indie 500: the tracks of 98

By The Columbia Chronicle

Well, here it is, the long-awaited list of the top independent music songs of the year. Hours of research, phone surveys and numerous interviews with the security guys at Metro were utilized in selecting the worthy songs, but in the end it just came down to what I kept in my CD player most of the year.

1. “Bad Diary Days,” Pedro The Lion. Apparently, David Bazan’s girlfriend went to a movie with some other guy last year. David found the ticket stub in a desk drawer, sat down and wrote a song about it. His gentle, comforting voice sounds genuinely confused and hurt throughout the song. At first he gives her the benefit of the doubt, but when he confronts her about it things go bad. “The breakfast cereal talked more than we did all day long,” Bazan sings over the shuffle beat and Jonathon Ford’s understated bass playing. To finish off, Bazan jumps on the electric guitar and turns the song’s gentle guitar riff into a blazing crescendo, letting off all the frustration this untrustworthy woman created.

2. “First Day Back,” Braid. Bust out that old Superchunk t-shirt, roll down the car window and sing along with this one at maximum volume. This was the song of the summer it made punk and emo sound new again.

3. “Go Away,” Mark Eitzel. “The prison guards just try and sell me these little yellow pills, they say they’ll cover up the pain of a wound that never heals.” Mark Eitzel is the greatest songwriter alive. Backed by a member of Sonic Youth and Yo La Tengo on this song, there is no way he can go wrong. This one is a lot more up tempo than most of Eitzel’s work and it’s a welcome change.

4. “New Birds,” Arab Strap. This isn’t a song. It’s an experience. The listener becomes lead singer Aidan Moffat for 6 minutes. You are walking in his shoes, you’re trying to decide whether or not to betray your girlfriend and sleep with this girl. Every lyric, every note of music will grab a small bit of your past and remind you of the places and people in your life. It’s simply the greatest merger of words and music I’ve ever heard.

5. “Dressed up Like Nebraska,” Josh Rouse. “All of your demons rest in my space,” sings Rouse — and all of a sudden the tired genre of country rock singer-songwriters seems alive again. Rouse knows that country music is best when it’s done up proper, so he breaks out a trombone, cello and trumpet for this song. He succeeds in building up an acoustic – based song into a full blown masterpiece.

6. “Beyond Repair,” Silkworm. The first time you hear this song, you’ll fall on the floor with laughter. Andy Cohen tries to sound all deep and meaningful while singing lines like “Who wants to fall in love with a whore? Not me, less you, least of all Winnie the Pooh.” The second time you hear it you’ll realize the killer music behind all the madness.

7. “Overcome By Happiness,” Pernice Brothers. Pure pop beauty. Former Scud Mountain Boy Joe Pernice teamed up with his brother Bob and created one of the truly special musical moments of 1998. This song, and the entire album, manages to consistently achieve a level of well-produced, sublime magic rarely heard on an independent record.

8. “Photograph,” The Aluminum Group. Frank and John Navin, The Aluminum Group’s two lead singers are both blessed with the smoothest voices since legendary jazz singer Johnny Hartman. The fact that their songwriting and musical chops are also first rate is just a bonus. This is the kind of tune that even your grandparents will enjoy.

9. “Tonite It Shows,” Mercury Rev. I can’t actually believe I like this. Overly quirky music rarely does anything for me, but for some reason Mercury Rev is able to pull it off. It’s probably the top notch songwriting that does it. “The way you were the day we met, the way I lit your cigarette, the way it changed into a strange Cole Porter phrase.” Those are the kind of lyrics that can make Mercury Rev special. They always make sure they have a good solid song before they start throwing wacky stuff in, and that secures Mercury Rev’s status as the best off-kilter band since the Flaming Lips.

10. Every song put out on Touch and Go this year – The greatest record label in Chicago, America and the world.