WELL-WORN: But Passion Pit’s “Sleepyhead” remains white hot.
Bands come and go, but songs stick around. Long after their final load-out, a band's legacy survives in little fragments entrusted to the memory — guitar hooks, drum fills, synthy thingies, clever lines. Check out the Submarines, whose "You, Me and the Bourgeoisie" has seized 30 seconds of American brainspace thanks to an iPhone 3G ad; or Amanda Palmer, whose sensational solo debut sported the disturbingly peppy abortion chronicle, "Oasis" — which I won't be forgetting anytime soon.
This was a good year for music in Boston, and I can tell by the surprising frequency of local songs (or bits of them) I routinely catch looping in my head. If you've got a more scientific way of picking the 10 best songs to come out of Boston this year, I'd like to see it. But in the meantime, here's my ranking — arranged alphabetically to prevent messy scene implosions.
Big Bear | "20"
Boston's most adventurous (and carefully damaged) metal offshoot ensemble have always been chronically ahead of the curve — and "20" serves as Exhibits A-Z. There's that one vocal bit where Jordyn Bonds sounds like she's filling with air while Joel Roston's wily guitar scurries into hiding like a frantic mouse. There are the swelling and bursting rhythmic theatrics, bluffs and chasms aplenty, keyboards calling out like panicky telegraphs, and the most exuberant chorus about semiological numbness that's ever been written.
Disappearer | "Villainous Moon"
For anyone who was giddy over '08's unofficial AmRep resurgence, ushered in by bands like Pissed Jeans and Young Widows, Disappearer represent a thoughtfully reimagined return to more Kudgel-y times in Boston. "Villainous Moon" ignites into a sprawling wildfire of distortion, clobbering drums, and scratchy, oh-so-satisfying, Yow-ish hollerin'. This ditty is one of four you grab for free off of their website.
Ketman | "Pinch 'em Tight Holler"/"Rad Chains of Murti-Bing"
Even though El Toro, Ketman's first proper full-length, dropped at the very start of '08, it has weathered the odds of my iPod and remained firmly in the Recently Played column. Why? Because of shit like this: I didn't even realize these two songs were two songs — I thought they were more like conjoined twins. "Pinch 'Em Tight" 's hammy fits and starts conjure up a rasslin' match between the D-Plan and the Minutemen, while the locomotive tension of "Rad Chains" recalls the bruising post-punk of Kerosene 454 or Fugazi. No other local record this year had such a ride in store; listen to this in your car and your airbags might deploy.
The Low Anthem | "To Ohio"
On their self-released Oh My God, Charlie Darwin (recorded on Block Island last winter), the Low Anthem alternate between grizzly, Waitsian stompers and sonorous, tranquil meditations, like the album's title track and like this one, "To Ohio." Lowing clarinets, humming harmonicas, and Ben Knox Miller's gentle, almost fatherly whisper go straight to your gut, and the futility of finding new love after you've lost the love you had will have your bottom lip aquiver before the second verse.