11. “Getting Sodas”- The World Is A Beautiful Place And I Am No Longer Afraid To Die

You can probably guess from their perfectly-too-long name that, yes, in fact, The World is a Beautiful Place and I am No Longer Afraid to Die is emo, but not in the way that should make arrogant bloggers cringe when they see a Stained video pop up on MTV (just kidding; neither of those things are relevant). TWIABP&IANLATD is a sad band because we’re all sad for longer than we care to be, and I would consider making helpless as beautiful and recognizable as possible one of the most important functions a young band could have. During the bridge of “Getting Sodas,” the band pauses for a second and riffs for a couple minutes on something that, though probably borrowed from Explosions in the Sky, sounds like the optimal accompaniment to their broadstroke lyrics. “When our bodies fail,” lead singer David Bello (or maybe it’s Josh Cyr, I’m not sure) sings, “we’ll find joy in the peace that it brings.” It’s not a confident statement (these guys lean towards “reluctant” on the emo spectrum), but it is hopeful, and when followed later by the beautifully destitute declaration, “if you’re afraid to die, then so am I,” one gets the sense that what these guys lack in solid ground they make up for in wisdom. “Getting Sodas” isn’t the kind of song that leads you through the dark times; it’s the one that holds your hand as you experience the dark times together.

10. “Dream House”- Deafheaven

Judging by the band’s name, the album name, the color scheme, and the Northern California roots, I’m guessing Deafheaven wants to be coy about the whole black metal thing they’re doing. They have reasons; mostly that there are a few headbangers who will go out of the way to declare Deafheaven as a black metal poser, whether it be because of their poetic lyrics, willingness to stay in the sunlight, non-Scandinavian background, or the unprecedented amount of mainstream attention a band that should be lurking in the shadows is getting. I’m not privy to dark music, and so I don’t know whether any of these arguments hold merit, but I do believe that the attention Deafheaven is getting for their second album Sunbather is well deserved. Kerry McCoy’s guitar orchestration hits straight to the solar plexus and refuses to return normal breathing until a much needed respite during the bridge appears. George Clark’s vocals aren’t any more shreddy than any other screamer, but pulling up a lyrics sheet might lead to some surprises: “Fantasizing the sight of Manhattan/that pour of a bitter red being that escapes a thin frame/The rebirth of mutual love/The slipping on gloves to lay tenderly.” If you could hear what he was singing, he might even sound like Jim Morrison. Above all, this song’s greatest accomplishment is that it kicks off an album called “Sunbather” with techniques used to make some of the heaviest and darkest music on record, and it still lives up to its name. I don’t know if that makes it black metal or not, but, it’s like, really heavy, man, and I like that.

9. “Y.A.L.A.”- M.I.A.

Beyond the curious P.R. debacles and the third world politics, M.I.A. should always be associated with making exhilarating music, and Y.A.L.A.’s chopped up air-raid siren mixed with Maya’s warlord swagger bolster a track that is as exciting as she’s ever produced (even if there are too many acronyms, YOLO). M.I.A.’s stock has dropped significantly since Kala dropped like a drone strike six years ago, and her latest album Matangi doesn’t reclaim the pedestal and megaphone she once had as the third world’s representative musician. Maybe her international rage is dwindling with age, and that her marginal musical abilities aren’t enough to keep her relevant in a music scene saturated with fantastic female solo talent. Maybe M.I.A.’s cause, whatever it was, wasn’t worth the attention either she or her audience gave it, and she should’ve stuck with rapping over her ex Diplo’s production talents. And maybe all of that is baloney, because M.I.A. is still singing about suicide bombers and how ashamed we should be of our privilege, vastly more important subject matters than riding wrecking balls half naked on nationally televised award shows. Pop music hasn’t fought for the underprivileged in half a century; M.I.A. thinks that’s unacceptable. Bless her.

8. “Demon To Lean On”- Wavves

Once upon a time, in a magical land called San Diego, a young boy named Nathan decided to build the biggest and most beautiful sand castle ever constructed. All the other boys laughed at him as they ran out towards the ocean, but Nathan was determined to build a sand castle so majestic that a beautiful princess would come his way and be his wife until the end of time. Each night when he was too tired to continue, Nathan climbed into the not-yet-finished sand castle and played guitar until he fell asleep, dreaming of the beautiful princess that would soon be his.

One day, a girl named Bratty B from Los Angeles came skipping along the beach, when suddenly she saw Nathan building the biggest and most beautiful sand castle she had ever seen.

“Oh my!” she said. “Nathan I love your sand castle! Can I come inside and play?” she asked.

“No, Bratty B!” he snapped. “I’m building this for a princess! Go home!” But Bratty B always stayed to annoy Nathan, and when her mother called her back home to Los Angeles, she would go into her room with her cat and write songs about Nathan.

Pretty soon, Nathan finished his sand castle, and he was so proud of his work that he sat on top of the roof and played the loudest songs he could think of. He knew that his castle was so perfect that a princess could not resist its beauty, and he decided to sit and wait for her to come.

But the only person that came was Bratty B, each day asking if she could come inside and play. “Go away!” Nathan would always say. And so she did, going home to write another song.

One day, Nathan was sitting on top of his castle, wondering where his princess was. “She’s probably not coming,” he said, throwing rocks and shells into the ocean. Suddenly, Nathan heard a girl singing with a guitar from behind him. It was the loveliest voice he had ever heard. “Surely this must be the princess!” he said, turning his head around and looking for her.

But he couldn’t find her anywhere in the castle, and so he hopped down the stairs and out the front gate, only to find his princess sitting up against the castle wall, barefoot, hair covering her face, strumming the saddest, most beautiful song he had ever heard. Suddenly, the girl stopped playing and looked straight into Nathan’s eyes. It was Bratty B!

Nathan instantly fell in love. “What are you doing here??” he asked.

“You said I couldn’t come into the castle, but you didn’t say anything about being against the castle!” she responded. Nathan jumped for joy, took her by the wrist, and invited her inside his castle, where they stayed up all night and played songs for each other. From that day forward, Nathan became the King of the Beach, and he and Bethany ruled the Southern California coastline until their songs melted away with their souls.

The End.

7. “It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus)”- Arcade Fire

Arcade Fire is pretty good at this whole rock ‘n roll thing. If it didn’t seem that way during the first half of Reflektor (and it really didn’t), the second half of the album fixed that terrible notion, and then some. Did we really doubt that the first indie band (can we really call them that anymore?) to win the most prestigious musical prize in the English-speaking world could still fill arenas with gorgeous vibrations nearly ten years after their breakthrough debut? I sure did. Can you blame me? I still can’t believe songs as terrible as “Joan of Arc” and “Normal Person” came from the same band that hadn’t released a bad song in seven years of recording.

Well, that’s my fault. “It’s Never Over” isn’t so much a reminder but an improvement over the majesty the band has offered over the last decade. They manage to compose a song that’s both grounded and ethereal, both a crowd-pleaser and a critical darling, both celebratory and heartbreaking. To top it all off, the vocal interplay between lead singers Win Butler and Regine Chassange is doe-eyed adorable (“I will sing your name/until you’re sick of me!”). “It’s Never Over” is the best song of Arcade Fire’s career, though I say that with some hesitation since I said the same thing on the 2010 version of this very list about “Sprawl II.” More importantly, it sounds like they still love making music, and considering LCD Soundsystem’s sudden retirement, we should cherish the Arcade Fire we still have, and will hopefully have, for a few more albums to come.


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