets coming from AK's, AR's"; gangs "pack[ing] a van with four guns at a time"; and kids as young as nine "packing nines." Like his unrelenting city, Lamar offers no respite from the violence; once he concludes the first verse, he imagines, in a woeful combination of futility and fatalism, that "if Pirus [Bloods] and Crips all got along / They'd probably gun me down by the end of this song. / Seems like the whole city go against me: / Every time I'm in the street I hear *imitation of gun noises*."
The song culminates with Lamar poignantly describing the youths who've shared, and share, his plight:
[Kids] with dreams of being a lawyer or doctorThank God this album ends with a message of hope because this song is absolutely crushing.
Instead of boy with a chopper that hold the cul-de-sac hostage
Kill them all if they gossip, the Children of the Corn
They vandalizing, the option of living a lie, drown their body with toxins
Constantly drinking and drive, hit the powder then watch this flame
That arrive in his eye; this a coward, the concept is aim and
They bang it and slide out that bitch with deposits
And the price on his head, the tithes probably go to the projects
I live inside the belly of the rough
Compton, U.S.A. made Me an Angel on Angel Dust.
3. Beach Fossils (feat. Wild Nothing) - "Out in the Way." Just a bit of a 180 from Kendrick: shoegazey gauze combined with twangy guitar plucking and ethereal vocals. Sounds right up my alley. Can it get better? Yes, when you have a line as beautifully wistful as "In the darkness passing through / Tell me is it really you? / You don't look the same as when I was dreaming." Beach Fossils do shoegaze so well on this EP that they're almost their own worst enemies, as the pretty and ambient noises lull me into some blissful, semi-conscious state where I'm unable to concentrate on the song itself. The music is a means towards an altered state, not exactly an end in itself. That's why such powerful lyrics are so essential: they keep the listener grounded--focused on unpacking the singer's brooding thoughts and discovering the emotional impetus behind the track's lush soundscapes.
4. Built to Spill - "Out of Site." When it comes to structuring a multidimensional rock song, I really believe that few bands could ever outdo what Built to Spill did on Perfect from Now On and Keep It Like a Secret. I've written about this several times before, but I'm constantly amazed and inspired by the technical skill of these guys. And they strike such an incredible balance between craftsmanship and raw emotion. Just listen to the buildup of this song, how it climaxes to Martsch's nasally outburst: "Who gave you the right? Who took mine away?" This song might mark the climax of an aurally incredible album, though the gorgeous "Velvet Waltz" could also take that title. Regardless, this is an intense listen, replete with billowing strings and various guitar noises (wails, watery echoes, screeches). And Martsch's final vocals, where he repeats "on and on," sound like Nirvana gone orchestral, which sounds horrible--I know--but seriously, it works. Just listen.
|Pet Sounds-era Wilson|
6. Joni Mitchell - "My Old Man." I've been obsessed with Joni Mitchell's Blue: its devastating, heart-on-sleeve emotionalism, frigid album cover, diverse arrangements, beautiful and historically illuminating poetry... I could go on. But I don't have the time. So I'll leave a lyric for each; hopefully they'll stun someone else like they have me: "But when he's gone, me and them lonesome blues collide. / The bed's too big, the frying pan's too wide."
7. Joni Mitchell - "Little Green." "Just a little green, like the nights when the Northern lights perform. /
There'll be icicles and birthday clothes, and sometimes there'll be sorrow."