The Best Music of 2010 - Side A
I've been making mixed tapes since I was a little kid. Music has always been very important to me. I used to wait for the song I wanted on AM radio and try to press record at the exact right moment. I learned it from my Dad. On Saturday nights he would make a tape from the "Golden Oldies" radio program we listened to each week.
When I was a little older I would tape the January 1 countdown of the best songs of the year on my preferred station and make mixed tapes of my favourites. I would make a list and my little sister would choose her favourite songs from the year and I would make a tape for her as well.
Finally, digital music allowed for me to burn CDs from MP3s, which I've been doing since 1999. I number my mixed discs which exist under the banner of "The KD Collection". I am currently working on volume 103.
After 2009 I made a "Best of the KD Collection" for that year. The song had to come from one of the mixed CDs I made in that calendar year, regardless of when the song was released (although it is always relatively current music on these mixes). I've done this again for 2010. It might seem late for a best of 2010, but I like to give the songs from December a little time so they have a chance of growing on me. These discs are listened to by my whole family, so the CD I made for us includes favourites of my wife and kids, which is great, but I decided to do another one for truerebel.ca. These are more my personal selections of what I would want to share with people from my past year in music.
1. The songs must have appeared on a KD Collection disc in 2010. Which leaves out good songs for discussion like Just the Way You Are by Bruno Mars, but I tend not to get too pop on my mixes (though you might disagree from some of my choices),
2. Only one song per artist. This is always a rule on my mixes.
3. Family appropriate. If I can't find a radio edit of a song with profanity I won't put it on a disc (my kids love my mixes!) Plus, lyrics are the most important component for me, if there is anything that strikes me as degrading to women or that seems to glorify stuff like crime or drugs - FORGET IT!
If you try to make this disc, you will find it runs a little over 80 minutes (standard blank CD), but with some clever editing and cross-fading... it is possible. The disc is not in order of best to worst; it is made like a CD, crafted for the type of flow and variations that I like. I will split this post into two and present only my A Side today (I know there are no 'sides' on CDs, but I'm oldschool like that).
HERE WE GO...
1. FLOBOTS featuring Tim McIlrath of Rise Against - WHITE FLAG WARRIOR
This song blew me away from the first time I heard it. It is a theme song for non-violent resistance. This is the human rights movement set to a soundtrack of hip-hop and punk rock.
"We'd rather make our children martyrs than murderers" is the through line of the song and the profoundness of that statement can pass us by too easily. It echoes the sentiments of Martin Luther King Jr. who said that "it is better to be the recipient of violence than the inflictor of it. This is a very powerful truth if you choose to take the hard road to walk it out. We'd rather teach our children, in most cases, to kill, rather than be killed. However, there is more power and honour in being willing to die in opposition to oppression than to use violence, be victorious and inevitably become an oppressor yourself. Certainly, on a global scale, that is what has always happened.
There is a strong anti-war message in this song. It declares that sending our teens to war is 'child abuse' and that non-violent conflict resolution should become our focus. Jonny 5 (James Laurie) uses these lyrics;
So study war no more this millennium
It's never again for me or anyone
So think harder when you refer to us
Rather make our children martyrs than murders
I think this is incredible stuff!
This song fortifies the message that pacifism is not to be passive, but rather we are to engage in active and powerful non-violent resistance. "They say we're too yellow bellied, but we say we're the new superpower."
2. AGAINST ME! - I WAS A TEENAGED ANARCHIST
I do remember when I was young and wanted to set the world on fire.
This is an interesting song about a young, ambitious teen, with the right 'style' to get into the anarchist movement. For those who don't know, the basic philosophy of anarchy is that the government should have very limited power and only takes on the roll of protecting very basic rights and freedoms and that anything else serves to suppress freedom, rather than enhance it.
This song deals with one of the main dilemas. In the movement, you end up under the authority of the movement instead of the government. You are expected to know the 'slogans', 'ideologies' and 'doctrines' and Tom Gabel sings about how it became "too rigid". He felt that even within this group that was for 'freedom', he was losing his individuality and expected to conform to the group-think of the movement. Interesting that something that at its root is about freedom, but can become fascist so easily. "The revolution was a lie" the song finally declares.
This song reminded me of hanging out with a group with some self-declared anarchists. Great people, let me say that first. Many were doing communal living, which they called "intentional community". As they talked about how to be intentionally community successfully, one theme came up again and again; finding people with the same goals, values and beliefs. This bothered me. How radical can our community be if we cannot find a way to live with diversity of beliefs? Not that we can't try to win someone over to the side of non-violence, for example, as opposed to violent protest, but some times you just have to be with people different than you, and just be together. If you can't be in community with that person who disagrees with you... you're not radical. There's no rebellion in that.
3. KNAAN - WAVIN' FLAG
I can hear now the cries of "overplayed", but, I don't normally listen to the radio, so, songs don't get overplayed for me. I listen to them when I want to. Straight out of Canada, comes one of my favourite songs of the year.
First of all, THE KIDS LOVE IT! And hearing my kids sing that when they get older people will call them FREEDOM!!! Well... it's good. Not crazy about how standing for freedom is associated with a waving flag, too nationalistic for my taste. Flags are overrated and I think mostly serve to divide us by propping up individual country's sense of pride over and against other nations... just my opinion.
As a Somali-Canadian, Knaan's lyrics cut to the heart as we are told of a nation that is struggling to eat, with violence and poverty as realities. The strength needed to bring freedom into that situation truly gives the song more depth.
There is a strong indictment of the church in this song, and I usually like that. Knaan sings;
So many wars, settling scores
Bringing us promises, leaving us poor
I heard them say 'love is the way'
'Love is the answer,' that's what they say
But look how they treat us, make us believers
We fight their battles, then they deceive us
Try to control us, they couldn't hold us.
"Love is the answer"... that's how you know it is the Christians talking. Yet they use people, in so many places, to fight their battles (and fill their rich countries with the resources of the poor country), while leaving that country even worse than they found it, all the while trying to 'make them believers'. Yikes! How long has the church been declaring a message with their actions that is the opposite of the message of the Jesus they claim to follow?
4. OK GO - THIS TOO SHALL PASS
This is a great encouraging song. We all face stuff in this life, some definitely worse than others. This song is about holding onto hope that the morning will come. Things might seem hopeless but this too shall pass. Simplistic maybe, but it reminds me of Shawshank Redemption where the one thing they could not steal from Andy Dufresne was his HOPE! Hope is a powerful weapon against the mounting depression and anxiety of our society.
5. Mumford & Sons - Dustbowl Dance
I could really have picked almost any track off of Mumford's album "Sigh No More" which, in my estimation, is the best album of the year. I chose this as the song I want to share though for two reasons. First, the raw emotion with which Marcus Mumford delivers the vocals. Secondly because of these lyrics;
Well you are my accuser, now look in my face
Your oppression reeks of your greed and disgrace
So one man has and another has not
How can you love what it is you have got
When you took it all from the weak hands of the poor?
Liars and thieves you know not what is in store
There will come a time I will look in your eye
You will pray to the God that you always denied.Then I'll go out back and I'll get my gun
I'll say, "You haven't met me, I am the only son"
This is the story of one man who lost all he had because of the greed of the wealthy. It is filled with frustration and anger and declares that, as history dictates, the oppressed only stay oppressed for so long (I don't think the gun is necessary, although it is, at the very least, understandable). I wonder if it is ever possible for us to have an elegant gathering in North America where we can't rightly be confronted by the words, "How can you love what it is you have got when you took it all from the weak hands of the poor?"
6. The Paper Raincoat - Sympathetic Vibrations
Amber Rubarth sings in the third verse;
The dissonance sounds right,
The note they said was wrong,
The one they told me never would belong,
And I'm finally tuned to the sympathetic sound,
The city resonates, we hum along...
This song is sung from the perspective of someone who is seeing everything differently. It's like seeing it for the first time, everything is new. Everything is filled with beauty when the perspective of the one looking has changed. We don't know why she has become 'tuned into the sympathetic sound', but now even those things that don't seem to fit (maybe those people who we often think don't fit) are all part of the music of life. Looking around on an airplane, people walking and moving around the city, the unique gifts that each person has... they all fuel the rhythm of life if we are willing to listen to it. She can't fall asleep on the plane, because she is seeing everything new and is experiencing real life brighter than TV, and this new outlook is fueled by compassion, empathy, hope, love... I'm jealous for some of that.
7. Eminem - Love the Way You Lie (feat. Rihanna) (clean)
I've already blogged about why I love this song here. I took a lof flack for it. And while I agree that it is disturbing to have young girls and young ladies singing, "I like the way it hurts", I do think that this song was written with positive intentions for revealing the horrible cycle of women against violence. This is not a glorification but Eminem playing the disgusting role of abuser which is meant to add to how disturbing and awful it is. I think this song took courage and has the capability of fueling positive discussion about something that is usually so hidden.
8. Outernational - Fighting Song (feat. Tom Morello)
The word for this song is 'anthem'. A folk-punk anthem for those who are oppressed, feel pushed to the margins, or wish to stand with those who are.
I follow the Twitter of Tom Morello, famed guitarist of Rage Against the Machine, and my musical hero from this generation. He was being asked what bands he loves that people haven't heard of yet. His answer was OUTERNATIONAL! Tom linked to a song called, "Eyes on Fire" and I was hooked. I went to their website and immediately ordered their EP and a t-shirt (especially since it was made sweat-shop free). The EP wasn't released in 2010, but that's when I was fortunate enough to have it impact me.
I had the good fortune to see Outernational at a teeny tiny venue in Toronto and later in the summer they were gracious enough to come to The Dam to play and to sleep in my basement. Now, they are not just a folk-punk band who is continuing to use music to fuel serious change in the vein of The Clash and Rage Against The Machine, but also friends. This is amazing, because you get to know the guys behind the lyrics, and these guys are no fakers; they LOVE music and LOVE the struggle against oppression. This past year they released another song with Tom Morello, a cover of Woody Guthrie's song Deportees, in response to the strict, racist immigration policies that were passed in Arizona. Also, while other artists boycotted playing shows in Arizona, Outernational played there and confronting the issue from stage, read about it here. They also plan to release a new 6 song EP entitled Todos Somos Ilegales which translates to "We Are All Illegals". Outernational is, quite simple, one of the best bands in existence today.
Fighting Song is a song of hope for a world where our youth currently don't have a voice and people are without a home. Tom Morello lends his vocals in a great mix with those of Miles Solay to give voice to the dream of a revolution which will require the courage to fight for (fighting takes many forms);
Look down at our planet
From the heavens above
See it as it is
See it as it is
No borders or banks
No wars or tanks
No nations, no nations
I've got my dreams when I sleep
And I've got these dreams that really could be!
We must believe this dream "really could be" if we ever hope to live our lives in a way that enhance its possiblity.
Putting this song on my 'best of' (and it was one of my first choices) also filled a necessary Tom Morello quota, and I could leave off his guitar work on Rise Up with Cypress Hill and the Paper Planes cover by his group Street Sweeper Social Club (great name).
Finally, Outernational asked fans to submit covers of this song on Youtube. Here was the attempt of Mitchell, Katie and myself.
9. Rehab - Welcome Home
I decided to go a little light-hearted on this selection. While a lot of things in this song are a bit goofy, I like the heart of it. Home in this song is a place where there is unconditional love. For all the stupid stuff this guy has done, he knows that at home he is loved and he appreciates that his mom and dad have tried to guide his path in a positive direction. There is a peace at this house, where you can be who you are, no pretending. Love is the through line of what home means in this song, and I can appreciate that. I did plenty of stupid stuff and my parents are two of my best friends today. Where home means love and a place of belonging even when we are at our worst... it's good.
10. Yoav - Yellowbrite Smile
Sometimes you have to include something just because it is SO COOL! Yoav was born in Israel and raised in South Africa and brings some incredibly unique artistry to the table in his music.
The song might not sound like something special. But what Yoav does is remarkable. In a live show, he will come out on stage with bare feet because he needs them to operate his looping machines as he plays short riffs on the guitar and loops them back and plays new bits over top until he creates the song live, right there in front of you in a masterful use of his instrument. Check it out.
Not to mention that the song is great, very positive, and the video is cool too.
11. Alexisonfire - The Northern
(Update: I almost chose Alexisonfire's cover of Midnight Oil's THE DEAD HEART instead of The Northern, but I wanted to rep their album on this list, and Dead Heart isn't on the album. The Dead Heart is a great cry from the perspective of an oppressed people.)
The final song on my Side A is another Canadian selection. Alexis might not be for everyone, but this are my selections, so, deal. I get this song stuck in my head all the time. This song comes from my favourite Alexisonfire album to date (I've been told that is because I prefer punk to hardcore, but who knows).
One of the great things about art is that it can be interpreted a variety of ways.
This song seems to juxtapose (put two contrasting ideas next to one another) the image of a God who is a 'judge so severe' and the words "Roll Jordan" which comes from old black slave spirituals. The singers Dallas Green and George Pettit both sing about going to go to heaven when they die. The contrast seems to be mostly between an image of God who is angry and coming in judgment and elicits fear and another God to whom you would sing 'Hallelujah" which means praise and is most commonly used out of joy. Every time the language of heaven is used we hear the cry of 'Roll Jordan'. These words are in reference to walking through the river Jordan as the water rolls back, an image from Israel, a slave people, reaching the Promised Land. These words were used as comfort by the black slaves, hope for an enslaved and oppressed people to one day be free.
It could be that Alexisonfire is suggesting that the heaven they'll be going to is the one with a God who comforts and rescues the oppressed and the slave, not the God who elicits fear and is severe. Although, it could be that the 'judge so severe' elicits fear among those who were the cause of slavery and oppression (like the Red Sea, that rolled back for slaves, but drowned the oppressors). Those who are the slave, the oppressed and the marginalized can sing Hallelujah and enter through the river.
The references to mother, father, brother, sister could be an attempt to show this image of God to those who might have been declaring something opposite. He wants to let them know that he is going to heaven. It seems as though they need to be convinced and that might require a change in perspective of who they belive God to be. It might be that growing up he always heard of the stern, severe God who comes in judgment, but now wants to point his family to an understanding of a God who cares for the hurting. We might not be judged as harshly for things the church is always carrying on about but rather based on who you are with... do you stand with the oppressed or the oppressor?
That's a lot to get out of a song with relatively few lyrics, but the imagery that the lyrics illicit speak many, many, many more words than are present in the song. I love analyzing writing that has a spiritual bend to it.
I'm never crazy about a prominent focus on heaven though. If there is a God (I'm crazy enough to think so), and that God is one who alligns himself with the oppressed (yep), that means something for our present lives more than it means something for whatever might be waiting beyond.
Phew... that's it... Side A... Side B to come. I hope you're not to overwhelmed.