Excellent choices, Bryn! I was reading through your list and thought many time, "oh, that song's awesome". And thanks for the complement on "Dead Man"... I listen to that song and all the things I did wrong jump out at me, so it's nice to know it isn't like that for everyone. Plus, that was a hell of a lot of fun to record.
So in spite of the lack of popular demand, here's my list:
1. Race for the Prize: The Flaming Lips
Neat synth line, bouncy drums, lyrics about scientists, and the opening number for several of the best shows I've ever been to. I'll always associate this song with the live Lips experience, with balloons and streamers and aliens and Santas and Wayne Coyne in a big plastic bubble. Seriously, it's is an experience I'd recommend to anyone even slightly interested in their music.
2. Bridges and Balloons: Joanna Newsom
The first time I listened to this song, all I really noticed was her weird-ass vocals. I thought, "I'm going to have to try this again later", and put the album away for a month or so. Then, once mentally prepared for it, I put this album on again and was absolutely blown away. Her harp playing is amazing; the rhythms are always very interesting and fit so well with the vocal melodies. She is incredibly unique as an artist, and I think this song exemplifies all her best qualities (exept perhaps the singing, but I particularly like the lyrics to this one).
3. Y Control: Yeah Yeah Yeahs
This song rocks: Karen O's voice is amazing, the drumming is fantastic, and the guitar sounds are coated with beautiful distortion. The song has such a cool, dark vibe, I love it. I also never thought I'd be so enthralled by over 30 seconds of distorted guitar and amplifier feedback, which you hear at the end of this song, but in this case it sounds crazy awesome. Spike Jonze's creepy video is pretty cool too.
4. Do the Evolution: Pearl Jam
Another rocker. And you really can't rock much harder than this one. Eddie Vedder has the best voice in the business and can scream like nobody's business The lyrics are great ("I'm the first mammal to wear pants, yeah"), and so is the guitar playing. It's also got a neat video to go along with it.
5. The Flying Club Cup: Beirut
I don't know what it is about this song, but the first time I saw the video on their website, I was damn near in tears. Something about the melody, the horns, the marching drums, and the image of a chorus of people looking upwards in a church singing in unison. Absolutely beautiful.
6. Elizabeth on the Bathroom Floor - Going to Your Funeral pt. 1 - Cancer for the Cure: The Eels.
Okay, so this is cheating, but none of these songs are long, and all three fit together so perfectly. It's got to be the most heart-wrenching opening to an album ever, with E's subdued singing about his sister's suicide and her funeral in the first two songs, then a big loud rocker about his mother dying of cancer. Gives me chills just thinking about it.
7. Paranoid Android: Radiohead
It's really difficult to choose a representative track from this band, because holy crap they have a lot of good songs. This was the one that got me really into the band; I knew it was something extraordinary the first time I heard it. That moment when the big loud distorted guitars come in and play the main riff completely blew my mind. All parts of this multipart song are done really well, and the transitions are fantastic.
8. Half Day Closing: Portishead
Another difficult band to choose a favorite song from, but I'd go with this one because the ending is so powerful. I love the way her voice slowly morphs from a passionate cry into this synthetic wall of distortion and chorus and reverb and echo. Plus, the drums sound awesome, and I've always loved those meandering basslines.
9. The Funny Bird: Mercury Rev
Not a huge fan of this band, but this song is amazing. I think this is my example of the perfectly recorded and produced song. The rhythm section is up high in the mix, with the drums sounding perfect, and the simple but perfect bassline always driving the song. The chorus effect (or whatever it is) makes Jonny Donahue's voice sound a hell of a lot better than it actually is, and the background atmospheric keyboards sound so cool I can't even attempt to describe it.
10. Shine on You Crazy Diamond: Pink Floyd
Okay, so this one's way too long to fit with the others onto a single CD... so if I had to pick only a part of it, I guess I'd go with part 6. But this song is the best guitar playing of all time, in my opinion. In my wildest dreams, I play guitar like Dave Gilmour played guitar on this song. It runs the gamut of emotions, from soft and mellow to crazy intense, and every note feels perfect. I can't remember who said it, but some Jazz musician said something about soloing being about the notes you don't play. This song proved the truth of that stament in my mind, as quite a lot of tension builds in the moments betweem phrases. And from my experience, that's a hard thing to do.
11. The final untitled track on Sigur Ros' untitled album (aka Parentheses)
This song is beautiful, and just builds and builds and builds, until the tension is so great you can barely stand it; then, it releases all that tension in a climax that Owen Salisbury perfectly described as: "in the coolest possible way, like a choirboy being hurled into a stack of cymbals."
Bonus Track: Wayfaring Stranger
I guess I'd choose the Honey White version for the sentimental values, and because I love the way Bryn sings it and the way the whole band came together. But this is such a great and profound song about the most profound of all subjects, with a really somber tone but without too dark a view. Picking up my guitar and playing this song always feels comforting to me.
In which Honey White's genius grad student guitarist takes his turn on the rock & roll soap box:
So one day a few weeks ago, our frontmanly singer-guitarist felt compelled to share his favorite songs with us bandmates. This naturally precipitated an arms race of fanboy-dom among Honey White, with all of us naming our current/past/whatever favorite songs and expounding upon them. Billy's were best, but let's start at the beginning, shall we? So, like Bryn said:
Predictably, I couldn't compress my favorite songs down to the length of one album. So here are the liner notes, such as they are, for my double album of favorite music.
1. "Goin' Against Your Mind," by Built to Spill.
Difficult as it is to narrow one's opinions regarding something as important to their lives as music has been in mine, I still feel that I can unequivocably state that this is my favorite song. I have listened to this one in all emotional extremes, from anger and unutterable sadness to joy and excitement, and it not only feels appropriate each time, but gives comfort. (Overanalysis of these songs is what I'm here to do right now, after all, so be prepared!) From a technical standpoint, the guitar is phenominally good, and the overdriven but echoey tone is wonderful. The rise & fall of the song's intensity allows us to rise & fall with it, a dynamic that is important, I feel.
2. "Weapon of Choice," by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.
This song is my definition of sounding badass. If I want to be in a swaggering mood, this would be what I'd listen to. During the blackest depths of my shit-pumping, frustration-swallowing, emotionally draining time as a Maritime Co-ordinator at the Ocean Institute this is what I would blast out of my truck's stereo as I tore out of the parking lot at 10am (or 10pm, come to think of it) after having worked for 24 hours in a row, and knowing that I'd have to be back the next day. It was my song of temporary freedom and flipping the bird to the people I felt were contributing to my frustrations.
3. "How to Fight Loneliness," by Wilco.
Such a beautifully sad song. The lyrics have an appropriate feeling of trying to convince yourself that things aren't so bad, and knowing that you're lying to yourself by saying so. The music is so lovely... the paino solo has a perfect quietly disjointed feel to it, which I adore.
4. "Railroad Man," by the Eels.
How can such a calm, relatively happy-sounding song be a comfort when one is sad? I have yet to figure that one out (I majored in Classics, not psychology!), but this song has comforted me at my most despondent and bleak. The pedal steel is absolutely beautiful, and E's lyrics (Mark Oliver Everett, to those of you who don't know who the hell that is) are powerful to me: all imagery of having the world passing you by, but not necessarily caring. Let the world do its thing; I'm content with who I am.
5. "In This Moment's Time," by the Coral Sea.
This song builds to its crescendo so perfectly -- it begins quietly, with soft, echoey guitar, and climbs up to a beautiful raging peak before dropping back into mellowness. Keir's former editor Duncan Wright absolutely makes this song with his powerful guitar.
6. "Women Who Love Men Who Love Drugs," by Oceansize.
The way in which this song slowly passes from quiet to amazingly powerful and loud is a wonder to me; it's an almost perfect rock composition, as judged by my completely arbitrary personal criteria. As you may have noticed by now, the most moving music, to me, is powerful, huge sounding rock music -- the kind of beauty and strength one can observe in a storm. (Yeah, yeah, I know I'm getting pretty corny here, what with using a storm as a metaphor. Shut up. This is my list!)
7. "Newborn," by Elbow.
Another slow-building song with a mind-blowing peak. I had heard that this song was amazing when Elbow played it live, and I was not disappointed -- the theater that we were in was absolutely vibrating with energy as Guy Garvey belted out the last part of the song. His hoarse but melodic voice has some power to it when he wants it to. After the song finally collapsed perfectly to a stop I looked over at Karla, who was seated beside me, a huge grin on my face. I leaned over to see what she'd thought of it: "That was so loud!" she said into my half-deafened ears. Indeed. And I loved it. (And after having seen them twice, I can only say that they are improving, even!)
8. "Rope on Fire," by Morphine.
It's interesting to me that, while Morphine is one of my favorite bands based upon their catalogue of songs as a whole, my favorite song of theirs is one that doesn't sound anything like what I'd describe as a "typical Morphine song." The quiet, accoustic and string-laden song here is the perfect vehicle for the feeling of Mark Sandman's nightmare lyrics: descriptions of of molasses-like slowness despite the urgency of escaping immediate danger. And one of my favorite, if simple, lyrical lines: "She ripped the wings right off my back... She said you're no angel, no angel anymore."
9. "The Last High," by the Dandy Warhols.
Courtney Taylor may be one of the most pretentious rock musicians around (which, damn!, is saying something, isn't it?), but he does manage to make some impressive music nonetheless. I love the rolling tempo of this song, the feeling of space... The feeling of giving something up that you have loved.
10. "Overcome," by Tricky.
This is one of the most singularly amazing songs I've ever heard. The music is unearthly and empty sounding, as if somehow you stumbled out into a grey and desolate landscape that had witnessed the apocalypse centuries ago. Your only company: the beautiful voice of Tricky's singer, whose name I have never learned... Her British accent sounds more exotic than it should, and I love it.
11. "King's Crossing," by Elliott Smith.
This is an emotionally gut-wrenching song. It is, by my estimation, Elliott Smith's summation of his life and mental state. His lyrics are arrestingly straightforward, but state everything powerfully and gracefully. Accuracy is what I always shoot for when writing lyrics, myself: the ability to take the emotion you are feeling, and to convey it, exactly as you are feeling it, to the listener. Elliott Smith knew where he was going, had the clarity of mind to write about it with a disturbing beauty (considering how dark the emotional content is), wrote music strong enough to support such emotional weight, and poured out how he felt about his life, and what he expected to happen. A truly breathtaking song.
12. "Dream Brother," by Jeff Buckley.
How could someone have a voice like Jeff Buckley's and still be as talented at the guitar as he was? Is that fair, being that good at more than one thing? Grace, the one album he completed before he died, will always beg the question, "What would he have done, had he survived longer?" A singularly talented musician, whose work only gets better the more I hear it.
13. "I Know," by Fiona Apple.
I have never understood how a voice like Fiona Apple's could come from such a small body. It is deep, for a woman's voice, but has no difficulty drifting up into higher pitches... It is a beautiful voice, without question. Her lyrics are often very good, as is her musical talent. If a woman sang a song like this to me, as it is sung here, I would (all cheesiness aside) be content to die right there. Hm... Maybe I can get Karla to learn this one. I love her already -- I don't think she could ever chase me away if she sang this to me once.
1. "2+2=5," by Radiohead.
Thom Yorke has an incredible singing voice. Power and delicacy all in one. This song uses both to good effect, combining his vocals and the always-excellent musicianship of his bandmates into a frenzied, thrashing song. Good stuff.
2. "A Perfect Day Elise," by PJ Harvey. (The iTunes Original version, not the album version.)
Polly Jean Harvey... Her voice dominates this song, its strength bolstered by the heavy echo effect put on it. The grinding guitars and driving drum beat give her voice something to fly above, and it works.
3. "No One Knows," by Queens of the Stone Age.
This could be the perfect rock single. Excellently played, good audio dynamic of rising and falling intensity, and a great rock vocal all jammed into a short, radio-friendly time frame.
4. "One of These Days," by Doves.
Big, strong rock musicianship combined with good vocals = Bryn likes it. The guitar solo, while relatively simple, is awesome. Any song that makes you want to write your own music must be good stuff, and every time I hear this I think, "Damn, I should write something like that."
5. "Dead Man," performed by Honey White.
Neil Young wrote it, we played it. "Come on, Bryn," you are probably thinking, "putting one of your own songs into a list like this kind of cheapens the whole list, man!" Well... I disagree. I am not including this for egotistical reasons -- while I am extremely proud to have been a part of recording this, you may notice that my guitar is simply background. This song is absolutely dominated by Brian Wolff's lead guitar, which, without exaggeration, is some of the best guitar playing I have ever heard in my life. The set up in the studio was fun: Brian's guitar was pumped through three huge half-stack amplifiers at one end of the large studio space, and all the microphones were way at the other end. It was so loud that Brian had to wear ear plugs under his headphones, and John Mayer the Engineer only went out there with rifle-range head phones on. I was inspired by Brian's performance to try it out myself, and after blasting through the song and looking up happily to my bandmates and engineer in the recording booth, I received this advice: "Don't quit your day job."
6. "Nothing as it Seems," by Pearl Jam.
I listened to Pearl Jam's first album, "Ten," in seventh grade. Here I am, 29 and counting, and they are still just about my favorite band. The accoustic rhythm guitar combined with the blisteringly distorted and echoy lead and the throb of the fretless bass are a perfect backdrop for Eddie Vedder's subdued vocals. They have, to my delight each time, played this song at every Pearl Jam concert I've been to, and Mike McCready's solo destroys every time.
7. "Be My Noir," by the Mermen.
I got into the Mermen during my surf instrumental phase. (I haven't really "grown out" of surf music at all, but I have certainly set the boundaries of what I like, which means that I'm no longer actively searching for new bands in this sub-genre.) The very first time I saw them, at Soho's in Santa Barbara, they opened with this song. I proceeded to drink quite a bit, and enjoy myself quite a bit, and they proceeded to literally blow out the power in the place twice. Jim Thomas is an amazing guitar player, and knows how to use his equipment -- he literally has stacks of stuff on stage with him to create the tones he does. Oh, and keep in mind that this song, like the rest of the album it came from, was recorded live in the studio. No overdubs whatsoever, according to the liner notes. Impressive.
8. "Prenzlauerberg," by Beirut.
This song may sound a bit out of place here, but I adore it nonetheless. The vocal melody is beautiful, and Zach Condon's voice works perfectly for it. Rock music may be my favorite, but not to the exclusion of all else, after all.
9. "Vermillion," by Mercury Rev.
An uncharacteristically up-tempo song for Mercury Rev. This song makes me want to move (tap my foot, nod my head, drum on whatever surface is available, etc.) every time I hear it. It's a strong song that nonetheless sounds beautiful to me.
10. "Pioneer to the Falls," by Interpol.
When I bought this album at Borders in Mission Viejo and sat down in my truck to drive home, I was happy with the purchase: it sounded good as the first track unwound. Then came the guitar solo... The type of thing that I always love doing, an echo-drenched, fast-picked beauty that's done too soon. Pushed Interpol up from my list of "Pretty Solid Bands" to "These Guys are Awesome."
11. "The Road Leads Where it's Led," by Secret Machines.
Jeff Hostert turned me on to these guys, and the first time I saw them cemented how much I like them. We jammed four of us into Jeff's truck (and have you ever tried to sit in the back seats of a Ford Ranger with someone else? It sucks) and drove a stifling hour and a half or so deep into San Diego. The show was worth it -- I am occasionally amazed by the fact that these guys can reproduce the sound of their studio albums in a live setting.
12. "I Will Light You on Fire," by the Golden Shoulders.
One Friday afternoon I was walking across UCSB's campus and heard the faint and distorted echo of a band playing live in Storke Plaza, under the tower. I wandered over and the noise coalesced into a roots-rock sounding band as I approached. I was impressed. So when Adam Klein announced that they were playing the next evening in Isla Vista I made sure to tell Keir and my closest musical buddies. They played at the Espresso Roma coffee shop on Pardall Road (which has long since closed down), and played a great (and often hilarious -- Klein is really funny) set while we happily drained several pitchers of beer. I love this song's lyrics, and it's a fun as hell song to play, despite being the same four chords the whole way through.
13. "The Golden Age," by Beck.
Brian and Keir told me so. "You have to get this album," they said. "Sure, I'll get around to it," I replied. I liked Beck, but he'd never really blown me away. Well, I finally picked this up, and he did blow me away. Sea Change is an excellent album, and it begins with an excellent song. But this one, I think, works well as a closer too. So here it is.