Best and Worst Songs of All Time This Week (12/2/09)
Best: “Cousins” by Vampire Weekend
“A-Punk” may have established the swift, breezy, electric sound that people love or hate this band for, but with only three chords to work with (and I know, that’s the point), it never really reached its full potential. The only reason it is remembered more fondly, possibly, than any of the other songs on their self-titled debut is that it was the first one everybody heard. Countless listens in, though, that same song feels like the album’s only low point, if also its signifier. “Cousins” is the rare but beautiful sequel that outshines the original (Toy Story 2, The Spy Who Shagged Me, etc). The lyrics are clever and actually coherent, but even more impressive is that the sharp guitar finds a pocket within the syncopated, punk-ish bass and drums, rather than dumped in the lap of the song, which was the case with “A-Punk” (again, I know that was the point). What makes the song great is that they can progress from the finesse of the verse to an utterly satisfying shout-along chorus. If Ezra Koenig’s anxious yelp annoyed you before, it will now too. But fans of the band have reason to anticipate their forthcoming Contra.
Worst: “Fireflies” by Owl City
It doesn’t matter if this song rips off the Postal Service; it does, but that does not matter. There’s something bigger happening here. Nearing the end of 2009, a year in which Grizzly Bear has headlined major, MAJOR motion picture soundtracks and garnered the patronage of Jay-Z, there is reason to feel like independent music is turning the corner toward success with minimal damage to the art form; selling out without selling out. So it’s especially sad that the year will end with Owl City atop the iTunes bestsellers list. Not because the song’s half decent hook leads the song into a lazy, repetitive, unfocused stupor by the one minute mark (not unlike “Sexy Can I,” but that’s beside the point). And not because the totally copped electronic aesthetic loses every ounce of authenticity it doesn’t have when strings are thrown on top (because that will make it even more haunting and beautiful, right?). Many pop songs, that I have no problem ignoring, fall into these traps. The reason “Fireflies” is the worst song of all time this week is the slowly spreading idea that this is alternative music, or, perhaps more correct, music for “alternative people.” All it took was a casio, laptop, earnest voice, and a tight enough pair of jeans; Owl City has created a soundtrack for the quirky, understanding, endearing, glasses wearing dorks that have befriended every female protagonist in the history of high school romantic comedies. Sadly those people are not real, and neither is this song.