When WXPN, our Philadelphia Echoes affiliate, asked me to submit my Top Ten Albums and songs list, Program Director Bruce Warren said “send us your top ten albums and songs (if you have songs).” I knew what he meant by that parenthetical on a couple of levels.
On Echoes, we usually don’t play songs, right? Instrumental pieces are usually called compositions. Songs are something you hear on pop radio and have singers. And even if they were songs, we don’t think of the music here in a “song” sort of way. They’re more like parts of albums, atmospheres, moods and sonic architecture.
But we do actually play songs on Echoes. In the last year, you’ve heard tunes by Goldfrapp, Alu, M83, All India Radio and many more. So I approached this list like my Top Ten CDs for 2008. I didn’t limit it to Echoes materiel only, but they’ve all been in heavy rotation on my iPod.
Topping my list is Alu, someone not well known outside the Echoesphere, but she should be. Her album, Lobotomy Sessions is the Never Forever (Kate Bush) of the 21st Century, and this song in particular, “Circus Cosmos,” haunted me for months with its refrain:
You are the photograph that I’ve never seen
You are my phantom, the fountain of dreams.
I’ve been living in a mortuary, my whole life long.
There’s more imagery in that one chorus than most musicians conjure for an entire CD and it’s delivered by Alu’s keening soprano with such aching and despair that I know there’s more behind this tune than Alu let on.
Digitonal’s “93 Years On” is equally haunting. A masterpiece of ambient chamber music, Andy Dobson’s tortured clarinet solo, reputedly performed in a drunken haze over a lost girlfriend, is a blistering, pained cry of luxurious anguish set in an electronic cocoon.
Beck has one of the non-Echoes pieces here. But “Chemtrails” has one of those Pachelbel-style hooks that could go on forever. He did a great version of it with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra at the Bowl in September that stayed in my head thereafter.
“The Legend of the Last of the Outlaw Truckers A.K.A. the Ballad Of Sheriff Shorty” by The Dandy Warhols is worthy of its over-long title. It’s a hyped-up mix of Country-Jitterbug-New Orleans Voodoo psychedelia. Courtney Taylor-Taylor rips it up in this hipster-talking ode to speed and trucking. I can’t get it out of my head. Check out this great video and it will be embedded in your head as well.
The electronica band Goldfrapp took a pastoral, nearly acoustic turn on their Seventh Tree album. I loved “Little Bird” for its wistful tone that ends in a psychedelic crescendo that reminded me of Magical Mystery era Beatles. Alison Goldfrapp’s voice is the kind you want to sleep with.
My youngest teenaged daughter, Grace hipped me to MGMT and “Time to Pretend.” It’s a tongue in cheek parody of the rock lifestyle with a surprisingly poignant undertone, delivered with driving synthesizers.
Lights Out Asia‘s “Radars Over the Ghosts of Chernobyl” is about as epic as they get, starting with Gothic chords and Latin voices that sound like an oblivion mass before slowly emerging into surging guitars, hell bound rhythms and Chris Schafer’s anguished vocal.
Mariee Sioux is a partly Native American singer who uses Native themes and imagery in her music. Her song “Buried in Teeth” is part children’s song and part lament with a fragile voice that breaks over her finger-style guitar playing with some nice Native flute by Gentle Thunder.
Another catch from my daughter is Gnarls Barkley. Every time she’d throw a mix CD in the car and I asked her what that track was, it would be something by this electro-soul duo. Their album, The Odd Couple is brilliant and “Surprise,” with its mix of chorus harmonies redolent of The Association coupled with surf grooves doesn’t stop.
Finally Sumner McKane’s “After the Fireworks we walked to the Rope Swing,” is the least song-like of anything here, but the epic, almost operatic electric orchestration always sends a buzz up my spine and the guitar solo is sublime.
You can see the list along with other host and staff picks at WXPN
or just go right here:
John Diliberto’s Top 10 SONGS