Friday, May 9, 2014

Most Emotionally-Impactful Tracks

The songs bound to leave an ever-lasting impression are those of which make their mark through our emotions alone. Whether that boils down to sadness, elation, fear, or somewhere in between, tracks that can successfully evoke a feeling out of someone using sound and message along should be placed on a higher pedestal than those surrounding them. It's for this reason that I chose to highlight, what I feel, is the 25 most emotionally-impactful songs in my discography. Before I begin however I should make it abundantly clear that I have not listened to every song in existence, or even remotely close. These are simply, in my opinion, the 25 songs in my collection that have resonated with me the most emotionally. The tracks are in no particular order, as that would dilute the meaning every one exudes. Enjoy. 

Neutral Milk Hotel - Communist Daughter

Off their critically-acclaimed album, Communist Daughter stands alone as the short stint of lyrical brilliance in the middle. To keep inline with the album's thematic standings around Anne Frank and the Holocaust, the term Communist here however is used and taken literally. A shared girl for sexual pleasure by all the commune's men. It's a remarkable track, leaving one to contemplate beauty only to realize the song's dark, lingering messages. Lines like "Semen stains the mountain tops" and "the bridges burst and twist around" leave a lasting impression on the listener, taken aback by the gross imagery of sexual intercourse with a female who, in all likelihood, is not asking for it. 

P.O.S. - The Brave & The Snake

A brutal closer to an often under-discussed album. P.O.S' Never Better concludes with this cataclysmic track that is prone to leaving listener's sweating from the intensity bundled within 4 minutes. Bursts of rapid-fire verses coincide with quiet, trudging instrumental sections, in groups of two, before the entire track itself erupts into a war cry of "to the great escape, and to the great escape" repeated 8 times before the silence breaks through, disrupting the anarchy ensuing. It's one hell of a roller coaster, beginning with the slow climb, ending with the abrupt stop. The haunting reverbs help elicit feelings of calm waters, only for P.O.S.' earth-shattering verses careen onwards, laying dedication to the hard workers, often under-appreciated in our society. 

Royksopp - Royksopp Forever

My favorite song of all-time. That is saying something right there. I have heard thousands upon thousands of songs in my life, and nothing compares to Royksopp Forever. It's unlike anything ever laid to record, and is as close to orchestral perfection as one can hope to get. The pacing throughout the 5 minute movement builds slowly, before exploding into a barrage of violins, harps, trumpets, and everything in between. Vocal harmonies pitch and shift as the song reaches its absolute peak of elation. Listeners' feelings dissolve for a moment as the outside world ceases to exist. Everything contained within the song, at least for those 5 minutes, make up the entirety of life itself. No words are uttered, yet all emotions are handled through the song's various movements. At many turns it seems to have reached its climax, only for the duo to provide extra sound effects, heightening the surreality of the track itself, throwing the kitchen sink of music at it in the process. 

Death Grips - Beware

No song in Death Grips' discography serves a virgin listener better than their first, in chronological terms. Beware showcases directly, through production, style, and lyrics alone, exactly what Death Grips are about. And what better way to kick things off than with a quote from Charles Manson, famed murdered and leader of the Manson Family. Upon its conclusion however a litany of excessive noises, loud for loud's sake erupt onto the scene, startling listeners with its ever-abrasive body. The tongue however derives from MC Ride and his anti-everything sentiments over life, death, and Satan's wrath, through awe-struck lyricism unheard in Hip-Hop at the time. In reality, any Death Grips song would do just fine in this place, feelings of abandonment, rage, anger, and albeit some confusion, layer the discography of the duo. No better lyric sums up the sounds and messages than Ride's proclamation "dismiss this life, worship death."

Sigur Ros - Festival

Classic case of a song split by two drastically different halves, surprisingly here however, the second one is much more popular. As per usual, Sigur Ros enforce their made-up Hopelandic language in the opening segments. Shockingly however, as this song clearly showcases, is that, despite not knowing a lick of a language, one can gauge feelings and emotions as to the topic at hand, despite the fact that there isn't one. As many of us know, the 'real' track begins roughly halfway through, as the instrumental, inspirational fury begins to take shape. Featured in movies, commercials, and everything in between, Festival is one of the best examples of instrumental music performing equal, or in some cases stronger at conveying a message, than their lyrical counterparts. Hope, motivation, and overcoming the odds are all unquestionable feelings attached to the remarkable movement to close the track. 

Ab-Soul - Book Of Soul

While many of the previous songs have focused on feelings derived from sound, Ab-Soul's Book of Soul deals with feelings derived from story-telling. The hardest stories to handle however, as those which are depressingly true, as in Soul's case. The message announced is one of heartbreak, redemption, and pressing forward. Contracted with Stevens-Johnson syndrome that left his eyes intolerable to sunlight at the age of 10, leaving him nearly blind. While that first hurdle was eventually dealt with, the second one was much tougher. Not 3 months before the release of his album Control System, which contains this track, his life-long love through childhood and at-the-time current girlfriend, Alori Joh, committed suicide by jumping off a radio tower at the tender age of 25, before her singing career could finally jump start. The pain, anguish, and desperation in Ab's voice paints the all-to vivid picture of a man who's pushed through everything up to this point, struggling to break past this last barrier. 

Arcade Fire - Wake Up

A rallying cry for the youth of the 21st century. Arcade Fire's Wake Up has been presented as such, amongst other things. The band hailing out of Canada, with, arguably the most emotional album of all-time in Funeral, created a track so sonically composed, so lyrically depth, and so easily accessible, that everyone, across the entire world, could appreciate its greatness. The loss of one's childhood, the repression of thoughts and imaginations as those children brace themselves for the cold, calculated world of drone work stands at the heart of Wake Up. The track yearns as a calling to those who've lost their inner-youth, and those on the verge of becoming faceless normalities. The melody heard round the world continues to bring a tear to anyone's eyes who witnesses it performed live. Movements cascading throughout breath life into this work of art, as each artists' speciality in the band gets it rightful place somewheres in the track. 

XV - 1997

Sometimes emotive statements aren't condensed to simple formalities of happy/sad, joy/depression. Equally as important, and far more daunting of a task is encapsulating nostalgia, which is exactly what XV accomplishes in 1997. Choosing to sample Smashing Pumpkins' 1979 for the beat and chorus, XV emphatically recalls the year 1997 and what it meant for his childhood. Not only is our lead taking a trip down memory lane for himself, but also brings along every other kid growing up in the 90's with direct references to various events, shows, and films, including Sandlot, of which the music video takes clips from. The chorus elicits fantastical thoughts over the past as Billy Corgan's soft, airy voice sneaks its way throughout the beat. XV's reflection on the past works as a reflection of ourselves, a track that succeeds at rekindling moments gone past, memories never forgotten. 

YACHT - Psychic City

Here's an odd choice. While certainly not the most impactful in terms of lasting impression, YACHT's Psychic City works on many fronts at providing happiness with a playful nature just digestible enough to enjoy for its duration. It's catchy, distinctive, upbeat, poppy, and, at all points, inconclusive over its spurts of random lyricisms. Something urging for deeper meanings only to come up dry. No one, to this day, is quite sure as to the meanings of "I used to live in a voodoo city, where every little thing had its own secret life. I might be washing up the dishes, and the kitchen might say, "Hang around baby baby, hang around baby baby, hang around baby, we'll be baking a cake for you," and all the different oddball characterizations made throughout the piece. The bubbling (quite literally) production folds itself over and over, pulsating throughout the track, before reaching a romantic conclusion of fairy tale fantasies.

Fatboy Slim - Praise You

Speaking of tracks for joyous occasions, Fatboy Slim's Praise You. An artist like Norman Cook comes around once in a great while, able to formulate memorable tracks out of nauseating repetition, incessant abundance, and simplistic beat formulations. However, along with a handful of other unforgettable masterpieces, Praise You wiggles itself into the veins of every human once resistant of the urge to dance, only to breakdown into uncontrollable movements. Praise You is celebratory by nature, and feels as such. The simple production, composed of catchy elements throughout is bodaciously brilliant, strong and concise. Created by a man who knows exactly what causes muscles to move, and mouths to crescent. His work often uses replicates these tried and true effects, maintaining his auteur style throughout. 

Star Slinger - May I Walk With You

Another case of a producer characteristically defined by his palate, Star Slinger crushes multiple sampled works together, chops them up, adds glistening synths for prime satisfaction, formulating them into summertime jams. May I Walk With You is his best work. The altered words, taken out of context and out of sound, lose all their intended meaning, yet new, happier, more care free tunes blossom from his crafty hands. The rolling stutters and hazy synths combine and mesh with distorted vocal cues to create sounds reminiscent of static television, parked on patios in the sweltering heat as family gatherings surround the set with children playing in the yard. The chorus comes into light, maintaining the titles' declaration, as the only discernible words, "may I walk with you, may I walk with you," echo through reverbs as an invitation to the girls lustfully poppy voice. 

Vampire Weekend - Ya Hey

A provocative track pondering the existence of God and his place in our society today. Beautifully bold statements grace Ya Hey, lines like "Zion doesn't love you, the Babylon don't love you, but you love everyting" & "America don't love you, so I could never love you, in spite of everything" capture a feeling unlike anything else in Indie Pop. Lead singer Ezra Koenig questions his own beliefs, unsure as to where to place God as everyone else in today's age seem to look down upon him, as a controller of good and evil in a world where the latter has taken over. The haunting choir chants taking over the second half sway emotions, providing contrast with the anti-Christian overtones and the characteristic undertones of the choir hymns. Known for pop tunes that discuss, amongst other things, first world rich people problems, driving their lyrical diversity down a touchy subject with a bumpy road is a strong statement the band chose to make, and it resonants well with listeners.  

Frank Ocean - Bad Religion

Speaking of Religion, we have yet another artist looking down upon it, however this time, in much different light. Frank Ocean, who prior to his debut album channel ORANGE, released a statement announcing his stance as a Bi-sexual, black man, who's had intimate feelings about other males. While our world is slowly becoming more accepting of those that love the same sex, there still remains a major portion who feel it's a sin; Religion, Christianity in general. This conflicts Ocean who remains true to believing in God, despite the fact he knows he doesn't love him back for his 'sinful' ways. Thus comes Bad Religion, a striking track discussing Ocean's sexuality and how he "could never make him love me," citing it as "unrequited love," or, love that isn't reciprocated. Certain lines, in particular, "if it brings me to my knees, it's a bad religion," leave a lasting mark on the listener for its obvious double meaning, both sexually and spiritually. The desperation, pain, and despair Ocean feels vibrates through his vocals as he comes to grips with his place in his Religion. 

Death Grips - Birds

Drastically altering emotions here, Death Grips' Birds deserves a spot on here solely for its remarkable ability to conjure confusion, sickness, and paranoia in 4 minutes. Birds is unlike anything heard before in Hip-Hop, even from Death Grips themselves, who are known for their experimentation. The wavy sirens, hollering war cry's of "I got tomorrow coming," and the eery nature of the track itself make this one hell of an uncomfortable listen. It's uncharacteristic of a band known for their uncharacteristic ways. The lyrics, still indecipherable a year later, confound many as to the deeper meanings. The words spread across the track are simplistic in nature, deep in thought. Regardless of the meaning of Birds, the message its production lays out is clear; paranoia for a schizophrenic. Talk of birds, black hats, and counting like Dr.Seuss trivialize the psychosis prevalent in much of the duo's work, lending Birds itself to a horror-themed aspect set in the confines of the world's most deranged mental hospital. 

Arcade Fire - The Backseat

One of the most emotionally riddling songs on this list, Regine Chassagne's stunning closer to Funeral represents all of which the album itself reveals; the pain of losing those you love before you're ready yourself to dart out on the world alone. Her opening intrinsic lines spell out the fate of the track's leading metaphor, "I like the peace in the backseat, I don't have to drive, I don't have to speak." Her soft-spoken tone conjure up thoughts in her head, as if being recited back to herself. The depression lingering takes over and manifests itself amongst her formerly most-prevalent emotions. She no longer feels in control of her own life, allowing others to make decisions for her, simply gazing at every passing action. The soaring orchestral tones of violins and harps mesh beautifully with the haunting piano piece, creating a soundscape endured by only those so emotionally distraught. Her tragic explosion of hollering hymns before her departure denounces oneself so engulfed in remorse, tragedy, and agony to one blissful cry for help. Then, as if planned all along, the track slowly fades out, for minutes, to its quiet, resting end. 

Fashawn - When She Calls

Effective story-telling is often challenging when attempting to convey emotions. As in Chassagne's case and many others, the strongest instrument is the voice itself. In some cases however, the story and message is heart-wrenching enough that all the speaker needs is some harps, samples, and the story itself. That is the case of Fashawn's When She Calls. Releasing his sole album as to date, he recalls the tragedy of his friend through a first-person narrative, which brings a wholly human element to a story usually told by others detached from the scene. It's a love story gone awry, a boyfriend who commits suicide after he witnesses his girlfriend cheating on him with another couple. The message resonates within for Fashawn, as both these characters were close friends of his. The additions of a Joanna Newsom sample, executed brilliantly by Exile, plays second fiddle to Fashawn's message in the chorus, she states "when I am sleeping," to which the rapper replies, "some days, I don't even wanna wake up." Proactive messages of 'time heals all wounds' are declared by Fashawn at the end as he fades out, returning to more 'episodes in his area code.'

Mint Royale - Show Me

Returning to pure euphoria once again is one of my favorite songs, Mint Royale's Show Me, with rapping done by Posdnous of De La Soul. Sporting one of the most enjoyably catchy choruses ever, regardless of the fact that, up until recently, no one had known what it says, or even what language the choir chants beautifully in. In fact, the legendary chorus is spoken in Zulu, an African language, saying "Jabulani siyashada namhla," or "celebrate we are getting betrothed today." Posdnous knows this jubilation felt, rapping over enduring stress to enjoy happiness. He's so sure of the song's feel-good pleasures that he states, "daylight open eyes to know how, song that cut a smile across your face for life, well keep your arms raised, listen to this track for long, that I chocked full of soul." Mint Royale's existential track relieves the soul of pain inflicted upon it through chants, melodies and a momentous production build. 

Boards Of Canada - Roygbiv

Boards Of Canada are masters of musical imagery. Drawing up sounds as if they were physical things. The droning synths of Roygbiv's initial tone are some of their most notorious and provocative. However, despite many of their other tunes carrying out a specified sound for long stretches of time, Roygbiv, in its short 2:32 time span, flips things entirely, while remaining true to the encompassing feeling of dread that lead off the record. It's a graceful movement, and once a sample of a kid saying "Yeah" backwards slithers its way throughout with a keyboard melody becoming prominent, the dreadful tones become ousted by happier days of yore as images of frolicking in some acid-laced lily field take over the senses. Their work is unmatched by anyone in the business, and is one entirely their own.   

Kendrick Lamar - Sing About Me, I'm Dying Of Thirst

The sensational centerpiece to the rapper's pivotal 2012 album, Sing About Me is a crowning jewel in story-telling, plastering itself over a 12 minute span of pure earnest spilling's of lyrical mastery. Following Swimming Pools, which ends with the death of a friend, Sing About Me, with its elongated drum loop and piano crackles portrays, through sound alone, somber feelings of regret and anguish. The following three verses details different factors that have attributed greatly to Kendrick's life, the first two being the heftiest, thanks in large part to their heartbreaking conclusions. The first, a letter to Kendrick from the murdered friend's brother, reads like a poem of sacrifice, honor, and respect. It ends however, with one of the most shocking collage's in all of Hip-Hop; gunshots. So heard on records this day these are taken in a different context when they, figuratively and metaphorically, blast off, ripping the vocal chords from the character before he had a chance to finish, "and if I die before your album drop I hope --." The following verse ends with the demise of a female streetwalker fading into oblivion on the streets of Compton. 

Blue Sky Black Death - Sky With Hand

A production masterstroke, Blue Sky Black Death's Sky With Hand, the closer to their under-appreciated album Noir, stun listeners with its immaculately created, composed, and orchestrated instrumental trip. Beginning under star light, the feelings expressed throughout Sky With Hand's 6 and a half minute journey are other-worldly. A loss of sensations overtake the listener, samples sparkle in and out, unmistakably adding to the allure of the piece. Hard-hitting drums intertwine with twinkles of a distant chime as chanting kids prancing about give the track a thoroughly ethereal feeling. There's various movements here, sections laid atop one another, each one increasing in passion and warmth with each passing trumpet intercut. Harps reverberate the background, sounds unheard for months awaken themselves to the human ear. The textures, details, and elegance shown off as unlike anything else. One could conceivably end up in tears following this track given the right situation. 

Outkast - The Train

Sometimes it's not the track itself, nor the production underlying it, that bring tears to one's eyes. In the case of Outkast's The Train, it's memories gone by, years, decades, past, with the looming end to the foreseeable future inevitable. At this time Andre 3000 had made his decision to depart from music, leaving Big Boi stranded in holding up the legendary Hip-Hop duo Outkast. Their last official release, Idlewild, foretold the coming of days. The last track is a trudge of 8 minutes with Andre wailing "a bad note," the title of the song, knowing that even the group was fully aware of the ending ahead and pain that would ensue. The Train however was Big Boi's official send-off, and for long-time 'Kast fans it's still a tear-jerking. The chorus sung by Sleepy Brown explains it all, "it's been a good long road, now it's time for me to go, I say goodbye goodbye goodbye." I remembered crying to this record when I put all the pieces together and had realized what was about to happen. Even sadder knowing Big Boi himself knew of the fate he was put in. 

Boards Of Canada - Gyroscope

No song that I've ever listened to has made me physically sick besides Gyroscope. Therefore it deserves a place on this list. It's uncontrollable dread. It's fearing, uncomfortable, and putrid. Whatever you'd want to call the sound protruding through the majority of the piece, the rolling fabricated mold, is utterly disparaging. The droning synths, typical of Boards Of Canada, add the fear factor. It's not until the distorted woman's voice reciting spurred number sequences gears its way through that the true terror begins. I feel worthless, hopeless, and helpless. Gyrscope sounds like the long walk to your death at Auschwitz, or the moments after the atomic bomb went off in Hiroshima, with you standing in its gaze, in the hollowed silence. Some scratching segments round off the record, before it implodes on itself, ending abruptly. 

Radiohead - Life In A Glass House

Out of all Radiohead's music, the albums on albums that have impacts across society, the closer to Amnesiac has stuck with me the most. This is most likely due to its unique instrumentation approach in comparison to everything heard previously on the album. It sounds much more organic and emotive. The lyrical content, as with much of Radiohead post-The Bends, is up for interpretation and specifically loose-ended. Here however, I feel the message goes along with much of their thoughts on the 21st century, Totalitarianism, and how it all relates to George Orwell's 1984. Yorke's pain and regret for living in a glass house is evidenced through his somber, anguished voice and the lyrics of government or media intrusion, listening and watching every little detail. However, it's the brass, clarinet, and heavily Jazz-influenced sounds that resonate the strongest with listeners. The finale, soaring trumpets wail with much the same breadth as Yorke himself.  

Kanye West - Hey Mama

Another instance of emotive music found through outside sources alone, in this case Kanye's relationship with his mother, celebrating her and everything she's done to every feasible extent. The ear-warming vocal "la la" throughout the track provide harmony for Kanye's heart-warming message. The song however took on unfortunately grave new meanings when, in 2007, two years after the release of the record West's mother passed away due to plastic surgery complications, something Kanye paid for and feels he's the cause of. Regardless, the simpler times always bring better feelings, as is the case here. You can feel the love permeating the air as Kanye gushes about his mother, his first true love. The orchestration present on Late Registration only helps the message get across, as violin's, cello's, and a full brass ensemble echo throughout the track. His heartfelt message is one of the most endearing and true-to-God blessings someone has bestowed upon a family member in all of music period. It's not often artist's thank their parents, and here, Kanye does so in grandiose fashion. 

Modest Mouse - Talking Shit About A Pretty Sunset

For my final track I look towards arguably Modest Mouse's strongest, most impactful songs. The first half sees lead singer Issac Brock wailing about his own insecurities about life and the regretful actions he's taken during it, while sitting with a noose around his neck. His cynicism the upmost noticeable, clearly evidenced by the song title itself, finding negative things in inherently positive moments. Its a belief many people in today's society hold, with entirely negative outlooks on the world, when, at the end of it, the only thing negative was themselves. He blamed all others but himself and now he's the only one left to blame. The final lines reflect his mis-handled confused state best, "changed my mind so much I can't even trust it, my mind changed me so much I can't even trust myself," right as the track reaches its pinnacle instrumental brilliance. This second half, matched with the former contemplation lyrics, mesh to form a beautiful climax to one of the group's most powerful songs. It's a shock this wasn't the album's closer because it works as such. 

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